Yet Another Reason For Expository Preaching

From Bruner’s commentary on Matthew, volume 1, p. 483:

It is fear that makes us teachers and preachers pick and choose our texts rather than allow the texts to pick and choose us; that is, it is fear that makes us topical rather than expository or lectional preachers.

Of course, I would argue that the same problem distinguishes lectional from expository preaching, since the church tends to pick the “safe” texts for its lectionary.

On “Writing” a Book

I just received the Baker History of the Church, four volumes (there are two volumes left to be written, it seems). Meic Pearse wrote the fifth volume, which is on the Age of Reason. The Preface was entirely appropriate, it seems to me, to a book written on church history, which I’m sure took quite a while to write. This quotation should apply to all who have taken a long time to write a book:

Of the various books that I have perpetrated over the years, only one has taken longer to produce than this. The period of gestation has spanned two jobs as well as sojourns in a variety of countries; other projects have been started and finished while work on this was-theoretically, if not always actually- in progress. I am reminded of the wonderful exchange between those stars of the 1960s, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in which both men are reclining in deck chairs. One remarks to the other, “I’m writing a book.” After a long silence, the other replies, “Neither am I.”

Sur-Rejoinder to Lee Irons

Irons has posted a further reply here. Some very helpfully clarifying things have come out of this, to which I want to direct our attention.

Firstly, Lee points our attention to the importance of the word “containing” in the vow which pastors are required to take in the PCA. The point he makes is that not every statement in the Confession is essential to the teaching of the Confession, and that my argument based on the definite article (“the system of doctrine”) ignores the context of the rest of the statement. In response, I will grant that not every statement in the Confession is directly related to the essentials of the system. I have myself voted yes on candidates who disagreed with the Confessional position on the Sabbath, for instance. However, that is not the point I was making. We can get at the point by asking this question: is there a parallel, distinct (from the Westminster Standards) system of doctrine taught in Scripture? Is the picture of the relationship of Scripture to the Confession one in which there is only one system in Scripture which the WS accurately summarize, or is it the case that there is more than one system in Scripture, and that the WS merely enumerate one of those systems? 

If the Confession merely “contains” this scriptural system but is not equal to it, it follows that not everything in the Confession is essential to the system.

Aside from equivocating on the word “contains” (did the vow really intend to say that the WS are just one huge big pot, inside of which we stir around until we find the meat, but we also find lots of slop, or even a little slop? Or did the vow intend to state that the WS inclusively contain the system of doctrine that we find in Scripture?), it wasn’t my point. Understand that if someone has an exception to the Westminster Standards, that is not necessarily an irreparable problem, in my book, even to their being ordained in the PCA. And I do understand the history of subscriptionism in the PCA. My point is not about how strict or loose our subscription ought to be. That is actually another discussion. Rather, it is about the relationship of the WS to Scripture. Are the WS the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, or ought we to look elsewhere to find more systems of doctrine taught in Scripture? That, I believe, is answered by the vow in this way: the system of salvation taught in Scripture is what I believe to be summarized in the WS. The vow does not state that the WS perfectly summarize Scripture in every particular. The vow does state that there is not a parallel, distinct system of doctrine taught in Scripture that is not taught in the WS.  This is my point. My supposed contradiction with 21-4 evaporates in the context of this point. I was not making a point about subscriptionism, but rather about the relationship of the WS to Scripture. I hope this is clearer.

Lee says he is baffled by my objection to this statement of his:

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

My objection is that this statement seems to imply that there are many legitimate interpretations of Scripture out there, but that the WS is only one of them, after all, and that if one is considering the WS, then one is not considering the Scriptures. But if the vow states that one believes the WS to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, then if one is studying the Confession, then one is also studying the Scriptures, albeit indirectly. In other words, if Lee meant that the WS are a particular interpretation, and are the right interpretation of Scripture, then I guess I can agree with the statement except for the following caveat. In the context in which the statement originally was, it seemed to be legitimizing other interpretations. Further, the statement still seems to be driving a wedge between the WS and Scripture. Let me ask Lee this question: in studying Scripture, do you use commentaries? Do you regard yourself as not studying Scripture if you are reading what a commentator said about Scripture? I consider Bible study to include the study of commentaries. The WS are commentaries on what the Bible says as a whole on various loci.  Therefore, to say that one is not studying Scripture if one is studying the Confession is not accurate.  

One Week

The week has passed. The four authors mentioned are again allowed to comment, on these two conditions: 1. the temperature is cool; and 2. the comment is related to the topic of the post. As with all comments, I reserve the right to delete or edit irrelevant comments (although probably I will just state in a separate comment that such and such a comment was irrelevant). The purpose of the ban has definitely been achieved for this last week, as I think all will admit. I exhort all to discuss civilly. The motives of people are off-limits as a conversation topic. I also reserve the right to ban again, should the occasion arise.

Assurance

Chapter 13 was reviewed here (just for DW’s convenience, as he has not replied to that one just yet). Some other posts of mine on assurance can be found here. This post is a review of chapter 14 of “Reformed” Is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson.

Wilson’s chapter on assurance has many fine things in it. I especially appreciate the fact that he didn’t just say, “Look to your baptism for assurance.” The following are the main characteristics of someone who is assured of their salvation: he is holding fast to Jesus Christ, he has the gift of the Holy Spirit, he loves his brothers, is humble in mind, delights in the means of grace, understands spiritual things, is obedient, and is chastened for disobedience. These are the “bullet points” of the chapter. A few other comments of his require some comment. He defines “morbid introspection” as something which “holds up the mirror of self and spews forth doubts” (p. 125). This is contrasted with true self-examination, which “holds up the mirror of the Word and asks honest questions” (ibid.). Questions have answers, whereas doubts exclude answers (pp. 125-126). I believe that this contrast is intended to help people avoid wallowing in themselves, which I think Wilson would argue (and I would agree with him) is one of the main problems of modern “evangelicalism,” especially as it is a function of the Enlightenment (or, as my brother is fond of saying, the Endarkenment) synergizing with Christianity.

A few points of criticism are necessary, however. One of them involves a somewhat ambiguous statement of Wilson’s: “Objective assurance is never found through trying to peer into the secret counsels of God, or into the murky recesses of one’s own heart” (p. 130). Now, with regard to the first part of that sentence, ambiguity exists: does “peer(ing) into the secret counsels of God” imply trying to see into the Book of Life to see if one’s name is in fact written there? Or does it mean that we should not use the doctrine of decretal election as part of our assurance? Nowhere in this chapter does Wilson argue that the doctrine of election plays any part in our assurance. Without answering the direction of ambiguity, I will say this: the doctrine of decretal election provides assurance for the doubting Christian (although it provides no assurance for the backslidden Christian). Election says that nothing can take the believer out of God’s hand. Now, election is not the only thing that provides assurance. The things that Wilson has listed contribute, as do all the means of grace (some of which Wilson listed, though not all). Assurance, in other words, is the result of many, many things working together in the believer’s life.

The second point of question that I have concerns this statement: “And so a Christian searching for biblical assurance should take these passages of Scripture, see how they are all fulfilled in the font and Table, and then rest in his salvation” (p. 130). Surely we do not want to say that all the promises that Wilson listed in Scripture passages quoted are fulfilled only in the font and Table. Of course, they are primarily fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in Whom all promises are yes and amen. Wilson does say in this context that the Word always accompanies Sacrament. That helps, but does not quite fully alleviate the limitation Wilson has put on those promises. Secondly, even in the Sacraments, the promises are fulfilled when one has the thing signified by the font and Table, not primarily when one receives the sign. They can and often do happen at the same time (especially at the Table). But they do not have to occur at the same time.

I think Wilson and I would both agree that our primary means of assurance is looking to Jesus Christ. At least, I would hope we would agree on that. The differences can be chalked up to a difference in our views of how Christ is appropriated. I don’t know if Wilson would deny that election is a source of assurance. Maybe he just forgot to mention it. A lot depends on how the ambiguity mentioned above on the “secret counsels” statement is resolved.