New Book on Adoption

My friend has finally finished his published book on adoption, and it looks to be a dandy. I have only read the sample so far, but it looks to be encyclopedically informed, confessionally Reformed, exegetically sensitive, Vossian biblical-theologically, historically exhaustive, systematic theologically incisive, and pastorally rich. Adoption really is the most under-rated doctrine of all. It is fully as important as justification itself, and is a key plank of union with Christ, which has finally come into its own. Take it and read!

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Dating the Israelite Exodus from Egypt

Posted by David Gadbois

In 2014 a filmmaker named Timothy Mahoney released the documentary Patterns of Evidence, seeking to demonstrate the historical veracity of the Exodus account, largely through its sympathetic treatment (if not outright endorsement) of a revisionist timeline known as the New Chronology, an idea that has its genesis in English Egyptologist David Rohl.  Mahoney is not a scholar but claims to have spent over a decade of research on the film, and while he seems very well-meaning it must be said that this thesis does more harm than good to those believers and unbelievers who are making an honest inquiry into the matter.

The movie has since made its way to Netflix, and has become influential to many evangelicals.  Unfortunately, this is leading many people down the blind alley of the New Chronology.  This scheme down-dates the traditional Egyptian chronology by several centuries.  There is no need to embrace a revisionist timeline.  It is imperative that we, as Christians, handle the matters of biblical history with great care, so that in our apologetic witness we would not give reason for skeptics to cast doubt on the biblical testimony.  The truth matters and, indeed, God is truth.

The dating of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a fairly daunting issue even for scholars who specialize in the relevant historical fields and devote their lives to such issues.  It is even more daunting for laymen such as myself to sift through such matters.  But we can at least consider an overview of the positions held by sound, contemporary scholars.

At this time Ted Wright, Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing, and Douglas Petrovich are at the forefront in defending a 15th century exodus from Egypt (1446/7 BC).

On the other side, favoring a 13th century exodus under the pharaoh Ramses II, are Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier (as of at least 2007).  While their conclusions may not be correct, I consider their motives and expertise unimpeachable.

John Currid does seem warm to the idea of a 13th century exodus in the EP Study Commentary of Exodus vol. 1 (2014, first published in 2000), but nonetheless concludes “For now, the date of the exodus and the conquest must remain an open question.  More evidence is needed.  I would agree with Waltke that a definitive verdict cannot be arrived at ‘until more data puts the date of the conquest beyond reasonable doubt.  If that be true, either date is an acceptable working hypothesis, and neither date should be held dogmatically.'”

From what I can tell, Bruce Waltke seems to have gone from a firm 15th century advocate to saying that the matter is “uncertain” in his OT Theology (2007).

More recently, Duane Garrett has echoed this uncertainty in his Exodus commentary (Kregel Exegetical Library, 2014).  He provides a helpful, up-to-date, and balanced overview of the various positions, and covers the merits of not only the Early Date (15th century) and Late Date (13th century) but also a Very Early Date (16th century) and a Very Late Date (12th century).  He only dismisses “radical revisions to Egyptian chronology and history carried out by amateurs and by a few unconventional scholars” such as David Rohl (p. 102, see fn).

I mention the above names for several reasons: 1.  because they are alive and can be expected to express reasonably up-to-date scholarship 2.  because they are reformed or evangelical, as best as I can tell, or at least are highly sympathetic to the biblical account.  As such I believe they are arguing in good faith.  3.  because they have relevant specialization and expertise on the subject.  As far as I can tell, everyone listed except Wright and Kitchen have PhD’s in relevant fields, and collectively the breadth of their expertise covers ANE history, religions, archeology, semitic languages, Egyptology, middle Egyptian, and so on.

The most relevant, direct evangelical exchange on the subject is probably the back-and-forth between Bryant Wood and James Hoffmeier found in JETS 48/3 and 50/2 (here and here).

The most interesting recent developments on the archaeological side of the issue, that post-date the above literature, come from Douglas Petrovich.  He has maintained for some time that the pharaoh of the Exodus is Amenhotep II, and that the timing was 1446 B.C. (Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh, TMSJ 17/1).  Moreover, he holds that the Israelites departed from their dwelling place in the archaeological site now known as Avaris.  In this he is in line with the views of Bryant Wood.  He just recently earned his PhD in ANE history and archeology from the University of Toronto (where Wood and Hoffmeier also earned their doctorates), and made a bit of news last year when he claimed that ancient Hebrew was the first proto-consonantal alphabet and derivative of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  He published the case for this thesis in The World’s Oldest Alphabet:  Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script.

This finding goes back to only 2012. With the names of three biblical characters in view on the materials he studied, the implications obviously go above and beyond the nature of the written Hebrew language.

Moreover, he believes that recent Austrian-led archaeological digs at Avaris have turned up evidence that the site was abruptly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II.  He made this case in  The Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5/2.  He intended to write a book, “Evidence of Israelites in Egypt”, based on this and other recent archaeological evidence.  After inquiring about the status of the book via e-mail correspondence to Dr. Petrovich, he wrote back and indicated that the timing of publication of this book is currently uncertain.  He decided to publish the book on the Hebrew alphabet first, since he considered that thesis to be more unassailable in the scholarly community.

I can only mention in passing that there is, likewise, recent archaeological evidence that has surfaced regarding Israel’s conquest of Canaan in a compatible time-frame, for instance at the site of Ai.

Hopefully the Lord will continue to bless this generation as more archaeological work is done and the data continue to shed light on this difficult topic.  For now, I would assert that the revisionist timeline of Rohl is an unnecessary diversion.  It would be far wiser to pay attention to the work of the solid evangelical scholars mentioned above.  In that regard, I believe that the legitimacy of criticisms of the historicity of the exodus on the basis of archaeological evidence is quickly evaporating.

 ***Post script.  I would not want to dissuade anyone who is reasonably informed and of a discerning spirit to view Patterns of Evidence.  It is an entertaining documentary, with very high production values, and it does retain redeeming features:  the archaeology of Jericho, Joseph’s tomb, the Merneptah Stele, the Berlin Fragment, and interviews with a handful of conservative scholars.

The OPC Republication, Part 9

In this post, we will address the interpretation of WCF 19, a vitally important point to the whole debate. For ease of reference, sections 1-3 of chapter 19 will be reproduced here in full:

19:1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

19:2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.

19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.

I have not found republication arguments convincing on this section. For one thing, no republication advocate believes that the Mosaic economy required personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Of course, they usually have an answer for this difference, namely, that the works required in the Mosaic economy are typological.

For another thing, as the committee notes, the words “as such” in section 2 do not refer to “law as a covenant of works,” but rather to “perfect rule of righteousness.” So, while it is true that the three paragraphs need to be read together, and not as completely separate, this fact does not prove the republication theory.

However, I am just as equally unconvinced that this passage actively forbids all forms of republication. As the committee says, there is not enough evidence here to judge one way or the other. Not even section 6 is conclusive. I am not sure what significance the committee notices in the comma after “works” in section 6. It does not seem to me to affect the sense much, especially when one considers that the 17th century authors tended to be somewhat comma-happy, putting them in even in places where we might not.

Their conclusion is very cautious: at this point in their inquiry, they do not see the WCF as either blessing republication or condemning it.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 8

In this post we will address Part I, Chapter 2, section III B of the report, entitled “Not Names, But Things.” The main burden of the section is to note that Reformation era writers often relied on juxtaposition for qualification, especially when it comes to any kind of formulation of republication. Robert Baillie’s statements are an excellent example of this principle. The reason why it is important is that the juxtaposition needs to be seen and acknowledged, or else a particular writer might be relegated to the realm of the heterodox. Baillie’s own position is that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace (or else the Old Testament fathers are lost), but that the clothing, as it were, is of the covenant of works, and is tied to temporal blessings. But this clothing does not change the substance of the Mosaic economy into anything mixed. If one part of Baillie is quoted, and another part ignored, then a highly distorted picture of his views could emerge. The committee recommends similar care with regard to modern advocates of republication.

This whole principle is then placed in a larger context of the word/concept distinction. They argue that it is not problematic to call the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works. The term itself does not convey much. It is rather what is meant by the terms in the way they are used that has to be ascertained. It is a good caution for anyone in the debate to slow down and listen more carefully. Sometimes I get the impression that critics of republication don’t always listen very carefully, or else they sometimes (not always!) listen to secondary sources before primary (like using Patrick Ramsey for interpreting Kline instead of Kline for interpreting Kline).

Straight Out of Calvin?

Douglas Wilson is going to (eventually) produce a statement of his faith that will be a non-consensus document vis-a-vis the Federal Vision Joint Statement. In this he hopes to clarify where he is now doctrinally, specifically with regard to paedocommunion and the objectivity of the covenant. It will follow the same topical order as the Joint Statement, but will be all Wilson, no consensus. He hopes that people will wish him luck, and then lightheartedly mentions me. I did laugh, by the way, Doug. And I certainly hope for the best and wish you the best in this endeavor.

One of the biggest concerns in my mind, at least, will be the definitions of terms. One of the reasons that the FV theology is so hard to describe is that it tends to use normal Reformed words like “election, regeneration, baptism, justification,” etc., and infuse them (pun intended) with new meaning. This has made communication nearly impossible from the get-go. Many critics have tried (and I am certainly one of them) to understand how the FV uses terms differently. We have been told rather consistently that we just don’t understand. So, one of my hopes is that in this proposed document, Wilson will include lots of very precise definitions of words so that we can see how he is using them. This will make it much easier to compare with the Westminster Standards, to which standard Wilson claims a close affinity.

What will also be helpful will be specific statements of what is repudiated from the Joint Statement. Mere parallelism of document will not convince any critic that Wilson has left errors behind. Wilson was the main editor of the Joint Statement, and the Statement has many significant errors in it. In order for us to believe that he is coming around to a truly Westminsterian viewpoint, some significant repudiation will be required. There is also the consideration that Jim Cassidy wrote about here. I am sure that there are other things which critics will want to see, which we can clarify as Wilson goes forward.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 7

The OPC report speaks of a variety of views that were on offer with regard to republication. By the way, we are looking at Part I, Chapter 2, sections II and III-A in this post. The fact that the Westminster Assembly only explicitly rejected Tobias Crisp’s covenantal notions (Crisp believed that the New Covenant was substantially different than the Old Testament iterations of the Covenant of grace, such that they could not be considered as the same covenant in substance) does not tell us much more than that. This leaves us without clear standing on the question of whether more views than Crisp’s were either condoned or condemned.

However, support of an allowance of some forms of republication can be found in two points, according to the committee: 1. The presence of covenantal conditions in WLC 93 (the committee argues that bare precepts are more usual with the moral law per se, whereas the presence of conditions usually signals a covenant); and 2. The prooftexts underlying WCF 7.2’s description of the covenant of works are verses that apply to the Mosaic covenant. As the committee says, “How could the assembly think these passages relevant if a majority of its members did not see substantive continuities between the prelapsarian covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?”

This leads us straight to a consideration of how the prooftexts function. While they are not a confessional issue per se, they do offer a window into the interpretation of the Westminster Standards, since they were carefully chosen, according to the extended quotation of Chad Van Dixhoorn. Hence, they make it into the report as part of an argument.

It seems clear that the committee is concerned to ensure that at least some views of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Which ones are and which ones aren’t remain to be seen, but I am certainly in agreement with this assessment, even though I don’t think my own views would be described fairly as republication.

An Open Letter to Doug Wilson

Doug Wilson is older than I. I am therefore hesitant to write this, since it could be perceived as arrogant. However, I am fairly confident that older men than I who are critics of the FV would agree with either all or part of what I am about to write.

Firstly, I want to note that responses I have seen to Wilson’s post are generally skeptical. Wilson has not really moved in his theology, though the responses are also acknowledging gratitude for Wilson’s distance from Leithart. The critics want to see some movement in Wilson’s theology towards the Westminster Standards, though, not just in his terminology. Some still see Wilson’s post as yet another example of slippery language. It’s possible, although I want to leave the door as wide open as possible for Wilson to move towards us.

Secondly, I think Wilson needs to do some rebuilding, specifically, of his theology. Wilson does not have a seminary degree. There is something about a wholesome seminary education that allows one to see the virtues of one’s theological tradition in a holistic way. In the past, I have seen Wilson (and others in the FV tradition) cherry-pick the Reformed tradition, looking only for statements that seem to support their position, ignoring the vastly more solid (not to mention voluminous!) majority of what the Reformed tradition has to offer.

How does one rebuild a Reformed theology? It should happen in an encylopedically sound way. By this I mean that all the theological disciplines need to be seen as interdependent (this is what the science of theological encyclopedia is all about, especially in non-Enlightenment driven, confessionally Reformed circles). In other words, the best works in each discipline ought to be the building blocks that one uses on top of the foundation of Scripture itself (which nothing can replace, of course).

What would these building blocks be? Well, the most encyclopedically sound approach would be to take the best representatives of Reformed systematic theology and read those. The advantage of this approach is that not only do the best systematicians have an eye towards the other disciplines, but also one can have a much better opportunity to learn what “vanilla confessionally Reformed” theology is from its best proponents. The systematic theologies of Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Berkhof come immediately to mind as non-idiosyncratic representatives of the Reformed tradition.

On certain topics, additional focus should be given. The three main topics of the Reformation should have a certain priority after general dogmatics: doctrines of Scripture, justification, and worship. On Scripture, William Whitaker’s Disputations and Richard Muller’s volume 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics will cover most of the important bases. On justification, besides the excellent treatments in the systematic theologies listed above, essential reading is volume 5 of John Owen’s Works, as well as Buchanan’s treatment of justification. J.V. Fesko’s recent book will cover all the modern debates from a confessional perspective. On worship, authors like Calvin, Gillespie, Old, and Johnson seem to me to be the most important.

I have recommendations on commentaries (see the indices), so that leaves biblical theology, church history, apologetics, and practical theology. In biblical theology, one cannot do better than Vos, Beale, Goldsworthy and Clowney. For church history, there is Kuiper’s history of the church, which, although brief, is exceedingly good. One will have to go outside the Reformed tradition a bit, however, if one wants more depth in general church history. There is d’Aubigne, of course, but even he does not cover everything. Nor does Schaff, who is somewhat idiosyncratic, as good an historian as he was. For apologetics, one reads Van Til, Bahnsen, Oliphint, Pratt, and Edgar (Wilson is already an accomplished apologist). For practical theology, one needs to read the Puritans, the Puritans, and a little more of the Puritans. Owen, Brooks, Bunyan, Goodwin, Flavel, Sibbes, Manton, and Edwards come to mind.

So, suppose Wilson answers by saying, “I’ve read all these, what more must I do to inherit eternal life?” My response would be, “How did you read these?” Did you read them in order to confirm what you already hold by virtue of listening too much to the modern FV proponents, Girard, and a few other authors? I suspect not, in which case they need to be reread. Read for the center of confessional Reformed theology. Dig deeper, not sideways. Ditch the Joint Statement entirely. Don’t go for idiosyncratic, but instead go for the vanilla. The whole Reformed world would welcome you back.

Douglas Wilson: Federal Vision No More?

Douglas Wilson has posted an interesting piece over on his blog (HT: Mel Duncan). I will first summarize what I believe him to be saying, and then say what I think about it (though these won’t be rigidly separated).

What I Believe Him to Be Saying:

In this piece, Wilson asks that the whole post be read carefully in order to determine what he is and what he is not saying. Furthermore, he rightly notes that it is impossible to say everything that needs to be said all in one post. Such are the limitations of the blog. In the introduction, then, he says that half of the post will be retractions, and the other half, in effect, qualifications and clarifications.

In the second section on the reasons for retractions, after a brief personal note on his conversion to Calvinism, he draws a parallel with what happened with the FV, thus leaving him with the following options:

So I have finally become convinced that the phrase federal vision is a hurdle that I cannot get over, under or around. The options are therefore limited. I could abandon my actual position and adopt what most people think of when they think federal vision, or I can continue my futile quest of explaining it just one more time, or I could abandon the phrase, and let everyone know that I have done so. So I have finally become convinced that the phrase federal vision is a hurdle that I cannot get over, under or around.The latter option is what I have decided to do.

In the next section, entitled “A Different Kind of Difference,” Wilson distances what he used to call “amber ale” FV from Federal Vision entirely. In other words, he believes now that what he is attempting to say is not what the FV is doing. Or, to put it another way, he believes that “Oatmeal stout” FV should just be the FV, and that what he is doing is something else.

The next section is “On Seeking Forgiveness,” wherein he acknowledges that some of the critics of the FV attempted to be fair-minded. He says that there were some things about the FV that worried him in the same way and to the same extent as they did the critics, and that he should have said more about that. He says that his point in this is to attempt to pinpoint where it is that he needs to ask forgiveness. He confesses that he used the alleged incompetence of some of the critics to mute the genuine points of criticism that were there. I suspect I would fall into the “incompetent critic” category, rather than the “fair-minded critic” category, especially after my retraction. However, the vast majority of our debates were at least civil, and pretty well focused on issues, rather than attacks on personalities, so who knows? It is not that I feel that Wilson has to apologize to me. I don’t think that. I would rather see him reformulate things in a confessional way.

The next section, entitled “Trajectories” says outright that he does not believe that he is going in the same direction theologically as, say, Peter Leithart.

The next section really begins the second half, or second purpose of what he wants to do, which is to clarify what he does not mean, and what he is not retracting. He is not retracting his theology. He is retracting what he would call or label his theology. He doesn’t have a new label for his theology except for his claim to be a “Westminster Puritan within an irenic river of historic Reformed orthodoxy.” This is confirmed when he says that he would not retract anything he signed off on with regard to the Joint Federal Vision Statement (for critique, see here, second paragraph for an index of my critiques). He notes the consensus nature of said document, and says that he would want to go in certain directions with it while others would want to go in other directions.

In the last section, he taxonomizes the Reformed world as having three branches: pietistic, confessional, and Kuyperian, and says that although he leans Kuyperian, he would rather work for a synthesis of all three. I am guessing that the coherence of this point with the previous point has to do with the direction he wants to go.

What I Think About It

So what do we make of all this? To a certain extent, I think that the proof will be in the pudding, as it were. What are the details of this perceived different trajectory? It does not sound as if there is any huge shift in his doctrinal thinking. The biggest problem with Wilson’s theology was the faith/faithfulness combination, and (at least this is what I remember from 7 years ago) the conflation of faith’s aliveness with faithfulness as related to justification, and the rejection of the law/gospel distinction as it is normally formulated (as by Ursinus, for instance, in his commentary on the Heidelberg). It is my contention that every signer of the JFVS compromised justification by faith alone.

It is also my contention that paedocommunion is a completely different understanding of how the Lord’s Supper works than the Westminster Standards (see this post for the 17 places that PC contradicts the Westminster Standards). These things, in my opinion, are obstacles to Wilson’s claim that he is simply a “Westminster Puritan within an irenic river of historic Reformed orthodoxy.”

However, his obvious breach with Leithart is encouraging, in that Leithart advocates an end of Protestantism, which Wilson clearly does not espouse. So, there does seem to be at least some shift in doctrinal position. There does not appear to be enough, in my opinion, for me to be comfortable saying that he is confessional.

But I have this question for him: if he is admitting that he may not have seen the trajectories of some issues as clearly as some of the “fair-minded critics,” then isn’t it at least possible that some of the critics he has previously thought of as basically imbecilic may not be quite so far off the mark as he supposed?

Building on this is the question of how the FV proponents have been treated. All one has to do is read the history of how the Remonstrants behaved during the time of the Synod of Dordt to realize that almost the same doctrinal issues were in play, and almost the same tactics were used by the Remonstrants. Charges of breaking the ninth commandment were being thrown around like confetti, like the FV proponents. One thing that would be nice is if Wilson would point out how much the FV proponents have slandered critics by charging them with misrepresentation, when the critics might possibly have understood things quite a bit better than the accusations would have let on.

I believe it would be fruitful to interact more, so I hope Wilson will go into more detail and clarifications, specifically about justification, baptism, perseverance, union with Christ, and paedocommunion.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 6

In this post, we will address the first part of Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the report, which addresses the subject of typology. Typology is much disdained in today’s academia, since it assumes a Christian view of the Bible. Even in Fairbairn’s time (Patrick Fairbairn is the author of what is surely the most definitive work on the subject), typology was on the decline. What is typology? Typology is NOT allegory a mistake commonly made even today. Some have merely said that typology was akin to allegory. Others have said that there is practically no difference. The difference is actually rather easy to see. Typology sees a historical connection between something in the Old Testament and something in the New Testament. There is always a crescendo, or heightening in the process whereby the antitype is better than the type. The New Testament itself does this on several occasions. 1 Peter 3 refers to baptism as an antitype of Noah’s flood. Romans 5 calls Adam a “type” of Christ (verse 14). Again, in 1 Corinthians 10, things that happened in the time of Moses are called “types” for our benefit (verse 6). There is therefore a typology of the New Testament, at the very least, that we can explore. Allegory is not tied to two historical events. It takes one historical event and idealizes it, such that the pattern is attached to the air. It should be noted that the word “allegory” does not, of itself, point to the concept. Paul uses the word, but not the concept, of allegory in Galatians 4. Hagar and Sarah are types of historical realities, not idealizations. Therefore, even though Paul uses the word “allegorize,” he is not allegorizing.

The main question that the report addresses is the scope of typology. According to the report, those who hold to various forms of republication have a more expanded view of typology in the Mosaic economy. There are various aspects of the Mosaic economy that non-republication folks can see as typological. Examples here would include the Red Sea crossing and the Rock of 1 Corinthians 10. The question the report addresses is whether priestly obedience in the Mosaic economy can be assigned a typological function to point forward to an antitypical perfect obedience of Christ. The report seems non-committal on the question, but leans towards opposing such a view (their word is “unlikely”). This is only one particular aspect of the Mosaic economy, of course. It is not clear how other aspects of typology that republication advocates point to would be handled.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 5

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, section 2 of the report. This will cover the distinction between substance and administration of the covenant of grace.

The substance of the covenant of grace is the same during all the time of its various administrations, or dispensations. The covenant of grace has its beginning in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15, and grows, like a tree from a seed, into a huge kingdom that, with Christ as its Head and King, conquers all spiritual opposition. The substance of the covenant of grace is Christ Himself. Therefore, the covenant of grace is understood to be a covenant of saving grace. Christ as Savior is the substance of it. The writers also note, however, that conditions are also often described as being at the heart of a covenant: change the conditions, change the substance of the covenant.

There is both unity and diversity in the various administrations of the covenant of grace. The administration of the covenant differs going from Old Testament to New Testament as typology relates to the fulfillment of typology. Typology itself is a rubric under which we can organize the entire administration of the Old Testament iterations of the covenant of grace. So, the substance of the various iterations of the covenant of grace (or covenants, as the various dispensations can be called) is the same, even if the typological administration varies.

Although the grace God gave to the people of the Old Testament was true saving grace, the amount and clarity of that saving power was mitigated in the Old Testament times by virtue of the lesser stage of redemptive history. 2 Corinthians 3 is very clear in this regard. We have better access now to the grace and power of God than any Old Testament believer did.

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