Pastoral Advice on Eastern Orthodoxy

Posted by David Gadbois

With the recent news that Hank Hanegraaff has been received as a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it might be helpful to post the report on Eastern Orthodoxy that Classis Southwest of the URCNA adopted as pastoral advice at the recent classis meeting.  The reader can download it here.  It deals with some of the major issues that have attracted former members of our churches to depart for Eastern Orthodoxy, and provides guidance for ministering to those considering Eastern Orthodoxy.  It includes a lengthy appendix by Dr. Robert Godfrey on the Roman Catholic Church, due to the fact that the essay contains material that overlaps with many of the major issues relating to Eastern Orthodoxy.

To briefly comment on Hanegraaff, from what I have read he was raised in the Christian Reformed Church as the son of a minister, but for some reason as an adult he drifted into broad evangelicalism as an amillenial, baptistic Arminian.  He never received seminary training, and was ordained by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel.  Until he makes an explicit statement on the matter, it is difficult to speculate on what drew him to Eastern Orthodoxy.  I will say that it is unfortunate that he did not resign from the Christian Research Institute, or was not forced out, when he became an EO catechumen.

The temptations that Eastern Orthodoxy offers to evangelicals are surely stronger than the temptations that can be offered to Reformed believers attending solid confessional churches.  Nonetheless many of the temptations are the same; temptations such as the aesthetic appeal and what Dr. Scott Clark has termed the Illegitimate Quest for Certainty.  We shouldn’t be too proud, because recent history has shown that Reformed churches aren’t immune to having members who are seduced by such errors leave the faith.

I have heard reports that Reformed seminaries, even seminaries we would consider strongly confessional and of high educational standard, are not properly preparing ministers to deal with the modern apologetic claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  I’d be curious if that is the experience of others in the Green Baggins readership.  Perhaps that problem can be fingered as one of the root causes behind many of the recent apostasies to Rome and EO.

A Friendly Introduction to Biblical Literacy

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around here sometimes!)

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a quirky biblical literacy resource that I created this year. Originally commissioned for a women’s Bible study conference last fall, this half-hour talk instructs beginning Bible students in the difference between “doing devotions” and studying a passage, using Isaiah 61 to reinforce my main points.

It’s meant to be a primer, so the content won’t interest most readers of this blog. But if you listen for just a few minutes, you’ll likely think of a few people who would benefit from this kind of friendly instruction. (Of course, if you listen to the whole thing I will be flattered!)

This talk is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I created slides to accompany it, for the sake of visual learners. The talk can be enjoyed profitably just as an audio recording, too. Please pass this link along, as appropriate. Thanks!

Green Baggins Is Going OPC

It is now official. I have been examined and approved by the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest for a call from Momence OPC, which is south of Chicago about 35 or 40 miles. The presbytery is an extremely congenial presbytery, full of vanilla presbyterians like myself. I want my friends in the PCA to know that I still love the PCA, and I did not leave primarily for ideological reasons. The main reason was that Momence OPC and I really hit it off, and we appear to be a good fit for each other. I had applied to churches in several NAPARC denominations, but this church is the one that worked out. That being said, I will not particularly miss the progressive wing of the PCA, and I daresay that some of them will not miss me! I will continue, however, to pray for my confessional brothers and sisters in the PCA, that they will not compromise, but will hold fast the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I will continue also to follow the PCA with interest and prayer. I cannot forget a denomination of which I have been a part for 38 years!

The OPC Republication Report, Part 11

In this post, we look at Part I, chapter 3, sections 3 and 4 of the report, the historical examination of the Westminster divines’ exegesis of key passages. The third section starts out by noticing that certain passages that speak of a works principle are applied to the Mosaic economy in the prooftexts of the Westminster Assembly. However, the question that remains when this is noted is whether this supports a Westminsterian substantial republication idea, or some other position. The range of the question must be carefully noted here, for they are not asking what is the range of Westminsterian opinion on the Mosaic economy as a whole. Rather, the inquiry focuses on the divines’ exegesis of key passages that were cited in the prooftexts.

Their conclusion surprised them a bit. There does not seem to be much evidence in the exegesis of those texts for a substantial republication idea. It looks as though William Gouge is the only divine who would seem to point in that direction. There is ample evidence for other positions, such as the position of William Strong, who held that the CoW is always republished with regard to unbelievers (I hold this position at the least, as indeed, probably most Reformed folk do who hold to the CoW at all). The committee also found evidence for the view that the CoW is administratively republished in the Mosaic economy as an equivalent of the pedagogical use of the law (this also seems reasonable to me).

The fourth section asks questions regarding trajectories. The trajectory of a substantial republication does not seem justified by the Standards. Even if the door is “cracked open” a little bit, that does not change the overall situation. The basic covenantal theology of the Westminster Standards is that the substance of the CoG is repeated in all the post-lapsarian covenantal iterations. If there is an administrative overlay of something else, that can in no way compromise the underlying continuity of the substance. On the level of covenantal administration, the Westminster Standards freely acknowledge redemptive-historical change (“differently administered in the time of the law, and the time of the gospel” in WCF 7.5 and similar language in other places).

It seems plain to this writer that the term “substantial” is important to define. If “substantial” means “of the substance of the covenant,” then it is obvious that the Mosaic economy is not a republication of the CoW in this substantial sense. However, if the word “substantial” is used in some other sense, then there might be a bit more room for discussion.

Again, the larger questions have to do with how God treated Israel in the land, so I will take another stab at this question. On the one hand, if Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of their own perfect and personal obedience, then why weren’t they kicked out of the land far sooner than they were? If Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of Christ’s perfect and personal obedience, then why would they ever be kicked out, unless faith was made a necessary instrument? It seems dubious to me, however, to make acquisition or retention of the land dependent on the instrument of faith. Obedience and disobedience seem clearly to be a factor in Israel’s retention of the land, but if it is not perfect and personal obedience, then how do we understand this conundrum?

While I haven’t yet worked out all the details, it still seems to me profitable to understand the relationship between God and Israel as being a filial one at just this point. Just as a father might make retention of a place in the home to be dependent on the son obeying certain rules, so also might God have done. The underlying relationship is not based on works, but on the grace of filial adoptive relationship (and salvation is of grace). This would help explain why there was so much slack built in to the arrangement (an earthly father would surely not kick out his son from the home on the first or even tenth violation of the rules). However, as a long-standing pattern of disobedience started to emerge in Israel’s history, the Heavenly Father (slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness), in His good timing, decided (according to His eternal plan, of course) that filial discipline was needed. Hence the exile. Just as an earthly father may come to the point where he decides that his son is so consistently disobedient that the arrangement can no longer continue, but that discipline is needed, and kicks the son out of the house in order to bring him to his senses, so also God saw that discipline was needed for Israel and Judah. Given the fact that the situation in the Garden of Eden was so much stricter, and that one instance of disobedience only was required to break the covenant completely, I think the most we can say is that there are quite possibly echoes of Eden in the Mosaic economy. Indeed, the very fact that so much slack is built in to the Mosaic economy must be proof against a substantial republication idea. God did not deal with Israel’s sins as Israel deserved.

On this understanding, one crucial question must be asked: how does this idea of fatherly disciplne square with the divorce language of the prophets and the marital metaphors concomitant with the situation? First of all, it must be noted that more than one metaphor is appropriate when considering God’s relationship to His people. The people of God are both God’s adopted children, and, at the same time, the bride of Christ. Even the divorce language of the prophets, however, must be softened by the situation of Hosea pursuing after his bride, even after her unfaithfulness. There is always a remnant. God never abandoned His people, even in the exile, as Ezekiel and Daniel well attest. I believe that the language of a final end must be interpreted as the language of shock and awe, used to bring God’s people to their senses. If one takes the language of a final end in an absolute sense, then we cannot make sense of the return or the idea of a remnant. In other words, the metaphors of adoption and marriage in the Old Testament cannot be pressed beyond their proper boundaries so as to come into conflict with one another.

A Van Til-Clark Discussion on Archetypal-Ectypal Knowledge

I am not going to get into a discussion of the interpretation of the Van Til-Clark debate, and whether they were talking past each other or not. I am only going to address a small part of the discussion, namely, the difference between archetypal and ectypal knowledge, and whether this forms an area of common ground between God and man.

First, some definitions are in order. The archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction is not by any means original with Van Til. It comes from Protestant Scholasticism. For instance, see the first few chapters of Markius’ Compendium Theologiae Christianae. Archetypal knowledge is the knowledge that God has. Ectypal knowledge is the knowledge that creatures have. The scholastics usually divided ectypal knowledge into the knowledge of angels and humans. Then human knowledge was further subdivided into the knowledge of man at creation, the knowledge of man as distorted by the Fall, the knowledge of the pilgrim, the knowledge of the blessed (glorified in heaven), and the knowledge of Christ as the God-man, Who had two knowledges, if you will, the archetypal knowledge of God according to the divine nature, and the knowledge of the hypostatic union as the God-man.

One of the points at issue, and the one most controverted, is whether God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide at any point. Usually those of the Clarkian persuasion will say that of course it must coincide, or else we are doomed to complete skepticism and we cannot know anything correctly. Those who follow Van Til believe that such a coinciding would violate the Creator-creature distinction. Sometimes a quantitative/qualitative distinction is introduced here as well. Those of the Clarkian persuasion would say that God knows a greater number of thoughts than we do, but that there are at least some thoughts that God and man have in common. To put it in its most forceful way, wouldn’t God have to know all ectypal knowledge in order to be omniscient? If we look at a pencil, and can agree that a human knowledge of a pencil might extend to its molecular structure, wouldn’t God also have to know the way in which we know the pencil in order to be omniscient? Wouldn’t there be overlap precisely at that point between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge? Van Til and his followers would claim that there is a qualitative distinction between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge just as there is a qualitative difference between God’s being and our being.

So what am I adding to this conversation? I believe that there is a way beyond the forceful way of putting things that I mentioned. It has to do with the atomization of knowledge implied in Clark’s way of thinking. By putting the matter in quantitative terms, God’s thoughts, while infinite in number, are thought of as building blocks. They are discrete points in a matrix, if you will, that extend infinitely in all directions. But God’s knowledge cannot be atomized in this way. If Van Til is correct in his analysis of facts having both substance and context, then the holistic context of all things (and by this context I am NOT positing some sort of higher reality to which both God and creation belong), including Himself, is always the context for God knowing all things, including His knowledge of ectypal knowledge. We cannot atomize God’s knowledge of ectypal knowledge from the rest of God’s knowledge. That context is one that humans will never and can never share, since that context would include God Himself in all His fullness. God’s knowledge is whole, just like His being is a simple whole. The simplicity of God prevents our dividing God into pieces. Therefore, His knowledge must be likewise one whole.

So this formulation of things must also answer the objection: how can our knowledge be true at all? Are we doomed to skepticism? The answer is a simple no, because of God’s self-revelation to us in both nature and Scripture. We would be doomed to skepticism if God did not reveal Himself to us, because then we would have no test of knowledge given to us by God. This would also answer the possible charge that we have descended into Kantianism (the idea that we cannot know anything in the noumenal realm, but only believe). If God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, then we would indeed know nothing. However, revelation is God’s way of ensuring that we can know things rightly, even if in a limited creaturely way. God’s revelation is an anchor that tethers all human knowledge.

The other objection that must be answered is this: is God’s knowledge then the all-encompassing whole that everything belongs to? Do we lapse into a form of idealism by saying this? Again the answer is no, simply because God’s knowledge is distinct from creation itself, just as God’s being is distinct from creation. We cannot separate epistemology from ontology in our thinking.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 10

In this post, we will cover Part I, Chapter 3, sections I and II of the report, dealing with creation, law, and covenant.

The committee makes a very important point with regard to creation and covenant, and that is that creation and covenant are not synonymous. It is quite true that the covenant of works was a special act of providence (providence set over against creation). However, the committee is equally clear that this point does not preclude republication views by itself, since some republication advocates appear to hold to a closer relationship of creation to covenant, whereas others do not (although they give no citations here, which would have been helpful).

The second section deals with the relationship of law and covenant, which is fairly complicated. They have in common that they both require perfect and personal obedience. However, law is something imprinted on the human heart at creation, whereas covenant is not. The WS’s treatment of both is fairly nuanced. Their description is that covenant is a broader category than law. However, the requirements of perfect and personal obedience, combined with the sanctions for disobedience and blessings for obedience have made republication a possibility, especially in Hodge and the Marrow men.

New Book on Adoption

My friend has finally finished his published book on adoption, and it looks to be a dandy. I have only read the sample so far, but it looks to be encyclopedically informed, confessionally Reformed, exegetically sensitive, Vossian biblical-theologically, historically exhaustive, systematic theologically incisive, and pastorally rich. Adoption really is the most under-rated doctrine of all. It is fully as important as justification itself, and is a key plank of union with Christ, which has finally come into its own. Take it and read!

Dating the Israelite Exodus from Egypt

Posted by David Gadbois

In 2014 a filmmaker named Timothy Mahoney released the documentary Patterns of Evidence, seeking to demonstrate the historical veracity of the Exodus account, largely through its sympathetic treatment (if not outright endorsement) of a revisionist timeline known as the New Chronology, an idea that has its genesis in English Egyptologist David Rohl.  Mahoney is not a scholar but claims to have spent over a decade of research on the film, and while he seems very well-meaning it must be said that this thesis does more harm than good to those believers and unbelievers who are making an honest inquiry into the matter.

The movie has since made its way to Netflix, and has become influential to many evangelicals.  Unfortunately, this is leading many people down the blind alley of the New Chronology.  This scheme down-dates the traditional Egyptian chronology by several centuries.  There is no need to embrace a revisionist timeline.  It is imperative that we, as Christians, handle the matters of biblical history with great care, so that in our apologetic witness we would not give reason for skeptics to cast doubt on the biblical testimony.  The truth matters and, indeed, God is truth.

The dating of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a fairly daunting issue even for scholars who specialize in the relevant historical fields and devote their lives to such issues.  It is even more daunting for laymen such as myself to sift through such matters.  But we can at least consider an overview of the positions held by sound, contemporary scholars.

At this time Ted Wright, Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing, and Douglas Petrovich are at the forefront in defending a 15th century exodus from Egypt (1446/7 BC).

On the other side, favoring a 13th century exodus under the pharaoh Ramses II, are Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier (as of at least 2007).  While their conclusions may not be correct, I consider their motives and expertise unimpeachable.

John Currid does seem warm to the idea of a 13th century exodus in the EP Study Commentary of Exodus vol. 1 (2014, first published in 2000), but nonetheless concludes “For now, the date of the exodus and the conquest must remain an open question.  More evidence is needed.  I would agree with Waltke that a definitive verdict cannot be arrived at ‘until more data puts the date of the conquest beyond reasonable doubt.  If that be true, either date is an acceptable working hypothesis, and neither date should be held dogmatically.'”

From what I can tell, Bruce Waltke seems to have gone from a firm 15th century advocate to saying that the matter is “uncertain” in his OT Theology (2007).

More recently, Duane Garrett has echoed this uncertainty in his Exodus commentary (Kregel Exegetical Library, 2014).  He provides a helpful, up-to-date, and balanced overview of the various positions, and covers the merits of not only the Early Date (15th century) and Late Date (13th century) but also a Very Early Date (16th century) and a Very Late Date (12th century).  He only dismisses “radical revisions to Egyptian chronology and history carried out by amateurs and by a few unconventional scholars” such as David Rohl (p. 102, see fn).

I mention the above names for several reasons: 1.  because they are alive and can be expected to express reasonably up-to-date scholarship 2.  because they are reformed or evangelical, as best as I can tell, or at least are highly sympathetic to the biblical account.  As such I believe they are arguing in good faith.  3.  because they have relevant specialization and expertise on the subject.  As far as I can tell, everyone listed except Wright and Kitchen have PhD’s in relevant fields, and collectively the breadth of their expertise covers ANE history, religions, archeology, semitic languages, Egyptology, middle Egyptian, and so on.

The most relevant, direct evangelical exchange on the subject is probably the back-and-forth between Bryant Wood and James Hoffmeier found in JETS 48/3 and 50/2 (here and here).

The most interesting recent developments on the archaeological side of the issue, that post-date the above literature, come from Douglas Petrovich.  He has maintained for some time that the pharaoh of the Exodus is Amenhotep II, and that the timing was 1446 B.C. (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, TMSJ 17/1).  Moreover, he holds that the Israelites departed from their dwelling place in the archaeological site now known as Avaris.  In this he is in line with the views of Bryant Wood.  He just recently earned his PhD in ANE history and archeology from the University of Toronto (where Wood and Hoffmeier also earned their doctorates), and made a bit of news last year when he claimed that ancient Hebrew was the first proto-consonantal alphabet and derivative of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  He published the case for this thesis in The World’s Oldest Alphabet:  Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script.

This finding goes back to only 2012. With the names of three biblical characters in view on the materials he studied, the implications obviously go above and beyond the nature of the written Hebrew language.

Moreover, he believes that recent Austrian-led archaeological digs at Avaris have turned up evidence that the site was abruptly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II.  He made this case in  The Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5/2.  He intended to write a book, “Evidence of Israelites in Egypt”, based on this and other recent archaeological evidence.  After inquiring about the status of the book via e-mail correspondence to Dr. Petrovich, he wrote back and indicated that the timing of publication of this book is currently uncertain.  He decided to publish the book on the Hebrew alphabet first, since he considered that thesis to be more unassailable in the scholarly community.

I can only mention in passing that there is, likewise, recent archaeological evidence that has surfaced regarding Israel’s conquest of Canaan in a compatible time-frame, for instance at the site of Ai.

Hopefully the Lord will continue to bless this generation as more archaeological work is done and the data continue to shed light on this difficult topic.  For now, I would assert that the revisionist timeline of Rohl is an unnecessary diversion.  It would be far wiser to pay attention to the work of the solid evangelical scholars mentioned above.  In that regard, I believe that the legitimacy of criticisms of the historicity of the exodus on the basis of archaeological evidence is quickly evaporating.

 ***Post script.  I would not want to dissuade anyone who is reasonably informed and of a discerning spirit to view Patterns of Evidence.  It is an entertaining documentary, with very high production values, and it does retain redeeming features:  the archaeology of Jericho, Joseph’s tomb, the Merneptah Stele, the Berlin Fragment, and interviews with a handful of conservative scholars.

The OPC Republication, Part 9

In this post, we will address the interpretation of WCF 19, a vitally important point to the whole debate. For ease of reference, sections 1-3 of chapter 19 will be reproduced here in full:

19:1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

19:2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.

19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

I have not found republication arguments convincing on this section. For one thing, no republication advocate believes that the Mosaic economy required personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Of course, they usually have an answer for this difference, namely, that the works required in the Mosaic economy are typological.

For another thing, as the committee notes, the words “as such” in section 2 do not refer to “law as a covenant of works,” but rather to “perfect rule of righteousness.” So, while it is true that the three paragraphs need to be read together, and not as completely separate, this fact does not prove the republication theory.

However, I am just as equally unconvinced that this passage actively forbids all forms of republication. As the committee says, there is not enough evidence here to judge one way or the other. Not even section 6 is conclusive. I am not sure what significance the committee notices in the comma after “works” in section 6. It does not seem to me to affect the sense much, especially when one considers that the 17th century authors tended to be somewhat comma-happy, putting them in even in places where we might not.

Their conclusion is very cautious: at this point in their inquiry, they do not see the WCF as either blessing republication or condemning it.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 8

In this post we will address Part I, Chapter 2, section III B of the report, entitled “Not Names, But Things.” The main burden of the section is to note that Reformation era writers often relied on juxtaposition for qualification, especially when it comes to any kind of formulation of republication. Robert Baillie’s statements are an excellent example of this principle. The reason why it is important is that the juxtaposition needs to be seen and acknowledged, or else a particular writer might be relegated to the realm of the heterodox. Baillie’s own position is that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace (or else the Old Testament fathers are lost), but that the clothing, as it were, is of the covenant of works, and is tied to temporal blessings. But this clothing does not change the substance of the Mosaic economy into anything mixed. If one part of Baillie is quoted, and another part ignored, then a highly distorted picture of his views could emerge. The committee recommends similar care with regard to modern advocates of republication.

This whole principle is then placed in a larger context of the word/concept distinction. They argue that it is not problematic to call the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works. The term itself does not convey much. It is rather what is meant by the terms in the way they are used that has to be ascertained. It is a good caution for anyone in the debate to slow down and listen more carefully. Sometimes I get the impression that critics of republication don’t always listen very carefully, or else they sometimes (not always!) listen to secondary sources before primary (like using Patrick Ramsey for interpreting Kline instead of Kline for interpreting Kline).

« Older entries