John Leith audio lectures

November 22, 2013

Leith, John H.

Union Presbyterian Seminary has recently published several audio lectures and sermons from John Leith, professor of theology at Richmond for three decades and a fine interpreter of the Reformed tradition. He loved the Reformed tradition in all of its breadth, whether Calvin or the Westminster Assembly or Karl Barth. The lectures can be found at the Foundation for Reformed Theology.

A good place to begin is his lecture at Columbia Theological Seminary’s Alumni Forum: “The Reformed Perspective,” from 1978. You can stream or download (right click).

As for books, his Introduction to the Reformed Tradition is still the best all-around introduction, serviceable to a broad audience. Your next stop should be his Assembly at Westminster: Reformed Theology in the Making.

Leith-Reformed-Tradition  Leith-Assembly-at-Westminster

MLK on creative nonconformity

November 21, 2013


This is from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s collection of sermons, Strength to Love:

Nonconformity in itself, however, may not necessarily be good and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power. Nonconformity per se contains no saving value, and may represent in some circumstances little more than a form of exhibitionism. Paul in the latter half of the text [Rom 12:2] offers a formula for constructive nonconformity: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Nonconformity is creative when it is controlled and directed by a transformed life and is constructive when it embraces a new mental outlook. By opening our lives to God in Christ we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists and freed from the cold hardheartedness and self-righteousness so often characteristic of nonconformity. Someone has said, “I love reforms but I hate reformers.” A reformer may be an untransformed nonconformist whose rebellion against the evils of society has left him annoyingly rigid and unreasonably impatient.

Some years ago Professor Bixler reminded us of the danger of overstressing the well-adjusted life. Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted. We must, of course, be well-adjusted if we are to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities, but there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted. I confess that I never intend to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

Strength to Love, Fortress Press, 2010, pp. 17-18 (pp. 26-27 in the older editions)

I cannot adequately express how much I loved Mark Noll’s response to John Piper in the following video (HT: Justin Taylor). Piper is challenging Noll’s claim that Young Earth Creationism is “suicidal.” Piper affirms that the “two books” — Bible and nature — are in perfect harmony when interpreted in ways that are proper to their own respective spheres (“coming and seeing” in each case). Yet, he is not sure how that principle excludes Young Earth Creationism today! Umm, yeah. I have transcribed Noll’s response (beginning at the 47-minute mark):

I think that Young Earth is suicidal because the “coming and seeing” that has led the scientific establishment — to believe in an old universe for example — has not been quick, has not been for many people aimed in any way at taking away from the goodness and glory of God, has been reaffirmed by people in many cultures, through many experiments, through many different varieties of coming and seeing.

Now, there is a factor of reliance upon testimony, which has actually been written of quite well in the history of science. If you ask me to explain why looking at what physicists do or what molecular biologists do can justify talking about a long earth, I can’t do it. But I’ve talked to people who have trained, disciplined their seeing, checked their seeing by many other people, believers and nonbelievers, and shown why following what they have seen need not be destructive to Christian faith. They are persuasive to me.

On the opposite side, I have read, and have been reading since I was 9 years old, Creation Science literature which does almost none of those things. It’s very few people seeing. It’s not disciplined seeing. It’s not well-trained seeing. It’s not careful construction of what has been seen.

He then notes the difficulty of the question of human origins, exhorting theologians and pastors to take the matter seriously. Here is the video:

This is the Q&A that followed a lecture presentation by Noll. I commend Piper for recognizing, earlier in the Q&A, that his ministry has neglected the wider world of knowledge, failing to encourage students to pursue these fields of scientific research. He recognizes his culpability in this respect. Yet, he fails to recognize that it is precisely his highly restrictive view of biblical inerrancy — cloaked in pious expressions about “magnifying” God with a “high view” of the Bible — which is the problem. As such, it is not at all surprising that Piper and his followers are myopically focused on biblical exposition, with little care or interest in other intellectual pursuits. Piper’s view of nature study is dreamy and romantic.

Daddy Doesn’t Pray

November 18, 2013

This is why I love country music:

Julie Roberts is the first new artist to sign with the legendary Sun Records in over forty years (CW article). This is from her latest album, Good Wine & Bad Decisions.

Paul Schneider, martyr

November 18, 2013

Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School) has a fine piece, in this morning’s FT columns, on a lesser known witness to Christ during the rise of National Socialism:

“Giving Thanks in Hitler’s Reich”

You can read more about Schneider in Rudolf Wentorf’s biography, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald.


“Love on”?

November 17, 2013

Glad to know that I am not the only one to notice the strange, trendy phenomenon of using “love on” instead of, simply, “love.” Here is Addie Zierman in the Post:

Love on (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.”)

In addition to sounding just plain creepy, this phrase also has troubling implications. We may understand that we need help, but we certainly don’t want to be anyone’s project or ministry.

It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler…but deeper. It suggests that the relationship is the point, not the act of love itself.

Amen. As for the rest of Addie’s musings, I am more than a little sympathetic to Lydia McGrew’s take: “Ho hum, another day, another preachy, arrogant, self-important op-ed, from a millennial telling churches how to avoid scaring off the sensitive snowflakes born around the turn of the century.” Okay, I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it takes a great deal of fortitude some days!

A preacher who follows Addie’s advice and routinely says, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong,” will make a horrible, horrible preacher. It is no better than its opposite caricature, the raging fundamentalist — both are rooted in insecurities and subjective preoccupations. By the way, when will these “post-evangelicals” read a little history and realize that they are just mainline Protestants, channeling Harry Fosdick?

Marian faith

November 15, 2013

Here is a stimulating lecture on the doctrine of faith from one of my former professors, Francesca Murphy, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame (formerly Professor of Christian Philosophy at Aberdeen).

This a profound theological reflection on the question, what is faith? And it is nice to see a theologian answer this question, instead of handing it over to the philosophers. The intersection of theology and philosophy has been one of Professor Murphy’s longtime interests, as exemplified in her Catholic heroes, Étienne Gilson and Hans Urs von Balthasar, not to mention Augustine and Thomas.

On that note, you should purchase The Catholicity of Reason by D. C. Schindler in Eerdman’s series on Ressourcement.


In a previous post, I looked at how the inerrancy debate within evangelicalism has resulted in a number of options for positioning oneself vis–à–vis the historicity of the biblical texts (total inerrancy, limited inerrancy, total falliblity). None of these options are satisfactory, not for the dogmatic theologian at least, and surely not for anyone who has serious misgivings with the apologetic and rationalist orientation of post-fundamentalist evangelicalism that emerged after WW2. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, in particular, has held some significant influence within the movement, even referenced by ETS for prospective members.

The Chicago Statement has a number of praiseworthy qualifications, related to genre analysis for example, but it is hopelessly inadequate as a guide for theological engagement with Scripture. As should be obvious, the apostolic use of the Old Testament would fail miserably if tested by the Chicago strictures. Moreover, the patristic reading of Scripture, from Irenaeus to Origen to Augustine and adopted throughout the Middles Ages, is not exactly compliant with the historical-grammatical hermeneutic of contemporary evangelicalism. Yet, this dogmatic, typological, and often allegorical hermeneutic among the early fathers is what underwrote the development of trinitarian and christological orthodoxy. (If this were not a blog and if I had more time on my hands, I might try to demonstrate this, but I’m running with it for now!)

The ressourcement movement in Roman Catholic scholarship of the 20th century is one place where evangelical Protestants might take some cues, without buying the “sacramental tapestry” wholesale. Henri de Lubac’s multi-volume study of medieval exegesis, for example, is a rigorous and thorough apologetic for the patristic-medieval hermeneutic. Kyle Anderson, in his review on Amazon, says it well:

Lubac’s work is satisfying on three fronts: 1) for those convinced of the benefits of allegory–it provides a historical basis for such practice, 2) for those opposed–it provides a background for understanding your perceived opponent. And “perceived” is significant. Nowhere does Lubac discount the historical. In fact, he argues that the historical provides the foundation for the allegorical. This emerges directly out of Lubac’s sacramental ontology of the materialist world, and 3) for those seeking an intellectually honest alternative to the historical-critical methodology of the 20th century. Lubac offers a possible reading of Scripture that is historically honest and grounded but seeks to read Scripture in a broader context that is made alive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, yes, historicity is vital, and Chicago/ETS is rightly concerned about reducing canonical authority to the subjective criteria that dominated liberal Protestantism (and a fair amount of neo-orthodoxy as well). Yet, historicity is made impossible when founded upon the “authorial intention” of the human author, not the least because such intentions are frequently elusive and imprecise. In a dogmatic framing for exegesis, by contrast, the “authorial intent” is primarily that of the divine author — the God who superintended over the entire canonical process. As such, historicity should be articulated as a dogmatic determinant, with theological ratiocination — an internal “theo-logic” if you will, which guides us in discerning the parameters of Eden’s historicity.

There is my positive statement, which I will surely work and re-work over the years to come. As I look on the evangelical horizon, there are some signs of hope among those wanting to push the boundaries of “inerrancy” — Kevin Vanhoozer most notably, for which he has been criticized by guardians of Chicago (Norman Geisler, for example, in his most recent book, Defending Inerrancy). One of Vanhoozer’s doctoral students, Timothy Ward, has written an excellent and very accessible defense of a more theological approach to biblical inspiration: Words of Life. Also, John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch is a refreshing and heartening introduction to the dogmatic framework in which the Bible exists for the church.


Image: “Saint Augustine” by Antonio Rodríguez (1636 – 1691) [wikipedia commons]


R. Michael Allen (Knox Theological Seminar) is known to some readers of this blog for his publication last year, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader (T&T Clark), an excellent tool for classroom use. Prior to that, he published Reformed Theology in the T&T Clark series, “Doing Theology.”

His most recent monograph is a study of the doctrine of justification: Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies (Baker Academic). He recounts his journey at the publisher’s website, as a once enthusiastic critic of the Protestant doctrine under the sway of the New Perspective. Things changed as he studied history and dogmatics:

But now I have written Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies, arguing that the Protestant doctrine of justification is exegetically defensible and theologically essential to filling out catholic teaching on God’s relations to creatures in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book manifests something of the journey I’ve been on now for a decade. I found that rising familiarity with the exegetical riches of the great teachers of the church (from Irenaeus and Gregory to Thomas and Bonaventure to Luther and Calvin) shows their brilliance as aids and our own limits as modern researchers. I’ve also seen that too often protests regarding the Reformation stem from really bad understandings of what it actually involved, too frequently based in reading of poor secondary sources rather than in careful study of primary texts. I hope this book serves as a useful prompt to further reflection in these two conversations: how do we think well of justification in light of the wider gospel of Jesus? And how do we go about the task of Christian theology and of a faithful Christian reading of the Holy Scriptures today?

At CBD, you can read an excerpt of the book’s first chapter. It appears that he is fruitfully borrowing from John Webster.

Also, the publisher has an excerpt on Barth’s “sense of proportion and order”: Barth, Justification, and the Gospel.

I do find it fascinating and encouraging that Allen teaches at a seminary (Knox) that is owned and operated by a PCA congregation, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, now pastored by Tullian Tchividjian. Needless to say, a friendliness toward Barth is not exactly commonplace in the PCA orbit.

Young woman reading bible

If you maintain any connections whatsoever to evangelical circles, you know that the historicity of Adam has become a fault line for the inspiration of Scripture. For those in academia or hoping to enter academia as faculty, this is increasingly becoming a litmus test for entry into some colleges and seminaries. And I know, from first-hand anecdotes, that certain ordaining bodies (presbyteries or the like) are explicitly asking candidates for ministry about their views on the historicity of Adam — wrong answer, no job.

While I have not come to reject a historical Adam (whatever that may mean), I am surely wary whenever a fellow evangelical tells me — as I have heard multiple times — that the gospel is at stake! Not merely the authority of Scripture, but the very gospel itself is compromised if you reject a historical Adam. If your gospel is inextricably tied to a certain view of federal headship, then I suppose that is true. But for the rest of us, it is manifestly absurd. I may address this at another time.

For now, I just want to list the options on the table, related to biblical inspiration, especially for those who may be relatively new to this topic. Here is what my taxonomy looks like, from a common evangelical perspective, which itself is definitely not the only option on the table and differs remarkably from past hermeneutics, including those of Augustine, Calvin, and Barth. Here is my four-fold division:

Total Inerrancy

This view stipulates that the Bible is incapable of error in all that it affirms. Once the intended affirmation of the text is identified, it is trustworthy. These include affirmations of any sort — theological and historical. This does not preclude a certain allowance for phenomenological descriptions or, say, hyperbolic claims. Yet, if the author is affirming the historicity of Adam and Eve and their immediate progeny, then the Christian is bound to believe the historicity as well. This is the view of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which is referenced by the Evangelical Theological Society.

Limited Inerrancy, Conservative-Style

The Bible is capable of error on matters incidental to the theological affirmation of the text. (John Henry Newman, in the 19th century, called these “accidental” matters, and this has been the dominant Catholic view.) On all matters pertaining to who God is and what he has done for us, the Bible is inerrant. This is not limited to the New Testament, for it includes all theological claims of the OT as well (including the “warrior” God of the OT). As for Adam and Eve, while the biblical authors believed in a historical Adam (e.g., Romans 5), the theology is not inextricably bound to a historicity of Adam. Thus, ancient cosmology and ancient historiography are the vehicles used by God to reveal the inerrant truths about himself (and mankind in relation to himself). This is the view of Denis Lamoureux, University of Alberta, in his excellent book, Evolutionary Creation.

Limited Inerrancy, Liberal-Style

The Bible is capable of error even on theological affirmations, except those that pertain to the perfect revelation in Jesus Christ. Thus, not only some historical matters incidental to theological claims are in error; rather, even theological claims themselves are capable of error. This would include, most famously, certain descriptions of God in the Old Testament conquest narratives. The determining authority for which theological claims are trustworthy is limited to the fuller, more developed, and decisive revelation of Jesus Christ. By all appearances — in his many blog entries — this is the view of Peter Enns, Eastern University.

Total Fallibility

All of Scripture is capable of error. This does not mean that all of Scripture is in error, but that even matters pertaining to Christ are capable of error. This is the view of old school liberal Protestantism, whether in its historical-positivist mode (Harnack) or in its existential mode (Tillich), as well as the “personal encounter” model of Brunner. The classic test case for this view is the virginal conception of Christ, which is deemed as not relevant to the believer’s faith in Christ.


I am sure that other thoughtful folks could offer a number of helpful qualifications to this taxonomy. And it is possible to find oneself identifying with more than one camp. For example, you can affirm the historicity of Adam (with the total inerrantists) while agreeing with the limited inerrancy, conservative-style, position. This would be, my best guess, the stance of John Lennox at Oxford and several other evangelicals outside of the United States.

UPDATE: I have posted a follow-up: “Beyond Chicago”


Photo: Jacob Gregory, KnightWolf Photography