He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

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 return.....in 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!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Time to Moo

I'm glad to see that Doug Moo is online with a number of his articles now available as PDF downloads. If you have not read his exegetical work on topics related to 'Paul and the Law', then you are really missing out. Even some of his older work is still worth a careful read.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Matt's New Mac...and a (nearly) Free Printer offer

After soon realizing that a full recovery of my stolen Macbook was about as likely as the PCA and OPC agreeing on a good definition of 'system subscription', I decided that it was time to pony up another $850 on a MacBook refurb. Ouch! Especially after just coming back from 6 days in Cayman for this year's Morgan family vacation.

So after a bit of an order snafu, the new Macbook arrived on Friday.

Things are almost back to normal around the home now!

They also sent me a Canon IP4500 printer as part of a $100 printer voucher. Of course, we already have two printers at the house -- Vicky's HP all-in-one for her job, and then my trusty Samsung laser printer that I've had for 3 1/2 years. That leaves me now with a nice photo printer...and no need (let alone room!) to keep it.

Please get a hold of me if you know anyone that needs a photo printer. I'm not sure how much UPS Ground would charge to ship it somewhere, but I'm basically only asking you cover the tax I paid on it ($8) and then any shipping costs. I know I can probably unload it on Craigslist, but I'll give someone else a chance to claim it first.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

B.B. Warifeld on Confessional Subscription (Part 1)

"Among the causes of the present appearance of restlessness with reference to the Westminster Standards, the first place is undoubtedly due to the overstrictness prevailing in some churches, in the formula of subscription which is required of office-bearers. And it is worthy of notice that where the formula seems overstrict, dissatisfaction seems to be most widespread, most pronounced, and most difficult to satisfy....In a word, a public confession [of faith], by virtue of the very fact that it is public, cannot be, and ought not to be pretended to be, just the expression of his faith which one accepts it as representing his faith would have framed had he only himself to consider. The most we can expect, and the most we have right to ask is, that each one may be able to recognize it as an expression of the system of truth which he believes. To go beyond this and seek to make each of a large body of signers accept the [Westminster] Confession in all its propositions as the profession of his personal belief, cannot fail to result in serious evils -- not least among which are the twin evils that, on the one hand, too strict subscription overreaches itself and becomes little better than no subscription; and, on the other, that it begets a spirit of petty, carping criticism which raises objection to forms of statement that in other circumstances would not appear objectionable.

Where the formulat of acceptance is such that no one signs without some mental reservation, some soon learn to sign without reference to mental reservation; and gross heterodoxy becomes gradually safe, because there is no one so wholly without sin that his conscience permits him to cast the first stone. That such a state of things has not been unknown, the history of Scottish Moderatism may teach us. That in the estimation of some, some of its features are not wholly unknown now, there are not lacking phenomena which may indicate....Now such a state of affairs is a great evil; and the dangers attending it have never been better pointed out than Dr. Charles Hodge, who writes: 'To adopt every proposition contained in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms is more than the vast majority of our ministers either do or can do. To make them profess to do it is a great sin. It hurts their consciences. It fosters a spirit of evasion and subterfuge. It forces them to take creeds in a non-natural sense. It at once vitiates and degrades. There are few greater evils connected with establishments than the overwhelming temptations which they offer to make men profess what they do not believe. Under such strict requirements, men make light of professions, and are ready to adopt any creed which opens the door to wealth of office. The overstrict the world over are the least faithful'

Not less surely, however, does overstrictness of formula wound tender consciences and produce a restlessness as over against the creed itself to all the propositions of which they are obliged to assent as the profession of their faith, even when they would not find these propositions objectionable when considered only as one statement of faith they profess. Tender consciences must revolt from a confession to which they are too closely bound, if they do not find themselves in absolute agreement with every word; and revolt once begun, battens on what it feeds on, until a great war breaks out against the Confession with which, nevertheless, most of the combatants are in substantial agreement. Thus, overstrictness in the formula is the real account often to be given of what emerges as objection against the creed, rather than against the formula. Relief is to be sought in such a relaxation of the formula as will give all the liberty to individuals which is consistent with the Church's witness to the truth. What is needed seems to us admirably expressed by Dr. Marshall Lang in a speech in the Established Presbytery of Glasgow, advocating the change of formula which has since been accomplished in that Church: 'The point they desired to emphasize was this,' he is reported as saying, 'that they did not bind men to the mere letter. They did not insist that a man should accept all the propositions and all the phraseology of the Confession. What they asked was that a man should honestly and truly subscribe to the system of truth that was presented in the Confession of Faith, and not merely to the words of the letter in which it was presented. He thought a substantial relief was given to persons of scrupulous conscience.' So far as the present agitation in the Scotch churches arises from this cause and tends to this result, it is an effort to attain a situation as over against the Standards which the American churches have always enjoyed, and it must have the hearty sympathy of every American Presbyterian.

This advocacy of a liberal formula, however, is not to be understood as if we could at all accord with those who would so relax the formula as to make the Confession of Faith little more than a venerable relic of a past age, still honored as such by the Church. Such a change as that made in 1816 by the Church of Holland by which ministers were not longer pledged to the Standards, because (quia), but only in so far as (quatenus) they accord with the Word, is justly pointed to...as fatal. That there are, nevertheless, some in the Scotch churches who might desire it, seems to be hinted by some words....Unfortunately, there are some even who act as if this were all that the present very strict formula bound them to, as was evinced, for example, by the amazing plea put in by Mr. James Stuart, author of that very remarkable book, The Principles of Christianity, when arraigned before the Presbytery of Edinburgh. Nevertheless, it is surely not so difficult as Principal David Brown expresses himself as thinking, to frame a formula which will 'let in all the right men and keep out all wrong'. The American churches have such a formula. Of course it lies in the courts of the Church to decide what is and what is not of the system, and Church courts are not infallible, nor always faithful. But Church courts can afford, and do venture, to hold men strictly to the terms of a liberal formula, when they could not to an illiberal one. Overstrictness demands and begets laxity in performance; while a truly liberal but conservative formula binds all essentially sound men together against laxity. In pleading for a liberal formula, therefore, we wish it distinctly understood that we do not plead either for a lax formula, or much less for a lax administration of any formula -- within which an essential dishonesty lurks. The American formula appears to us to be the ideal one, and as nothing more lax than it would be acceptable or safe, certainly a lax administration of it would be unendurable, and, as we have said, essentially dishonest."

("The Presbyterian Churches and the Westminster Confession," The Presbyterian Review, Vol. 10, No. 40, 1889, pp. 648ff.)


(1) Warfield's day was not unlike our own -- namely, the Reformed faith is (a) being discounted by those that want to so minimize the Confession to point where it becomes a 'mere Christianity and (b) being defended by those that desire to uphold a 'strict(er) subscription' to the Standards. And yet Warfield refuses to go down either of these roads (in good Old Princeton fashion).

(2) Warfield seems to recognize that these extreme positions [i.e. substance subscription and strict subscription] very much play off one another. I've long suspected this, so it's always nice when someone like Warfield agrees with you! When Confessional subscription is continually shoved down someone's throat in an overstrict way, it has the rather unintended consequence of making men even more apt to revolt against it. And when men start to drift away from the system of doctrine, it seems to make the Strict Confessionalists bang their 'overstrict' drum louder and louder. It's still worthy of note a century later "that where the (confessional) formula seems overstrict, dissatisfaction seems to be most widespread, most pronounced, and most difficult to satisfy." Indeed, things haven't changed all that much at all.

(3) The 'serious evils' that Warfield attributes to strict subscription are not imaginary. If you afford a man no place to issue scruples, it will invariably drive them underground. That's exactly what happened in the Free Church (Scotland) as well as the CRC (US). And if you haven't witnessed "a spirit of petty, carping criticism" over the Confession first hand in your Reformed church, then (a) you are extremely fortunate and (b) you should do your best to never leave!

(4) Warfield & Hodge show exactly how the main of conservative American Presbyterianism has practiced 'subscription'! Some today act as if this is some sort of a 'modern' view...when in fact it has a fairly long and established pedigree in American Presbyterianism.

(5) Warfield very boldly announces that because the Confession is public in nature, it cannot speak perfectly for the individual to his exact personal beliefs. Now there's something you don't hear too often today! I suspect because it sounds far too 'slippery' and leaves too many loose ends untied. But when you finally understand system subscription in its Old School Presbyterian sense, then you understand how Warfield can argue this way.

How does Warfield avoid the 'substance subscription' pitfall? We'll take that up in a subsequent post, based on the same article referenced above. Stay tuned....

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Today, I had my first *anger* outburst in quite some time.

I settled into my usual downstairs corner of the GTU library (in Berkeley). I began to read a couple books, until I realized that I didn't have all the ones I needed. So I proceeded to go back to the carrels to get the books I wanted, stopping along the way to use the bathroom.

When I got back to my desk, I reached inside my backpack....only to find no laptop!! Now, I think I know a little how a parent must feel when he suddenly can't find his child in a supermarket or department store.

Amazing how quickly it happened. No one saw a thing. I wasn't gone for more than 5-7 minutes tops. Of course, it doesn't take even 30 seconds to unzip a backpack, grab a laptop, drop it in your bag, and be gone! The didn't even bother taking the power cord.

Fortunately, all of the important data had been backed up via Mozy.

So I learned my lesson....
the hard way. Let me be an example that laptop theft happens, even in places that you think are completely safe. I've used the GTU library regularly for over a year now, which contributed to my 'false assurance' that I could leave it alone for a few minutes here and there when I needed to step away.

Now I understand the paranoia people have about their laptops in public places! But like many lessons in life, it's only when it eats into your pocket book that you learn your lesson.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Little More Odds and Enns....

Vicky and I leave for a week in Cayman tonight -- one of my cousins is getting married. I had planned a more lengthy post to follow up the previous one on Professor Enns. There are some fascinating parallels to the current debate and similar debates in the later half of the 19th century in the Free Church of Scotland with William Robertson Smith and at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with Crawford H. Toy, both of whom were removed/forced out because they espoused 'new' views of Scripture that were deemed dangerous to the Christian faith. Those will have to wait until I return next week.

I had also planned on writing something on Warfield, who has been referenced numerous time in this debate, particularly on the point of
concursus and the 'incarnational analogy' between Christ and Scripture. However, Lee Irons already jumped on this particular point a week ago. There are a number of other juicy Warfield quotes that could be cited in the current context. All that to say -- the comparisons between Warfield and Enns begin to break down upon a closer inspection of the sources. I will say that I've come away mightily impressed again how marvelous Warfield is to avoid overly simplistic (i.e. fundamentalistic/head-in-the-sand, dictation theory, etc.) approaches to the Doctrine of Scripture, while at the same time avoiding the capitulation that came at the hands of Higher Criticism in the late 1800's. This is no small feat, especially when you see how many others (like Smith and Toy above) didn't fair nearly so well.

I did want to post one item of interest -- a 38-page letter that Prof. Enns sent to the Board of Directors in January 2008. I've uploaded the 3mb file here, if any are interested. You'll notice that on the first page, there's a disclaimer that this information is not some 'secret memo' that was never intended to get out in the first place.

For those well-versed in the plethora of reviews and rejoinders since
I&I was published, I don't think you will find any earth-shattering revelations...with maybe the exception that Prof. Enns admits that he is going farther than Waltke, Longman, Walton and others on the matter of 'myth' in ANE context (p.27-28). What does come out very clearly in the letter is the ever-widening rift at Westminster East that many of us in the WTS-tradition have known about for the past decade (and probably longer). Read in that light, it seems plausible to read I&I as a sort of personal throwing-down-of-the-gauntlet as to the future direction of Westminster Seminary. You can see why something had to happen. The "Why can't we all get along" shtick is simply not going to work, when the disagreements are this substantial.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Odds and Enns

I've had a number of private correspondences over the last few months asking about Dr. Peter Enns, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. As many of you know already, the Board of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) voted last week to "suspend" Professor Enns at the end of this current semester and then "consider whether Professor Enns should be terminated from his employment at the Seminary." The blogosphere has seen a blitzkrieg of discussion surrounding the events of these past couple of weeks. [Trevin Wax provides a helpful non-partisan summary of the issues at stake, if you are new to the discussion.]

Here are a few thoughts on the matter....

(1) Numerous complaints have been voiced about 'accountability' to academics teaching in the ivory tower of a seminary, especially one like Westminster that is not under any denominational approval.

I'm not sure anyone has figured out if the *best* way to run a Reformed seminary [or
any seminary for that matter] is under explicit denominational oversight (e.g. Covenant, RPTS, Calvin, etc.) OR under a separate board of governors (e.g. just about everyone else!). The fact that our current crop of schools favor the later is more of a byproduct of the last 100 years of Presbyterian/Reformed history, given that the ever-liberalizing mainline denominations left Machen and others no choice but to start their own 'independent' seminaries if theological training was to continue.

What has aided the Westminsters historically is the fact that their 'independence' enabled them (to a certain degree) to draw from the different Reformed streams of American Presbyterianism (Machen), Scottish Presbyterianism (Murray), and the Continental Reformed (Van Til). As one who was trained under that breadth of the Reformed faith, it has certainly proved fruitful and beneficial in all sorts of ways that I didn't even realize while I was going through it. One is able to compare and contrast the various ways each group's theology came to expression, particularly in the heat of doctrinal controversy.

Of course, the fear of some in this approach is that this sort of breadth opens oneself up to many streams of doing theology...and all of the
extra doctrinal controversy that entails. Too many streams, I suspect, in the minds of many. It's too difficult to control, they say! It becomes increasingly more complicated to recognize the matters that are absolutely essential to our Reformed system of doctrine, matters where good Reformed people have disagreed, matters where we aren't sure if theological language amounts to serious theological disagreement (i.e. 'faith and assurance" in the Presbytery vs. Continental traditions), or matters that compromise our system of Reformed doctrine but would still be regarded as evangelical or protestant. Reformed denominations in main might well have 'general agreement' as to where these 'matters' divide up. But if it were such an easy thing to 'agree', why do all the NAPARC churches still exist as separate bodies? No, denominations exist because they have distinctives that they believe are essential to their system of doctrine. The more streams you have converging in the middle, the harder it becomes to maintain distinctives.

However, an emphasis on distinctives can easily lead to narrowness, if not altogether blindness on an issue. You insist on a particular doctrinal formulation because that's how it's done
in our tradition. Well, traditions can err...and indeed have erred. And it seems to me that the Westminster model of trying to bring together (in some sense) the breadth of the Reformed faith helps honest, Scripture-seeking students think long and hard about particular doctrines and the best way to express them. Maybe there are some things we never come to an agreement on...but knowing the "lay of the land" helps us avoid retreating into ever-narrowing sects.

To sum up from a previous thread, the problems experienced at Westminster that involve Peter Enns is
not because of system subscription.

(2) What does 'academic freedom' mean for a seminary? That's a difficult question to ask in the abstract. Westminster has always been a 'confessional' seminary (as seen in its ordination vow)...but
what kind of 'confessionalism' are we talking about? That's part of the problem...because we still have different schools of thought on what it even means to 'subscribe' to the Westminster Standards. Some seem to want it tighter; others want it looser; it seems to me classic 'system subscription' gives you exactly what you want in providing avenues of 'academic freedom' without saying 'any and everything goes'! But too often we paint our options as only 'strict' and 'loose'....when there is a via media that rather nicely sums up what Old Princeton/Westminster has practiced all along.

I'm not sure how removing 'academic freedom' will benefit either the seminary or the church. For starters, Westminster Seminary (and even Old Princeton before that) has always sought to keep one foot in the church and one foot in the academy, and to change that (on either side!) would help no one. Geerhardus Vos wrote (best I can tell) the first real critique of Ewald, Graf, Wellhausen and others coming out the German higher-critical school in the late 1880's; Warfield was every bit up-to-date on the complexity of the data feeding Briggs; Machen heard modern theological liberalism first-hand when sitting under the likes of Hermann in Europe, saw what was at stake when he returned home, and thus wrote 'Christianity and Liberalism' as a result; Vos figured out where mainstream, anti-supernatural 'Biblical theology' would go long before it ever went there itself; and on we could go.

The problem is not 'innovation'
per se. Without innovation, we're probably still doing apologetics in the 'common sense rationalist' tradition of Warfield. Many (if not most of us now) in the PCA/OPC/URC would identify with some sort of 'presuppositional apologetics'. [NB: I don't think Warfield should be purged from the books, nor do I think this is an issue that we should ultimately divide over in the Reformed church.] And Van Til's legacy is that he challenged many long-standing assumptions made in the Reformed community, a challenge that I think has sharpened all of our minds as we wrestle with matters of theology and epistemology.

Innovation should certainly be encouraged...IF done in compliance with God's Word. In that sense, maybe we shouldn't call it innovation but rather a robust appreciation for sola scriptura. There are plenty of examples, like Van Til, in the last 100 years of Old Princeton/Westminster, where this has helped the church greatly. It's impossible to 'predict' how this will happen, and thus it's equally impossible to 'predict' where and how someone will try to push us beyond the bounds of the system of doctrine.

I read I&I for the first time in early 2006, after hearing about it from Bruce Waltke. Admittedly, it was a quick first read one evening, since I was busy with other readings and had time only to get Enns' basic thesis and method of argumentation. I saw him simply trying to address a number of the 'problem areas' of OT scholarship in the last 50-100 years, as well as the complexities of the NT quotations of the OT. I noted a few points where I found him quite confusing, a few points where I found him illuminating (for example: the term 'Christotelic'), but otherwise I thought it was 'average' book that I didn't ever expect to pick up again.

But then things started to change. Negative reviews from
Helm, Carson and Beale started to trickle out through publications. I distinctively remember discovering Helm's article online during a Th.M seminar at Regent, and the first thought that came to my mind was, "It's a strange day when a Regent professor is taking a Westminster professor to task for defective view of a Scripture!"

I'm not sure Helm made his case all that well, but Carson and Beale were more significant reviews. Carson's stood out because his review came along with two other recent books dealing with Scripture (John Webster and N.T. Wright); Carson critiques all three, and yet Enns' book is the only one of the three that he doesn't have really anything positive to commend in it. Beale (who's tone was more irenic on the whole) wrote not one but two article-length reviews in different journals.
Critical articles are nothing new, but these seemed to go beyond the norm.

In the middle of all of this came Richard Pratt's 2006 address, "Westminster and Contemporary Hermeneutics". I have been tempted to mention it before but became busy with other matters. I've heard numerous people mention over the years how the best chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith is its chapter on Scripture, and Pratt commends Chapter 1 of the WCF as still a relevant summary of our doctrine of Scripture, even in light of modern challenges leveled against it in recent decades.

It was Enns' response to Pratt's address that made it painfully clear that this was not going to go away quietly. It's one thing to exegete a text (or a book), come to a conclusion that maybe you disagree from a consensus position, and then submit it to your faculty/presbytery for review and discussion. But Enns seems to be going beyond that, and you can see it in the way he (for example) responds to Pratt's critique of him. I happen to think that some of what Enns has suggested in his book is worthy of additional consideration. But as Carson noted in his review, the whole trajectory of Enns' rhetoric seems to not be one of "converting the alarmed but rather alarming the converted"! In other words, it's not just that he holds to one or more than one minority or controversial views under the Reformed umbrella, but rather that he seems to believe that these things are
absolutely essential to a right reading and interpretation of Scripture within the Reformed faith.

I've talked to a number of his former students who span the entire spectrum of glowing approval to glaring disapproval. And the one thing they seem to all agree on is this --
these issues are absolutely fundamental to his methodology in approaching OT theology. So we're not just talking about individual 'hot button' issues like the composition of the Proverbs, the recording of Moses' death in Deuteronomy, how Job is canonical, the King/Chronicles synoptic problem, and other thorny OT questions. It's the method seeking to bring coherence to it all that seems to raise more questions than provide answers.

If it were simply the crusty Reformed curmudgeons ranting against Enns book because it sounds too post-16th and 17th century, that would be one thing. But what in the Carson, Beale, and Pratt corpus of writings would lead you to think they are interested in opposing someone for 'TR' reasons? [Part of me is curious what Carson and Beale think about the board's decision to suspend him!]

(4) Seminary divisions and terminations are always more than simply theological. I suspect that's because we are often good at preaching total depravity....and also equally good at practicing it as well. Even though Enns' book, articles, and teachings are the 'stated' reasons for his projected termination, I think most of us know there is *more* going on than simply this. Of course, none of us are privy to the inner sanctum of these seminary squabbles...so we may never know all of the details. Enns becomes the fall guy because he's at the center of the controversy. I do think he's part of the problem (as stated above)...but I have my doubts as to whether this can
all be laid at his doorstep.

(5) If you listen to the chapel recording (April 1st, 2008) now rapidly circulating, it's interesting to hear President Lillback say that he's been dealing with this issue since 'Day One' on the job, when they brought him in 3 years ago. Interesting that he also referenced the Shepherd controversy of 30 years ago, where the faculty may have even been in stronger support of Shepherd than the current faculty is with Enns. And yet, Lillback seems to recognize that when you have this kind of division on all fronts, there are no easy solutions. And if after 3 years years of discussing this, the faculty are still split 12-8 on this (not to mention the board 18-9)....
something had to happen. Even if you believe that Enns is the best thing going at Westminster Seminary right now, surely you'd have to agree that this kind of faculty split is not terribly conducive for him personally or the seminary. How would you feel working at an institution in which 66% of the board and 40% of the faculty thought your view was heterodox?

Disunity is never a good thing...but sometimes it's unavoidable (Acts 15:36ff). But to keep things together and act as if there is 'unity' when there is really no unity?? That seems to me to be even worse.

(6) The saga is far from over! It wouldn't shock me if there are a few more 'curve balls' that come out of this, and in fact I would almost expect it. One Christian college professor told me over the weekend that he's already been contacted by one *present* WTS faculty member about possible job openings. So a further shake up doesn't seem all that out of the question!

Things stayed remarkably in tact after the Shepherd controversy in the 80's. It remains to be seen whether that will happen here....or if more heads will roll.

(7) As strange as it sounds, I think the Reformed church will benefit from being made to think through these issues of 'inspiration' and 'incarnation'. If someone had asked me back in 2001, "Does the incarnation of Christ have something to contribute to our doctrine of Inspiration?", I'm not sure how I would have answered that question. As Lillback notes, the Confession doesn't go there when speaking about inspiration. So does that mean it's ok, adiaphora, or dangerous? Some might instantly say, "No, we can't go there because the Confession doesn't." Others seem to be saying, "This is THE way to swim in higher-critical scholarship!" I think the correct approach is neither of these. What is needed is (a) a careful examination what's being said and (b) a careful searching the Scriptures to see if this is being faithful to the Word of God.

That's what Old Princeton and Westminster have tried to do throughout its history. WCF 1.9-10 is not just there for window dressing, but as an encouragement to think through all things in light of the Word of God. Just because an OT professor comes along and seems to exalt historical-critical methodologies above the canon doesn't mean I'm going to abandon studying the canon OR tackling difficult questions that arise out of Biblical history. Abuses of sola scriptura surely cannot mean we abandon it for some 'higher' platform to argue from.

If Enns is wrong, then hopefully some of those opposed to him will eventually issue statements, explaining more than a simplistic "You're not Confessional!!!"...but rather
why his approach strikes at fundamental concerns to our doctrine of Scripture.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mozying off the normal path....

If you were expecting something of theological substance, then my apologies in advance.

I get asked in various ways and contexts the easiest way to *backup* your personal data on your computer. For things like documents/photos/mp3s, most people like to periodically burn them to a CD/DVD; software makes that fairly easy to do. Click, drag, burn -- your backed up. As long as you're not using rewritable discs (RW), you're generally ok here.

But what about backing up things like email? Increasingly, more and more important work is taking place via e-mail, but there is no 'simple' way to back this stuff up. If you remember the good ole days of Office 2003 and beyond, then you may know about all the hassle you had to go through to export a PST file just to save folders in your Microsoft Outlook. Not terribly fun or efficient! If you're a Mac user, a similar problem exists with the standard Mail program built into OS X. The only truly
easy way to backup your Mac computer is to buy a $100 per year .Mac account; plenty of space (10gb)...but also plenty of cash for what you're getting.

So it's time for Matt's computer-savvy suggestions....

(1) Get a Gmail account.

This is really the 'safest' way to make sure your email gets backed up properly. I'm personally up to approximately 5800 total e-mails (uggh!!), and that still only accounts for 6% of the total allotted space which currently hovers around 6.5gb. As long as you're not sending and receiving e-mail with large attachments OR subscribing to more than 25 different Yahoo user groups, I can't imagine any normal user running out of space.

Gmail gives you the flexibility to download e-mail to your personal computer (via Pop3), while still keeping a copy on their server. This is ideal because Google is constantly backing up, updating, and adding new storage to their enormous server network...and there is no simpler or safer way to make sure your e-mail is preserved 5 to 10 years from now than this. Hard-drives are not designed to last forever, and that becomes a big nuisance if you are storing it locally on your computer! Rather than the hassle of backing up this email yourself, it's better to simply let Google (on the server end) do it for you....and who can complain about that when they are doing this service at no additional cost for you!?!?!

Gmail also gives you the freedom to route other email through Gmail, thus making Gmail act as a sort of defacto 'archive' for all your e-mail. It's a feature they refer to as 'Mail Fetcher', and it's especially designed for people that have e-mail addresses through their personal domains. For example, if I had an e-mail address 'matt@morganism.us", I could easily spoof that address to route to and from my Gmail account. Unless you searched the fine print of my e-mail header, you would never know it's going through Gmail at all. I have my father and mother's Comcast email accounts set up this way, and it's great little trick for backing up e-mail.

There's even a way to re-download all your old e-mail to a brand new computer, though I don't know that you'd necessarily want to do this if you have thousands of old email like I do!

(2) Download and install a software called Mozy.

There are all sorts of paid services out there now that will backup stuff for you online, but the best *free* software out there that I've seen and tested is called Mozy. I've mentioned it before on my old Xanga blog back in 2006. After using it for over a year now I can say that it definitely works great. The basic 'free' package gives you 2gigs of free storage, which should be enough for most users who simply want to backup essential things like documents and email.

What makes Mozy especially nice is that it automates the backup and restore process for you, which comes in particularly handy for things like e-mail (which has always been cumbersome to back up). They've also recently added Mac support, so I now have a way to backup all of my important documents from my laptop on a weekly basis. And if you were working on something really important (like say a Master's or Ph.D thesis), you could theoretically even back it up through the Mozy server on a
daily basis!

The software auto-detects what e-mail client you are using on your computer, and it's also programmed to check the common folders of the commonly backed-up files. Everything from there is virtually automated, so much so that I would suspect that even a novice computer user could figure it out.

If this sounds like something you'd like to give a try, click on the above link. Then click on 'MozyHome' at the top and then 'MozyHome Free' in the left-hand column. From there, you sign up, download a small 4-6mb installation file, install, reboot, and you're ready to go.

For ministers, I'd recommend using Mozy to backup your sermon manuscripts and other important documents. That's essentially what I used it exclusively for (since I use Gmail to back up my e-mail), and you're going to have to preach and write an awful lot to ever fill up 2 gigs of disc space!!

(3) For backing up home pictures, I'd recommend you use an online service like Flickr. The Pro Account costs you $2/month if you sign up for 2 years, and that gives you unlimited uploads with no restrictions on picture size. So shoot that new SLR to your heart's content; even though it may take you a while to upload your 10mb photos, rest assured Flickr will take 'em. The Flickr web browsing gives you a nice built-in way for others (as well as yourself) to view your photos, and you can also restrict photos from general public viewing (if you want to keep them there just for yourself). Perhaps most important of all, you don't have to worry about keeping track of all those DVD's you burn of your personal family photos; you simply create albums with various photos and you instantly have access to all of your photos.

You can see what I've done with my own Flickr account here.

(4) As far as external hard drives, Seagate and Western Digital are two of the best brands going. Seagate is still the only company (as far as I'm aware) that offers a 5 year warranty on all of their products (compared to 1-3 years on the others). I've used a 500gb Seagate drive for about a year now with great results. Both companies make excellent USB-powered drives that are handy if you need something small and portable.

Just remember: when you buy an external hard drive, these drives will eventually wear out too, especially if you are toting them around in your laptop bag! That's why backing up important stuff 'on line' through a service like Mozy or Flickr is really the preferred way to go, because then you have a backup that won't be touched if your local system crashes, you lose the CD/DVD with the files, someone steals your portable drive out of your briefcase at the library, etc.

(5) If you've been through 'Dell Hell' and simply want a computer that works, then let me recommend that you save up and get yourself a Mac. I'm not one of these rabid Mac apologists that live on Steve Jobs' every word. But I have been using a Mac laptop (first an iBook, now a MacBook) for just over 4 years now, and it has been virtually hassle-free.

Many people are worried that it will be hard to switch from PC to Mac because it involves a whole new operating system, but it's been my experience that people have a
harder time trying to figure out Windows Vista when upgrading from XP. Many people are also concerned about the cost of Bible software. I will tell you this much -- having used Bibleworks for a few years prior to 2004, I can attest that Accordance for Mac is an aboslute gold mine for 'power users' who wish to design their own complex morphological searches from the original languages. For one thing, the graphical user interface for Accordance is about 10x easier to navigate!

The main reluctance to making the switch, I suspect, is the total cost invovled. The prospect of spending a few hundred more on a laptop and a few hundred extra on new Bible software is not the kind of sales pitch you want to hear, especially on a pastor's salary or seminary student budget. But out of the two-dozen or so people I've personally known who have switched since I made the switch 4 years, I've not once heard any of them say, "This is a total waste of money" or "Man, I wish I had stuck with PC!" If you think about it in investment terms, that's about an extra $800-$1000 spread out over the next 3-5 years (the 'average' life of a laptop) of virtually problem-free computer usage. After the kinds of computer problems I've seen (including my own!) over the past 10 years, I think almost anyone would agree that such an investment of $200/year to get rid of their 'PC woes' would be well worth it...especially considering that we use our computers for almost everything now.

[NB: I don't get any perks from Apple for pitching their computers. But if you are someone that is seriously interested in making the switch, contact me off list and I'll be glad to give you some tips and pointers!]

Sorry for this brief interlude. I know a lot of people reading this blog are not terribly 'computer' savvy, and things like backing up computer files have often been a daunting (if not annoying) task in the past. Many of you just want a computer that works for e-mail, provides web access, avoids spam and viruses, gives you a word processor for document writing, and runs your Bible software....
and you really don't care how it does any of this, just as long as it works! Unfortunately, easier said than done! And as an individual that has lost count of all the times he's been called on to attempt a 'PC resurrection' for a friend after some sort of failure, I can attest that it's no fun to lose important stuff like this.

Just don't be the one calling me when your computer crashes...and all of your daughter's or son's photos from their first 24 months are inside! That may not grounds for divorce, but it's certainly grounds for a very upset wife!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Confessional Subscription....Redux

There have been all sorts of inquiries and studies into the relationship between the Continental Reformed (a la Calvin, Turretin, etc.) and Presbyterianism (Scotland/England). Underneath a broad consensus that one can see in the mainstream, the 'fine print' often reveals a different story....particularly as seen in matters of polity.

Leaving the often-discussed Sabbath issue aside, one issue in which there seems to be a pretty clear divergence in North America is the Reformed vs. Presbyterian approach to
confessional subscription.

If you want to understand the gist of this argument in its modern form, be sure to check out the very recent (and on-going) exchange between Lee Irons (defending
system subscription here and here) and Scott Clark (defending a stricter subscription here, here, and here) . Or if you prefer them in chronological order: one, two, three, four, and five.

Let me throw in my two cents:

(1) The Limits of Tradition --

North American Presbyterians have been arguing about this since the Adopting Act of 1729 -- it required men to "declare their agreement in, and approbation of" the Westminster standards but
also limited subscription to "all essential and necessary articles" of the Confession of Faith and catechisms. It's the Adopting Act's 'also' caveat that seems to make my Dutch friends cringe (not to mention Presbyterians who favor a more strict approach to the Confession), for as best as I can tell -- in my limited exposure to Dutch church history -- this is simply foreign from their way of receiving and adopting the Three Forms of Unity.

Despite the attempts made by Morton Smith and George Knight to show otherwise, the idea of a 'system subscription' in North American Presbyterianism is not a 'recent' development. In fact, it's not even a 'New School' development (c. 1860's). As John Fesko demonstrated quite thoroughly from the original sources in his 2003 JETS article, 'system subscription' has a firm pedigree that can be traced through the likes of Hodge, Warfield, Thornwell, Old Princeton, and all the way to Machen.

So what tradition are you going to go with? The Dutch way or the American Presbyterian/Old Princeton way? Here's a good example, I think, of why you need something more than 'tradition' to answer some of the thorny questions that exist amongst even the best mainstream Reformed thinkers.

(2) Defining our terms --

What do
Presbyterians mean by 'system subscription'? I'll let Charles Hodge do the talking:

Every minister at his ordination is required to declare that he adopts the Westminster Confession and Catechism, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the sacred Scriptures. There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted. First, some understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination. Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import. What is adopted is the 'system of doctrine.' The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt. The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more (Discussions in Church Polity, 1878, p.335-36)

Those are our basic three options: (a) strict, (b) system, and (c) substance (a term Hodge himself used elsewhere).

(3) Understanding our terms --

In discussing these options with my Dutch Reformed friends, it seems to me that they invaribly lump options (b) and (c) together. That is, the moment you depart from strict subscription, you're already on the road to dying a death of a million scruples. Options (b) and (c) are really nothing more than two shades of a vary similar looking grey! It frankly devolves into something looking indistinguishable form
slippery slope argument -- that is, system subscription invariably devolves into a substance subscription.

The problem (as with just about all slippery slope arguments) is that it fails to actually understand Old Princeton's Presbyterian rationale for holding to this 'middle' position between strict and substance views. Just like holding to a non-literal '6/24hr day' view of Genesis doesn't automatically mean you are giving up the narrative as a truly historical account, so also holding to system subscription (at least as understood by the likes of Hodge, Warfield, Machen, etc.) doesn't automatically entail making 'everything' in the Confession up for grabs.

This is simply a bad argument against system subscription. Just beacuse someone, somewhere misunderstands and/or abuses system subscription doesn't necessarily mean the thing itself (as understood by
good Presbyterians) is wrong.

(4) Does the stricter view really safeguard orthodoxy?

The main argument in favor of a stricter view seems to ultimately come to this -- it's defenders contend that it's the best way to
guard orthodoxy. There is a sense in which this is true -- system subscription leaves the door open to declare scruples on any number of things, some of which could easily be detrimental to the 'system' contained in the Westminster Standards. Allowing no scruples would certainly seem to solve that problem....or does it?

It seems to me that this is ultimately a practical argument (more than a theological argument), and the problem with 'practical' arguments is that they demonstrate mixed results. Sure, one could argue that examples abound (e.g., the PCUSA, Old-to-New Princeton, etc.) demonstrating the demise of 'system' approaches. But couldn't one also counter-argue that examples abound (e.g. the CRC, the Church of Scotland, etc.) demonstrating the demise of 'strict' approaches? In all of these examples, you had/have a plethora of other factors going on besides simply their views of subscription. And if our standard is simply which one guards orthodoxy the best, it seems to me (if we are
really going to be honest historically!) the results from the last 350 years or so at best reveal a mixed bag.

Another argument in favor of stricter subscription is that this is the only way to achieve and preserve true ecclesiastical unity. But Hodge paints a very different picture:

So far as we have been able to learn from the records, no man has ever been refused admission to the ministry in our Church, who honestly received "the system of doctrine" contained in the Westminster Confession, simply because there are propositions in the book to which he could not assent. And no Presbyterian minister has ever been suspended or deposed on any such ground. It is a perfectly notorious fact, that there are hundreds of ministers in our Church, and that there always have been such ministers, who do not receive all the propositions contained in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms. (The Church and Its Polity, 330)

In other words, hundreds of ministers scrupling certain words and propositions didn't seem to be a huge impediment to overall unity in the old-line Presbyterian church. It held up quite nicely for a number of generations.

So it puzzles me how a stricter view of the Confessions will result in a
more-unified church. Just ask Westminster grads trying to get licensed/ordained in the OPC over the last decade! It's not the 'system subscriptionists' who continually pick bones of contention about one's views on creation, the Law, the Sabbath, etc.

And is the 'young URC' any less devoid of controversy surrounding 'justification' and 'creation' than have been witnessed in the PCA and OPC? So I'm just not buying the 'provides greater unity' argument that strict subscription supposedly brings.

(5) Why then System Subscription?

Here's a Machen quote that will serve as a good starting point:

Subscription to the Westminster Standards in the Presbyterian Church of America [e.g. the precursor to the OPC] is not to every word in those Standards, but only to the system of doctrine which the Standards contain. (The Presbyterian Guardian, October 1936, pg. 45)

Not to
every word.....but only to the system of doctrine!

Machen's careful choice of language gives us a great pulse of the 'system subscription' argument, rightly argued and understood. Why not 'every word'? Hodge, Warfield, Machen, and others were all too aware that language like 'every'
attributes to words a certain 'plenary' status. But once you do that with respect to the Confession's words, how do I now distinguish a plenary view of the Confession's words and plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture's words?

In other words, Old Princeton system subscription took seriously the notion that "All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular,
may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both." (WCF 31.4). Machen might well have resonated with the Belgic Confession on this point: "Therefore we must not consider human writings-- no matter how holy their authors may have been-- equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else" (Article 7).

It seems to me that a Presbyterian's 2nd ordination vow (i.e. where we subscribe to "the system of doctrine as contained in the Westminster Standards") takes these Confessional qualifications cited here in Westminster and Belgic
more seriously. That is, we want our subscription practice to reflect the Confession's view of Scripture to the degree that we want to make absolutely clear the difference between our primary and secondary standards.

Of course, the strict subscriptionists plead again and again that their view of subscription does not equate Scripture and Confession. I understand and hear it loud and clear (and trust that most of you are 'right' in your own mind before God!)....but the answer sounds upon closer inspection like special pleading. I want to see more than simply an assertion that you distinguish your primary and secondary standards; I want to see
how you actually do it in your ecclesiastical practice. If I am never permitted to object to a certain word or phrase in a Confession, how is that in practice any different to never being able to object to a verse in Hosea or a phrase in Hebrews?

Or consider -- how does one
really and truly go about amending a Confessional standard in a strict-subscription demanding denomination? If (to use one strict subscriptionist's analogy) "Scripture is the house, then Confessions are the wall built around the house!", how could anyone in any ecclesiastical context really and truly ever make an argument from the Scripture without immediately running head-on into the 'wall around the house' that says, "Sorry, but the Confession is the standard of this house -- Goodbye!"? How would even an attempt to do so in an ecclesiastical forum not be met with that kind of Confessional door slamming?

As a Presbyterian, we actually have a
real example of the church amending her secondary standards! No, not the recent 1967 revision....but a much earlier one in 1788. After the Adopting Act in 1729 clarified 'some' of the things that might be scrupled relating to the civil magistrate in WCF 20 and 23, those items (as well sections in Chapt. 31 and WLC Q.109) were officially revised six decades later. In other words, you have a great case study here in drawing a direct connection between 'system subscription' in American Presbyterianism and the 'ecclesiastical ethos' it created, whereby the original 1647 version might be formally revised and amended. [And I trust that most of you reading this blog are probably not big fans of the civil magistrate calling synods and suppressing all blasphemies/heresies (per '1647 WCF' 23.2)!]

When I look at what the WCF confesses about Scripture in Chapter 1 and about synods in Chapter 31, I want a subscription practice that can actually do what it claims to confess, and not merely talk about doing it in theory. The irony here, of course, is that 'system subscription' is often caricatured as being 'anti-Confessional'....when in fact it's actually just the very opposite. Rightly-done 'system subscription' takes WCF 1.9-10 and 31.4 very seriously...and I would argue the most seriously of any of the 3 positions laid out by Hodge! This is not setting up the Scriptures against the Confessions...but rather setting up the Scriptures prior to the Confessions in authority.

That's the upshot of 'why' I'm a 'system subscription' Presbyterian!

(6) A Belgic 'test case'

Lee and Scott both mentioned the matter of Article 4 of the Belgic Confession, which mentions "the fourteen letters of Paul" (e.g. the usual '13' + Hebrews). It never really occurred to me before to ask how Article 4 of the Belgic is actually 'confessed' by those of you guys in the URC.

Honestly, what do you guys do here? I see only 3 options: (a) Do you scruple it? If you do, then how is that any different from 'system subscription'? The whole point of 'system subscription' would be to say something like, "Look, people disagree about the authorship of Hebrews; the essential point is confessing Hebrews as Scripture." (b) Do you really agree with Belgic on this point? or (c) Do you verbally (and theologically) confess to the whole of the 3 Forms down to every jot and tittle...but in your 'heart of hearts' really not believe that small part of the Confession?

Knowing many of you 'URC men'....(a) doesn't fit with your confessional views and (b) doesn't fit with what Steve Baugh, Dennis Johnson, or any other respectable NT scholar teaches today. So how do you then avoid (c) and 'crossing your fingers' when you confess the Three Forms as your confession? This would seem to undercut one of your main arguments against the 'system' view, if you can't even do in practice what you claim to do in theory!

This is why Lee's point about strict subscription's "repristinat[ing] every out-dated notion of 17th century of Reformed Orthodoxy" is not, it seems to me, off base at all. Lee certainly doesn't mean that it all has to go, but rather that we shouldn't be surprised if there are better ways to confess our theology, nor should we be shocked if there are some formulations worth changing. The idea that Paul wrote Hebrews may have been common place in the 16th and 17th century. But if your view of subscription can't even amend something as 'simple' as this, what does that tell you about your practice of subscription? That's the real dagger blow of Lee's argument -- not that strict subscription necessarily starts out with the expressed intent to 'live in the past' but rather that this method of confession doesn't afford it much opportunity to live anywhere else.

This is a small-yet-important test case...partly because it doesn't amount to a hill of beans theologically (apart from someone who insists on reading Paul into Hebrews at every turn, when he simply won't fit). But that's why it makes for an excellent point for discussion, since no serious doctrinal point is on the line. Why didn't the URC revise this when it formally chose to adopt the Three Forms? Did 'the majority' of the URC still believe Paul wrote Hebrews?

I'm not trying to be hopelessly myopic here. But then, my position doesn't require me to subscribe to every word of the Confession; your's does! So help me out here...

(7) Conclusion

It's worth pondering what the WCF means when it says synods and councils
"...are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both" (31.4). Not rule but guide! Why is it not the rule of faith and practice? Because only Scripture (cf. WCF 1.9 and 10) can rightly be said to do that. But such documents from synods and councils can and must serve as a guide in our faith and practice! That's the fine line that the WCF walks between 'traditionalism' on the one side and 'no creed but Christ' on the other! Consequently, we should embrace a subscription that walks the line between 'strict' on the one side and 'substance' on the other.

No approach to subscription (however strict!) is capable of guarding our faith and practice. When we try to make it do so, we inevitably end up asking it to do more than it adequately can. And that simply doesn't bode well for the life of the church, if our goal is to ultimately confess what we believe the Scriptures teach.

Defining Dysfunction!

I like James Grant's approach to pastoral counseling:

Finally....a satisfying definition of 'dysfunction'!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Coarse Talking, Proverbial Wisdom, and What is Good

The Proverbs have a lot to say about human speech (using various metaphors of the tongue, mouth, etc.). For instance:

Prov. 12:14 - From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.

Prov. 13:2 - From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.

What's fascinating about the plethora of Proverbs addressing what we speak is that we are never given a list of words that are unacceptable, except as it pertains to profaning the 'name' of the Lord (cf. Prov. 30:9). In fact, nearly all the references to human speech in the Proverbs don't give you a lot of external specifics. It provides you external scenarios of bad and good speech, but the clear focus of the Proverbs is to get you contemplate the underlying motives involved in human speech.

Part of the problem it seems to me is that we approach Proverbs like we would the Mosaic Law, the later of which is replete with very specific instructions of what one should do and not do. Wisdom literature and the Law fit together under the broad umbrella known as the Mosaic Covenant (cf. 'Listen, my son' in Prov. 1:8 seems clearly intended to mirror the
shema of Deut. 6), but on a rhetorical level they communicate truth to us differently. That's part of why we designate the Proverbs as 'wisdom' literature -- if you read them expecting specific instructions (a la Leviticus or Deut.), you ironically end up gutting the very approach that Proverbs lays forth as how one might acquire wisdom. To a person who seeks a specific rule for every situation, there really isn't much need to acquire hokma!

Twice here in Proverbs 12 and 13, we find a connection between our mouths and simply what's good. No list -- the only category it gives is

I think this is helpful to keep in mind when thinking about speech, because it helps us realize that we need more than simply a 'list' of 'bad' words to avoid. If you start with an external list, then you easily put the cart before the horse, ethics prior to redemption, the imperative before the indicative.

Proverbs understands the subtlety and complexity that the language of communication involves -- which is why it addresses the tongue/mouth frequently -- and that's part of the real profundity of the Bible's so-called 'wisdom literature'. It's not just imparting moral slogans to follow, but it's providing us with a 'covenantal worldview' to evaluate *all* our speech. This goes well-beyond (while including in its evaluation) certain 'words' that might bring a perverse connotation.

For example, there is a time to answer a fool and a time NOT to answer a fool? (Prov. 26:4-5) How do you know the difference? Proverbs doesn't spell it out for you in 'how to' fashion -- "Here's when you do it; here's when you don't!." You simply don't get that. What it does spell out for you is the goal and need for *Biblical wisdom* in deciding the difference, and then providing numerous metaphors and parallelisms that help flesh that out.

This is crucial in evaluating our speech -- there are times when certain language is appropriate, times when it is not appropriate, times when it virtually never appropriate. But how do you know? When do parents talk to their children about topics like sex and drugs? How do parents talk to their children about course language without actually using the language itself? That's why you need 'wisdom' -- the ability to show skill in thinking through what you say with your lips.

I have a Christian friend who's an ADA, and he often has to read depositions and statements aloud in court that involve foul language. Is that wrong? For some, I think that would be a major conscience issue -- they would NOT want to answer such a fool according to his own folly! And so they should refrain from doing that. But for the prosecutor, he recognizes civil justice requires the confrontation of people's sinfulness -- 'answering a fool according to his own folly'....even if that means having to repeat the fool's language to the courts.

The difficulty is that this sounds (at least on the surface) a lot like situation ethics. But Fletcher's whole approach to situational ethics rules out any need for Biblical wisdom in making decisions -- I simply say what 'feels' right at any given moment. Biblical wisdom is nothing like that at all -- it recognizes that complexity of 'situations'...but then seeks to bring Biblical truth to bear in evaluating the situation. [Think of the old 'one meaning, many applications', if you will.]

In short, Wisdom recognizes the massive difference between dropping an 'f bomb' out of anger....and dropping an 'f bomb' while reading a transcript in the middle of prosecuting a major felon. This is not a totally arbitrary distinction based on autonomous thinking; rather, it is recognizing that 'wisdom' is rooted in our creation-ethics, for it is "he who made the earth by his power, who established the
world by his wisdom" (Jer. 10:15).

Stated pejoratively, Biblical wisdom in both Testaments is neither a friend to the Theonomist or autonomist. That's why it's called
Biblical wisdom!

That's also why the 'fear of the Lord' is so important when reading the Proverbs (e.g. 1:7)! We often gloss 'fear' in Proverbs with the idea of 'reverence'....which is not wrong per se, but doesn't really go far enough! John Murray gave, I think, a much more probing (and Biblically-satisfying) definition -- "The fear of God is the soul of godliness...The first thought of the godly man in every circumstance is God's relation to him and it, and his and its relationship to God." (Principles of Conduct, 229).

We have to constantly evaluate all our language -- not merely certain 'words' designated as offensive! -- in light of our relationship to God in Christ! And our standard cannot simply be whether 'it is bad'....but rather whether it is truly

Is not that message we see Jesus preaching when confronted about the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath? (Matt. 12:9-14) . How does Jesus confront their Pharisaical thinking? "It is lawful to do
good on the Sabbath." The answer sounds almost too simple....and yet it takes real skill when trying to evaluate what is good to do on the Lord's Day. No list could ever hope to accomplish all that is involved there.

Thankfully, Jesus gives us his own standard for evaluating what is good: And because of him
you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (I. Cor. 1:30-31). Not merely content to tell us to do good, Christ in the Gospel becomes wisdom for us!

Duking it out at the Altar!

It's funny what you find while Google searching for former classmates.

I was attempting to track down a friend of mine from Seminary, Daniel Sladek. While we were attending Westminter together, he somehow ended up traveling to the UK for a Free Church of Scotland summer internship, where he met a nice gal Scottish gal he would later marry. He's been hard to keep track of ever since. He did manage to write during his time at Free Church College a thesis on N.T. Wright's exegesis of the 'zdk language in the OT. The last I heard from him, he was ministering in some capacity (I think) at a Free Church congregation in the London area. But I can't recall communicating with him (much, if at all!) since I read his thesis, which must have been 5 years ago (at least!).

Enter Google!

The first Google search link I found and clicked on was your basic bulletin insert of the previously-mentioned London congregation, asking the congregation to pray for the Sladeks as he accepted a call to a church in Skye (Scotland). That was April 2006....so I figure I'm getting warmer.

I then tried to Google search the church name listed on the previous link, but it turned up nothing. I then went to the Free Church website, and they didn't have any church listed by that name. Dead end! So I decided to return back to my original search.

Now back at my initial search tab, I go to the next link of the original search and notice the following Google search blurb, "....American-born preacher Daniel Sladek, looked down from the pulpit..." So I'm thinking to myself that I've found him....

...And then I read for a little more context and discovered the title of the actual article in which Dan's name appeared:
Love rivals in punch-up at the altar and the subtitle: Jilted husband thumps wife's lover in Kirk.

[Leave to the Scottish to give you a real attention-grabbing headline! The only words that came to my mind were, "Scratch my back with a hacksaw!"]

Here's a fuller quote from the article:

The minister at the Kirk, American-born preacher Daniel Sladek, looked down from the pulpit in shock as his precentor (choirmaster) was beaten up.

He said last night: "We certainly deplore the incident and lament what happened. It was certainly a shock to myself and the congregation - a most unusual happening."

You can read the entire article here.

This has to qualify as one of the most bizarre ways to get back in touch with one of your Seminary friends -- finding a news headline about (a) your friend's church clear across the pond, in which (b) the choirmaster is a having an affair with a woman in the congregation, and (c) the choirmaster gets attacked by the husband of that woman
during the worship service in front of the entire congregation!

After reading this, I didn't know whether to cry or wind my watch (HT: Mike Lange).

It's hard not to find this humorous...until you realize how utterly tragic the whole affair must have been.