Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

Mark Noll’s Report on American Bible Reading

Historian Mark Noll reports on the findings of the Bible in American Life Report:

1. Catholics are reading the Bible outside of worship services more.

2. The KJV continues to be overwhelmingly popular.

3. African Americans read the Bible much more than other communities.

4. The real story of the Bible in America is more interesting than we thought it was.

Inerrancy and Young Earth Creationism

Evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler has an essay on the relationship between the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Young Earth Creation. He explores whether an affirmation of Old Earth Creation necessarily entails a denial of inerrancy. Here is his conclusion:

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are: (1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. (2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.  (3)  It is not a condition of salvation.  (4)  It is not a test of Christian fellowship. (5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide. (6) It is not a hill on which we should die. (7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation. (8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming.  As Repertus Meldenius (d. 1651) put it: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things charity.” And by all counts, the age of the earth is not one of the essentials of the Christian Faith.

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:

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: 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

Smith, Enns, Adam, and Paul

James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, and offers an excellent review of Peter Enns’ recent book The Evolution of Adam. Smith is also a senior fellow at The Colossian Forum, and the review appears on their website. There is so much good in what he writes that I am tempted to re-post the whole thing here. Instead I’ll leave you with its basic structure and a quote in the hopes that you’ll actually take the time to read the whole thing.

Before I do, I just want to make an unrelated observation. Smith references Robert Caro’s stunning biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, saying that Enns is right to say that the biblical writing is not a journalistic account of events, like said book by Caro. How cool would it be for an historian like Caro to have such cultural ubiquity attached to your work? Would he have ever have thought that a massive, multi-volume biography of an American President would become so cool? That’s the historian in me longing for something I’ll never have…but I digress.

Here’s the structure:

First, Smith deals with questions of authorship and the relationship between Genesis, Paul’s interpretation of it, and the divine Author. Second, he deals with the canonical role that Genesis plays in the church’s scripture—whose Genesis is it anyway? Third, Smith briefly tackles the age-old problem of the relationship between theology and history. He concludes by looking at what’s at stake in Enns’ approach to Scripture in terms of method, and more specifically human origins.

Here’s a quote that I found relevant to some of my own ways of thinking:

This sort of a-canonical approach also explains why Enns sees such a strange relationship between Genesis and the apostle Paul as a reader of Genesis.  “Paul’s reading of Genesis,” he comments, “is driven by factors external to Genesis.  Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting” (87, emphasis added).  Well, that might be true; and Enns is exactly right to offer a corrective to irresponsibile habits of Bible reading that are little more than baptized eisegesis, reading into the Scriptures what we want to find there.  But is the “original meaning” the determinative factor for the meaning of Genesis for us?  We receive a canon of Scripture that recontextualizes each book—situating every book in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is why the “location” from which we read the Bible needs to be the practices of Christian worship.  Worship is the primary “home” of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. That will certainly generate meanings of Old Testament books that could never have been intended by their human authors; but that doesn’t mean they were not intended as meanings to be unfolded “in front of the text” by the divine Author.

***UPDATE*** I see from Justin Taylor’s blog that Jack Collins also has a review of this. I haven’t read it yet, but thought I’d link it as Collins is typically a fair, balanced, and informative scholar; especially on the historicity of Adam (see his book on the subject). Here’s the review.

***ANOTHER UPDATE*** Bill Kinnon tipped me off in the comments section to a review of Smith’s review by J. Daniel Kirk. Smith interacts with Kirk in the comments section, and Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs also shares come critique of Kirk. Check it out here.

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). 

The Puritan Consensus

There are a number of posts from my old blog, RearViewMirror, that I would like to keep in circulation, so I will repost them here. This is the second in a series I did on the Reformed history of interpreting Genesis 1. It’s quite an eye-opening series.

Earlier I posted some quotes by the Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon about the age of the earth and related issues. I noted some surprise when I first read the quotes and asked a question about how it could be that Spurgeon, one well-versed in the Puritan and Reformed tradition, and one living in the midst of great scientific strides, would advocate for things like an old earth, animal death before the Fall, and a large amount of time between creation and Adam. It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would assume Spurgeon, a staunch defender against liberalism, to be a young earth creationist; I know that was my assumption.

So what are the reasons behind why he would hold the view he does? What sources did he read, theological or scientific, that led to the conclusions he drew? It could be that he held to the “Ruin-Reconstruction Theory” of creation, a view made popular by the Reformed theologian Thomas Chalmers. This view states that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that allowed for things like dinosaurs. While out of vogue today, it was something more common in Spurgeon’s. Ultimately, at least from the two quotes I posted, we can’t be sure. Another view at that time was the “Day Age” view, one that another noteworthy Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, held. Was Spurgeon reading Chalmers or Hodge? There’s a good chance he was, but I haven’t done the research to find out. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want to answer the question, “Did Spurgeon break with his theological tradition by espousing these views?”

It is well-known that as a young boy Spurgeon stumbled upon his preacher-grandfather’s book collection in a shuttered attic. At an early age he devoured the works of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the seventeenth-century Puritans, and eighteenth-century Evangelicals. He was reading Calvin, Bunyan, Henry, Whitefield. Likely Spurgeon had a photographic memory, and read voluminously. There can be no doubt that he imbibed the best theology the Puritan and Reformed tradition had to offer. As a Baptist, he demonstrated his Calvinistic stripes by publishing an edition of the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). His wife, Susanna, was responsible for distributing Reformed literature to pastors as she lived a life mainly as a shut-in. Wouldn’t one think that for a man was firmly entrenched in this older, orthodox literature, that he would have felt behooved to adopt another, more conservative view on creation?

The answer to this question requires a foray into times past to first of all see what the Puritan and Reformed tradition said about creation and the ensuing doctrines. A helpful resource is a recent essay by Robert Letham in the Westminster Theological Journal [69 (1999):149-174] called “‘In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.” Letham is a well-known Reformed theologian who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and is the author of a number of important books, in particular The Work of Christ is a personal favourite. In his article Letham surveys major thinkers in church history from the patristic period, beginning with Origen of Alexandria, and concluding with the period just before the Westminster Assembly in the mid-seventeenth century. Some church fathers, like Basil of Caesarea, held to what we call the “6/24 hour” view, while others like Augustine posited an “instantaneous creation”; Augustine also argued for what may be called a “literary” reading of Genesis 1. In the Middle Ages, Augustine’s view dominated and thus it is seen in the writings of Robert Grossteste and Thomas Aquinas. During the Reformation, Letham notes that not one Reformed confession (i.e. French Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.) has a statement about the creation days. Letham’s conclusion as to why the silence: “It was not a matter of definition since it was not a matter of controversy or even a point for discussion, despite the varying views in exegetical history” (p. 170). Great Reformed theologians like John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger don’t mention the creation days in particular—which Letham thinks is telling—and Calvin seems primarily concerned with refuting the Augustinian “instantaneous creation” view in his commentary on Genesis, though there is some indication that he may take the 6/24 hour view on the days. While that may be the case, Letham points out that Calvin saw the language of Moses in Genesis 1 as “accommodated,” so that the reader might be able to understand. Peter Martyr Vermigli, another important Reformed theologian, read the opening of Genesis with hints of allegory, and did not mention the six days of creation. All of this, it is significant to remember, during the period noteworthy for the science of Copernicus and Galileo.

The first Reformed confession to actually speak of the days of creation and such things is James Ussher’s Irish Articles (1615); Ussher is of course notorious for dating the creation at 4004 BC. As for the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, there was no consensus on the creation days. Richard Greenham doesn’t mention them, and William Perkins gives them scant attention. While the latter takes the days chronologically, he says that the first three days are not “solar days” because of the lack of sun. William Ames is important for understanding the view of the Westminster Divines, because he, like Calvin, is concerned to refute the Augustinian reading of creation as instantaneous. He does so with the language of “in the space of six days,” that was picked up by the Assembly. Ames likely did not believe that the days were solar days.

That takes us up to the time of the Westminster Assembly, but what of the Westminster Divines themselves? Letham gives a short space to the question and says: “The single most astonishing and noteworthy feature of English Puritan theology before 1647, and the Westminster divines in particular, is the virtually complete absence of interest in creation” (p. 173). Yet this was the time of the founding of the Royal Society, that was largely made up of Protestants, and it was a time of great scientific advance. Letham says that in his research he hadn’t found a single Puritan work on creation up until the time of 1647. Letham further adds: “One obvious conclusion is that the days of creation were not a matter of contention, although divergent views existed” (p. 173).

William S. Barker, now Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a published expert on the Puritans, continued Letham’s project by examining the writings of the Westminster Divines on creation in more detail. He did so in an essay called “The Westminster Assembly on the Days of Creation” Westminster Theological Journal 62.1 (Spring 2000): 113-120 (the link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF if anyone wants it. Or, for the sum of the argument, see this statement by Westminster’s faculty here). Barker is concerned to show that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language of “in the space of six days” not be construed to mean that only a 6/24 hour view of Scripture is confessionally sound (the PCA creation report as well as the OPC’s agree with him). Rather, following Calvin and Ames, the language directly refutes the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation. This view was taught at this time by the Anglican physician Sir Thomas Browne in 1643, the year when the Assembly first began to meet. The language of “in the space of” doesn’t describe what a day was at the time of creation—some held it to be longer than twenty-four hours like John Lightfoot—but rather that it took longer than an instant for God to create. Barker notes that some Divines merely spoke of “six days” but did not get into the nature of what those days were, namely, Stephen Marshall, John Wallis, Thomas Vincent, and John Ball, who don’t go beyond that statement.

When turning back to Spurgeon, who bled Puritan theology as much as he did “bibline,” it is not at all inconsistent for him to argue for long ages or a gap theory, and still rightfully claim a Reformed heritage. The Second London Confession that Spurgeon reprinted uses the same language as the WCF about “in the space of six days,” and so the argument that the WCF was written to refute Augustinian instantaneous creation is just as applicable. Just like a minister in a Presbyterian church wouldn’t have to make an exception at this point in his confessional commitments, neither would Spurgeon. Nor was Spurgeon out of step with the Reformed theology of his own day. As historian R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster California, says in his recent book Recovering the Reformed Confession: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (p. 49).

This may not answer the question of source material, which is something I’d really like to get into with Spurgeon, it does answer the question that he stands firmly in line with the Puritan and Reformed tradition—because there was no consensus on creation in this tradition, and to hold a different view on creation is not to break with it.

That Restless And Turbulent Spirit

David Fitch is continuing the discussion on the politics and ecclesiology of the Reformed tradition, and I have a few thoughts to add. In his post, he explains his general perspective:

As I see it, when Reformed theology was uprooted from its cultural moorings in the Majesterial Reformation and transported to N. America, it lost what it was “reforming.” It’s reason to be – reforming Catholic Europe- was gone. It had to find an integrity in itself. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Christus had to stand alone. Sola Scripture no longer stood as a reforming princple reforming the corrupt traditions of Catholic church structure. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of Scripture’s authority and principle of interpretation unto itself.  Sola Fide no longer stood as a reforming principle against the corrupt sacramental systems that fostered abuse and a works righteousness in Roman Catholic Europe. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of God’s saving operations in the world. And Sola Christus could no longer stand on its own as a reforming principle against a monolithic church structure that made all salvation take place through her structures. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of the church. The developments here, so I suggest, eventually led to an individualization of Christian faith, one that is inherently aligned with modernity and certain democratic capitalist culture systems. (Read C. C. Pecknold’s brilliant and concise narrative of how this all took place in ch.5-8 of Christianity and Politics)

Further, in one of his comments, he adds:

Likewise, Kuyper’s sphere-sovereignty is different/but related to the evangelical’s uncritical friendliness towards capitalism and other social structures. To me, this is a church-culture relation that makes sense out of untied Christendom context, but does not have the critical nexus necessarily to do the work necessary when the powers/structures or spheres have become rebellious…

I have a few thoughts about these comments: (more…)

On Unanswerable Theories

This was originally posted at Acta Pauli.

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s. ~ GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

Martin Rist, in his article “Pseudepigraphic Refutations of Marcionism,” (Journal of Religion 22, 1942) argues that the Pastoral Epistles are directed against Marcionite heresy. He says that “[i]t is largely from… affirmations of faith that the nature of the heresy attacked in I and II Timothy can be ascertained.” (58)

Rist details one such affirmation:

Again, in these epistles, it is asserted, quite contrary to Marcionism, that Jesus Christ is intimately associated with the creator. Indeed, in the affirmation of faith in I Tim. 2:5… he is the “one mediator” between the “one God” and men. Further, unlike the Marcionite teaching, he was incarnate, for in this same verse it is stated that he was “himself man.” Similarly, in what appears to be another liturgical fragment his resurrection as well as his incarnation are affirmed: “Remember Christ Jesus, risen from the dead, of the seed of David” (II Tim. 2:8). Likewise, the hymn in I Tim. 3:16 declares the incarnation and ascension of Jesus, assuming his resurrection: “He was manifest in the flesh….. He was taken up into glory.” Also, in the first line of the martyrological hymn the resurrection of his faithful followers is assured: “If we have died with him, we shall alos live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). It may be objected that references such as these are too casual, too indefinite, to have been intended to form part of a refutation of Marcionism. But it should be noted that in a pseudepigraphic refutation such as the Pastorals appear to be the less obvious the confutations are, the greater their effectiveness. (59-60)

There are two major problems with this argument. The first is a lack of consideration of other contexts in which these affirmations would be pertinent. For example, Judaism. It strains credulity to suggest that something as general as Jesus’ “intimate association” with the Creator was only an important matter in the debate with Marcion. The same goes for the resurrection of Jesus, his Davidic lineage (i.e., his legitimacy as a claimant of the title “Messiah”), and the resurrection of believers.

The other major problem is Rist’s anticipation of this reply. Instead of admitting that other possible contexts for these statements undermine their usefulness for his argument, he instead uses that weakness as a strength. Now, the obscurity of the opponent in the PE becomes evidence for the skillfulness of the pseudepigrapher in concealing his true intentions.

Regardless of one’s position on the authenticity of the PE, I think all reasonable critics should be able to see the problem with this. It is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking to suggest the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, a pattern of thought that permits controversial opinions to become unfalsifiable.

No Faith Without Struggle

A friend once said to me that modern evangelicalism basically consists of people intoning to themselves that “Jesus is my hamster“. It seems that Bavinck knew better; he knew the deep reality of struggle and doubt in the Christian life:

A Christian believes, not because everything in life reveals the love of God, but rather despite everything that raises doubt. In Scripture too there is much that raises doubt. All believers know from experience that this is true. Those who engage in biblical criticism frequently talk as if the simple church people know nothing about the objections that are advanced against Scripture and are insensitive to the difficult of continuing to believe in Scripture. But that is a false picture. Certainly, simple Christians do not know all the obstacles that science raises to belief in Scripture. But they do to a greater or lesser degree know the hard struggle fought both in head and heart against Scripture. There is not a single Christian who has not in his or her own way learned to know the antithesis between the “wisdom of the world” and “the foolishness of God.” It is one and the same battle, an ever-continuing battle, which has to be waged by all Christians, learned or unlearned, to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Here on earth no one ever rises above that battle. Throughout the whole domain of faith, there remain “crosses” (cruces) that have to be overcome. There is no faith without struggle. To believe is to struggle, to struggle against the appearance of things. As long as people still believe in anything, their belief is challenged from all directions. No modern believer is spared from this either. Concessions weaken believers but do not liberate them. Thus for those who in childlike faith subject themselves to Scripture, there still remain more than enough objections. These need not be disguised. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:441-442)

A recent study suggests that, after all, it is people who admit to this reality and work their way through it that remain Christian; conversely, then, people who ignore it presumably do not survive. Go figure.

Paul Is Not Just One Vote

Burtchaell summarizes a response of Olof Linton to Harnack regarding Acts 15:

As he reconstructs the Jerusalem assembly in Acts 15, the community resolved the issue of gentile membership in the church by taking ab allot on the proposal of elders. Harnack imagines that “yea” and “nay” were the two options. That would show convincingly that the community held final authority. But what if only “yea” were imaginable? In an assembly of equals a majority rules. In an assembly of unequals a minority of select people decides. The presbyteroi were not a college apart from the Jerusalem church; they were the dominating group within the assembly. Our Western understanding is that democratic institutions represent the people’s interests and stand against the claims of elite groups. Acts implies an oriental tradition wherein deliberative councils or assemblies bring rulers and people together, as a collectivity, to formulate and adopt a consensus. The methods for reaching the consensus may be informal, but they are well understood.

Paul judges a man. Then the community judges the man and reaches the same verdict. Is their concurrence a mere sham? No, says Linton, it is a collectivity at work, and its work is the work of Paul, and also of the church, and also of the Lord. The people are not the ultimate authority. And Paul is not just one vote. (118)

I basically agree with the points made here, with the extra qualification that the apostles would have outranked the elders at Jerusalem, and when Paul spoke to his churches. But the larger point is one that is often missed: it is assumed, contrary to the rest of the evidence we have about how apostles functioned vis a vis the churches, that Acts 15 was some kind of totally egalitarian communal discernment process. This is unlikely, to say the least.

At the same time, I don’t think it would be accurate to say that the church was simply not a democracy, when considering the relation of elders to laypeople. While elders clearly had (and have) an authority in the church greater than laypeople, it is a custom of the church as old as the apostles that the laypeople would consent to the ordination of elders, and that laypeople are ultimately responsible to discern if their elders have gone off the rails, so to speak, and separate or defrock if necessary. So while the ordinary operation of the church may not be democratic, extraordinary circumstances can bring to the fore democratic aspects of the church that are otherwise latent.