Moving Sale!

WTS bookstore is having a moving sale. Many items are 45% off, including Bavinck, which is now just under $100. If you haven’t bought most of these books, then you are missing out.

Isaiah As Preacher

I didn’t find this section of Old’s book quite as helpful as some other sections. However, that is probably because I have already done a fair bit of work on Isaiah, and thus found him saying fewer good insights that I hadn’t already found in other commentators. Nevertheless, there are still good things here, and for those who haven’t spent much time in Isaiah studies, there will probably be many helpful things. I will be treating here both his section on “Isaiah,” and his section on “Deutero-Isaiah,” since I do not regard the two sections of the book as having been written by different authors.

Old notes that Isaiah may well have been both priest and preacher (p. 61). He makes a very important point when he argues that “the prophet is not merely the mouthpiece of God, who in some sort of trance utters the words or God quite apart from his own intelligence. The prophet understands the oracle; he is a witness to its truth and an advocate of its application” (p. 63). Of course, this statement needs qualification. Not all prophets understood everything about which they spoke. Peter tells us that the prophets longed to look into these things, what manner or time the Spirit in them was indicating when the Spirit told them about Jesus. However, Old’s point has more to do with the fact that the prophets were not just mindless automatons, copying down God’s words like a machine. The theory of concursus comes into play here: God worked through the individual authors’ experiences, personalities, eccentricities, in short everything that made up that person. Thus Paul does not sound like John. Yet each were inspired to write what God told them to write, and to do so in a way that is without error.

Trying Out a New Theme

Many people have said that GB needs a face lift. I really did like Thirteen, the theme I was using before. I had been extremely reluctant to change themes, for one crucial reason: none of the other themes that were green (a necessity with a name like Green Baggins) had numbered comments. Well, today, I decided to take the plunge and change themes anyway. I urge people in debate now to quote name and words of the person they are debating, so that people can still keep track of who is saying what. Any feedback on the new theme would, of course, be appreciated.

Goods News for the PCA, Bad News for the Strategic Plan: There is no S-Curve

Posted by Wes White

Hard Data and the PCA Strategic Plan

by Martin Hedman, pastor of Mission PCA in Los Angeles California

A foundational aspect of the PCA’s proposed Strategic Plan, to be voted on at this year’s General Assembly in about a week, is the “modified S-curve” presented on the first page of the Plan. The curve drawn in the middle of that first page is part of the section meant to create a perspective for planning. In other words, the perspective we are being asked to bring is one informed by a growth curve showing rapid growth early and slowing – even declining growth – later in an organization’s development. While the Plan does not explicitly say that this curve is precisely representative of the history of growth in the PCA, it certainly does imply it. The curve is presented in the context of noting that the PCA’s early growth occurred at a rate of 5-8% per year, while more recent growth has happened at a rate of 2-3% per year. The first page also argues that “slowed growth at least requires consideration of how we should best represent our Savior” and that we need to anticipate “needed change before a decline in the S-curve becomes precipitous.”

Hedman goes on to demonstrate that there simply is no S-curve, and thus there is a fatal flaw in the Strategic Plan.  See the charts and read the rest of the article here.

Posted by Wes White

Professor Mark Beach Responds to Nampa URC’s Criticism of the URC FV Report

Posted by Wes White

Comments on the Paper of the Consistory of the United Reformed

Church of Nampa, Idaho

“Interaction with the ‘Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal

Vision and Justification’ ”

by J. Mark Beach

PART ONE

Introduction

This paper is a response to a recent study produced by the Consistory of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, Idaho (3 June 2010) interacting with the “Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification.” Inasmuch as I am a minister in the United Reformed Churches, but not a delegate to Synod 2010, this reply, I suppose, is my only opportunity to offer some observations about the Study Committee Report and more particularly about the Nampa Consistory document, which invites the churches to consider the critique of the Study Committee Report “as they prepare to deliberate on these issues at Synod.”

As an official consistorial document, it is not clear to me why the Nampa URC paper was not processed through ecclesiastical channels, which seems to be the protocol for an official reply to a synodical Study Committee. Rather than post this document over the internet, it seems to me that it would have been a brotherly duty to correspond with the Study Committee directly so that this Committee could evaluate and weigh the validity of the concerns enunciated in the Nampa document, or at the very least submit this document to Classis as an overture, and if Classis refused to adopt the overture as its own, then send their report to Synod. As it stands, the procedure the Nampa Consistory has followed in this regard may be construed to show a low view of the church, an uncharitable approach to the Study Committee, and to be setting an unwise, even a kind of politicizing, precedent for ecclesiastical debate and discussion. (The Study Committee Report has been available to the churches since mid-summer 2009.) No doubt, some consistories and interested individuals will study this document while others are free to ignore it since it is not a document properly processed through the assemblies of the church. For this reason, given the public nature of the Nampa document, I feel compelled to offer some analytical comments on the Nampa study, though I wish the whole discussion had been left within official ecclesiastical boundaries.

Continue reading here.

Posted by Wes White

Reader’s Bible

Zondervan has now published a combined Greek and Hebrew Reader’s Edition, which WTS bookstore will be carrying soon. I have been using the individual editions for personal devotions, and loving it. I highly recommend these resources as a way to keep up one’s skills in the languages. This has it all in one volume, and it even has two ribbons, one for each testament.

Special on Whitaker

Kyle Borg at Reformation Heritage Books has informed me that they are offering a special on Whitaker’s Disputations. List price is $40, and they normally sell it for $30, but now they are offering it for the low price of $20. If you don’t have this volume, you need to purchase it now. Of course, it is available on Google books. However, I would still recommend a hard copy, as this is one you want to have in your hands, and you want to be able to mark it up.

How to Get Along With “TR’s”

Let me say first that I don’t really like the term (TR stands for “Truly Reformed”). The connotations of the term imply someone who doesn’t care about unity and love in the church. It also implies an arrogance that they are the only ones with any truth, and/or that they are the only people who can legitimately claim the term “Reformed” at all. All of those are untrue of confessional Presbyterians I know. I cannot judge whether they are true of me or not, though I can say that I really do not enjoy conflict, contrary to what many people might think.

However, what is often shouted at TR’s is that they are unloving, uncaring about church unity, and fanatical about doctrine, and denigrate love. What is rather amazing to me, however, is that many people do not care to find out about what makes a TR click. They do not feel that they need to take any steps to get along with TR’s. If any unity is going to happen, it can only happen if the TR abandons his convictions, they think. But what is really irritating is that the people who are yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs for love and unity aren’t showing very much love and unity in screaming and yelling for love and unity. I’ve lost count of the times this has happened to me. Raise a question of BCO procedure, and get shouted at for being unloving. It gets old. Fast.

What I would like to do is to help people understand what makes a TR click so that people can understand us. In this way, we might be able to get along better, even when we disagree.

Principle 1. Never, ever, ever ask a TR either explicitly or implicitly to abandon his principles. This is probably the single most unloving thing that anyone can do to a TR. The principles he holds are what he believes the Bible to be saying. Furthermore, asking a TR to do that will only make him that much more royally upset. Any attempt to force a TR to abandon his principles will make the TR think that the other person has abandoned truth.

Principle 2. Stop accusing the TR of being unloving. People do not know what is in someone else’s heart. It might be fair to say that a particular action seems unloving to you. That can be debated, certainly. But blanket statements about someone else’s motivations are never very helpful, and they are almost always inaccurate.

Principle 3. Focus attention on the issue when you disagree with a TR. Nothing irritates a TR more than having personalities dragged into it. The TR doesn’t want to dwell on these things. He is thinking about whether something is logical or not, whether something is biblical or not (and this is not to say that non-TR folk are not concerned about this). If I have any more thoughts about this, I’ll add to this and edit it.

Darryl Hart on “TR’s”

You can read it here. I enjoyed the post.

What especially alarmed me was this exhortation of Ortlund: “The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only.” Of course, this statement could be taken two ways. Does it mean salvation by Christ alone? Obviously, we would then agree. Or does it mean that we have to reduce everything in our faith down to the lowest common denominator so that we can all get along? Unfortunately, it looks like there is tremendous confusion on these two distinct points in the Christian world out there. Is there not a difference between salvation, which is Christ alone, and all the distinctive things that Reformed people hold? This is where Darryl is right on target. There is nothing in the Bible that we can ignore. Darryl would, I’m sure, agree that some things in the Bible are more important than others. But Darryl’s point is that everything in the Bible is important. Why should people complain, then, when Reformed Christians seek to do everything that the Bible says? Reduction of Reformed Christianity to the lowest common denominator may sound wonderfully ecumenical. But does it remain Reformed after the reduction?

And just because Reformed Christians hold to many distinctive things, and say that the confessions of the Reformed church are what define a person as Reformed, we get attacked for being Judaistic. As Darryl notes, this is a confusion of categories.

Nuance or Contradiction?

I’ve decided to address one Federal Vision issue that has become something of a hot topic on my blog: the URC report, and the critique of it by the URC Nampa church.

I found the critique somewhat irritating, quite frankly. It showed little theological nuance, despite its accusations of the report lacking nuance. It also showed a tendency to press “nuance” when in fact the FV was engaged in doublespeak. That is why I have entitled this post “Nuance or Contradiction?” My impressions also are that the critique was filled with ironies, in that they were doing to the report the very thing of which they accused the report of doing. There are nuances in the report, often on the very issue that the critique said needed nuance!

Methodologically, the critique is faulty in that they do not acknowledge contradictory viewpoints among FV authors, and also contradictory statements among an individual FV author’s own writings. When the report quotes an FV author as saying X, the critique says, “But look, this FV author said Y over there, which seems to contradict X.” The consistent methodology of the critique is to assume that the FV is generally consistent. Therefore, the appearance of contradictory statements among the FV authors can only be explained as “nuance” by the critique, never as contradiction. This is a serious flaw of the critique, and betrays the self-expressed limitation that it is not an interaction with the wide range of FV literature out there. If the writers of the critique had been as familiar with the FV literature as the writers of the report obviously are, this problem would have been significantly alleviated.

To go into a bit more detail at this point would be helpful. The critique says that the report “misrepresents the FV men by over-simplifying their positions, by ignoring the nuances and qualifications offered by the FV men in their writings, and by failing to acknowledge and wrestle with the more orthodox statements that have been offered by the FV” (p. 2). In fleshing this three-fold point out further, the critique says the report has been uncharitable in reading the potentially problematic statements of the FV “in the worst light possible” (p. 2). In reply, one could say that of anyone whose teaching was outside the boundaries: if one read Arius’s theology in the best light possible, as many tried to do in the history of the church, then Arianism would have won the day. Arius was part of the church at the time, too. Was he treated fairly? Were the Remonstrants treated fairly by the Synod of Dordt? The problem here is a lack of nuance on the part of the critique: there is a line between genuinely helpful charitable readings of someone’s theology versus excusing flat-out wrong statements that cannot be nuanced away. Then, in a sort of appropriation of biblical hermeneutic, the critique says that the report should have read the less clear statements in the light of the clearer, more orthodox statements. I would ask this question: do more orthodox statements excuse less orthodox statements? I find this to be a puzzling critique, since no human author has the right to be read this way. Furthermore, it is the author’s responsibility to ensure that no possible misunderstanding can result from his work. He has to work hard to exclude every possible misinterpretation of his writings. It is hardly the normally intelligent reader’s fault (and one would certainly wish to be charitable to folks like Michael Horton and Cornelis Venema by calling them “intelligent readers”) if the author is unclear. And yes, lack of clarity can most certainly be contrary to the confession.

The critique also posits that two interactions with the Joint FV Statement are not sufficient. This critique does not take into account the fact that the vast majority of the report deals with the proper, orthodox understanding of these doctrines from a confessional viewpoint. There are very few resources quoted more than twice, and the ones that are should be. The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons book remains the very best original source collection in this whole debate. I wonder that the critique even included this as a critique, since it significantly takes away from the point that it is trying to make (which has to do with misrepresentation). After all, if the folks writing this critique have not done the original source work, why do they have the right to critique the report for not interacting with a particular source enough?

I will deal with the specific critiques in a series of posts to come.

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