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.

Seeing Christ In All of Scripture

I received in the mail a copy of this little gem from my alma mater. It is a fast read. I read it this morning.

Normally, I wouldn’t expect to have about 35 endorsements on a book that is only 87 pages long. However, in this case, what you get is actually a snapshot of scholars who agree with the trajectory that WTS is establishing (and has established in the past). I found these statements interesting and, in some cases, revealing (see John Frame’s puff, for instance).

The book has four essays, by Vern Poythress, Iain Duguid, G.K. Beale, and Richard Gaffin, Jr, all preceded by a good little introduction by Peter Lillback. Also included are three appendices. The first is Machen’s essay on the purpose and plan for the Seminary. The second is the document of affirmations and denials that the seminary promulgated in response to the recent debates at the seminary. The third is Dr. Gaffin’s short piece on biblical theology at WTS.

Dr. Lillback can now say that there is a “harmony among the theological disciplines at Westminster” (p. 1). This wasn’t the case when I was attending. The exegetical departments were, in general, at odds with the ST, AP, and CH departments. I, for one, am grateful for the present unity among the faculty and disciplines.

Dr. Poythress’s point is that true biblical hermeneutics is a spiral, not a circle, that needs to start from a self-consciously Christian perspective. In this context, he says that God’s “presence and his special work in inspiration do not make human beings less than human. Rather, he transforms sinful humanity toward humanity as God originally designed it” (p. 13). Some advocates of other hermeneutical approaches seem to suggest that if God had anything to do with revelation at all, then that “interference” would make the humans automatons, and thus less than human.

Duguid’s point is that Christ is the whole point of the Old Testament. Period. It is a book about Christ (p. 17). Against the Christotelic interpretation, Duguid writes, “It is not that the New Testament writers were creatively assigning new and alien meanings to these old texts. Rather, the force of Jesus’s statement that it was ‘necessary that the Christ should suffer these things’ (Luke 24:26) suggests that a proper reading of the Old Testament expectation of the messiah necessarily compelled them to recognize Jesus Christ as its true fulfillment” (p. 21). While the OT prophets were not fully aware of the complete meaning of what they wrote (p. 20), we must not overstress their ignorance (p. 21). Again, taking direct aim at the Christotelic view, he says, “In other words, our astonishment will not be because the fulfillment differed from the promise, or because some parts of the promise proved to be dead ends, but because we had not begun to grasp the height and depth of the wisdom of God that is at work for our salvation in Christ” (p. 23).

Beale’s essay addresses New Testament hermeneutics. Context is king in Beale’s hermeneutics, but that context has to be defined as including more than the immediate literary and historical context. It also includes its canonical context (p. 26). Biblical Theology is given a thoroughly Vossian definition (pp. 27-28). New Testament interpretation of the Old is the correct way to read the Old Testament.

Gaffin’s article addresses the place of Systematic Theology in relation to Biblical Theology (a hallmark of his entire career). Some money quotes: “Systematic Theology, accordingly, does not have a ‘special’ hermeneutic of its own but one it shares with all other theological disciplines (p. 39). “Negatively, the difference (between ST and BT, LK) is not, as is too often maintained, that biblical theology considers the Bible purely in terms of its humanity and historically diverse make-up, leaving systematic theology to attend to whatever may be said about its divinely qualified unity (p. 49). Instead, biblical theology always presupposes the unity of God’s speech (ibid.). “At any one point in actual practice, the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology is reciprocal” (p. 50). I might add something here to Gaffin’s remarks, and note that it is always reciprocal, whether the interpreter realizes it or not, and even if the interpreter denies that it is reciprocal.

It is clear that Machen was a Vossian. No doubt this quotation is why the essay was included: “[A]n error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is” (p. 57). This is pure Vos.

The affirmations and denials are available online here, but it is good to see them in print, as well. They are extremely sophisticated, and yet very clear. I commend them to your perusal, especially the parts about private interpretation (p. 68, for example). It has some very important things to say about Ancient Near Eastern background, as well (see p. 71, for instance).

Gaffin’s last piece is a response to Clair Davis’s lament over the supposed fall of biblical theology at Westminster Seminary. Gaffin says that the reports of biblical theology’s death at WTS have been greatly exaggerated. This is the money quote from that piece: “There can be no objection to ‘Christotelic’ in itself. But Scripture is Christotelic just because it is Christocentric. It is Christotelic only as it is Christocentric, and as it is that in every part, the Old Testament included. Or, as we may, in fact must, put the issue here in its most ultimate consideration, Christ is the mediatorial Lord and Savior of redemptive history not only at its end but also from beginning to end. He is not only its omega but also its alpha, and he is and can be its omega only as he is its alpha” (p. 86).

This short book clarifies the doctrinal issues surrounding the recent debates at Westminster like no other resource of which I am aware. Get a copy of it.

New Online Resource for Biblical Literacy

(Posted by Paige)

Compass Rose 1I am pleased to invite you to visit the Grass Roots Theological Library, a newly minted website housing the creative debris of a very busy mind.

Not at all intended to rival this worthy blog, my site is meant to be a collection of free, excellent, user-friendly resources for those who are serious about promoting and pursuing biblical and theological literacy for themselves and for others in their spheres of influence.

For pastors, teachers, and other leaders there are original, elder-tested Bible lesson plans and “Reviews of Books You’d Rather Not Read Yourself” . . . For the self-feeding autodidact who may lack professors or peers for the journey there are numerous resources, essays, talks, and lists to help. My goal with all of this is to offer worthy, unpretentious and unique contributions to the never-ending task of nurturing Christian literacy.

Suggestions are always welcome, and new material will keep showing up as time goes along. My personal favorite stuff: over 500 original text-based questions to ask when studying the book of Hebrews . . . weekly brief “Bible Journal” posts sharing some lively commentary on whatever I’m studying . . . my wall maps (you’ll see!).

Intrigued? The proof of the pudding is in the eating – please visit and glance at the Library so that you can know better what I am talking about. If you like what you see, please Bookmark or “Follow” so that you don’t forget about it (you can follow on Twitter also, @GrassRootsTheo). I promise you’ll only get notifications when I post a new Bible Journal piece. And please share this with those in your circles, whether leaders or learners, who would benefit by it!

Welcome to the Library!

Vos on Creation

It is indeed wonderful to have available to us for the first time Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics. Vos is often co-opted (and misinterpreted!) by people who love biblical theology, but hate systematic theology. Unfortunately for them, Vos does not go along with them. It is starting to become better known (now that his Reformed Dogmatics is being published) that Vos taught systematic theology at Calvin Seminary before he went to Princeton to teach biblical theology. Does his Reformed Dogmatics give any ground to those who despise systematic theology in our day? Not an inch.

Vos would also be extremely uncomfortable to those (often the same people!) who want to relegate Genesis 1-2 to the realm of myth. The idea that these chapters are myth is not a new idea. It was around in Vos’s time. Here is what Vos says about the genre of Genesis 1-2:

How many kinds of interpretation are there of Genesis 1 and 2? Mainly three: the allegorical, the mythical and the historical. The first two views, however, are untenable because within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God’s saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath. If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history (Reformed Dogmatics, volume 1, p. 161).

Fancy that: the father of Reformed biblical theology (and who was the greatest precisely because of, and not in spite of, his unified encyclopedia) rejecting the mythical interpretation of Genesis! May those who are motivated by the desire to look respectable in the world of academia take note that Vos was not afraid of what others might say, and he feared God rather than men.

A Penetrating Analogy

Theology is like an electric drill. The motor that runs theology is the Bible, the principium (the first principle). It underlies all the theological disciplines, just as the motor runs the drill. In considering a drill, nothing at all will work without the motor. In theology, we explore the meaning of Scriptures in exegesis. We explore what the church has said about the meaning of Scripture in church history (i.e., looking at God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit’s understanding and instruction given to teachers and preachers throughout the church’s history). We look at what the Scriptures say as a whole in systematic theology. We look at how the Scriptures apply to us in practical theology. We examine how we can remove obstacles (by God’s help) to an unbeliever’s coming to faith in God through the Bible in apologetics. What unites all the theological disciplines is the Bible. It is the motor of the drill.

To get the full use out of a drill, it is necessary to know how the parts work, and what all the switches and gears do. Knowing this about a drill is analogous to the exegetical enterprise. Or, to switch metaphors for a moment, exegesis looks at the individual trees in the forest.

Knowing something about the drill’s history can help us appreciate all that a modern drill can do. Hand drills, for instance, while having a charm of their own, and having the advantage of less noise, are also quite a bit (if you’ll pardon the pun) less efficient. This is similar to the function of church history. Studying church history helps us understand how and why we got where we are today. It helps us avoid the mistakes of the past, while also learning from the past so that the past can correct us where we are wrong (we need to make sure we avoid chronological snobbery here).

It is, of course, necessary to understand what a drill does as a whole if we are going to make any use of it. A drill makes holes in wood or some other substance. If we don’t understand its purpose, we might as well forget about using it as a tool, or we might be tempted to use it as a hammer. Understanding what a drill does in its entirety is similar to the project of systematic theology, which always has an eye on the other disciplines, learning from them, and informing them (not to mention guarding the other disciplines from error!).

This last named function of systematic theology needs defense, since most exegetes these days don’t particular like the idea of systematic theology having any role to play in exegesis (and some of them actively despise systematic theology). Systematic theology is a fence that guards our exegesis from error. If our systematic theology actually comes from the organic unfolding progressive nature of Scripture, then it will not be a straight-jacket, but rather the fence that keeps the children from going out into the dangerous road. Operating without a systematic theology is actually impossible, since the human mind cannot avoid synthesizing what it knows into a coherent whole. People who deny that they have a systematic theology actually very much have a systematic theology. It’s usually a very bad systematic theology, since the proponent of it tries to deny that it is even there.

Apologetics doesn’t fit the analogy of a drill quite as well as the other disciplines (and every analogy has its limitations), but I’ll take a stab at it anyway. If someone comes along and doesn’t believe that drill does what a drill actually does, then apologetics is the task of pointing out the various features of a drill that point (again, pardon the pun) towards its actual function.

Lastly, practical theology is like the drill bit. Practical theology is where we answer the question, “so what?” The drill bit is where the drill actually makes a penetrating difference to a piece of wood. If there is no drill bit (or screwdriver bit), then the drill won’t actually accomplish anything. The whole point of these other disciplines is to make up a drill that will work well at accomplishing its task.

Equally important, however, is the recognition that a drill bit by itself is not much good. Could someone conceivably drill a hole in a piece of wood using a drill bit and his own bare hands without the drill? Sure, but it make take several days, weeks, or months, depending on how thick the wood is. The better the drill, the heavier the drill, the more efficient will be its penetration of the wood. Practical theology divorced from the other disciplines is a drill bit that has no bite. This is one reason, incidentally, that I quickly tire of practical theology books that do not do any theology. In my mind, such books are really no better than books of advice. It won’t grab me at all unless the practical theologian proves that his application and practice are, in fact, biblical.

All of the disciplines are equally important, and (even more importantly) mutually dependent. Let no exegete turn up his nose at the fence. Instead, let him know that outside the fence is danger, not freedom. Let the systematician not turn up his nose at exegesis, knowing that it is the lifeblood of his own discipline. Let him not impose non-biblical categories on the text of Scripture. Let neither the exegete nor the systematician forget how the church has wrestled with the text in its history, lest they fall into grievous error that has already been laid to rest. Let none of these forget that all of Scripture is useful to make the man of God complete.

So, what should the pastor do in response to this? Should he become an expert in every one of the disciplines? Yes and no. Seminary training is supposed to be a solid introduction to all the disciplines (and should be done in a very unified way). Pastors do not need to have a Ph.D. to exercise a unified theological encyclopedia in their ministries. What they do need, however, is balance. Most pastors like certain kinds of books in one of the theological fields better than books in the other fields. Or they might like two or three of the fields, but not all of them. Pastors should make a serious effort to direct their reading in a balanced way, especially favoring what I call “summary books.” Any book that helps summarize the state of a particular theological discipline is an extremely helpful book to read. Pastors should read books in all the five major fields of theological studies: exegesis, church history, systematic theology, practical theology, and apologetics. Maybe a rotation is a good idea in this regard.

For people in the pew, take a look to see if your pastor is not very balanced in this regard. Do his sermons seem to have no bite to them, because you can’t see where they arose from the text? Or, are the sermons mere lectures, not having application at all? Or does he try to cram all of Reformed systematic theology into every single sermon? Or, do the sermons stick closely to the text, but never observe wider implications for understanding the Bible as a whole? You can encourage your pastor to broaden his reading, and the sermons will certainly benefit from it.

Similarly, the person in the pew can start reading this way as well. A good introductory book in each discipline is extremely helpful. In this regard, it is also helpful to note that the Puritans and the Reformers did not engage in these disciplines in an atomistic way. They did all of them together whenever they did theology. They practiced a unified encyclopedia quite unconsciously, since the division into separate disciplines only came with the Enlightenment (or, as I prefer, the Endarkenment). So, it is helpful to read pre-modern works as well, since they do not have the error of atomism. If we are not aware of this problem, and take steps to correct it, our churches will suffer greatly because of it. If, however, we look straight at the problem, and take conscious steps to become generalist theologians, the Word will penetrate our hearts more completely and effectively, I believe, and we will know God better. Drill away!

Is Theology a Science?

This question is, of course, way too large to address in only one post. However, I was reading Berkhof’s Introduction to Systematic Theology (which is included in the Eerdman’s edition of his Systematic Theology), and I found a really fascinating discussion of this question that was eminently clear and precise. So, what I want to do here is to set forth Berkhof’s arguments and see what people think.

The question revolves around the definitions of the two terms. What one means by “theology” and what one means by “science” will carry the day in answering the question. It seems fairly obvious that if theology is a science, it is a science that is different from the “normal” sciences we think of today (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). With the advent of Kant’s denial that human beings can truly know anything beyond what the senses can apprehend (Kant did not deny the existence of things beyond the realm of the phenomenal world; rather, he posited that they were objects of faith, not knowledge), theology as a science has fallen on hard times.

Berkhof makes the point that many people wanted to retain the idea that theology is a science, but they wanted to do so while being persuaded of Kant’s position. This meant that they had to make theology into a science of observable things (see p. 46). What is observable is the human psyche. So theology had to be redefined as the science of religion (as opposed to the majority definition in church history of theology being the ectypal (creaturely) knowledge of God). In other words, it became the science of what we can observe happening in human beings when confronted with the supernatural. It was thought that the supernatural itself could not be the object of scientific study, but our reaction to the supernatural could be observed.

Berkhof notes several problems with this train of thought. Firstly, this is too narrow a definition of science. If science is limited exclusively to the realm of what we can observe with our senses, then what of those branches of science that deal with the philosophy of science? The material they work with is not sensory information, but is dependent on rational intuition (pp. 46-47).

A second problem Berkhof raises is that science, like theology, is also dependent on revelation. Without a revealed world, science would have nothing to study. As hard as science often tries to get away from revelation, it cannot escape natural revelation at all.

A third problem is that the physical sciences and theology both have tests that can be performed. The physical sciences use the laboratory, whereas theology uses Scripture as a test.

Now, Berkhof asserts that theology is not a science in the same way that the natural sciences are. Theology has a different method, a method determined by the subject matter. However, the question may be raised as to whether science can be reduced to the scientific method. Remember the original meaning of the Latin scientia, which means “knowledge.” Most scientists today would deny that anyone can know God as an object of knowledge. They would typically say that one can only believe in God. However, such a position completely ignores the possibility of the Bible being revelation from God to us. We can know God through His revelation of Himself. That we believe the Bible is God’s revelation does not mean that theology is still all a matter of belief and not of knowledge. The scientist himself has to believe that the tools of his trade are trustworthy (his senses, and his reason). Does that make his field less an object of knowledge and only a matter of belief? Then neither does belief in the Bible as God’s revelation mean that theology is all reducible to belief and has no component of knowledge in it. In short, theology, when rightly defined, is a science, when science is understood in the above way.

A Gentle Response to Clair Davis

Dr. Clair Davis has written a response to Gaffin’s piece (which I linked in the previous post). As always, Davis is humble and always wanting to learn more, something I have always admired about him. He does not think he has finished learning. And he is more than willing to listen to those who disagree with him. In this post, I do not presume to teach Dr. Davis. As I indicated in my last post, my own thought is also undergoing change. But I do have some thoughts about his response. Writing about them helps me to think through the issues.

The first point I wish to raise has to do with the variety of ways that Jesus can be seen in the Old Testament. As I mentioned in my review of Sidney Greidanus, there are a variety of ways to see Christ in the Old Testament. This does not mean that a given passage, however, has more than one ultimate meaning. Otherwise, we will fall foul of the first chapter of the WCF, which says that the true and full sense of Scripture is not manifold but one (I wonder if the “two readings” view can really agree with WCF 1.9). The two readings view seems to me to say that the OT text has two meanings: the original one and the Christological one, and that they don’t have to match up or even connect (usually taking the historical critical method for granted here). Both camps in this debate would agree that there is progress of understanding the OT text. Otherwise we would have no New Testament. But Jesus says that He IS the meaning of the Old Testament in John 5 and Luke 24. He is not an add-on, or an afterthought. Yes, in some ways, Jesus is a surprise. But not completely. Otherwise, Abraham could not have rejoiced to see His day. The real question is not whether there is more than one way to see Jesus in the Old Testament, but whether He is there in the Old Testament at all! The two readings view seems to suggest that Jesus is not properly there at all, but is read into the Old Testament by means of Second Temple Jewish hermeneutical means (i.e., rabbinical means).

The second issue that I wish to bring up is whether biblical theology is “greatly weakened” at WTS, as Davis says. Yes, Enns and Green are not there anymore. Neither is McCartney. Instead, they have Beale and Duguid. My question is this: how can biblical theology be “greatly weakened” at WTS when two of biblical theology’s greatest practitioners have just joined the faculty? Beale’s greatest strength is in seeing how the New Testament reads the Old Testament. And he has written a mammoth New Testament Biblical Theology that will, I am sure, prove to be a classic. Duguid’s OT commentaries are some of the very finest OT exegesis I have seen, and very much in the Vossian BT tradition.

The third issue is the perennial one of the relationship of biblical theology to systematic theology (BT to ST). Davis believes that the two are yoke-fellows. He looks at the statement of the affirmations and denials and wonders if they haven’t put systematic theology in the untenable position of being unanswerable to Scripture. Having sat under Gaffin for five classes and received about 50% exegesis and 50% systematizing, I can say that, for the Westminster ST faculty, ST is always answerable to Scripture! The WTS faculty would NEVER say that ST equals the Bible. I do not think the affirmations and denials are saying that, either. The affirmations and denials statement was aimed at the unnatural separation of BT and ST that the two readings view advocates. It does not actually address the place of ST in the theological encyclopedia. I have talked rather extensively with the current ST faculty about the questions of encyclopedia, and they are agreed that ALL the theological disciplines are inter-connected and mutually inter-dependent. My question is this: why would we want to set any of the theological disciplines in tension with any of the others? As Davis’s example of a sermon shows, all the disciplines need to come to bear on the application. The analogy I use is that of a very heavy drill. A heavy drill has a lots of different parts to it all aimed at one point: the drill bit going through whatever material is present. That point of the drill is like application: where the rubber hits the road. But the more we have in terms of the other disciplines informing that application, the heavier and deeper the drill will penetrate the human heart. I would argue that it is the two readings view which separates BT from ST. Enns and Green don’t particularly like ST. They are suspicious of something that might put a straight-jacket on exegesis. This is not how ST should be thought of in relation to exegesis or BT. ST provides the safe fence outside of which exegesis and BT will find danger, not creative freedom. The fence can be moved, but Proverbs warns us against moving the landmark. There is a faith once for all given to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching. BT draws a line, and ST draws a circle.

Fourthly, that Vos says what he says does not prove that the main hermeneutical method that the apostles and Jesus used was a Second Temple Jewish rabbinical method. Nor does it prove that Jesus was an imposition on the OT text. That Vos says what he says in the quotation, therefore, does not disprove WTS’s point, as it is not directly relevant to whether Jesus is natively present in the Old Testament or not, which is the issue under consideration. After all, Paul quoted from heathen poets and philosophers in the New Testament as well. Does that prove that his hermeneutic is pagan? Using the language and concepts of the day does not equal a hermeneutical method.

Fifthly, what is it about Green’s method that is contrary to the Westminster Standards? I have brought up one point (the true and full meaning of Scripture being not manifold but one). Another point that we must bear in mind here is the unity of the covenant of grace, as WCF 7 puts it so well. Were the types of the Old Testament intended to prefigure Christ? The WCF says that they DO prefigure Christ. Period. They do not prefigure Christ only in hindsight, only on a second reading. Davis actually grants this point in the movie illustration, when he agrees with Gaffin. The problem for Davis here is that Gaffin and Green cannot both be correct on this point. Davis tries valiantly to reconcile the two, but I believe he cannot do so.

What’s Your Point?

I am re-reading T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It is a delightfully instructive and entertaining read. Our session is going to be going through it with the idea of studying how communication works, such that we can improve our teaching. The thesis of the book is relatively modest in scope. It does not claim to identify and solve all the problems with preaching today. Rather, Gordon claims to be identifying one major problem, and maybe the foremost problem. This problem has to do with the way in which the media, a primarily visual means of communication, has interfered with our ability to read texts well. He would go farther than that by saying that it has almost eradicated our ability to read texts well.

I agree completely with his thesis. However, I would like to point out something else, something less obvious, something deeper and less traceable, albeit still connected with Gordon’s analysis. I would argue that the almost complete division and separation among the disciplines of learning has resulted in ministerial candidates who do not offer the kind of well-rounded sermon that Gordon is promoting. What I typically find is that sermons these days are exegetical or systematic-theological or practical or historical or apologetic. This problem is not merely due to the fragmented way in which many seminaries teach the theological disciplines (though that may well be the main factor). It is also due to the colleges and high schools, which are usually oblivious to the problems that this Enlightenment-created phenomenon has produced. I realize that I am speaking somewhat generally, and that there are exceptions (specifically, most instructors and congregants desire the sermon to be practical, and so the practical aspect is often there alongside one of the other aspects; although, even here, the “practical” is usually truncated to mean “what is helpful to me at 9 AM on Monday”).

The effect this division among the disciplines has on preaching is profound, especially when aggravated by the factors that Gordon mentions. In the modern sermon, not only is there lack of unity in subject matter (“Point? What point?”), but there is also lack of unity in theological discipline (which is, ultimately, the viewpoint of the sermon). Most of the time, it seems that preachers will take one of the disciplines (their favorite) and preach from that viewpoint. As a result, their sermons are greatly truncated. What unites the theological disciplines, after all, is Scripture itself, as Abraham Kuyper so admirably says in his Principles of Sacred Theology (which ought to be required reading at every seminary in the last semester of study). It is like trying to pull a rope while grabbing only one of the strands: eventually the rope unravels.

Building Your Theology

I have been very distressed by a disturbing trend in the Christian world, and in the Reformed world, it has been no better. The trend is this: to build one’s theology entirely on the basis of the modern authors. Now, I’m not talking about introductory books on the Reformed faith in general, of which I would say that the modern ones can be extremely helpful in giving to a new believer. I’m talking about how we build our understanding of a particular topic in theology.

Take justification, for instance. Instead of building ont the foundation of Calvin, a’Brakel, Owen, and Buchanan, like they should, people are building their doctrine of justification on N.T. Wright and Norman Shepherd. The problem that then arises is that they judge the older by the newer instead of the other way around. The assumption is generally that the newer is better, since we have more information. Granted we have access to far more information than the Reformers did. That does not mean that we have progressed. Is it impossible that we should have regressed in our understanding of theology? All one has to do is read Turretin to be disabused of the idea that newer is necessarily better and more precise. Yes, we have more information available. That doesn’t mean that we have mastered all the newer information. In fact, it is becoming quite impossible to master any field these days. The Reformers could at least master what was known in their time. Hence, their works tend to be more cohesive, more encyclopaedically sound, than modern works, which tend to be more fragmented.

We should judge the new by the old, if we are to have any success in being Reformed. The adjective “Reformed” depends for its content on what is old. This is simply the way it is. I am not saying that the newer authors are useless. Nor am I saying that nothing can be modified from the older authors, and that we are “stuck” reading the older sources only. But we should build our understanding of a particular doctrine on the older authors, and then judge the newer authors by the old, while still allowing the newer authors to modify our understanding. At some point, I wish to create a series of posts on what the best sources are for building one’s doctrine from what is old (it would be organized according to theological topic).

Incidentally, this is still true even of those folks who wish to abandon the old Reformed ways. How do you know you have left the old ways unless you have studied them? Isn’t the definition of “Reformed” defined by the older theologians, not the newer ones?


I’m going to have to ask Scott Clark’s forgiveness here for not blogging about my recent trip to Westminster California. All I can say is, here is my attempt to rectify the situation. To put it simply, I had a great time.

I got to go out for lunch with 3 faculty members (Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and historical theology, Joel Kim, Assistant Professor of New Testament, and John Fesko, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology). Now, I’m sure that such ribbing and teasing goes on among many faculties of many seminaries, but I haven’t seen too many professors have such fun together. The fellowship was sweet. I included their respective fields for a very specific reason: these professors weren’t competing against each other, nor did they view their respective fields as competing fields. The collegiality was most refreshing. With the recent faculty problems at WTS Philly, which have been going on for a while now, I did not witness the same across-the-board collegiality. There is certainly some there, but the tension between the “biblical” guys and the “sytematic” guys was palpable when I was there. I hope things are improving at WTS in this regard. I have every reason to believe that it is so.

Of course, what is a seminary visit without books? Scott loaded me down with about 8 or 9 of them (many thanks, Scott! I am especially enjoying Van Drunen’s book on Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms).

One other thing I noticed was that all the faculty offices were on one corridor. I imagine this was intentional, but I still think it is a wonderful thing: collegiality among faculty is greatly increased when it is that easy to duck into another professor’s office. I think every seminary ought to consider this kind of a move.

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