Professional Grumblers

Last night was the “Evening of Confessional Concern and Prayer” organized by Ken Pierce and Geoff Gleason. It was a wonderful evening, and kudos to them for the effort they spent in bringing this about. The discussions were informative, reasoned, charitable, and yet direct and forthright. They struck just the perfect tone that one hopes confessionalists will imitate throughout this week at General Assembly. The prayer was very uplifting as well. One point struck me in particular as I reflected on how confessionalists like myself tend to behave, and so this blog post is directed primarily towards confessionalists, though I hope others will listen in and be encouraged.

Confessionalists are professionals at grumbling. I daresay we could put ancient Israelites in the wilderness to shame. For us the glass seems to be about .00001% full. Notice that I have now found a new subject about which to grumble and complain. But the point I wish to make here is that we are very good at complaining about the other groupings of people in the PCA. I have done it many times myself: “Oh, those CWAGA folk, they don’t care about doctrine, they only want a dumbed-down version of Christianity;” “Oh, those progressives, they hate the Westminster Standards, and want to eliminate them entirely from the PCA.” Now, no group within the PCA is immune from criticism. However, when we confessionalists think about the other groups, do we remember and thank the Lord for good points about them? Many, and maybe even most, of the CWAGA folk still preach a clear gospel, and should we not be thankful for that? Even progressives like Tim Keller have contributed good things (I am thinking particularly of his apologetics). We must not forget that our own theology and practice has error in it, since we are sinful humans. We must therefore walk humbly before our God.

Hints of Cessationism in NT?

(Posted by Paige)

A perennial puzzle that arises as we rub shoulders with our neighbors in the wider church is how we are to understand the claims of “continualists,” who attest that signs and wonders and special manifestations of the Spirit are (and ought to be) normative parts of Christian experience today. As this is a live question in my neck of the woods right now, I recently started thinking through the NT’s teaching, both implied and direct, on the temporary nature of these “special effects.” I’ve come to some interesting, tentative conclusions based mainly on a close study of Hebrews; but before I set these out for scrutiny, I thought I’d offer a question for your consideration and see what good thoughts I get back. Here is my basic query:

Can you identify in the NT any evidence of a shift, whether anticipated or inaugurated, from faith supported by words, sacraments, and miraculous signs to faith supported by words and sacraments alone? (Assume inspired words and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in both cases!)

Note please that I am only interested in NT support for this shift, not what the ECFs had to say about it. I’m also already familiar with the basic cessationist arguments, so no need to repeat Warfield or Calvin on this. What do you see in the NT that suggests a transition from an era that included wonders/sight to an era characterized by words/hearing?

Thanks in advance!

Update:My own contribution can be found in this comment.

What Is Evangelicalism?

De Chirico’s book on Roman Catholicism spends the first chapter discussing the definition of “evangelicalism.” Of course, this word has broadened in meaning considerably over the last 30 years or so. In fact, it has become so broad that many question whether it is a helpful designation of anything anymore. A professor at Fuller seminary recently called Mormons evangelical. If a term can successfully encapsulate both the Mormon faith and confessional Reformed theology, how useful a term is it, really? De Chirico acknowledges this drift of meaning: “[The] increasing vagueness of the use of the word is making its semantic value less and less precise” (p. 28). This results in a lot of hyphenated terms, in order to gain more precision, like “evangelical-Reformed,” “evangelical-Catholic,” “evangelical-liberal,” etc. De Chirico, however, does argue that there is still a core of meaning associated with the term. Historically, the movement of evangelicalism has its roots in the Reformation; theologically, it is defined as a theology of the gospel; ecclesiologically, it has embraced the concept of the denomination, with varying types of spirituality associated with them. He has a helpful diagram on p. 39. In terms of the general outlook of evangelicalism, he says that it is becoming marginalized (p. 41). The way that evangelicalism “works” is by describing a core Christianity that has essentials, and then defining other matters as adiaphora (things of indifference). He gets at a key difference among evangelicals, when he says that there are traditionalists and reformists, the former seeing “the church as (a) ‘bounded set’ whereas the latter as ‘centered set'” (p. 46). These differences among evangelicalism make it quite clear that there are significant differences among evangelicals over theological method. Historically, they have been united around the gospel, though that unity has fragmented somewhat of late. All in all, a pretty fair description of evangelicalism.

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?

Tired of “Church Programs?”

We live in an age where the church is increasingly convinced that it has to create gimmicks in order to convert people. Oftentimes, the church is only really concerned about getting people in the door. The Gospel thus drops out of sight entirely. Has God actually prescribed for us the way to make disciples? Yes, and the Great Commission tells us how. This book should help us to return to the Gospel as the Gospel, and not what we try to make (or twist!) out of it. This book is 50% off right now at WTS bookstore.

The General Evangelical Nature of the PCA

This post is in response to a suggestion from my good friend, Wes, whose blog you should definitely read, if you don’t now.

One thing that greatly concerns me (and him) is the sloppy nature of the PCA’s evangelical middle. I asked myself this question: why did 95% of the PCA vote in favor of the PCA’s study committee report? Was it because everyone thought that justification by faith alone needed to be protected? Undoubtedly, many in the PCA thought that. However, I’m not sure that this is the general case with the evangelical middle. I’m sure there are exceptions even here. However, what strikes me about the FV and the NPP is its neonomian tendencies. No one would ever accuse an FV’er or a NPP’er of being an antinomian. It has never happened yet, to my knowledge.

I think a lot of what drove the PCA’s decision is the genuinely antinomian character of much of the evangelical middle. They were reacting to the neonomian tendencies of the FV and the NPP, and therefore they voted against it. Be assured that I am glad they voted the way they did. However, it raises the question in my mind about their true theological stance. It has been a commonplace in critics’ evaluations of the FV that there is general agreement about the problem. The problems of rampant Endarkenment individualism (surely Enlightenment is too strong a word!), antinomianism, and general evangelical mush are evident to the FV’ers, as to many critics of the FV. What are we going to do about this? How will this victory over the FV in the PCA translate when it comes to evangelical feminism, which I realize is a contradiction in terms? What about the Arminianism rampant in the PCA today? Will we be confessional, or won’t we?