February 26, 2013
The Scots Confession of 1560 has several advantages actually, but one definite advantage is the location of its doctrine of scripture. Unlike the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which begins with the authority and inspiration of scripture, the Scots Confession does not attend to this doctrine until chapters 18 and 19! The Scots Confession rightly begins with the doctrine of God, proceeding with a redemptive-historical outline of God’s covenant work, only after which the Protestant claims for scripture are given.
This seems to be an important ordering of the material. The WCF locates the doctrine of scripture at the very beginning. This has resulted in an unfortunate apologetic strategy where the authority of scripture is defended before the gospel of Christ and the triune economy is espoused. That is precisely backwards, it seems to me. I do not believe in Christ because I first believed in the authority of scripture; rather, I believe in the authority of scripture because I first believed in Christ. This is not materially denied by the WCF, of course. Yet, the formal ordering is important for contextualizing the doctrine of scripture, locating it within the doctrine of God — a good rule of thumb for all theological categories.
The WCF replaced the Scots Confession in 1647 as the subordinate standard for the Church of Scotland and her Presbyterian missions. Baptist confessions would model themselves on the WCF, from the London confession to the Philadelphia confession to the Southern Baptist Faith & Message. Nothing is more natural to evangelicals today than to conceive of the Bible as an apologetic foundation for an enumerated list of (normally rather disconnected) doctrines and morals. The most popular systematic theology today, based upon sales figures, has been Wayne Grudem’s ST. Not surprisingly, it begins with the authority and infallibility of scripture. In its crudest form, read this ridiculous article in The Christian Post.
If you want a good example of properly locating the norming of scripture as an auxiliary claim of our christology (and soteriology), I encourage you to read these two posts on P. T. Forsyth:
For a nice bound set of the Reformed Confessions, I highly recommend James Dennison’s multi-volume project: Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. So far, three volumes are published.
February 9, 2013
In my Gender and Theology series, I presented Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s case for the ordained ministry of women on grounds that preserve the ordering of the sexes (yes, subordination for woman). In her argument, she makes the point that, in contrast to the ἐκκλησία of the apostles, the voice of women has been utterly silenced in the assembly since that time. The formalization of ordained ministry and the order of the liturgy has reduced proclamation to the lone male voice from the pulpit.
John Dickson, in a recent series from Zondervan (Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry), makes the case that the gift and role of “teaching” has a fairly precise and technical meaning for Paul, related to the authority of maintaining the oral deposit of faith. It is a role distinct from exhortation and prophecy — the former of which is more closely related to what we conceive of as “sermons.” The role of women evangelizing and prophesying is well-known — approved and praised by Paul. By contrast, teaching is restricted to men. Dickson, an evangelical Anglican, agrees that “teaching” should be restricted to men, but this pertains to matters of authority in the first century that do not easily transpose to our current situation, much less to our practice of giving sermons. So, Dickson’s thesis is modest — he is merely arguing for the inclusion of women in the giving of sermons. It is a persuasive argument.
I also appreciated Dickson’s point that we do actually have a description of prophecy in the NT communities: “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Cor 14:3). Paul is contrasting prophesy with tongues, emphasizing the public character of the former. Once again, here we know that women were given a voice — not in the precise parameters of “teaching” but in significant ways that come rather close to the practice of homiletics that developed in church history.
This is an intra-complementarian debate. For those of us who are basically complementarian but open to forms of ordained women’s ministry, Dickson’s thesis is a significant aid to our arguments, even though Dickson limits his discussion to the giving of sermons and not to the broader issue of ordination. Michael Bird, in his volume in the same series, apparently gets into the larger issue — arguing for the ordination of women but proscribing positions as senior ministers.
February 11, 2011
The Kentucky Senate passed a bill to include the teaching of the Bible as a part of the curriculum in public schools. It still needs to pass in the House in order to become law. This is nothing new, of course. There are already several school districts across the country that allow courses in the Bible, as long as it is taught from an “academic, scientific, historical” standpoint. The curious thing about all this is that evangelical Christians are the ones leading the charge to get these measures passed. These Christians have a rather naive view of the Bible, with its intrinsic power to convert or, at the least, contribute to the moral fabric of society. They would be rather shocked to see the Bible under the microscope, subject to the critical tools as regards to sources and redaction. Their vision of the public school Bible teacher is basically a Sunday school teacher who is not allowed to say “I love Jesus,” but everything else will be the same. They are sadly mistaken. I’m not one to fret about historical-critical quandaries, but I’m not so sure that the average Christian child and youth will be able to process them adequately.
Please note that I’m not dissing critical tools; I’m definitely more liberal than a lot of evangelicals on such matters. But, as a Christian, the Bible is a confessional document of the church, set apart by God for the equipping of the saints. The Bible’s object is God; that is its content, which is not known as neutral observers. This is not to say that the Bible is exempt from rational and scientific tools, which rightly used are complementary, not necessarily hostile. But apart from faith, they become hostile. Fundamentally, there is no neutral ground: that is the depth of our rebellion.
November 1, 2010
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the new NIV, which debuted today. The print edition is scheduled for March of next year and will retain the name, “NIV” (not “NIV 2011″). As much as I appreciate the RSV and ESV, the NIV is still my favorite translation, especially when it comes to the Old Testament. I was disappointed with the TNIV’s over-extension of a “gender-accurate” method, which often enough distorted the text (see below). On the positive side, the TNIV included some needed textual updates. As many of you know, the TNIV was almost a complete failure, despite several high-profile evangelical endorsements. Why? A far greater number of evangelical leaders rejected it and exhorted churches to do likewise. The Reformed wing of evangelicalism was nearly unanimous in trashing the TNIV, and the Dispensational wing mostly ignored it. Several major Christian bookstore chains refused to stock it, following the example of (SBC-owned) Lifeway.
The point of contention was gender-accuracy. As readers of this blog may know, I’m not exactly Wayne Grudem’s biggest fan, but he rightly pinpointed numerous instances where the TNIV’s gender-neutrality distorted the text. Some of his examples are stronger than others, and, yes, many are not terribly important. I’m not sure how happy Grudem will be with the new NIV. It rightly adopts gender-neutrality in several places, especially Paul’s address to “brothers and sisters.” Yet, the new NIV often resorts to the original NIV (1984), or opts for a third/mediating translation, in most of Grudem’s examples. For your convenience, here is a selection from Grudem’s list, with the new NIV added.
VERSE: Genesis 5:2
NIV: He created them male and female…. And when they were created, he called them “man.”
TNIV (2005): He created them male and female…. And when they were created, he called them “human beings.”
NIV (2011): He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.
- Hebrew adam
VERSE: Psalm 8:4
NIV: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
TNIV (2005): What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
NIV (2011): what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?[a]
- Or what is a human being that you are mindful of him, / a son of man that you care for him?
VERSE: Psalm 34:20
NIV: He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
TNIV (2005): He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.
NIV (2011): he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
VERSE: Proverbs 13:1
NIV: A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.
TNIV (2005): A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
NIV (2011): A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
VERSE: Matthew 7:3
NIV: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye …”
TNIV: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye …”
NIV (2011): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
VERSE: John 14:23
NIV: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
TNIV (2005): Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
NIV (2011): Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
VERSE: Acts 20:30
NIV: Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
TNIV (2005): Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
NIV (2011): Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
VERSE: 1 Corinthians 15:21
NIV: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
TNIV: For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being
NIV (2011): For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
As you can see, a lot of the TNIV’s most egregious translations have been corrected. For example, it’s irresponsible for the TNIV to use “parent” instead of “father” in Proverbs 13:1. Both grammatically and contextually, “father” (not “father and mother” or “parent”) is the proper translation. This is ancient Israel, not 21st century America. Likewise, Acts 20:30 should be reflective of the male leadership (elders) at the time. In another example, 1 Corinthians 15:21, the TNIV loses the Christ-Adam parallel by replacing “man” with “human being,” thus distorting Paul’s redemptive-historical train of thought. In these instances, the new NIV rightly continues with the original NIV’s translation. However, in John 14:23, both the TNIV and the new NIV replace the personal “him” with a general “them.” This may not be as important as the other examples, but I prefer to know whether a personal or general reference is being used. Jesus is using the personal, “him,” which functions differently as a means of exhortation. Moreover, “they” or “them” diverts the attention away from individual indwelling (the point of the text) to corporate indwelling (which is taught elsewhere but not here). I wish the new NIV had retained the original NIV in this example.
The best example of a textual update/revision is the ever-controversial Romans 3:21-22. I’m really happy with the new NIV’s rendering. Like the TNIV, the new NIV changes the original NIV’s “a righteousness from God” to “the righteousness of God.” On this point, N. T. Wright is correct. However, “through faith in Jesus Christ” is retained, with “through the faithfulness of” in a footnote — also a good choice.
It may be too early to say, but I’m mostly pleased with what I’ve seen in the new NIV. I wish John 14:23 had retained the singular reference, but no translation is perfect.
I just noticed that the new NIV uses “flesh” for sarx, instead of “sinful nature.” See, for example, Romans 8:3-4. This will greatly help the NIV’s case for being a translation suitable for scholarship. The NASB, ESV, and NRSV all use “flesh.” No other term can substitute without sacrificing the embodied aspect of sin and, thereby, important implications for Christology and atonement.
August 18, 2010
I really don’t care about Anne Rice’s oh-so-typical “spiritual but not religious” manifestos. I hear it enough from co-workers. However, I did find her comments on conservative biblical scholars to be interesting and worth passing along. This is from her recent interview with Christianity Today:
Are there any other religious authors you read?
I read theology and biblical scholarship all the time. I love the biblical scholarship of D.A. Carson. I very much love Craig S. Keener. His books on Matthew and John are right here on my desk all the time. I go to Craig Keener for answers because his commentary on Scripture is so thorough. I still read N.T. Wright. I love the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. I love his writing on Jesus Christ. It’s very beautiful to me, and I study a little bit of it every day. Of course, I love Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
You mentioned D.A. Carson, Craig Keener, and N.T. Wright. They are fairly conservative Protestants.
Sometimes the most conservative people are the most biblically and scholastically sound. They have studied Scripture and have studied skeptical scholarship. They make brilliant arguments for the way something in the Bible reads and how it’s been interpreted. I don’t go to them necessarily to know more about their personal beliefs. It’s the brilliance they bring to bear on the text that appeals to me. Of all the people I’ve read over the years, it’s their work that I keep on my desk. They’re all non-Catholics, but they’re believers, they document their books well, they write well, they’re scrupulously honest as scholars, and they don’t have a bias. Many of the skeptical non-believer biblical scholars have a terrible bias. To them, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, so there’s no point in discussing it. I want someone to approach the text and tell me what it says, how the language worked.
March 26, 2010
A while back, I bemoaned the conversion of R. C. Sproul from evolutionist to Creationist (“The necessity of extra-theological norms”). But now I’m happy to see (ht: Chaplain Mike) that Bruce Waltke has come out saying that if evangelicals are not open to evolution, in the face of its unanimous support across the physical sciences, then we will become a cult (see video). I don’t know Dr. Waltke enough to know if this has been his long-held position or not, but it is quite refreshing to see (1) a conservative evangelical, (2) who is thoroughly Reformed, and (3) an influential Old Testament scholar make such a statement. The conservative Reformed world is where these sort of claims are the most contested — entire systems are in danger of collapse! Take away Adam, take away Jesus. That’s the view that I recently engaged on another blog. For what it’s worth, here are some bits of what I said in the comments:
…Israel, as such, did not exist at the beginning of creation (or of man), but they did eventually provide a protology which, probably not historical in large respects (the talking snake, the tree of knowledge, the rib for Eve, etc.), is authoritative for a theological anthropology that comprehends the (historical) place of Israel and her Savior.
…God does not inspire Scripture by over-riding, in this case, Paul’s assumptions about the historicity of Eden. Biblical inspiration can, and does, include the finite material, at hand, of the human authors. Yet, it is still infallible according to His purposes and intentions. Similarly, we don’t believe in a three-tier universe anymore (with heaven literally above the sky), even though several biblical authors were obviously working with this cosmology.
…We need the imputation of Christ’s works and merit because we are sinners, enslaved in sin and unable to make a perfect/eternal atonement, not because Adam’s guilt is imputed to us. Federal categories are not helpful here — this is about ontology — but federal representation is, indeed, helpful and necessary when we turn toward understanding the remedy of this ontology of sin. In other words, a federal soteriology does not require a federal protology. Sin entered the world with Adam (actually, Eve, or whoever the first humans were), and all subsequent generations have been born as sinners (and, therefore, guilty). However, this sin and guilt is fully our own since it constitutes the most fundamental part of ourselves (without which there is no “self”) — our will. It is as impossible to disown our guilt as it is impossible to disown ourselves. Thus, it is impossible to lay the blame elsewhere (Adam or whoever). Hence, federal categories are not helpful here and are actually misleading.
Books & Culture has a review of an interesting book, The Word and the World: Biblical Exegesis and Early Modern Science, edited by Kevin Killeen (University of Reading) and Peter Forshaw (University of London). The first essay, by Peter Harrison (author of The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science), sets forth the argument that:
“‘the Protestant call for a return to literal interpretation provided the intellectual conditions and the hermeneutic mode conducive to the development of science.’ By eschewing the elaborate, often abstract modes of allegory common in Roman Catholic discourse, Protestantism fostered a kind of scientific consciousness, one given to reading God’s other book, nature, as attentively as it did the Bible.”
Other essays supplement, refine, or challange this thesis.
April 23, 2009
I found this amusing:
“Sadly, the contemporary field of hermeneutics is plagued with a plethora of aggressive proponents of nihilistic to weird theories of meaning and of non-meaning of documents, including the Bible. We have been compelled by our times to come to terms with assaults but not to surrender to them. The same common sense realism (formal or informal) which took you through fourth grade geography and college chemistry will take you through Bible and theology. A course in hermeneutics is hardly prerequisite to theology. It can wait.”
Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical, p. xvii
December 11, 2008
There’s a new group of biblical scholars setting to determine points of consensus on the historical Jesus. They’re calling themselves, “The Jesus Project,” as the Christian Post reports. The CP quotes a former professor of mine at UNC Charlotte, James Tabor (author, The Jesus Dynasty): “the Jesus Project repudiates any theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” That certainly sounds like Professor Tabor, who taught my New Testament course wherein he assured us that Jesus was just another failed apocalyptic messiah, whose corpse rotted long ago. Among his extensive work on NT origins, Tabor has been in the process of doing a new translation of the Bible because, as he told us, the NRSV and all other translations are too Christian, i.e., tainted by “theological agendas, special pleading, or dogmatic presuppositions.” I have to grant Professor Tabor one thing: he taught me that the Bible was a theological text, created by (broadly speaking) theologians. As a committed agnostic, his task is to simply recognize the theological intent as it shapes the history. Belief shapes facts; reverse this belief-shaped construction and discover the fact. Tabor, being a very smart man, is quite confident in his ability to discover the fact, with the help of his fellow scholars.
All of this leads to the interesting question of whether a secular university can have theologians on staff, which, given a broader definition, would include historians, literary critics, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, etc. who believe in a Christian interpretation of reality. Religious Studies departments in America have, with very few exceptions, rejected theology as a legitimate discipline in the public university, and, thus, they do not hire scholars engaged in constructive Christian dogmatics. Most other departments (history, philosophy, psychology, etc.) would likewise reject a candidate who explicitly claims Christian faith as integral to their hermeneutic. In order to be counted among the true scholars, you have to claim an agnostic/secular hermeneutic (i.e., a hermeneutic without God) tethered to a logical positivism of universally-accessible material. Christian scholars are caught in a predicament because they believe in a God known according to faith in a moral regeneration. As such, it is the “will” that determines truth for the Christian — at least, that is how our secular counterparts will interpret it, and they are right insofar as the will must change in order to recognize truth. But, the whole modern secular university is built upon the principle that the mind alone — reason alone — is the only legitimate faculty for claiming knowledge. Thus, only that which can be logically demonstrated is appropriate in the public university.
That is what virtually all of my professors believed, and, thus, we are in an odd predicament in America in that our tax dollars support educational institutions with a decidedly anti-Christian modus operandi. We have bought the lie that “secular objectivity” is a value-free and religiously-neutral concept. I will, as with most things, blame my parents’ generation. Thanks a lot, baby boomers! Idiots.