Monday, March 31, 2008

March 26- Wesminster's Watershed

March 26 was a tragic day in the history of the Reformed, evangelical community. The Board of Trustees at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia voted to suspend Old Testament Professor Peter Enns regarding his book Inspiration and Incarnation.

While I mourn this institutions loss of a valuable and gifted scholar, and judging by the response to the boards actions, a loved professor; the tragedy is larger than the controversy surrounding a single man. Dr. Enns will find another institution where he will be able to continue to teach. While controversy will continue to surround his understanding and presentation on the Old Testament data, as one biblical scholar said, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating;” and in the end I am convinced his trajectory will be vindicated. What is tragic is the loss of a unique institution.

Westminster traditionally was a place where the best of the Reformed tradition was wed with solid scholarship and intellectual honesty. The school, founded by those with high view Scripture, did not allow their convictions to become an excuse for intellectual lethargy. And while its conservative, confessional identity are solid, this identity was not an excuse for a mindless acceptance of traditional formulations. Westminster has produced a long string of scholars who have pushed the church from the inside to a deeper and richer appreciation of the Bible and the Reformed faith. Once Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics were an innovation, now for some this apologetic approach is a mark of orthodoxy. Once John Murray challenged a particular understanding of covenant theology, now Murray is one of the Reformed world’s most respected theologians. The late Raymond Dillard, a beloved Old Testament professor, balanced a Christ-centered focus on the Old Testament with openness to new understandings of that text. Biblical studies have been furthered by the insightful, but provocative, writings of Richard Gaffin. Harvie Conn offered a renewed catholic understanding of the church’s missional and confessional identity.

President Lillback and the board, are changing this accountable yet open-minded atmosphere into something very different. Dr. Enns’ suspension, and probable removal, are symptoms of a growing uneasiness of some in the Reformed tradition of innovation and diversity. There are many seminaries offering solid training for those called to pastoral ministry. Others offer a haven for those identified as FV, TR, Emergent or any other subset within the broad orbit of the reformed, evangelical world. But Westminster was different, unique. It combined the practical and the abstract, the traditional and the avant-garde, welcoming a diverse student body to sit under a diverse faculty representing the best that evangelical scholarship offered. Students were nourished by the seminary’s rich reformed heritage, sheltered by its foundational convictions about God and his Word, and challenged by a diverse and innovative approach within the those boundaries. It appears that those days are quickly coming to a close as the narrow vision of a few trumps the broader legacy of the institution.

March 26 is not the end of the career and contributions of Dr. Enns, but it does appear to signal the end of a rich era in the history of a once august seminary.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Missing the Point

So, after a bit of a vacation (filled with a lot of work), I am officially returning to the world of blogging. One of the things I want to examine in upcoming posts is the subject of music used in worship. I have been thinking a lot about this topic in the past year, and have come to some conclusions which I think are helpful in considering this important issue.

Before I launch into the topic, allow me one initial observation, and that is simply that most of the discussions miss the point. The current worship wars are dominated by considerations of style and preference, while the deeper Biblical and theological issues are ignored. By overlooking these foundational points, the discussion is doomed to failure, becoming bogged down in secondary considerations.

Previous approaches ignoring deeper theological considerations ultimately have proved fruitless. Churches committed to traditional worship forms struggle to reach out beyond a decreasing segment of the American population; experiencing in most cases negligible growth. At the same time, church growth proponents utilize contemporary forms and see significant growth, but lack substance and depth. This lack is leading to a surge of interest in Calvinistic and Reformed theology, yet conservative, Reformed denominations like the OPC are not seeing the fruit in this trend. Both traditional and contemporary approaches have little success in meaningfully uniting churches across generational, racial and socio-economic barriers. While a variety of other factors account for this segregation, the prominent part music plays cannot be downplayed. Though segregation may be the inevitable result in our fallen churches, we must remove any and every possible hindrance to fellowship. Underlying all actions and choices the church makes with regard to any element in worship is a tacit theology of the church. Bringing these powerful, but often unspoken assumptions, to the surface allows them to be critically examined for their coherence and Biblical soundness.

Beginning the discussion with an examination of the Biblical pattern of worship set forth in Scripture, along with considering the identity and mission of the church- then moving into a consideration of form and style offers the only hope for bridging the impasse in the “worship wars.”