Monday, June 30, 2008

John Owen on necessary inerrancy

Please excuse the anachronism of the title. "Inerrancy" is a nineteenth century word. But the thing itself was there before the word. Reading a little John Owen today I came across some passing comments about the necessary truthfulness of God's speech. Or, in other words, what God has spoken is necessarily inerrant (contrary to recent claims by Andy McGowan that I have responded to here).

In his "Disseration on Divine Justice" John Owen takes aim at the heretical Socinians who deny penal substitution. He also seeks to straighten out some of the Reformed orthodox who were weakening the atonement by holding to the "hypothetical necessity" of Christ's sacrifice to satisfy divine justice.

Rutherford, of all people, held that "punitive justice" was "a free act of the divine will." Owen sees this as a necessary act of the immutable divine nature. God is free to provide a substitutionary atonement for sinners, or not. But God is not free to leave sin unpunished. So, having chosen to save sinners it was necessary that their sins be punished by way of substitution in the death of Christ.

As he discusses the divine nature, attributes and will, Owen makes some interesting comments about the truthfulness of God's speech:
But to me these arguments are altogether astonishing,--namely, "That sin-punishing justice should be natural to God, and yet that God, sin being supposed to exist, may either exercise it or not exercise it."

They may also say, and with as much propriety, that truth is natural to God, but, upon a supposition that he were to converse with man, he might either use it or not...(p. 507)

Supposing, as I said before, that his will were to speak any thing, it is necessary that he speak the truth. (p. 511)

For it being supposed that God were disposed to speak with man, he must necessarily speak according to truth. (p. 512)

The Works of John Owen: Volume 10

Sunday, June 29, 2008

If you should mark iniquities who could stand? Calvin on Law & Gospel

From his commentary on Psalm 130:
Whenever God then exhibits the tokens of his wrath, let even the man who seems to others to be the holiest of all his fellows, descend to make this confession, that should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand...But the Prophet...confesses, after having thoroughly examined himself, that if of the whole human race not even one can escape eternal perdition, this instead of lessening rather increased his obnoxiousness to punishment.

Whoever, as if he had said, shall come into the presence of God, whatever may be his eminence for sanctity, he must succumb and stand confounded, what then will be the case as to me, who am not one of the best?

The right application of this doctrine is, for every man to examine in good earnest his own life by the perfection which is enjoined upon us in the law. In this way he will be forced to confess that all men without exception have deserved everlasting damnation; and each will acknowledge in respect to himself that he is a thousand times undone.

Farther, this passage teaches us that, since no man can stand by his own works, all such as are accounted righteous before God, are righteous in consequence of the pardon and remission of their sins. In no other manner can any man be righteous in the sight of God.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Legacy of B. B. Warfield

Kim Riddlebarger has started a new series on B. B. Warfield here.

If there was a top ten of the most maligned, most misunderstood, and least read, theological giants of the past, Warfield would probably come in at No. 1.

Which is a tragedy.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

During his thirty-four year reign as the ranking theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) exerted tremendous influence upon much of American Presbyterianism. With his lucid pen and his passion to defend the Westminster Standards, there was little doubt about where Warfield stood on most every subject he addressed.

Even some eighty years after his death all one need to do is but mention his name in certain circles and you are sure to get a reaction, pro or con. A number of those who have interacted with Warfield view him as a kind of brilliant but nevertheless obscurantist fundamentalist (cf. James Barr, Beyond Fundamentalism, Westminster, 1984, 141) or a thorough-going rationalist , who supposedly invented the notion of biblical inerrancy (Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism, InterVarsity, 1996, 169). When viewed from this perspective, Warfield's most enduring legacy is to be seen in his important but misguided efforts in the heated controversy over the nature of biblical authority that dominated American Presbyterian circles in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

For a number of others, Warfield is viewed as an apologist and polemicist par excellence, who valiantly stood in the breach between the fading memory of Protestant orthodoxy and the rise of Protestant liberalism. But virtually all who have dealt with him agree that B. B. Warfield was a man with whose opinions one must reckon.

Gaffin's "Observations on a controversy": Murray and I&I on Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15

Murray and I&I on Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15

A complaint, frequently voiced within the faculty and elsewhere, is that those with fundamental objections to I&I deal solely in doctrinal generalities and fail to engage the specific problem texts that I&I addresses. The following observations concern one such perceived problem.

In John Murray’s Collected Writings, 1 is an address (pp. 23 –26), “The Unity of the Old and New Testaments.” I commend reading it in its entirety. It concludes with the following two paragraphs:

The events of New Testament realization, as noted, afford validity and meaning to the Old Testament. They not only validate and explain; they are the ground and warrant for the revelatory and redemptive events of the Old Testament period. This can be seen in the first redemptive promise (Gen. 3: 15). We have a particularly striking illustration in Matt. 2: 15: 'Out of Egypt have I called my son'. In Hosea 11: 1 (cf. Numb. 24:8) this refers to the emancipation of Israel from Egypt. But in Matthew 2:15 it is applied to Christ and it is easy to allege that this is an example of unwarranted application of Old Testament passages to New Testament events particularly characteristic of Matthew. But it is Matthew, as other New Testament writers, who has the perspective of organic relationship and dependence. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt found its validation, basis, and reason in what was fulfilled in Christ. So the calling of Christ out of Egypt has the primacy as archetype, though not historical priority. In other words, the type is derived from the archetype or antitype. Hence not only the propriety but necessity of finding in Hosea 11:1 the archetype that gave warrant to the redemption of Israel from Egypt.

In this perspective, therefore, we must view both Testaments. The unity is one of organic interdependence and derivation. The Old Testament has no meaning except as it is related to the realities that give character to and create the New Testament era as the fulness of time, the consummation of the ages.

I&I discusses the Hosea passage and its use in Matthew 2 on pages 132-34 and 153, which should be studied for the comments that follow.


These two approaches have a similar interest, namely how the OT relates to the NT and what has taken place in Christ. But one does not need to ignore or minimize that similarity, in order also to recognize that it is undercut by a deep difference. In terms of the basic hermeneutical stance and commitments each reveals, it is difficult for me to see how these two approaches are compatible. It does not seem overstating to say that they are mutually exclusive.

The fundamental difference is apparent from the note on which each ends:

Murray: In this perspective, therefore, we must view both Testaments. The unity is one of organic interdependence and derivation. The Old Testament has no meaning except as it is related to the realities that give character to and create the New Testament era as the fulness of time, the consummation of the ages.

I&I: I should make one final observation. Matthew does not say that the events in Jesus’ boyhood life fulfill Hosea’s words. He says that they fulfill what ‘the Lord has said through the prophet.’ It is what God says that is important, and what God said is not captured by the surface meaning of the words on the page, but by looking at the grander scope of God’s overall redemptive plan (134; emphasis original).

And so Hosea’s words, which in their original historical context (the intention of the human author, Hosea) did not speak of Jesus of Nazareth, now do (153).

Murray is emphatic about the unequivocal “no meaning except” of the OT text and, true to the revelation-historical insight of Vos, emphatic also about the unambiguous unity, the “organic interdependence” and harmony, textual and didactic, there is between the OT and NT. For I&I, in contrast, any thought of unity, organic and interdependent, between the text of Hosea (what he, the human author, wrote, his intention) and the text of Matthew (his intention) is not only not present but denied, and with some emphasis. Contrary to Murray, given with the text of Hosea is ambiguity and disjunction, even contradiction it seems, between the meaning of the divine author and the human author (“what ‘the Lord has said through the prophet,’” on the one hand – “Hosea’s words,” on the other; again, “what God says” – “the surface meaning of the words on the page”). Further, there is a corresponding disjunction, again amounting to contradiction, between Hosea and Matthew, that is, contradiction between what the text of Hosea says and what Matthew says is said through the text of Hosea. This hardly squares, for instance, with the equation, as it has been expressed by Warfield: “’It says:’ ‘Scripture says:’ ‘God says’” (a chapter title in his The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 299-348).

A different sort of equation is present in I&I, as foreign to Murray’s approach as it is unwarranted, an equation between what Hosea wrote and what he, as a human author with his personal, cultural and historical limitations, intended (=, apparently, what he happened to understand of what he wrote). As a result of this confusion, as already noted in the previous paragraph, what the text of Hosea says does not agree with what God says later, in Matthew, through the text of Hosea. And what God, the primary author, said and intended, as distinct from Hosea, when Hosea wrote, is anything but clear.

The view of I&I revolves around Matthew’s use of Hosea. But how do we know that Matthew has gotten it right or deserves preference? The answer, presumably, is from our assessment of “the grander scope of God’s overall redemptive plan.” But it is difficult for me to see how the “christotelic” criterion that determines this assessment of the overall redemptive scope of Scripture is not based exclusively on NT texts, to the exclusion of the OT, so that Christ is present only by being read into it from the vantage point of the NT (this is one of Bruce Waltke’s criticisms of I&I; see below). This criterion functions in a way that affirms and includes certain texts (in this instance, Matthew) while excluding or negating others (in this instance, Hosea). The OT text (“the surface meaning of the words on the page”) is played off against “the grander scope of God’s overall redemptive plan”; the one is at odds with the other. Luther’s reductive canon criterion, Was Christum treibet (“what urges/inculcates Christ”), seems present here in even less benign garb.

How are we to square this approach of I&I with that, for example, of Jesus? In John 5:46 he says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” From the instance of Hosea above, it would seem, according to I&I, that what Jesus really meant to say was that Moses’ “words, which in their original historical context … did not speak of Jesus of Nazareth, now do”; or that what God both said and now says through what Moses wrote “is not captured by the surface meaning of the words on the page.”

But is that really what Jesus says or means to say? Further, when in the same context he says of the OT Scriptures generally, “these are they which testify about me” (v. 39), does he really mean that previously they, as a whole or at least in some parts, did not testify about him but now, in the light of his coming, they do? Again, is that what he means when he indicts those who “do not believe what he [Moses] wrote” and does so just as he specifically distinguishes that unbelief from the issue of belief in his own words (v. 47)? I very much doubt that it is. When in his final, post-resurrection teaching he affirms the necessary fulfillment of “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), he hardly has in view what the OT, in part or as a whole, now means but did not previously.

The view of I&I, I can’t see otherwise, is not tolerable for a proper understanding of Scripture as the written word of God, interpreted in the light of its self-witness and the good and necessary consequences of that self-witness. More importantly, it is not tolerable given who God is according to Scripture. No amount of appeal to the incarnational analogy or the humanness of the Bible, properly understood, can change that.


Note: The footnote on the first page of Murray’s address (23) indicates that its original audience, in 1970, was the Christian Union of the University of Dundee, thus presumably a gathering of students. This further invites comparison with I&I, given that it has a similar intended audience, as its author and supporters are concerned to stress.

Observations on a controversy: Richard Gaffin critiques Peter Enns (3 & 4)

More from Richard Gaffin's response to Peter Enn's Inspiration & Incarnation and the sad controversy at Westminster Theological Seminary.

HTFC=Historical and Theological Field Committee
HFC=Hermeneutics Field Committee

Gaffin continues...

Some of the blog commenting subsequent to the WTS board’s release of documents is quite confident that the HFC Reply thoroughly refutes the HTFC Response to I&I and shows that there are no credible objections to the orthodoxy of Dr. Enns and I&I. Especially those animated with such confidence may want to consider the following - beyond the telling substantive critiques of I&I by those outside the seminary and in addition to the fact that the HTFC Response was never intended as a full critique to I&I; it was an initial statement of some basic concerns produced and submitted under the deadline pressure of about a month (in contrast to the HFC Reply which eventually appeared about a year later).

First, the HFC Reply (approximately triple the length of the HTFC Response) spends considerable space arguing matters that are not at issue with the HTFC as if they were (for instance, I surely do not disagree where the Reply cites me with approval). More importantly, the précis of the HTFC Response (also included among the documents available on the seminary’s website) should not be overlooked, in expressing as it does the heart of the Response’s concerns.

Concerning the intended audience of I&I, the précis states (p. 5):

It should be apparent that it is just such troubled readers, in keeping with Proverbs 3:5-6, who are most in need of the clear affirmation indicated above [of the divine authorship and consequent divine authority of Scripture]. Such an affirmation assures us of at least three things in advance of whatever problems we encounter in the Bible. Because “God (who is truth itself) [is] the author thereof” (WCF, 1:4): 1) the Bible is reliable and, appropriate to the genre involved, will not mislead us in what it reports as having transpired; 2) the Bible does not contradict itself, and what it teaches as a whole, in all its parts, is unified and harmonious in a doctrinal or didactic sense; 3) problems that may remain insoluble for us are not ultimately unsolvable; they have their resolution with God.

This three-fold assurance is essential for dealing constructively with the problems there undoubtedly are for us in Scripture. It is especially essential to provide that assurance for those whose faith in Scripture is being shaken by these problems.

The HFC response to this passage, expressed to the board and faculty, was, in substance, that while the three points of assurance, which the HTFC précis considers requisite but finds lacking in I&I, may be suitable for demonstrating one’s own orthodoxy, they are not helpful for reassuring the many Christians who are wrestling with difficulties in the Bible.

That sort of reaction prompts the questions like the following:

1) What role, if any, beyond serving as a badge of theological orthodoxy, ought these three points to have in one’s study and interpretation of the Bible?

2) What role, if any, ought these points to have in teaching and writing, especially on matters of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation?

3)Why is it that even a minimal affirmation and explanation of these points with their implications for understanding the Bible and addressing the problems we find there are deemed out of place or even unhelpful for the intended audience of I&I?

A biblical-theological approach claiming to be developing in the tradition of Vos will have ready and clear affirmative answers to these questions. The HFC Reply, despite its considerable length, does not provide such answers.

A frequent claim of its supporters is I&I’s continuity with Westminster’s past. The following two items test that claim by comparison with the work of John Murray, as much as anyone a benchmark of that past.

Murray and I&I on Myth

The following passage is toward the close of the Preface in John Murray’s Principles of Conduct (p. 9):

It may be objected that the standpoint reflected in this book fails to take account of the mythological character of certain parts of Scripture on which a good deal of the material in these studies is based, particularly Genesis 1-3. It is true that the argument is not conducted in terms of the mythological interpretation of Scripture. By implication such an interpretation is rejected. That Genesis 2 and 3, for example, is story, but does not represent history, the present writer does not believe. An express attempt to refute such an interpretation had not been undertaken. But if I have been successful in demonstrating the organic unity and continuity of the ethic presented in the Bible, this fact should itself constitute one of the most potent arguments against the mythological interpretation of Genesis 2 and 3, as also of other passages. This is just saying that the historical character of the revelation deposited in the Bible does not comport with a nonhistorical view of that which supplies the foundation and starting point of that history. It is surely apparent how far-reaching must be the reconstruction of the Bible’s representation respecting the history of revelation if we are to reject the historicity of the fall of Adam as the first man. It is the conviction of the present writer that a mythological interpretation is not compatible with the total perspective which the biblical witness furnishes. To state the case positively, the concreteness of Genesis 2 and 3, as historically interpreted, is thoroughly consonant with the concreteness which characterizes the subsequent history of Old Testament revelation.

I&I takes up the issue of myth, primarily on pages 39-41, 49-56. In comparing these two assessments of myth in the Bible, I offer the following observations.

First, I do recognize that I&I is concerned for a “more generous” understanding of myth (40), one that is not synonymous, as has been its usual understanding in biblical studies, with “untrue,” “made-up,” “storybook” (40). No doubt Murray has this latter understanding in view in rejecting “the mythological interpretation.”

Murray’s speaking, simply and without differentiating, in the singular, of “the mythological interpretation” was responsible and defensible around 1960, when he wrote, as I believe it still is today. For the view of myth he rejects has been and continues to be common and widespread to the present within the historical-critical tradition of biblical interpretation. Emerging in late-Enlightenment scholarly study of the Bible, as a categorical rejection of its God-breathed and infallible truthfulness and historical reliability, this view also has its precursors, going back at least as far as the view flatly rejected in Scripture itself (e.g., 2 Pet 1:16).

Second, for these historical reasons, and for the sake of avoiding confusion and misunderstanding, it is incumbent on anyone wishing to maintain myth in the Bible in a more benign (“more generous”) sense to delineate that sense carefully from the conventional and widely accepted sense. As far as I can see, I&I fails to do that. Twice (40, 50), myth is defined as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific, way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” But this definition simply begs important, even crucial questions. How does it differ from the understanding of the dominant historical-critical conception of myth in biblical studies? How is it any less applicable to the myths elsewhere in the ancient Mesopotamian world, whose similarities with the biblical materials I&I is so concerned to stress?

Specifically, what is factual, what is the historical reference in the storied myths of Genesis that differentiates them from myths of the nations surrounding Israel? The most I can find by way of an answer in I&I is that, in distinction from the gods of other contemporary myths, Israel’s God is Yahweh and that “Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship” (55). But what is there in fact about who Yahweh is and what he has done that makes him worthy of worship? As far as I can see, according to I&I, the Genesis myths provide little, if any, help in answering that question.

Third, and this further compounds my difficulties, the major part of I&I’s discussion of myth unfolds under the heading, “Is Genesis Myth or History?” (49; cf. 39). Recognizing, as already noted, that I&I wants to maintain myth in Genesis other than in the sense of “untrue” or “made-up,” nonetheless a couple of things have to be said here. First, in terms of the question posed in this either/or heading, I&I comes down on the side of myth. That means, in some sense, it is not history and so makes it all the more incumbent - my concern expressed in the previous paragraph - that I&I do what it has not done: clearly distinguish its understanding of myth from the common, historical-critical one and also clarify in what sense Genesis, now to be taken mythically, is still historically reliable, that is, in what sense it is, in Dr. Enns’ terms, still “true” and “not made up.” Second, the heading question, “Is Genesis Myth or History?” has history in view in a modern, scientific sense. It apparently does not consider any other notion of trustworthy history.

Unless I’m missing something, it would have been far better, perhaps mandatory, and certainly wiser, to come down categorically, instead, on the side of history and then clarify how Genesis, in the face of its similarities with ANE creation myths, is nonetheless historical in a nonmodern, nonscientific sense. That at least is the approach that has been taken by the best in the Reformed tradition - e.g., Bavinck and Warfield, Murray and Stonehouse. Their view, all told, to cite just one, is that “the historiography of Holy Scripture has a character of its own,” which, among other considerations, means, “It does not speak the exact language of science and the academy but the language of observation and daily life.” It “uses the language of everyday experience, which is and remains always true…. the language of observation, which will always continue to exist alongside that of science and the academy” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1: 447, 445, 446; worth reading in this regard in their entirety are pp. 445, from the paragraph beginning at the bottom of the page, through 447, the last full paragraph).

Fourth, concerning its intended audience and purpose, I cannot see how I&I is helpful. Those struggling with faith issues about the Bible who may initially think they are helped by I&I will eventually be confronted by the question of historical reference in the Genesis material. Unless they close their eyes to the issues involved, they will be bound to ask in what sense, if any, it is reliable as narrative. Where that happens the treatment of I&I will prove to be confusing at best. I wish I did not have to draw such a conclusion, but I can’t see how it can be otherwise.

Finally, Murray’s observation may not be missed or evaded. “It is surely apparent how far-reaching must be the reconstruction of the Bible’s representation respecting the history of revelation if we are to reject the historicity of the fall of Adam as the first man.” Dr. Enns may very well wish to affirm the historicity of both Adam as the first man and his fall. But it is not clear on what grounds he does so. Clear affirmations of the historicity of Adam and his fall elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45, 47) rest on Genesis 1-3. The integrity of the entire history of redemption, including its culmination in the death and resurrection of Christ, stands or falls with the historicity of its beginning, as presented in Genesis 2-3. I cannot see how the mythical approach to Genesis argued in I&I contributes to maintaining that integrity. If anything, it tends toward undermining it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Liberalism: Don't follow death and all his friends

As a follow up to this post, here are some observations by Iain Murray on the impact of Liberal theology on the Free Church, and the poignant story of Ferdinand Christian Baur's unbelief:

The school of men who undid the commitment of the Free Church to the Bible did not stem the attack of naturalistic thinking on Christianity. Instead they accelerated it, and introduced the unbelief of the world into the Church.

They did so...while ever promising the opposite result. Yet this very assurance was being given when the results of higher criticism upon the German churches were already known and visible.

Horatius Bonar had drawn attention to the fact when he was Moderator of the Free Church in 1883. In speaking of the fruit in Europe, he instanced the life of one of the most influential of the German critics, Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860):

In youth he was full of evangelical zeal. He came in contact with Strauss, and gradually the spiritual life went from him. Unbelief took the place of faith. He found he could not even pray; and when his wife was dying he had to send for an earnest pastor in the neighbourhood to pray with her, and supply his lack of service.

He found himself dumb in the presence of his dying wife. Unbelief could do nothing for him. It had closed his lips; and it had hidden the face of God.

Iain H. Murray, "The Tragedy of the Free Church" in A Scottish Christian Heritage, p. 384-5

Man leans upon a broken reed

The age's progress fears no God,
No righteous law, no Judge's throne;
Man bounds along his new-found road,
And calls the universe his own.

Old misbelief becomes earth's creed;
The falsehood lives, the truth has died;
Man leans upon a broken reed,
And falls in helplessness of pride.

He spurns the hand that would have led,
The lips that would have spoken love;
The Book that would his soul have fed,
And taught him wisdom from above.

Eternal Light, hide not Thy face;
Eternal Truth, direct our way;
Eternal Love, shine forth in grace,
Reveal our darkness and Thy day!

Horatius Bonar

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Richard Gaffin responds to Peter Enns (2): WTS and Biblical Theology

The full document can be found here. Gaffin's critique of Enns continues:

A perception present among faculty supporters of I&I and others (for instance, many on the SOS website) is that opposition within the faculty to it and its major emphases is driven by an unduly restrictive and exegetically uninformed and disinterested confessionalism that signals, among other things, an abandonment of interest in biblical theology and the tradition of redemptive-historical interpretation that have been an important and distinctive part of the training provided by WTS over the years.

I disagree with this assessment. In fact, as someone who over the years in my teaching and writing has had no greater interest than biblical theology and its fructifying potential for systematic theology, I dispute it as vigorously as I can. The right of biblical theology as such is not at issue in the controversy over I&I. Not only does no one on the faculty with basic concerns about the book question that right, but we all, in differing degrees no doubt, cherish it and the continuance of biblical theology at WTS.

Rather, at stake are two contending understandings of biblical theology, the one for whom Geerhardus Vos can be said to be the father, the other a more recent and diverging conception reflected, for instance, in troublesome ways in views present in I&I. Why do I say this?

Consider the following quote from Vos, written in 1916 at the height of his career ("Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke" in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, pp. 232-33; bolding added):
In the fourth place the Reformed theology has with greater earnestness than any other type of Christian doctrine upheld the principles of the absoluteness and unchanging identity of truth. It is the most anti-pragmatic of all forms of Christian teaching. And this is all the more remarkable since it has from the beginning shown itself possessed of a true historic sense in the apprehension of the progressive character of the deliverance of truth. Its doctrine of the covenants on its historical side represents the first attempt at constructing a history of revelation and may justly be considered the precursor of what is at present called biblical theology. But the Reformed have always insisted upon it that at no point shall a recognition of the historical delivery and apprehension of truth be permitted to degenerate into a relativity of truth. The history remains a history of revelation. Its total product agrees absolutely in every respect with the sum of truth as it lies in the eternal mind and purpose of God. If already the religion of the Old and New Testament church was identical, while the process of supernatural revelation was still going on, how much more must the church, since God has spoken for the last time in His Son, uphold the ideal absoluteness of her faith as guaranteed by its agreement with the Word of God that abideth forever. It is an unchristian and an unbiblical procedure to make development superior to revelation instead of revelation superior to development, to accept belief and tendencies as true because they represent the spirit of the time and in a superficial optimism may be regarded as making for progress. Christian cognition is not an evolution of truth, but a fallible apprehension of truth which must at each point be tested by an accessible absolute norm of truth. To take one’s stand upon the infallibility of the Scriptures is an eminently religious act; it honors the supremacy of God in the sphere of truth in the same way as the author of Hebrews does by insisting upon it, notwithstanding all progress, that the Old and the New Testament are the same authoritative speech of God.(1)
In writing and lecturing over the years, I have occasionally cited what is bolded above, in the interests of affirming the continuity there is between confessional Reformed orthodoxy and the biblical theology advocated by Vos and others following him. Here, however, I want instead to direct attention to the nonbolded material, which I encourage you to go back and re-read, along with the footnote.

I am certainly not suggesting an exact correspondence between the outlook Vos was opposing and views present in I&I. But there is, I believe, an affinity, particularly on the fundamental and ever-crucial issue of the relationship between revelation and history and how that relationship is viewed. Vos stresses, specifically, that within Scripture the historical character of its truth, while integral, is subordinate to its revealed character. At every point revelation is superior to historical development.

In contrast, in the way I&I conceives of and utilizes the incarnational analogy, in what I&I both says as well as does not say, what Vos is so intent on affirming is at best unclear, especially for the Old Testament. In the approach of I&I, in a constitutive way as far as I can see, revelation is blurred by highlighting the “messiness” of history (e.g., 109, 110, 111, 161). With that blurring, meaningful divine authorship fades to a vanishing point by making the intention of each human author, with all the limitations of his historical situation and circumstances, determinative for the meaning of the text as it originated. With I&I’s resulting lack of clarity and uncertainty, Scripture, for Vos the “accessible absolute norm of truth” (“revealing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”) that we must have in our ever “fallible apprehension of truth,” is rendered obscure and uncertain.

Further, as Vos notes, “the religion of the Old and New Testament church [is] identical”; the way of salvation for both old and new covenants is the same. It is difficult to see how this truth, the unity of biblical religion - a central tenet of the Reformed faith (e.g., WCF, 7:5-6; 8:6; 11:6; WLC, 33-35) - is not being obscured, even compromised, by views in I&I and elsewhere (the article on “Faith” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, commented on below).

On his website, Dr. Enns has posted some comments on biblical theology (“What is Biblical Theology and Why Do I Like It So Much?” December 23, 2007). There (par. 10) he defines biblical theology as “an attempt to offer a coherent picture of Scripture, respecting the historical particularities of any portion while also understanding that portion as a part of a grand story whose conclusion is known to us.” As the “brief definition” he intends, this is helpful. But, then, as he spells out what this definition has in view, problems enter, particularly for how the Old Testament is viewed, problems akin to those already noted by many in I&I. For instance (par. 7 & 8), involved is “holding in tension two dimensions of the Bible’s own theological dynamic: (1) The theological contours of the OT, which is itself fluctuating, diverse, developing, and (2) observing how the NT writers ‘take captive’ the OT and bring it to bear on the reality of the crucified and risen Christ.” Needed as well, we are told, is “an adequate understanding of how the NT seizes the OT … enriched by understanding the hermeneutical world of the Second Temple period in which the NT writers wrote.”

Briefly, in response, in fact the NT does not “seize” the OT. If anything, if we choose to use such language, it is rather the NT writers who are “seized” by the OT; the OT, in its own all-encompassing and basically clear witness to Christ, “seizes” them. And it is hardly apt to speak of mastering perceived theological fluctuations (contradictions?) within the OT by “taking captive” the OT for Christ.

We are bound to judge otherwise in the light, for example, of what is said to be true about the pervasive Christ-centeredness of the OT in itself, in passages like Luke 24:44-45, John 5:39-47 and 1 Peter 1:10-11 - passages, unless I’ve missed something, about which Dr. Enns is silent in discussing the NT use of the OT in I&I and elsewhere, except for a brief treatment of Luke 24 in I&I as providing “a hermeneutical foundation for how the Old Testament is now to be understood by Christians” (119, italics added; cf. 129, 134).

In this regard, I accent here a point raised again below (in #5 on the NT use of the OT). In John 5:46-47 Jesus says to Jews who were rejecting him, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" It seems reasonably clear that here Jesus affirms a relative overall clarity and independence of Moses (the OT), as a witness to himself, distinct from his own teaching (and so from the NT as well). So much is that the case (v. 45) that, in the just condemnation of those rejecting him, this OT witness to Christ serves as an adequate basis in itself and apart from his own self-witness. One does not get that impression of the OT from reading I&I.

I know that Dr. Enns sincerely believes that his work in biblical theology is on a trajectory that I, for one, as a former teacher, have helped to set. But, although I hope I have made responsible and peace-seeking efforts to be persuaded that I’m wrong, I’m left with the conclusion that we are not on the same trajectory in important ways. As I have tried to indicate here briefly, the biblical theology he advocates and that is reflected in I&I and elsewhere diverges from the Reformed and confessionally compatible biblical theology inaugurated by Vos. It does so in a way that blurs the fundamental difference there is between that biblical theology, founded, as it is, on a clear and biblically sound understanding of the Bible’s inspiration and final authority, on the one hand, and the historical-critical understanding of biblical theology, with its contrary presuppositions involving rational autonomy, on the other (one evidence of this methodological blurring is the perception, expressed repeatedly, that on the issues it raises I&I “move[s] beyond” (15) and “transcends” (171) the divide (“impasse ,“ 48) between liberal-modernist and evangelical-conservative-fundamentalist approaches, e.g., 14-15, 21, 41, 47, 49; see further the comments that follow in #3).

Dr. Enns captions his website, “a time to tear down | A Time to Build Up.” That is how he sees himself in his work. In the matter of biblical theology, for one, I fear that the effect (though not the intention) of that work is to tear down what WTS has stood for and to build up something that is proving to be alien.

So, as I contemplate all that has transpired and been brought to light by I&I and in the aftermath of its publication, including numerous colleagues who, with virtually no substantial reservations, have affirmed it, then, as he has asked toward the close of his “Reflections” (see above), I, for my part, am left wondering, with distress, “what has happened to Westminster?”


(1) Earlier in his 1894 inaugural address at Princeton Seminary, he wrote in a similar vein (“The Idea of Biblical Theology,” Redemptive History, p. 19):

The second point to be emphasized in our treatment of Biblical Theology is that the historical character of the truth is not in any way antithetical to, but throughout subordinated to, its revealed character. Scriptural truth is not absolute, notwithstanding its historic setting; but the historic setting has been employed by God for the very purpose of revealing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is not the duty of Biblical Theology to seek first the historic features of the Scriptural ideas, and to think that the absolute character of the truth as revealed of God is something secondary to be added thereunto. The reality of revelation should be the supreme factor by which the historic factor is kept under control. With the greatest variety of historical aspects, there can, nevertheless, be no inconsistencies or contradictions in the Word of God. The student of Biblical Theology is not to hunt for little systems in the Bible that shall be mutually exclusive, or to boast of his skill in detecting such as a mark of high scholarship.

Richard Gaffin responds to Peter Enns (1)

The full document can be found here. Dr. Gaffin writes:

In January 2008 Dr. Enns sent his “Reflections on Inspiration and Incarnation” to the board and voting faculty. Currently he has begun posting portions of this document on his website and in doing so notes also that it “appears to have been fairly widely circulated (which, as I state on page one of that report, is perfectly fine by me).” He also notes that he is aware of “at least one website” where the document appears in full. In view of this sort of circulation, I include the following comments here.

Toward the close of his “Reflections” is a discussion of Academic Freedom and Obligation, including confessional subscription (a discussion with which I have substantial disagreements not addressed here). He concludes that discussion with the following quotation from something I wrote in 1981, by which, he believes, his “thoughts are well summarized” (pp. 36-37):

… whether in our midst Scripture will still have the last word, whether the whole counsel of God will be something more than what we imagine we already have under our control and have already mastered with our theological structures and doctrinal formulations. Will we, too, as the church must in every time and place, continue to return there to be reconfirmed and, when necessary, corrected in our faith, and, above all, to discover there the inexhaustible and "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8)?

He then adds the final comment, “I read these words, which pierce my heart, and I wonder ‘what has happened to Westminster?’”

Since he has brought me into his “Reflections” in this fashion, some response on my part is appropriate, even mandatory, especially so because my deep concerns about views taken in I&I are well known within the faculty and board, and the fact is now public that within the faculty I am among those who are unable to join in approving I&I. The suggestion left by the quotation and final comment above, then, is that the Gaffin of 1981 and today are not the same and that, lamentably, that change has not been for the better.

I will be as brief and pointed as I can. As Dr. Enns himself notes, the quotation above was made in a particular context (“the Shepherd controversy,” p. 36). That contextual factor is all-important. What I wrote was in defense of contested views in a context where both sides within the WTS community (board and faculty) shared a largely common understanding of the nature of their commitment to the subordinate authority of the Westminster standards and, more importantly, a commonly understood commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture as the written word of God. Those commitments were never at issue, no matter how strongly held were the conflicting views about the particular teaching of Scripture and the Standards in dispute (primarily the nature of justifying faith). In the present context, however, the differences among us are, I judge, of another and more fundamental order. The foundational commitments held in common in 1981 are precisely what are now at issue and being threatened. In having to say that, I hope that I have made every responsible effort to convince myself otherwise.

As to a perceived change in me, for whatever it’s worth, as far as I can know myself, if the context and issues as they were in 1981 were today’s, I would write now what I wrote then. And if the issues in 1981 had been what they are today, I would have been of the same mind then as I am now.

Richard Gaffin publicly expresses concern over Inspiration and Incarnation

My friend Jeff Waddington notified me that this document by Richard Gaffin expressing several of his concerns with Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation has been made available. This is a public document and is used with Dr. Gaffin's permission. I will post the introduction below. Please follow the link at the top of the page for a downloadable version.


The publication in mid-2005 of Inspiration and Incarnation by Dr. Enns left me in a difficult position. The second paragraph of its Preface (p. 9), fairly read, leaves the impression that, though not necessarily fully endorsing its content, Westminster Seminary as an institution and his colleagues are supportive of the book’s publication. For me, for one, that was not the case. My initial reading soon after it appeared left me with substantial reservations about much of its content as well as its rhetorical strategy, and also with considerable misgivings about its publication. Subsequent re-reading and discussions have not alleviated but reinforced these concerns.

An aspect of my difficulty stemmed from the fact that the book soon became the object of discussion in many quarters as well as of a number of published and online reviews. The most substantial of these make searching and serious criticisms, criticisms that in large part I share. At the same time, however, I have not been in a position to express my problems with the book openly, because of a commitment, as a colleague of Dr. Enns, to confine myself to a process of closed discussion within the faculty and board. This process was one that I not only felt bound by but also wanted to support, with the hope that the outcome might be a satisfactory resolution of the division in our midst concerning his views and their compatibility with Scripture and the Westminster Standards, especially, in the case of the latter, chapter 1 (on Scripture) of the Confession of Faith. Regrettably, these internal discussions did not result in a viable resolution.

At a special meeting on March 26 of this year the seminary’s board decided to make public its action at that meeting and also to make certain key documents available to our students in hard copy and to others on the seminary’s website (the HTFC précis of its Response to I&I as well as the HFC précis of its Reply, initially omitted inadvertently, are now also available on the website). With that decision the situation is now changed and I am free to express myself publicly.

A couple of things should be kept in mind in reading this document. First, it does not provide a full or self-contained discussion of all my concerns. Rather, along with a couple of new items, it is a composite of various items previously sent to the faculty and/or the board during the course of discussions over the past two years, made available here with some editing. Also, like the “official” documents now made public, they originated in the context of discussions not accessible to the reader. Despite the definite disadvantage this entails, I nonetheless offer them here with the hope that, read along with other materials now available, they will provide a somewhat fuller perception of the issues raised by this controversy, about which, in my view, there is considerable confusion and misconception abroad, within the seminary community as well as beyond.

A particular concern I have in this document is to make clear, especially to students, past and present, whom I can now address openly, major concerns I have with I&I and why I, for one, believe it necessary for me to have voted against the “Edgar-Kelly” motion, adopted by the faculty in support of the views of Dr. Enns.

“I have not shirked the difficult questions.” These words under the portrait of original faculty OT professor, Robert Dick Wilson, which hangs in Machen Hall in what was at one time the faculty dining room, have marked the institutional outlook of WTS from its beginning. They ought to be a watchword for everyone and every institution that takes studying the Bible seriously. At the same, however, it should be clear that the right way of addressing such questions is crucial. Solutions wrongly arrived at only compound the problems. No one I’m aware of is faulting I&I for raising problems and seeking their solutions (though it may be asked at a number of points whether matters he raises are really problems). The major difficulty with I&I is its proposed resolutions of problems.

This document is strongly critical of certain views of Dr. Enns, as deviating in important respects from Scripture and the Westminster Standards, Chapter 1 of the Confession in particular. I am keenly aware of the responsibility making such criticisms places on me, above all before the Lord. Over the years I have received enough of what I consider unfair and misplaced criticism of my own views to be doubly concerned to avoid that in dealing with the views of others. After many hours of reflection and discussion, formal and informal, over the past several years, the analysis and criticisms expressed in this document are, for the most part, fairly firm. But where I may need to be corrected, I hope for grace to be given me to recognize and acknowledge that.

This is a sad time for Westminster. In the confusion that has descended upon us, with many I regret the stresses that have resulted, particularly for Dr. Enns and his family and for others as well. With many I’m deeply burdened about the magnitude of the differences that have emerged among us, faculty and board, and our inability to resolve them. Whatever one’s outlook on the issues involved in this controversy, I hope that many will also join me in beseeching our God that he will be pleased to preserve Westminster, consistent with his blessings on it in the past, for a future of usefulness to the church.

I consider this a public document that others are free to circulate at their discretion.

R. B. Gaffin, Jr.
Westminster Theological Seminary

June 2008

By craftiness in deceitful schemes

Heresies are made to look good so that we will believe them more readily.

So says John Owen:
It hath been the constant practice of all persons, in all ages, who have made it their design to beget and propagate a belief of any doctrine contrary to the form of wholesome words, to begin with, and insist mainly upon, those parts of their beloved conception and offspring which seem to be most beautiful and taking, for the turning aside of poor, weak, unlearned, and unstable souls.

...knowing full well that their judgments and attention being once engaged, such is the frame of men's spirits under delusion, they will choose rather to swallow down all that follows than to discharge themselves of what they have already received.
"Of the death of Christ" in The Works of John Owen: volume 10, p. 431

What do we mean when we say that a confession is a "subordinate standard"?

A helpful comment by R. A. Finlayson:
A Confession is referred to as a Church's 'subordinate standard' because it is in very fact subordinate to the Scriptures, the fountainhead of all revealed truth. This subordination, however, does not affect its authority in matters of faith, but rather serves to emphasise the fact that it is derived from Scripture.

When a Confession is accepted, therefore, it is accepted as in accordance with the truth of Scripture, and we profess that we have examined both the Scripture and the Confession and that we have found them in agreement.

For that reason we cannot appeal from the Confession to Scripture in a way of repudiating the Confession, without thereby withdrawing our subscription to it as agreeable to the Scripture and the Confession of our Faith.

To set aside its doctrine in favour of some other interpretation of Scripture is manifestly to abandon the Confession altogether.
"The Significance of the Westminster Confession" in Reformed Theological Writings, p. 231-2

Liberalism: A Warning From History

"How Liberal Theology Infected Scotland" is a deeply instructive short article written by R. A. Finlayson, the late professor of Systematic Theology in the Free Church College in Edinburgh.

Finlayson attributed the nineteenth century infiltration of Liberalism into a confessional Church to wrong priorities by the leaders. He wrote:
...not content with opening three colleges, in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen...her theological students would not deem their course complete, or their standing in the Church assured, without a postgraduate course of one or more years in one of the more famous Colleges in Germany.

From that folly, the product of spiritual pride, the Free Church was to reap a bitter harvest. Germany then was the nursery of Liberal theology, which was spreading like prairie fire through the Protestant Churches of Europe. (Reformed Theological Writings, p. 195)
Reading this assessment reminded me of the words of Archibald Alexander to the young Charles Hodge. Hodge has been given leave by the Seminary to spend two years studying in Europe. As well as developing his linguistic skills, Hodge would become acquainted with biblical criticism. Alexander cautioned him:
"Remember that you breathe a poisoned atmosphere. If you lose the lively and deep impression of Divine truth if you fall into scepticism or even into coldness - you will lose more than you gain from all the German professors and libraries.. "
At the start of the twentieth century a similar situation was faced by the young Gresham Machen as he studied in Marburg, Germany, under the renowned Liberal scholar Wilhelm Herrman. Machen said that Herrman believed hardly anything essential to Christianity. Yet here was a man who at the same time exuded an incredibly impressive piety. Although he rarely spoke of the profound spiritual struggle that he went through in Germany, one of Machen's students recalled him saying that:
...the great Dr. Herrman presented his position with such power I would sometimes leave his presence wondering how I could ever retain my confidence in the historical accuracy of the Gospel narratives. The I would go to my room, take out the Gospel of Mark and read it from beginning to end in one sitting--and my doubts would fade. I realized that the document could not possibly be the invention of the mind of a mere man. (Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, p. 230)
It was a remarkable act of mercy that kept the young Charles Hodge, and the young Gresham Machen, from capitulating to the errors of their teachers. Embracing orthodoxy, and remaining orthodox, cannot ultimately be attributed to our own powers. How different, would the history of Princeton been if the poison of Liberalism had infected the blood stream of Charles Hodge. Perhaps we can see what it would have looked like by observing the influence of a notable Hebrew scholar on the other side of the Atlantic.

It ought to be kept in mind that, more often than not, theological teachers who embrace errors remain convinced that they are still orthodox. In Scotland, A. B. Davidson, who was appointed in 1863 to the Chair of Hebrew Old Testament Literature in the New College, Edinburgh, had drunk deeply at the wells of German Liberal theology. He subtly began to introduce the new theology. Finlayson notes that Davidson gave this counsel to his students:
"Be careful to give this to your congregations in small doses."
A. B. Bruce, professor at the Glasgow College, is a further tragic example of the deleterious effects of Liberal theology:
Of some others in the forefront of the movement, it can only be said that there was a breakdown in character as well as in faith, over which the veil of charity must be drawn. As sad a case as any was, perhaps, that of A. B. Bruce, because of the early promise of his work on the teaching of Christ: and yet at the end of the day one of his closest friends commented sorrowfully: 'Sandy Bruce died without a single Christian conviction.' (p. 198)
From the vantage point of the 21st century as we survey the wreckage of Liberalism, the emptying of the churches, we rightly wonder why this was not seen to be the logical outcome of the new theology. Finlayson touched on that very point:
The fact so difficult to understand is that this barren rationalism captured so many of the Reformed Colleges within a few decades, and Church leaders, professing to be evangelical, could not see that it could produce only bankruptcy in the realm of faith, and complete sterility in the life of the Church. (p. 195)
As deluded as this marriage of evangelical convictions to Biblical criticism now appears, at the time it was considered necessary for the survival of Christian faith in the modern world. This was the "New Apologetic." But it was a compromise with the spirit of the age. Tragically when it was preached it was to sound the death knell of authentic Christian faith. The damage done was unspeakable. Considered in the light of the Day of Judgement it is deeply traumatic to contemplate.

Marcus Dods, who was to become Principal of New College, Edinburgh, in 1907 wrote in a letter to a friend:
"The churches won't know themselves fifty years hence. It is hoped some little rag of faith may be left when all's done."
The story in Scotland of what I have called "Liberalism: A Warning from History" is poignantly told by R. A Finlayson. Iain Murray gives a much fuller account, from which I have also drawn, in his chapter "The Tragedy of the Free Church of Scotland" (in A Scottish Christian Heritage, Banner of Truth). It is a chapter that should be read by every theological student, and every seminary professor. It is a sobering warning to our own generation.

We ought to pray for the preservation of the gospel in the seminaries. This "holding fast to sound words" is the application of an apostolic mandate, as the pastoral epistles make clear. Seminaries are for churches, and not for the sake of the academy.

We ought to pray specifically that men would not be ashamed of Jesus and his words (Mark 8:38)

We ought to pray for clarity to think through the consequences of compromise, and courage to fight battles. As Luther put it:
"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."
In the nineteenth century many Liberals started out as evangelicals, and as confessional Reformed men. Many sought to reach a modern culture that they knew was departing from previous Christian influences. They tried to hold together views destructive of historic orthodoxy, a fervent spirituality, and an evangelistic and apologetic concern. But when they lost their grip on the truth their spirituality and evangelistic concerns merely masked the presence of another gospel, which was no gospel at all.

Some Summer reading

The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales (Tadau Methodistiaid): 2 Volumes, John Morgan Jones & William Morgan

First published in 1890 this has only just been translated into English. These immense volmes tell the story of the powerful preaching of the gospel in Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries. In case you were wondering, "The Welsh Methodists held as one body to Calvinistic doctrines."

The Remaking of Evangelical Theology, Gary Dorrien

So far I'm not impressed by the wedge that he drives between the Reformers and the Reformed orthodox views of Scripture, or with his take on Old Princeton.

A Dissertation on Divine Justice and Vindicae Evangelicae, John Owen

By far the most relevant material on the 21st century debates about the atonement.

The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, Rogers and McKim

Whither? A Theological Question for the Times, Charles Augustus Briggs

Sharpening my knives ready for some more writing on infallibility

Scripture and Truth, Carson and Woodbridge

Antibiotics for Rogers and McKim

The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, Tony Jones

The Courage to be Protestant, David Wells

Here I Stand: Bio of Luther, Roland Bainton

Plus, at a devotional and longer term preparation for preaching level, Luther and Calvin on Galatians

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Evangelical/Emergent dance of death

My copy of The Courage to be Protestant has finally arrived. I came across the following comments by David Wells that neatly summarize my thesis in the forthcoming Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church:
Evangelicals today are fearful, but they are fearful of all the wrong things. They are deeply apprehensive about becoming obsolete, of being left behind, so to speak, of being passed by, and of not being relevant. (p. 48)

This, of course, was the fear that haunted the older generation of Protestant liberals, so many of whom began their lives in evangelical homes. They were overwhelmed by the need to be relevant to the culture...Their conversation partner was the Enlightenment.

This lesson, however, is entirely lost on most evangelicals today. The reason is partly that they are treading a different path and so they do not see the parallels. Theirs is not the accommodation to high culture, as was the liberals'.

That culture was suffused with intellectual pride and humanism, with rationalism and hostility to Christian faith. It is now dying. The Enlightenment, from which much of it arose, has all but collapsed, as has the Christianity that had made itself into an ally.

The parallels between these older liberals and today's evangelicals are not in the culture to which they are accommodating but in the process of accommodation. Behind each is the same mind-set. The difference is only in what is being accommodated. And the dangers are all concealed beneath the apparent innocence of the experiment.

The fact is, however, that evangelical Christianity today is as endangered by its postmodern dance partner as the earlier liberals were by their Enlightenment partner. (p. 49)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sound doctrine is...

Sound doctrine is God teaching us about himself, his ways and works, in his own words. And he tells us these things so that we will worship him alone.

Without sound doctrine we will think of God, ourselves and creation in the wrong way. And we will therefore relate to God and the things that he has made wrongly too.

The Bible, from beginning to end, calls us to confess the truth of God, and to confess it with our all.

Sound doctrine speaks, and sings, of the majesty, worth, glory and grace of the sovereign triune God. Saints love to tell of his ways and his works, of his wise decrees, mighty providence, awesome judgements and unfathomable grace.

Sound doctrine is truth to be believed, cherished, sung, proclaimed, taught, defended, remembered and passed on.

Have you ever wondered why God should tell us about those things that he planned before time? Of why he speaks to us of grace given to his people before the ages began? Is it not so that we would marvel at his ways, adore him, and worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Is it important that we understand clearly the state of sin and misery that we are all in? How did we get there? How bad is it? What can be done about it?

If you are not from a church background where a "confession of faith" is a big deal in the week by week life of the church, or is thought of as perhaps a bit academic, the best place to start is with the these words:

1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.

2. How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

You can read the rest here. Why not work through, and memorise, the first twenty one questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism? They set before us in clear, precise, and moving language the drama of the fall and the deliverance of a grace saved people out of the estate of sin and misery and into an estate of salvation, by a Redeemer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The shape and pattern of gospel ministry

Here's the intro to my address at the Bala ministers conference:

A friend of mine, who is now a minister, in his student days had a summer job in a builders yard. One of his first tasks was to cut several identical lengths of wood that a customer had ordered. So he measured out the length and cut the first one. Then he took that piece of wood ,lay it along the length he was cutting from, marked it off, and cut the second piece. He then took the second piece, measured the next length and cut it. He then took that third cutting and used it to measure the fourth. He took the fourth and measured the fifth. And on and on he went. Each freshly cut length was used to measure the next. By the end he had eight pieces of wood of different lengths, each one shorter than the other, and one angry boss.

How are you and I measuring out our ministries? How do we determine our priorities? As we think of the pressures on us each week how will be know what really matters in ministry?

One way would be to take our measurements from great ministers in the past; from a George Whitefield, a Spurgeon, a Richard Baxter, a Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And there is much to be gained from learning from men that God raised up and eminently used in the past. Another way would be to look at the ministry of men like John Piper, or Tim Keller, and to see how we can be like them.

But the best thing for us to do as we think of what really matters in ministry is to go to the place where the most accurate measurements are given.

In Acts 20:17-38 we are given the true dimensions that set out the shape and pattern of authentic gospel ministry and pastoral care.

If we have lost our way, or if we have been using the wrong standard, this passage will help us realign our ministry. But this is more than a passage to give us the measurements for ministry. Measurements in themselves are cold and technical. No, this message should stir up our hearts and touch our consciences to preach the gospel, and to devote ourselves afresh to serving Christ and to feeding and protecting his Church.

One writer has said that this is "the most explicit and complete instruction on spiritual leadership given to a New Testament church."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Isn't it time the Church found God?

From the Telegraph:

"This week Holy Cows makes the case that the Church of England should stop blaming the government for secularizing society and favouring other religions. Instead, it should look in the mirror – it has been actively sabotaging itself for some time.

If your vicar doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, has doubts about God, wears funky trainers, likes ethnic furniture, and is constantly having inter-faith meetings with leaders of other religions and giving them insider tips on how to take over his patch, the chances are you are being actively secularized, by your own Church!

With a clergy like this, and an all things-to-all-men approach, does the Church of England actually communicate what it stands for? Does it know what it stands for?

There’s no point pointing the finger at the government when the Church has been doing everything within its means to make itself irrelevant."

You can watch the five minute video clip here. It is a little disappointing compared with the paragraphs above.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Don't waste your church

This week I'm preparing to preach at the Bala Ministers Conference. I'm giving an exposition of Paul's charge to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-36. Richard Mayhue describes this as "the most explicit and complete instruction on spiritual leadership given to a New Testament church."

It is interesting to listen to the notes that Paul sounds in these verses. They tell us a great deal not only about objective priorities in local church ministry but also the kind of emphasis that these priorities demand from us in our thinking, praying, preaching, pastoring, admonishing and relating to our people.

One thing that stands out is Paul's insistence on what we could call the "clear and present danger" of false teachers. Church leaders should expect trouble in this form. So Paul exhorts them to "pay attention" to themselves and to the flock, and to "be alert." Or, in other words, don't be naive about error, don't be negligent or complacent.

Confrontation with error is going to happen to you at some point in church leadership. And it will involve confronting people not just ideas. When it happens do what Paul does. Don't count your life as precious and valuable (20:24). Count the flock of God as valuable because it has been obtained by God with his own blood (20:28).

False teachers are fierce wolves who will not spare the flock (20:29). Don't waste your church by failing to spot the pelt underneath the fleece. Don't waste your church by being soft on wolves.

Chris Green has some helpful words on this in his helpful book The Word of His Grace: A guide to teaching and preaching from Acts:
Christians today take many things seriously: there are wonderful teaching resources, and there's great music available. We are encouraged to do evangelism well, and there are practical courses available to help us, and there are organizations that will use our money and time to keep the practical arm of the church's programme supported.

We take ecumenism seriously, and the arts seriously, and the family seriously, and drugs seriously--and we hardly think to take the danger of heresy seriously. The danger of wolves in shepherd's clothing. And it is a real danger...which means that all the other things we do take seriously are ruined. I think if we knew more about farming this image would scare us silly.

Now, of course, if we saw that kind of destruction coming we'd be careful and avoid it, but these savage animals are very nice people.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Interview with David F. Wells

Derek Thomas interviews David F. Wells about his new book The Courage to be Protestant here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Michael Haykin speaking at the EMW ministers conference June 16-18

From 16th-18th June Dr. Michael Haykin will be speaking on the person and work of the Holy Spirit at the EMW ministers conference held in Bala, North Wales.

Dr. Haykin is the author of numerous books including Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival, and Defense of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today. He has recently written The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality. Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I'm due to give the closing conference address on "What Really Matters in Ministry" from Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.