New Book on the New Perspective

I get asked a lot what is a good resource introducing them to the concepts of the New Perspective on Paul. Most of the resources out there are fairly technical. However, many of the articles available often do not analyze deeply enough what is going on. Well, look no further. Here is the single best introduction to the New Perspective on Paul from a Reformed, confessional standpoint. The book is concise (at only 190 fairly small, very readable pages), and yet gets at the issues. It is easy to read, and can be read quickly, and yet does not just skirt around at the edges. It could easily be read in an afternoon. Even for folks who have done some reading in this area of NT studies, the book has some keen insights that aren’t available anywhere else. The authors are to be commended for achieving clarity and conciseness all in one volume.

The Resurrection of Machen’s Warrior Children

I would like to draw people’s attention to this Festschrift for W. Robert Godfrey. The article that interested me the most of these many fine articles was that of D. G. Hart on the warrior children of Machen. In the time of Machen, and even afterward, Reformed folk generally approved of Machen’s fight against liberalism, although even there they were hesitant to adopt the same level of combativeness that Machen had. It didn’t take long, however, for the fight to go out of the OPC, Hart opines (p. 39). When people critique Machen today, it is usually because Machen tended to fight dispensational premillenialists (such as Carl McIntire). with a vim and vigor that approached his fight with liberalism, and most people cannot stomach that. However, the Bible itself tells us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and there are some among the Reformed denominations who realize the need to fight. Are we right to be militant against the Federal Vision, against the liberals in the PCA, against the general evangelicalism that threatens to turn the PCA into yet another non-Reformed denomination? I believe we are required to do this. As Hart mentions, to be militant about the gospel is “not merely to be one of Machen’s warrior children. It is to belong to the church militant” (p. 55). If you believe some today in the church, there is absolutely nothing left about which we should fight. Unity and peace are the idolatries of today. No doubt some (maybe even many) of the other parties would claim that we idolize theology and correct doctrine. I believe it only seems so to people who do not really care about doctrinal precision. To them, any kind of doctrinal precision seems like doctrinal idolization. From our perspective, we believe the gospel is at stake in many of these controversies. Further, the purity and peace of the church is at stake in all the others.

The Crisis of Word

I have started to read Carl F. H. Henry’s monumental 6-volume set entitled God, Revelation, and Authority. The first volume was written in 1976. For the most part, it feels like it was written yesterday. Henry had a remarkable feel for where culture was headed. Take some of these quotations as examples:

Few times in history has revealed religion been forced to contend with such serious problems of truth and word, and never in the past have the role of words and the nature of truth been as misty and undefined as now. Only if we recognize that the truth of truth-indeed, the meaning of meaning-is today in doubt, and that this uncertainty stifles the word as a carrier of God’s truth and moral judgment, do we fathom the depth of the present crisis…Such preference for the nonverbal is especially conspicuous among the younger generation who increasingly surmise that words are a cover-up rather than a revelation of truth. (vol 1, p. 24).

Neo-Protestant ecumenism, moreover, put its own premium on verbal ambiguity as being useful for promoting ecclesiastical unity. Such semantic juggling is not unlike the commercial practice of abusing sacred symbols for the sake of pushing sales (vol 1, p. 26).

Music and the arts become subjectively introverted and tend to lose significance as a realm of shared experience and communication…But the modern cult of nonverbal experience poses a challenge not only to revealed religion; it makes trivial the whole cultural inheritance of the Western world as well (vol 1, p. 26).

Books and Associations

Sean Lucas has written a thought-provoking piece over on Reformation 21 about a person’s opinions in relation to his collection of books. I’d like to interact with this a bit. On the one hand, he definitely has a good point in saying that an eclectic library does not tell you what kinds of opinions a person has. I have plenty of heretical books on my shelf. I even have the Koran and the sacred books of Hinduism (though I don’t have the Vedas). He gave some good examples of books he had on his shelf that don’t even remotely express his opinions on various doctrines. However, what I’d like to point out is that his argument has limits. Let me demonstrate with, firstly, an absurd example, followed by an example closer to home.

Let’s say a Reformed seminary, calling itself Reformed, had the following as its exclusive reading list: the Koran, the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, I Ching, the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. That’s all the students were required to read. Would this raise any questions in the minds of outsiders as to how Reformed such a seminary would be? Would it be prima facie evidence that at least someone at the seminary was very interested in non-Christian religions? Sean has certainly listed some ways in which circumstantial evidence can be done very badly indeed. But does this mean that all circumstantial evidence is useless? See Eileen’s very sensible comments on this issue (and don’t miss her additional comment in the comments section).

The next point I wish to bring up here is the logical question of personal versus corporate issues. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like Sean is aiming his comments at Wes White’s reading list comparisons of various seminaries. If Sean is not aiming his comments at those posts, I will happily retract my guess here. But is there a difference between the reading library of an individual versus a seminary’s required reading list that is intended to teach students about the Reformed faith? Is it unreasonable to suppose that a seminary’s complete list is in large part an indication of what they think defines the Reformed faith? This is circumstantial evidence, of course. The question is whether it is a good example or a bad example. What do the readers think?

On Putting Theologians on the Proper Shelf

(Posted by Paige Britton)

It’s been in my mind for some time now to write a summary review of John Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch (IVP Academic, 2009). I’ve found the book a fascinating read, though provocative on several counts, and I have been looking forward to hearing Reformed reactions to it. But since it’s quite a tome (612 pages) and somewhat tedious in a ramblingly scholarly way, it isn’t exactly something you would grab for a good beach read; and as Sailhamer is writing from outside Reformed circles (he’s currently a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary), it may yet be a while before it registers amongst Reformed critics. So I thought to speed things up a bit with some chapter summaries, which I hope to offer here over the course of this winter and spring.

Meanwhile, though, I wanted to open the floor to thoughts (and soapboxes) on Sailhamer specifically, and also on the more general question of how we evaluate whether a Christian writer is worthy of our time and attention, particularly when we find that their thinking differs markedly from our own. When, I wonder, do we decide someone is just plain not worth listening to? When, on the other hand, do we decide to take a writer (whether scholarly or popular) “with a grain of salt,” sifting his work and gleaning real profit while also setting aside (or arguing with) the less helpful bits? I suspect we each end up answering these questions in our own way; still, it’s likely there’s some basic wisdom we could share around.

My controlling metaphor for this sort of decision is putting theologians on the proper shelf. Now, I know my theological collection is small potatoes compared to, say, Lane’s; but hey, already it boasts a shelf of Annotated Volumes! These are the books that have irked me so much that I’ve talked back in the margins and all the other blank spaces, books that I would never recommend to others, books that have narrowly missed defenestration.

Most of my AV’s so far are easy targets, read because somebody ought to do so with a critical eye – Beth Moore’s Breaking Free, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, Randy Alcorn’s Heaven (perfect example of how one should not write a serious book – 70% speculation largely supported by hefty quotes from one’s own works of fiction), etc. The need for foils in an article on elder-led churches brought me some startling works by Frank Viola and George Barna, and curiosity to some dreadful things by Ruth Haley Barton and one Groothius or another. You get the picture.

As my own theological awareness has grown, so has the shelf, as I’ve applied myself to critical reads of more scholarly things. But now the job is trickier. Sure, some books practically shelve themselves: I have an old copy of Daniel Day Williams’ The Spirit and the Forms of Love, given to my parents when he baptized me (and kudos to you if you know what brand of theology he promoted in the late ‘60’s!)…a more Annotated Volume than Pete Enns’s Inspiration & Incarnation I do not possess…and N. T. Wright’s Justification would be there, if I hadn’t had to return that copy to my pastor (marginal notes and all).

But other works and authors are not so straightforwardly “bent,” to borrow Lewis’s word: Do I re-shelve Stott for his soft stance on hell? Packer for signing ECT? Willard and Foster for caring overly much about individual spiritual formation? Willimon for being Methodist? Lewis himself for suggestions of Purgatory and “anonymous Christianity”? Bauckham for pleading a non-apostolic author of John? Do all of Wright’s works have to go the way of Justification, or may I yet weigh each one’s merits individually?

Obviously our bookshelves are going to be full of volumes that are, like our churches, “more or less pure” and “subject both to mixture and error” (WCF 25.4f). It’s no surprise that we’d have to take along some salt in our pockets whenever we sit down to read. (And I find I’m much more likely to reach for the salt than I am to pan a writer for a particular theological quirk. Though maybe that’s just my own theological weakness!)

So it will be, I think, with Sailhamer. I’m not nearly ready to put this tome on my Annotated Volume shelf; but you might wish to suggest otherwise, based on his past writings or whatever you discover about this one. Go for it.

And tell us what’s presently on your “AV” shelf (whether it’s a virtual or a real one) – which books and writers are you ready to pitch through a window? Wisdom, passing thoughts, and soapboxes welcome.

Honoring Mary

Posted by Reed DePace

Up front let me note that the timing of this post, coming on the heels of our RCC friend’s “celebration” of Mary on Dec. 8th, is all God’s fault. He’s the one who has given me faith to believe He uses family worship. He is the one who led me years ago to read and teach the whole Bible verse by verse to my wife and five children. He is the one who in his sovereignty exercised in providence had me reading and explaining Luke 1:39-56 on Dec. 8th (literally Luke was next up in our rotation through the NT.) The timing of this post, in other words, is all God’s doing.

Now, to the extent I’ve misunderstood the passage, that’s solely my fault. Yet to the extent that I have understood the passage (in the context of the Bible alone), then I pray God might encourage you with these considerations.

In this passage it is clear that we are taught Mary is to be given honor. Elizabeth’s response to her much younger cousin is the response of a person who recognizes someone who is their “superior” (in the 5th Commandment sense, see the WLC on the 5th Commandment for background on what is meant by a “superior”.) In this passage the honor due Mary is qualified by (at least) three considerations. Her honor is: derived, directed, and dependent.

V. 43 demonstrates that Mary’s honor is derived. Elizabeth offers an expression of honor to Mary because of her unique relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In other words, Mary is not due this honor because of some inherent quality in herself. Rather she is due it solely because of her relationship with Jesus Christ. She is due the honor derived from her relationship as the earthly mother of the incarnate Son of God.

V. 46 demonstrates that Mary’s honor is directed. In response to Elizabeth’s honoring of her, notice what Mary does not do. She does not respond with, “Well thank you cousin. I’m glad you finally recognize me properly.” No, Mary offers a response that directs Elizabeth’s honor of her to the person from whom the honor is derived, God himself. Mary understands that any honor due her is intended to ultimately be reflected back to its Source. Hence, she directs Elizabeth’s honor back to God.

V. 48 demonstrates that Mary’s honor is dependent. Take a look at the last comment Mary offers. She notes that the honor given to her, derived and directed, will be a perpetual honor, one that the Church in all generations will continue to offer. Yet note the qualification she makes to this perpetual honor in her use of the word “blessed.” The necessary emphasis given by this word is that her honor is dependent. To be blessed in Scripture is to be the recipient of God’s grace and mercy, things that are not deserved and can never be earned. Mary reckons her perpetual honor as being perpetually dependent on the One from Whom it is derived and to Whom it is directed.

Now these three qualifications provide some insight into how we may rightly honor Mary. To the degree we offer her honor consistent with these three characteristics, we rightly honor her. Yet to the degree our offering of honor is not consistent with these three we dishonor Mary. Worse, we dishonor the Lord and Savior from whom her honor is derived, directed and dependent.

May God keep us from such dishonorable belief and practice.

Posted by Reed DePace

Which Catholic Should We Believe?

There is a disagreement among Catholics as to the textual integrity of the Greek New Testament. Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis, for instance, says this:

An exhaustive investigation into a standard Protestant Greek text of the New Testament (Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece…reveals that of the 7,948 total verses from Matthew to Revelation, 6,176 verses contain textual variants. In other words, 78% of the New Testament verses are to some extent corrupted. The variations range from simple letters which change a word of its tense, to whole sentences which are either missing or significantly different. Not By Scripture Alone (Santa Barbara: Queenship, 1997, p. 250, fn 58)

Compare this with Karl Keating:

From textual criticism we are able to conclude that we have a text the accuracy of which is more certain than the accuracy of any other ancient work. Sir Frederic Kenyon notes that “[f]or all the works of classical antiquity we have to depend on manuscripts written long after their original composition. The author who is the best case in this respect is Virgil, yet the earliest manuscript of Vergil that we now possess was written some 350 years after his death. For all other classical writers, the interval between the date of the author and the earliest extant manuscript of his works is much greater. For Livy it is about 500 years, for Horace 900, for most of Plato 1,300, for Euripides 1,600.” Yet no one seriously disputes that we have accurate copies of the works of these writers. Not only are the biblical manuscripts we have older than than those for classical authors, we have in absolute numbers far more manuscripts to work from. Some are whole books of the Bible, others fragments of just a few words, but there are thousands of manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages. What this means is that we can be sure we have an accurate text, and we can work from it in confidence. Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 124.

So, for the Catholics who read this blog, with which of them do you agree, and why?