Response to Reggie Kidd, part 3

I will not respond to his assertions about Richard Hays, since I am not familiar with his writings. I will leave that for someone who has read Hays (someone please pick up that slack!). I will focus this post on N.T. Wright.

Battle as relentlessly and courageously as the Church of England’s N.T. Wright does to champion the view that Paul’s theology is animated by a comprehensive and integrated story of promise and fulfillment — scoring points against both the postmodern deconstruction of the biblical meta-narrative and the dispensational fracturing of the singular story of “the Israel of God” into dichotomous stories of “Israel” versus the “church” — and what do you get from your potential allies in the conservative reformed world? How about getting dismissed as importing an alien biblical theology into the established categories of systematic theology, as being vague about the atonement, and as compromising biblical authority?

Let me ask this question: is N.T. Wright the first theologian to see Paul’s theology as “a comprehensive and integrated story of promise and fulfillment?” How about Vos, Ridderbos, de Graaf, Calvin, Hodge, Warfield, Gaffin, and a whole host of others? I, for one, have found N.T. Wright’s most helpful points to be in this very area, and I applaud Wright for his insight into these points. I would unhesitatingly side with Wright on the questions of dispensationalism, Christ’s fulfilling Israel’s story, and the resultant interpretation of Galatians 3, for one passage. But that is very, very far from being the point at which the critics object. The point at which the critics balk is when N.T. Wright calls into question the Reformation doctrine of justification. It is Wright’s interpretation of the phrases “works of the law,” “righteousness of God,” his rejection of imputation, and the interpretation of the Greek words λογίζομαι and δικαιόω. The problem with Wright’s formulations is that they would require us to reformulate the doctrine of justification in such a way as to vitiate the Reformation emphasis on imputed righteousness. See this post for a much more detailed examination of why this is so. So again, what Reggie has done is to limit the extent of the reformulations of the supposed objectionable material, and then say, in effect, “What possible problem could anyone have with this?”

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A Further Reply to Lee Irons

Lee has responded to my post here. I appreciate the irenic tone of our discussion, and I think much helpful clarification should result from our discussion. First up is that Lee Irons thinks my last post was a red herring. What I was primarily responding to in his post was this statement:

If one is considering the Confession’s teaching on anything, one is considering a particular interpretation of the Scriptures, not the Scriptures themselves.

My point is that this is simply not what the vow states. The vow states that (each minister having already done his exegesis of Scripture (prior to taking his vows!) proving to himself that the Standards are an accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching!) the minister believes the Standards to be the accurate interpretation of the Scriptures on all matters on which the Standards speak. The minister’s vow does not state that the minister believes the Confession to be a correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Confession teaches. The problem here is with Lee’s words “particular interpretation.” This seems to leave open the possibility that other contradictory interpretations are allowed. It also seems to pit the Standards against the Scriptures. The minister takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to be the correct interpretation of the Scriptures on what the Standards teach. The grammatical difference between the indefinite article and the definite article is crucial to the interpretation of the vow. The vow explicitly states that the minister believes the Westminster Standards to be the system of doctrine taught in Scriptures. Lee has not answered this point yet.

To deal with the lack of exegetical work on the part of the Committee is possible in this way: as David Coffin said, this whole debate is aswamp with exegesis. The PCA report has not come to us in a vacuum. The exegetical issues have been dealt with in many other reports, in several books, on the blogs, etc. David Coffin humorously suggested that he was satiated with exegesis. It is not as if there has been no exegesis done on these matters. For those who want exegetical justification for the committee’s positions, is anyone going to suggest that there are no options for finding such exegesis? To look no further, on this very blog, there is extensive exegesis that has been done on specific passages that are in dispute. Just look at the Federal Vision index.

(I thought he too strongly identified the system of doctrine with the Confession itself, thus binding an officer to never compare the Confession with Scripture.)

This does not follow. Just because a man takes a vow stating that he believes the WS to contain the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture does not mean that he can never revisit the exegesis that he was supposed to do before he took the vow. If he finds that the WS are out of accord with Scripture on a point (in his estimation), then these are the steps he must take: 1. inform the presbytery of his change of view, and 2. propose a change to the WS, or else (if the presbytery decides that his exception is not allowed) 3. quietly leave the denomination and go someplace else. What about this elevates the Standards to the level of Scripture?

The second concern that Lee listed was laziness. If there had been no exegesis done before the committee did their work, I would whole-heartedly agree with Lee’s assessment. However, is there need to duplicate what so many others have already done? Is it lazy to rest on the shoulders of other giants in the faith who have already done superior exegetical work? I would agree that, exegetically speaking, the OPC report is superior to the PCA’s. A report cannot do everything, or it would be too long and unwieldy. But if you look at the mandate that was given, the PCA report holds its own with any other report in comparing the FV and the NPP to the WS. I think if you were to ask the committee members, they would probably tell you that they are tired of all the work! Not exactly lazy. Is not wisdom a good judge of whether or not extensive exegesis would need to be done by a study committee? If in the future, the PCA erects another such ad interim committee, and not much exegesis had been done on the issue in question, then I would hope that the committee would do the hard work of exegesis. I am all for exegesis. I love exegesis. But it wasn’t in the mandate. You can fault last year’s GA for not including it (although again, I don’t see the need for re-inventing the exegetical wheel in this case), but you can’t fault the committee for sticking to the mandate.

With regard to the moral high ground issue, I will say this: the study committee would never have gotten done in such a timely manner if they had had to do such an amazingly more amount of work. The OPC report took a long time to complete. It is over 90 pages long. There is a time factor involved here that was noted in the debate on the floor of GA. How long do we want people who are not Reformed teaching in our churches? I know, at least for me, that there was definitely a sense of urgency in the PCA about this issue. We needed to speak. No report is perfect. But I think this report did what was needed.