Review of _The Escondido Theology_, General Considerations

Before I get to the review of this book, let it be officially known at the outset that I am not a WSCal toadie, whatever that might mean. I do not believe in the Framework Hypothesis. I have serious questions about the republication theory of the Mosaic covenant, though I firmly believe this to be an entirely intramural debate. My political views are what I might call “mild” two kingdoms. I would acknowledge the distinctions that the two kingdoms make without taking them as far as some WSC folks take them. In certain places I even agree with Frame’s critique of some aspects of WSC’s teaching. However, I do agree with the Law-Gospel distinction, and reject utterly the notion that it is only a Lutheran position. That is historical nonsense. It is also Reformed, and commonly so. Ursinus taught it VERY clearly in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Marrow of Modern Divinity taught it VERY clearly. The work of John Colquhoun teaches it VERY clearly as well. But I graduated from WTS Philly, and that does mean I have some differences from my WSC brothers. But I deeply respect them, and was therefore disturbed when I read Frame’s book, which amounts, in my opinion, to little more than a hit piece written by what appears to me to be an embittered former colleague.

John Frame has written a number of books that are helpful. I particularly found his The Doctrine of God to be helpful, as well as much of his book The Doctrine of the Word of God. So, I have found much that is edifying in Frame’s work. The Escondido Theology is not one of these kinds of works. It is not gracious, irenic, fair, or collegial, unless you already agree with his conclusions, as George Grant seems to do (I was very disappointed that Grant, for whom I hold a great respect, would put his name on this book). It is full of caricature and extension of arguments (I mean this in the logical fallacy sense). It is an embarrassment to the entire Reformed world. Only with this volume has a professor of one of the main Reformed seminaries descended to the level of attacking another entire seminary in the Reformed community. The gentleman’s agreement among the main Reformed seminaries has now been breached. I intend to get into specifics with a series of posts exposing the myriad slanders that Frame has leveled against the WSC folks.

For now, I would like to address two issues, and both in a general way. Firstly, is this book irenic, gracious, fair, and collegial, as George Grant claims (pp. vii, viii, xiv)? Consider the following quotation, given in context, though without Frame’s footnotes:

Horton has promoted the Escondido positions vigorously. His main contribution to the Escondido Theology is a great gift for communication. He is founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine and of the radio program White Horse Inn. He has written a great many books, both popular and scholarly, and has lectured and taught all over the world. In his popular books he writes with an engaging style. He is known as a forceful, if not always accurate, critic of modern American evangelicalism. It almost seems to me that anything a prominent evangelical says, Horton feels compelled to say the opposite, however implausible his argument may be. So, like Clark, Horton is something of a Reformed chauvinist (page 13).

So, in addition to being unaware of the implausibility of some of his own arguments when reacting against “prominent evangelicals,” Horton (and Clark, Frame meaning R. Scott Clark) is a Reformed chauvinist. Dr. Frame, how exactly is this comment gracious, irenic, fair, and collegial? Are the comments about Horton’s “engaging style” and “gift for communication” supposed to mask the comment about being a Reformed chauvinist? To someone not prejudiced against WSC, this strikes me as a sinful comment. Or was Frame unaware of how this comment would communicate (Frame being very concerned with how something communicates) both to WSC folks, and to those not biased against them?

Another example, this time on page 16 (Frame seems to have a particular aversion to Horton, as we will see, when Frame not only attacks Horton, but people Horton recommends, and people Horton has taught): “I would not be writing this book if it were not for another distinctive of the Escondido theology to which I have already alluded: the view that those who disagree with them are not orthodox, not to be considered Reformed. Here, see especially my review of Clark’s book. And on my analysis Horton’s Christless Christianity amounts to the claim that unless the evangelical church embraces (and ‘emphasizes’) the novelties and idiosyncrasies of the Escondido Theology, they are headed for Hell.” There are a number of problems with this quotation. Firstly, there are people on the faculty of WSC who don’t agree with the supposed distinctives of the seminary. Dr. Bob Godfrey is not a Two Kingdoms man, but is neo-Kuyperian. By the way, he’s the PRESIDENT of the seminary! Is Frame suggesting that the WSC folks are ready to throw Dr. Bob Godfrey out tarred and feathered? Secondly, have any WSC folks even remotely hinted at the idea that non Two-Kingdoms, non-republication, non-Reformed confessional, non-Law-Gospel-distinction folks are all headed to Hell? My impression is that WSC folks argue for certain positions from the conviction that the clarity of the gospel is at stake. That is a distinct question from whether said unclear views that WSC folk are opposing relegate their proponents to Hell. Frame appears not to understand this distinction.

The second general issue I would like to address about this book is the inclusion of Frame’s personal history at WSC. If Frame wished to avoid the appearance of bitterness at how he was treated, if he wanted to paint himself as a person in a good position to describe the Escondido Theology, why did he include these completely irrelevant details about how he left the seminary (they are irrelevant if Frame is supposed to focus only on the theological issues, which I believe he would be required to do in a book of this sort)? To prove that he knew what was going on there? His book reviews should prove by themselves that he had read these books (though not very carefully, as we will see) and knew what these guys were saying. Frame refers to his own credentials as a Reformed theologian way too often for this to be believable to me. Folks, this book is about revenge for how he was treated at WSC, make no mistake about that. That is my read of it, anyway. If he wanted to avoid that impression, he picked that absolute worst way of going about it. Most people would not have to dig too far to know that Frame once taught at WSC. If this book were only about the theological issues, then he should NEVER have dragged in his own story of how he was treated at WSC.

Is it a surprise that this book is not published by any mainstream publisher? I asked Horton about this on the phone. I asked him if he thought it likely that any WSC professor would EVER seek to get published by, say, P&R, if P&R had published this book. He said, “Absolutely not.” No mainstream publisher would have touched this book, you can count on that.

In short, folks, this book is an embarrassment to the Reformed world. I can’t imagine that Dr. Vern Poythress is pleased with this publication, either (Dr. Poythress and Dr. Frame share a website, on which they have published much of their work). The book is full of sin, and I call on Frame to repent of his sin. If you want a level-headed critique of some aspects of what is commonly taught at WSC, go to Dr. Cornelis Venema’s review of The Law Is Not Of Faith, published in the Mid-America Journal of Theology, year 2010. That is a truly irenic critique. He calls aspects of WSC’s teaching wrong. However, he does not caricature or extend what they say. He also doesn’t call them names like “chauvinist.” He deals with what they actually say.

I have condemned this book in strong terms. The fact is, I am both angry for WSC’s sake (hoping that this expose of Frame’s book will prevent any lasting damage to WSC in the future), and deeply saddened that Frame would do this. He will lose a great deal of respect for doing this, even among people who have serious reservations about WSC’s distinctives.

A Response to TE Sam Wheatley

TE Sam Wheatley has argued that women should be ordained deacons in the church. He advances exegetical and historical arguments in favor of his position. I would like to interact with these arguments in some detail.

Romans 16:1-2 Any discussion of women deacons has to start here. I have interacted with Lee Irons on this passage in the past (see here, here, and here). I have done further research on this passage, and the conclusion I came to startles me. The ultimate question here, of course, is the meaning of the term “diakonon” in verse 1. Is Phoebe being called a “servant,” “deacon,” or “courier?” The word can mean any of the three possibilities. What is startling is that almost no one has acknowledged “courier” as a possible translation of “diakonon.” However, this is how BDAG construes the passage (see page 230). The linguistic evidence for this possibility is certainly strong. I looked up the passages in Josephus noted by BDAG, and it is incontestable that “courier” is a possible rendering of the word (see especially Ant. 7.200-201). But is it used that way in the New Testament? I would argue that BDAG’s references on the passage are quite plausible for demonstrating that Paul used the term in this way on occasion (Col 1:7 has clear contextual pointers in this direction, as does 1 Thess. 3:2). A courier can most certainly be an official position. Some couriers have more authority than others have. Timothy obviously has quite a bit more authority than just bearing a letter, as the Thessalonians passage shows. However, the exact nature of what Phoebe did is unknown beyond bearing the letter and supporting people with her financial backing. This possible translation, incidentally, would therefore negate Wheatley’s argument concerning the feminine participle modifying “sister.” Even if his argument about the participle were correct, it would not prove that Phoebe was a deacon, since a courier could also be an official position (the term “deaconess” was not in use until later). The examples that Wheatley adduces are not to the point, since the “officialness” is more than communicated by the title itself in the case of Caiaphas (how much more official does one need to be than “high priest?” The other cases adduced are similar).

The evidence in the context that Phoebe was a courier is as follows: As most commentators note, Phoebe was probably the bearer of the letter to the Romans. So she probably was the courier, anyway (commentators infer this from the commendation, and also from the fact that she is mentioned first among the greetings. One can infer from this that she would need the most immediate attention). Secondly, Paul “commends” her to the Roman church. The commendation was necessary because Phoebe would need hospitality while in Rome, the hospitality that couriers would need. Thirdly, Phoebe was a rich woman. Only a rich woman could be a “patroness” (prostatis). This means that she would have the means to travel. So, she was a courier (we would call her a secretary today!) and a patroness. She supported the ministry with her ample means, and engaged in the distribution of the gospel by bearing news and letters from one church to another. This was a special kind of service (“servant” is another possible rendering of the term), but does not prove that she was a deacon.

Miscellaneous Passages: Tabitha, Mary, Lydia (this is an especially silly example, since the passage in question refers to her conversion and to her immediately subsequent desire to help the apostles: not a word about an official deacon position! In fact, it is an excellent counter-example), the daughters of Phillip, Euodia and Syntyche, Priscilla, Nympha, and Chloe are not examples of deacons. They are wonderful examples of women who love to serve the church. They are hardly proof that women exercised the office of deacon. I wonder why he even brought them up, unless he is assuming that if a church doesn’t allow women to be deacons, then they must be preventing them from any and all ministry in the church (I don’t know if that is what he intends, since he does not make it clear why or how these passages help his case). As a point of personal privilege, I would like to point out a counter-example: I would put the WIC in my church up against any church of any denomination for the amount of work and service they contribute to the church, and not a single woman is a deacon. They work in hospitality, nursery, education, evangelism, and missions. They serve on all the committees of the church, and they keep PLENTY busy, I can assure you, yet they are not officers in the church.

Wheatley says, “Some may say these marks of Christian devotion are to be commended, but they in and of themselves do not merit titling the women who perform them either in the first century or today as deacons. That argument might hold water if Phoebe were not pointedly called a deacon of the church of a specific place, Cenchreae, with a specific task of bearing Paul’s letter to the congregation in Rome and continuing her ministry among that congregation.” It should be obvious by now that Paul does not “pointedly” call her a deacon of a specific church. This is highly in question. There are two other possibilities, and Wheatley has certainly not ruled out either one (“servant” or “courier”).

1 Timothy 3:8-13 speaks of the qualifications of the deacons of the church. Wheatley offers the following arguments in favor of verse 11 referring to “deaconesses:” 1. the “likewise” at the beginning of the verse sounds like verse 8, which also introduces a new office; 2. the absence of a definite article or possessive pronoun makes it less likely that the deacons’ wives are meant; 3. there are no separate qualifications for the wives of elders in 3:1-7 (why would deacons’ wives be singled out?). It is fascinating to me that Phil Ryken’s commentary on this passage argues for the translation “wives” and not deacons. The reason that is fascinating is that Ryken has shown at least some signs of sympathy for the position of having deaconesses! Tenth Presbyterian Church commissions deaconesses (the difference between “commissioning” and “ordaining” is not clear to me). Ryken was certainly in favor of this practice. Ryken’s answer would be along the following lines: the term “woman” not only does not seem “sufficient to designate an office in the church,” but also the term appears in the very next verse, where is most certainly means “wife” (p. 131). The instructions are also quite brief. One would expect a longer treatment of the qualifications for deaconesses.

I would add the following arguments: 1. the possessive pronoun or definite article is not always needed to indicate possessiveness. Paul could simply be saying “the wives of deacons” without necessarily saying “their wives.” But it comes to the same thing. 2. The term “likewise” does not have to have the semantic import that Wheatley gives it. The emphasis could simply be that there are requirements “likewise” for the family members of deacons. 3. The wives of elders are explicitly mentioned in verse 2, and certainly hinted at in verse 4. Why a specific commandment about dignity, lack of slander, sober-mindedness, and faithfulness should be predicated of the wives of deacons and not of elders is not known for sure. However, the following points could be suggestive: 1. Paul would surely not be implying that the wives of elders should lack the things that deacons’ wives should have. In other words, we could easily infer that Paul means for these qualities mentioned in verse 11 to be true of elders’ wives as well. 2. Another possible explanation is provided by Ryken as “the privacy of diaconal work.” Diaconal work often involves the private economical status of many people in the congregation and community. This is not something to blab about. Of course, discretion is necessary among elders’ wives as well. However, there is a difference, possibly, in that elders’ shepherding matters are not as uniformly to be kept quiet as diaconal matters are.

1 Timothy 5:9-16 does not lay out qualifications for an office. The issue here is which widows will be enrolled, or “cared for,” as verse 16 makes perfectly plain. So, his conclusion that “1 Timothy 5:9 regards a group of women set apart for service in the church for the purpose of leading in service and ministry to younger women” is not accurate. Certainly, the older women are to help the younger women. That much is evident from the passage. But “set apart for service in the church,” implying an office, goes well beyond the text. The passage in Titus 2 does not add any evidence for official offices, either.

In the third section, Wheatley argues that certain passages portray women as equal and vital partners in the Christian mission (p. 7). However, this equivocates on the phrase “equal and vital partners.” Equal in what way? Equal in the sense that they have the same standing before God as co-heirs of the kingdom of God? I would certainly grant that. Equal in the sense of working just as hard, side by side? I would certainly grant that. Equal in the sense of sharing the same office with the apostle? I would certainly NOT grant that! By this argument, women should be elders and ministers. So, Wheatley does not avoid the slippery slope argument quite as well as he thinks he does! His argument here would prove too much, by his own statements, since he is not arguing for women elders or ministers. His point concerning women being the first witnesses to the resurrection (p. 9) is not to the point, either. Christianity certainly improves women’s standing among men as co-heirs of the kingdom of God. This is quite different from the question of office.

I will deal with the historical arguments adduced on pp. 10-13 in a separate post. For now, it should be clear that there is no biblical basis for proving that the New Testament approves of women deacons. I might add that there are strong negative considerations that must come into play here as well: the office of deacon is one of authority. Otherwise, why would they need to be men (!) of the Holy Spirit, as Acts 6 specifically spells out? There is no treatment of Acts 6 in the whole of Wheatley’s paper, and it is not difficult to find out the reasons why. Firstly, the first deacons were all men. Secondly, they had to be men of authority, because they had to be men full of the Holy Spirit. If there is authority wielded by deacons, then the strictures of 1 Timothy 2:9-13 come into play. The office of deacon is one of authority, and such authority cannot be wielded by women over men in the church. Incidentally, Acts 6 also puts the axe to the argument that women were needed, in the early church, to serve the diaconal needs of other women. Here in Acts 6, it is quite plain that men were seeing to the food needs of women.

Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch, Take Ten

(Posted by Paige) (Edit: I just noticed this one is TEN, not ELEVEN. Not that anybody really cares. :)

Still plugging away at this tome – only three chapters to go after this one!

The first comment below provides a brief summary of each chapter, and links to my previous reviews. Links to biblical references within this post fetch up the ESV.

Chapter 9: Is There a “Biblical Jesus” of the Pentateuch?

As suggested by this chapter’s title, Sailhamer’s interest here is in identifying and tracing whatever message the Pentateuch may contain about a Coming One, known to us via the NT as the historical Jesus, but anticipated since the beginning of the story as the Savior of Israel and the world. (Sailhamer notes that by calling this figure the “biblical Jesus” he means to be “transparently anachronistic ,” not credulous about the OT writers’ prior knowledge of a specific man by this name.) In keeping with the overall thrust of the book, this chapter investigates in some detail how the deliberate composition of the Pentateuch contributes to a theological message of expectation that points to Jesus. Sailhamer offers both innertextual (within the Pentateuch) and intertextual (between other biblical books and the Pentateuch) studies to support his conclusion that Moses intended his audience to anticipate a singular “seed” of Abraham who would also be a king from the tribe of Judah.

To start off, Sailhamer reviews his theories about the “making” of the Pentateuch, reminding us of his conviction that an individual author used his own compositions as well as other sources, connecting these texts in a meaningful way. In particular, the poems that occur at the “compositional seams” between major blocks of narrative act both as literary glue and as clues to the theological intent of the Pentateuch. “The next aspect of the making of the Pentateuch,” he writes, “involved weaving into these narratives a series of theological motifs or themes (theologomena)” (466). Ultimately, the echoes of these themes by way of “learned quotations” both within the Pentateuch and in the writings of later psalmists and prophets reinforce the original theological intentions of the author.

Sailhamer then offers a series of detailed studies of texts where such “learned quotations” and cross-references occur, beginning with innertextual connections within the Pentateuch itself (see pp.464-481 for details). He identifies a link between Gen. 12:3, Gen. 27:29, and Gen. 49:8-10 that to him suggests a deliberate effort to associate Abraham, the blessing of the nations, and the promised “seed” with the royal line of Judah. Additional examples of “learned quotations” from Num. 24:5-9 and Deut. 33:4-7 reinforce these connections. Sailhamer explains,

It seems clear that these learned quotations of the promise narratives within the Pentateuch’s poems are intentional. Their intent is to identify the “seed” promised to Abraham (Gen. 12) with the “scepter from the tribe of Judah” (Gen. 49) and Balaam’s victorious “king” (Num. 24). The “king” in each of these poems is thus linked directly to the promise of the “seed” of Abraham. (476)

Emphasized in all of this discussion is Sailhamer’s conviction that the author of the Pentateuch means his audience to understand Abraham’s promised “seed” to be a singular rather than a collective figure, as Paul asserts in Gal. 3:16. “To be sure,” he concedes, “at numerous points in the promise narratives, the identity of the ‘seed’ of Abraham is clearly understood collectively. But, as true as that observation is, it is not the whole story” (478). In fact, Sailhamer insists, careful reading of the Pentateuch by the later biblical writers resulted in a reinforcement of a singular interpretation of the “seed,” as evidenced by learned quotations throughout the rest of the Tanakh. Hannah’s prayer for a future king (in 1 Sam. 2; see especially v.10) is cited as a demonstration that “later readers of the Pentateuch were aware of the prophetic meaning of these early poems in the Pentateuch” (471). Sailhamer also examines Jeremiah 4:2 – “The nations in him will be blessed” – in its immediate and canonical context (see pp.481-499); Psalm 72 (which quotes the same text; see pp.499-510); and the intriguing singular/plural pronoun puzzle of Num. 23:22 and Num. 24:8 (see pp.518-521). Perhaps my favorite of his supporting arguments concerns Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, which, Sailhamer insists, was applied metaphorically by the Evangelist precisely because Hosea had already assigned a metaphorical meaning to the historical exodus event, in light of a coming king (see pp.510-518).

Sailhamer concludes this chapter with a respectful appreciation of John Calvin’s understanding of the singular “seed” promised to Abraham, and he leaves us with his studied opinion that even the earliest books of Scripture contain God’s call to faith in the singular Coming One. He writes,

Abraham’s faith (Gen. 15:6) was grounded in the work of an individual (singular) descendant (“seed” [Gen. 22:18]) of Abraham, through whom God’s primeval blessing (Gen. 1:28) and eternal life (Gen. 3:22) would be restored to all humanity (Gen. 49:10). In the patriarchal narratives and poetry, religion of the patriarchs is cast as essentially a pre-Christian version of NT faith – a faith in an “individual seed” of Abraham who is identified as a coming king from the house of Judah who was the mediator of the Abrahamic covenant. This was the king from Judah who is the focus of the Pentateuch’s poetry and narrative symbolism. (533f.)

If you read just one chapter of this large work, I’d suggest you read this one, both for a taste of Sailhamer’s exceptional “compositional” approach and for the detailed innertextual and intertextual studies he offers to support his convictions.


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