Author Archive

Vanhoozer Versus Communitarian Theology

Below, Kevin Vanhoozer dismantles John Franke’s communitarian theology. Vanhoozer provides a helpful corrective to those who uphold the absolute necessity of the community for interpreting Scripture:

Jesus says that the Spirit “will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears” (John 16:13 NIV). The Spirit’s role is to “remind you of everything I [Jesus] have said to you” (John 14:26 NIV). In light of these explicit passages, I am inclined to resist any attempt to “deregulate” pneumatology from Christology. The Spirit ministers the Word (who is Truth and Life), nothing else. As such, the Spirit is the executor of the living Word and the Word written. To be sure, Franke rightly says that the voice of the Spirit never speaks against the text. But this claim has purchase, and protects, only to the extent that the text has determinate meaning. I am not sure what to make of [Franke’s] claim that the Spirit speaking through Scripture and culture constitutes “one unified speaking.” Again, I would like to see biblical warrant for this claim.

The Spirit is also at work in tradition – but which one? Does Franke believe that there is a single Christian tradition? If so, where is it? How do we know which trajectories of tradition are Spirit-guided and which are not? The problem with nonfoundationalism is that the Scripture has meaning only when it is read by such-and-such interpretative community. My question, then, concerns the ability of the text to speak against and correct the interest and interpretative strategies of a community. My epistemology and ecclesiology alike are fallible, for all human beliefs and practices are distorted by the fall, even Christian beliefs and church practices. That is precisely why we need a “norming norm” that is independent of our systems of beliefs and practices. But this is precisely what a nonfoundationalist approach disallows, if I have understood it correctly. (Mryon Penner, ed. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views). 

Don Carson, The Gospel, And Discipleship Courses

From Don Carson’s For the Love of God:

In (2 Corinthians) 8 Paul invokes the example of Christ’s self-giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Here in chapter 9 Paul says that, if the Corinthians come through with their promised gift, people “will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity” (9:13). In any case Paul never lets Christians forget that all our giving is but a pale reflection of God’s “indescribable gift” (9:15), which of course lies at the heart of the Gospel.

So much of basic Christian ethics is tied in one way or another to the Gospel. When husbands need instruction on how to treat their wives, Paul does not introduce special marriage therapy or appeal to a mystical experience. Rather, he grounds conduct in the Gospel: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). If you are looking for maturity, beware of any “deeper life” approach that sidesteps the Gospel, for Paul writes, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Of course, there is “deeper life” in the sense that Christians are exhorted to press on toward greater conformity to Christ Jesus and not to be satisfied with their present level of obedience (e.g. Phil. 3). But none of this is an appeal to something that leaves the Gospel behind or that adds something to the Gospel.

We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgment and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else – an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. That is too narrow a view of the Gospel. Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful. 


Bahnsen On The Newness Of The New Covenant

Here’s Greg Bahnsen’s take:

Dispensationalists will say that, in the end, salvation in the Old Covenant was by the grace of God through faith. However, they also say that, hypothetically, salvation was offered to men on the basis of their keeping the law perfectly — that God extended an invitation to legalism — in the Old Covenant. By contrast, they say, the New Covenant knows no legalism, even hypothetically; salvation is purely by grace without any consideration of works whatsoever. This viewpoint displays a very disturbing and unbiblical understanding of God’s character and sovereignty. According to Covenant theology, salvation has never been by works, even hypothetically; it has always been proclaimed on the basis of God’s grace. And this grace has always called for the response of faithful obedience on the part of God’s people — in both of Old and New Testaments. Thus dispensationalists have misconstrued God’s work of salvation and (again) the newness of the New Covenant.

What Is Faith?

Some challenging words from John Piper:

Keynes And The Gold Standard, Redux

It’s of course no surprise that John Maynard Keynes was a fierce critic of the gold standard, but lest anyone think that he was an unthinking proponent of fiat currency, consider this quote from James Rickards’ Currency Wars:

Near the end of his life, Keynes supported a new currency, which he called the bancor, with a value anchored to a commodity basket including gold. He was, of course, a fierce critic of the gold exchange standard of the 1920s, but he was practical enough to realize that currencies must be anchored to something and, for this reason, preferred a global commodity standard to the dollar-and-gold standard that emerged from Bretton Woods in 1944.


Why Ben Bernanke Loves Ron Paul


Right now I’m reading one of the best books on economics I’ve come across: Currency Wars: The Making Of The Next Global Crisis, by investment banker and risk manager, James Rickards. Since we’ve bandied around on this blog with Ron Paul, Keynesianism, and other assorted economic truffles, I thought I’d weigh in with something provocative from Mr. Rickards’ book. Rickards contends that critics of the Fed like Ron Paul are actually a part of the U.S. central bank’s plan. As amusing as those Youtube clips are of Ron Paul laying into the central bank grand wizard, Ben Bernanke, according to Rickards, they’re exactly what Bernanke and his central bank minions want.

Before I defend this, I’ll provide some background reading to help this make sense.

We first have to understand the economic theory of monetarism. Monetarism is the theory, made popular by Milton Friedman, that changes in the money supply are the most important changes a country can make in GDP. One of the things that Friedman became famous for was his contention that GDP changes can be broken down into a ‘real’ component, with actual gains, and an ‘inflationary’ component, with illusory gains.

The theory is encapsulated in the following equation:

MV = Py.

Money supply (M) times velocity (V) equals nominal GDP, which can be broken down into its components of price changes (P) and growth (y).

The money supply is controlled by the Fed. But, not everything is directly under the Fed’s control (you could even dispute that ‘M’ is under the Fed’s control, but that’s for another post). The problem is that velocity is all psychological – the proverbial wildcard in the deck. As Rickards says:

It all depends on how in individual feels about her economic prospects or about how all consumers in the aggregate feel. Velocity cannot be controlled by the Fed’s printing press or advancements in productivity. It is a behavioural problem, and a powerful one.

In the mind of the Fed, the economy is screeching to a painful stop. Uncle Milton’s equation is breaking down. The Fed has exhausted their ability to change the money supply, so the solution is to attempt to change velocity. And this will mean manipulating the hopes and fears of enough U.S. citizens to get the economy humming along again.

There are two ways to do this. The Fed can instill in the public either euphoria from newly created ‘wealth’ or the fear of inflation. Rickards points out that there was a stock market rally from 2009-2011, but it wasn’t strong enough to move consumer spending and investment in any significant way. So, Rickards thinks that the government has turned to creating fears of inflation.

The way for the Fed to do this was to manipulate three things at once: nominal rates, real rates, and inflation expectations. You keep the nominal rates and inflation expectations high and create negative real rates (the difference between nominal rates and the expected rate of inflation). Rickards uses the example of having inflation expectations at 4%, nominal rates at 2%, with leaves you with a real rate of -2%. According to this way of thinking, if real rates are negative, borrowing becomes more attractive, which will fuel investment and spending. “Negative interest rates create a situation in which dollars can be borrowed and paid back in cheaper dollars due to inflation.”

Now, this all makes sense theoretically, but is there any evidence that Ben Bernanke agrees with this line of thinking? There is.

Bernanke and Krugman studied Japan’s economic plight in the late 1990s at Princeton University. A summary of their work was written by a colleague of Krugman and Bernanke, Lars Svensson, in 2003. First, Svensson talks about everything that we’re seeing play out in the world economy right now: a depreciating US currency in order to boost exports and create inflation.

Even if the … interest rate is zero, a depreciation of the currency provides a powerful way to stimulate the economy … A currency depreciation will stimulate an economy directly by giving a boost to export … sectors. More importantly … a currency depreciation and a peg of the currency rate at a depreciated rate serves as a conspicuous commitment to a higher price level in the future.

Here’s the money quote from Svensson:

If the central bank could manipulate private-sector beliefs, it would make the private sector believe in future inflation, the real interest rate would fall, and the economy would soon emerge from recession … The problem is that private-sector beliefs are not easy to affect.

In Svensson’s writings, we see what according to James Rickards, is Bernanke’s playbook: interest rates are kept close to zero, the dollar is devalued by quantitative easing, and public opinion is manipulated to create the fear of inflation.

It would seem that Ron Paul is accomplishing what Ben Bernanke wishes he could do himself – stoke the fears of inflation at home.

Rickards concludes in a poignant, though somewhat overblown conclusion:

This was central banking with the mask off. It was not the cool, rational, scientific pursuit of disinterested economists sitting in the Fed’s marble temple in Washington. Instead it was an exercise in deception and hoping for the best. When prices of oil, silver, gold and other commodities began to rise steeply in 2011, Bernanke was publicly unperturbed and made it clear that actual interest rates would remain low. In fact, increasing inflation anxiety reported from around the world combined with continued low rates was exactly what the theories of Bernanke, Krugman and Svensson advocated. America had become a nation of guinea pigs in a grand monetary experiment, cooked up in the petri dish of the Princeton economics department.


The Church of England In The 1940s And JI Packer

This is from Alister McGrath’s masterful biography of JI Packer. McGrath talks about the desperate state of the Anglican church for evangelicals in the 1940s. If it was this bad in the 40s and things turned around, there’s still hope for evangelicals choosing to serve in mainline churches today.

… However, as time went by, the Church of England gradually lost its close association with the ideas and practices of the Reformation. The rise of Deism and a form of theological liberalism usually known as Latitudinarianism during the eighteenth century eroded the influence of evangelicalism. Although a major evangelical revival developed during that same century, it had faded away by the 1830s. During the remainder of the nineteenth century, the history of the Church of England was dominated by the rise of Anglo-Catholicism (a ‘high church’ movement, linked with the Oxford Movement), and the rise of modernism and liberalism. Between the First and Second World Wars, the general growth of liberalism within the Church of England was supplemented by the rise of ‘Liberal Evangelicalism’. The strongly liberal ‘Group Brotherhood’, which began meeting in 1907, ‘went public’ in 1925 with the publication of a work entitled Liberal Evangelicalism. The result was that evangelicalism became seriously disunited and fragmented by the eve of the Second World War.

After the Second World War, evangelicalism was in a sorry state in England. It had lost any positions of power it once had in the national church. It was numerically weak. It was treated with something approaching contempt by academics, especially academic theologians. It was dominated by forms of Pietism which stressed the importance of personal intimacy with Jesus, yet discounted as irrelevance any serious thinking or engagement with theological issues. It was a movement with a distinguished past, but apparently no viable future. Hensley Henson (1863-1947), Bishop of Durham, dismissed it as ‘an army of illiterates, generalled by octogenarians’. With exceptions as honourable as they were few, the movement was characterized by an anti-intellectual defensiveness, nourished by a separatist mentality.

For a convinced evangelical, such as Packer, to go into ministry in the Church of England at this stage was rather like a Daniel volunteering to enter the lions’ den. It seemed that there was no place and no future for evangelicals inside that church. They were few in number, and were left in no doubt that they were unwanted. In the post-war period, the Church of England witnessed a major surge in the number of men wishing to be ordained, and a growth in its church life at every level. It seemed that its future was secure. The kind of evangelicalism which Packer represented – which at this stage was generally identified with ‘fundamentalism’ – was widely regarded as immature, simplistic, irrelevant and unreasonably dogmatic. For Packer to choose to minister in such a church was, quite simply, a step of faith. Could things be changed? In the closing years of the 1940s, there were few reasons to think so. But Packer kept his counsel.

Why 2 Peter Was Fulfilled in AD 70

I just finished Peter Leithart’s excellent commentary on 2 Peter where he argues for a partial preterist reading of the epistle. If you don’t know what means, it’s simple. The prophecies concerning the imminent judgment / arrival of Jesus were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And lest you think that Leithart has veered off into heresy, he still affirms the visible return of Christ at the end of history. He just doesn’t think that’s what 2 Peter is talking about. And he’s not alone. Reformed great, John Owen, argued that 2 Peter 3 was linked with Isaiah 65. For Owen, 2 Peter 3 was talking about the end of the old covenant order, not the end of the world.

Here are his five ‘knock-down’ arguments for partial preterism:

  1. Peter wrote his second letter on the theme of the coming of Jesus, which he says was also a theme of his first letter, which is 1 Peter. Since 1 Peter’s teaching about the ‘coming’ of Jesus highlights its imminence, 2 Peter must be dealing with the same looming event.
  2. Peter defends the reliability of the promised coming of Jesus by reference to the transfiguration. In each of the synoptics, this event is connected immediately with a prophecy of Jesus’ ‘coming’ within the lifetime of some of His disciples, a prophecy filled out in the Olivet discourse. Peter’s argument from the transfiguration makes best sense if he is using it to support this prophecy. Thus the ‘coming’ that Peter insists will happen is an event that Jesus said would take place in the first century.
  3.  Peter says explicitly that the destruction of false teachers is coming ‘soon.’ Their destruction is the same event as the destruction of the present heaven and earth, the ‘day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men’ (3:7). If the destruction of false teachers was near when Peter wrote, so also was the destruction of the heavens and earth and the coming of a new heavens and earth.
  4. Peter responds to mockers who doubt the promise of Jesus’ coming because time has passed without any sign of the Parousia. If there were no time limit on the original prophecy, then the mockers would have no grounds for their mockery and no way to attract converts to their skeptical views. Therefore, the original prophecy must have included a time limit, a terminus ad quem , and that time limit must have been the lifetime of the apostles.
  5. For the mockers, the passing of the ‘fathers,’ the apostles and their associates, casts doubt on the truth of Jesus’ promise to come in power. This objection has weight only if Jesus had in fact promised to come before the ‘fathers’ passed from the scene. Thus the prophecy in dispute in 2 Peter 3 promised a ‘coming’ within the apostolic generation. The prophecy Peter says will be fulfilled is a prophecy about Jesus’ coming within the generation.
What do you think? Is it convincing?

Did MacArthur Create The Driscoll – MacDonald Friendship?

At this year’s edition of Elephant Room, Driscoll interviews MacDonald on how he’s been taking it like a pinata at Cinco de Mayo over his decision to invite T.D. Jakes. Macdonald explains how it all got started:

Round 2. I was in California and I played golf with a well-known pastor. (He’s not a fan of you, Mark.) Not one hole, but two, three, five, eight holes, he couldn’t stop talking about everything bad Driscoll does. I was so upset about that. I got off the course and I called Jack Graham, who has everyone’s cell phone number. I said, “Jack, get me Driscoll’s number.” It took him five minutes. Mark picked up, and I said “hello.” I knew he had one of my books on his website so he knew who I was. We talked. He came to Chicago and we went to a Cubs game. Then I called him and said, “We’re going to Haiti.”

Macdonald discusses elsewhere his golfing with MacArthur in California.


An Interview With Reformed Philosopher, Doug Groothuis

Dr. Doug Groothuis, professor of apologetics and philosophy at Denver Seminary, was gracious enough to allow us to interview him for the blog. As none of us have a face for video (Dr. Groothuis notwithstanding), we decided to do the interview and post it here. For those not in the know, Dr. Groothuis has recently published his magnum opus, a textbook on Christian Apologetics. And given the exemplary recommendations it’s getting, (J.P. Moreland called it the “go-to text in the field) we thought it’d be a good idea to arrange an interview with the good Doctor. For more information on Groothuis, check out his blog, twitter, and homepage. But, most importantly, go buy the book.

1. Many people are unaware of your background. Could you please give us a short biography of your life? (E.g. education, family, vocation, interests)

I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oregon (1993) and have taught at Denver Seminary since 1993. I am married to author and editor, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. Besides philosophy, theology, and social analysis, I am interested in the history and philosophy of art, particularly painting and jazz.

2. When did you first become introduced to reformed theology and what difficulties did you have, if any, in accepting the doctrines of grace?

I took a class at an OPC church in the early 1980s on The Westminster Standards. This was the turning point for me, along with reading parts of Calvin’s Insitutes and Reformed writers such as Gordon Clark, R.J. Rushoony and Greg Bahnsen. (However, I am not a theonomist.) J.I. Packer’s work was helpful as well, particularly Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

3. Can you share with us a bit about the influence that R.K. Macgregor Wright, author of No Place For Sovereignty, has had on you?

I was already a confirmed Calvinist (at least with respect tot he theology of culture and predestination) when I read this book. However, it helped me deal with some passages that Arminians claim support their view. I was impressed with the book, which is why I endorsed it.

4. How do you think Reformed convictions ought to express themselves in apologetic method? Should Calvinists only use a particular argument? Or only make defensive arguments? Can they appropriate arguments and methods from other traditions, or are they too compromised to be useful?

That is a rather complex question. To my mind, no Calvinist doctrine entails presuppositionalism, as the Van Tillians claim. I address this in Christian Apologetics. Total depravity does not extinguish the knowledge of God through general revelation, which serves as the epistemic basis for the argument of natural theology. Moreover, strong Calvinists such as R.C. Sproul support a non-presuppositional approach to apologetics. I do, however, accept the basic force of the transcendental argument for God’s existence, and use it in chapter 18 of my new book. However, I think this is one argument among many for the truth and rationality of the Christian worldview.

5. How do you understand Reformed theology’s teaching on natural revelation, and how does your understanding impact your view of natural theology?

See chapter 17 of my book.

6. Are there any important contemporary apologetic challenges that you think Reformed theology has the best ability to respond to? Are there any that you think Reformed apologists will have (or are having) more difficulty with than other traditions?

The Reformed view of Providence really answers the problem of evil better than Arminianism or openness theology, both on the philosophical and pastoral level.

7. What works, theological and philosophical, have been the most influential for you in terms of intellectual development and sanctification?

The corpus of Francis Schaeffer has been very influential, even though he was not a professional philosopher as I am. Carl Henry’s God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 vols., was also like a seminary education in itself, especially combined with a summer course I took from him in 1981. Blaise Pascal is also a constant companion.

8. What works can we expect from you in the future?

I hope to continue to teach, preach, and write as long as possible. I am not sure what my next book will be, but it may be on lament.