Archive for the ‘Evangelicals’ Category

Samuel Davies and Emotional Outbursts

When thinking about Great Awakening preaching we often think of the emotional outbursts that accompanied it. Consider the response to Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, how people openly wailed at Whitefield’s itinerant ministry, or how people fell as if struck under Wesley’s. In light of this, I was interested to read this comment by Hughes Oliphant Old about Samuel Davies, a revival preacher of the same period, who was known as one of America’s greatest orators:

His sermons are theologically sound, but even more importantly, they are theologically perceptive. Davies drew large crowds and was a popular preacher, as were George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent, and yet we never hear of emotional outbursts attending his preaching. He was a consummate orator, yet never a rabble-rouser. He was prophetic and preached about sensitive problems of the day without any trace of the contentiousness we find in some of the New Lights of lesser magnitude. He seemed to be equally at home preaching to black slaves and to Virginia planters. His preaching was both fervent and gentlemanly.

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 5: Moderatism, Pietism, and Awakening (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 154.

Doddridge was Essentially Orthodox

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) was an influential nonconformist minister and educator who ran the dissenting academy in Northampton. He wrote a number of books, including the now class Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745). Though a Calvinist, he was open to other theological perspectives, including Arianism. Though his language was at times confused, he was ultimately orthodox. See the words of Van Den Berg and Nuttall:

But essentially, Doddridge was orthodox. Over against the accusation of Arianism, brought against Doddridge as well as against Watts, Goodricke pointed out that Doddridge maintained the full divinity of Christ. Nor was he a Socinian: in his doctrine of redemption Christ’s sacrifice as an atonement for our sins took a central place. Neither was he a Pelagian: man’s salvation depended from start to finish on God’s saving grace. The accusation of Remonstrantism was also far from the truth, for Doddridge unequivocally maintained the doctrine of predestination. Finally, on many occasions Doddrige had defended the idea of “plenary inspiration,” so that on this important point also the accusation fell flat.

J. Van Den Berg and G. F. Nuttall, Philip Doddridge and the Netherlands: 1702-1751 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 63.

From The Vault: Mark Driscoll Vs. Mark Driscoll

 

mark-driscoll-qwest

This was four years ago:

In recent years we’ve found that Mark Driscoll does like to have his authoritah respected by his church. From a NY Times article on Mars Hill

“In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that,according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “Hisanswer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached.”

Hmm. I wonder how an earlier incarnation of Driscoll, as depicted by the Tall Skinny Kiwi would have seen this? Once there was a Mark Driscoll who was less than impressed by pastors with big egos:

“This one guy, who’s ministry was named after himself, gets up to the stage which had his name plastered on 3 different banners around the stage. Mark Driscoll was next up to speak after this braggart and instead of trying to do one better, he simply bows his head and prays for the entire time a prayer of repentance for our arrogance. Then he walks back to our table and sits down. Sweet! Soooo timely and prophetic. I’ll never forget that one.”

Now I suppose the legion of Driscoll apologists will rush to point out that Driscoll has not ever called anything Mark Driscoll Ministries or something of that sort. Whatever. Arrogance can manifest in all manner of forms. Driscoll used to be the sort of guy who could pick out the sort guy he is now.

Neo-Puritanism

***UPDATE*** Bob Robinson kindly took the time to interact with my blogpost in the comments which you can read here. I respond to it here where I concede that I was wrong in my first criticism, but believe that the others stand. ***UPDATE***

There are a number of problems with Bob Robinson’s article, “So What is Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?” In it Mr. Robinson argues that it is better to call the Young, Restless, Reformed movement “Neo-Puritan” instead of Neo-Calvinist. I will highlight some of the historical problems with this very briefly here:

1) Mr. Robinson lends credence to the criticism of some “Old Calvinists” that due to the preponderance of Baptists in the YRR movement, it should not be called “Reformed,” hence why Mr. Robinson prefers the term “Puritan.” The problem with this assertion is that the Puritans were part of the period scholars call Reformed orthodoxy. I am not sure how “Neo-Puritan” helps protect the integrity of “Reformed” from us Baptists. Likewise, calling YRR “Puritan” does not mitigate the problem of covenant or baptism—representative Puritans were covenant theologians and paedobaptists. The early Particular Baptists were also strongly covenantal.

2) Mr. Robinson fails to provide an adequate definition of the term Puritan. Contrary to his use of the term, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and included non-Calvinists such as the important John Goodwin who was an Arminian. Likewise, what about the General Baptists? They were Puritans and also Arminian. If you follow the work of the late Geoffrey Nuttall, a Puritan expert, then other more fringe groups like the Quakers were also Puritans. Patrick Collinson famously defined a Puritan as a Protestant of the “hotter sort.” You can see my article “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism” for reasons why this is a better way to understand the movement.

3) In a chart seeking to provide the historical provenance of the Puritan movement, Mr. Robinson looks to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) as the first or quintessential Puritan. The problem is that historians of evangelicalism like David Bebbington categorize Edwards as an evangelical not a Puritan. This points to the related problem of determining when the Puritan movement came to a close. Some scholars argue that Puritanism ended with the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection of 1662. For myself, I have argued in the essay linked above that the Puritan movement largely ended at the death of the last representative Puritan John Howe (1630-1705). While some romantically like to call Edwards, Spurgeon, and even Lloyd-Jones the “last great Puritan,” it remains the case that none of these were Puritans rightly so-called. Puritanism was largely a seventeenth-century phenomenon.

4) Related to point 3, Mr. Robinson fails to see the variegated nature of his own example of “Puritans,” lumping Owen, Baxter (not a Calvinist strictly speaking), and Edwards together as though they all shared the same theological perspective. Edwards is very, very different in terms of his theological emphases than Owen. And Owen and Baxter were engaged in a lengthy theological debate. None of these men should be conflated as Mr. Robinson does.

Although there are others, these historical problems undermine Mr. Robinson’s thesis. For a more detailed analysis on how to define Puritanism see Randall J. Pederson’s Unity in Diversity.

The Truth About The Truth

truth2

It is perhaps a little less remarked on today than it was in the 1990s, but it still comes up in evangelical circles: the “truth.” Actually, no, it’s the Truth and evangelicals can still often be heard denouncing “moral relativism” as a threat to capital-T Truth. Now it’s not talked as much since the perception that New Atheism is the big threat to North American evangelical protestantism, but there is still a concern about moral relativism causing impressionable young Christians to abandon orthodox Christian views in favour of a this-is-my-truth-tell-me-yours mindset. Now though, the big threat seems to be the rise of the “nones” including various sorts of “new” atheism as well as increasing interest in the Roman Catholic, High Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox traditions among disaffected evangelicals.

Why?

The unchanging, capital-T Truth.

The evangelical community that has made such a big deal about the threat of relativism and the importance of an eternal, unchanging, objective truth as a starting point possesses another key characteristic that is utterly contradictory: the centrality of personal testimony. This is especially the case in youth groups (and hence this is perhaps why twentysomethings and thirtysomethings are most affected by this return to older church forms). Almost any speaker at a church youth group in the 1990s-2000s, be it the regular youth pastor or some kind of guest speaker or one of the students themselves would, if given any length of time to talk, weave in a personal testimony of sorts. Most youth group kids likely had a better understanding of the personal conversion and faith story of their youth pastor than they did that pastor’s take on any number questions about theology or ecclesiology.

That’s a tremendous zig-zag there. The truth is unchanging and objective, but here’s my own personal story of what I think God did in my own life. In other words: this is my own personal truth. Oops. The kids coming through the churches in the last three decades were fed this contradiction, is it any wonder that they leave to go look for the capital-T truth. An Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic/Anglican priest, if you asked him, might tell you a little about his own life and faith, but that’s not what he’s leading with. Not because it’s a secret or it’s of no importance, it’s just not nearly as important as the other stuff such an individual might wish to share. The same might be the case for at least some of the Reformed types who have lately gained much traction in the evangelical world. Conversely, remember those New Atheists, they also like to talk about the truth: in this case the truth that science might be revealing an ugly, uncaring, material world, but if that’s what can be shown to be true (albeit through an entirely different process than the traditions and rites of ancient Christianity) it can be equally appealing to those who were told by their church youth groups to search out the unchanging, immovable capital-T Truth.

Call for Papers

I mentioned in an earlier post that ETS has re-started its Ontario/Quebec regional meeting. A call for papers has now been issued for the September 2013 meeting. Here it is:

CALL FOR PAPERS
Inaugural Meeting of the ETS Ontario/Quebec Region
Theme: “The Authority of the Bible for Today”
Heritage Theological Seminary, Cambridge, ON
14 September 2013
 
Speakers for the inaugural meeting are Dr. Stanley Porter (President and Dean, Professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College) and Dr. David Robinson (Associate Pastor, Westminster Chapel)
 
All full members of ETS and student members enrolled in Ph.D. programs are invited to submit paper proposals on this year’s theme. Quality papers on topics not directly related to the theme are also welcome.
 
All paper proposals should include a title and abstract (300 words), and the presenter’s name and institutional affiliation. Please submit paper proposals to Dr. David Robinson: david.robinson@westminsterchapel.ca. An acceptable paper should be delivered in 25-30 minutes, with 5-10 minutes for discussion.
 
The submission deadline for proposals is 31 July 2013.
 
Dr. David Robinson
ETS Ontario/Quebec Program Chairman

Or check this flyer out: Call for Papers

ETS in Canada

Did you know that there used to be a Canadian meeting for the Evangelical Theological Society? A number of years ago it changed into a separate body, but this year is being revived. On September 14, 2013, at Heritage College in Cambridge, ON, a meeting of the newly formed Ontario and Quebec region will meet to discuss “The Authority of the Bible for Today.” The two plenary speakers will be Dr. Stanley Porter, President and Dean of McMaster Divinity College, and Dr. David Robinson, associate pastor at Westminster Chapel, Toronto.

I assume a call for papers will come shortly. As for now, check out this flyer:

ETS ON-QC 2013

Reading and Error

A couple of years ago I did a three-part series of posts for the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog titled “Reading and Error.” The purpose was to advocate for what some friends of ours call “Reformed Irenicism”—though I don’t use that term. You can check the posts here:

Part 1

There is a famous Latin maxim on theological controversy that has been attributed to Augustine (though he may not have said it) that warrants thoughtful consideration: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus autem caritas. In translation this roughly says, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” Without wanting to debate the universal truthfulness of the entire statement, the last definitely merits consideration. Augustine himself demonstrated charity in his dealings with those in error—one thinks of his early treatment of Pelagius as an example. Whether in truth or in error, we must deal carefully at all times.

Part 2

As an aside, have you ever noticed the footnotes in books that you read? In many books, those footnotes demonstrate that your favourite theologians read error in order to combat it. Pick up a book like Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen and you will quickly discover that he was intimately involved with the writings of his liberal opponents.

Part 3

The best way to respond to erroneous teaching is to deal with the best of a person’s arguments, not the worst. Sometimes it can be easy to take an outlandish statement and punch holes through it. Little work is required and the desired effect of repulsion can easily be acquired. Rather, consider the strong-points, deal with them honestly, and it may be that the opponent is convinced by your godly response, but others reading your work may be drawn to your position. If you fail to do this, others will see and it will be easy for them to dismiss both you and your argument because of your lack of charity.

Fraternities And The Fabric Of Faithfulness

During my undergrad years at Tyndale University College, our very wise Dean of Students required us to read Steven Garber’s The Fabric of Faithfulness. The gratitude I felt towards the Dean for this has not abated since then.

Garber contends, in sum, that three factors stand out in differentiating those Christians who stay faithful from those who abandon the faith along the way. Firstly, the faithful ones found answers to objections to their faith. They were able to hold their faith together with reason, and with honesty regarding the facts.  Secondly, they found mentors or teachers in the faith, who were able to model for them what it meant to live out Christianity as a mature human being.  Thirdly, they found a community, or friends, with whom they could live out their faith in mutual support.

Garber easily convinced me. Challenges to one’s trust in Jesus inevitably come to all believers in this life. How can they withstand them, if they must suppress their own nagging consciousness of problems, or if they have no examples of others who have survived the storm, or if they have no friends on whom they can depend while they endure it? Garber’s points compel agreement to anyone possessing common sense, I believe.

And so I think if churches want to train their members to persevere, they need to craft their ministry to provide these three things.  The pastoral ministry could surely help with the first and second factors (education and example). But even then, they cannot be the sole providers of these.  Members have to be encouraged to become self-educating, and to become examples to each other. And then of course the congregation functions as community.

Yet, congregations should not shoulder this burden by themselves.  A real weakness lurks beneath the recent push among groups like Evangelicals, Emergents, Missionals, Postliberals, etc., to subsume every part of the mission underneath the visible and institutional church (that is, insofar as they do indeed succumb to this attitude; I am sure there are many counterexamples that do not).  It is a mistake to think everything Christians do must be done as an official ministry of local congregations, or networks of congregations in what we call denominations.  The Reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and on the importance of vocation in the non-ecclesiastical realm, remains salutary for us today.

So, are there other ways, beyond the ministries of the institutional church, that Christians could provide these three faithfulness-producing causes for themselves? Here’s one idea I have been mulling over. I think Western believers ought to really consider reviving fraternities.

Fraternities, or clubs like them, have been around for centuries. In the Greco-Roman world, they at times became so powerful politically that the state outlawed all clubs except those which clearly demonstrated their fealty to the Emperor. And anyone can understand why they became powerful.  Close-knit, likeminded groups devoted to a common cause can accomplish incredible things.  (Though I don’t know the history, I would guess this is one reason why freedom of association has been enshrined in the constitutions of many Western democracies, to provide a check against governmental power.) Scholars such as Niall Ferguson have also noted the incredible importance of institutions of civil society for the preservation of civilization (see, e.g., here).

Unfortunately, Christians, especially men, most likely cannot conceive of a Christian fraternity as having this kind of power. And who could blame them? The Western Protestant churches, if they do not appear to be at the end of their life-span, usually appear like they are at the beginning. That is, we tend to have two options: (1) near-dead mainlines, or (2) infantile evangelicals. Would a fraternity made up of members of such churches instantiate anything other than the same tropes? Unlikely.

Yet despite my Calvinism, I’m not a fatalist. I think fraternities could intentionally seek to be different than this.

I think a club structured around the following three purposes, if its members actively intended to put them into action, could accomplish great things.

  1. Worship/Piety: members should regularly pray together.
  2. Fellowship: members should gather together regularly, both for the sheer joy of it, and also to encourage one another to growth in virtue and knowledge
  3. Service: members should actively plan, and carry out plans, to do good for the wider community/society/city

Doing these three things out of a conviction regarding the truth about God and the world would take care of the “dead” problem seen in mainline churches. And one more proposal would take care of the “infantile” issue: official meetings and proceedings of these fraternities ought to be conducted with  a sense of reverence and seriousness, based on an understanding of the importance of the work they are carrying out. (Of course, this wouldn’t prohibit less serious meetings from occurring as well. But these should not be the only kind, and the more formal should be common enough to have an influence on the souls of the people involved.)

This is just an idea, but I don’t think it’s a bad one. I hope some day I get to put it into practice, but even if I never do, maybe someone else will (or already has).

 

Final Justification, Protestantism, And Wright

I want to continue my series of posts on NT Wright and Reformational issues by focussing in on the matter of final justification. This seems to be one of the teachings many regard as a particularly dangerous part of Wright’s teaching. I already addressed this point in brief in my first post, but I can add a few more comments to strengthen my position.

I think the concerns of many Protestants regarding Wright’s view of final justification according to “the whole life lived” fall into three main categories: (1) his view is not Protestant, (2) his view is not Augustinian, and (3) his view is not Biblical. I will address these in turn.

Is Wright’s view Protestant?

Thankfully, I don’t need to do much work here. My friend Steven Wedgeworth has done it all for me. His survey clearly demonstrates the variety of expression amongst Protestant theologians about this matter, and that clear precedents for Wright’s position lie within that variety. More specifically, from the doctors that Wedgeworth surveys, the following say basically the same thing as Wright (I will append some brief quotes to make this point clear):

  • Martin Bucer
    • In the case of Bucer, Michael Bird provides the clearest testimony, though the post about Witsius below also contains a citation from Bucer.
  • John Diodati
    • “Whereas St. James takes the same word for the approving of man, in a benigne and fatherly judgment, as he is considered in the quality of God’s child, and living in the covenant of grace, as having the two essentiall parts of that covenant joyned together, faith to receive God’s grace and Christ’s benefit, and works to yield him the duties of service and acknowledgement;”
  • Benedict Pictet
    • “for in the first [justification] a sinner is acquitted from guilt, in the second a godly man is distinguished from the ungodly. In the first God imputes the righteousness of Christ ; in the second he pronounces judgment from the gift of holiness bestowed upon us; both these justifications the believer obtains, and therefore it is true that “by works he is justified, and not by faith only.”
  • Herman Witsius
    • “This justification is indeed very different from that other, of which we shall presently treat, wherein the person is absolved from sins, whereof he is really guilty, and which are forgiven him on Christ’s account. In this we are speaking of he is acquitted of sins, which he is not chargeable with, and is declared not to have committed.XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning a man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself:He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. and Peter says, Acts x.34, 35. “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.””
  • Edward Polhill
    • “These things evince, that obedience is a condition necessary as to our continuance in a state of justification: nevertheless it is not necessary, that obedience should be perfect as to the evangelical precept; but that it should be such, that the truth of grace which the evangelical condition calls for, may not fail for want of it: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. xxii.14.) The first fundamental right to heaven they have by the faith of Christ only: but sincere obedience is necessary that that right may be continued to them: in this sense we may fairly construe that conclusion of St James, “Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. ii.24.)”
  • Thomas Goodwin
    • “So then, Paul’s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii.iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’”

In addition to Wedgeworth’s sources, one other deserves note:

  • Westminster Shorter Catechism 38
    • Rich Lusk rightly noted that WSC 38 teaches believers receive an acquittal at the final resurrection; the choice of proof-texts for this point may startle some, too, in that the Westminster divines selected a text about rewards for good works to prove believers would receive this acquittal (Matthew 25:23).

On the other hand, Wedgeworth rightly explains that John Calvin, Francis TurretinJohn PrestonJames Ussher, and Thomas Gataker, William Gouge, and John Downame shy away from speaking of two justifications with the second by works, though Calvin’s position in the Institutes is quite sophisticated and I think comes very close to the one evidenced in the list above. But to the list of reticent theologians we should add Martin Luther, and I would imagine the Lutheran tradition (though I know nothing about the particulars here).

Given Wedgeworth’s work here, I can’t see any reason to say Wright’s view fails the Protestantism test. At most one can say some Protestants disagreed with his view. But they did not excommunicate his predecessors.  As long as the fundamental Protestant concerns were upheld, there was manifestly room for difference on this matter.  And as I showed, Wright certainly sustains those fundamental Protestant positions.

Is Wright’s view Augustinian?

Anecdotally, on several occasions I have seen critics of Wright contend that his position on final justification is semi-Pelagian. Of the three issues I mentioned at the beginning, this one is the easiest to dispatch, I believe. For the charge that Wright’s view of the final judgment implies salvation by merit runs up against the problem of Augustine himself. If anyone was an Augustinian, and not a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, when it came to merit, it was the bishop of Hippo. Yet everyone recognizes that he did not teach a Protestant view of justification, i.e., he believed iustificatio referred to the transformative process by which God made us more just, not the verdict in God’s court which declares us so. For Augustine, justification and sanctification basically referred to the same process. But for all that, Augustine’s view of grace rendered it impossible for human beings to stand before God on the basis of merit. My reference to the saint’s saying that “God crowns the works he does in us” hinted at this point. The fact that God is the ultimate source of our good works, as many Protestants have noted, eliminates merit from the good works that those same Protestants affirm that we do. But if the divine origin of our good works eliminates merit in sanctification, then it must also eliminate merit even in final justification.

To put this all a different way: this charge confuses two issues which must remain distinct. The question of the instruments of justification, initial and final, stands beside the question of grace’s relation to merit. These matters remain separable, as Augustine’s own position makes clear.

Is Wright’s view Biblical?

For Protestants, at least in theory, all theologoumena must pass the bar of scripture, or else be discarded. At this point, I don’t wish to defend Wright’s view as biblical (though I believe it is). But I do contend (a) that his position is at least prima facie defensible (it has been defended by otherwise respected evangelical scholars of late e.g., beyond Wright himself, also Simon Gathercole, Mark Seifrid, and Tom Schreiner), and (b) that in light of my responses to the previous two questions, the answer should not be threatening to Protestants if Wright turns out to be correct. It undermines neither their ultimate concerns nor the (non-existent) uniformity of their tradition.

This will probably be my final post, at least for some time, concentrated on NT Wright’s place in Protestantism. I welcome feedback and criticism. I hope, at least, that I’ve provided reason for some critics of Wright to reconsider their problems with his teaching, even if I have failed to convince them of my entire position.