Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bad News

Well, it was fun while it lasted. After working for a little more than a month at a bookstore, and two week in management, the bookstore goes and closes. The worst part is, I can no longer do special orders from my store for the last three weeks we're open, so I can't even blow the money I make.

And people wonder why I am a pessimist. Stupid Greece Mall and Barnes and Nobles.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Good News

OK, another short break from my normal fare, but I am excited. After working at Walden Books for a week and a half, I was promoted to keyholder. It is nice to finally break into management after trying in vain for nearly a year at Hallmark.

Now the challenge will be excercising self-control with the healthy discount on books!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

MXPX-Chick Magnet

As little break from something serious, I found this video while exploring YouTube. It is from the concert I went to at the Electric Factory in Philly in June. This is a great song from a great show by a great band. What is more fun is that I am one of the tall shadows right up in front of the guitarist Tom. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Reading for October 2006

Google released an updated version of their Blogging platform, so in updating, I changed the template. I hope it is a positive change; at the very least it is something different. On to the books.

Focusing on the techniques used to compose the Hebrew narrative of the Old Testament, the author examines the deliberate literary artistry in the text. Alter encourages reader to approach Scripture as literature and note similarities with fiction writing in the presentation of characters and events. Techniques considered include the prominence of dialogue, stereotypical narratives, artful repetition, and the weaving together various sources into a unified narrative. Alter shows that a careful, knowledgeable reading of the text will show the skill of the ancient authors. Of note was his discussion of the prominence and the use of dialogue in telling a story and focusing the reader’s attention on the central concern. Also useful was his discussion of repetition, demonstrating it as a deliberate phenomenon and not necessarily signs of a different sources unskillfully combined. A major emphasis was the need to notice differences in repeated material or deviations from standard paradigms to discern significance in the narrative.

  • “Reformation Then and Now”- New Horizons (October 2006)

The feature article discussed five areas of continued need for reformation based in Calvin’s writings concerning the Reformation in his day. The five areas of concern Scripture, worship, justification, the sacraments and the church. The article took note of current streams in the wider evangelical church, and made hints at concerns within Reformed circles, in particular the Federal Vision and New Perspective and Dr. Enn’s book. The other two principle articles concerned the Catholic church and their theology in light of the Second Vatican Council and Catholicism and liberty. An article of interest also concerned the needs and place of young adults in the church and efforts made by various churches to minister to them. The book Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation a series of articles by Grudem, Leland Rylem. Collins, Poythress and Winters received a glowing evaluation.

  • “What is Public Worship? Is God Looking for You?”- Evangelium (Volume 4: Issue 4; October 2006)

The articles were included in a publication from Westminster Seminary California. The lead article concerned worship with an emphasis on the regulative principle. The second article examined women’s place in ministry, where it was briefly argued that a woman can be involved in any ministry a non-ordained man is. This was an interesting article, but needed more extensive and sound argumentation. The final major article dealt with Christ in the historical books, where a forced redemptive-historical reading was applied to two historical occurrences- the apostasy of Jeroboam and Ezra’s reading of the law.

  • Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative- Adele Berlin: 1983

A short book exploring some narrative technique in the Old Testament. Characterization and point of view are the two primary concepts examined by the author. The latter section is particularly helpful in examining how a narrative presents a particular point of view, and may transition between several different perspectives in a narrative. The author used the book of Ruth as an illustration of the principles she outlined. The book concludes with an examination of the literary qualities of the narrative and their impact on source and form criticism.

  • “Young, Restless, Reformed” Christianity Today- Collin Hansen: (Volume 50: Number 9, September 2006)

A short article outlining the resurgence of Calvinism among the younger generations, particularly through Jonathan Edwards; the article highlights John Piper, Josh Harris, Al Mohler and Mark Dever. The discussion focuses on Calvinism in Baptist circles, with little discussion of those who are within Reformed churches, with the exception of a mention of R. C. Sproul.

  • Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why- Bart D. Ehrman: 2005

An introductory book to textual criticism written at a popular level. After the author gives an overview of his personal history in Biblical studies, he examines the writing and copying practices during the period of the early church. Ehrman also offers an overview of the history of the Greek text and textual criticism. The strength of the book lies in the analysis of textual variants and the reflection of the theological and social discussions of the early church, demonstrating that intentional changes must be considered along with human error in determining the best reading.

  • Desecration- Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Book 9): 2001

The major events in the book centered on Caparthia’s desecration of the Temple and the protection of the Jewish Christians at Petra. David Hassid, computer expert died at Petra, while another pilot connected with the Tribulation force was killed. Chaim took on the persona of “Micah” and served as a second Moses. The actions of Caparthia are evil to the point of being comical, and the authors dispensational belief in the unique status of Jewish believers is even more pronounced in this volume.

  • “God-Inspired Scripture” - Benjamin B. Warfield. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield

(Volume I- Revelation and Inspiration- pgs. 229-280)

The article examines in some depth the meaning of θεοπνευστος as used in II Timothy 3:16. Taking his starting point from a lexical entry by Dr. Hermann Cremer, Warfield examines the other occurrences of the word, especially in non-Christian usage, and its active or passive sense. Taking into account some of the text critical issues surrounding the term, Warfield argues that the term is not distinctly Christian, but was used by other authors than Paul. Warfield argues that the term also has an passive sense, expressing production from God, and not active sense, inspiring in relation to God.

  • “Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures” - Edmund P. Clowney. The Preacher and Preaching edited by Samuel T. Logan Jr. (163-191): 1986

An article exploring the centrality of Christ in both the Old and New Testament. The author contends that God intentionally structured events in the Old Testament to point towards and find their fulfillment in the person and work of Christ. A major concern of the essay is to encourage pastors to greater engagement with the Old Testament in preaching in a Christian manner. In expressing his redemptive-historical method, he outlines his famous rectangle. The examples Clowney chooses tend to more easily lend themselves to a redemptive historical reading; while the principles he espouses are more general and difficult to apply to many Old Testament texts.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reformation Denied in Rochester

On the evening of Sunday October 28th, four Rochester area churches joined for worship on the occasion of the 489th anniversary of the Reformation. That morning, another local Rochester church turned its back on everything the Reformers stood for.

During the morning worship service, North Baptist Church invited an artist to create a chalk drawing and a sculpture of Jesus during the sermon. Below is Senior Pastor David Whiting’s explanation for this action:

It is great to have Richard here who through some visual art- it is an act of worship to him and an aid to our worship as we focus on the greatness and the glory of God and the greatness and glory of Christ…I think because of some abuses in church history art has been relegated to the back of the church; and that’s too bad, because art is a great aid to our focus and to our worship. We don’t worship art, certainly that’s not what we do. But art is a great mind-focusing, God-glorifying, physically-enhancing blessing to our worship; so thank you Richard for helping us and sharing your gifts with us. (Sermon audio for "The Centrality of the Cross and the Glory of Christ" is available at North Baptist's Website under recent messages, from which this quote was taken.)

Compared to other stunts pulled in other Evangelical churches, this is relatively minor; but the decline from a church who once placed primary emphasis on the pure preaching of the Word of God to this action is striking. Two considerations suggest themselves in response to this action.

First, this action is a blatant denial of the foundation principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura. Scripture, and Scripture alone is the only authority to guide the church in matters of faith and practice. The application of this principle to worship is known as the regulative principle- the Bible alone determines what is acceptable in worship to God. Debate rages concerning the scope and the application of the regulative principle, but those who are committed to Biblical worship do not debate the illegitimacy of images in worship, especially of Christ. The first commandment forbids worship of any other than God, the second forbids worship in any matter and by any means not prescribed by God- forming the Scriptural basis for the regulative principle. Obedience to these commandments is the hallmark of worship passed down from the Protestant Reformation. Disobedience or disregard to these commandments lead not towards the purity envisioned and restored by the Reformation, but to the abuses of Rome.

In light of this disregard of the foundational principle of the Reformation, it is not surprising that Pastor Whiting demonstrates a parallel to the doctrine of Rome. The pathetic knowledge which most current pastors and church leaders have not only of the Bible and sound doctrine, but also of church history is a sure explanation of the repetition of the mistakes of the past. The Second Council of Nicea concerned itself with the issue of idolatry and images in church, and reached the wrong conclusion. The decision of this council formed the basis of the abuses in worship the Reformers objected to, and the doctrine of the current Catholic Church. Consider the following two quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1162 “The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God." Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart's memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.

2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.

Pastor Whiting said the work of the artist served as a act of the artist’s worship, and an aid to the congregation’s worship. Consider the similarity of this with the first (1162) statement from the Catholic Catechism. Images of Christ serve as a means towards worship in conjunction with those means which find approval in Scripture. No serious, doctrinally informed Catholic would affirm that worship is offered to images, but only “respectful adoration.” The use of art according to official Catholic teaching is to aid in focusing the mind on the true object(s) of worship. Isn’t this exactly how Pastor Whiting defended this action, denying that worship was offered to art, but that is served as a “great mind-focusing, God-glorifying, physically-enhancing blessing to our worship?” What is most disturbing is his calling the traditional Protestant and Biblical positions on visual art in worship as an “abuse of history.” The Second Council of Nicea mandated that every church contain images of Christ and of the saints, and aside from images of the saints, and the movement to counteract this error constitutes an abuse. In so doing, it turns its back on the Reformation, and sets its trajectory straight for Rome, away from Wittenburg or Geneva. May God have mercy and return this church to faithfulness and continued reform.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Reformed Theology Must Adapt or Become Irrelevant

A recent article in Christianity Today “Young, Restless, Reformed” noted the resurgence of Calvinism among the younger generation of Christians. Significant figures who were mentioned included Piper, Mohler, and Harris. What I found interesting in reading the article was, aside from a brief reference to Sproul and Packer, those within traditional, Reformed circles were not mentioned as playing a part in this movement. In considering why this may be, I fixed upon several areas where Reformed theology has fallen short, or is in need of refinement, which contribute to this lack of influence. In order to keep this from becoming one very long post, I will break it up into several sections.

First, Reformed theology must reexamine their identity as confessional churches. Reformed theology is traditionally classified by acceptance of the traditional Reformed confessions, from the Westminster Standards to the Three Forms of Unity. I consider the practice and the desire to be truly confessional one of the strengths of Reformed theology. Confessionalism is a means of unity among a wide range of congregations with each other and with a vibrant stream within church history. It grants clarity and honesty to a church’s actual doctrinal stance with a concise, well-articulated statement of the full system of a church’s doctrine, and not a simple statement briefly covering selected doctrinal positions. A confession also serves as a witness to other churches to their lack of clarity and faithfulness in matters of theology. Yet, these benefits of confessionalism are very commonly outweighed by a variety of abuses.

Most commonly, a confession is given improper authority, even unconfessional authority. All too often initial appeal is made to the confession, and not to the Scripture. What is worse, it is common for a confessional statement to be offered as the final word on a topic, rather than “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined…can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (WCF I:10). To cite a single practical example, what constitutes a proper observance of the Lord’s Day is a perennial discussion in Reformed circles. For many, and enshrined into the rules of a particular OPC-sponsored camp, activities such as football, canoeing, or simply throwing a Frisbee are forbidden. The rationale for this rule is a statement in the Westminster Confession, “this Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men…observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations.” A biblical basis can be found for abstaining from work (which all the proof-texts speak of), but where is the Biblical rational for abstinence from “worldly entertainments?” It is much more serious when this tendency is followed in matter of doctrine. Once again, citing only one example, the Westminster Confession makes mention of the eternal generation of the Son, “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father” (II:3). On a certain reformed discussion list, this doctrine was vigorously upheld on the basis of the confession alone, despite a lack of solid exegetical support, and denial by many in the Reformed tradition from John Calvin to Robert Reymond in more recent days.

Confessional churches are also hesitant to modify their confessional documents. Such an attitude would be acceptable if the confession were simply a historical artifact; but for confessional churches, the confession serves not only as a landmark, but also as a current statement of their positions. However, for Presbyterians, doctrinal development did not cease in 1648. Need for renewed reflection and declaration on contemporary issues remains today. In many areas, aspects of a confession are downplayed, ignored or modified by the confessing churches. Thus, many in PCA circles take exception to the Westminster Confession’s stance on the Sabbath; or in the OPC liberty is (hypothetically) granted to those who hold a position other than the ordinary day view of creation days; or both the PCA and OPC make allowance for historic premillennialism, even though it is technically not allowed by the Westminster Standards (c.f. WLC 88). In order to avoid modifying the confession, concepts such as animus imponentis, or study committee reports to clarify the Confession, or address issues not directly considered in the Confession are introduced as another level of official statement. It would be simpler to update or modify the Confession to bring it into accord with the actual position of the church. This practice is not without historical precedent. In the Adopting Act of 1789, American Presbyterians modified the Westminster Standards to better suit their situation in America- how much more should we revise the Confession to suit out situation today?

The article clearly cites the desire not only for serious doctrine, but for Biblical doctrine. True confessionalism offers both. A confession represents a church’s serious and sustained reflection on Scripture and its teaching, and a careful, honest statement of that effort. A confessionalism open to growth and development ensures that such a statement is open to and consistent with the Bible.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Updates to Links

Just a short note to highlight some additions to the links section.

I added a link for "The Brick Testament" which was pointed out by Justin. This is one of the funniest sites I have seen concerning Biblical Studies. It is definitely worth checking out.
Also finally added a link to Christian Classic Ethereal Library run by Calvin. This site is a virtual treasure trove of writings from throughout the history of the church. Of special note are the downloads for the Early Church Fathers, Calvin's Commentaries, and the writings of church historian Philip Schaff.

Added two new blog links which I read and think are of note, Sacred Journey and Whilin' Away the Hours. I am always looking for good blogs to read, so please send along any recommendations, along with any other interesting sites.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Reading for September 2006

I have started keeping a list of the books or articles I read, and writing a short summary and response. I think I will regularly post them to give those interested an idea of what I am reading (plus it is once easy post a month).

A concise, conservative introduction to some critical historical issues regarding the Bible and historical study. The authors focus tends towards the Old Testament, particularly the books of Samuel and Kings. The major theme is that the literary artistry must be recognized in historical narrative in order to properly understand their historical import. The goal of the text, particularly at the larger level must determine the historical import of the passages subordinate to it, keeping in mind the genre considerations of the particular subtexts. Further, the interpreter must be cognizant of his own cultural presuppositions as well as those of the text.

  • "Deuteronomistic History"- Al Groves
A short article outlining the history of the concept of Deuteronomistic history from its conception by Martin Noth to current discussion. Aside from Noth, other major scholars who were considered were Frank Moore Cross and Rudolf Smend. The article outlined the major characteristics of the Deuteronomistic literature and theology, and the major distinctions of the scholars considered.

  • "The Themes of the Book of Kings and the Structure of the Deuteronomistic History"- Frank Moore Cross, Chapter 10 (274-289) in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: 1973
After a brief survey of discussion on Deuteronomistic literature to date, the author explores his two proposed redactions. The first occurred during the reign of Josiah, and was essentially optimistic. Jeroboam served as the paradigmatic king for the Northern Kingdoms as an apostate and leading to idolatry; while David served as the paradigm for Judah and reached its fulfillment in the reforming Josiah. The two paradigms serve as messages of threat and promise. The second hand is exilic, seeing the irrevocable fall occurring in Manasseh’s idolatry essentially overriding and silencing the hope found in the first redaction.

  • "The Deuteronomistic Theology of History in I and II Kings"- Gerhard von Rad, Chapter 9 (205-221) in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays: 1947
Von Rad explores the place of the prophetic word in Kings and shows the prominent place to the prophetic word and its fulfillment. Particularly prominent are the prophetic condemnations of idolatry, but also the prophetic promise made to David of his perpetual dynasty. The sure fulfillment of the latter judgment serves as a source of hope in the prophetic word spoken to David, signaled in the elevation of Jehoiachin from the Babylonian prison.

The book serves as the introductory volume to a series exploring early Christianity, with special focus on Jesus and Paul. Wright begins with a discussion of history, and outlines his historical method of critical-realism as a antidote to both empiricism and positivism. Using the critical-realistic method, Wright outlines the major contours of the diverse Judaism from the exile until the Bar-Kochba revolt. Wright concludes with an introduction to early Christianity until the early second century. Of significance is the discussion of the New Testament literature in light of the genres and worldviews current among Judaism and the larger Greco-Roman world. Of note also is Wright’s discussion of form and source criticism and the gospels.

  • "The Seventy-Third General Assembly"- New Horizons (August/September 2006)
The issue gave a brief report from the OPC’s General Assembly. Also included was an article outlining the author’s view of the necessity of a Christian education. Bavnick’s Reformed Dogmatics Volume 3 was reviewed along with D. A. Carson’s book on the Emerging Church Movement Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

A conservative, Reformed introduction to the interpretation of Old Testament narrative. The book is divided into three sections, the preparation, investigation and application of the text. The preparation covers the place and spiritual condition of the interpreter, and basic issues of bibliology relevant to interpretation. The second section covers basic hermeneutical issues and methods. Most of the discussion of this section is towards basic issues common in all literature, the sections concerning the structure of large narrative sections is helpful in determining the arrangement of various accounts in a larger unit. The final section concerns application, stressing the need for an application recognizing the authority of the text, and the distance from the original audience. The author’s section concerning how the Old Testament narrative anticipates Christ at times seems to border on allegory, and at times the relevance drawn to modern readers is facile.

  • The Mark- Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Book 8): 2000
After Caparthia’s resurrection, he institutes the mandatory necessary mark of the beast. Anyone who does not receive the mark is martyred by a guillotine. Hattie Durham finally becomes a tribulation saint, and the members of the tribulation force in Babylon have to flee by faking their death in a plane crash. However, one believer was left in Babylon after being forced to receive the mark. The book’s plot and characters were as dull as the other volumes, along with the theologizing of Ben-Judah. The authors’ obsession with the Jews was apparent, and a third category of Messianic Jews made an appearance along with the orthodox Jews and the Judahites.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Distinct Musical Forms in Worship

The topic of church music has surfaced frequently in my thoughts and in conversations during the past several weeks. One of the more interesting discussions concerned whether there should be special, distinct forms for liturgical music. The original idea was gleaned from Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (P&R, 2006) by Paul S. Jones, director of music for Tenth Presbyterian Church. Several responses suggest themselves to this approach.

First, this idea runs contrary to the spirit and principles of the Reformation. One of the great results of the Reformation was the removal of the barrier between the sacred and profane by seeing all of life as consecrated to God. No longer was a dichotomy between the work of the clergy and laity acceptable. Since the life of the common Christian was seen as significant, the Reformers took great strides to make the service of worship accessible for them by translating the Scriptures and a simplified liturgy into the common tongue and by writing music able to be sung by all in the assembly. The Dutch Reformed theologians, such as Abraham Kuyper, set forth the cultural mandate, that all of life and all of culture falls under the Lordship of Christ. Christian principles were applied with great (even if temporary) profit to education, government and the arts. Applying Kuyper’s famous dictum to musical styles, it can be said that no musical style, classical, rap, grunge, R&B or scremo is free from Christ’s ownership and dominion. Thus, since all musical styles are Christ’s, and can be used for his glory; there is no a priori reason to deny the possibility of any music style being utilized in worship. The limiting factor is not the musical expression, but the nature of corporate worship and the particular circumstances of the congregation. To automatically disallow any musical genre, or to elevate and separate one as being the only proper form by which to approach God in worship reestablishes the dichotomized view of life the Reformation set aside.

Second, even if idea were acceptable, it is impossible to actually realize. It is not feasible, or even possible, to create a musical form totally abstracted from any wider cultural movements to use as the “worship style.” The only form that approximates this is gospel, yet there does not seem to be a movement in conservative Reformed churches to instate gospel as the official liturgical musical style. What really seems to be the motive behind such an attempt is to officially mandate a traditional, high-culture liturgy. Examine the bulletins posted online where Dr. Jones ministers; it is hard to miss the cultural orientation of the service at Tenth. Yet, the church must never canonize a particular style of music, whether it be modern or traditional. It must be open to allow, as has occurred throughout the history of the church, Christians of all ages from all walks of life to express their faith through music- and to allow the appropriate, Biblically-sound and corporately sensitive expressions to become the voice of the community in worship. It is wrong for the modern church to be so enamored with itself to forget the rich history of worship that nourished the church through centuries; but it is equally as wrong for an elite traditionalism to disenfranchise contemporary contributions to church music.

Third, the absurdity of the principle is shown by application to other aspects of the service. Taking just a single example, consider prayer. It is possible to establish certain formal and linguistic peculiarities that are reserved only for prayer. Thus, the use of archaic personal pronouns such as “thee” and “thou;” and other language reminiscent of the King James Version would become mandatory to be used exclusively in prayer. Further, effort could be made to compose a Reformed version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to make the special, distinct forms and language of prayer universal across all Reformed congregations, thus eliminating the undesirable qualities of spontaneity and accommodation to a particular situation. The absurdity of such an idea should be apparent; why is the idea any better when applied to music in worship?

Finally, the principle does not correspond to the manner in which God has chosen to communicate to his people. New Testament Greek is not a special, unique language God created in order to reveal himself, but was the common, vulgar tongue at the time of the New Testament’s composition. Further, Greek was not at the apex of its literary elegance, but was the common, democratic hybrid spread across the Mediterranean world. The literature of the New Testament is not marked, even in this stage of the Greek language, as being particularly distinct or elegant. Rather, the language is similar to other, common writings, and the quality of the New Testament is, for the most part, rather rude and simple. If God was content to accommodate himself to the common language of the general populace, why should the church seek differently in expressing ourselves to God with music?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Random Thought on Church Inspired by NYC

When I was in New York City, I had the privilege of being removed, albeit temporarily, from things I have grown accustomed to normally. By being removed and able to experience differences, I am better able to evaluate more clearly areas where I have become accustomed and desensitized. Aside from the major challenge offered to my regular diet (which was a good thing), attending two different churches has allowed my to reflect on my own church and some of the differences.

On the positive side, I really appreciate the general depth of the preaching at Covenant. This is made possible not only by a great pastor, but also by a generally Biblically literate and dedicated congregation. This is not to say that the sermons are exegetical lectures or theological treatises, but that the general content and tone of the sermons are more substantial than most evangelical churches. My pastor is able to balance in a way I have rarely encountered in person or in reading solid exegesis with a relevant and sensitive application based on the text to the congregation. This is by far what I most appreciate about my church and what I will desperately miss when I move on.

Another aspect that has surprised me in how it has stuck in my mind is age distribution in church. Covenant is a mixed congregation age-wise, there are a lot of ages represented, but not a lot of any particular age group. The churches I attended in NYC tended to be on the young side, with most of the congregation at Emmanuel and Redeemer being roughly my age or a little older. I knew this from the last time I visited the city, but now it is striking me how much I miss having others closer to my age who show a mature dedication to their faith and to the church. I am not saying that there are no young adults exhibiting this in Rochester, but it is rare and it is something I really realized that I long for here. Seeing older friends with this commitment and perspective is great, but it is not the same as seeing it among others of your own age group and general life situation.

One final observation concerns music. Emmanuel’s worship tended towards the modern, but with a fair representation of some solid hymns- many with updated tunes. I noticed that these modern adaptations of the hymns came from Redeemer. Two thoughts have been running in my mind the past couple weeks concerning music. The first is how much I like the content of hymns, but am not as much a fan of many of their tunes and their traditional accompaniment. Hearing solid words with a more easy to follow melody and more pleasant instrumentation is something I really liked about the churches in New York. I try to say style is irrelevant, but I am realizing that it is a bigger factor than I want to admit. Now, the musical portion of worship is something I generally bear, but in New York it was actually something I benefited from. Secondly, I am reflecting on the placement of the “modern” songs which my church does utilize. They are all grouped at the beginning of the service, at times before the invocation. The general impression is that these “Songs of Ascent” are lightweight fluff to be gotten out of the way before the real worship begins. It is interesting to note that the older songs that the church uses fit into this category, while the newer songs generally have good content and some depth. It would be nice if Covenant would integrate the modern music into the core of the service so as to unambiguously acknowledge the validity of contemporary expressions of musical worship to God.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Vision for a New Systematic Theology

I have been thinking for a while about a new concept of a systematic theology. Systematic theology, as traditionally practiced tends to be the product (or at least should be) of the fields of exegesis, historical theology, and comparative dogmatics all filtered through logic. This method on the whole has produced great results, witnessed in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. At the same time, Biblical Theology has seen great popularity, and produced great theological fruit. The movement has called the theologian to remember and be more sensitive to the exegetical basis of theology. For a time, these two disciplines remained separate, if not hostile to one another. Now, there seems to be greater recognition of the validity each, and the interconnection of the two disciplines. Alongside the development of biblical theology, historical theology has grown into maturity, through the work of such scholars as Phillip Schaff and Jaroslav Pelikan.

As a result of these developments, I have a vision for a new concept of a systematic theology. Rather than each of these disciplines existing separate for one another, I propose combining each of these areas into a single work. The organizing principle of systematic theology would structure the work. Introducing each topic would be a short synopsis of the area under consideration, followed by the Biblical theological analysis of the doctrine and a summary of the historical development of the teaching. Having set out the Biblical and historical basis of the doctrine, place would be given for the statement and defense of the position adopted within the work, followed by a critical but fair analysis of other traditions and major figures. The area would be concluded with a reflection on the practical value of such a doctrine, and areas of weakness and needed refinement and further reflection within that teaching. An extensive, annotated bibliography would be prepared for each section.

The difficulties with such a project are obvious. First, the scope of the project is massive, encompassing multiple volumes. Further, the work is more than a single individual is either qualified for or capable of. However, the size of the project is a relative non-issue, and multiple authors would allow for the more rapid completion of the project. Also, the presence of multiple authors adds not only variety, but balance in perspective and personality to the project. Second, the project, like other works, will over time become outdated, and the effectiveness and usefulness of the volumes will be lessened. However, even a dated resource can still retain value- consider the continued usefulness of Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. The work can also be designed, like some commentary series, to be updated and republished, and thus be kept current. Since most of the material in many sections will not change much over time, a separate appendix could be published containing any new data.

Of course, such a work is more a dream, and very well may never come to fruition. However, I think the need is present. If anyone has any other ideas or critiques of this idea, let me know. I would like to polish the concept- and who knows, maybe encourage the excitement and the energy needed to bring this project from a dream into reality.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Book of Isaiah by Edward J. Young (or Tendencies in Older Evangelical Commentaries)

I recently finished the three-volume work The Book of Isaiah by Edward J. Young. This work is a major benchmark for conservative, evangelical commentaries from a non-dispensational perspective on this important and interesting Old Testament prophet. I benefited greatly from plowing through this large work. However, while I was reading it, two issues presented themselves to me about this commentary in particular and other commentaries as they share some common features.

The first thing that struck me from the opening pages of the commentary was the format. I have noticed that many older commentaries, and a few more recent works, treat the text in an atomistic, verse by verse manner. I think this is unhelpful for several reasons. First, it is poor hermeneutical practice to treat a text piecemeal, sentence by sentence. No one would chop up a story by Dickens, or a treatise by Locke and examine the work a sentence, or a phrase at a time. The proper manner to analyze a text is by those natural divisions of thought found in paragraphs or larger sections which encapsulate a single or related set of thought. Second, this method obscures the structure that may be found in the work or the section under consideration. At times in the Hebrew Bible, this structure is important in understanding a section, or the work as a whole. For example, in certain sections of Jeremiah particularly near the beginning, oracles are grouped around a common word or a common theme. Without noticing this pattern of attraction of common words or themes, one may easily misunderstand or misinterpret these oracles. The fact that they one is earlier in the book does not necessarily mean that they are historically earlier; nor does the fact that two oracles are juxtaposed imply that they have anything other than a accidental thematic similarity- the actual occasion of the two sayings may be widely divergent. Following the chapter and verse division of the English Bible obscures the actual patterns found within the text itself. Third, this method destroys the unity of the text. No author sat and wrote a series of loosely connected statements. They wrote thoughts, and these thoughts were related to each other- and these were related to his goal and his reason for writing. It is the larger thought which has priority, and informs the meaning and significance of the details (Of course I am not denying the fact that the parts inform the meaning and significance of the whole). Thankfully, this method has generally fallen out of favor; but this poor format obscures the insight and the value of some older works.

The second thing that struck me was how much this was a “Christian” commentary. While I think that Isaiah has great significance for the Christian this side of redemptive history, I also think he likewise had great significance for those before Jesus. Dr. Young, and many other conservative evangelicals focus on the meaning of the text in light of Jesus; but in so doing, leave little or no meaning for those before the formation of the New Testament church or before Christ. Thus, there are passages which speak of Israel as the servant of God, or as a light to the Gentiles, which Dr. Young says must refer to Jesus or the church in the New Testament age. Passages which seem to clearly have reference to the return from exile and the restoration of life in Palestine have reference to the Gospel and the inclusion of the remnant of the Jews and of the Gentiles in the church. As a Christian, I cannot deny the basic truth that redemptive historically the eschaton inaugurated by Christ fulfills the figures and the expectation found in the prophets. But I likewise cannot deny that Isaiah had significance and had a message for those in his own days. For me, this is why the sensus plenior is such a wise method- holding in tension the meaning for the original audience and also its fuller, redemptive-historical meaning in Christ and those united to him by faith. From both an exegetical standpoint, and in order to do justice to our brothers and sisters before the advent of Christ, I believe conservatives must pay more attention to the original meaning and situation of the Old Testament writings.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rock Concerts

Last weekend I went down to the Electric Factory in Philly with a few friends to see MxPx play. MxPx was awesome, but several things I observed before and after the show started making me realize that I really am getting older.

First, I remember how much smaller I felt than others in the crowd at rock shows when I was younger. While I am not that big now (but height helps), it is interesting that my perspective is beginning to change from being one of the smaller people at the show, to being one of the bigger people in the crowd. No longer being intimidated by the size of others in the crowd makes for a lot more boldness- even making it possible to get right up front after arriving after the first act at a pretty packed, big-city venue. (Of course having your friend shove you towards the front through four rows of people helps too). It is a nice feeling.

Not only size, but it also seems that I am older than most of the crowd. The first show I went to (Newsboys, but everyone needs to start somewhere, right) I was really young and thought everyone was older than me. Most of the other concerts I felt at least in my own age group in the crowd. However, for the past couple years, and at this show in particular- where the other bands which were playing are older, mid to late 90's ska acts- my friends and I really noticed that we were well above the mean age of the crowd- which we determined was about 17. It was really funny when one girl at this show said she just turned 16, barely one year older than MxPx is a band.

Not so nice is how much longer it seems to take to recover from a good show. The day after a concert is always rough with soreness, lack of hearing and loss of voice. But at least after this show (and the last show I went to, which was ironically MxPx) the soreness has lingered for much longer than I recall before. Furhter, perhaps accidental, after both shows I got sick. An unfortunate aspect of aging, but still I will rock on (that is so sickingly cliche, but oh well).

Monday, June 26, 2006

OPC's General Assembly

Since last Wednesday, the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has been in session. During the meeting this year two major items are on the docket for the commissioner’s consideration, the Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification and the Amended Proposed Revisions for the Directory for Public Worship. Both of these documents and the issues surrounding them have major implications for the future of the OPC as a denomination. Please pray for wisdom and balance for those charged with considering these important issues.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Inspiration and Incarnation II

After a bit of a delay, I finally return to writing a little more about Dr. Enns’ book. I want to write about my second major concern with the book in this entry, and in subsequent entries deal with some of the responses particularly by those in the conservative reformed tradition to the book.

Dr. Enns notes that much of conservative, evangelical treatment of the Bible minimizes the humanity of Scripture, to the point of tacit denial. Sadly, as a general characterization, this statement is undeniably true. Dr. Enns labels this conception as docetic; parallel with those early heretics who denied the true humanity of Christ. As a remedy for this, Dr. Enns proposes the Incarnation as an analogy for an evangelical doctrine of Scripture- not a new concept in a conservative doctrine of Scripture. I cannot help but wonder though if Dr. Enns proposed correction tends to the opposite danger of Arianism- denying the true deity of Scripture.

I am not asserting that Dr. Enns truly holds to an Arian-like concept of Scripture. He says nothing explicitly or implicitly which leads to such a conclusion. Yet no good evangelical would explicitly state that he holds to a docetic doctrine of Scripture. What is at stake is a lack of balance. I recognize that fully addressing the divine aspect of Scripture was not Dr. Enns’ concern. Further, it could be argued that so much emphasis has been paid to the Divine that little need exists for further treatment; however, the lack on the human demands sustained and focused attention. Dr. Enns is clear throughout the book to acknowledge the human and divine in Scripture. Yet his emphasis on the human and the lack of synthesis with the divine leads one to question the unity of the two truths. Throughout the book, Dr. Enns presents data which points strongly to very human characteristics in Scripture, such as connection with larger cultural pattern of its time, clear signs of individuality in the various books composing the Old Testament, and observable patterns of interpretation by those using the Old Testament text, especially in the New Testament. While his concern is to present this data in order to bolster and protect the faith of the reader, I wonder if the lack of attention played to the reconciliation of the human with the divine might not lead some to serious doubts and questions. Many minds, like my own, need to hear not only that something is the Word of God, but need to see how the divine and the human can coexist and be reconciled by doing full justice to both truths.

The Chalcedonian Creed attempted to do justice to both the Divine and human in Christ, and to produce a systematic statement of the doctrine. Focusing exclusively on one aspect of the person of Christ to the exclusion of the other is not consistent with a fully orthodox Christological conception. To present a true statement of the person of Christ one must present “our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man…recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” If the Incarnation is the analogy which one chooses as the basis for one’s conception of Scripture, then it is necessary to follow the analogy consistently and present the Bible “without confusion, without change, without division and without separation” in both the true humanity and the true divinity. Any doctrine that fails in this fails to be a truly orthodox doctrine of Scripture.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What I Learned From the da Vici Code

I never realized until reading The da Vinci Code that the Dead Sea Scrolls are early Christian writings like the Nag Hammadi library deliberately suppressed by the church.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jaroslav Pelikan

Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of History at Yale University died this past weekend of lung cancer. Dr. Pelikan was one of the most significant scholars writing on church history. Among his many works, his five volume masterpiece, The Christian Tradition, is a must read for anyone studying the history of doctrine. His work Jesus Through the Centuries is likewise a masterful blending of history, art and doctrine; and is a valuable resource in tracing the development of the church and culture's perception and reaction to the person of Jesus.

The clear and insightful thinking and writing of Dr. Pelikan is a quality that will be sorely missed in the field of church history; but the contributions Dr. Pelikan has made to the discipline will be appreciated and utilized for generations to come.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More Thoughts on Church Discipline

I do plan on getting back to some thoughts about Dr. Enns’ book soon, but this topic has really been on my mind a lot lately. I hope to blog a little more regularly since getting a laptop computer; but I know I have said that in the past, and you know happened with similar intention. But wireless internet, and computing mobility are great aids to computing diligence.

I have been thinking a little more on the elder and session’s responsibility with regard to church discipline.

The first thought is that discipline epitomizes the special responsibility of an elder. This does not mean that the elder is supposed to seek whom he may file charges against; but that it is his special interest to guide and guard the believer’s growth in grace. In my last post, I mentioned the analogy between the rule of the elder’s household and his rule of the flock entrusted to him. A father not only seeks to correct a child when they are in sin, but also to instill the necessary experience and maturity to avoid sin in the first place. Scripture is clear that the elder must be diligent to guard and to protect the flock. To cite just one passage making this clear, Paul writes to Titus concerning an elder, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus1:9). It is clear from the rest of the letter that an elder’s task involves not only doctrine, but also life. The OPC’s Form of Government defines the task of an elder with regard to discipline in the following manner:

Ruling elders, individually and jointly with the pastor in the session, are to lead the church in the service of Christ. They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. Evils which they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the notice of the session. They should visit the people, especially the sick, instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourning, and nourish and guard the children of the covenant. They should pray with and for the people. They should have particular concern for the doctrine and conduct of the minister of the Word and help him in his labors. (X:3)

Failure with regard to church discipline is failure in the intent and special vocation of an elder.

Second, the identity and the purity of the church demand that elders diligently attend to discipline as a vital aspect of their work. Reformed churches, following the Belgic Confession have identified the three marks of a true church as the faithful proclamation of the Word, the pure administration of the Sacraments and the diligent exercise of church discipline. And while it is necessary to recognize that no church is faultless in any of these three areas, imperfection is not an excuse to abandon semper reformada. These three areas stand together, and failure in one will in time effect the others. No church should ever claim its purity by appealing to faithfulness in one or two of these areas while excusing the neglect in the other. Purity of doctrine is meaningless unless that pure doctrine filters through to the thoughts and life of the congregation.

Third, neglect of church discipline hinders the exercise of future discipline. Especially regarding public sins, the neglect of serious and decisive disciplinary action by a session causes the congregation to lower its esteem for the session, even if this is not explicitly expressed. It is a given that at times the process of formal discipline necessarily takes time, but it there is a distinction between care and neglect- and a congregation is able to discern the difference. When a session is negligent concerning confronting a sin and taking necessary actions, its call to repentance for another member caught in the same or a similar sin becomes hollow. In order to counteract this negative response, the session should repent and seek the church’s forgiveness concerning its past failures- while publicly committing itself, by the grace of God, to be diligent and faithful to its God-given responsibility in the future.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Thoughts on (Church) Discipline

In his book "Handbook of Church Discipline" Jay Adams writes that church discipline begins because of a breakdown of self-discipline. The intervention of another, whether the informal rebuke of a brother or sister, or the formal, judicial process of the church leadership seeks to remedy what is lacking in the individual's self-discipline. It also seems apparent that the initial lack of self-discipline which necessitates the discipline process tends to be relatively "small" sins. Adultery, for example, is rarely, if ever, the initial sin requiring disciplinary action; but is preceded by a long string of "smaller" sins which culminate in the more serious sin. Yet, the sad irony is that the "smaller" sins are those that are generally overlooked, or are not thought to require serious disciplinary disciplinary action, formal or informal. A few observations suggest themselves.

First, great humility and diligence are required with regard to our sanctification. We are too prone to overestimate our own strength, or the strength of others, while easily overlooking those areas which speak powerfully of weakness. "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

Second, we must be humble enough to give and to receive loving, yet firm rebuke in any areas where there is a discontinuity between the mandates of Scripture and practice. A Scriptural rebuke given in a timely manner may very well save a brother or sister a great deal of the pain and hardship that sin will bring to God's child. Even more, in God's providence, this early rebuke may be the means that God will use to save a soul from the damning hardness of continued, ingrained sin.

Third, elders must be diligent in their care of the flock Christ has entrusted to them. The final steps of church discipline is generally exercised in cases where there is gross sin; yet any sin, which fails to be renounced despite Scriptural rebuke and ministerial authority calls for sessional action. What elder would fail to deal with the "white lies" or the tantrums of their children, excusing themselves by saying it is not worth the effort, or the sins are not substantial enough to require parental discipline? The manner in which an elder rules his house is not only a qualification for his office, but also an analogy.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Tax Rant

Allow me a slight break from my normal fare to vent a little. No, I am not going to join some hyper-conservatives and question the constitutionality of the income tax, or whine about the loopholes in the system favoring the rich. In fact, I don’t even have a beef with the IRS, I am sort of happy with them right now.

My major goal for the day was to get my taxes completed and mailed. I know I should have gotten them done a while ago, rather than wait close to the last minute; but what can I say, I had a lot of other things to do and I procrastinated. The prospect of numbers and math does not get me very excited, even if it means I get a good deal of money at the end of the process. This morning I got the right booklet for the Federal Tax that I needed, and in the middle of the afternoon, I started the process. The directions for the Federal tax form were clear and concise, and the entire process was quick and easy. Encouraged by the ease of the Federal form, I immediately moved on to the state income tax. First, the form I was using (the short form mind you) was at four times longer than the Federal form. The large instruction book accompanying the form was anything but clear, written I am sure by a professional linguist specializing in governmentalese. Having struggled almost to the end, encouraged by the prospect of soon completing my task- New York State introduced a bump in the road. Rather than accepting the figure for the state tax withheld listed on the W-2, New York now requires another form, the IT-2 to be filled out and attached to your tax return. Of course, this form is not attached to the normal return sheet, or in the booklet. So, the end of the story is, since the library was closed which had the tax forms; I will have to finish my state taxes tomorrow, when I can get my IT-2, to record the same figure I already have on my W-2.

The Federal government made a big deal in recent years about simplifying the tax code for the average taxpayer. I think the Federal government has done well, now, it is time for New York to join the club.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Peter Enn's Inspiration and Incarnation Part I

After some delay, I will finally begin some thoughts about Dr. Enns' book. First, in spite of the majority of my posts being issues I have with the book; I want to make clear how much I like and appreciate the Dr. Enn's labor. It is unfortunately all too easy to notice areas where one takes issue with an author, and to overlook the areas of agreement. I agree much more often with the author than I disagree. Second, I have not yet finished the book (I am reading it with someone else, so I am reading at the pace of our discussion)- so maybe some of my concerns are dealt with in the conclusion, but having scanned ahead, I do not think that they are.

One of the most glaring issues that strikes me concerning this book so far regards an inaccurate focus of what the book is challenging. Throughout the book, Dr. Enns makes a connection with the data and evidence he raises and a traditional, evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Yet, the evidence primarily does not seem to relate to doctrine, but to hermeneutics. The connection between Israel's literature and its ANE neighbors concerns the culture and historical situation of the original audience- and is a primarily a exegetical, and not a theological issue. One of the cornerstones of the grammatical historical method is understanding the culture and the situation of the original audience, and not imposing one's own culture or presuppositions onto the text. I think this lack of clarity is especially apparent regarding the second major chapter regarding theological diversity in the Old Testament. The discussion of diversity in Proverbs is not a theological issue, but a genre issue. Related to issues of genre are the differences between a covenantal understanding of suffering in Deuteronomy and an existential portrayal in Job. Understanding the different situations and goals into which the book of Samuel/Kings was written verses that of the Chronicler explains the differences in details and emphases between the two. In each of these instances, however, it is not a theological issue, but an exegetical one. While I have not yet read the third section on the New Testament's use of the Old- in light of a previous article by the same author- the issue also seems to revolve around the exegetical issue of understanding the interpretive norms and contexts which guided the New Testament author's use of the Old Testament. Once again, this is not an issue of doctrine, but on of cultural understanding of the New Testament authors, and a vital step in interpreting any text.

I do not want to say that no theological problems are raised by these issue, but the impact, I believe, is more in the area of nuance rather than a challenge to the core of a thoughtful, evangelical perspective. If any lesson could be learned from this book it is this- not that the evangelical doctrine is wrong (this says nothing about individual understanding and articulation of this doctrine), but that evangelicals need to be more responsible, careful and thoughtfully nuanced exegetes. To borrow Carson's term, we need to practice "distanciation" between ourselves and the original audience a lot better. Further, if this is to occur, the church must train its members not only to read, but also how to read the text. Many of these issues cease to remain problems by the introduction of a disciplined use of a solid exegetical method. Another benefit of switching the category of the issues raised from theological to exegetical would be a relief of much of the unwarranted criticism this books has received. Rather than creating tension because the hard-fought doctrinal commitments are being questioned (or worse), the book could be used to strengthen and deepen the respect that the evangelical doctrine of Scripture seeks faithfully to maintain.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A book recommendation

First off, I know I have disappeared off the face of the earth for a while, but I am back, and I do intend (I do not want to make a promise I cannot keep) to post much more regularly. Life has been hectic to understate it, and blogging, among other things was a really low priority for time consumption. I have come up with a lot of ideas for things to write about the past couple months; and will put some of those ideas into more concrete form in the very near future.

But, now, very briefly to the subject at hand. I recently acquired, and am currently reading Incarnation and Inspiration by Dr. Peter Enns. This book has gathered a lot of attention, and a lot of controversy since its publication. In my particular denomination, the book has been regularly criticized and the orthodoxy of the author has been seriously questioned. In spite of all the negative press being given to the book by many in the conservative and reformed churches; I highly recommend that everyone read the book. Agree or disagree with the author's particular conclusions, it is vital that the data and the issues that Dr. Enns presents in this book be dealt with by anyone who desires to have more than a casual interaction with the Bible. Further, when you read, be open minded and consider the data and how it really does/does not affect the traditional understanding.

I have much more to say, and will write several future posts on issues raised and some of my personal responses to the book as I continue to read and interact with the data that Dr. Enns presents. But I would encourage everyone to read this clearly written work, and consider carefully the implications of this book on how the church understands and treats the Scriptures.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Camden Citizen of the Year

Congratulations to Pastor Ben Alvira, who was named by a local newspaper Camden's 2005 Citizen of the Year. The article provided Ben an opportunity to share not only his ministry to the citizens of Camden, but also his testimony; and knowing Ben, he is bold and unapologetic about God's work in his life. Along with pastoring Tabernaculo de Gracia in the Cramer Hill neighborhood, he is also a crisis counselor at Cooper Hospital, and has been active in tutoring and GED programs for the citizens of Camden. While the ministry of every pastor is worthy of note and appreciation, Pastor Alvira ministers in one of the most impoverished cities in the country, and a city named the most dangerous city for the second year in a row- making his ministry extra challenging. May this extra publicity be used by God to find new opportunities for Ben's ministry and church, and above all may Christ be preached powerfully in word and merciful deed to those in desperate physical and spiritual need in Camden.