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.