Bibliolatry or Biblical Theology?

A number of the essays brought together in B. B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of  Scripture contain meticulous analyses of different items pertinent to the Bible’s take on the Bible  (in one of them he spends a fair amount of time on what to make of verbs without a named subject  [e.g. legei] in the New Testament introducing a reference to the Old Testament, for example).  In  ‘The Biblical Idea of Inspiration’, he canvasses some of the Old Testament texts which were not  records of divine speech but are in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 1:16; Heb. 3:7) introduced with a  ‘God says’ or the like as well as some of the Old Testament texts which were records of divine  speech but are in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8) introduced with a ‘Scripture says’ or  the like.  He comments,

They indicate a certain confusion in current speech between ‘Scripture’ and ‘God’, the outgrowth of a deep-seated conviction that the word of Scripture is the word of God.  It was not ‘Scripture’ that spoke to Pharaoh or gave this promise to Abraham, but God.  But ‘Scripture’ and ‘God’ lay so close together in the minds of the writers of the New Testament that they could naturally speak of ‘Scripture’ doing what Scripture records God as doing.  It was, however, even more natural to them to speak casually of God saying what the Scriptures say….The words put into God’s mouth in each case are not words of God recorded in the Scriptures, but just the Scripture words themselves.  When we take the two classes of passages together…we may perceive how close the identification of the two was in the minds of the writers of the New Testament (‘The Biblical Idea of Inspiration’, in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 148).

If Warfield is in the right, then it seems certain accusations of bibliolatry should give way to affirmations of the presence of biblical theology vis-a-vis the Bible itself.  Is this argument too simplistic post-Barth?  Does the bibliology of Barth and staunch Barthians in hesitating straightforwardly to identify Scripture as the word of God run aground on the Bible’s (explicit and implicit) testimony concerning itself?  Thoughts?

Sabbath and Lord’s Day

I’ll extend the Calvin kick for another post, one that centers on his view of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in the Institutes, one stemming partially from the tension I might experience on Sunday as I both engage in spiritual and ecclesial activities and also head out to the pub to take in a Liverpool match.

For Calvin, the fourth commandment has three main functions: 1) to foreshadow and to promise to Israel spiritual rest which God will bring as the sanctifier of his people; 2) to provide a day for the assembled worship of God’s people; 3) to prevent oppression and overexertion of laborers (2.8.28-9).  In the old dispensation the Sabbath promoted meditation on the forthcoming ‘perpetual repose from our labors’.  However, its figurative and ceremonial aspect is no longer in force after Christ’s resurrection (Col. 2:16-17).  By participating in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14) we begin to participate in that promised rest and ‘[t]his is not confined to a single day but extends throughout the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God.  Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days’ (2.8.31).  In this connection, Calvin also reasons that meditation on that transformation work spills over into the other days of the week (2.8.34).

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Rome, Evangelicalism, and the Regulative Principle

In his theology of worship, Calvin was quite keen on simplifying the church’s weekly services  and judged that Roman Catholicism’s elaborate ceremonies were a throwback to the old  covenant era, a continuation of things now out of place in the worship of God’s people on this  side of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.  With an eye to helping those less  acquainted with spiritual matters, he writes,

As a child (says Paul) is guided by his tutor according to the capacity of his age, and is restrained under his tutelage, so the Jews were under the custody of the law (Gal. 4:1-3).  But we are like adults, who, freed of tutelage and custody, have no need of childish rudiments….Therefore, if we wish to benefit the untutored [in this era of redemptive history], raising up a Judaism that has been abrogated by Christ is a stupid way to do it.  Christ also marked this dissimilarity between the old and new people in his own words when he said to the Samaritan woman that the time had come ‘when the true worshipers would worship God in spirit and in truth’ (Jn. 4:23).  Indeed, this had always been done.  But the new worshipers differ from the old in that under Moses the spiritual worship of God was figured and, so to speak, enwrapped in many ceremonies; but now that these are abolished, he is worshiped more simply.  Accordingly, he who confuses this difference is overturning an order instituted and sanctioned by Christ (Institutes, 4.10.14).

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The Church as an Extension of the Incarnation?

Following on Kent’s reflections about how to approach Barth’s work, I’ve  found myself interested to post on something from Barth’s treatment of  divine omnipresence.  The discussion of omnipresence in Church  Dogmatics is intriguing in its own right (even where one disagrees with  Barth) and exhibits the dialectical tack with which, as Kent mentioned,  Barth often operates.  However, it’s the way in which Barth’s notion of  Christ as the focal point, or ‘basis and constituent centre’, of God’s ‘special presence’ might meet current talk of an ‘incarnational’ view of the church  and its mission that has caught my eye.

In Barth’s discussion of the difference between God’s presence in Christ and God’s presence among his people, Barth remarks that, since in the Son God personally takes upon himself the human nature of Christ, this union is qualitatively different from our adoption.

But God is himself this man Jesus Christ, very God and very man, both of them unconfused and unmixed, but also unseparated and undivided, in the one person of this Messiah and Saviour.  This is what cannot be said about any other creature, even any prophet of apostle.  Jesus Christ alone is very God and very man.  And it is on the basis of this unio, but clearly differentiated from it, that there is an adoptio (CD II/1, p. 486).

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Anti-Heilsgeschichtianism?

I enjoy plodding through the occasional New Testament theology and recently I read through some portionsof Frank Thielman’s Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.  In winding down his account of the theology of Luke-Acts, he writes about the original readers, ‘As a people whom Greco-Roman society had moved to the margins of its social map,  they needed to know where they were located in the scheme of God’s purposes in history, they needed assurance that their costly commitment to the things they had been taught was right, and they needed a strategy for coping with the difficult life that faced them because of their commitment to the gospel’ (p. 148).

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God the Peacemaker: Some Brief Reflections

Having given a summary of Graham Cole’s God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (InterVarsity Press, 2009), I’ll offer some reflections and another invitation to more interaction on a few of its themes and lines of argument.

On the whole, I think the book could serve as a reasonable introduction to the mosaic of biblical teaching on the atonement.  At the same time, I felt that, given the measure of specificity granted to the volumes of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, it would have been good in some places to slow down and go for depth over breadth.  For example, chapter eight broaches a dizzying number of dimensions of the Christian life but could have concentrated on those more closely tied to living in light of the cross.

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On Pendulum-Swinging

I ran across an interesting comment in Bavinck about moving between theological extremes and seeking middle ground (Bavinck is quoting James Buchanan):

But it is common to all those who take the ‘middle way’ to show a greater preference ‘for that extreme they go halfway to than for that from which they go halfway’ (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:532).

Any thoughts on this?  Where do you see overcompensatory pendulum-swinging taking place in contemporary Christian and theological circles and what are some resources for decelerating the pendulum?

God the Peacemaker: A Review

Released in 2009 as an addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series from InterVarsity Press, Graham  Cole’s God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom bears the characteristic marks of that series:  attentiveness to pertinent biblical texts, concern for theological articulation, awareness of contemporary  debates, and sensitivity to the dynamics of Christian discipleship.   Each volume of the series unpacks a  particular scriptural theme and, says Cole, this one centers on atonement both broadly conceived as ‘all of God’s  saving work throughout time and eternity’ and more narrowly conceived in terms of its ‘central component’, the  cross (p. 24).

The first chapter frames the atonement with a consideration of the divine attributes, especially righteousness, holiness, and love.  The first and second of these precipitate the need for the atonement while the third precipitates the provision of the atonement.  All three are revealed on the cross and among them there is no conceptual conflict, even if we experience a ‘psychological strife’ in reconciling divine wrath and mercy, which are contingent expressions of holiness and love, respectively (p. 51).

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Paedobaptism

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on different features of the doctrine of the church and would like to hear some thoughts on Bavinck’s ten propositions concerning ‘the validity of infant baptism’.  As someone reared in a Roman Catholic family but converted in a Baptist setting, I’ve been intrigued for some time by the paedobaptist teaching of the Reformed, whose tradition I find salutary with regard to so many areas of theological enquiry.  Here are Bavinck’s big ten in summary (see Reformed Dogmatics 4:525-32):

1)  At the inception of the church it was natural for baptism to concern primarily adult converts and this is what we see in the New Testament.  However, because valid inferences as well as explicit statements of biblical teaching are binding for the church, the legitimacy of infant baptism doesn’t depend on it being explicitly narrated or commanded in the NT.

2)  Baptism is the new covenant counterpart to circumcision, which was, of course, granted to the infants of Abraham’s family in the Old Testament.  Baptism and circumcision are of the same essence, but the former exceeds the latter in grace, not least because it is given to both male and female.

3)  Covenant and election are two distinct categories and the former (in which sphere the sacraments are administered) concerns persons in their historical existence in communion with one another.  In the OT, children are ‘regarded in connection with [parents]‘ and God ‘established a communion of parents and children in grace and blessing’.  ‘While grace is not automatically inherited, as a rule it is bestowed along the line of generations.’

4)  In the NT, children are still regarded as participants in the covenant and this is evidenced as Jews in the Gospels reject Jesus and in response Jesus calls into question their status as God’s people but still in kindness regards Jewish children as ‘children of the covenant’.

5)  The apostolic ministry proceeds along the same lines, with the church taking the place of Israel and households as organic wholes in the book of Acts converting to Christ and sharing in common blessing (cf. 1 Cor. 7:14).  ‘Scripture knows nothing of a neutral upbringing that seeks to have the children make a completely free and independent choice at a more advanced age.’

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The Latest Affront to Catholicity

In People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, the final book of his four-volume series with Westminster John Knox Press, Michael Horton deals with the concept of catholicity in a particularly poignant manner.  In his mind, the most urgent threat to the catholicity of the church presently is the mindset of consumerism that has pervaded even the gathering of God’s people and given rise to ‘rival catholicities’:

The current phase of ecclesial division is actually welcomed in the name of mission.  It is not the catholicity of ethnic bonds or race.  Though closely related to socioeconomic status, it is not exactly the same.  Rather, it is the catholicity of the market.  Not only separate churches, but also separate ‘churches-within-churches’ are proliferating, each targeting its unique market (p. 206).

Put more sharply, ‘Ecclesial apartheid is expanding, as each generation and demographic market is treated to its own study Bibles and devotional materials, small groups, and ‘worship experiences’ (p. 205).  For Horton, the carving up of the church according to individuals’ cultural preferences, far from affirming diversity, ends up undermining the properly multigenerational and multiethnic character of the church and turning out discrete, homogeneous clusters of persons who operate in their own niches.  Recalling Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthians’ factious approach to the Lord’s Supper (‘For do you not have homes for eating and drinking?  Or do you despise the church of God?’), Horton discerns a parallel in our market-driven strategies: ‘Do we not have our own homes and social networks for pursuing our tastes in music, style, politics, fashion, and hobbies’ (p. 208)?  He is critical of the contemporary ‘incarnational’ ministerial impetus and advocates a recognition of the local church as a ‘strange assembly of spiritual relatives we may never have known, much less chosen, in our ordinary course of life’ (p. 212).

Do you think Horton is on target here?  If so, what are some of your thoughts on moving forward?

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Crossway, 2010) represents his latest in a string of works on this issue, including Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Eerdmans, 2010) and Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Crossway, 2009).  In this volume he ventures an exposition of the two-kingdoms doctrine that aims to clarify its biblical and theological roots and to unfold some of its practical implications in relation to knotty issues like mission, education, and politics.

In the introduction VanDrunen recognizes the helpful emphases of much of the recent literature on the Christianity-and-culture question: God as the Creator and Ruler of all things (including material things), the universality of human accountability to God, the viability of Christians’ involvement in cultural pursuits, the wide-ranging effects of sin, and the hope of resurrection and new creation.  However, he also registers his hesitation about talk of ‘redeeming’ or ‘transforming’ culture in a gradual process that will, with little discontinuity, culminate in the establishment of the new creation wherein ‘our cultural products will adorn the eternal city’ (p. 13).  VanDrunen then states his intention to propound the two-kingdoms alternative, in which ‘God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant he made with all creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17’ (p. 15).  To illumine the features of the two-kingdoms approach, VanDrunen outlines the transformational approach as instantiated in the concerns of neo-Calvinism, N. T. Wright, and Brian McLaren.  From here, he pledges to develop a two-kingdoms doctrine that respects the goodness of creation but resists ‘dualism-phobia’ and instead makes the distinction between a redemptive kingdom and a common kingdom (p. 26).  Before commencing with the body of the book, he also clarifies that he’s not using the term ‘culture’ in a technical manner:

culture refers to all the various human activities and their products, as well as the way in which we interpret them and the language we use to describe them….The popular expression, ‘Christianity and culture’, which appears in the subtitle of this book, simply refers to the variety of questions that emerge when we consider how Christians and the church are to relate to these broad activities of human culture and how Christian faith affects our interpretation of them (p. 32).

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Calvinism, Drivel, and the Best Possible World

Herman Bavinck’s section on the divine counsel in Reformed Dogmatics is, in my rather biased mind at least, teeming with shrewd theological judgments.  However, it also bears the mark of a deep, pastoral awareness of the tragic and the disturbing realities of the world.  In the midst of underscoring the active posture of the will  of God and the dependence of all creaturely happenings thereon, he acknowledges,

Present in this world there is so much that is irrational, so much undeserved suffering, so many inexplicable disasters, such unequal and incomprehensible apportionment of good and bad fortune, such a heartbreaking contrast between joy and sorrow, that any thinking person has to choose between interpreting it – as pessimism does – in terms of the blind will of some misbegotten deity, or on the basis of Scripture believingly trusting in the absolute, sovereign, and yet – however incomprehensible – wise and holy will of him who will some day cause the full light of heaven to shine on those riddles of our existence….Pelagianism scatters flowers over graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world.  Calvinism has no use for such drivel.  It refuses to be hoodwinked.  It tolerates no delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God Almighty.  As a result, it proves to be fundamentally more merciful than Pelagianism (RD, 1:394).

For Bavinck, the tradition has always taught ‘not that God could have done “more” and “better” than he did, for he always acts in a divine and perfect manner, but that he could have made things “greater in number, greater, and better” than he did’ (RD: 1:234).  Along with this recognition of the fact that God’s abilities are not exhausted on created things, Bavinck is of course steeped in the biblical hope of new creation.  It’s from this vantage point that he can bluntly characterize as ‘drivel’ talk of this world as ‘the best possible world’.

How does this stack up against contemporary Calvinistic expositions and impressions of the divine decree or divine providence?  What do you  make of it?

Anhypostatic Ecclesiology and the Christian Religion in Barth

Barth has several ways of declaring that divine revelation is the decisive criticism of religion.  One of the most poignant is the statement that revelation is ‘the real crisis of religion’ (CD, I/2, 325, 331).  As he expounds the manner in which revelation confronts human religion, Barth includes the Christian religion as it stands in itself, or ‘abstractly in its human existence’ (ibid., 328): ‘this religion, too, stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief’ (ibid., 327); ‘the judgment of revelation upon religion as such does actually fall upon the religion of revelation’ (ibid., 329).  In light of this, Barth develops an analogy between the doctrine of the anhypostasis of Christ’s human nature (the belief that Christ’s human nature had no personal existence of its own but has personal existence only in the person of God the Son) and the life of the church:

The human nature of Jesus Christ has no hypostasis of its own, we are told.  It has it only in the Logos.  The same is true, therefore, of the earthly-historical life of the Church and the children of God, and therefore of the Christian religion….[The earthly body of Christ and His members] live in him, or they do not live at all (ibid., 348).

The historical existence of the church in the form of the Christian religion, for Barth, has no immanent legitimacy of its own but has its being and validation in its connection with the person of Christ.  Barth reasons also that revelation must justify, sanctify, and adopt Christianity if it is to be the true religion (ibid., 326, 338, 339).

Yet, in spite of its precarious condition in se, Barth still calls the Christian religion the true religion:

There is a true religion: just as there are justified sinners.  If we abide strictly by that analogy – and we are dealing not merely with an analogy, but in a comprehensive sense with the thing itself – we need have no hesitation in saying that the Christian religion is the true religion (ibid., 326).

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The Prince of Preachers on Divine Immutability

From a sermon on Malachi 3:6:

Whatever the attributes of God were of old, that they are now; and of each of them we may sing “As it  was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”  Was he powerful?  Was  he the mighty God when he spake the world out of the womb of non-existence?  Was he the  Omnipotent when he piled the mountains and scooped out the hollow places for the rolling deep?  Yes, he was powerful then, and his arm is unpalsied now; he is the same giant in his might; the sap of  his nourishment is undried, and the strength of his soul stands the same for ever.  Was he wise when he constituted this mighty globe, when he laid the foundations of the universe?  Had he wisdom when he planned the way for our salvation, and when from all eternity he marked out his awful plans?  Yes, and he is wise now; he is not less skilful, he has not less knowledge; his eye which seeth all things is undimmed; his ear which heareth all the cries, sighs, sobs, and groans of his people, is not rendered heavy by the years which he hath heard their prayers.  He is unchanged in his wisdom; he knows as much now as ever, neither more nor less; he has the same consummate skill, and the same infinite forecastings.  He is unchanged, blessed be his name, in his justice.  Just and holy was he in the past; just and holy is he now.  He is unchanged in his truth; he has promised, and he brings it to pass; he hath said it, and it shall be done.  He varies not in his goodness, and generosity, and benevolence of his nature.  He is not become [sic] an Almighty tyrant, whereas he was once an Almighty Father; but his strong love stands like a granite rock, unmoved by the hurricanes of our iniquity.  And blessed be his dear name, he is unchanged in his love.  When he first wrote the covenant, how full his heart was with affection to his people.  He knew that his Son must die to ratify the articles of that agreement.  He knew right well that he must rend his beloved from his bowels, and send him down to earth to bleed and die.  He did not hesitate to sign that mighty covenant; nor did he shun its fulfilment.  He loves as much now as he did then; and when suns cease to shine, and moons to show their feeble light, he still shall love on for ever and for ever.  Take any one attribute of God, and I will write semper idem on it” (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” in New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], pp. 2-3).