On Boundaries and Creativity

I was in music composition class in college. I had a very brilliant teacher, who knew exactly what creativity was, and what environment it took to be creative. To have no boundaries at all is extremely limiting. Staring at a blank sheet of paper, wondering how many instruments to score for, what are the main themes going to be, what key, whether the music be program music or absolute music, is extremely stultifying to creativity. What my teacher told me that was extremely profound, and unbelievably helpful, was that you need to set up strong and narrow boundaries for what you want to create. Then, when creativity takes over, it will automatically say, “What can I do inside these boundaries?” I decided, in that class, to write a piece for organ pedal solo. Of course, the hands would be furiously changing stop combinations. However, the feet were going to be the only appendages making any noise. I finished the piece in an unbelievably short amount of time. And I believe it is one of my better works.

I get the distinct feeling that creativity in modern theology is seen as a completely blank slate, or at least mostly blank. There should not be very many “shackles,” if any, limiting what exegesis should be able to do. So say many. That is certainly what Briggs thought in his polemic against Warfield.

I would like to suggest that boundaries are extremely important for creative thinking. I would hope that all would agree that there is room for creative thinking in theology. However (and the best theologians have always known this), this theology needs to be conducted in a rather constrictive boundary. It is a question of dimensions. If one goes wide, one cannot go deep. Having barriers (such as the Bible firstly, and then, secondarily…confessions!) is vitally important for the deepening of theology. Playing with the boundaries is not the source of creativity in theology, but is rather the destruction of creativity. Federal Vision advocates and New Perspective advocates really ought to take note of this, and pull back inside the confessional boundaries.


Again Available

I see that this helpful book on Exodus is again available (though I recommend it only to critical readers, as the author has some problems).

Critique of Wilkins’s Response to the 9 Declarations

Basis or Accordance?

Wilkins’s response to declaration 9 is actually much less problematic than any of the other sections of his response. However, he does lapse when he forgets the distinction between justification being based on something, versus being in accordance with something. The failure to appreciate this distinction leads Wilkins to misunderstand declaration 9. The ninth declaration is not denying that the final verdict is “according to” (or in accordance with) our works. Rather, it says that our final verdict is not based on our works. Let me carefully explain this difference (which involves walking a razor edge, by the way!). In the final acquittal (which in no way conflicts with the present finality of justification, since the final acquittal is not a new declaration, but rather a making public in front of the whole world what has already been declared in the throne room of God when we come to faith), works serve as evidence of the reality of our justification. This is what “according to” means in the WS. The world accuses Christians of not really being right with God. God is going to show the world our works, which flow from justification, and say, “See, world? You falsely accused my sons and daughters. Contrary to your assertions, these works prove that they really were justified, since such works can only come from someone who is justified. They are acquitted, and you are not, since you show no evidence of belief by your works.” In this way, works serve an evidentiary purpose on the Day of Judgment. What the committee is rejecting is any way, shape or form of saying that the final justification is based on our works. By using this term in this way, the phrase “based on” is clearly a synonym for “ground,” or “cause.” Failure to see this distinction is also problematic in N.T. Wright’s theology, where he says that present justification is not based on our works, but future justification is based on the whole life lived. There is at best equivocation there, and at worst a wrong attribution for the place of works. And, contrary to Meyers, this distinction is vital to maintain. It is not some antiquated scholastic distinction, but rather a very helpful one.