A Gentle Response to Clair Davis

Dr. Clair Davis has written a response to Gaffin’s piece (which I linked in the previous post). As always, Davis is humble and always wanting to learn more, something I have always admired about him. He does not think he has finished learning. And he is more than willing to listen to those who disagree with him. In this post, I do not presume to teach Dr. Davis. As I indicated in my last post, my own thought is also undergoing change. But I do have some thoughts about his response. Writing about them helps me to think through the issues.

The first point I wish to raise has to do with the variety of ways that Jesus can be seen in the Old Testament. As I mentioned in my review of Sidney Greidanus, there are a variety of ways to see Christ in the Old Testament. This does not mean that a given passage, however, has more than one ultimate meaning. Otherwise, we will fall foul of the first chapter of the WCF, which says that the true and full sense of Scripture is not manifold but one (I wonder if the “two readings” view can really agree with WCF 1.9). The two readings view seems to me to say that the OT text has two meanings: the original one and the Christological one, and that they don’t have to match up or even connect (usually taking the historical critical method for granted here). Both camps in this debate would agree that there is progress of understanding the OT text. Otherwise we would have no New Testament. But Jesus says that He IS the meaning of the Old Testament in John 5 and Luke 24. He is not an add-on, or an afterthought. Yes, in some ways, Jesus is a surprise. But not completely. Otherwise, Abraham could not have rejoiced to see His day. The real question is not whether there is more than one way to see Jesus in the Old Testament, but whether He is there in the Old Testament at all! The two readings view seems to suggest that Jesus is not properly there at all, but is read into the Old Testament by means of Second Temple Jewish hermeneutical means (i.e., rabbinical means).

The second issue that I wish to bring up is whether biblical theology is “greatly weakened” at WTS, as Davis says. Yes, Enns and Green are not there anymore. Neither is McCartney. Instead, they have Beale and Duguid. My question is this: how can biblical theology be “greatly weakened” at WTS when two of biblical theology’s greatest practitioners have just joined the faculty? Beale’s greatest strength is in seeing how the New Testament reads the Old Testament. And he has written a mammoth New Testament Biblical Theology that will, I am sure, prove to be a classic. Duguid’s OT commentaries are some of the very finest OT exegesis I have seen, and very much in the Vossian BT tradition.

The third issue is the perennial one of the relationship of biblical theology to systematic theology (BT to ST). Davis believes that the two are yoke-fellows. He looks at the statement of the affirmations and denials and wonders if they haven’t put systematic theology in the untenable position of being unanswerable to Scripture. Having sat under Gaffin for five classes and received about 50% exegesis and 50% systematizing, I can say that, for the Westminster ST faculty, ST is always answerable to Scripture! The WTS faculty would NEVER say that ST equals the Bible. I do not think the affirmations and denials are saying that, either. The affirmations and denials statement was aimed at the unnatural separation of BT and ST that the two readings view advocates. It does not actually address the place of ST in the theological encyclopedia. I have talked rather extensively with the current ST faculty about the questions of encyclopedia, and they are agreed that ALL the theological disciplines are inter-connected and mutually inter-dependent. My question is this: why would we want to set any of the theological disciplines in tension with any of the others? As Davis’s example of a sermon shows, all the disciplines need to come to bear on the application. The analogy I use is that of a very heavy drill. A heavy drill has a lots of different parts to it all aimed at one point: the drill bit going through whatever material is present. That point of the drill is like application: where the rubber hits the road. But the more we have in terms of the other disciplines informing that application, the heavier and deeper the drill will penetrate the human heart. I would argue that it is the two readings view which separates BT from ST. Enns and Green don’t particularly like ST. They are suspicious of something that might put a straight-jacket on exegesis. This is not how ST should be thought of in relation to exegesis or BT. ST provides the safe fence outside of which exegesis and BT will find danger, not creative freedom. The fence can be moved, but Proverbs warns us against moving the landmark. There is a faith once for all given to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching. BT draws a line, and ST draws a circle.

Fourthly, that Vos says what he says does not prove that the main hermeneutical method that the apostles and Jesus used was a Second Temple Jewish rabbinical method. Nor does it prove that Jesus was an imposition on the OT text. That Vos says what he says in the quotation, therefore, does not disprove WTS’s point, as it is not directly relevant to whether Jesus is natively present in the Old Testament or not, which is the issue under consideration. After all, Paul quoted from heathen poets and philosophers in the New Testament as well. Does that prove that his hermeneutic is pagan? Using the language and concepts of the day does not equal a hermeneutical method.

Fifthly, what is it about Green’s method that is contrary to the Westminster Standards? I have brought up one point (the true and full meaning of Scripture being not manifold but one). Another point that we must bear in mind here is the unity of the covenant of grace, as WCF 7 puts it so well. Were the types of the Old Testament intended to prefigure Christ? The WCF says that they DO prefigure Christ. Period. They do not prefigure Christ only in hindsight, only on a second reading. Davis actually grants this point in the movie illustration, when he agrees with Gaffin. The problem for Davis here is that Gaffin and Green cannot both be correct on this point. Davis tries valiantly to reconcile the two, but I believe he cannot do so.

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20 Comments

  1. Rob de Roos said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

    One cannot furrow a line of interpretation apart from a tradition. The issue is whether one is following an established line of tradition or one establishing one anew. If it becomes clear over time that a line of interpretation is denying and denigrating an established line of tradition however subtle then it should be clear this line of interpretation is a new tradition. Also, if one vaguely claims assent to the general idea of the enterprise that is involved in such a tradition, it should not be seen as equivalent to commitment an established line of tradition.

  2. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 8:50 am

    GB
    In reading this I am reminded of this post by Batzig that you might appreciate if you have not seen it already.

    “How did Jesus Read the Old testament”? …

    http://www.christwardcollective.com/christward/how-did-jesus-read-the-old-testament#.U7P_c-wo6M8

  3. Reed Here said,

    July 2, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Lane, grateful for your post. Dr. Gaffin was and is my brightest blessing from WTS, among a stellar collection of blessings. Dr. Davis was a part of that constellation. I think you’re reading Dr. Davis fairly, and responding helpfully.

    Yes, in terms of strength vs. weakness at WTS, one has to only look at Beale’s Revelation commentary to see that there is no danger of weakness. While his NT Theology gives evidence to this, I think the depth of the OT-NT interaction in his commentary belies any question of weakness. Rather, the question is whether Beale’s is the better approach to the OT-NT question. I believe it is.

    I agree with Dr. Davis’ appreciation for Dr. Green’s movie analogy, the aha-moment when the meaning pregnant but not revealed finally becomes clear near the end of the movie. I appreciate how this illustrates the idea of OT shadows vs. NT revealing, types/anti-types.

    Yet I think, as you note here, it entails too much, and offers injury to the unity of the meaning in the Bible. In some sense the Christotelic approach relies on Brown’s sensus plenior position: the human meaning, while not contradictory to the divine meaning, is but a part of the whole divine meaning.

    Contrary, a Christocentric approach avoids this error. The promise of a Messiah made in Gn 3:15 becomes the hermeneutical anchor point for a unitary meaning throughout the rest of Scripture. This is a unitary meaning progressively made more clear in its details, but not made more full in terms of its intent.

    The meaning intended in the full revelation of Christ in the NT was fully intended in Moses’ recording of Abraham’s response to the promise of God in Gn 12. We know this IS true because Paul tells us that Abraham was trusting the promise of the gospel itself (Gal 3:8). The difference between the two texts is NOT less-full/more full meaning, but less-clear/more-clear meaning.

    This still allows for the aha-moment that Dr. Davis and I find so appealing. It does not allow for a hair-splitting of meaning that ends up losing credibility as anything we recognize as to how the process of communicating meaning works. The person who says he means one thing, but then later on says, “well, I actually mean something more,” is open to the charge of deception. This is why, while appreciating Dr. Green’s willingness to address the “messiness” of the OT, I wasn’t convinced of the Christotelic solution he offered.

    Finally, I think you offered a fair answer to Dr. Davis’ final question. I was thinking of another answer.

    I do not think WTS has presented Dr. Green’s leaving as necessarily a difference over doctrinal standards. Instead I thought they very carefully and graciously suggested that this parting of the ways is a difference over teaching approaches to a particular topic within the curriculum assigned to him. WTS did not ask Dr. Green to leave because they think he is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. They asked him to leave because they disagree with his approach to explaining a key subject matter in the curriculum.

    This is a perfectly appropriate action for an education institution. I expect if the previous imbroglio with Dr. Enns was not in the background, Dr. Green’s leaving would still be lamented by some. Yet I expect that it would not have garnered an intensity that prompted Dr. Davis to write, twice now.

  4. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Reed, I believe you are correct in your analysis of Green’s position vid a vis the sensus plenior is correct but not your conclusion that such a position is false and damages the unity of Scripture. I believe Green’s position is correct and basically in line with the hermeneutics of Augustine as explicated in De Doctrina Christiana. You say that Green’s hermeneutic is within confessional bounds and I agree. Even though I see what you are saying about the unity of the curriculum, I think there is every reason to allow, indeed encourage, a certain amount of diversity in a seminary faculty. Otherwise people begin to believ that their own eccentric version of reformed theology just is reformed theology full stop. And this leads to fractious infighting and schism.

  5. Mark G said,

    July 2, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    …and isn’t that Bill Even’s argument (at least one of them) in a nutshell? E.G., yeah, maybe Green uses a “Christotelic” two-readings approach but this is appropriately qualified such that it is not the same Christotelic approach as that of Peter Enns or Dan McCartney.

  6. Reed Here said,

    July 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    No, Nathanael, not saying the Christotelic position is within bounds of the WS. I think Lane’s final comment offers some fair criticism in this regard.

  7. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Well, I guess it’s good to find out I’m heretical and sub-Presbyterian.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Nathanael, the tone of my post is irenic and I attempt to be as fair as I can while upholding confessional fidelity. Your tone seems to be almost like personal insults are headed your way. Heresy is way too strong a word to use of Green’s positions. It seems to me to be out of accord with the confession, but so are my very good Baptist friends. You need to dial down your temp a bit, my friend.

  9. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Sorry about that outburst; I’m a recent WTS grad (2009) and I’m a little raw about this issue. Perhaps you can understand that I would rather unhappy to see the view of Green and Fantuzzo on the relationship between OT and NT, to which I subscribe, described as non-confessional and unbiblical.

  10. Nathanael Johnston said,

    July 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    And by 2009 I meant 2012; I started in 2009.

  11. Reed Here said,

    July 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Nathanael, ’99 grad here. I greatly appreciated Dr. Green’s Christotelic approach and for a number of years afterward I saw it as a solution without loose ends. It was only after spending time outside the confines of the classroom that I began to appreciate some of the sharpening criticisms being offered.

    Without trying to be arrogant in the least let me suggest maybe some more time will soften your appreciation of the differences and not provoke such strong reactions.

    Consider that in saying it is not consistent with the Confession Lane is not saying that it is unbiblical. I.e., these things are not matters of heresy but of heterodoxy. As you know from our studies in Church history, two sides in such a debate among brothers can easily exchange the labels orthodox vs. heterodox. To be sure the one wearing heterodox label at any moment doesn’t like it, but he need not fear that his brother is hanging it on him in order to do him harm.

    Blessings.

  12. Joel S. said,

    July 3, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Thanks Lane and Reed for the post and subsequent comments.

    The major shift at Westminster is not coming from Dr. Green, but from the Board as they narrow allowable interpretations on the relationship between OT and NT.

    This is the lament from many regarding the weakened Biblical Theology of the seminary as a whole. One need only to look back to ETS in 2003 to see major differences on these issues between WTS at that time and Dr. Beale.

    In 2009, the Board voted unanimously in approval of Dr. Green’s views.

    So as a parallel, consider a pastor laboring for 21 years in the same pulpit. Let’s call him Pastor Green. A faithful man laboring to love those under his care. He enjoys good standing in his Presbytery through the first 21 years. During that time, fellow pastors have come and gone, but Pastor Green continues to work – focused on the sheep God has put under his care. His views within his sermons stay consistent.

    After 17 years a study committee is appointed to look at a particular issue and this pastor is affirmed unanimously. Then just 3.5 years later, some men in the presbytery decide that they want to study this issue again. At that point, while Pastor Green’s views are unchanged, they decide that he is not confessional and strongly encourage him to “retire.”

    Some may respond, “It’s the presbtery’s job to determine what is confessional and what is not.” But for many others, there is great wonder at how much the presbytery itself has narrowed theologically that it would come to this – and realize that many of the men who used to labor within their bounds, would no longer receive welcome, but a label of “heterodoxy.”

  13. greenbaggins said,

    July 3, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Joel, the difficulty with the analogy is that the board previously had not studied the issues in depth at all and did not know what was at stake. During the 3.5 years that they studied this, not only did they come to know what the issues were, but also several of the board members changed. So did they become narrower? Yes, one could say that. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Maybe they were too broad before. I would argue that they were too broad before.

  14. Joel S. said,

    July 3, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Thanks Lane.

    Relative to the last 30 years (at a minimum), the current Board members have narrowed the view of WTS.

    I think you would agree that a board (or presbytery) need not study an issue in depth if a member’s views are viewed aberrant (e.g. if a member of your session began teaching something you thought in error, would you wait until some future sabbatical to address it?). When you consider the published views of the faculty over the past 30 years, there was no question during that time of their confessional status by the various former board members.

    So not a single board composite at WTS came to your conclusion for 30 years regarding things being too broad. That changed in 2013 with current board members and administration.

    I understand that you agree with them. The sad reality is that when words like heterodoxy and unconfessional enter the conversation, it breaks the unity of our diversity.

    You may think it’s a necessary break in order to root out unacceptable views. I disagree.

  15. Stephen said,

    July 3, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Lane (13),

    How do you know that “during the 3.5 years [the board members] studied this” issue? Elsewhere I have also seen it claimed that the board (likely?) repeatedly question Professor Green in the interim, giving him chances to articulate and defend his position. Does anyone have knowledge that even this, in fact, happened?

    As to the board members and how “a few of them changed,” it is still pretty remarkable, isn’t it, for the board to reverse from an 18-0 unanimous affirmation of Professor Green? So basically you are saying that in 2013 the Board admitted that they were wrong in 2009 and did not do a very good job examining Professor Green? Does anyone know who was on the board committee that initially examined Professor Green in 2009?

  16. Reed Here said,

    July 3, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Joel, [editing my comment here to try and be a bit more gracious. Please forgive any unkind tone in the previous.]

    I recognize you are seeking to express your disappointment and disagreement with WTS’ decision. I recognize you are not seeking to be pejorative yourself. I accept and acknowledge that you find the use of words such as “confession” and “heterodox” to come across in a pejorative tone.

    As to these terms, let me remove any consideration of a pejorative sense, as it is not meant at all. I sought to use these terms in a manner that removed any allowance for unkind inferences. I’ve only tried to use them merely adequate technical references to describe differences here. Yes, they can be be used pejoratively, but not necessarily. I eschew any such inferences. (I even sought to observe that one man’s heterodoxy is another’s orthodoxy. I.e., I recognize we’re dealing with opinion).

    In this vein, let me ask you to clarify or even refrain from your use of words such as “narrow” (-ing, -ed) with regard to WTS here. In contemporary discussions, especially regarding academic circumstances, that word has a decidedly pejorative cast to it. I’m sure you do not mean this, but the tone of your comments leaves an impression that you think WTS’s actions were not simply one’s your disagree with, but somehow morally inferior, and/or morally unfair at the least. I won’t say you are inferring that they’ve sinned. Yet the tenor of your comments does give one cause to ask if you think they’ve sinned.

    I’ll not do that, sufficing to ask you to consider if you think this decision needs to be cast in such contentious language.

    For the record I’ll note WTS’ original statement, and even Dr. Gaffin’s rejoinder to Dr. Davis does not in fact lend itself to those kinds of perjorating characterizations. In their disagreement with Dr. Green they have sought to be careful to not cast aspersions even in his direction. I am grateful for the mature and humble effort to communicate their decision in as gracious a manner as possible. Maybe we can follow their example.

    All I’m asking in assessing the merits of the decision to ask Dr. Green to retire, we not let discussions of doctrinal differences weigh us down into an absence of expressing our love and commitment one another.

  17. Tim Harris said,

    July 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    “always wanting to learn more” is not necessarily a sign of humility. Especially at a certain stage of life.

  18. roberty bob said,

    July 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    So, there is one true faith in all creation centered in the Christ of God, God’s Word in the flesh dwelling among us. The coming of the Christ into the world did mark the founding of a new religion — Christianity — as so many people suppose, but the revelation of the true faith that was in the world from beginning when man walked with the Lord and called upon his name. This true faith was watered and nurtured until the appointed time of its flowering at the appearing of Christ. The faithful of the old covenant were of the same religion as the faithful of the new covenant, and so were known as saints of the Most High. The Christian faith is not an offshoot of their faith, but its true continuation.

  19. roberty bob said,

    July 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    oops . . . “did NOT mark the founding of a new religion . . . “

  20. Stuart (OPC) said,

    September 19, 2014 at 8:30 am

    A couple of things:
    Regarding post #4 and the “new direction for WTS”: As I suggested in post #1, for me the Enns stuff related thinking was the “new direction” of WTS that I am happy is now being dispensed with. Now that Enns has been “liberated” from the constraints on WTS faculty we see the true “trajectory” (he likes that word in I&I) of his thought. Paul erred by embracing a moveable well myth; so Paul can err about a real Adam and Eve. The latter is the same thing Van Til expressed dismay about when a “smart” fellow named Kuitert was teaching at the Free University of Amsterdam and regarded Adam as a “teaching model.” Van Til was not afraid of a slippery slope fallacy (see his article on the “Umkehr at Amsterdam”). Van Til’s message and militancy was the old direction at WTS that I remember. An internet article (FWIW) indicated Kuitert ended up denying the deity of Christ.
    Regarding post #8 and Christotelic: Maybe not everyone who uses that term thinks Jesus erred but it looks to me like Enns does. His association with the new label for a “new direction” is reason enough to be concerned. I suspect that initially what he was doing at WTS was close enough to the kind of biblical theology of Clowney, Vos, Gaffin, and Kline (and now Beale) that it raised no red flags and so some people are still wondering what all the fuss is about (e.g. Claire Davis). The discontinuity emphasis I see in Enns amounts to absolute difference, i.e. error, distortion, or lying on the part of NT interpreters of the OT. Since Paul actually believed the myth, it’s not lying. I don’t know as much about Green, Fantuzzo, or Longman but if they take the Enns approach, I am glad they are not at WTS.


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