Volume 4 is getting closer!

You can see a table of contents here. This volume has the discussion on justification and sanctification.

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This is a tremendous resource. Some have noted that it has some odd bed-fellows. Granted. However, I’m sure that the reason for this is simple: these are probably the only licences that the editor could obtain.

A Faith That Is Never Alone, chapter 1, part 1

The first chapter is by John Armstrong, entitled “Preaching the Faith That Is Never Alone.” John Armstrong is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America, and is on the board of Biblical Theological Seminary. This chapter is responding to chapters 10 and 11 of CJPM.

Armstrong starts out with a brief look at the history of preaching, noting that the reformation of preaching was one of the Reformation’s most important contributions, surely a thought with which we can all agree. He also says, quite rightly, that “preaching is nothing if Christ is not preached!” (pg. 22). By that he plainly means Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Armstrong notes the difference between moralistic preaching, characteristic of the Medieval period, and Luther’s definition, which is instruction and exhortation (ibid.).

I am somewhat puzzled by this statement: “The faith they called their hearers to was not a faith of notion, or a faith of passivity, but an active, trusting and recumbent faith” (pg. 24). This statement is ambiguous. What does Armstrong mean by “notion?” If he means “propositional truth,” then I could not disagree more. If that is what he means, then he has followed the traditional Endarkenment path of dividing head from heart. The Reformers called for a doctrinal preaching that spoke to the heart. Propositional truth is not opposed to a trusting faith; instead, it is absolutely integral to it. How can we trust what we do not know? “That you may know” is a very biblical phrase. Of course, Armstrong may mean something different by “notion.” But notion is usually defined as an idea, or a thought. Hence, the ambiguity.

Armstrong warns us against thinking that we automatically have the Spirit if we have proper exegesis. I think that Armstrong overstates this case somewhat. Admittedly, the devils believe that Jesus is God and tremble. However, the Holy Spirit does work through correct exegesis. Even if our ministerial hearts are not always in the preaching as they ought to be, the Holy Spirit can still hit straight with a crooked stick.

A further overstatement comes from his approving quotation of John R. de Witt about the minister and the text. Is Armstrong advocating the abandonment of systematic concerns in exegesis when he agrees with de Witt that “nothing must come between the preacher and his text?” The relationship between ST and exegesis is a spiral. Yes, exegesis is the life-blood of systematics. But systematics then turns around and acts as a guard on exegesis. We do not interpret “God repented” as saying that God is open to change in Himself, because we know from other Scriptures that God does not change. Systematic concerns guard us against open theism. It is utter biblicism that enables open theism to have any ground at all.

Armstrong strongly attacks CJPM. He claims that the book has missed the real heart of biblical Christianity (pg. 30: is this not a claim that CJPM is heresy?). He drives a wedge between Scripture and the confessions by saying that the confessional positions held in CJPM are not precisely biblical (ibid). He judges CJPM to have reified the tradition by saying that it is the final word on pastoral ministry (ibid). This is the substance of what he going on to say. More in the next post.