Results tagged “Scripture” from Reformation21 Blog

Carlifornia dreaming

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Friends towards the west coast of the US of A might be interested in this year's Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors' Conference on "The Doctrine of Scripture" on the 3rd and 4th of November.

Dr. Carl Trueman is the keynote speaker and will be addressing the doctrine of Scripture from the late medieval period to 1700. He will have four lecture sessions and two Q&A sessions.

Dr. James Renihan will be lecturing on moral law and positive law in Scripture. He will provide exposition of key passages demonstrating how these two aspects of law function in Christian doctrine.

Dr. Richard Barcellos will be lecturing on hermeneutics and the formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works. He will discuss some hermeneutical principles of seventeenth-century federal theology and how the doctrine of the covenant of works was formulated utilizing those principles.

More information is available at the conference site here or at RBAP.

"More light, Lord!"

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Light is one of those commodities, like oxygen, much underestimated until one finds oneself in need of it. I am particularly conscious of this because my desk light - a quite splendid piece of kit - decided to pack up rather suddenly a few days ago. Being a sentimental type, I sent it off to the manufacturer in the hope of its being restored, but - having gone under the knife in some electronic operating theatre somewhere in England - it was recently declared most definitely deceased.

But it means I have been without light. To be sure, even in the UK in October, there's a smidgen of daylight that filters through the window from time to time. And yes, the general illumination provided by the main light in the room, and even some assistance from the angled reading light in the corner, alleviate the gloom somewhat. But there is nothing - I repeat, nothing - to compare with the vibrant beams of pure brilliance that not so long ago washed out of my much-missed and too-much-presumed-upon and sincerely-mourned desk light.

But good news! Today brought a matutinal delivery of light - not the watery gleam of a British sunrise, but a replacement desk light - and now I sit here in a pool of white brilliance, bathed once more in happy illumination, and actually able to work without straining the wearied eyes beyond the point of no return.

"So what?" I hear you cry. "What hath Walker's desk lighting to do with us?"

Well, nothing, at first glance, but remember, if you will, the record of that wonderful preacher, John 'Roaring' Rogers of Dedham, of whose preaching people exhorted one another, "Let us go to Dedham to fetch fire."

Several well-known anecdotes capture something of the fervency of Rogers the preacher, his self-forgetful earnestness in the pulpit. In one of them, Thomas Goodwin, himself to become a renowned preacher and scholar, went to hear Rogers preach before he was converted, not imagining that anyone would be able to touch his conscience. Goodwin reported his experience to John Howe, who recorded it in this way:
He told me that being himself, in the time of his youth, a student at Cambridge, and having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham, in Essex, purposely he took a journey from Cambridge to Dedham to hear him preach on his lecture day. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible [I am afraid it is more neglected in our days]; he personates God to the people, telling them, "Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it; it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs. You care not to look into it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer." And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, "Lord, whatsoever thou cost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible." And then he personates God again to the people: "Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; and here is my Bible for you, I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, whether you will value it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it." But by these actions [as the Doctor told me] he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that he never saw any congregation in his life. The place was a mere Bochim, the people generally [as it were] deluged with their own tears; and he told me that he himself when he got out, and was to take horse again to be gone, was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his horse weeping, before he had power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been thus expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.
Underestimated light. Nothing compares to the Word of God for true illumination. The faint gleams of natural revelation and human reason are light, to be sure, but they are distant candles to the present white light of God's holy Word. And yet how ready we are to wander around in the gloom, imagining that we see well and sufficiently while we are for the most part blind.

Would it bother you to be without your Bible? Could you preach without it? Live without it? Worship without it? Perhaps we have learned a casual neglect of that which is more precious than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps 119.72)?

How little we value it, but what if it were taken away? What if the Lord deprived us of what is a gracious gift, not a natural right? How quickly would we learn the limitations of natural revelation and human wisdom, how soon would we cry out to God to restore to us again the pure brightness of his revelation, rising to its heights in the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness, that we might once more have a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119.105).

The story is told of a debate in the seventeenth century, I think it may have been among the Westminster divines. One man stood and was making a powerful address concerning some particular point. His opponent in the matter was observed to be writing fairly constantly on his paper. When his turn came, this opponent rose to his feet and delivered a magnificent oration, well-ordered and insightful, Scriptural and compelling, profound and persuasive.

When this tour de force was completed, a man nearby glanced at the notes that had prompted this outpouring of genuine and gracious eloquence, and found a single phrase repeated over and over across the page: "More light, Lord!"

May God grant that we should value in some appropriate measure the fact that he has spoken to us in these last days in his Son, and that his Spirit has moved men to record these saving and sanctifying truths in the Word written, and that "the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Cor 4.6). How shall we see, how shall we walk, if the Lord does not give us his light? Let us not underestimate the illumination we have been given. Let us not neglect our Bibles. Let it be our constant and humble prayer, "More light, Lord!"

Did God Really Say?

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By questioning what God really said, the serpent infamously enticed Eve to do more than simply assess whether God's Word was trustworthy. The serpent's question lured Eve, and Adam in her wake, into a radical reordering of their relationship with the One who had spoken. The question enticed Adam and Eve to attempt an autonomous empirical investigation as to what the past really meant and what the future might hold, to assume that they and God were equal partners in a fundamentally unpredictable world, to think they could become, as it were, "like God" -- all on the basis of the groundless innuendo that God had not spoken clearly and reliably to His creatures. The Spirit's recording in Scripture of the satanic question and its devastating consequences reminds the church today that postmodern suggestions of new ways to handle God's perspicuous Word may not be innocent exercises of a new intellectual humility, but rather latter day echoes of an ancient and insidious voice.

Happily, Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary, with editorial oversight by Dr. David B. Garner, have cooperated to provide the church with a new aid to resist that voice in Did God Really Say? Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture. This collection of essays draws on seminar papers delivered by scholars from the contributing institutions at the 2011 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. I had the privilege of attending nearly all of those seminars and knew then that this would be a book worth having. Here are some clips to give you a little taste of what you will find in this new volume:

"For the sake of the church, these studies present the historically Reformed understanding of the objective and inherent clarity and certainty of the Word of God" (Forward, Robert C. [Ric] Cannada, Jr., Bryan Chapell, Peter A. Lillback);

"To put it frankly, there is an unnerving sympathy within evangelical scholarship for seeking light in darkness, for synthesizing antithesis, and even for wedding belief and unbelief" (Introduction, David B. Garner);

"The confession is setting forth the notion here, radical in its context, that one determines what Scripture is not by going somewhere outside of Scripture, but by Scripture itself" ("Because It Is the Word of God," K. Scott Oliphint);

"To say it a bit differently, the doctrine of inerrancy is not only about the truthfulness of the Spirit-inspired Word but also about the trust a Spirit-led people invest in that Word" (B.B. Warfield's Church Doctrine of Inspiration," Michael D. Williams);

"The church's full affirmation of these books does not show that it created or constituted the canon, but is the natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture" ("Recent Challenges to the New Testament Writings," Michael J. Kruger);

"It is natural for the flesh to bridle when what we think is right is challenged. It is not so easy to care about the individuals and enclaves who are perceived or real opponents of Christian teaching" ("Grounds for Grace in the Debate," Robert W. Yarbrough);

"But we are made in the image of God, and the language God has given us as a gift is designed by God" ("God and Language," Vern S. Poythress);

"The question is simple. Given that God inspired the Bible, what effect did that inspiration have on the biblical text?" ("N.T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture," John M. Frame).

"Rather than viewing the Creator/creature distinction as an obstacle to understanding, we must rather see that our very creation in God's image establishes clear duty to God's Word, an ontological imperative, a religious obligation to obey the covenantal demands expressed in the perspicuous words of our Creator" ("Did God Really Say?" David B. Garner)

Let us feast on these essays, think deeply, and resolve to recognize and resist all echoes of the serpent's query.

This Lent I am giving up . . . reticence

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I will make no bones about it: I am an Old World (for which please read 'continental European') Christian, of Puritan inclination, and a Dissenter - specifically, a Particular or Reformed Baptist. That means several things. By conviction and heritage I belong to those who left the Anglican communion as a matter of conscience, sick of its halfway reformation and unwilling to conform to the general shabbiness and unscriptural demands of the Act of Uniformity. My conscience with regard to the extra-Biblical trappings of mere religiosity is tender. My attachment to simplicity of worship as a gathered church is sincere. I am sensitive to those doctrines and practices over which my forefathers spent their energies and shed their tears and sometimes their blood, both from within and then from without the established folds of their day. I see things with an awareness tuned by walking the streets, graveyards and memorials of men and women who suffered and sometimes died for conscience' sake.

Out of such an atmosphere I cannot help but be sickened by the seeming obsession with Lent and Easter at this time of year, and Christmas at the end of the year. Please do not misunderstand me: conscience also demands that - where the cultural vestiges of a more religious society patterned to some extent on the significant events of the life of Christ provide for it - I take every legitimate opportunity to make Christ known. If an ear is even half-opened by circumstance, I willingly and cheerfully speak into it, and seek to make of it a door for the gospel. I do not see the point of making a point by not preaching about the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord if some benighted soul wanders into the church with at least some expectation of hearing about his humiliation and exaltation.

But what chills my blood is the unholy elevation of things not mandated by the Word of God. I find it odd that some of the very people who obsess about contextualization and resist 'religion' have swallowed hook, line and sinker the empty traditions of men, that the men who wear Mickey Mouse T-shirts (quite literally) all the year round besides dress in sombre suits every April, telling us with one breath that all of life is worship and so tending to level out our experience and the Biblical rhythms of our relationship with God (especially dismissing the one-day-in-seven pattern established at the first and the new creation), and with the next telling us that this is Holy Week, and we are somehow falling short if we do not build it into some unholy jamboree. Meanwhile, those who trumpet their credentials as the true heirs of the Reformation either seem willing to stop with the house half-clean or seem quite keen to redecorate it with the junk that their more enlightened forefathers were in the process of throwing out (establishing the principles of the matter even if they never quite got round to that corner of the attic themselves).

Whether or not it is a vestige of the Emerging/Emergent appetite for a range of 'spiritualities' or an enthusiasm for an over-ripe liturgical renewal, I cannot say, but I wonder if it is in part a matter of distance both of time and space. This alleged 'recovery' of Lent and Easter is not actually a matter of historical sensitivity and an inheritance regained but of historical unawareness and an inheritance lost. Whether or not it is the high-grade muppetry of entire churches being urged to tattoo one of the stations of the cross on some part of their anatomy, or some gore-drenched re-enactment of the unrepeatable sacrifice, or some spotlit image-fest in which a total insensitivity to physical representations of the Christ - the image of the invisible God - is displayed, or some be-robed priest-figure half a step away from incense and obeisance, it does not come from Scripture and it does not belong in Christ's church. It is a replacement of God's order with man's notions, a disruption of God's regular rhythms of true religion with the unholy syncopation of mortal religiosity. As John Owen somewhere says, where genuine spirituality is substantially absent, men will turn either to fanaticism or to ritual - or perhaps to both - in an attempt to fill the void. Whichever way you sniff at it, and whichever way the wind blows, to the trained nostril it all begins to smell a touch Romish.

But there is a solution. This year there are - if you wish to see it this way - fifty three Easters. Most years there are fifty two. Each is a high and holy day, an opportunity to remember and rejoice in the one thing that the saints of God are commanded to remember and rejoice in: the Lord of Glory - the incarnate Son - who was crucified but who rose again, in whom we live eternally, and for whom we perpetually look with eagerness, our eyes straining for the first glimpse of the one whom not having seen, we love, who will shortly appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Each is a day of sober and grateful remembrance and recollection of his being and his doing. We have our regular (if not all of us a weekly) meal at which we remember the Lord's death until he comes, celebrated usually on the day of resurrection. On these days, putting aside the trappings of the world, we begin the cycle of time on our weekly peak, equipped by communion with God in Christ by the Spirit for the challenges and the opportunities of the days ahead.

Frankly, it seems odd to me that many of those who have proved very quick to abandon all manner of patterns and habits and convictions of Christians over decades or centuries, retain Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday as set in stone in the calendar, one of the high points of the Christian year (which pattern, we are informed, provides the central event in the church year - the climax of worship, expectation, and celebration, an exercise of the church's discipline). If you're not sold on Easter, you might be dismissed as one of the "diehard Reformed" for whom "this [Easter] Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday." To say that Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday is not to suggest an upgraded view of Easter Sunday but a downgraded view of every other one.

I try not to be a Scrooge (although I cannot help but shed a silent tear that I am now literarily reduced to trying not to be a Grinch, but it's only a silent one and fairly dry, because Dickens' plotting makes many modern soap operas look like masterpieces of restraint and reason). I try not to be whatever is the Easter equivalent of a Scrooge or a Grinch (probably something that destroys bunnies or steals eggs). Again, for the record, I delight in the incarnation, and love to explore the excellence and wonder of Christ's coming into the world. I love to do so at any time of year, and find it grievous that I am sometimes not expected to handle those truths or sing incarnation hymns apart from at the dead of winter. Neither do I for one instant deny the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the only Redeemer of God's elect, in the glorious good news that the church of Christ declares.

But when we are told that this is the time of year when Christians begin to think again about the death and resurrection of Christ, does it not prompt the question of what we are supposed to be doing for the rest of the year? When men speak after their so-called Holy Week of the abating euphoria of the resurrection, surely they are explaining why a merely annual remembrance is insufficient? Christ Jesus is the risen Lord for 365 days of every year (plus the extra one when required), and we have a weekly opportunity for the distinct recollection of his death in an atmosphere conditioned by his resurrection. To flatten the whole year, perhaps rising only to a few unnatural annual peaks, is to miss so much, to lose so many things, to gain so little.

Christ died to set us free from empty things. Men died to liberate us from the rigamarole of unscriptural traditions and man-made routines and performances of religiosity. I hope that you will hear a voice from the blood-washed streets of the Old World, where those battles and the cost of their victory are ground into our consciousness, where the issues and enemies are neither distant nor tame, and where the lines remain clearly drawn in the collective memory of some of the Lord's people, and consider whether or not the prizes so hardly won ought to be so quickly abandoned.

Speaking of Preaching...

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Last Sunday each of our slated morning and evening preachers had originally chosen the same text for his sermon--the song of Simeon in Luke 2. I know because I was the evening preacher. Now hearing two (hopefully) biblical sermons on the same text in a single day certainly won't harm a congregation. It might even memorably demonstrate the richness of Scripture. But it certainly runs the risk of being unnecessarily redundant. After all, a tasty breakfast need not be reheated for dinner when another meal could be prepared.

So I was thankful that our morning preacher--Dr. Carl Trueman, in fact--heard about the textual coincidence, spent half the week preparing a sermon on Mary's Magnificat instead, and kindly left Simeon's song to the mercy of yours truly. What struck me was that Dr. Trueman did not merely transpose his Simeon sermon onto Mary's song (as I might have done). He explained and unfolded the Magnificat in its own context, pointing to specific verses in order to extol the glory of the incarnation.

Which leads me ask, how many pastors preach essentially the same sermon no matter which text lies open before them? Of course, the central themes of God's character, sin, the person and work of Christ, and redemption ought to reappear week to week. But each of these realities is richly variegated and should lead the preacher, text by text, to an endless number of focused treatments and applications. By contrast, doesn't the sufficiency of Scripture take a hit when, by the end of the sermon, the average listener (a) can't remember which text was read at the beginning but (b) knows he has heard this sermon before?

Consider well the charge given by John Murray to the recent champion of Christ-centered preaching, Dr. Edmund Clowney, when the latter was installed as Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary on October 22, 1963. May it be a charge to all those who seek to honor Christ from the pulpit this Sunday:


"Your work is concerned with homiletics, the exposition and effective presentation of the Word of God. I charge you to continue to press home, as you have done in the past, the necessity of discovering, unfolding, and applying the particularities of each text or portion of God's Word. Few things are more distressing to the discerning, and more impoverishing to the church, than for a preacher to say much that is scriptural, indeed altogether scriptural, and yet miss the specific message of the text with which he deals. It is by the richness and multiformity of God's revealed counsel that the church will grow up into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, and the witness of the church will be to all the spheres of life and to all the obligations of men"  (John Murray, "Charge to Edmund P. Clowney," Collected Writings, 1:108-9; emphasis added).

Modern Debate Over Ancient Texts

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[Editor's Note: This is the first post Rev. Wynne wrote in response to Dr. Evans, which was inadvertently removed last week. We repost it here in its entirety.]

Dr. Evans has recently graced this forum with some thought provoking comments on the Scriptural doctrine of perspicuity and the church's handling of her confessions, particularly as these areas might bear on readings of the Genesis creation account.  I appreciate many of his insights and have no desire at this point to send my dog into the fray of particular creation views. I do believe, however, that short of that larger issue, three (nearly identical) comments by Dr. Evans deserve comment. 
 
The first is the lament, cited from a previous Evans article, that some six-day creationists have "failed to take any stock of the enormous amount of data from comparative studies of ancient Near Eastern literature suggesting that the narrative in Genesis 1 is framed in terms of a cosmology quite coherent to the ancients, but which we ourselves do not share." None of us, after all, he adds, "believes in a literal 'firmament,' or in 'pillars of heaven,' or in 'windows of heaven,' or in 'fountains of the deep,' at least as these biblical terms were apparently understood by the ancients."
 
The second and more recent comment was, again, that literal six-day advocates have given too little attention "to how this material [i.e., Genesis 1] would have been read in its original ancient Near Eastern context and to the implications of that ANE data for how we should read the text today."  Third, he adds afresh in the same article that the "ANE comparative data suggest[s] that the narrative in Genesis 1 is framed in terms of an ancient cosmology that we do not share" and that "the mass of scientific evidence suggest[s] that the cosmos is much older" than the Westminster Divines imagined.
 
By this drumbeat of assertion that Genesis 1 is "framed" by an ancient and now discredited cosmology, Dr. Evans clearly (to me at least) is assuming that the Old Testament writers espoused this invalid cosmology as a reliable description of the physical world--that their appropriation of ANE mythical features led them to believe in "a literal 'firmament,'" "pillars of heaven," and so on, cosmic elements we now know do not exist.
 
Unless I am missing something, the message conveyed in the three statements I quote is that Christians cannot rightly accept the biblical writers' cosmology in every detail since an "enormous amount" of relevant ancient Near Eastern data has revealed that they (unconsciously?) absorbed mythical cosmological elements from surrounding pagan cultures, erroneously believed them to be true, and then wrote their erroneous understanding into the pages of Scripture. 
 
At the point, I am compelled to ask: Is it really the case that the Bible presents "an ancient cosmology that we do not share", because it is erroneous? Doesn't the Reformed doctrine of inspiration hold that the omnicompetent Spirit, who searches the unfathomable depths of God's omniscience (1 Cor 2:10), is the determinative agent who has issued the written text of Scripture down to its very words? And as the "Spirit of truth" (John 16:13), did He not guide the biblical writers into all truth--indeed, could He do any other thing--barring any speck of error that might have otherwise intruded into the text of holy Scripture on account of the writers' biases, confusion, ignorance, weaknesses, and, yes, exposure to faulty cosmologies? As I see it, Christians are obligated to receive the cosmology of Genesis in every detail as the inviolable truth that trumps any competing scientific claim and rebukes every pagan worldview because, as the Divines put it, it is the Word of God.
 
So what are we to make of the parallels between Scripture's teaching and the ANE literature? Aside from the profound debate that still rages over the nature and extent of such parallels, Reformed and evangelical scholars have suggested that they reflect the Bible's (1) polemical treatments of false worldviews; (2) infallible interpretation of general revelation that was partially grasped by pagan writers; (3) infallible appropriations of an older tradition to which pagan writers fallibly bore witness; or (4) demythologized elements of ANE concepts incorporated into Scripture as poetic idiom (see G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism [Wheaton: Crossway, 2008], 28-29). All of these options maintain the integrity of the Bible's inerrancy in that none suggests that the biblical writer unwittingly imbibed faulty elements from his pagan surroundings. Likewise, all of them appeal to the absolute wisdom of the Spirit speaking in the Scriptures as the final authority on all matters, especially ANE myths. Readers may be surprised to know that even Meredith Kline, the functional patriarch of the controversial "framework hypothesis," called the pagan cosmogonic myth "a garbled, apostate version, a perversion, of pristine traditions of primordial historical realities" (Kingdom Prologue [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006], 28). The Bible, therefore, he said, "rejects the mythical cosmogony and cosmology root and branch" (ibid., 29).
 
The need of the hour, it seems to me, whether we are discussing the relative merits of competing creation views, confessional subscription and interpretation, or any other related issue, is to state as clearly and as boldly as we can that the authoritative nexus of meaning--the divinely sanctioned access point for the meaning of a biblical text--lies within the canon of Scripture itself and not in apparent similarities with extra-biblical ANE literature. This is an indispensable corollary of Scripture's authority and sufficiency that we lose to our epistemological and hermeneutical peril. On a related note, however informative ANE literature may be for studying isolated texts, we cannot allow it to norm our readings of Scripture nor determine what Scripture, as a whole, is. The book of Hebrews alone, with the scant authorial and extra-biblical contextual evidence available to us today, ought to check our dependence on background studies for interpreting the Scriptures and exhort us to read it, and every other biblical text, ultimately in light of its canonical perspective and place in the unfolding organism of special revelation.
 
Again, my purpose here is not to challenge Dr. Evans' view of Genesis or to criticize his helpful comments on the role of confessions. It is simply to issue a call for us all to put on the spectacles of Scripture, as Calvin put it, whether we are reading Genesis or the Epic of Gilgamesh, studying the Westminster Confession or doing some digging in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Doing so just might bring some needed clarity to debates over what God has said is an essentially clear Scripture.

ANE in an AC World

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I want to thank Dr. Evans for his extended and thoughtful response to my recent post on Scripture and the ancient Near East. In that post, I expressed my concern that his appeals to ANE data for reading Genesis 1 imputed error to the writers of Scripture in their expressed understanding of the cosmos--error that we, the more scientifically enlightened, now recognize for what it is. I also suggested that this line of reasoning and conclusion are inconsistent with Scripture's inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority. I trust that the readers of this blog will indulge this clarifying response. By it, I mean to convey my abiding, and now, intensified concern regarding Dr. Evans' apparent position.

Dr. Evans perceives that my view of inspiration allows for "no hint of human limitation or error evident anywhere in the text of Scripture", nor even error (or limitations?) in the human writers' "underlying assumptions". Well, I certainly reject that Scripture contains errors. But nowhere in the quote Evans offers do I deny that the biblical writers were finite or occasionally ignorant (see, e.g., 1 Cor 1:16; Dan 12:8; Acts 1:6). As for faulty "underlying assumptions", how might any of us gauge this other than by examining what they wrote? (This question also echoes my original concern about Dr. Evans' use of ANE data, but more on that below). What I believe we must affirm, what I originally wrote, and what I believe Dr. Evans is on the verge of losing, if he has not already lost it, is that the Spirit who carried the original writers along (2 Pet 1:21) prevented any error from "intrud[ing] into the text of holy Scripture" on account of their finitude, biases, ignorance, pagan surroundings, and the like. The point then, as science intersects with Scripture, was not to pose an "antithesis" between the two, but to say that where they may diverge, science should not be allowed to find what it deems in Scripture to be erroneous.  Science should not be seen as the standard of whether what God has inspired is true. If anything, at those points, it is the other way around.
 
Later, Dr. Evans indicates that I said we must ascertain the meaning of a biblical text "without reference to 'anything extrabiblical.'" But what I wrote, what Dr. Evans himself quoted, what also relates to the heart of my concern over Dr. Evans views of ANE literature, and what I now fear he has functionally denied in his appeals to ANE literature for reading Genesis 1, is that we must find the "authoritative" guide for meaning and the "divinely sanctioned" locus of meaning within the canon of Scripture itself. This is just to say that the "infallible rule" for interpreting Scripture is...Scripture itself. It is to say that nothing extrabiblical--no matter how it may appear to "mesh well" with Scripture, and especially if what is being meshed is erroneous--may dictate the meaning of Scripture. For me to say that, is nothing but glorious, Westminsterian vanilla. Frankly, I struggle to see how Dr. Evans sees it any differently.

All of this brings me to my initial, very real, and now growing concern regarding Dr. Evans' view of the relationship between ANE literature and how we ought to read Genesis 1. In his most recent post, Evans reaffirms his belief that the biblical writers wrote like "primitive peoples" should be expected to write, using ANE terms to communicate ANE cosmological beliefs that we now, in our A.C. (After Copernicus) world, know were erroneous. In other words, what they wrote was wrong, and their error now lies forever exposed in the pages of Scripture, and we should try to read through, beyond, and despite its embedded errors. The key today, he says, is to realize the "limits on how literally we can interpret" the faulty details we now understand are recorded in Genesis.

As I see it, using a "non-literal" hermeneutic for the purpose of evading allegedly faulty cosmological descriptions in Genesis is like holding your nose as you cross the front yard of your residence because you believe the neighbor's dog has paid a visit. It may get you to the street without risk of olfactory offense, but it does nothing to solve the problem you perceive. I take Dr. Evans' point that Scripture does not read like a modern science textbook, and that reading it faithfully means taking its genre and other literary features into account. But that is far different from saying that Scripture speaks error. Interpreting Scripture and finding error in it are two dimensionally different things. And I fail to see how it "effaces common grace" to say that modern science is not qualified to find error in Scripture. To be sure, science informs our reading of Scripture, but it cannot countermand what Scripture teaches.

A Reformed doctrine of Scripture--a biblical doctrine of Scripture--does not "pit Scripture against human knowledge" or common grace. It certainly doesn't deny to Christian young women an opportunity to study biology (!), as Dr. Evans understands my view to do. Incidentally, it may surprise Dr. Evans to know that I was a pre-medical student in my undergraduate days and even considered majoring in chemistry for years before heading toward the ministry. I have a high regard for the scientific enterprise.

I include that autobiographical point as background to what I hope is a future encounter. Were I to meet the young woman Dr. Evans mentioned, I know what I would tell her, and would encourage her to shout from the rooftops: a Reformed doctrine of Scripture (more precisely, a Reformed doctrine of the God of Scripture) provides the only sufficient foundation for any scientific enterprise to proceed, including a proper evaluation of extrabiblical ANE texts. Go boldly, then, and put on a space helmet, an archaeologist's hat, or a snappy pair of Visorgogs, but be sure to put on the spectacles of Scripture first, not second.  
 

Home Repair and Hermeneutics (Part 3)

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In a previous post (and here), I noted how sophisticated, Reformed evangelicals are both disclaiming the arrogance of Enlightenment rationalism and skirting the bottomless pit of postmodern relativism, contending that total human objectivity is an illusion and postmodernism is intellectual quicksand. Few would disagree. The trouble is, what do we do now?

According to the increasingly popular approach known as "critical realism" or "critical rationality", the most sure footing is found between the illusion and the quicksand--that is, coherent truth is out there, but, because our biographies and assumptions perpetually fog our respective lenses, we must realize that truth, absolute though it may be, will always lie just beyond our grasp. And it's not only our lenses. Our feet, too, stumble upon new and unexpected evidences that can alter the trajectory of our journey, turn us around, lead us temporarily astray, or put us on a new path altogether. But journey we all must, halting, listening, committing, reorienting, or meandering as the case may be. And yet, by a process of critical reflection and self-questioning, by opening up our religious beliefs and biases to enough voices, both past and present, and with a wide enough breath of experiences at our disposal, we can gradually orient our thinking correctly and approach truth through a series of ever-improving approximations. We can be sure, at least for the moment, that we are on the road that offers the best empirical fit, that makes the most sense of what we see, and we can even invite others to check out our way for themselves; but ever announce we have arrived at truth, itself, we must not.

One practical result of this approach for Reformed pastors and theologians, I have argued, is a gospel message that diminishes the character and clarity of Scripture, dilutes the intellectual strength of the gospel offer, and functionally introduces a subtle dose of provisionality into our theological claims. Scripture's hammer blows against sin, even humbly delivered, are downgraded to lashes with whip of linguini. Appeals to Christianity's "explanatory power" (as filtered through the minds of unbelieving hearers) begin to trump thoughtful, but direct, appeals to the Bible and the God who wrote it. Additionally, we influence our hearers into becoming confused Bereans, who read a text and then run out into the world to see if these things are so (cf. Acts 17:11). We start appreciating those with whom we disagree not because they force us to return to the sufficient Scriptures, but because they offer another opportunity to compare notes in our common quest for extant, though as yet unattainable, ultimate truth.

I submit that a better approach to preaching and teaching about the existence of God and His redemptive plan in Christ self-consciously acknowledges the self-sufficient Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Son in perichoretic unity and is, for that reason, the omnicompentent and successful Communicator of divine truth to all people (not despite, but rather within their own cultural contexts). As the sovereign Agent of revelation, the Spirit not only hears divine truth (John 16:13; 1 Cor 2:10) and infallibly delivers it (John 15:26), but also enables His people to receive with confidence, and therefore know (1 Cor 2:12), God's authoritative Word. In other words, because God is its ultimate Author and Teacher, Scripture is sufficently and savingly clear about the Christ it proclaims. That deserves saying again: the perspecuity of Scripture is not the product of the interpretive task (i.e., it is not delineated by what we can agree on), but its prerequisite (i.e., we may and should know what the Spirit has made plain concerning the Bible's integrating center, Christ crucified and raised; cf. Luke 24:25-27; 1 Pet 1:10-12). Under this approach, Christian claims to epistemic certainty regarding core revelational and redemptive truth do not constitute irrational fanaticism or entail, as one self-proclaimed "postfoundationalist" has put it, "absolutism and hegemonic totalization". Instead, they are part and parcel of the Spirit's sovereign authority and activity to reveal and illumine divine truth to those whom He has made alive.

A final plea of sorts, then: let us acknowledge our finitude, but revel in the infinite God. Let us acknowledge demographics, but trust that no obstacle will thwart God's communicative purposes. Let us listen humbly, but speak boldly. Let us hear again Martin Luther (no naive Enlightenment rationalist, in my view), who thundered, "To take no pleasure in assertions is not the mark of a Christian heart ... Away, now, with Skeptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice and inflexible as very Stoics!" (Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger [New York: Anchor, 1962], 167-8).

Proclaiming the gospel message with unwavering conviction of its truth hardly makes one a card-carrying Enlightenment modernist. It certaintly does not guarantee that all hearers will be persuaded, even intrigued. What it does do is show us to be unlike virtually anyone our unbelieving hearers have ever met: emissaries who know that even the most hardened skeptic cannot escape the voice of God in creation or in the Scriptures He has infallibly written through fallible men, that our very personhood is tuned to His frequency, that His Word never fails, and--most importantly--that the only solution to the moral disintegration and compounding guilt that marks every passing day of our hearers' lives is the glorious, clear, and sufficient gospel of the One who is Truth itself (John 14:6). If we hold to this message, in this way, we may also be the tools He uses to fortify, and thus adorn, the church in which He deigns to dwell.

 

 

 

 

Home Repair and Hermeneutics (Part 2)

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In a recent post, I noted just how easy it is to pick up hermeneutical tools that are ill-suited for handling Scripture, if indeed Scripture is the Spirit-breathed, self-attesting Word of the sovereign, triune God. Like taking toy blocks and a screwdriver to a window that has been painted-shut (mine is still shut, by the way), pastors and theologians often pick up contemporary models of knowing and theories about the accessibility of truth (and therefore about the relative possibility of making absolute claims about biblical truth) without adequately considering the approach demanded by the sacred text itself. 

 

One growing hermeneutical approach to Scripture--or, better yet, one epistemology that undergirds a common approach--attempts to steer a middle path between a naïve objectivism ("What I plainly read in the text is what it means--period") and full-blown hermeneutical relativism ("We all understand what we read only according to how we are conditioned to read, either individually or communally"). This increasingly popular hermeneutic recognizes the limitations of the human mind, but ultimately declines to dissolve the idea of truth in an ocean of postmodern skepticism. Some will recognize that what I'm describing in broad strokes is sometimes called critical realism.   

 

If using that term hasn't induced you to click away from this discussion, maybe we can get a bit more philosophical, just for a minute. Critical realism recoils from the arrogance and exclusivist instincts of a bygone Enlightenment hubris (who doesn't?); but it has also read the obituary of radical postmodern hermeneutics and wants no part of it (who does?). In the hands of pastors and theologians, this newer approach believes, on the one hand, that a text of Scripture, to some degree, actually reflects its author's mind and refers beyond itself to a coherent and knowable reality. It asserts that the gospel isn't a made-up fantasy or simply a product of my deepest wishes. It is real! And yet, on the other hand, critical realism also recognizes that the reader, author, text, and extra-textual reality are all moving targets within their respective times and places, and that each dimension is unavoidably filtered through each of our unique, fallible (and often colliding or, better, "subverting") worldviews. In short, this approach assumes that there is real truth to be known, but that such truth can only be provisionally known by a series of ever-improving approximations. The "best" approximations, or narratives, or models, it is said, make the most sense of the relevant data currently available. Those that offer the most "explanatory power"--usually as determined by the deepest intuitions or experience of the one involved--take the lead and the rest of us are to adjust our worldviews accordingly.

 

This "critical realism" is a potent siren song for well-meaning, sophisticated, Reformed evangelicals seeking to make sense of Scripture (and make Scripture sensible) today. It calls us to listen long and hard to secular scientific conclusions regarding human origins before making final judgments about Genesis. It supplies an overall context for narratival construals of religious experience (e.g., "how-does-my-story-intersect-with-the-grand-Story" descriptions of the Christian faith).  For those keeping score at home, it is, in one way or another, the operating epistemological paradigm of scholars such as N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, Thomas F. Torrance, and J. Wetzel van Huyssteen. It has perhaps become the unrecognized paradigm of many more.

 

This critical realist epistemology, however, comes with a huge ball and chain. Adapting the words of Colonel Jessup--this model can't handle Scripture's definitive truth claims. According to critical realism, all truth per se, especially truth about and from God, is unattainable and may only be approximated by progressively constructed models derived from human investigation and reflection: e.g., I believe there was a historical Fall because I sense there is something wrong with the world. I believe Jesus was resurrected because it best explains the worldwide explosion of the Christian church. I believe the gospel is true because it has changed my relationships at work, etc. These may be supplementary evidences by which the Spirit confirms Scripture's witness in our hearts, but should they be determinative for our faith or the centerpiece of our evangelistic witness to others?  


For now, let us consider whether the apostle Peter, for example, was acknowledging the provisionality of all truth claims when he said that we may "know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus" (Acts 2:36)? Or whether Jesus' bodily resurrection was the best explanation among many for the data of the empty tomb when he said that "it was not possible for him to be held by [death]" (Acts 2:24)? Was the apostle Paul resting the inexcusability of all men before God (Rom 1:20) upon a knowledge of Him that lies on the far side of a spiraling path of conversation between divergent voices?

 

If not--and here is the key question--is there an alternative approach to preaching and teaching Scripture that exhibits Christ-like humility, that hears the cry and questions of the world's unbelief, that avoids Enlightenment arrogance and postmodern quicksand alike, and yet lovingly stands upon the nothing less than absolute (and, sometimes, hard to repeat) claims Scripture makes about God, creation, sin and the redemption wrought by Christ? That way, and that way alone, I submit, will not be a meandering pathway to a comfortable conference table, but is the direct and narrow road to Spirit-fueled preaching and teaching that has the power to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).


New Resource on the Canon

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Since Trueman is showing some love to Cardinal Newman, click here for an excellent apologetics resource to answer the perennial questions Newman and his ilk raise against the Protestant canon - as well as more answers to other questions concerning this bedrock doctrine of Christianity.
HT: Triablogue

Statement on Scripture by Concerned Erskine Faculty Members

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While some have thought that what has been termed the "battle for the Bible" was successfully concluded in evangelical circles almost three decades back, there can be little doubt at this point that the doctrine of Scripture is now a front-burner issue among American Evangelicals.  In particular, there is increasing interest in the formulations of Karl Barth, whose dialectical theology is thought by some to provide a more "dynamic" and satisfying view of the Bible and its authority, and whose polemic against "inerrancy in the original autographs" is increasingly influential in some quarters.   The recent reactivation of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy is but one indication of the concerns that many have regarding such developments. 

The statement below addresses the problem of Barthian views of Scripture in a particular institutional context.  It has been signed by five esteemed colleagues and myself.  I am honored to join with these faithful men and to post the text of the statement on this blog. An exploration of issues related to the broader background for this statement can be found here on this site. 

 

GOOD FRIDAY STATEMENT BY CONCERNED FACULTY MEMBERS
OF ERSKINE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY AND ERSKINE COLLEGE

The ARP Church has historically held to a high view of Scripture as inerrant in the original autographs (see Historical Addendum below).  It has consistently rejected Barthian and Neo-Orthodox refusals to speak of the inerrancy of Scripture and to affirm unequivocally that Scripture is, rather than becomes, the Word of God.  Furthermore, the clear lesson of history is that Barthian fuzziness on the inspiration and authority of Scripture has had a disastrous impact on the mission and witness of the Church in Europe, Great Britain, North America, and elsewhere.  

Despite these clear affirmations by the ARP Church, of which Erskine Theological Seminary and Erskine College are agencies, after decades of theological conflict between the Church and the Seminary over the inspiration and authority of the Bible, Barthianism continues to be tolerated at Erskine Seminary. In recent years, one faculty member has publicly and privately expressed his strong opposition to the stated position of the General Synod of the ARP Church regarding Scripture.  We are profoundly disappointed that some in the Erskine administration and board find it acceptable for those who hold Barthian views of Holy Scripture to teach their viewpoint at Erskine.   

Some may say that debates over the inerrancy of Scripture are nothing more than semantics, arguments among theologians who are more interested in precise definitions of words than they are the peace of the church. We regret that characterization of the issue. Pious-sounding bromides regarding Scripture are no substitute for a clear articulation of the church's historic doctrine of Scripture, especially when such bromides conceal positions that fatally undercut the church's confidence in our God-breathed book, the Bible. The inerrancy of Scripture is not a second or third order issue, but one of critical importance for the life and well-being of the church. As much as we dislike controversy, we are compelled to say that this is not a matter for equivocation or compromise. Rather, we must be clear in our articulation of the doctrine and resolute in our stance.

We rejoice that, Dr. David Norman, President of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, has publicly affirmed his support and acceptance of the ARP Church's statement on the inerrancy of Scripture in the original autographs.  By virtue of the actions of the 2008 General Synod, this statement has been added to the General Synod's definition of Evangelical belief, is now required of all new teaching and administrative employees of the General Synod, and will be added to the ordination vows required of all ARP ministers and elders. 

We, the undersigned, believe that, after almost half a century of resistance by some Erskine Seminary faculty members to the historic theology of the ARP Church (again, see Historical Addendum below), ongoing conflict over the doctrine of Scripture threatens not only the Seminary's reputation for orthodoxy and its relationship to the ARP Church, but the very well-being of the school--as prospective students opt for other seminaries that affirm a more consistent theological stance. As members of the faculty at Erskine College and Theological Seminary, we believe this situation is unacceptable. Therefore, we humbly call upon the Board and Administration of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary to support and defend the position of the ARP Church on Scripture, and to work toward an Erskine Theological Seminary and an Erskine College that stand strongly and unequivocally for the authority of God's inerrant and infallible Word. We represent a wide range of theological specialties and different denominational affiliations, but we are united in our affirmation of the church's historic doctrine of Scripture.

Signed:

Terry L. Eves, Ph.D.

Professor of Old Testament, Erskine Theological Seminary

Chair, Dept. of Biblical Studies

Presbyterian Church in America

 

The Rev. R. J. Gore Jr., D.Min., Ph.D.

Professor of Systematic Theology, Erskine Theological Seminary

Former VP and Dean, 1998-2003; Dean 2003-06

Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

Dale W. Johnson, Ph.D.

Professor of Church History, Erskine Theological Seminary

Chair, Dept. of Theology and Church History

Presbyterian Church in America

 

The Rev. Toney C. Parks, D.Min.

Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling, Erskine Theological Seminary

Chair, Dept. of Ministry

National Baptist Convention

 

The Rev. William B. Evans, Ph.D.

Younts Professor of Bible and Religion, Erskine College

Chair, Dept. of Bible, Religion, and Philosophy

Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

John Makujina, Ph.D.

Professor of Biblical Studies, Erskine College

Independent Baptist

 

HISTORICAL ADDENDUM REGARDING ARP STATEMENTS 
ON THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

 In an article entitled "What the Associate Reformed Church Stands For," in The Centennial History of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1905), p. 694, James Strong Moffatt gave clear expression to the doctrine of inerrancy in the original autographs: "The Associate Reformed Church stands stoutly for the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. Its testimony is that the inspiration extends not merely to some portions of the Bible but to the whole Bible; not only to the words and sermons of Christ but to the Epistles of Paul and Peter as well. Its position is that not merely the contents, the body of truth found in the Scriptures is inspired of God but that the inspiration extends to the very words; that not only does the Bible contain the Word of God but the Bible is the Word of God. . . . The Associate Reformed Church does not contend that that there are no errors in the Bible as we have it today.  It would be strange indeed if having passed through so many hands, and so many casualties, and having been so often transcribed, some errors should not have crept in.  But the contention is that as originally given to the church there were no errors, and that the originals have been so guarded by the Spirit, and so reverently and carefully handled by godly and faithful men that whatever errors may have crept in through human frailty are slight and have not corrupted or changed in any particular the originally inspired documents."

The Church's doctrine of inerrancy in the original autographs is also expressed by two 1979 statements by the General Synod. "We believe that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us through the Holy Scripture which is the Word of God written.  While we do not have the original autographs as evidence, we believe on faith that God's Word in its entirety was accurately recorded by the original writers through divine inspiration and reliably transmitted to us" (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, p.76).  "Be it resolved that the General Synod of 1979 affirms that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God without error in all that it teaches" (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 23, emphasis original).

In 1994 a controversy broke out at the General Synod meeting after a Barthian faculty member expressed reservation about the use of male language for God in a Seminary document.  A "Seminary Select Committee" of the Board was formed to examine all Erskine Seminary faculty members as to their views regarding the Standards of the ARP Church.  Faculty members were asked whether they affirmed "That the original writings of the Old and New Testaments are inspired by God, truth (without error), divine authority, and kept pure by Him through all ages" (1995 Minutes of the General, p. 51).  While the results of this examination were no doubt ambiguous, the nature of the question on Scripture itself is highly significant.  It demonstrates an understanding by the Church and Board that Erskine Seminary faculty members are indeed expected to affirm the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. 

In 2008, after controversy erupted when two Barthian faculty members at Erskine Seminary refused to affirm the 1979 General Synod statements regarding Scripture, the General Synod passed the following language and added it to the definition of Evangelical beliefs binding on new faculty and administrative hires at Erskine Seminary: "the position of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on Scripture is that the Bible alone, being God-breathed, is the Word of God Written, infallible in all that it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts" (2008 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 514). 

 

 

 

Inerrancy From the Resurrection

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In light of Prof. von Hoffman's stunning (but all too familiar) revisionist historiography, I thought it might be helpful to highlight an argument for the inerrancy of Scripture that I had not heard until Warfield--who else?--brought it to my attention:

"[Jesus'] testimony is that whatever stands written in Scripture is a word of God.  Nor can we evacuate this testimony of its force on the plea that it represents Jesus only in the days of his flesh, when He may be supposed to have reflected merely the opinions of His day and generation.  The view of Scripture He announces was, no doubt, the view of his day and generation as well as His own view.  But there is no reason to doubt that it was held by Him, not because it was the current view, but because, in His Divine-human knowledge, He knew it to be true; for even in His humiliation, He is the faithful and true witness.  And in any event we should bear in mind that this was the view of the resurrected as well as the of the humiliated Christ.  It was after He had suffered and had risen again in the power of His Divine life that He pronounced those foolish and slow of heart who do not believe all that stands written in the Scriptures (Luke 24:25); and that He laid down the simple 'Thus it is written' as the sufficient ground of confident belief (Luke 24:46)." (B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp. 143-44; my emphasis).

Not only does Jesus in his earthly ministry refer to every portion of the Old Testament, from Genesis to the prophets, as inviolable truth.  In Luke 24, the resurrected Christ claims to have fulfilled the constraints placed upon him by the entire scope of Scripture.  To the degree we diminish the inerrancy of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, with appeals to "he-was-a-man-of-his-times" reasoning, to that extent we detract from the trustworthiness and biblically-conceived significance of the resurrected Lord.      

Of Kenny Rogers and Creeds

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As any poker player knows (and I am not a poker player--I tend to steer clear of competitions where the victor takes home a bracelet), the hand is over when all the cards have been dealt, all the bets have been called, the players' cards are turned over and they reveal who has won the pot.


The image of that poker moment came to mind in a recent discussion with some church members about the role and value of ecclesial creeds for the Christian life, especially when it comes to meaningful theological exchange between two professing believers. I remember a friend who resides in a church tradition that rejects any notion of creeds. He saw them as man's conscious or unconscious attempts to bend Scripture to suit his own desires. Indulging another metaphor, I assured my friend that though the historic creeds of the church are not infallible, they provide a deep theological stream of carefully articulated doctrines that have contributed through the years to unity, health and honesty in the church. I told him he was in the current of that stream whenever he claims that God is triune, that Christ is divine, that justification is by grace alone through faith alone, or when he claims any other orthodox tenet of belief.  And I warned him that to claim "No creed but the Bible" would, itself, be creedal, but, by comparison to the historical creedal stream of the church, his would be but a shallow and muddy ditch.  It would be to show only some of his cards.  It would identify the basis for what he believes, but it would not reveal what his beliefs are.


Creeds help us lay our theological cards on the table for all to see. They differentiate our hand from the hands of others around the theological table.  They tell all who would look at our cards not only that our beliefs are grounded in the Bible, but that "These are the truths revealed in the Scriptures as the Word of God." They tether our confession of Scripture to the content of Scripture.  They do not leave anyone wondering what we mean when we claim the Bible is God's very Word.  Indeed, many through the ages, and even today, who call for creedal revisions deploy words like "inspiration" and "atonement" only to inject those words with unorthodox content.  Poker, then, has an advantage over some of the theological hands being played today.  In poker what the cards are and what they mean cannot be subverted.


At least two lessons are ready for the taking: First, holding to the enduring creeds that present the truths of Holy Scripture is akin to holding a royal flush.  Second, should anyone entice us to abandon the historic creeds of the church, we should remember The Gambler's adage, "You've got to know when to hold'em...and when to walk away."

What sits on your Bible?

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"It all comes down to authority, doesn't it?" Stretching out his hand across the coffee shop table and resting it atop the Bible in front of him, a recent college graduate confessed to pastor Todd Pruitt that he had lost the faith he once professed as a freshman. With heartbreak over those words, Todd, the pastor of Church of the Saviour in Wayne, PA, and host of the event, opened last night's beginning of Westminster's "Full Confidence" weekend conference on Scripture.

 

Dr. David Garner then powerfully exhorted the church to God-honoring vigilance for the authority and reliability of Scripture's own self-witness and rocked the room with admonitions against failing to do so.  "Passivity turns error into evil." "Rest reaps rot." Pastors are duty-bound, he said, to proclaim the authority, sufficiency, and clarity of God's word rather that "doggedly hold forth with milquetoast and muffins". The "serpentine question" of Genesis 3 is alive in our day and many have already been "snake-bitten" by the "slithering lie" that the Bible lacks relevance. He closed with an almost prophetic announcement that God and His Word would openly triumph on the last day.


Dr. Carl Trueman came through with the second connecting punch of the night, unfolding with his trademark clarity and humor the Early Church Fathers' seed-bed convictions concerning Scripture. Graciously donning (and doing battle with) a "Brittany Spears" earpiece microphone, he drove home the early church's views on the inscripturation, inspiration, and authority of Scripture. He added a few gems of his own as well, but seasoned readers of Ref21 may sympathize as to why I omit them from my first post. 


"It all comes down to authority, doesn't it?" By the Authority who came down for us, and by His Spirit, we can and should repose our full confidence in our Bibles as, indeed, bearing ultimate authority. 

More on inerrancy...

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Iain D. Campbell, one of our new bloggers (who has yet to be able to sign in!  be patient with us), has posted a review of Andrew McGwan's book referred to below (the review by John R de Wit) on his blog.
 The recently published volume, The Divine Spiration of Scripture by A. T. B. McGowan has been reviewed by John R. de Witt for The Banner of Truth and can be viewed here.

My Kind of Book

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"That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort" (U2's Bono, in his introduction to Selections from the Book of Psalms [New York: Grove Press, 1999], xi). 

Results tagged “Scripture” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 1.1

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i. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation: therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.

This first paragraph of the Confession makes it clear that Scripture is necessary if there is going to be a knowledge of salvation. The confession says that "it pleased the Lord." It does not state that it was necessary for God to reveal what He did; He decided to reveal that of His own good pleasure, or His own mercy.

For the framers of the Westminster Confession, Scripture is foundationally and essentially divine. It is worth noting that in WCF I, there is no mention of the human authors of Scripture. This is not an oversight in the Confession; it is not that the Reformers and their progeny did not recognize the human element of Scripture. It is not that they were not privy to extra-biblical sources and other cultural, contextual and human elements. Rather, it is in keeping with the  testimony of Scripture itself about itself that the WCF affirms that Scripture is foundationally and essentially divine (though contingently, secondarily and truly human).

For the Reformed, God is the author of Scripture, and men were the ministers, used by God, to write God's words down. Scripture's author is God, who uses "actuaries" or "tabularies" to write His words. Reformed thought has been careful to see God as the primary author, and men as instrumental, secondary authors.

This means that a doctrine of Scripture can only be constructed by way of what Scripture itself says about itself. We do not build a doctrine of Scripture by looking at the surrounding culture and intimating what Scripture is, based on that culture. To do that will involve us in hopeless confusion. We won't know, for example, how to compare certain creation narratives of a surrounding culture with the creation account given to us by God in Scripture. All narratives, including those in Scripture, become nothing but "literature."

While it is appropriate and important to seek to understand biblical passages in terms of their cultural context, it is inappropriate, in a Reformed, confessional context, to let those phenomena determine what the Bible is (i.e., a doctrine of Scripture). Such a methodology denies that we determine our doctrine of Scripture in terms of its self-witness alone. To let our understanding of the "cultural context" of the Bible determine its meaning denies that a doctrine of Scripture is gleaned, first of all, by virtue of what Scripture says about itself