Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why Reformed Theology Must Adapt or Become Irrelevant III

A third area where I believe Reformed theology must adapt involves conflict. While the other issues I raised, confessionalism and demographic and cultural diversity, revolve around a resistance to change, I believe this issue confronts a sin cherished in many Reformed institutions. Faced with doctrinal disagreement or diversity, Reformed theology too often refuses to distinguish the doctrines central to the Christian faith, and those expressions, even if not fully clear or precise, do not violate the core tenants of Scripture. When faced with conflict, Reformed theology all to often engages in discussion in a manner not consistent with the Biblical mandate.

The history of Reformed theology, especially during this century, is a history of conflicts. The OPC in particular aptly demonstrates this in its history. The church was born in the fight against false doctrine and errant teaching. Soon after this, a struggle for the identity of the denomination in relation to strict fundamentalism was fought, with the result that biblical liberty prevailed. While these initial conflicts may have been necessary and even commendable, it is not long before Reformed theology turns inward and attacks itself. The vitriolic struggle, continued even today by some, between Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark is one of a number of prominent struggles within Reformed theology that have maimed its history. More recently, discussions regarding the number and nature of covenants, the length of the days in Genesis 1 or even preaching style has been the occasion for conflict, waged by some in an uncharitable manner. Most recently, issues surrounding the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision have been the focus of much energy among Reformed churches. While the New Perspective is a wider movement in New Testament theology, the Federal Vision is confined within Reformed theology. The near universal condemnation of these developments have rallied those who not long before were at each other’s throats on other issues. The experience of those who were not long before on the outer fringe of the Reformed consensus has not translated into equitable and Biblical treatment of those who now find themselves on the cold outer fringe. What is particularly disturbing is not so much that the conflict exists, but the manner in which the conflict is being conducted.

Conflict, even intense conflict, is not in itself sinful. But, there are Biblical principles which govern conflict; and when those are violated, sin enters into conflict. The first principle which must govern all conflicts is honesty. We must never be tempted to misrepresent the positions of another. This finds expression not simply in accurate citation, but accurate placement of citation within the author’s overall thought. Once can easily abstract a statement from any author and on that basis question their orthodoxy. Second, we must judge by the proper standards. Ultimately, the standard is the Word of God. However, especially for those within the Reformed tradition, when engaging those outside our tradition, the Westminster Standard is not our starting point; rather, we must begin with the author’s own theological commitments. For an author such as N. T. Wright, this means that we must measure him against the 39 Articles, and not a standard he has not committed himself to teach. Third, we must allow for acceptable divergence within the absolutes set forth in Scripture. Certain doctrines are necessarily accepted by all who would reckon themselves Christians, such as the universal sinfulness of humanity, the death and resurrection of Christ, Jesus as the only way to God and many other similar doctrines. However, not everything that may be true is necessary. I am convinced that paedobaptism is Biblical, yet failure to affirm this doctrine does not result in damnation. While discussion on disputed points should continue and agreement should be sought; we must clearly distinguish these peripheral areas from those central to Christian doctrine. Fourth, we must be wise to determine what is a “wise” conflict. Paul consistently advises Timothy to “avoid foolish controversies.” How many prominent leaders in Reformed theology heed this apostolic command? Many of the debates which scar our history would have been avoided had this advice been followed. Fifth, love must override and govern all conflict. Our goal is never to win an argument, but to defend and promote the honor of Christ and the health of his body. When one must engage in conflict, love and concern for the other individual and their spiritual concern must guide the interactions.

The dictum attributed to Augustine is as necessary today as it was when it was first uttered, "In essentials- unity; in nonessentials- liberty; in all things- charity." May God grant us the discernment and the ability to apply this to the issues of the day.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bruce Metzger Dies at 93

Bruce Metzger, one of the most impressive New Testament scholars, died yesterday at Princeton, New Jersey. Metzger was one of the foremost experts on New Testament textual criticism. His work as an editor for the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament and his commentary are invaluable contributions for all serious students of the New Testament. Likewise, his Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration is one of the most profitable introductions for anyone interested in learning about the art and science of New Testament textual criticism.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions

Last night I went to a Bible study of Acts. The passage being studied was Paul's Farewell Address to the Ephesian elders. It is hard to miss when reading the passage how busy the Apostle must have been between his work supporting himself and others and the work of the ministry. Mention was made of Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions he made at a young age governing his conduct and his use of time. Although they are pretty long, I think seeing his seriousness and dedication is both convicting and inspiring.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards


Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

(Resolutions 1 through 21 written in on setting in New Haven in 1722)

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God's glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to east away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is

perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, "A faithful man who can find?" may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration's never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord's day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan.12 and 13.1723.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace_able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13 1723.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July ii, and July 13.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; "knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord." June 25 and July 13, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan.14' and July '3' 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those "breakings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear', of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton's 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26, and Aug.10 1723.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Reading for January 2007

  • Lost Christianities- Bart D. Ehrman: 2003.

Ehrman explores the writings of the early church and the light this sheds on the diversity within the early church. He begins discussing some recently discovered forgeries, from the early common era and a possible modern forgery, the secret gospel of Mark. After discussing some literary remains, he then discusses the major beliefs of some of the prominent groups in early Christianity. He concludes with a discussion of how the proto-orthodox theology gained ascendancy over the other competing expressions. The data, and much of the analysis offered by Dr. Ehrman is solid and needs greater attention in the church, particularly in regards to the prevalence of diversity and the serious struggle for orthodoxy. A major concern apparent throughout the book regards tolerance of other forms of Christianity in light of the early diversity, and at times lack of charity and honesty on the part of those engaged in theological struggle.

  • Armageddon- Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Book 11) 2003.

This volume marked the death of several prominent members of the Tribulation Force. In the final months before the Second Coming, Caparthia plans for his attack against Jerusalem marshaled at Armageddon while the Tribulation Force responds. Chloe was captured and beheaded by the Global Community, and Tsion was killed in the fighting in Jerusalem. The book ended with the mortal wounding of both Rayford and Buck, and the death of one of the two. As the books approach their conclusion, they become less and less imaginative, and the sermons and the expected dispensational theology begin to dominate.

  • “A Holy Book is Not Enough” New Horizons (December 2006)

The feature article concerned the incarnation and the uniqueness it grants Christianity. The second article concerned images of Christ. The author argued, based on the Confession and its interpretation of the second commandment, that all images of Christ, for any use are forbidden. The argument of the article was weak in not addressing clearly the distinction between liturgical use and artistic and offering a clear demonstration of the forbidding of the latter. The final main article deals with the need for ministers in the OPC due to the age and impending retirement of many current pastors. Two significant book reviews concerned a reading guide for the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead and He Came Down from Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith by Douglas McCready.

  • Perelandra- C. S. Lewis, 1944.

The second book in the Space Trilogy takes Dr. Ransom to Venus to combat with Dr. Weston. In the book, Ransom must defend the new world against the agent of the devil as he seeks to recreate the fall. Through great struggles, spiritual, mental and physical, Ransom protects the Green Lady and her world from repeating the fall of the human race. Lewis does an excellent job in this book exploring the goal of mankind’s creation and the possible result of Adam’s victory in his probation.

  • Reaching the Unreached:The New-Old Challenge- Edited by Harvie Conn, 1984.
A compilation of essays stemming from a conference held at Westminster Seminary in 1983 to discuss strategies of reaching people-groups untouched by the Gospel. The opening essays define the terms of people-groups and what is an unreached people-group, as well as outline the history of missions and explain the focus on this idea. The basic definition shared by the authors of an unreached people group is “a people-group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside (cross-cultural) assistance.” Throughout, the focus is on people-groups rather than political nations and their boundary markers. Attention is devoted to the variety of people-groups which can be contained within a single nation. It was also noted that people-groups are not confined by national borders. Other essays focused on strategy of reaching these groups, and struggled with the theological struggles which can arise especially when well-established, confessional churches seek to plant churches in foreign cultures. The final essays consider adaptation by both mission boards and seminaries to focus on reaching the untouched people-groups of the world.