Don't Blame Perry Noble

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The internet world exploded earlier this month when South Carolina mega-pastor Perry Noble informed his attendees that the Ten Commandments are not commandments after all but promises.  Noble gleaned this insight not from a careful study of the Scriptures - he admits that he did not do that - but from a conversation with a Jewish taxi driver.  There are a number of reasons to be upset about this.  For one thing, in order to redefine the law of God one must first assume the prerogatives of deity, something that Noble seems to have assumed due to his godlike celebrity status.  Second, it brings us to near despair about the Christian culture today when the most popular preachers are those who admit that they are both untrained and irresponsible in handling the Scriptures.  Third, the claim that the Ten Commandments are not, well, commandments is not only rebutted by a 30 second Bible software search (see Dt. 4:2; 4:40; 5:10 just for starters, not to mention Jesus' description in Mt. 5:19 and 19:17) but provides one more instance of a narcissistic age recasting the message of the church.  With these things in mind, I cheerfully add my voice to the chorus denouncing Noble's teaching and urging all sane believers to leave their nearby emotion-driven mega-worship-center as soon as possible and start attending an actual church, preferably a Reformed one.  

With that said, however, I want to say to the internet world of popular Reformed teaching today: "Don't blame Perry Noble."  After all, the message that he so unartfully spewed upon his holiday worshipers is more or less the same message going out from respected mouthpieces of Reformed teaching.  It is well-chronicled both by Kevin DeYoung at TGC and also here at Ref21 how PCA pastor Tullian Tchividjian seeks to liberate Christians from the burdensome idea of practical obedience to God's Word.  More recently, Justin Taylor has posted an interview with David Dorsey seeking to dismantle completely the idea that God's Law has any bearing on the Christian life.  What we are seeing in Perry Noble, then, is simply a crass version of what is apparently a permissible idea within popular Reformed theology today: the belief that the Christian owes no obligation to live according to God's Law.

Dorsey's argument, which dates to a 1991 article that for some unstated reason is being highlighted, strikes me as particularly egregious.  When it comes to the Mosaic Law, Dorsey makes the following points:

·         All the 613 laws, rules, and commands found in the Mosaic Covenant are lumped together without distinction.  Therefore, the Ten Commandments, written on stone by the very finger of God on Mount Sinai, is given no hermeneutical distinction to set it apart from rules governing, for instance, what to do when an axehead flies from its handle. 

·         The Mosaic Law - including the now trivialized Ten Commandments - may be ignored by Christians as regulations intended only for ancient Israel in its distinctive covenantal, cultural, and cultic setting, and thus has been "discontinued with the Church."  No discussion is offered about how the Law's validity is carried over into either the teaching of Jesus or the apostolic writings.  Without nuance, the remarkable assertion is made that the Ten Commandments are of no direct relevance to Christians.

·         The Reformed distinction between the moral, ceremonial, and civil laws is casually dismissed as "methodologically questionable."  Dorsey defends this glib dismissal by saying that these categories are not found in either the Old Testament or the early Rabbinical literature (which could also be said about the doctrine of the Trinity). 

·         When asked how to apply the Law to the Christian life today, his first summary statement tells believers to say "this is not my law, that I am not legally bound by it," but rather that it is only "one of the laws God issued to ancient Israel as part of his covenant with them."

·         So is there any positive way in which the Ten Commandments apply to Christians today as a guide to life?  Dorsey states, "There is a more logical, Biblically supported approach to the law that retains for Christians not only the very heart of the so-called 'moral laws' but also the underlying moral truths and principles, indeed the very spirit of every one of the 613 laws."  Well there is sort of a positive statement about keeping the Law.  But in working out this approach, it amounts to drawing theological conclusions from a given Mosaic commandment and making our own practical application.  This is pretty much what Perry Noble did when he recast the Ten Commandments.  Under the very approach offered by Dorsey, Noble taught that "You shall have no other gods before me," is not a commandment at all, but a promise that says, "You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore."

Now, I realize that there are nuanced arguments to be made on both sides of this debate and that there are reputable scholars who doubt the confessional Reformed doctrine of God's Law.  But I just want to say that if the popular organs of Reformed teaching are going to promote this kind of doctrine, then we should not blame Perry Noble for endorsing it.  After all, when he completely discards the Ten Commandments of God on the authority of a taxi driver, Noble is only spreading the ideas that more reputable Reformed figures are teaching.

Posted January 29, 2015 @ 3:03 PM by Rick Phillips
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