Building Your Theology

I have been very distressed by a disturbing trend in the Christian world, and in the Reformed world, it has been no better. The trend is this: to build one’s theology entirely on the basis of the modern authors. Now, I’m not talking about introductory books on the Reformed faith in general, of which I would say that the modern ones can be extremely helpful in giving to a new believer. I’m talking about how we build our understanding of a particular topic in theology.

Take justification, for instance. Instead of building ont the foundation of Calvin, a’Brakel, Owen, and Buchanan, like they should, people are building their doctrine of justification on N.T. Wright and Norman Shepherd. The problem that then arises is that they judge the older by the newer instead of the other way around. The assumption is generally that the newer is better, since we have more information. Granted we have access to far more information than the Reformers did. That does not mean that we have progressed. Is it impossible that we should have regressed in our understanding of theology? All one has to do is read Turretin to be disabused of the idea that newer is necessarily better and more precise. Yes, we have more information available. That doesn’t mean that we have mastered all the newer information. In fact, it is becoming quite impossible to master any field these days. The Reformers could at least master what was known in their time. Hence, their works tend to be more cohesive, more encyclopaedically sound, than modern works, which tend to be more fragmented.

We should judge the new by the old, if we are to have any success in being Reformed. The adjective “Reformed” depends for its content on what is old. This is simply the way it is. I am not saying that the newer authors are useless. Nor am I saying that nothing can be modified from the older authors, and that we are “stuck” reading the older sources only. But we should build our understanding of a particular doctrine on the older authors, and then judge the newer authors by the old, while still allowing the newer authors to modify our understanding. At some point, I wish to create a series of posts on what the best sources are for building one’s doctrine from what is old (it would be organized according to theological topic).

Incidentally, this is still true even of those folks who wish to abandon the old Reformed ways. How do you know you have left the old ways unless you have studied them? Isn’t the definition of “Reformed” defined by the older theologians, not the newer ones?

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46 Comments

  1. Paul Weinhold said,

    November 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Wes,

    I don’t think you take your own idea far enough in this post. Imagine yourself in the 16th century. Now, based upon your own recommendation, wouldn’t you have to say to a friend who was reading Calvin that he ought to read the Fathers?

    “But Calvin read the Fathers!” Yes, but did he read them well. To answer that question, one must read the Fathers for oneself.

    So why not advocate reading the Fathers rather than the Reformers?

  2. November 22, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Timely post!

    An influential blog like this one should have a recommended reading list linked at the main page broken out by basic, intermediate, and advanced.

    I always find those helpful.

  3. Paul Weinhold said,

    November 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Ha! I thought I was on another blog when I commented above, so that’s why I addresses my remark to “Wes”. My apologies!

  4. TurretinFan said,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Amen, Lane!

  5. Seth Stark said,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    If you ever get around to making the list you mention, please let me know! As I’ve been teaching through the WCF in the Adult Sunday School of my church, I’ve tried to recommend “Further Reading” on the topics covered by each chapter. It’d be great to have such a preexisting list to add on to the end of each lesson.

  6. Jon said,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Echoing the first comment, why only go back to the Reformers? Was there really nothing helpful in the church for 1500 years? And as we strive to be good Reformed Christians, doesn’t that mean we still ought to be reforming? It’s somewhat arbitrary to start where you recommend. Perhaps a better place would be McGrath’s Justita Dei? At least with regards to the topic of justification.

  7. andrew said,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    On books, I need some help from you learned chaps …

    A friend of mine has recently been bcoming a bit liberal in his views of scripture, and lent me ‘Fundementalism’ by James Barr. John Frame mentions him a bit in his ‘Doctrine ofn the Word’, but generaly in a favourable way where he takes other liberals to task.

    Was there ever much of a response to this particular book? What is the best defence of a biblical view of Scripture out there?

    Thanks for any help.

  8. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    November 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Actually, to be Reformed, we need to judge both by the Scriptures.

  9. michael said,

    November 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I am a little confused about what you are laying out in this thread basis these verses:

    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. ?

    Or, possibly Peter who instructs us to desire the sincere milk of the Word that we may grow in the gift of Salvation and Eternal Life thereby?

    Or, the writer to the Hebrews, who after bringing Christ into focus he goes from chapter 5 through the six foundation principles of the Oracles of God and God permitting, from there go onto maturity from that foundation?

    Or, how about these two verses from King Solomon’s wise Words of Grace and Peace in the Spirit of His understanding:

    Pro 1:23 If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

    Pro 16:20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

    I just don’t understand the premise starting where you are unless my naivety is clouding the judgment and the sense of what you are saying here?

    Shouldn’t we always begin within the pages of Scriptures and from a thorough understanding of them venture to read what others have written about them? Shouldn’t we use that as our base discipline to build the foundation for reading the early patristics, then other great minds like Calvin, Owen, Turretin and the list grows and grows so great publishing houses have not for want and the trees!

    I think this whole thing about getting off course by cracking the nut of justification starting from N.T. Wright and those closest to him is partly why the Federal Vision has legs to walk amount the Churches, so to speak.

    Anyway, this is just my comment as more of a novice and unlearned in the study of the volumes of systematic theologies that have been built put down on paper with pen.

  10. A. S. Pyrene said,

    November 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    C.S. Lewis had something relevant to Lane’s topic, in his introduction to Athanasius on the Incarnation. Good stuff–read the whole of it here: [http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/history/ath-inc.htm]

    “This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

    Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

  11. LEW said,

    November 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Andrew @ 7, check out Fundamentalism and the Word of God by J.I. Packer for the response you seek.

  12. November 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    In general, I agree with the post. However, in responding to Paul’s complaint, we should read the fathers. But we should first read the Scriptures. Perhaps the point of the post could be adjusted along these lines: Why do we prefer Wright to Owen on justification? Is it because we have read Wright and not Owen, therefore we are convinced by Wright? To paraphrase Proverbs, an argument sounds convincing until you have heard the other side. I suspect that many of our brethren have read Wright and found him to be right, but have not read Owen and thus found Wright to be wrong. Wright’s exegesis of key texts is clever and sounds convincing until you read someone else’s exegesis of those same texts that differs from that of Wright. Then you, as an pastor in the church are called to exercise your own exegetical judgment. But in order to properly exercise that judgment, you must have read more than one side of the argument. In other words, the advantage of reading older writers is that they may well have taken note of something that modern writers have missed.

  13. Jack Bradley said,

    November 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Well said, Lane. It brings to mind Robert Letham’s words in his book, The Westminster Assembly: “classic Reformed sacramental theology has been largely lost.”

  14. November 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Lane’s post is more timely than he knows. Even now, I know a church (not in a Reformed denomination) which I attended years ago, which now has a pastor who has steeped himself in Peter Enns and D. T. Wright and is passing it along, in his sermons, to his congregation. The uproar there is now in its beginning stages.

  15. paigebritton said,

    November 23, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Having read now pretty deeply in the Wright corpus, I can maybe speak to what Lane is getting at with his focus on reading Calvin & his successors in the Reformed tradition (as opposed to reading the ECF’s because they, too, are “old”). It is precisely because Wright proposes to substitute his own definitions of Reformed terms, via his own particular interpretations of Paul’s vocabulary and theology, that knowing the older scholars’ work becomes important. Wright redefines theological terms and concepts in a brisk and perfunctory way, as if the things he is dismissing are really of no account in the long run. If a reader has not already grasped the significance of what is being “let go” by way of redefinition, and the implications of letting it go, he or she will easily be persuaded by Wright’s internally coherent and often popularly readable presentations. And because the words Wright uses are often the same as the words we use, it’s just a simple step sideways from the Reformed-speke we are used to.

    Clarifying the difference between the theology of older Reformed writers and that of the newer re-definers is a complicated task, made more complex because of the trust factor: if people have been persuaded by an eloquent, humorous, intelligent scholar like Wright, it almost becomes a personal offense to question his take on things. I have noted with some surprise the caution of some (not all!) critics with regard to his theses and claims; I’ve wondered, in fact, if some of this caution stems from an unwillingness to alienate the appreciative audience he has garnered in the Reformed world.

    pb

  16. johnbugay said,

    November 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I think we have to be more discerning than simply to say “older is better, newer runs the risk of danger”. One of the things that makes Wright so attractive (as I understand it) is that he has taken the time to incorporate some of the cultural background of Palestinian Judaism, for example. I have been doing a great deal of writing about the house churches of the era and the oikonomos, for example, and it adds a tremendous amount of perspective to “what the early church was like”. Then when you read Clement and Ignatius and Hermas, you can know what it is they’re talking about at a much deeper level. (And such background studies seem only to have started to become known over the last 50 years or so). Wright comes to wrong conclusions, but that doesn’t make it bad to study Palestinian Judaism.

    What’s going to be really good, from my perspective, is that this kind of background study is making its way into Reformed seminary programs. I am thinking of Dr. Gary Chapman’s “New Testament History and Theology” course at Covenant Seminary, but there are more, I’m sure.

  17. November 23, 2011 at 9:19 am

    The problem with much of the studies in Palestinian Judaism that form the basis of Wright’s understanding is that they are based on the Dead Sea Scrolls (which is why they are only 50 years old). The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect Essene Judaism, which was a fairly eccentric sect within Judaism. The NT background is really in Pharisaical Judaism, which is more clearly understood by reading the Bible itself and the Talmud, which were accessible for all of the Reformed scholars. So, Wright takes a different form of Judaism, which had a different understanding of both soteriology and eschatology. Thus, the contemporary Judaic studies have the potential to confuse more than clarify.

  18. johnbugay said,

    November 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Jason, that’s true, but there’s more to study than just the Dead Sea Scrolls. Everett Ferguson goes into a tremendous amount of detail not only about Judaism but also Greek and Roman backgrounds (including religion, philosophy, culture, etc.).

    And in addressing Sanders, Dunn, Wright, etc., the Carson Siefried and O’Brien volumes cover far more of ancient Judaism than the former ever did.

  19. Jed Paschall said,

    November 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Re: Andrew (#7) and LEW (#11),

    First, LEW, thanks, I began reading Barr in earnest about a year and a half ago and it is nice to know that there is a sustained Reformed/Conservative response to Barr.

    Andrew, it is also encouraging to see someone else taking a look at Barr. I have spent some time critiquing his volumes Biblical Theology (where he addresses the task of biblical theology, and examines the 20th century expression of it more than he actually forms his own theology), and his book derived from a series of lectures Biblical Faith and Natural Law. Barr is something of a maverick among non-conservative biblical scholars, as he spends so much time calling liberals and neo-orthodox scholars to the carpet for their faulty theological foundations. But he certainly is no lover of ‘conservative’ scholarship, but I have always found him to be imminently fair with conservatives, as he sees their work as having value in the field of scholarship as he seeks to include them as opposed to exclude them from the dialogue.

  20. Jed Paschall said,

    November 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Lane,

    Your post brings up some very interesting points indeed. I know that there are plenty of us who try to stay abreast on what is going on in whatever our particular field of interest is, and that in itself isn’t a bad thing. But the inherent danger is that we would focus so much on what is happening now that we loose sight of the foundational issues that even make the current discussions possible. Sometimes it is simply easier, on the basis of access, and on the basis of the volume of current discussions to focus in on the contemporary, as opposed to building off a sound base of theology which isn’t really new at all.

    I think of the whole FV ordeal you were involved in with your testimony at the PNWP, and I can’t help but think that so much of what went wrong there (for those of us who believe that the presbytery erred) is that there were many roads long paved that were being torn up, for what reason I won’t pretend to understand, in order to chart new paths forward. The real question in that scenario was – is dispensing with what has historically constituted “Reformed” a good thing in the first place? As an outside observer the answer seems to be an obvious negative, but what seems so obvious simply wasn’t the case. Your post speaks well to issues like the FV, and NPP, and others that functionally upend foundations laid long ago. Thanks for encouraging GB readers not to neglect our own theological heritage, as it is so easy to do, and can have such disastrous effects when we do.

  21. Jack Bradley said,

    November 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Jed, I agree that we dare not neglect our own theological heritage. This is a primary concern that motivates Leithart, Meyers, and others identified as FV. In several instances, they are the ones going back to our rich Reformed heritage. Letham, in his book, The Westminster Assembly, also shares this concern (so much so that he makes a very strong assertion in the closing sentence):

    “Much discussion centered on the relationship between baptism and regeneration. This is a connection that conservative Protestants tend to deny or ignore, but was a commonplace in the classic Reformed period.

    . . . The Reformed confessions are clear on the connection between baptism and regeneration. While they consistently oppose the Roman Catholic doctrine of ex opere operato, which asserts that the sacraments are efficacious by the fact of their use, they are equally severe on those who would reduce baptism and the Lord’s Supper to mere symbols.

    . . . In summary, the Reformed confessions teach a conjunction between the sign (baptism in water in the name of the Trinity) and the reality (the grace given in Christ, regeneration, cleansing from sin, and so on). From this, it is legitimate for the one to be described in terms of the other; this is found in Scripture itself in such expressions as “baptism saves” (I Peter 3:21). The divines repeatedly refer to baptism as “the laver of regeneration.” However, at the same time there is also a distinction between the sign and the reality. Baptism is not salvation; it signifies and exhibits salvation by the grace of God in Christ. The power of baptism resides not in the water but in the Holy Spirit, who applies God’s grace to his elect people in his own time. He is sovereign; salvation is by grace. The reality is distinct from the sign, yet the sign cannot be detached from the reality, for the two go together. As the Belgic Confession puts it, “The ministers dispense the sacrament. . . the Lord gives what is signified.”

    . . . the Spirit can work as and how he pleases, so baptism is not absolutely indispensable for salvation. However, anomalous situations aside, God’s promises of grace in Christ are dispensed by the Holy Spirit through baptism, as long as we bear in mind the [Westminster] divine’s caveat that this is so in inseparable conjunction with the Word. The connection is neither automatic nor temporal, but theological.
    This is not the theology of baptism commonly held today in conservative Protestant circles, or even in many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Yet so integral to Reformed theology is its sacramentalism that claims to being Reformed must be challenged that lack this vital element.

  22. bsuden said,

    November 24, 2011 at 12:37 am

    So what are you trying to say via your surrogate Letham, Jack?
    That because many in conservative P&R circles fall down on the doctrine of baptism, enter stage right the FV as saviour/hero?

    Dream on.

  23. rcjr said,

    November 24, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Lane,

    You stacked the deck brother. Could I make the case that it’s better to read new guys rather than old guys, that I would rather read Sproul, Gerstner and Grudem than Roger Williams, a Brackel and Augustine? Old can be good, and agree with the Lewis reference to On the Reading of Old Books, which I have my students read at Reformation Bible College, but you chose some two rather dubious guys as examples of moderns.

  24. bsuden said,

    November 25, 2011 at 3:58 am

    I thought it was implicit in the comment, that any new guys worth reading would be those who read the old guys.

    IOW two theological hotdogs like NT Wright and D Wilson in respectively What St. Paul Really Said and Reformed Is Not Enough can’t cut the mustard.

  25. Horace said,

    November 25, 2011 at 7:31 am

    “two rather dubious guys as examples of moderns”

    In a solid church, picking Wright and Wilson does indeed appear as stacking the deck… but in the church I serve the TE quotes them and Leithart much more frequently than all others combined. I can’t remember when he last quoted RC, to say nothing about Augustine or Calvin. The church library is well stocked with old classics and solid moderns, but the Pastor’s library seems to be primarily Wright, Leithart, and Keller, judging from his quotes and sermons over the past couple of years. Sadly, we’re considering finding where the Lord would move us now, since this TE is unreceptive to a layman questioning his choice of prep sources.

    20 years ago I wrote a letter to a big name radio preacher who had favorably quoted M Scott Peck. I cautioned him, while those who study will recognize error, most sheep don’t study and don’t recognize bad teaching. They simply know the preacher has quoted some author so he must be OK. The reply I got back was bitter, biting, and arrogant, and I have never listened to the man again. Sadly, I saw the same thing in the transcripts of the PNWP Leithart trial.

    Remember Paul’s warning in Acts 20: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

    You don’t need a new perspective or a blurry vision to know what the Holy Spirit says through Paul.

  26. November 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    An aside, but sometimes I wonder if it would be better for us preachers to only cite our sources anonymously, as in: “One NT scholar has written,” or, “One theologian has put it this way….”

    Like many of you I read outside my own circles, and if the choice is between citing by name only “safe” authors, and citing unnamed theologians who happen to make a good point on this or that text, I’ll do the latter so’s not to rob my people of a blessing, or stumble them with a shady name.

  27. Reed Here said,

    November 26, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Jack: pulled your comment. Again, lengthy quotes are inappropriate. This is doubly so when you do not cite references. Feel free to “perfect” your post and re-submit. Thanks.

  28. John said,

    November 26, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Great observation, Lane!

  29. Ron said,

    November 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    bsuden re: 22, good catch if you ask me. You wrote:

    That because many in conservative P&R circles fall down on the doctrine of baptism, enter stage right the FV as saviour/hero?

    The unspoken premise often seems to be that because some conservative P&R individuals are not as thoroughgoing as they might be that, therefore, Reformed theology is “not enough.” The implication is that we are left to choose between a minimalist view of the sacraments and FV. What’s more, we must be careful when quoting those who have spoken out against a minimalist view of the sacraments so as not to implicate them as having FV tendencies (such as with the relatively extensive quoting of Robert Letham in 21 above.)

  30. andrew said,

    November 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Re 26. As a listener, I find this practice slightly annoying.

    If it is a good quote, I might like to read more of the chap. It also comes across as a bit patronising – the preacher gives the impression he doesn’t want to bother us with complicated names or titles.

    Perhaps, though you would say this is worth it compared to the danger of named quotes. On the other hand, it is not a bad thing to realise there can be wisdom beyond our own circle.

  31. Ron said,

    November 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    For what it’s worth, I would side w/ Jason and do appreciate his angle. There’s always the aspect of a pastor trying to protect his sheep either from exposing them to a neo by name, or simply protect them from people getting upset with the quoting of a neo (i.e. the peace in the church aspect). There’s liberty to cite in full but there can be wisdom in not doing so, which I think could be his point.

  32. bsuden said,

    November 27, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    29 Ron,

    (Best not get the trolls started. )

    The FV just about to a man, cut their teeth mischaracterizing the RPW and then substituting their own version for it; many times distorting, if they didn’t ignore, the old authors and the confessions.

    And since many P&R have not so much as even heard of the RPW, if they are not compromised on it, the FV in training got a pass.

    The further consequence was that upon the FV’s debut, many were sympathetic to hearing what the FV had to say based upon its previous so called ‘speaking truth to power’ record. More importantly its habit of tweaking the historical record continued to slide under the radar.

    But still, as the old authors say – Luther, M Henry or whoever – “Abusus non tollit usus”. The abuse of something is no argument against its use. Thus cars, beer, guns, the West. Stands., the RPW, the sacraments or JBFA.

  33. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 27, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    JJS: Another way to accomplish the same goal is for a pastor to cite his sources and notice about himself whether he is citing any one person too frequently.

  34. November 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Ron,

    For what it’s worth, I would side w/ Jason and do appreciate his angle. There’s always the aspect of a pastor trying to protect his sheep either from exposing them to a neo by name, or simply protect them from people getting upset with the quoting of a neo (i.e. the peace in the church aspect). There’s liberty to cite in full but there can be wisdom in not doing so, which I think could be his point.

    Exactly. It’s not like I’m writing an academic piece for some journal, I’m preaching a sermon. I’m not a huge quoter, but if I cite 3 different sources per sermon, my guess is that most of my congregation doesn’t care that much who’s saying it, they just care what’s being said.

  35. greenbaggins said,

    November 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

    A couple of comments are in order here. Firstly, with regard to Scripture, I was not talking about getting a handle on the Christian faith in general, for which the Bible must always be the ultimate standard. I was referring to getting a handle on the Reformed faith. Of course, I would argue that the Reformed faith is the faith of the Bible. However, the Reformed faith is an interpretation of the Bible (I would argue the correct one, of course). So, in order to understand this particular and correct interpretation of the Bible, I would argue that the Reformed fathers are the best place to start.

    This would also answer the question about the ECF. Of course it is profitable to read and know the ECF, for a multitude of reasons. However, they are not generally seen as the yardstick of the Reformed faith.

    To answer R.C. Jr., I would say that modern works on the Reformed faith are valuable to read. And I might even recommend that someone start with someone like R.C. Sproul or Sinclair Ferguson if they are brand-new to the Reformed faith and haven’t read anything at all. I have done so with Ferguson’s outstanding book “The Christian Life” any number of times. However, what I am talking about is someone who is trying to start a systematic study of a locus from a Reformed perspective. This person wants to study justification, for instance. They need to start with Owen and Buchanan, who have the two best books on justification ever written (although I would love to see Anthony Burgess in print again), and which have stood the test of time. Fesko’s book is helpful, and is the best modern book on the subject from a non-controversial point of view. But I still think it is extremely valuable in this instance to start with the older works, and then judge the modern by the old, not vice versa.

  36. rcjr said,

    November 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Don’t disagree Lane with your comment, nor the gist of your piece. Just thought your comparison prejudiced the issue, like comparing a public school Christian hero to a homeschool sociopath as proof that government schools are better.

  37. TurretinFan said,

    November 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    JJS:

    Just as a practical thought, one could imagine a preacher saying, “as a wise heretic once said …” much the way Paul anonymously quotes a heathen poet.

    And then, if people wonder who the heretic was, you could tell them afterward. That could potentially solve both problems of (1) quoting material from a questionable source and (2) potentially appearing to be endorsing said source (whether or not it is named).

    As you pointed out, it’s not an academic paper – there are no citation rules.

    -TurretinFan

  38. November 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Look, I just want to be able to quote Dee Snider from Twisted Sister as often as I want without everyone getting all sanctimonious on me.

  39. greenbaggins said,

    November 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Point well taken, and you’re right. There are lots of modern orthodox theologians who are greatly helping the church.

  40. Paul said,

    November 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Going back to #7 for a moment and how one might respond to James Barr. I read Barr’s “Fundamentalism” in high school soon after it came out. It is very well written, very easy to read for a serious theology book and pretty convincing unless you are very knowledgeable or very opinionated. Barr is, of course, an extremely smart guy.

    I’ve never read it but I doubt that Packer’s “Fundamentalism and the Word of God” would count as a good response to Barr if for no other reason that Packer wrote that book 20 years before Barr wrote his so Packer’s book can’t be a response in the conventional sense.

    My answer to the question of how to respond to Barr, in terms of giving someone an alternative perspective, is (sorry guys, I know you won’t like this answer) N. T. Wright’s big books on Jesus, especially the Victory and Resurrection books.

    The problem with many conservative reformed responses to people like Barr is that they seem to run along the lines of:
    1) God is perfect
    2) Therefore the book God wrote is perfect
    3) Therefore Barr is wrong about the Bible being full of errors
    I very much doubt that any arguments even slightly similar to that would work for someone who has read Barr and likes him. At least, arguments like that are completely unconvincing to me.

  41. November 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    “The Reformers could at least master what was known in their time. Hence, their works tend to be more cohesive, more encyclopaedically sound, than modern works, which tend to be more fragmented.”

    In short, the Reformers were successful because they avoided doing what you’re suggesting theologians today do. They were Renaissance humanists breaking free from classical medieval theology and reading the original-language texts in a fresh light.

    Today, of course, we dare not do this….

  42. andrew said,

    November 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for the responses on Barr. I will follow up those leads.

    Paul, my problem is very basic. Barr doesn’t suggest, and I can’t see any stopping point from what he calls fundementalism to full-blown liberalism. And from liberalism I don’t see much of a stopping point to agnosticism. Very simplistic, I know, but…

    Say a topic, perhaps, divorce and remariage, is being discussed. I can imagine lots of fun exchanges between the Traditional and the Reformed posistions. But if I go with what Barr seems to say, I would just shrug, as I might well be doubtful whether we have a faithful representation of Jesus’ teaching at all.

    I don’t understand how a liberal can ‘do’ theology. For me life without authoratative Scripture would just be terribly, terribly dull.

    Not that my quality of life is in any way a response to Barr’s observations!

  43. greenbaggins said,

    November 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Andrew Sandlin, where did you get that from my words, that I am suggesting a less encyclopaedic doing of theology today? It is one of my very foremost concerns in theologizing (look up under the category “theological encyclopedia” in the category bar to the left for confirmation) that we get back to an interdependent version of doing each theological discipline. I am suggesting the exact opposite of what you say I’m suggesting. What I said and meant was that it is so much more difficult today to do what the Reformers were able to do (more encyclopedia versions of theology).

  44. Paul said,

    November 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Andrew #42

    I would guess we think very differently about this and because of that I’m not sure I can write anything you would find helpful.

    FWIW, I think I stand happily between fundamentalism and liberalism along with plenty of other people (although such people don’t typically post much at Green Baggins since we are very much out of step with the moderators here).

    Speaking for myself, the key belief which allows me to stand between fundamentalism and liberalism/agnosticism is that I don’t see the Bible as a unified thing. Thus, I can say I believe in the resurrection but not the garden of eden because for me, to say that the first chapters of genesis aren’t historical has no bearing on whether the gospels are historical because they are different books. Most people on this blog would, I think, strongly disagree with that to the point where some might find my beliefs stupid or incomprehensible.

    In terms of helping your friend. My suggestion is to discuss (through eg. N.T. Wright’s large books on Jesus) what we can know with some reasonable degree of confidence about the reliability of the Gospels and their reports of Jesus’ teaching and actions. I would leave to one side issues like Adam and Eve or the conquest of Canaan and just discuss with your friend what we can know about Jesus.

    That reminds me of another book that might help you: Bauckham’s Eyewitnesses. I believe Lane has read that book and liked it.

  45. michael said,

    December 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Paul @#44, not to get into a contest here with you, rather just to make plain my issue with this that you wrote above:

    “Speaking for myself, the key belief which allows me to stand between fundamentalism and liberalism/agnosticism is that I don’t see the Bible as a unified thing. …”.

    What I am saying in response to that stand you take is the reason you are not being unified is probably because of a lack of the spirit of Faith in believing so that you can be united to all the Word of Grace.

    A couple of references might help if contrary to that you are being led by the same spirit of Faith I am?

    Act 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
    Act 20:29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
    Act 20:30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
    Act 20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.
    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    2Co 4:13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,
    2Co 4:14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

    Hopefully you can hear what the Holy Spirit is saying in those verses and will do in your spirit, that is, from whatever persuasion you are coming from the aim is unity? At the end of the day if you are not being united with True Believers by the Sanctification work of the Holy Spirit, most likely you won’t be raised up with those of us that are and be brought along with us into His Presence in this life or the next.

  46. December 31, 2011 at 3:45 am

    Let us at least acknowledge what a tolerably adequate historical theologian (happened to be the late Jaroslav Pelikan; there, I said his name) once wrote: If you’re going to criticize or abandon the tradition, at least know the tradition.

    Traditionalists and non-traditionalists and semi-traditionalists all have a vested interest in drinking deeply from the tradition.


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