Contending for Creation

by Reed DePace

I’ve both enjoyed and been frustrated at the various origins discussions we’ve had here at GB. I’ve enjoyed them because I’ve found my own understanding and confidence in a straightforward reading of Genesis 1-2 strengthened and deepened. I’ve been frustrated because I’ve not seen that result shared across the board by all those commenting on these origins posts.

I want to ask those of us who do find our confidence in the straightforward reading of Gn 1-2 (from 6/24 YEC to those who essentially buy this is what the Bible requires but don’t want to make any positive scientific affirmations) to think about the nature of this debate. I agree we get how serious it is. I may be saying something that you already get, yet just in case not, I’m asking you to take a moment to consider again what is going on in this debate for the “other side”.

Begin by focusing on this question: what does it mean to assert the authority of special revelation (Bible) over general revelation (Science)? I’d argue that those posting here from the (supposed) other side do not disagree with this way of answering this question: the Bible RULES Science. In other words, I don’t see anything in what they’re saying which leads me to conclude that they are not sincerely affirming this necessary truth.

This being said, then how do we explain those areas, those comments from the other side where we believe they’re concluding things that require exactly the opposite belief? What do we do with those areas in which we’re convinced that they’ve just said something that is based on the Science RULES Bible perspective?

I’m not admonishing us, as if I think we’re doing something wrong. Instead I hope you hear me encouraging, even exhorting us to take our own explanations and make them better. Sympathetic with their concerns and patient in our explanation, yes, but we owe them even more!! We must pursue active, even graciously aggressive efforts to winsomely demonstrate how the Bible RULES Science.

I suspect that those commenting on blogs like this one who are pushing for an expanded understanding of Gn 1-2 (and then 3-11) are the brave ones, the confident-in-their-faith ones. While I do find some sympathy for them, even such as the “high priest” of the effort, Dr. Pete Enns (a former professor of mine), I am GREATLY more concerned for the potential legion of young professing believers for whom this debate is critical.

We tend not to recognize how true one of Ken Ham’s insights really is – every issue in some manner or form does come back to an origins question. Consequently, while not saying it is the only issue, I am saying that we must keep before us this point: the argument over origins is vital to all the other THREATS to the Church in our land.

Take for example the issue of the normalization of sexual fornication in the American Church. Let’s not be wheenies with our words here. Not believing in 6/24 creation might not mean you’re a heretic going to hell, but believing you’re a born-again, Holy-Spirit baptized, justified-adopted-sanctified, persevering-to-glory child of God who rejoices in the freedom of his sexual fornication IS a damning conviction. (Read 1Co 6:9-10, deal with what “no one who is a fornicator of any type” (vs. 9) and “such were some of you” must mean.)

What we believe about origins directly applies to this subject. If we agree that “being born this way” is true this means in the end that a propensity for what the Bible calls sexual perversion is actually a part of God’s original perfect creation. From this perspective perversion is a wicked label for these various fornication practices (i.e., those things we euphemistically label “lifestyles” to make them appear innocent and holy). I.O.W., a failure in our origins apologetic will support a state of atrocity, one that will do more than anything else to remove the Church in America’s lampstand from before the Spirit whose holiness will not allow Him to gaze with love on any wickedness.

All this to urge those of us for whom this all seems so much clearer: let’s double down on our patience, our love, AND our zeal. There is a Church to see restored and a Nation to see saved. The “other side” may exasperate us at times (as I’m sure we do them). Yet they are actually a gift from God in that they can help us proclaim the glory of our God clearer.

by Reed DePace

Echoes of the Exodus

(Posted by Paige)

All right, Bible scholars, let me employ you in doing some of my homework for me. Can you think of any mentions of or allusions to the Exodus event in the NT, besides Hebrews 10:1-2? Unless I am completely blanking on something obvious, I think that they must be more indirect than direct. I can easily think of echoes of the Passover or the wilderness wanderings, but echoes of the Exodus are harder to hear. Which is intriguing, given the prevalence of such echoes in an inner-Testamental way, as the prophets rehearse the most significant acts of God in Israel’s history.

A related historical question is whether theological parallels that we see between Jesus’ redemptive work and the Exodus developed from NT teaching or from reading the OT with NT spectacles.


The PCA Overtures

Being on the Committee of Commissioners for Overtures this year (for the first time!), I thought it would be helpful for me to get some of my thoughts down on “paper” regarding the overtures. There are quite a few this year. On some of them I won’t comment at all, and on others I might comment quite a bit. The overtures themselves can be found online here.

Overtures 1 and 2. The substance of these overtures (which are identical) is to make it required that Presbyteries record and rule on differences for licensure exams, just like they are required to do for ordination. The current practice is that Presbyteries are only required to do this for ordination. I like this overture, having been on Review of Presbytery Records this year. This overture would provide some consistency to the currently inconsistent practice (some Presbyteries record differences at licensure and others don’t). It also makes sense to record differences at licensure as well as ordination. If we are licensing a man to preach, shouldn’t we make a point of recording differences and ruling on them? Otherwise, Presbytery may be in an awkward situation of being pressured to ordain a man they have licensed, but the obstacle of the differences may be too great. They may not have licensed a man, had they known of the differences at the licensure exam. The theology portion of the exam being required at licensure is another reason why this overture makes good sense. My only caveat with the overture is the first dependent clause: “While out Constitution does not require the applicant’s affirmation of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms…” While this statement is technically true, recording it like this could create problems down the road. Some could read this as affirming system subscription, which is NOT what we have. We have good faith subscription, which requires a candidate to list ALL his differences, which are then ruled on by the Presbytery, and it is assumed in good faith that he holds to ALL the rest of the standards.

Overtures 3, 6, 8, 27 all relate to how business comes up in the General Assembly. There seems to have been quite a reaction to the Administration Committee simply bringing a recommendation to the floor that proposed constitutional changes without having gone through the overtures committee. One of the overtures mentions that this threatens our grass-roots Presbyterianism. All these overtures attempt to clarify which overtures should go where, and what recommendations should be referred where, so that any committee that would conceivably be affected by an overture or recommendation should be allowed to put forth a recommendation on that proposed action. This seems very reasonable to me.

Overture 4 proposes that if a recommendation from a permanent Committee or Agency be properly divisible according to Roberts Rules of Order, then a 2/3 vote of the committee of commissioners dealing with said recommendation would be sufficient to divide the recommendation. This seems reasonable to me.

Overture 9 seeks to give the General Assembly more flexibility to allow for amendments to recommendations, where the current rules allow only for the motion to recommit. The overture would allow the GA to suspend the rule disallowing amendments, if the suspension vote receives 2/3 majority. Now, the Committee on Constitutional Business, while stating that this proposed change does not conflict with other parts of the Constitution, did note that this overture would create a conflict with RAO 20. I have to say I am a bit mystified by this conclusion. I looked for a whole twenty minutes for a supposed conflict, and couldn’t find it. The only possibility of a conflict came with regard to whether the motion to suspend was debatable. RAO 20 states that a motion to suspend any part of the RAO is not debatable. But the overture does not state that the possibility of suspending the no-amendment rule would be a debatable motion. So, I don’t see any conflict. Maybe one of the members of the CCB can enlighten me as to what the nature of the conflict was that they saw.

Overtures 10, 26, 29 have to do with views on evolution. The substance of overtures 10 and 29 are the same, although Overture 10 has an additional section (a VERY important section!) detailing judicial precedent in the PCA concerning theistic evolution. Overtures 10 and 29 have as their substance a declaration that theistic evolution is not a biblical position. Overture 26, while not necessarily disagreeing with the substance of the other overtures, states the position that because the other overtures would be in thesi (for a good definition of what in thesis statements are, go here and here) statements, that therefore we should not make them. I could not more thoroughly disagree with Overture 26. The assumption behind this overture seems to be that General Assembly cannot make judicially binding statements in thesi, and that GA is only a judicial body. This ignores many things and assumes things of the other two overtures that are simply not true. The other overtures are not trying to provide something that is judicially binding. Instead, they are trying to give pious advice. Consider this situation: a Presbytery is seeking to adjudicate a case where a TE is teaching something that might or might not be contrary to the Standards. Suppose the members of the Presbytery have not done a huge amount of reading in that area, and therefore they want the opinions of other people to help guide them in coming to a correct decision. That kind of guidance is what in thesi statements are created to be. Just because they are not judicially binding does not mean they are worthless.

Overtures 11-19 are all from Pacific Northwest Presbytery. Some of these overtures are good, and some of them are not so good, and one of them would be rather disastrous. Overture 11 would change BCO 20-3, 24-2, and 25-4 to allow a ruling elder to moderate a congregational meeting in a church not his own. To my mind, this overture seems sound. If a TE from the Presbytery could moderate a meeting, then an RE should be allowed to do so as well, especially given that any man in good standing from the church itself is able to moderate the meeting if there is no TE at the church.

Overtures 12-14 have to do with filing periods for complaints and the like. I would be in favor of these overtures. The dangers of not allowing a complaint on the pitiful basis of being a week late (which might have a very reasonable basis) seem silly to me.

Overture 15 would be disastrous, in my opinion. First of all, the overtures believes that the phrase “strong presumption of guilt” (which the overture would strike and replace with “if the court judges an indictment is warranted”) is a “somewhat subjective phrase.” It is no such thing. The phrase means something very specific and technical: it is the level of evidence needed to justify the filing of charges. In secular police work, the term answers the question, “Do you have enough evidence to book him?” That is not a somewhat subjective phrase, but a technical phrase that has a precise meaning. Of course, one court may have different standards on this than another court. However, “if the court judges an indictment is warranted” is not any clearer. A second problem I have with this overture is one noted by the dissenting opinion by RE David Snoke, stating that the proposed change concerning investigation of reports and allegations would potentially conflict with BCO 34-2, which states that no scandalous charges ought to be received against a minister on slight grounds. I do think that the proposed wording change would make Presbyteries do (perhaps!) too much investigating. I am sympathetic with the overture on this one point, however: the majority of doctrinal cases recently have been in contexts where the Presbytery has steadfastly refused to investigate BECAUSE of BCO 34-2, and wound up falling foul of the first part of BCO 34-2, which states that no minister ought to be screened in his sin because of his office. Some amendment to that proposed change ought to be propounded, such that frivolous charges can be ignored, while serious charges need to be investigated. The overture takes issue with the word “report” in BCO 31-2, stating that the BCO doesn’t define it. Maybe the BCO has not defined it. The SJC has. In the cases of Siouxlands Presbytery, the Presbytery argued that a report had not been received concerning the teaching of TE Greg Lawrence. The SJC ruled that the Presbytery had erred. A report is much broader than what the Presbytery had thought it was. It has to be more than a rumor, but it can be much, much less than a fully documented indictment.

Overture 16 is also dangerous, in my opinion. This would allow too many courts to dismiss charges way too easily. This also happened in Siouxlands Presbytery, when charges were made against TE Joshua Moon, and the Presbytery refused to allow the charges, based on very similar argumentation to this overture. While I don’t think that EVERY charge has to be admitted, this overture allows too much wiggle room for Presbyteries simply to ignore what they don’t want to face. And we have seen WAY too much of that lately.

Overture 17 misunderstands the nature of definite suspension. The very definition of “definite suspension” is that the suspension has a specified end-point. This overture would change that definition to mean that the court needs to review the case at the end of the definite suspension. This would, in effect, turn definite suspension into a form of indefinite suspension. I recognize the problem that the overture points out, concerning the hesitancy of Presbyteries when faced with a penitent, but not necessarily worthy-of-being-reinstated minister (that is, the repentance needs time in order to be judged genuine). However, to institute this change would create a different problem: namely, that a definite suspension would become, in effect, indefinite, creating a great deal of uncertainty for the minister.

Concerning overture 18, I can agree with the attempt to clarify what would become necessary for the assumption of original jurisdiction (a higher court taking over a lower court’s jurisdiction when a lower court is being delinquent in its actions). However, the result is not satisfactory to me. The threshold proposed is two-fold: when a Presbytery refuses to order an indictment, and when 7% of the other Presbyteries request the GA to assume original jurisdiction. There are problems with both proposed thresholds. With the first, the amount of time needed to determine when a Presbytery has refused to order an indictment is not specified. I also believe the threshold should be lower. The threshold should be on the investigation level, not the indictment level. It should be specified, also, that investigation has be more than one or two Presbyters having a drink with the person whose theology is suspected of being out of accord. The 7% of Presbyteries is completely unreasonable. The difficult of having 7% of Presbyteries consent to pass such a motion means that, effectively, it would never happen. Furthermore, I believe that GA should sit up and take notice when 2 Presbyteries request the assumption of original jurisdiction. I am not worried by the fear that it would happen too often. We have had the 2 Presbytery rule in place for a long time, and the request to assume original jurisdiction has rarely come before the GA. Both thresholds would, therefore, need to be modified, although, as I said, I am in agreement that some clarification would be helpful. The mere phrase “refuses to act” is too vague, and has generally been interpreted in too broad a manner, in my opinion. It has generally been interpreted to mean that if the Presbytery is doing the least little thing, that constitutes “acting,” when they have hardly been exercising due diligence. Presbyteries have a tendency to develop good ol’ boy clubs that most definitely refuse to act when doctrinal matters come before them. So, I’m in favor of amending, but not this particular way.

I have no problem with overture 20.

Overture 21 has been LONG overdue, in my opinion. The informational reports, while not unimportant, seem to me to prevent our Assembly from being a truly deliberative body. Now, if only they had also recommending going to a delegated assembly, which would save the denomination at least half a million dollars a year…

Overture 28 is a good overture, bringing the Theological Examining Committee into line with what Presbyteries are doing regarding stated differences.

I agree whole-heartedly with Overture 30 concerning intinction.

Overture 31 does seem to create a conflict with BCO 37-7, which allows jurisdiction to pass to another court.

Overture 32 seems to me to be a helpful clarification. The Committee on Constitutional Business says that it creates a conflict with BCO 1-3, 2-1, 6-2, and 57-2. However, the rationale provided only seems to apply to overtures 33-34.

With regard to the CCB’s argumentation on overtures 33-34, I’m not sure I agree. Overtures 33-34 would require a person to affirm the Apostles Creed to be admitted into the church. The BCO states that the only profession of faith required for membership in the visible church is the profession of one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, could not one argue that confessing one’s faith in Jesus Christ requires a Trinitarian profession? How can you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ if you don’t believe the Father sent Him, or that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit? I am wondering if that profession is not being defined too narrowly in the CCB’s rationale. I wouldn’t have a problem using the Apostles Creed as part of the affirmation of faith in the Lord Jesus. I am in favor of overtures 33-34.

I disagree with overture 35. The Westminster Standards ARE a confession of faith. Just because the officers are the only ones required to hold it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it as a confession of faith in the worship service. Maybe some individual people won’t agree with it. Fine. They don’t have to say the words. But the Confession is the Confession of our church as a whole, not just of the officers. Therefore, it is appropriate for the church to confess its faith using the words of the Confession of faith.

Tempted By the Tiber?

All of the hoopla surrounding Stellman has reminded me of the importance of this question: how do we build our theology? And if we are tempted by the Tiber, how do we go about resolving the questions that arise?

I think that the Bayly brothers have some excellent advice. I would modify it a bit by saying that anyone tempted by the Tiber should concentrate on two issues: justification and Scripture.

On either of these issues, a person should scour the Reformed tradition to see if there are good answers to their specific questions. Do not neglect the older authors, either. On justification, one should read (at least!) the following three books: Owen, Buchanan, and Fesko. It wouldn’t hurt either to do some digging in the OPC study committee report to learn why union with Christ does not make imputation redundant, but rather ensures that imputation is not a legal fiction. These resources would be a bare minimum of what a person should read.

On Scripture, I cannot even stress the importance of Whitaker strongly enough. If you read no other book on Scripture, read Whitaker. This is BY FAR the best book ever written on Scripture from the Protestant perspective. And there are plenty of other great books out there. I would also recommend volume 2 of Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (which is out of print, so you’ll have to find it on Bookfinder or ABEBooks). Pay particular attention to the perspecuity of Scripture, as this is the primary sticking point between Rome and Geneva.

One final word to young theologians: build your theology from the older masters. The reason for this is two-fold: 1. Not only are their works tried and true, having been analyzed more often than modern works, but also, 2. The fountain of the Reformed faith is less likely to be quirky than later theologians. So build your theology on Calvin, Turretin, a’Brakel, and Bavinck. This is not to say that modern theologians like Horton and Kelly should not be read. They should be. However, those guys would be the first to admit that you should read the older theologians first. This will give you a stronger and more centered root to your theology.

Stellman, Leithart, and Wilson

Stellman has opined on the relationship of his struggles with the Leithart case. There have been many who have attacked Stellman for being a less-than-enthusiastic prosecutor of Leithart. Others think that he has been entirely hypocritical. I don’t see any reason to think this at all. For one thing, it is entirely possible (I would argue probable) that he was merely struggling with the issues during the Leithart case. He wasn’t sure what his position was. If that were the case, it would hardly be worthwhile chucking everything out the window. And it is quite conceivable that he could simultaneously be struggling with Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide while believing that someone else who denied Sola Fide should not be in the PCA. Given that he came to that conclusion about himself (that he should not be in the PCA), it seems actually more than consistent. So, I don’t see why people seem to be saying that the Federal Vision has been vindicated. If anything, it has become less stable in its claim to be in line with the standards.

Take Leithart’s post as an example. He believes that confessionalists have elevated their paper pope of the confession to a similar level as the Pope. Leithart would classify himself as more of a biblicist. But (leaving aside the erroneous rhetoric about the paper pope) doesn’t this prove the point: Leithart is NOT operating from a confessional paradigm? He admits that he is not!

Doug Wilson’s post is a bit harder to parse. The problem I have with it is this: I don’t think Jason limited himself to ultra-confessionalists as his dialogue partners. He has loads of commenters on his blog who disagree with parts and/or with the majority of his theology. I think he was fairly well aware of the “broadness” of the Reformed faith. Of course, he was a confessionalist himself, no question. However, the fact that he listened to Romanists for quite a while seems to indicate to me that he is not, and was not naive. I am not defending his decision. That should be clear enough from the last post I wrote on the subject. I just don’t think exposure to the supposed “broadness” of the Reformed tradition would have helped Jason much, primarily because I think he already had that exposure.

I have emailed Jason concerning the actual reasons why he has taken this route, and what triggered it. I have not yet received a response (hardly surprising, given the absolute avalanche I am sure that his inbox is currently experiencing). I assume that explanations will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I encourage people not to speculate.

How to React to a “Conversion” to Rome

Jason Stellman has tendered his resignation to his church and to the PCA. I learned about this late last week while at Review of Presbytery Records. I immediately began to email him begging him not to leave. Just today I read his post and the comments that have been posted there. Folks, how can I impress upon you the importance of honey and not vinegar at a time like this? Do you really think you can prevent him from swimming the Tiber by alienating him? PRAY FOR HIM, I beg you. Yes, I have to admit that I feel as though I’ve been kicked in the solar plexus, and am still trying to get air into my lungs. But it is sorrow and love in my heart that feels this way, not spite and anger. Be angry if you wish, readers, but please do not direct that anger towards Jason. It will not help matters one whit. Instead, join me in interceding with our all-powerful God in heaven for his soul, and for his family.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

This epistle, like the others of Ignatius, exist in two editions, a longer and a shorter. We will be looking primarily at the shorter. There are three English translations available on the web: Roberts-Donaldson, Lightfoot, and Hoole. CCEL has a beautiful Greek font edition of the letter. And the PG link is here (the letter in question starts on column 673).

An outline of the epistle can go as follows: I. Beneficent greeting (1); II. Honor the officers of the church (2-3); III. Warning against the Docetists (4-11); IV. Final Exhortations and Greetings (12-13).

There are some very interesting things to note in this letter: Presbyterianism can find historical support in chapter 2: “It is therefor necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ.” Note also the strong emphasis that Ignatius places on the diaconate: “the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire. 3. In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no church” (chapters 2-3).

There is no doubt that the meat of the epistle has to do with Docetism, a heresy that believed that Jesus only appeared to be human, and wasn’t actually human. Therefore, Ignatius spends a great deal of time (chapters 9-10) propounding the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Guest Post by Cris Dickason

The talk about how much scriptural and doctrinal/confessional knowledge and commitment are expected of REs as well as TEs got me wondering. It is purely anecdotal, but I get the impression that term-elders are more prevalent in the PCA than “life-term” elders (whatever non-term elders are called). I wonder if in terms of doctrinal/confessional stability, presbyterial stability (oversight of the gateway into the ministry of TE’s), are term-elders a little bit of a liability? Does a revolving door on the office of RE hinder rather than help a Church? Phrasing it that way allows one to consider implications at the local church level, the regional/presbytery level ans well as the church-wide level.

In practice I’ve been on both sides of the issue. When at the Canadian-American Reformed Church in Blue Bell, PA, I did terms as both elder and deacon. Actually, the Church was always small enough (sometimes there was only 1 deacon – makes for boring deaconal meetings), the deacon was added to the consistory, making the deacon basically an RE with a deaconal focus. Now I am back in the OPC and am an elder (not a term elder) at Trinity OPC in Hatboro, PA.