Thursday, December 31, 2009

All is Quiet on New Year's Day

The title of this post, as many of you probably know, comes from U2’s “New Year’s Day” from their 1983 album War (which, incidentally, is the first U2 song I ever heard, after which, at age ten, I went out and bought the LP. The rest, as the fella said, is history). So here I am, 26 years later on what will in two hours be New Year’s Day, sipping Bunnahabhain, reading Hemmingway, listening to U2’s latest album No Line on the Horizon, and wondering where all the time has gone.

Exactly ten years ago tonight, at the turn of the millennium, I was preaching a sermon from Romans 9 to a group of Hungarians from the Calvary Chapels of Miskolc and Debrecen on the glory of God displayed in both the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate (I was young). Less than a month later I would find out that we would be kicked out of Calvary because of sermons like that, and three months later my wife and I would move back to the U.S. and figure out what the next step would be.

At this moment it is hitting me with an almost crushing sense of wonder that the ‘90s were no longer last decade, but now the decade before last. I began that decade a 16 year-old and ended it at the ripe old age of 26. I spent almost a year of it in Africa and six years of it in Europe, and it was during those years in Hungary especially that I sort of became who I am, both personally, philosophically, and theologically. It is probably the hours and hours I spent wandering the streets, alleyways, and courtyards of Budapest thinking about love and life and lamentation that are to blame for my ever-increasing desire to get back there somehow (for now I must content myself with videos like the one below, directed by an old friend). Ah, nostalgia: It ain’t what it used to be….

So anyway, here I am, waxing pensive and realizing once again that all my desires—whether for things past or things to come—are really just a big ol’ farce, nothing more than a longing for heaven that is every bit as hounding as it is haunting, equally intransient as inconvenient. “My mind races with all my longings,” sings the poet, “but can’t keep up with what I’ve got.” But I suppose I’m in good company, for if Adam longed for something better than Paradise, then who am I to be content with life in a passing age, characterized as it is by a servile bondage to decay and death?

A raising of the glass, then, to the coming decade—may it be filled with mirth as well as melancholy, laughter as well as lament. May we rise high above our feats and defeats, knowing that at the end of the Day when all is said and done, earth simply isn’t worthy of us.

(But I sure like it sometimes....)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From Eternity to Here: Baptism, Eschatologically Considered

Sometimes we Reformed paedobaptists spend so much time defending the confessional view of the status of covenant children that we forget that baptism is a way bigger topic than merely the mode or subjects of the sacrament. Sure, the sprinkling-water-on-the-baby’s-head part is integral to the baptism discussion, but to focus solely on the mechanics and beneficiaries of baptism is to exalt the trees over the forest, or to change the metaphor, it is to use the microscope to the exclusion of the telescope. To modify the words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3, there’s a time to zoom in, but also a time to break out the wide-angle lens.

Peter’s words to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost have a much broader significance than we often realize:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2:38-39).
In a word, what the apostle is inviting his hearers to do is something every bit as cataclysmic and profound as what happened to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy when they dared to venture through the back of that magical wardrobe into the strange, new world of Narnia. Baptism represents an intrusion of the age to come into this present world, a breaking-in of the dynamic of heaven to the here and now. As the waters are applied, the sky is split and the pavement cracks, and all that we once were is forever changed. William Willimon writes:

In baptism, we are subsumed into a story of water and the word. A story of creation formed out of dark waters. A story of a God so righteous that he was willing to make war on the world he created.... A story of a people, created out of nothing, by a God determined to be worshiped rightly, led through waters into the desert as imperial chariots foundered. A story of a Jewish woman visited by God in a way that confounded her fiancé but caused her to sing. A story of a crazy man out in the desert proclaiming a new kingdom coming in water and fire. A story of One who saved by an issue of water and blood.[1]
The first thing that baptism accomplishes, claims Peter, is giving us a new past: “Be baptized... for the forgiveness of your sins.” The connection between baptism and forgiveness of sins is also made by Ananias in his instruction to the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus: “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16), and is echoed in the Nicene Creed’s statement that “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” “Do you not know,” Paul asks the Romans, “that as many of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” In the same way that Christ “died to sin,” so we who have been united to him participate in that death to all that once defined us.

In addition to giving us a new past, baptism gives us a new family in the present. As Peter’s words in v. 39 indicate, our earthly, familial ties are transcended—and in some cases trumped—by our baptismal union with “all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Despite our modern and gnostic desire to maintain our personal relationship with Jesus apart from the awkward and inconvenient tie to the church (filled as it is with actual—and often annoying—people), the fact is that we can’t have the Head without the Body. Through baptism we are ushered into the middle of a tale quite long in the telling, a saga having been spun for thousands of years. This redemptive drama began with a married couple, then grew into a family of eight, then a tribe under the leadership of a chieftain, then twelve tribes that grew into a nation ruled by a king, until it eventually expanded into a truly worldwide and catholic Church with members from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. Paul tells the Galatians that “As many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus... are all one in Christ” (3:27, 28). And furthermore, whenever God’s people worship, we do so in the presence of this great “cloud of witnesses” together with whom we are summoned into God’s heavenly presence. Patriarchs and prophets, apostles and martyrs, bishops and fathers, sinners and saints—all of them gather with us as we, together with innumerable angels in festal array, get a glimpse (albeit brief) of the glorious banquet at which we will sit with the Mediator of the New Covenant whose bloods speaks a more comforting word than that of Abel (Heb. 12:1, 22-24).

Lastly, baptism bestows upon us a new future. “Be baptized,” Peter insists, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The Spirit is always spoken of in the New Testament in terms that hearken us forward to the new age, the age to come that began to dawn on Easter Sunday and will be finally consummated when Jesus returns. “You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:13-14). The Greek word that is translated “guarantee” (arrabōn, used in modern Greek for engagement ring) denotes a down payment toward something that will be fully acquired in the future. Through baptism God the Father marks us off as his own, bestowing upon us the Spirit of the age to come whose role is to bring the dynamic of the “not yet” to bear upon the “already.” David Dark writes:

Whether it’s trees clapping their hands, stars falling from the sky, bloody red moons, or crystal seas—it’s as if the new world on the way requires constant re-articulation to best bear witness of its freshness and new-every-morningness, perpetually straining forward to what lies ahead.[2]
One of the ways this “new world on the way” is “re-articulated” in the here and now is through the sacrament of baptism. Living the Christian life, therefore, is tantamount to living the baptized life, for this ancient ritual serves to pull the future into the present, effectively bringing the believer from eternity to here.

[1] William Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 5.
[2] David Dark, Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002), 12-13.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who Said That?

A tip of my hat to anyone who can, without Googling, identify the source of this quote:

There [is a distinction between] one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.
Good luck....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Woman Who Rides the Beast

I received something quite earth-shattering in the mail a couple days ago addressed to Occupant, sent from Baptist Gospel Tabernacle in Youngstown, OH (I'm just assuming they sent the same thing to every single home in America, so you probably know exactly what I'm referring to). The envelope included a tract (printed on newsprint using what appears to have been carbon paper) called The Priest Who Found Christ, a photocopied collage of various newspaper clippings about a future cashless society, Billy Graham, and the Federal Council of Churches, and a single-spaced, front-and-back article that begins with the words, "What I am about to say is the most important thing you will ever read. If you are not afraid to face reality then read on. If you are afraid then STOP, this message is not for you."


On the one hand I am a sucker for reverse phychology, it always works on me. So my first thought was, "Oh, so you think I might be afraid to read what you've written? Well, we'll see about that! I'm going to read it, now who's the moron?" But then I thought to myself, "But then again, this paper is the most important thing I will ever read. Do I really want to take such a drastic step at such a young age? I mean, if it was only the most important thing I have read up until now, that'd be one thing. But if I read this paper and live to be 80, that means every single thing I read for the next 44 years will be comparatively unimportant." What to do?

Throwing caution to the wind, I read on.

We have 2 systems seeking desperately to enslave the world in bondage. These 2 are the Roman Catholic hierarchy and Communism.... The Berlin Wall coming down was not a step towards freedom; it was merely the reuniting of communism & Catholicism with one goal in "CONQUER" the whole world.
Gulp. (Whispering): I know some Roman Catholics. Shoot, I have shelves filled with books by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Naomi Klein. Am I a sitting duck, mere brainwash-bait waiting to get swept up against my will into some underground lair where I'll be forced into religious cannibalism while watching Rocky IV and cheering for Drago to kill the Italian Stallion like he did Apollo Creed?

Hands trembling, I continued reading:

In 310 A.D. Constantine the Pagan Emperor of Rome did exactly what Daniel said he would, he signed an edict that ALL his subjects HAD to worship on SUN-day. They're busy now making a new calendar to cover up their lie making MONDAY the first day so SUNDAY will come out the 7th. Nice try, but GOD's people will not be deceived.
It was a "nice try," so nice, in fact, that I had bought into the lie hook, line, and sinker. Is there any hope for me?

The POPE brain-washed the people into praying to Mary who in reality is the Pagan goddess found in the 7th chapter of Jeremiah.
Uh-oh. I have read Jeremiah 7 before, how did I never notice that it taught that Jesus' own mother was a pagan goddess? And if she was around in Jeremiah's day, then she must have been really old when Jesus was born! And if she could dupe the angel Gabriel himself into calling her "full of grace," then are any of us safe from her devious and hypnotic skills? Needless to say, I was shaken by this point, yea, to my very core.

By the way, how could Peter have been the first POPE when he was married? Read it in Matthew 8:14. Are you surprised? Don't be.... There was no pope until Phocus the Emperor of Rome convinced Boniface III to play the role of Pope. The Popes are emperors in disguise. Never forget the Saint Bartholomew Massacre, World War II, the French Revolution, or the Spanish Inquisition. The CATHOLIC System is responsible for ALL these wars and the wars of today. Soon GOD will DESTROY THE VATICAN AND COMMUNISM. Read it in Revelations 17 and Ezekiel 39. WAKE UP MY FRIEND!!!
Dang! I totally forgot about World War Two! Toward the end of the paper there were some recommended books for further study that:

... can be purchased through CHICK PUBLICATIONS. If you have been warned by your church not to read CHICK TRACTS, it's only because they do not want you to learn the truth. You've spent a lifetime swallowing their lies HOOK, LINE & SINKER... now WAKE UP!!!
Oh, I'm awake, perhaps more awake then I've ever been before. The first thing I need to do is get Doc Brown to juice up the DeLorean's flux capacitor with enough plutonium to reach 1.21 jigawatts so I can hightail it outta 1955. This place is scary.

And if that fails, I'll need the switchboard operator to patch me through to Joseph McCarthy and Loraine Boettner. Surely they'll know what to do....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Do "Apostates to Rome" and "Machen's Vitriolic Spawn" Have in Common?

I am honestly trying really hard to figure out why Mark Horne is mad at me this time.

As far as I can tell (and I'm open to correction here), his logic goes something like this: I have no business refusing to call Peter Leithart a heretic if I will allow an "apostate to Rome" (Mark's words) to subtly imply in the combox under my most recent post that the CREC may not actually be a part of the visible church.

(Insert image of head spinning around here)

Apparently, consistency demands that I treat Leithart like a heretic even if I don't believe he is one because, after all, someone on my blog whom I have never met made a comment that could potentially be construed as offensive to people in the CREC (and the person who made it is a Catholic, which is about as far away from being a rabid, Westminster-West member of "Machen's vitriolic spawn" as one can be. Oh, that description comes from one of Mark's commenters).

Well, while I fail to understand the logic of this post, at least I understand a bit better now why people like me are treated so disrespectfully by people like Mark Horne. The logic of internet consistency demands it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Further Reflection on the Judgment of the SJC Panel

One of the most interesting statements in the PCA's preliminary decision rendered by the panel of its Standing Judicial Commision is the following:

By appealing to Scripture... to justify positions that are out of accord with our Standards, an individual, or group, is in effect... amending the Constitution, not by judicial act, but by personal interpretation. If someone believes that the Standards have incorrectly or inadequately stated what Scripture says about a particular topic, then instead of ignoring what our Standards state and justifying their positions by personal interpretations of Scripture which are not consistent with the Standards, they should propose amendments to the Standards to clarify or expand the Standards, since our Constitution holds them out to be "standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture."
A couple thoughts in response to this. First, this calls into question the validity of the tactic used by Federal Visionists and others who insist that they are not contradicting what the Standards say by their suspicious expositions of Scripture, but only going beyond the Standards and saying more (this is done, we are told, so as to reflect more accurately what the Bible actually teaches).

My question at this point goes something like this: If the Westminster Standards teach that union with Christ is a saving and therefore non-losable benefit, but if I decide to "go-beyond-the-Sandards-but-not-contradict-them" by teaching my congregation that they may lose their union with Christ, how have I not fallen under the condemnation of the SJC's judgment above?

Secondly, how is it that Catholic and Orthodox believers can maintain that Reformed confessionalists are no different from the no-creed-but-Christ, just-me-and-my-Bible evangelicals when the PCA's highest courts says that "by appealing to Scripture to justify positions that are out of accord with our Standards, an individual is in effect amending the Constitution, not by judicial act, but by personal interpretation"? Is not this statement effectively denying sole interpretive authority to the individual, and placing it rather in the hands of the church and its Confession and Catechisms?

That's all. I just needed to get a couple things off my chest....

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Ruling of the PCA's Standing Judicial Commission

A panel of the Standing Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in America (which is the denomination’s highest court) issued its proposed ruling a few hours ago with respect to the complaint against the Pacific Northwest Presbytery that was filed by me and two others (for background, see here and here). The final ruling will be made in March.

In a word, our complaint was upheld, and SJC agreed that the presbytery erred in its failure to find a strong presumption of guilt on the part of TE Peter Leithart due to his doctrinal views being out of accord with the Westminster Standards concerning various fundamental issues. The ruling can be downloaded here, and some selective passages are pasted below:

Did PNW err in its handling of the reports from the PNW Study Committee appointed to
examine Leithart's fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder?

Yes. The Complaint is sustained, and the case is sent back to PNW with instructions to
institute process and appoint a prosecutor to prepare an Indictment of TE Leithart and to
conduct the case (BCO 31-2).

The PNW case lies somewhere between these two cases [namely, those of the Louisiana and Siouxlands Presbyteries]. The PNW Study Committee was established after Leithart wrote to the PNW Stated Clerk to lay out his views with respect to the 9 Declarations. The PNW Study Committee was charged with examining Leithart's fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder in light of the June 2007 General Assembly's receptions of the Ad Interim Committee's Report on the theology of the Federal Vision. In spite of being entitled a "study committee," what was essentially formed was a committee with an assignment to conduct a BCO 31-2 investigation. The work product of this Committee, including the Committee Report, the Minority Report, and Leithart' Response, constituted an excellent BCO 31-2 investigative report. The only conclusion that a court should reach, given the excellent work product produced by the PNW Study Committee, would be that there is a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of Leithart are out of accord with some of the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Standards.

This does not mean that Leithart is a heretic. He is not. This does not mean that Leithart
is not or whether he is a Christian. He is. This does not necessarily mean that Leithart is outside of the broader reformed community. The sole question to be determined is whether Leithart's views place him outside of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.

Respondent argued in his brief that someone who holds to various central tenets of the Standards cannot be outside the Standards:

"In considering the views of Dr. Leithart, we are talking about someone who holds to the inerrancy of Scripture, to federal Reformed theology, the five points, penal substitutionary atonement, paedobaptism, and Presbyterianism and confesses his commitment to forensic justification, the necessity of faith for the effectiveness of baptism, etc. What are we saying if we say that such a man with such convictions cannot belong to our little Reformed Presbyterian church?"

But such an external criteria of central tenets is not the appropriate criteria. One could envision such central tenets that would encompass Anglicans within its bounds; similarly, Reformed Baptists could affirm some central tenets of the Standards. This does not mean that either Anglicans or Baptists are within the Standards. In the same way, Leithart appears to hold some views that place him outside of the fundamentals of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.

The error made by PNW was twofold. First, PNW erred in judging Leithart's views "to be
not out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine." Second, PNW also erred in not finding a strong presumption of guilt that some ofthe views of Leithart are "out of accord with the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards." Under BCO 31-2, "if such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of guilt of the party involved, the court shall institnte process" (emphasis added). The mandatory language of BCO 31-2 ("shall") means that under our polity, at this stage of the case, the proper procedure for determining Leithart's fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder, as was the charge given to the PNW Study Committee, is to institute process under BCO 32 and 34.

One of the difficulties a court encounters when examining the views of men who hold views
styled as "Federal Vision," is a tendency to justify such views by appealing to Scripture in order to contradict the Standards. What Scripture says about a particular topic is set forth in our Standards.

BCO 39-3 states that:

"[W]hile affirming that the Scripture is "the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined" (WCF 1.1 0), and that the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is "subordinate to the Scriptures ofthe Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God" (BCO Preface III), and while affirming also that this Constitution is fallible (WCF 31.3), the Presbyterian Church in America affirms that this subordinate and fallible Constitution has been "adopted by the church" (BCO Preface, III) "as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice" (BCO 29-1) and as setting forth a form of government and discipline "in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity" (BCO 21-5.3). To insure that this Constitution is not amended, violated or disregarded in judicial process, any review of the judicial proceedings of a lower court by a higher court shall by guided by the following principles.

By appealing to Scripture in this way to justify positions that are out of accord with our
Standards, an individual, or group, is in effect doing just that (i.e. amending the Constitution, not by judicial act, but by personal interpretation). If someone believes that the Standards have incorrectly or inadequately stated what Scripture says about a particular topic, then instead of ignoring what our Standards state and justifying their positions by personal interpretations of Scripture which are not consistent with the Standards, they should propose amendments to the Standards to clarify or expand the Standards, since our Constitution holds them out to be "standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture."

This tension is evidenced by the PNW Committee Report which states:
"Presbytery's study committee cheerfully acknowledges that it approached its task with the intention of allowing Dr. Leithart the greatest latitude consistent with the second ordination vow (BCO 21-5) and of placing the best, not worst construction on his statements."

It is our opinion that PNW, even though confronted with statement(s) and writing(s) of
Leithart that place him out of accord with the fundamentals of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America, chose to place Leithart' statements in the kindest of light and not engage in critical thinking and reasoned judgment, by stating:
"In the committee' view Dr. Leithart's views are compatible with the teachings of our standards though there are certainly some differences in statement, emphasis, and elaboration. Our brief was to determine whether he denied or contradicted the teaching of our Standards, not to object if he wished to say more than they say or even, in confessing the same truth, to improve upon their form of words. That his positive constructions may seem in some respects difficult to reconcile with the language of our standards is not itself evidence that he denies their teaching. The dialectical character of biblical teaching famously produces tensions that remain difficult, if not impossible to resolve. The opinion of the committee that his views, while in some cases going beyond the formulations of the WCF, are not a denial of them, should not, however, be taken to mean that the committee is persuaded that Dr. Leithart's construction of the doctrines in dispute represent an advance in understanding or that they provide a more accurate account of the teachings of Holy Scripture.

"Much of Dr. Leithart's work purports to provide a more complete picture of biblical teaching than is represented in the systematic presentation of that teaching in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. To that end he draws our attention to the fact that the biblical vocabulary of election, justification, and union with Christ is used in ways other than those uses reported in the Standards. He says often enough that, so far as it goes, the confessional summary is accurate, but he remains convinced that our doctrinal formulations would be enriched by careful attention to the complete biblical usage of this theological vocabulary. The complaint has been that using these terms in other than their accepted usage is unnecessarily confusing. The reply is that these are the Bible's own terms and a faithful interpreter of Scripture is duty bound to reckon with the fact that the Bible employs even these important theological terms in different ways. We likewise do not believe, we cannot believe, "that the Reformed confessions have been formed for all ages and stand in no further need of reformation."

"The committee wishes to say, however, that having read some of Dr. Leithart's works, we do wish he were more careful to avoid unnecessary confusion by stating more categorically and in different contexts what he is asserting in connection with the teaching of the Reformed tradition and, in particular, Westminster Calvinism, and perhaps more importantly, what he is not asserting.

"The committee does not feel that he has done all he could have done [as he has challenged accepted notions or critiqued familiar forms of words. Nevertheless, we are persuaded that at some key points, Dr. Leithart has, in fact, failed adequately to represent the fullness of biblical teaching. It is the view of the committee, however, that in his [Leithart's] positive construction of baptism and its efficacy, he [Leithart] fails adequately to represent the biblical data and the result is a one-sided and confusing, if not positively incoherent construction."

In failing to exercise this critical thinking and reasoned judgment, PNW has failed to guard
the church from teachings and writings "which injured the purity and peace of the church." (BCO 13-9.1) and in doing so has caused much pastoral confusion and harm.

In conclusion, since what amounts to a thorough BCO 31-2 investigation has been conducted by PNW, the results of which PNW should have recognized raised a strong presumption of guilt that Leithart holds views that place him out of accord with our Standards (the Constitution of the PCA), PNW erred in not so doing. In determining what is the appropriate remedy, the SJC remands and sends this case back to PNW with instructions to institute process, based on this finding of a strong presumption of guilt, and appoint a prosecutor to prepare an Indictment of Leithart and to conduct the case.

Please be in prayer for all who are involved in this matter, regardless of which “side” they are on. When it comes to issues surrounding the so-called Federal Vision, there are those who believe the very heart of the gospel is at stake, and on the other hand there are those who feel that mountains are being made out of molehills and our denomination is being turned into a mere sect. But what no one should forget is that intertwined with all the doctrinal debate are the personal relationships and livelihoods of those involved. All that to say that this is no occasion for congratulatory back-slapping. Just as the Reformed distinguished themselves from the fundamentalists in that they left the mainline churches weeping rather than rejoicing, so we who witness the state of our churches would do well to lament our own lack of unity.
There are no real winners here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Horton on the Canon

I have been re-reading Michael Horton's People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, and I came across some good stuff on the canon that may prove to be good fodder for discussion:

Though usually advertised as a shift away from modern individualism, the drift toward assimilating soteriology to ecclesiology, justification to the church and its virtuous practices, and the word to ecclesial interpretation is more aptly described as a shift away from God's redeeming work to our own. To ask what consistutes the unity of the church, then, is to inquire as to what creates the church itself. The answer to both is the Word of God, both as means of grace and canonical norm. The gospel does not depend on reason, politics, marketing, or even on the church; it creates its own rationality, polis, publicity, and church. The gospel is self-sufficient, pulling everything else behind it.

This raises the critical issue at the heart or protests new and old against sola scriptura: the logical priority of canon and church. The sufficiency of Scripture is not an abstract, predogmatic rule but is intrinsically related to our view of God, the covenant, and redemption. Just as creation is the result of a conversation between the persons of the Trinity, the church is the offspring rather than the origin of the gospel. It is no wonder then that Paul compares the work of the gospel to God's word in creation (Rom. 4:16-17). While the covenant community is temporally prior to the inscripturated canon, the word that creates ex nihilo asserts its temporal and communicative priority over both.... The script has priority over even its most significant performances. Furthermore, the canon not only judges our poor performances but also liberates us from having to repeat or defend them.

The covenantal context proves its value once more when considering the claim that the church created the canon. God's word spoken has now also been committed to writing, a canon or consitution. The Bible is the textual deposit of God's unfading Word, whose oral proclamation had all along been creating and sustaining a church in the world since the protevangelium of Genesis 3:15. The church is not purpose-driven, but promise-driven.

Ecclesiastical authority derives from and is qualified and measured by its constiting norm: because we have this covenantal consitution, we are this particular covenant community. Thus, the priority of canon over church is the corrolary of the priority of God's grace over "human will or exertion" (Rom. 9:16).

Germinating around its nucleus of Christ's words and deeds, this canon--at first proclaimed, heard, and recalled--became a completed deposit and was treated as such long before the list of canonical books was officially prescribed in response to spurious texts.

"Theology is not free speech but holy speech," notes Webster. "Hence the authority of Scripture is a matter for the church's acknowledgement, not its ascription." ... Webster says that the solo verbo [by the Word alone] is the correlate of the sola fide [through faith alone]. To give priority to the Word is to give priority to the action of God.

As the ecclesial body cannot be equated with its sovereign head, ecclesial speech (tradition) cannot be equated with God's Word. Since Christ's person and work--and apostolic testimony to it--are qualitatively distinguished from the church and its practices, the canon does not simply offer us a good story to complete by imitation (a corrolary of the exemplary view of the atonement) or repeat by further acts of atonement and reconciliation, but a completed script that draws us into its story line as performers. The canonical characters are in a qualitatively different class than the postcanonical church that performs the play.

As in the secular polis, so in the covenant community: the distinction between the consistution (text) and the courts (interpretation) preserves us from reducing ecclesial speech to solipsism: the arbitrary exercise of power based on the church talking to itself. Yet there are still the courts. We read the Bible together, and our communaal interpretations--in the form of creeds, confessions, catechisms, and church orders--have a binding, though secondary, authority. Just as the extraordinary vocation of prophets and apostles is qualitatively distinguished from the ordinary calling of ministers today, the magisterial authority of the canon must take precedence over the ministerial authority of the church.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Horton Hears a Boo

PCA Federal Visionist Mark Horne just published what I will admit is a rather humorous, albeit scathing, post about how Michael Horton has no understanding of the gospel. (Between this and the flack he has taken for endorsing Scott Hahn's book on the biblical theology of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems that Horton's web-cred has taken a hit, at least among fundamentalists and haters in general).

So here's the background....

There's this thing called The Manhattan Declaration; Horton reviewed it and found it wanting, particularly due to its confusion of law and gospel; Horne then chimed in, claiming that Horton's definition of the gospel is completely unbiblical. He writes:

Horton is completely wrong in his definition of the Gospel. When Jesus preached the Gospel he did not preach the precise message that Horton says that he was supposed to.... What he teaches is Biblically illiterate and a twisting of Scripture. And the fact that professed Bible-believers cling to these false and groundless claims is as intellectually superstitious as any monk approaching a vial of Mary’s alleged breast milk on his knees.
Horne's tactic to demonstrate his claims was to take Horton's statement that the gospel is "the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits" and then plug that into various NT passages where the word "gospel" is found. The result looks like this:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming God’s specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits." (Mark 1:14-15)
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:15-16)

Shoot dang! Well I'll BE! When you take a systematic statement intended to define a concept according to the whole counsel of God and just plug it in wherever the original word is found, it sounds really funny! I'm doubled over even as I write, slapping the table with the palm of my hand.

Of course, this tactic, though rhetorically useful for scoring cheap points, does little to further any actual dialogue. For example, let's see what happens when I take a systematic definition that Horne actually agrees with and then plug that definition into some biblical passages that use the word being defined:

For who is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things,most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth? (Psa. 18:31; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 7).
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present,almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, therefore a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:28; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 7).
Good heavens! Look what happens when we take the WLC's definition of God and substitute it for the word "God" in Scripture! Not only does it make the Bible way too long, it also demonstrates how silly the Westminster Divines' understanding of God was!

Maybe it's actually a good thing that Federal Visionists are hesitant to register their exceptions to the Westminster Standards to their presbyteries. I mean, given Horne's new hermeneutic, I doubt these presbyteries will be able to find the time to deal with all of them (let alone the will).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

In Case You Missed It....

I was interviewed on R.C. Sproul's radio program
Renewing Your Mind last week about Dual Citizens:
Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet.
If you missed it and would like to listen, here you go.