Church Of Scotland

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:

The Canon: A Protestant Account

The Canon: A Protestant Account, pt. 2


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 TranslationSo far, three volumes are published.

Evolution’s weaker claims

February 25, 2013

[UPDATE: I have added an addendum at the end.]

It is refreshing to read a scientist’s perspective on the evolution/creationism debate: An Insider’s View of the Academy (ht: Vincent Torley). The author is James Tour, the Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University.

Tour is questioning the scientific academy’s confidence in macro-evolution. To be clear, this is not an apologia for either the Intelligent Design community, much less the Young Earth Creationism folks. He expressly rejects both. Rather, it is an honest assessment of the academy’s willingness to recognize certain weaknesses in the evolutionary theory. Here is a snippet:

Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway.

…It is not a matter of politics. I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand either. Well, that is all I am saying: I do not understand.

He goes on to offer warnings to his younger colleagues and students who share his concerns about the integrity of the scientific academy on matters pertaining to macro-evolution. This unwillingness to challenge the mechanics of macro-evolution is, it seems to me, a mirror image of the fear and protectionism in certain segments of evangelicalism. There are strengths, to be sure, in the overall evolutionary paradigm, namely the evidence for an old earth. Yet, the mechanics of the evolution itself between species, and especially the emergence of life, is notably weaker. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, touches upon this in his excellent (and highly accessible) book, Seven Days that Divide the World. With scientists like Tour and Lennox, the dialogue between science and theology can be far healthier than is found, especially at certain seminaries. It will also bolster the credibility (both scientific and theological) of those of us who refuse to be pushed into either the strict Darwinian Evolution camp or the Young Earth camp.

Addendum — Just to be clear, I am not offering this as any sort of proof against macro-evolution or against the viability of a theistic evolutionary framework. Much less would I argue for a “God of the gaps,” which is the danger of offering these sort of questions about macro-evolution. In the spectrum from YEC to Theistic Evolution, I have always leaned heavily toward the latter but not uncritically, and I find the mediating positions to be fascinating (OEC and Progressive Creationism). As a theology student and seminarian, I just want to see a more productive dialogue between evangelicals and the scientific establishment. I’ve criticized the former several times on this blog (e.g., here and here and here); now I am offering a criticism of the latter.

Oh, Russia

February 20, 2013

Poor Russia, the subject for comedy fodder over the last week. First, there was the SNL skit:

Weekend Update: Olya Povlatsky

And then The Daily Show:

How I Meteored Your Motherland


Roman Catholic predictions

February 12, 2013

St John Lateran

With the announcement of Pope Benedict’s abdication, the media has not been short in offering predictions of change in Rome — or, if not predictions, there’s plenty of pontificating (no pun) about Rome’s need to finally jump on board the modernity train. So, it’s worth recounting what is actually possible, merely plausible, or impossible.

Women priests: nope, not possible. The Catholic doctrine of the priesthood — with the priest as alter Christus to his bride, the Church — is too deeply embedded in Catholic orthodoxy and influences how the priest functions in a dramatic re-presentation of Christ in the mass and in confession. In terms of the magisterium, a change is made even more difficult, since a male-only priesthood can be said to fall under the “ordinary and universal magisterium” of the church which is designated as part of the infallible magisterium (see Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, 25).

Married priests: This already exists. The Eastern rite churches of the Catholic Church have a married priesthood (except, like the Eastern Orthodox, for the bishops), and there is even a provision for Anglican ministers who convert to Rome to be ordained in the Catholic priesthood while being married. As for the rest of the Western rite — the vast majority of Rome’s jurisdiction — the priesthood is celibate, but since this is a matter of discipline, not dogma, there is some plausibility that it could change. I’m skeptical that it will change, but it is plausible, unlike women priests.

Contraception: This probably belongs in the “not possible” category, since Rome has argued that it falls under the infallible authority of the “ordinary and universal magisterium.” However, many will argue that certain contextual factors call into question whether past proscriptions still apply; thus, doctrinal development is needed. That argument hasn’t impressed Rome heretofore. Moreover, Rome’s position against contraception is part and parcel of a larger natural law position that lends a great deal of intellectual integrity to her sexual ethics — which should be recognized even by those who disagree.

Gay marriage: nope, not possible. Given that Rome has thwarted the entire sexual revolution from its inception (with contraceptives), she is far removed from gay marriage even being a possibility. And, once again, the claims from the “ordinary and universal magisterium” are, as with an all-male priesthood, especially strong.

Well, that covers the most discussed issues.


Image: St. John Lateran Basilica, the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome

Hearing Her Voice

February 9, 2013

Hearing Her Voice

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.