A Little Contemporary Folk Music

(Posted by Paige just in time for present-wrapping marathons — and beyond, of course.)

In case you need a little lift, here’s a link to a free streaming of a newly released album by The New Empires, a group of friends who met at Covenant College and have created their own unique blend of sounds. Matt Brown, the clever and quirky lead singer and songwriter, is a son of our church (Faith Reformed PCA in Quarryville, PA) who currently works at Covenant.

Favorite lines:

Bristlecone pine
You were awake when God heard the laugh of Abraham’s wife
And in your youth you couldn’t see the humor of it all


Denise Sproul is at home with the Lord

Posted by Bob Mattes

Ligonier’s site has a brief statement posted here.

I’ve been following this situation for a while on R.C. Jr.’s blog and praying. For those that don’t know, Denise, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s dear wife and mother of their children, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent extensive treatment. It seemed back in April that she might beat the disease. However, earlier this month the situation wasn’t looking good. I used R.C., Jr.’s post, Terminal, in my Sunday school class just last week as an example of how we can face extreme adversity in life by the power of the Spirit and with full confidence in our Father’s plan for us. R.C. Jr. closed that post with this paragraph:

It is a good and proper thing that I should, and you as well if you are willing, pray that God would make Denise well, that He would allow us to grow old together. It is, however, a better thing to pray that I would be a faithful husband to my love, and a faithful father to the children He has blessed us with. It is less important that He believe me and my conviction, that the kingdom would be better with her here. It is more important that I believe Him and His promise that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18), and that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 6:10). This train is bound for glory.

R.C. Jr. has commented on this blog from time to time. He and his entire family need our prayers as they travel a very difficult road in the coming days, weeks, and months. May our faithful God grant them all His peace and strength for the journey.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Musing on Inerrancy

(Posted by Paige)

Musing on the subject of inerrancy, I came up with a “spectrum-of-thought” model to describe the various ways that people view and respond to the Scriptures. See what you think.

Note that in the scheme below I am not using “FAITH” with salvific significance, but rather as a description of the view that “takes God at his word” about the Word. It is worth debating whether one could maintain a robust, saving faith in Christ while simultaneously believing that the Bible in its original state already contained intertextual or historical contradictions and errors. For my part, while I do not at all recommend this as a healthy path to take, I would personally echo the Chicago Statement’s sentiment at Article XIX:

We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences both to the individual and to the Church.

Which may turn out to be the most provocative thing that I say here; go ahead and argue with it if you want to.

Here is my spectrum-of-thought model. I observe that people react to the various claims of the Christian faith along a continuum that looks like this:


While an individual’s response to any given doctrine, orthodox or heterodox, may be described along this spectrum, I believe that one’s stance regarding the Bible – what it is, what authority it possesses over the reader – is the foundation of one’s reaction to all other claims of the Christian faith or of men.

Ideally we’re to be right in the center of this spectrum, responding to the truth with FAITH; but in reality even believers are often leaning away from faith and towards one of the other options, with regard to one aspect or another of Christian claims. (Again, don’t think of “FAITH” as salvific in this scheme.) Also, sometimes Christians confuse CREDULITY with faith, and sometimes we forget that faith incorporates some healthy SKEPTICISM. Some elaboration, as this relates to approaching the Bible:

On the far end of SKEPTICISM, the Bible is viewed only as another Ancient Near Eastern text. There is NO assent to claims that there is any supernatural involvement in its creation, or that it is “God’s Word.” It is a people-made product. (Slightly closer to center, it is a people-made product that tells about a real God and his works, but the book itself is no more unique than any ancient book. Thus it is no wonder that it’s “messy” and contains many internal contradictions and errors, which were there even before the scribes & the translators got hold of it.)

On the far end of CREDULITY, the Bible basically fell from the sky into the church; there is little interest in the “how” of its writing, the people-made part of it, or the history of translation or document studies; there is much literalism, “magic,” ignorance about genres, and misplaced loyalties (like to the KJV only). The Holy Spirit is basically assumed to have dictated the whole thing to its writers, if not guided their penmanship while they were in a trance. This stance is assumed by many to be the same as FAITH, but if so it is only blind faith, not reasonable faith. (Slightly closer to center we find more interest in the different authors and their time periods, but also the too-ready acceptance of the interpretive choices of preachers, teachers, and translators.)

Finally, a stance of FAITH means hearing God’s words and believing them. Because of our heart-change by the Spirit, we are enabled to accept the Scriptures as God’s very words, which is the Bible’s claim about itself. Scripture is, uniquely, the written voice of God, speaking through human writers. This is not blind faith — it’s reasonable faith, the only reasonable response to the claims of the God of the Universe, validated to us by the risen Christ. And this is the basis for our confession of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

I would suggest too that at its best (and most informed), this stance of FAITH also involves a sort of “critical realism” that is missed by the credulous, including reasonable views of the various authors’ involvement (it wasn’t all dictated!), the history of canonization & translation, and sound contextual approaches to interpretation. This faithful stance also evaluates the claims of teachers according to the content of the Bible, keeping the wheat and throwing out the chaff, rather than accepting everything it hears. It’s smart, but believing — and it believes, but is smart about it. (Obviously, every believer will not be able to investigate all these aspects. But speaking ideally, if they could, they would; and speaking realistically, if we can, we should.)

Frankly, I am persuaded that if the church neglects instruction in the believing-but-appropriately-critical approach to the Scriptures that I’ve touched on here, it risks abandoning the flock EITHER to a drift towards credulity or a slide towards skepticism. And either option has “grave consequences,” to quote the CSBI. Perhaps this danger is easier to recognize in the academy’s rejection of the supernatural nature of Scripture; but I believe it is a comparably grave thing to be credulous, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Of which I can think of a few; can’t you?

Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch, Take Nine

(Posted by Paige)

For those of you who would like to catch up on the other chapter reviews in this series, links to previous posts are found in the first comment below. As it has been a while since I have been able to write one of these, I’ve also attempted a one-sentence summary of each review to remind you of Sailhamer’s main themes and claims.

Chapter 8: The Nature of Covenant and Blessing in the Pentateuch

Chapter 8 opens the book’s third and final section, “Interpreting the Theology of the Pentateuch.” In this chapter, the author seeks to develop a particular theological understanding of promise in the OT based on a compositional approach to the text of the Pentateuch, focusing specifically on Gen. 15:1-5. So that you may know the end from the beginning, let me offer a sketch of his conclusions before summarizing his larger concerns in this chapter:

In the dialogue that opens Genesis 15, Sailhamer identifies verses 3 and 4 as “commentary” on God’s promise of a great reward (v.1) and Abraham’s complaint that he has no direct descendant to be his heir (v.2). In other words, Sailhamer sees verses 3 and 4 as authorial glosses, meant to explain something to the reader about the “great reward” and, most importantly, about the identity of “Abraham’s seed.” While v.5 uses “seed” to refer to multiple descendants, vv.3-4 specifies a singular seed.

Sailhamer recognizes in vv.3-4 the theme of a singular Coming One, a refrain he has observed at other so-called compositional seams of the Pentateuch, most notably in the poetry. The apparently deliberate authorial strategy of Genesis 15 thus certifies this passage to him as a significant compositional seam, and its message (of justification by faith and a singular “seed”) as reflecting the theology of the whole Pentateuch in capsule form. From this conclusion it is just a small step over to Galatians 3:16, where Abraham’s seed is clearly identified by Paul as the (singular) Christ.

All that I have just summarized about Gen. 15 fits nicely into the familiar biblical pattern of Promise-and-Fulfillment, by which an OT prophecy is realized (i.e., made real) by NT people and events. Put simply, God’s (OT) promise to Abraham in Gen. 15 of a singular “seed” is actualized in Christ (NT). Yet up to this point in chapter 8, Sailhamer’s main concern has been to expose the inadequacy of Promise Theology to address the differences between OT and NT conceptions of promise. Sailhamer spends time on both Gerhardus Vos’ and Walter Kaiser’s approaches to promise and fulfillment, and concludes that any theological model that “looks only to the NT future for the meaning that it assigns to the OT books” inevitably devalues the OT and misses the significance of covenant in the OT (423). He writes,

Consequently, the focal point of the Old Testament’s theology is drawn not around the Old Testament as such, but within a future hope centered largely on New Testament texts. An important result of such repositioning of focus is that it overlooks almost entirely the present use of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture. After the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament promise has been unwrapped, little is left of the Old Testament other than the packaging. (423f.)

Sailhamer argues that the way “promise” is conceived of in the OT is less a matter of future (i.e., NT) fulfillment, and more an expression of present blessing and relationship. He likens the OT concept of covenant promise to marriage, in which the spouses’ vows of fidelity to one another do not look to the future for their realization, but extend from the moment of avowal onward. In Sailhamer’s words,

…the kind of promise recorded in biblical narratives such as Genesis was such that was fulfilled at the moment of its expression in those same narratives. Like marriage vows, they require no time period before one can speak of their fulfillment…The divine promise (in the Old Testament), “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” is realized (actualized) in the present as a divine-human relationship. It is not merely a prophetic word about the future that must be fulfilled. (432f.)

Thus, in Sailhamer’s view, a “full-orbed” promise theology would incorporate both presently-realized covenants and the future hopes of specific pledges fulfilled (such as the singular “seed” of Genesis 15), rather than merely and exclusively concentrating on future-oriented models of OT promise (“a sort of time bomb set to go off at a particular time,” 430). Only in this way can the value of the OT be preserved.

I found this particular chapter to be unsatisfying for a few reasons. For one, a lack of editorial guidance at the end is apparent – unless you can read Latin and Greek, the final paragraphs will be unintelligible to you, and the absence of a thematic wrap-up leaves a number of loosely connected threads dangling.

Second, Sailhamer’s notion that Gen. 15:3-4 is an “authorial gloss” raises questions of historicity – so, did Abraham have this exchange with the Lord about the singular seed, or did Moses put these words into his mouth, so to speak? Sailhamer does not take time to explore the implications of his “discovery” of redaction here.

Finally, while he protests against those theological models that “devalue” the OT by concentrating exclusively on its spiritualized fulfillment in the NT, Sailhamer is not at this point forthcoming on what he believes is the OT’s “value” for the Christian. He will return to this theme in the conclusion of his book (in an insightful and worthy manner, in my judgment), but at this point he leaves the question of present-time value unanswered.