Berit Olam

He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

T. David Gordon on the 'Toilet Effect' of 21st Century Reformed Theology

T. David Gordon has an fascinating article ("Distractions from Orthodox", Modern Reformation , Fall 2008) that points out the necessity and difficulty in trying to define 'orthodoxy' in the current ecclesiastical climate. One man's liberalism is another man's fundamentalism. How ever are we to know where to draw the lines of who's "in" and who's "out"? How do we decide what belongs outside as heresy, what belongs outside but should still to be regarded as evangelical, what we can agree-to-disagree over and remain in union with one another in a given church/denomination, and what things we must all confess.

I still vividly remember my chats with elder Mac Laurie (way back during my summer Santa Barbara internship in 2000) and his growing concern that, in the name of trying to 'protect' things from 'broadening' in the church, there was a growing momentum in some quarters to become increasingly 'narrow' over non-essential. Gordon relates a similar concern:

I knew an individual once whose recurring theme was that the church (generally or specifically) was moving in heterodox directions. When I asked for evidence of this movement, he almost always cited some matter that appeared in none of the historic creeds of the church. So, what sounded at first as though some of the theological cows had left the barn, ended up being that he had brought in some carpenters and made a smaller barn.

It's this 'making the barn smaller' that concerns me as well. Gordon continues: "Pendulums swing curiously, racing through the middle and tarrying at the extremes. The church, likewise, might swing from the extreme of not caring to talk seriously about doctrine on the one hand, to the other extreme of making every doctrinal discussion a test of orthodoxy on the other."

In short, "...not every such discussion need be regarded as a test of orthodoxy or a term of communion." If (and when!) they do, it leads to what Gordon refers to as the 'toilet bowel' effect:

My students are alternately amused and disturbed by my occasional reference to what I inelegantly call the "toilet effect." Having completed the task that brought you to the toilet in the first place, you reach around and push the handle, but accidentally bump the Reader's Digest (or your "to-do" list, your spouse's toothbrush, or the family Chihuahua) off the sink into the toilet also. The swirl having already begun, the Digest is doomed to a most unliterary fate. It suffers the "toilet effect," wasted in the effort to remove genuine waste. The church not infrequently suffers also from the toilet effect. In the effort to rid itself of some perceived effluvium or another, other resources, energies, graces, or gifts sometimes get caught in the swirl and disappear also.

I suppose (to be fair) this is a struggle that any ecclesiastical group/denomination has to deal with, particularly given the plethora of 'issues' that are bombarding upon us from all sides. But as one who has worked in a number of different Presbyteries, States, and even Countries, I can attest that there is nothing imaginary about this so-called 'toilet effect' in Reformed churches.

Gordon continues:

Satan is a distracter/diverter of the church's resources, and we should not be unaware of his devices. He loves waste, especially the church's waste, because it blunts her warfare against him. He loves the toilet effect, when the church's greater resources disappear in overzealous attempts to achieve smaller gains. Indeed, I often wonder if the Evil One is not the inventor of the toilet effect. The temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 was not a moral temptation in any ordinary sense of the term. Eating bread is not sinful. Rather, Satan tempted Christ to divert his distinctive messianic power from its primary purpose of rescuing the lost from Satan's dominion. Similarly, Satan frequently, perhaps ordinarily, tempts the church to divert its energies from its primary purpose of rescuing the lost from Satan's dominion.

But isn't this just another attempt to do away with 'sound doctrine' in the name of evangelistic zeal? Not if we understand the kinds of things Gordon is concerned about.

Things that are legitimate to address in their own right need not occupy an undue amount of the church's resources, and some such issues need never be resolved. Examples of such studied and deliberate ambiguities in the Westminster standards, for instance, include: infant salvation ("elect infants dying in infancy"), the nature of obedience owed to the civil magistrate ("obedience to his lawful commands"), post- and amillennialism, and mediate or immediate imputation of sin. Other truths are so woven into the fabric of theology that they must be regarded as a matter either of general Christian orthodoxy (the articles of the Apostles' Creed for instance) or a matter of the particular orthodoxy of one of its branches (Lutheran versus Reformed understanding of the nature of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper). But other matters, worthy of Christian conversation, needn't be finally resolved.

In other words, we have to recognize that not all doctrinal disputes and matters are created equal. This is where I think historical theology can play a positive role in assessing, as it were, the size of our theological boundaries. You need to have some perspective as to whether certain doctrines deserve a robust defense at all costs and what doctrinal differences can and should be tolerated within a given tradition.

Gordon goes on to list and explore his "...candidates for winners of the coveted toilet effect":
(1) The length of creation days
(2) Van Tillian apologetics
(3) Biblical theology vs. Systematic theology
(4) Christian America & the culture wars
(5) Christian education
(6) Women in the military

You can read his discussion for yourself under each one, if you aren't familiar with the issues. His concern, as I see it, is not that these issues should be swept under the rug entirely. Rather he's pleading for a broader 'ecumenical'-spirit when faced with issues that genuine brothers in the same tradition disagree over. One might not expect this of Dr. Gordon, given some of the polemical writing style. Yet, as one gets to know him (and meets other people that previously worked with him), you'll find that he's 'ecumenical' in the best sense of the term when dealing with others in a Reformed church setting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Studying Galatians

I've been working through on and off Galatians over about the last 2 or so years, having finally made it to Chapter 6 (this coming Sunday AM). Here are a few random biographical suggestions that might serve as a sign post for someone wishing to work on Galatians in the future.

As far as commentaries go, R. Longnecker (one of the better ones I've seen in the Word Commentary Series) and Betz (in the Hermeneia by Fortress Press) will give you an excellent 1-2 punch on the exegetical front. Differences notwithstanding, both proved stronger 'theologically' than I expected when starting. If you're planning to work/teach/preach/study through Galatians, Longnecker is a 'must buy' with Betz deserving 2nd prize. After that it tends to be very hit or miss. Ridderbos' commentary (published in 1953) is ok, but it lacks some of the more profound things he wrote later in life. Interestingly, I think there were a number of places that the later Riddersbos (a la
Paul: An Outline) differered from this commentary. One definitely gets the sense that he was reading Galatians eariler through the lens of the ordo salutis while moving more toward a historia salutis reading of Galatians by the time he wrote Paul: An Outline.

Fung (NICNT) is alright...good in places, ho-hum in others. Unlike the more-recently redone Anchor Commentary series in the OT which tends to be quite good, I didn't find J.A. Martyr's commentary (1997) very helpful at all as a 'critical' commentary. James Dunn's commentary (in the Black NT series, 1995) and monograph (
A Theology of Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Cambridge Press) have their scattered brilliant moments mixed in with large swaths of theological presuppositions that I don't share; it would take a detailed review of Dunn to say more. However, for the purpose of this review, I'm not ready to throw either of these books to the "NPP" (the New Perspective Pergortory) of fundamentalist exegesis. You need to be aware of how Dunn reads Galatians, and I think you'll come away better off digesting the argumentation. Richard Hays monograph (The Faith of Jesus Christ, Scholar's Press, 1983) that focuses specifically on Galatians 3 and 4 is another piece that deserves careful attention, even though I don't find all of his arguments immdiately compelling and remain unconvinced of his pistou Christou position.

Moises Silva's
Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method is another important book worthy of taking a look at. There are places where I concur and do not concur, but it's still a book you ought to consult when working in Galatians.

The book that has largely flown under the radar (at least, I've never heard it mentioned in my cross-section of Reformed and OT-minded friends) is
The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians by Walter (Bo) Russell (Univ. Press of America, 1997). Russell is Professor of Biblical Exposition at Talbot Seminary; however, he did his Ph.D in NT at Westminster Seminary in PA under the direction of Moises Silva. His primary readers were Richard Gaffin and Stephen Westerholm.

As he notes in the preface, "This book is a work of biblical theology. It sets forth a creative thesis that swims against the theological current of the last few generations. The flow of the current is this: Whenever Paul speaks of the flesh/Spirit struggle, he is referring to an internal struggle within Christians.
The thesis of this book is that this understanding of a flesh/Spirit struggle within believers is a misreading of Galatians (and elsewhere) and results in a wrong theological anthropology. Rather, I set forth the premise that Paul uses the flesh/Spirit antithesis in Galatians (and elsewhere) in a redemptive historical sense to refer to eras or modes of existence in the history of God's people." (ix, emphasis in the original).

Those familiar with Ridderbos'
Paul, Vos' work on the Spirit, and Gaffin's work on the resurrection, Moo and Westerholm on 'the law', etc., will know exactly what's going on here; Russell argues very much along those same Biblical-theological lines. Those who have consulted T. David Gordon's, "The Problem at Galatia," Interpretation 41 (1987): 32-43 will find that Russell adopts a very similar position with respect to the book's purpose, and issue that has fairly dire consequences in how you read the book. While the book makes its particular focus on only Chapters 5 and 6 (where Paul's sarx/pneuma antithesis comes into focus), Russell makes excellent usage of the entire book's redemptive historical outlook, particular as it relates to the book's rhetorical strategy (35-86). He also has some good discussion regarding 'Paul's opponents' and what they were teaching (11-34), and how that often influences the 'method' or 'lens' the book is anaylzed through.

In other words, the first 3rd of the book will make an excellent introduction to the book, if you are looking for something to dive into at the start of your Galatians' study. There are two editions floating around, both identical as I can tell. The later one sells for about $5 more dollars. The cheapest place I've found selling the cheaper edition is Barnes and Noble.

I'm leaving out a lot of literature/commentaries that probably deserve a mention, but in the interest of brevity I'll save that for questions if want my opinions about other literature. I'm not Galatia expert by any means (email T. David Gordon if you want that!), but I have read just about all of the literature that I can get my hands on related to the book.

On one final note, what do I read on Galatians if I don't have gazillions to buy expensive monographs? My advice would probably be to consult something like the little-known-about commentary on Galatians by Leon Morris. It's not a perfect commentary, but I personally liked it better than any of the other 'pop variety' commentaries on Galatians (e.g. Stott, Hendrickson, even Ryken to a certain extent). Strangely, the book (published in 1996) seems to go largely unnoticed, even among evangelicals. There are places where I don't share his views, but it's a nice lay-refernce under 200 pages.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



Just a few 'housekeeping' matters....

FIRST, In case you missed the memo -- yes, I'm of June 2, 2007. I'll eventually post some of the official pics (shot most-excellently by Vicky's cousin-in-law and Canon employee, Scott Jo) over at my Flickr account of the wedding. In the mean time, there are already 50 or so shots taken by my Uncle Dan, for those who haven't seen them yet.

SECOND, things officially rapped up at Covenant Presbyterian in Berkeley last July (2008). It was a great 20 months of ministerial laboring with Pastor Wayne (a friend from seminary) and the entire church. It was one of those jobs that just providentially materialized when I relocated to the Bay Area to be near Vicky, and I am most appreciative of their (paid!) support for those months as Vicky and I 'adjusted' to marriage life. The church was also supportive as I preached through some material I had been working on from Proverbs and related OT 'wisdom' books; a lot of good, constructive feedback and encouragement along the way! Vicky and I are sad that our time there was so short.

If you are looking for a Reformed, Bible-teaching church in the San Francisco/Oakland area, I recommend you check out Covenant Presbyterian.

THIRD, so what now? Well, that was a question I was praying through for 2 or 3 months last year, and it seemed like I wasn't getting a clear answer. I kicked around the idea of getting that MA/Ph.D program started in Hebrew Bible, but the timing just seemed wrong to start something that massive. Besides, I was really enjoying the regular teaching at church, and I have more than enough 'degrees' to do that! But I had real doubts about where I should best pursue those ecclesiastical interests.

In the mean time, I decided to get back in touch with my old PCA church in La Jolla, CA....just to see what pastoral opportunities there might be back in this Presbytery. That's when the pastor (Rev. James Lee) floated (in his words) "the crazy idea" of me coming back down to New Life La Jolla to work as an Associate Pastor. Naturally my curiosity was peeked, since this was my church before I moved to Canada in 2004 to start my Th.M. [It was also the Presbytery that first licensed me to teach/preach back in 2003 and still the Presbytery where I still hold those credentials.] That first conversation happened in September 2008, but I really thought it was a major shot in the dark. How was a small church going to afford to pay me anything to come back? But one thing led to another, the New Life session issued me a verbal offer to come down around Thanksgiving time last November.

So Vicky and I decided to accept the offer, and we moved back to San Diego on New Year's weekend. It was an added bonus that Vicky attened the church when it was a brand new 'mission' work while she was a student at UCSD back in the late 90's. 3+ months in, things are going great. More on that TBA!

FOURTH, I have a new DSLR camera (as of last August): Canon 40D

I'm up to about 3500 shots in 9 months. Lots of mistakes. And even more photos I need to sort. Hey, I'm working on it; see my Flickr account for those updates.

I haven't touched an SLR camera since my freshman year in high school, but I had been itching to get back into things after a long absence, especially since the new DSLR cameras have been come down in price and are turning out much better quality shots than even 3 years ago. So far so good!




Keep your little pocket cameras for those simple family-get-together photos. But if you really want to expand your portfolio -- especially if there are kids in the mix now!! -- then getting a DSLR is a must. Email if you have any questions and I'll try to act like I know what I'm talking about!

My hope is to eventually expand things over at the Photomorg site, but so far I just haven't had the time.

Hopefully, I can get back to some posts here in the not-too-distant future. I need to get this stuff on Proverbs out while it's still fresh on my mind.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Herman Bavinck on Confession and False Shame

But I certify you, brethren,
that the gospel which was preached of
me is not after man.
Gal. 1: 11.

Confessing is against flesh and blood, against the world and Satan. By nature, each man is an enemy of the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ. It may seem strange to the shallow minded person, that there has always been so much resistance against the gospel. For it is a joyful message for all creatures; it speaks of nothing but grace, peace and salvation; it demands nothing, but gives everything. Yet, it finds enmity and resistance all over; it is an offense to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. It may be for man, it is not after man. It is of Divine origin and therefore not in accordance with the thoughts and desires of men. Mind and heart, desire and will, soul and body are against the gospel of Christ. In their resistance men are supported by the world and the whole kingdom of darkness.

There certainly is a difference in circumstances. In days of peace and quiet, it is less serious, then when the congregation is oppressed and persecuted by the world. We need more courage to confess Christ, in an ungodly environment of sinners and mockers, than in the circle of relatives and friends, who together confess the truth. It needs a more courageous faith, not to be ashamed of the cross of Christ, when surrounded by the great and learned, than in the midst of common people in a distant village.

But in principle the resistance is the same all over. For flesh, the world and Satan are always the same, and the greatest and strongest enemy that resists the confession of Christ, lives in our own heart. The forms in which the enemy operates may be different, but confessing the name of Christ always demands that we deny self and bear His cross. Whoever, from which circle he may come, when he will follow Jesus, must submit to insult an contempt.

Even when faith is worked in the heart, and urges to confessing, there still can be so much that keeps the lips closed, and keeps us from boldly confessing the name of Jesus!

Look at Peter, who in a hour of danger denies his Master, and later in Antioch from fear for the brethren of the circumcision turns into a hypocrite. Yet, Peter was first among the apostles, who for his glorious and courageous confession that Jesus was Messiah, received the name of Rock. He felt so close to Jesus, had such fervent love for the Master, that he would die for the Lord, and did not think it possible he would ever deny his Lord. When Peter could fall and did fall, who shall remain standing? And who does not need the warning: let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.

There are many examples in the history of the Christian Church, where we read of steadfast martyrs, but we also read of the thousands, who denied the faith in the hour of temptation. When oppression and persecution come for the sake of the Word, those, who at first heard the Word with joy, but had no root in themselves, are instantly offended, and are but for a time.

There are so many dangers to which the believer is exposed, so many rocks at which he can suffer shipwreck. The desire of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, fear to lose name and honor, good and blood, work together to draw Christ's disciple away from the certainty of faith. Among all these temptations, a so-called sense of false shame could be the most severe of all. For even when oppressions and persecutions are past, it continues to slay its thousands and ten thousands. Among the low and mighty, this sense of false shame kept many from confessing the name of the Lord.

There is something very humiliating in the thought, that basically, in our hearts, we are ashamed to confess Jesus. For He was a man going through the country, doing good and blessing men; Who was meek and lowly of heart; Who being innocent, died on the cross, being condemned by those who were His enemies. There must be something out of order with us, we must be spiritually sick, when we are ashamed for such a Man, and are afraid to take His name on our lips.

Shame in general is an unpleasant feeling, which connects itself with some act in us, as if the esteem from others for us becomes less. It can be something positive. When Adam after he sinned is ashamed because he trespassed the commandment, he gives evidence that he sees his act as evil and is aware that he fell. To be ashamed is not always a fruit of faith, it is also known by the natural man, and is evidence that men did not become animal or devil when he fell. He is still man, and a feeling of dignity and honour remains with him.

But beside much that is true and good, there is also a false sense of shame. It occurs when we feel embarrassed about something, which is good in itself, but can lower us in the esteem of others. We are often ashamed for the good impressions that are left from the preaching of the gospel; about the accusations of our conscience; about the sorrow that we feel after a sin committed; about emotions to which we are subject at certain times. We are afraid that others knowing about this, will despise us, and make fun of us; that we will lose the name of being courageous and strong people.

It is this sense of false shame, which often surprises us with respect to the gospel of the cross. We are ashamed of the congregation, which consists not of many nobles, not many wise. We are ashamed of the Bible, which is so different and is contested by men of science and culture. We are ashamed of Christ, Who claimed to be God's only Son, the anointed of the Father. We are ashamed of His cross, which was an offense to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek. We are ashamed of God's special revelation, which discovers us to ourselves, and shows us in our spiritual poverty.

We are also afraid when taking the side of Christ, we will lose our name and honour as men and become subject to insult and mockery, libel and oppression. We fear, that by confessing Christ, our dignity, our personality, our being human will suffer harm.

Even a sense of false shame has the dark underground, that at one time we were created in God's image and must uphold a certain honour and status. No one is indifferent to the esteem of self and of others, because in his deepest fall, man remains man, that is, he still retains the image and likeness of God.

But under the influence of sin this sense works the wrong way. For it is true indeed when we give ourselves to Christ for our salvation, the esteem of ourselves and that of others will lessen and we will lose our name and honour by men. But such esteem is nothing but delusion, and such honour and delusion are but imagined. For by nature we see ourselves as rich and enriched, having need of nothing. But when we embrace the gospel, we see that we are poor and blind and naked.

That is how the honour of men is for the greatest part nothing but ignorance and show. The art of associating with man consists in hiding our real being, so they form a judgment about our person, according to our outward, acquired behaviour. God is true, but all men are liars. Man just does not happen to speak lies, but he lives a lie; he is untrue in his very existence. Appearance and substance, being and revelation, inward and outward do contrast each other. While at times the mouth flows over with love and the countenance shows nothing but friendship, from the heart of men proceed evil surmisings, murders, fornication, adultery, theft, false witness, slanders. A saint, who knew the inner man and could see the bottom of the heart, would flee from him, horror stricken. And unforgettable is the love of Christ, Who knew man, but in spite of this looked for him and gave Himself over into death for him.

That is how we live for ourselves and others in a delusion and imagination. Well considered, we abandon nothing, when we believe in Christ, for we have nothing. We only abandon the delusion that we are rich and enriched, that we have need of nothing. The greatest misery of sin is not that we are blind, but being blind we think that we see. Sin is guilt and shame and stain, but it also is foolishness and lack of wisdom.

That delusion is disturbed in us by the Word of the Lord. If we would be saved by Christ we must do away with that delusion. For to become a Christian is to esteem the judgment of others for nothing, accepting the judgment of God upon ourselves and hope in His grace. To confess Christ includes, that we lose ourselves and all that is ours, our name and our honour, our good and blood, our soul and our life. It is exactly this that is resisted by a sense of false shame. The desire to apparent self preservation, urges and drives men to resist the gospel with all his strength.

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8: 7). The natural man does not understand the things of God's Spirit, and he does not understand, that denial of self is the only way to true self-preservation.

from The Sacrifice of Praise, Chapter 7

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Theonomy, Ethics, and Perspectivalism

NB: The following was discussion paper penned by the late Meredith Kline. Since I over the years have received numerous questions regarding Christian ethics, Theonomy, and perspectivalism. I don't wish enter a full-blown discussion of Prof Frame's perspectivalism, but I merely submit this in the interest of (a) highlighting one aspect of the discussion and (b) posting Dr. Kline's thoughts on the matter.


Meredith G. Kline
28 February 1986
Westminster Theological Seminary in California

After our faculty forum on theonomy I thought a follow-up paper would be useful, particularly to treat the opening sections of the discussion-guide provided by John Frame, which were by-passed at the forum. I also thought it would be appropriate to communicate with Vern Poythress, whose three tapes on theonomy were among the source materials for the forum, especially since I had made some criticisms of his approach, even though appreciating his contribution to the discussion along biblical-theological lines and the way he eventually comes down in clear opposition to the radical conclusions of theonomic politics. These two objectives have been combined in this one response-paper to save some time and effort by avoiding inevitable repetitions. Hopefully this paper may serve as a stimulus to our continued study of the issues together.

At the forum I stressed the importance of starting with something that is indisputably held by theonomists and is, moreover, a distinctive and climactic tenet for them, namely, their contention that it is a function of the state to suppress and eliminate those who practice false religions. In my judgment, to impose such a role on the State would be in effect to countermand the great commission. As I see it, this reconstructionist program contradicts the essential biblical ethos and ethic of the church in this present world. Theonomists disagree - they see this program as the fulfillment of their millennial aspirations. One can take a stand with one side or the other in this dispute but what one cannot do is pass off the conflict as just a matter of varying emphases, as just a relative difference of position on some continuum. Clearly the difference is substantive, a difference not of degree but total contrast. It is not simply a matter of minor disagreement as to how to apply some general principle in a given situation. It is not a matter of some general principle of justice at all, but rather of the particular, precise functions that divine revelation assigns to specific institutions - theocracy, State, church. The defining of the nature, functions and historical mission of these institutions constitutes a major element in the content of biblical law, each covenantal corpus of law being indeed institutionally specific. And dividing theonomists sharply from their Reformed critics is a radical difference of judgment as to the functions appointed by the Scriptures to the several institutions.

Turning to Frame's discussion-guide he starts with the assertion that the Mosaic law, including its penal sanctions, had the functions (1) of republishing "the creation ordinances and the Noahic and Abrahamic covenant stipulations" and (2) of applying these "principles" to the new situation introduced by the exodus, with its cultural and redemptive-historical differences from what went before. Then, on the basis of this interpretation of the Mosaic law, he concludes that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Mosaic law and what preceded and follows it, that accordingly total continuity or total discontinuity is ruled out, and that the differences between Bahnsen and Kline are perforce only relative differences as to the degree of continuity or discontinuity recognized by each.

It is Frame's starting point that must be challenged, that is, his biblical-theological conclusion that the several promulgations of divine stipulations are to be identified as each a republication of its predecessors). I am, of course, concerned to contest the soundness of the biblical-theological position in itself, but I also want to call attention to how this starting assumption decisively affects, delimits and controls all that follows.

Frame's republishing approach should not be adopted in the first place because it entails a seriously defective view of the several divine covenants. It misconstrues the relationship of the successive economies in the administration of God's rule over the world by obscuring if not obliterating the real differences (especially as to the nature and functions of the institutions defined in the covenants) that obtain between the covenant of creation and the covenant of common grace, between the latter and the redemptive covenants, and between the Mosaic Covenant and previous and following redemptive covenants. Of particular relevance, it is oversimplification to the point of falsification to identify the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the stipulations of the previous divine covenants recorded in Scripture. Though I am only stating this dogmatically here, I have sought to make the exegetical/biblical-theological case in support of my position carefully and at length in my publications.

The second point I want to make concerning Frame's starting assumption (the republishing notion) is that it sets the bounds and determines the direction and conclusions of his whole analysis: Within this republication framework all the content of all the separate divine law disclosures would seem to get reduced to the general equity component in biblical law, the general norms of morality that are constant and permanent. For what Frame initially calls ordinances and stipulations are immediately afterwards identified as "these principles." However, these "principles" are said to undergo particular situational modifications in the process of repeated republication. Apparently then Frame does not really intend to equate all the particular stipulations with "principles", pure and simple. Nevertheless, the fact that he does identify them in an overall way as "principles" means at least that whatever variations of particular application appear in the course of the alleged republishings these modified formulations are nothing more than expressions, one and all, of the common set of constant principles which, according to the foundational assumption, get republished over and again in each successive promulgation of divine norms.

This republication framework thus becomes a hermeneutical grid that filters out all the biblical evidence of God's appointing real differences of nature and function to the various institutions in his several institutionally specific sets of covenant stipulations. These real institutional differences get lost on the way through the filter, emerging as merely relatively variant applications of some common "principle". Thus, the unique nature of the Israelite theocracy as a holy institution, typological of the consummated kingdom of God, with its associated special theocratic functions gets filtered out and is denied. Frame cannot admit a real difference - he cannot acknowledge the uniqueness of Israel nor, as corollary thereof, the non-holy and non-typological nature of the nations of the world in their ordinary administration of justice - without first abandoning in midstream his opening, controlling assumption of republication. Accordingly, he holds that some degree of holiness is to be predicated of the State and that the regular enforcement of justice by the common civil magistrate is typological (in the symbolic biblical sense). Indeed, he says in the same context (i.e., his "Thoughts on Theonomy", p. 6) that "all men, not only Israel, are in covenant with God", even after breaking covenant. That is how the stark biblical contrast between Ammi (used for people in covenant with God) and LO-Ammi (used for people not in covenant with God) translates when it has passed through the republication-filter: No becomes a shade of Yes!

Incidentally - yet not so incidentally - it is apparent that the alignment of this republication view of biblical laws is with the theonomist position. Is it not precisely such a view, one that regards all divine prescriptions as particular situational expressions of the same general, constant moral principles and does not allow for real substantive differences with respect to the nature and functions of peculiarly distinct institutions, that accommodates nicely the theonomists' unwarranted interpretation of "the general equity" of the "judicial laws" of Moses dealt with in the Westminster Confession of Faith 19:4, the interpretation propounder as they seek to find confessional support for their position on the civil magistrate? By the same token, within the bounds of his republication scheme, Frame cannot even describe Kline's view on its own terms, with its affirmations of real institutional differences.

Everything depends then on Frame's original biblical-theological assumption concerning the relationships of the covenants and the nature of their stipulated institutions. We can debate whether such a covenantal theology as his is correct, congenial as it is to the theonomist view but impervious to Kline's view of the controverted matters, or whether Kline's biblical-theological analysis of the covenants is true to the ‘Scriptures.’ But meanwhile it must be recognized that this is where the issue lies - in the opposing biblical-theological conclusions concerning such concepts as theocracy, holy, and typology. This is not a red herring, as Frame has suggested. If there is anything in the discussion that would lead it down a false track it is the identification of the issue with the question of whether either side affirms total continuity or total discontinuity between the Mosaic law as a whole and what preceded and follows it (of course, nobody does either.) The issue is the biblical-theological one as to the nature and functions of the institutions defined by the divine covenants, especially the Israelite theocracy. And the differences between theonomists and Kline (and other Reformed critics) are not matters of degree but of mutually exclusive understandings of what are and what are not the functions of theocracy and common State. The differences are solidly substantial and radically oppositional. They involve two distinct versions of Christianity.

We focus now on the Poythress tapes. In keeping with my comments above, I of course reject the suggestion that the difference between theonomic politics and Kline's view is simply that one or the other is relatively closer or farther from the normative or situational poles of a perspectival axis. It is rather a matter if completely contradicting one another when theonomists assert and Kline denies that the theocratic function of enforcing the faith by the sword is a function of the common State. It is not that one side stresses the normative more and the other the situational more. It is rather that they differ absolutely (with the absoluteness of the difference between Yes and No) on what the norm is. More precisely, they differ on the situational content of the norm.

It is utterly misleading to suggest that my Intrusion concept is in the slightest degree further distanced than the theonomic view from "normativeness" (with its connotation of authoritative standard), either in principle or emphasis. I see the Mosaic law as institutionally specific, as defining the governmental province of a theocracy, and I see the civil magistrate, as defined in other biblical revelation, as non-theocratic. Hence, I do not simplistically regard the State as possessing all the functions that are 'assigned by the Mosaic law to theocratic Israel. My interpretation of the biblical norms thus differs from that of the theonomists, but that is what is involved – a different interpretation of the content of the norm, not a lesser recognition on my part of some "normativeness" abstractly distinguished from a situational aspect.

Parenthetically, if we are to speak of a tendency towards subjectivist situationalist ethics, then curiously it is found not in Intrusion ethics but in theonomic politics. According to the former, the norms of the several institutionally specific bodies of law remain fixed in their application to these institutions. But theonomists, like dispensationalists, without biblical warrant impose distinctions within the course of a given historical epoch of an institution, distinctions that result in changing norms of conduct. Thus, it is suggested among theonomists that a demographic shift in a State from an unbeliever to a believer dominant population signalizes a change of norms with respect to the supposed State function of suppressing false religions.

Quite apart from the theonomy issue, I have misgivings about an analysis of the ethical picture that coordinates the situational with the normative. The impression given is that the norm is some non-particular, situationally undefined, abstract generality and that when it comes to developing concrete meaning in the application of this abstract norm we are on our own without normative direction as to how to factor in the situation and so determine our ethical duty. If that is not what is going on in this multiperspectival analysis, then what sense does it make for Poythress to suggest that Kline stands closer than Bahnsen to the Situation Ethics people, even if only formally?

I submit that the situational must be subordinated to the normative, not coordinated with it. That is, the situation is part of the original content or meaning of the biblical norm itself. The norms are situationally concrete. In applying them we must determine whether a particular existential situation belongs to the situational category envisaged in the norm, but in so doing we do not add to the meaning of the norm or modify the norm in any way. If, however, the situational is coordinated with the normative ' the inevitable result would seem to be that uninspired situational meaning gets infused into the inspired but hitherto abstract biblical norm in the fallible act of application. This looks like a giant step towards the erosion of the canonical character of Scripture as our only infallible rule of faith and practice. One’s impression that such a step is being taken is strengthened when one observes that the situational perspective and the normative perspective are polarized. That takes place when Poythress in his analysis concludes that Kline's distinctive (Intrusion) view of the situational element involves a movement away from the normative or that Bahnsen's rhetoric about the unchanging nature of the normative represents a move away from the situational pole. By using these two perspectives as a means of defining the opposition between Bahnsen and Kline, Poythress polarizes the norm and the situation. In the context of this polarization the norm loses normativeness to the extent that it is applied, that is, to the extent that it takes on situational content. The concept of absolutely authoritative biblical law thus becomes a vacant noumenal abstraction. In our consideration of theonomy the issue of multi-perspectivalism has confronted us, posing for us a more fundamental and difficult theological problem than theonomy, As argued above, adaption of the multiperspectival method introduces tensions within a theology that would simultaneously confess the orthodox doctrine of Scripture. To me it is also a cause of concern that those who are given to this method are prone, as I perceive it, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, to view antithetical positions as merely differing but compatible emphases. This is what is done by both Poythress and Frame in their assessments of the antithetical positions in the theonomy debate. I have to wonder too if it is not due to his multi-perspectival cast of thought that Frame, working in the biblical-theological area, blurs the differences between theocracy and common State. Poythress comes to more satisfactory biblical-theological conclusions, but there is then a tension within his overall presentation between his biblical-theological stance and his multiperspectival analysis of the principals in the controversy.

Significantly Frame introduces the conflict over Norman Shepherd's theology at Westminster in Philadelphia in his discussion of the theocracy problem as he argues that Kline and Bahnsen are not so far apart ("Let's Keep the Picture Fuzzy", pp. 3 ff.). Here was a case where the contested teaching involved a contradiction of the heart of the Gospel, yet it was perceived through multiperspectival lenses as nothing more than a difference in emphasis, or at worst as a deviation within allowable tolerances.

Perhaps some of these readings of the situation can be shown to be erroneous and satisfactory solutions offered for apparent problems. But it does appear that if we are to be responsible guardians of Reformed orthodoxy we must add to our agenda of study and discussion a scrutiny of multiperspectivalism. Is it an acceptable method of doing theology?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm not dead yet!

Sorry for the long blogging hiatus. Everything is ok. Things have been busy these last 4 months.

I shall a blaze of Proverbial glory!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Romans 7 Redux

One text that you're not likely to encounter on the 'Romans Road' presentation of the Gospel is Romans 7. That's because (for those who aren't aware) Romans 7 is one of those 'difficult' Pauline texts that scholars are divided on.

Consequently, it's difficult to talk about a 'standard' view of Romans 7, but the 'Paul as believer' view of Romans 7 seems to be predominant view in our conservative, Presbyterian (and Reformed) circles.

However, my friend Todd Bordow (OPC pastor in Ft. Worth, TX) summarizes some of the difficulties with that position, and why many scholars today see Romans 7 as not describing the 'normal' Christian life:

1. When did the Law come to Paul as an individual and he died? Paul grew up with the Law.

2. The Paul as a Christian view doesn't really answer the question overriding the chapter - is the (Mosaic) Law sin?

3. Paul already stated in chapter 6 that believers are not under the bondage of sin.

4. The dynamic in 7:17-23 is not a struggle with sin, but one under the bondage of sin; a slave to sin, which is not the case with the believer.

5. The passage's answer to this crying out under bondage is not the return of Christ, as would be the case with the believer view, but the gospel (past tense) 7:25 and 8:1-4.

Comments? Thoughts? Replies?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Brain-Dead Utopian Seekers

David Mamet (screenplay of The Untouchables, director of The Spanish Prisoner and The Heist) has a great piece from a couple months ago about his 'conversion' from leftist-socialism to free-market libertarianism, or (in Mamet's words) why he is "no longer a brain-dead liberal."

While the whole article is reflective of Mamet's writing style, one part of it particularly stood out:

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life....

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

In other words, the whole notion that 'capitalistic America' is
basically evil while the people who benefit from and take part in 'capitalistic America' remain basically good is glaringly inconsistent. Such views are nothing more than dreams of a utopia that simply does not (and never will!) exist.

Through recent years, it's become increasingly clear that one of the fundamental flaws that both 'Christian America' (to the right) and 'Socialist America' (to the left) ironically share is their search and quest for civil utopia. Their goals, presuppositions, and agendas are massively different....and yet they both need a certain amount of intrusive government to pull off their visions.

This explains (in part) why libertarian political and economic philosophy seems so foreign to the average American today. Why? Because we've become so accustomed to trusting the government to provide and produce utopia for us, whether it be in matters of economics or faith/religion. Just listen to the candidate speeches going on during this current election year -- are not most of them filled with 'promises' about what the government is going to do for you? Candidates that run a platform of 'less government' (e.g. Ron Paul) are deemed 'nutty' and 'radical'.

Mamet continues:

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

Economist Walter Williams argued a very similar point earlier this month by pointing out that "[m]ost of the great problems we face are caused by politicians creating solutions to problems they created in the first place." Bigger government is not going to solve our problems, whether moral/religious or social/economic!

Mamet's article highlights an interesting irony -- far from allowing individuals, governments, or corporations a blank-check to do whatever they deem right in their own eyes, Libertarian 'freedom' has a remarkably realistic way of approaching the topic of total depravity as a 'given' this side of heavenly perfection. I suspect this is one reason why I find libertarian economic theory to be quite compatible with my Calvinistic-amillennial eschatology, given that neither hold out empty pre-consummational, utopian promises. There is certainly a legitimate place for Christian involvement in civil affairs, but this should not be confused with the only true 'Christian utopia' to be found in the eternal age to come, an age that we partake of even now in an anticipatory form. Failure to make this distinction between the present age (which recognizes the need for the State to bear the sword per Romans 13) and the age to come (which recognizes there will be no need for sword-bearing since the final judgment is now past-tense) continues to be a prime source of error among Christians thinking about politics at present in the US.

Now go watch the Untouchables (again)!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hot Air anyone?

You know the guys over at Lenovo must have had fun making this one....

The Macbook Air certainly plays well to the "OOOOOh" and "Awwwwwwe" crowd. Even I have to admit being pretty impressed when I saw my first one. But then reality sets in when you see the price listings: "Starting at $1799"!

Sorry, Steve....but I'm not buying the hype.

Admittedly, I find Macbook Pros to be on the pricey side as well (especially for what the average consumer like myself needs), but I can at least understand why those working in graphic/media design or music production would shell out Macbook Pro kind of money. But I really have no idea what kind of person would spend $1800 on a Macbook Air. Well, actually, I do -- the kind of uber-Mac-geek person who only wants to "OOOOOh" and "Awwwwwe" his friends, neighbors, and potential clients!

I'm not a diehard Mac apologist....but I might become more of one after seeing my Dad's HP meltdown (from a botched SP3 update attempt) last Thursday and then my wife's HP laptop meltdown (from a botched attempt to reinstall and update her printer drivers) this past Monday. For those counting, that's one stolen Macbook and two major PC crashes in, oh, about 10 days time!

I'm not one of these Ray Kurzweil-ian 'transhuman' prognosticators, but the past couple of weeks illustrate rather nicely how computers and technology so easily run our lives. You just don't realize it...until it crashes or someone steals it from you!