New Commentary on Ecclesiastes/Song of Songs

This commentary looks to be a helpful addition to the library on these books. Daniel Estes we already know from his book on Proverbs, which is excellent, as well as his handbook on Psalms and Wisdom, which is also excellent. Fredericks is at Belhaven College. I have not had any experience with him, so I look forward to making his acquaintance through this book. The series has gotten off to a slow start (this is only the fifth volume in 8 years). However, as this often happens with a series, I’m not too worried, but that the volumes will start to come a bit more quickly, as more authors finish their work.

An Alternative Proposal Toward a New PCA Strategic Plan

Posted by Wes White

The Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is pastor of Grace PCA in the Atlanta metro and author of John Owen on the Lord’s Supper and In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship. He is also deeply committed to the Reformation2Germany project. . He offered a a stimulating comment on yesterday’s post on the proposed strategic plan and he has offered an explanation of his comment. I re-post it here for those who don’t read the comments.

Dr. Payne’s Post:

My thoughts on a positive, strategic plan for the PCA:
Friends, the “PCA Strategic Vision” is, in large part, a strategy to reverse the downward trend of the denomination in terms of numerical growth, unity, financial support and cooperation. The framers of the vision, I believe, have the best intentions of making the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination. This effort should be commended. However, after reading the document, one cannot help but wonder if the remedy for the downward trend in the PCA is off target. Perhaps our downward trend and disunity is less due to cultural irrelevancy, missional narrowness, ethnic insensitivity and safe places for women and young people, and more a consequence of our unwillingness to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what God has promised to bless in the lives of His elect.

From my perspective, our greatest need as a denomination is to renew our commitments to the 17 points listed above, commitments which Reformed and Confessional Presbyterians have held for centuries precisely because they believed that they were biblical and would effectually cultivate growth, unity, mission, sacrificial giving and cooperation. I understand that some will say, “Yes, I agree with the 17 points, but we need to do more than this to bring renewal to the PCA.” Do we? If these 17 points (not an exhaustive list, but a start) were fleshed out and made available to every presbytery/session in the PCA to implement into their philosophy of ministry, would we not enjoy the kinds of renewal that we all earnestly desire? What we need more than anything in the PCA is a warm, winsome, consistent, serious, joyful, positive expression of Reformed and confessional Presbyterianism that unashamedly and courageously applies the theology of our Confession to the way we worship, preach, teach, write, shepherd, discipline, serve, evangelize and plant-churches (Domestic and International).
From our experience at GPC, applying the Reformed Confession in this manner cultivates unity, inspires evangelism and mission, stimulates prayer and Bible reading, fosters sacrificial giving, encourages biblical piety and warmly welcomes women, minorities and youth to worship God according to Scripture and employ their God-given gifts in service of their neighbor. This vision, I believe, would unify our beloved denomination in what God Himself has clearly promised to bless.

1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.

2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.

3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.

4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.

5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.

6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.

7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.

8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.

9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.

10. A renewed commitment to family worship.

11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.

12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.

13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.

14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.

15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.

16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.

17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

You can read Dr. Payne’s book on Reformed worship by ordering it here.

Posted by Wes White

Determining the Doctrine of the Church

One of the more disturbing trends I’ve seen recently is that people are more and more defining the church’s doctrine by what individuals within that church say or said.

Francis Turretin has a brilliant answer to this methodology. He is referring in this context to various accusations against the Reformed position on providence and the question of evil. The accusers were saying that the Reformed position makes God the author of sin. He says this about the accusers:

Hence they are accustomed to drawing nothing from public standards to prove their calumnies, but only from the writings of private divines from which they falsely weave consequences. (paragraph break, LK) Concerning the public and received opinion of any church, a judgment cannot and ought not to be formed from the writings of private persons…because we do not stand or fall with the judgment of each private divine, however illustrious (volume 1 of Institutes of Elenctic Theology, p. 529).

This gets at the difference so often noted by Scott Clark that confessions of the church differ from systematic theology. They are not the same genre, nor do they carry the same weight. Confessions of the church carry much more weight than an individual person’s opinion, even if they are not on the same level as Scripture.

The Series Finished

This volume finishes the wonderful series on the history of preaching by Hughes Oliphant Old. I make it a practice to read at least one good book on preaching per year, as I believe it is important always to be improving. This series would keep one going for quite a while, and I intend to read the whole of it.

Hermeneutic and Ontology in Justification

Some of the comments on the previous threads have gotten me thinking about the Law/Gospel Distinction (we’ll abbreviate LGD) and justification in terms of hermeneutics and ontology. Some seem to be saying that if the LGD has to be in the text, then we are basically saved by faith plus hermeneutics. The distinction that is thought to be important here is what is happening in the text versus what is happening in the person’s life when he is justified. Let me state the positive principle here: what you believe about what is happening has a drastic impact on what is actually happening. Can one actually be justified by grace alone through faith alone if that same person believes that he is actually being justified by faithfulness? Let’s ratchet it up a notch. Can one actually be saved by faith in Jesus Christ when that same person believes that he is actually being saved by Jesus Christ plus something else? I am probably going to shock some readers by saying this, but it seems fairly clear to me that a person cannot be justified in Christ if he believes that he is being justified by Christ plus something else. Quite simply, this is because the belief that someone is justified by Christ plus something else is not true faith. It has the wrong notitia (content, or knowledge). We do all believe that notitia is an essential element of faith, don’t we? In addition to this, to continue on to another key aspect of faith, such belief would be assenting to the wrong thing, as well. And, in fact, if one believes that trust is key to faith as well, one would be trusting in the something else, and not in Jesus Christ. So all three aspects of faith get messed up if the notitia is wrong on the point of justification.

Working some more on the right notitia, then, it is of the essence of justifying faith that one believes the right thing about the Word of God when it says, for instance, that faith is opposed to works in justification, or when the Bible defines justifying faith as having nothing to do with law, but rather has everything to do with Gospel. When the Bible defines faith, if one believes that it essentially equals faithfulness, then we have a problem here. The wrong content is being assigned to notitia.

The objections that will immediately come my way will probably sound like this: “You believe in justification by faith in justification.” Or, “You believe in justification by correct doctrine.” Or, “You are a rationalist.” No, currently I am comfortable with the three elements of knowledge, assent, and trust, as long as it is understood that in justification, none of these three elements can be defined in relation to law. “Trust,” especially gets difficult here, because people drive trucks through this word, and this is usually where “faithfulness” gets sneaked in the back door. But in justification, the trust aspect of faith simply means that we entrust our souls to Jesus. We are resting in His righteousness.

So, what is the relationship between hermeneutic and ontology in faith and justification? The content of our faith has a drastic impact on what is happening. And I firmly believe that if the content of our faith denies that the Word distinguishes in the text between law and gospel when it comes to justification (note the careful qualifiers here), then the content, or knowledge, of our faith will not be in Jesus Christ alone, but will rather be in Jesus Christ plus our own faithfulness.

Pendulum Swings

A lot has happened in our country since the 1960’s in the area of racial justice. Many of these changes are salutary. And I wouldn’t want to claim that racial prejudice is completely a thing of the past. There are still those who seem to think that some races are inherently inferior to others. But if we really believe that all races come from Adam (and Noah!), and that all races are made in the image of God, and that all races are truly human, there can be no room for regarding one race as better or worse than another. So, many changes have been for the good of our nation. Segregation is much less common, and it has quite the social stigma attached to it.

However, as sometimes happens when a revolution occurs, the pendulum can swing too far. White people of today are sometimes held accountable for the sins of their fathers, sins which today’s generation may not be committing, but for which they are still being held accountable. A sense of entitlement can sometimes creep in, with the result being that, in order for reparation to be complete, we have to somehow “make it up to” African-American people. Instead of equal opportunity employment, for instance (which we should have), we have quotas for minorities (which I believe are racist in both directions). Take enrollment in colleges, for instance. If the standard for an SAT score is the standard by which any student should be admitted, that is an objective, non-racial-based standard (of course, there are many more criteria than this, but I use this for an example). No matter what race they come from, if they make that non-racial standard, they should be admitted. I can already hear the counter-argument: “African-Americans have been held back, and their test scores are not as good as white people. Therefore they need our help.” But does this argument not have a tacit assumption that one race is inferior to another? If a member of any race works hard, they can succeed in today’s world. That is the good thing that the civil rights movement has brought. But to say that any minority needs our help is to say that they cannot work hard enough to do it on their own. That is racist, in my opinion. And it also can prevent qualified white people from being admitted. Every college needs to have some standard of admittance. The standard needs to be fair and unprejudiced. SAT score are not prejudiced. People from any race can get good scores on SAT’s.

Regardless of any of this, why should white people of today be made to feel guilty about something that they haven’t done? I don’t believe I have ever been a racist. But I have been made to feel guilty about something I didn’t do, and not even my particular forbears did. Sometimes I am made to feel that I must be racist, because I am white. This, too, is racist.

What I am talking about now is racial discrimination in reverse, a pendulum swing. I have heard that the one thing that makes it really, really tough today to get a job is if you’re a middle-class white American male. A minority person may be chosen for the job over a middle-class white American male regardless of qualifications just so that the company can be seen to be an equal opportunity employer. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of non-qualified middle-class white American males, and plenty of qualified minority people. And I would not fault any company for hiring a minority person who is just as qualified as a white person. But what happens in a situation where a minority person might be less qualified than the white person? If companies are being made to feel that they are racist because they hired the more qualified white person, that is simply wrong. They are hiring on an objective standard: who is the most qualified for the job? This makes good business sense. They should take the most qualified person for the job, regardless of what race they are from. We need to make sure that we do not become racist in reverse.

RCA Renewal

As most of my readers know, I serve two rural Dutch Reformed churches, one CRC and one RCA. Both churches are considerably more conservative than the bulk of their denominations. I have been enormously encouraged recently by making a contact of Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI. He, and a fair number of other Reformed pastors within the RCA have put together a group that they call RCA Integrity. All I can say is, “May their tribe increase.” Kevin has recently put out a short commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. I hope that the Lord will use this tool to bring back the RCA to its confessional heritage. The good news is that this movement seems to have a lot of younger Reformed folk within it.

Will the Real Elephant Please Stand Up?

The Strategic Plan will be one of the items talked over at the General Assembly this year. Andrew Barnes has some thoughtful ideas on it here.

When I read it, I had a couple of thoughts. One is that the categorization seemed to me to label all the confessional guys as “extreme.” Now, not all confessionalists actually agreed with me on this interpretation. Some think that the document was only referring to perceptions of confessionalists. That may be the case. But to me, the tenor of the document still seemed to point in the direction of confessionalists needing to compromise their beliefs if there is to be any unity in our denomination.

Secondly, I thought that this document had rather more description than prescription. Surely the best prescription of unity in the PCA is agreement on doctrine, is it not? How can two walk together unless they are agreed? To my mind, although several elephants in the room were noticed in this document, the real issue of doctrinal agreement centering on the Bible as primary standard and the confession as secondary standard was not really addressed much. I don’t think any true unity can come without a thorough discussion of doctrinal agreement. Ministry priorities cannot be divorced from doctrinal commitments. For our ministry stems from our doctrine. If there is no agreement in doctrine, then there definitely will not be agreement in ministry.

On Dr. Bruce Waltke’s Resignation From RTS Orlando

Read a thorough report about it on the Aquila Report.

Great New Resource on Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is a particularly difficult book to interpret. Especially discouraging for the preacher are the seemingly nonsensical, or even apparently heretical statements that Qohelet makes. However, when one comes at it from a presuppositional viewpoint, one can see that what Qohelet is trying to do is to examine what life looks like without God (“under the sun”), to show that it is absurd, and come to the conclusion that God is absolutely necessary in the equation. This commentary has precisely this presuppositional approach. I heard most of his sermons on the book, and this commentary is basically his sermons edited. I highly recommend this resource as a great help to those who would scratch their heads wondering how to preach this book.

« Older entries