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Posts Tagged ‘authority of Scripture’


I slept slightly later, but had plenty of time to take another walk around the park. I didn’t plan on the seminar in the interest of rest. Phil and I arrived in plenty of time for the panel discussion with the Study Committee on Women in the Ministry of the Church. They tried, and I think largely succeeded, in writing a consensus document (you can see my recent blog posts about it). A variety of opinions were found on the committee on some specifics. But all of them examined the questions before them within the context of the authority of Scripture, our confessional documents and our denominational commitment to complementarianism.

Mary Beth McGreevy summed it up well for me regarding the “slippery slope.” Many of the women of the denomination want to fully use the gifts God has given in the way God has intended. But they feel like they are driving in a 65 mph zone stuck behind a guy going 45 mph who doesn’t want her to break the law. There is no desire to break the law, simply a desire to be as fruitful as possible for the kingdom. Kathy Keller fully affirmed complementarianism and that she doesn’t know anyone who wants to ordain women as elders. This isn’t about that, and if it happens she promises to come back to haunt those who approve it. There is some disagreement as to whether the office of deacon has authority (per our BCO) or not. It is a question worth asking, and finding a biblical answer for. I was disappointed that we didn’t hear from alternate Leon Brown. But as he says, if you put a microphone in front of him he’s going to pray or preach.

Sadly some of the questions at the end revealed that some people don’t believe what was said (or written) and are still fearful of the slippery slope and that we will be just like the PC(USA). We affirm the inspiration & authority of Scripture. They don’t. This is the massive difference. The day we give that up is the day I’m gone. But I don’t know anyone arguing for that view in the PCA.

How I Felt

It was to be a largely frustrating day. Much of the afternoon, about 2 ½ hours, was taken up with the report from the Study Committee on Women in the Ministry of the Church. We became mired in the parliamentary process as some people sought to improve it, remove things they thought offensive, obstruct the process and any other number of things. “Point of order” and “Personal Privilege” were commonly cried out as we continually got lost in a rat’s nest of substitute motions and amendments to the motion. I don’t hate Roberts’ Rules of Order, but I hate what some people do with them and how they often help us avoid helpful, brotherly conversation. Some of the very people who cry out “sola scriptura” & the Regulative Principle make use of RRoO, which isn’t Scripture, to govern our meetings. How is that fundamentally different from “commissioning persons”?

I felt very bad for the women present or live streaming this. It reminded me of Chattanooga. There the debate wounded many of our African-American members quite unnecessarily. They felt unwanted by some, put off yet again as though their experiences didn’t happen or don’t matter. Some of the women I talked to felt this way. Those who are more restrictive come across as devaluing women. I’m not saying they do, just that’s how it comes across. More than 50% of PCA members are women and should feel valued and free to serve. We hear words like “lead” and assume judicial authority. Some of this is the wording of the document which is using a term some take as exercising authority.

I had lunch with Ed Eubanks, Eddie, Adam Tisdale and his wife at Darryl’s Wood Fire Grill. Interesting décor. It was time for more sweet tea. I ordered the Tennessee Black Jack Chicken. They were very busy, but I still thought it took too long for our meals to arrive. My chicken was tasty, but the lunch portion was nearly microscopic. I did have ample amounts of broccoli and mashed potatoes. It was good catching up with Ed, and we talked about the book and the delay. Doulos uses p/t editors and my manuscript is like a curse. When one gets it, the editor’s life gets crazy and they don’t have time to work on it. Now it is Ed’s turn to edit it. Hopefully this means it will be done soon. But I will go through and remove some material that is unnecessary or unhelpful.

The worship music Wednesday afternoon was similar to Tuesday. Irwyn Ince’s sermon was great. From Hosea he talked about God’s plan to redeem, restore and reunite God’s people. I’d recommend buying a copy. I’m glad they freed him from the Study Committee chair “prison” so he could preach.

I was looking forward to the evening of fellowship planned downtown: food trucks, a concert, a message by Rankin Wilbourne (which wasn’t promoted). As usual, I was worn out (jet lag and large crowds) by the time dinner came around. So Eddie and I went out instead. At 7 pm the Japanese steakhouse still had a 45 minute wait, so we went to a thai place instead. He loved his red curry. My Drunken Noodle was not very spicy, and frankly I’ve had better. But it was a quiet evening. I almost called Dr. Schneeberger and Bo to see about having a beer, but decided a quiet night reading a book would serve me well.

My quiet night was very quiet as shortly after arriving at the BnB, the power went out during another thunderstorm, and would stay out until about midnight. A little light came thru those basement windows. It was like I was in an isolation chamber or remote cave. Around 11 I gave up and went to sleep.

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I’ve been reading the new Essentials Edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion since this summer. This is not an edited version, but a new translation of the 1541 edition of the Institutes. I am enjoying it very much. As I’ve been reading, I’ve thought at times, I should blog about this. Unfortunately, for much of the fall I was editing my own book so there wasn’t much time to blog on it. I have a bit more time these days, so I thought I would go back. My desire is to encourage others to read this volume.

It begins with a chapter on the Knowledge of God. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This volume is not broken up into 4 books like the one edited by McNeill. The material is, at times, covered in a different order. Additionally, this edition is not as exhaustive as future editions would be.

The first paragraph is familiar:

“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured- broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.”

As made in the image of God, we cannot truly know ourselves without knowing God. As we know God, we discover that “he is the fount of all truth, wisdom, goodness, righteousness, judgment, mercy, power and holiness.” The purpose of this knowledge is that we would worship and honor him.

The purpose of knowing ourselves is “to show us our weakness, misery, vanity and vileness, to fill us with despair, distrust and hatred of ourselves, and then to kindle in us the desire to seek God, for in him in found all that is good and of which we ourselves are empty and deprived.” In other words, we see our depravity and the marring of his image that we might seek like in him. It sounds harsh, but it is similar to Paul’s discussion of the purpose of the law prior to conversion, to reveal our sin and drive us to Jesus.

This is why it is wisdom; this knowledge is to be acted upon, not simply studied abstractly. Knowledge of self is intended to encourage us to seek after God, and leads us to find him. Calvin then notes that “no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.” This is similar to Isaiah 6, when the prophet saw God in his glory and then finally saw himself as he really was.

Calvin notes that an awareness of God is common to all people. We all have some “understanding of his majesty.” Calvin is quite dependent on Romans 1 as he thinks through all of this. He is not a speculative theologian, but one who seeks to understand what has been revealed to us in Scripture, and its implications. Romans 1 instructs us that people turned from the true God to idols, “exchanging the truth for the lie ” (Rom. 1). In rejecting the truth, we have become perverted by self-will. Instead of seeking all good in God, we have settled for the lie of the Serpent in the Garden and seek it in and by ourselves: for our glory, not his. Instead of seeking to submit to him, people resist and rebel against him. As Paul says in Ephesians and Colossians, people are at enmity with God. We fall prey to superstition and servile fear. People flee from him, as a guilty Adam and Eve fled from the sound of God approaching them.  This servile fear is “not enough to stop them from resting easy easy in their sin, indulging themselves and preferring to give fleshly excess free rein, rather than bringing it under the Holy Spirit’s control.” In other words, pride drives us to think we deserve better, and know better than God what is good for us. Fear leads us to believe that God does not have our best interests at heart and therefore his law is oppressive.

As we discover in the Psalms, he is good and wants good things for us, including trusting him to guard, guide, protect and provide for us. He wants us to trust him to redeem and rescue us.

Calvin briefly discusses the “Book of Nature” or creation which reveals his invisible qualities. If we study nature, and we should, we will discover much that testifies to his wisdom. We also see that he is revealed in his works of providence. We see that foolishness has consequences. (see Psalm 19 for instance)

But, as Romans 1 makes clear our thinking has become dark and futile. We don’t see what we should see, even though it is clear. The problem isn’t the Book of Nature (natural revelation) but how we understand and interpret it. We are without excuse. Instead of believing, we “so obscure God’s daily works, or else minimize and thus dismiss them” so that “he is deprived and robbed of the praise and thanks we owe him.”

We are dependent on God’s special revelation (Scripture) as a result (the second stanza of Psalm 19). We needed a book because we are prone to forget and are easily led into error. To know God we are utterly dependent upon the Scriptures (and the Spirit’s illumination).

Here Calvin reminds us that Scripture’s authority comes from God, as his word. It is not determined by the church (contra Rome). He briefly develops the ideas of the Spirit’s inner witness, it’s wisdom and truth and history of the truth which confirm the authority of Scripture.

“It is therefore not the role of the Holy Spirit, such as he is promised to us, to dream up fresh and original revelations, or to fashion a new kind of teaching, which alienates us from the gospel message which we have received. His role is rather to seal and confirm in our hearts the teaching provided for us in the gospel.”

The chapter ends with a slightly different form of “triple knowledge” than that expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism: “God’s mercy, one which the salvation of us all depends; his judgment, which he daily visits on the wicked, and which awaits them with even greater vigor, to their eternal shame; and his righteousness, by which his faithful people are generously preserved.”

“However, since God does not allow us to behold him directly and up close, except in the face of Christ who is visible only to the eye of faith, what remains to be said concerning the knowledge of God is better left until we come to speak of the understanding of faith.”

 

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The final view of sanctification addressed in Christian Spirituality is that of the contemplatives. The Church has a long history with contemplatives, or mystics, that transcends geography and denominations. Some well-known names were contemplatives: Bernard of Clairvoux, St. John of the Cross, Teresa Avila, Thomas Merton and more. In my younger days as a Christian I read Brother Lawrence and The Great Cloud of Unknowing. How does E. Glenn Hinson describe contemplative Christianity?

Contemplatives try to balance the inner and outer life. They usually assert that being will result in doing (which is a far more biblical idea than doing will result in being). They do spend most of their time addressing the inner life: being. Its focus is on communicating, communing and contemplating with God internally. Like Wesleyian sanctification the focus is on one’s love for God. Instead of gaining this thru a second blessing, one pursues it, so to speak, through a series of activities that leads one thru the stages of increasing communion with God. I’m trying to do this justice on its own terms.

“Contemplation has to do with this loving attentiveness to God.”

In contemplation there is an assumption that God is immanent in the created order. He is inescapably near to us. There is no disputing this, the question is “how is He near?”.

In Hinson’s description, there is a “naturalness” to this pursuit of the Divine Lover. He does not clarify and it can sound awfully Pelagian to many ears. Since contemplatives typically eschew theological distinctions, lots of things are vague enough to be misunderstood. Or properly understood.

At the very best, it is typically Arminian. God is a gentleman who never knocks our door down but respects the freedom He gave us. There is a resistibleness to this “grace.” Let me clarify: in Reformed Theology God does not violate the will of the creature, but in regeneration changes the character/nature of the creature so the person’s will is changed. We cannot thwart God’s purposes and plan. In most contemplative theology we, not God, are in the driver’s seat.

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One of the enemies great tricks is to undermine people’s confidence in the Scriptures. In the Garden the serpent got Eve to start questioning what God said. It worked then, so why change tactics.

As a result of this continuing barrage, the church has needed to defend the Scriptures on a variety of fronts. Over the years a number of significant books have been written with this purpose. Many of those books were written for more advanced readers: pastors, academics. There are a few that are written for the younger Christian. Kevin DeYoung has added to that list of books that are accessible, meaningful, practical and interesting. Face it, this is not a topic that gets the averaged browser in a bookstore jazzed. But this is a necessary topic so it must be handled wisely.

DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word is structured around 8 passages of Scripture that teach 8 important things about Scripture. It was probably a sermon series or SS class turned into a book. Not that it matters, but it follows a similar structure as my book on marriage (one of those topics that gets store browsers jazzed) which may eventually see the light of day. He also utilizes many of those older books to help us understand the importance of what Scripture is saying.

“There is no calamity like the silence of God. We cannot know the truth or know ourselves or know God’s ways or savingly know God Himself unless God speaks to us.”

He starts with Psalm 119 in which the Psalmist delights in the Word of God (including the Law!!). Even well-meaning Christians struggle with this concept (because they see every mention of the law thru the lens of justification). The Word is filled with promises, and warnings, to be believed and acted upon. If the Word of God is not delightful to you, something is amiss in your Christian experience. The Spirit works in us to develop such a response to the Word. He recognizes the elements of circularity in the arguments for the authority of Scripture that rest on Scripture. However, if another document establishes the authority of the Scriptures it would be at least on par if not above Scripture. No one doubted the authority of the king to speak before the Magna Carta. God speaks as that kind of absolute king except He has unlimited knowledge, wisdom and goodness.

“Psalm 119 shows us what to believe about the word of God, what to feel about the word of God, and what to do with the work of God.”

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Friday I had an interesting encounter with 4 Mormons on my doorstep. It reminded me of my previous encounters with Mormons. This would take me all the way back to college.

My freshman year room mate in college was named Mark. He was from Salt Lake City. If I remember correctly his father was a Muslim and living in Bahrain at the time. His American mom lived in SLC. He spent much of his freshman year seeking the truth. During the course of the year he professed faith in Christ. Being a nominal Catholic engaging in a variety of sins at the time, I didn’t really care. He would borrow my tiny Gideon’s NT (the “littlest Bible” he’d call it) that I received years early while in elementary school, during school time (yes, the Gideons visited our public school!).

In addition to a 4 Spiritual Laws tract that ending up just wasting away in my desk drawer, he gave me a 10-12 page handout comparing the Bible, the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine. For some reason I didn’t throw it away.

Approximately a year after his conversion I was converted. As a new Christian I started taking some religion electives and one was about Religion in America. Our prof brought in some guest speakers to share with us and answer questions. When I knew the President of the Boston Mission was coming I dug up that handout and studied it.

I asked a lot of questions, most of which went unanswered. What I did get was an offer of the Book of Mormon if I would read it. I took it with the best of intentions, but fell asleep each time I started to read it. Let’s just say I never finished it. It was a frustrating encounter because I really didn’t get satisfying answers. He was one slippery kind of guy. If you ask me what I believe I’ll point you to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Mormons and Masons point you to obscure and confusing books and then when you summarize them they say “I don’t believe that.”

Fast forward about 15 years during my pastoral ministry in Winter Haven. I had a congregant named Tod who grew up in Wyoming and hasn’t met a Mormon ad he hasn’t responded to. One of his “ministries” is inviting them into his home to present them with the gospel. I think he’s been black listed so it might be time for him to move. Well one day he gave them my phone number. Thanks, Tod.

Mid-afternoon a sweet young lady called me as a result of Tod’s request. She may still remember he phone encounter with the Presbyterian pastor. What quickly became apparent to me was that she had never really read the Bible. While she encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon, I encouraged her to read the Bible to see what it really said and see if the BoM was consistent with it. Like the President of the Boston Mission, she pretty much avoiding giving me direct answers to questions. In her case it was not so much being slippery, but (I think) ignorance.  She was in way over her head but wouldn’t admit it. It ended with a “would you pray to God to see if the BoM is the Word of God?” My answer was that I knew it was not on the basis of what the Bible teaches. Tod was ever so delighted to learn that the Mormons had actually called me.

Fast forward another decade and another part of the country. For the first time they rang my doorbell. There were 4 of them so it must have been a training team. There was one woman, who was largely silent. One guy spoke most of the time, but the guy in the back seemed to be the trainer and evidenced some disapproving frowns at times.

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John Frame has, I think, done the Church a great service in writing The Doctrine of the Christian Life. It is the material from his course on Christian Ethics. The 3rd section of the book is Christian Ethical Methodology. As expected, he breaks this into 3 parts: normative, situational and existential.

“In general, a Christian ethical decision is the application of God’s revelation (normative) to a problem (situational) by a person (existential).”

The normative aspect of Christian Ethics is revelation. God exercises His lordship by communicating His character and will to us. Unlike non-Christian views of deontological ethics, we have a recognizable standard. Frame affirms both general and special revelation as part of that standard. Both can be misinterpreted by sinners such as us.

We don’t just have a Law given to us. God expects us to imitate Him. He is the ultimate norm for us. There is an aspect of “What Would Jesus Do” that is accurate.

But the overall focus is the authority of Scripture. He spends time on inspiration and the attributes of Scripture. He has an important chapter on the sufficiency of Scripture. This is often misunderstood. The Westminster Confession formulates the sufficiency of Scripture “concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” It does not limit this to explicit statements (a problem I often run into in theological discussion), but also includes “any good and necessary consequence.” In other words, doing theology is not merely quoting Scripture but THINKING through the consequences of what Scripture says. As a result, the divine words we have are sufficient for our needs.

“The sufficiency of Scripture does not rule out the use of natural revelation (“the light of nature”) and human reasoning (“Christian prudence”) in our decisions, even when those decisions concern the worship and government of the church.”

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Books on prayer are always a risky proposition.  They tend to raise some sort of controversy, whether they want to or not.  The Prayer of Jabez got lots of heat.  It was a little book, and wasn’t intended to be a treatise on prayer.  Did Wilkenson over-state his case?  At times.  But the book was not heretical like some people (at least in my circles) made it out to be.  Could have done without all the hype that spawned an industry.  Or take E.M. Bounds.  Some people love his stuff.  I just end up feeling guilty.  It only points out that facts that my prayer life is not like Martin Luther and John Calvin’s.  Not so helpful for me.

It is into this conflicted world that Will Davis Jr. released his latest book on prayer- Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I asked for a review copy.  I guess I was hoping it would help my prayer life.  I’ve seen some reviews on Facebook- some people like this book, alot.

There were warning signs.  One of the blurbs on the back is by Don Piper.  Yes, Don.  He of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame.  The book that apparently has spawned its own cottage industry of calenders and devotionals.   Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking that if there is something about heaven God wants me to know, it will be … in the Bible!  So a guy who has functional issues with the authority of Scripture really likes this book.  Not a selling point for the likes of people like me.

Initially I had some agreement with Pastor Davis.  Most evangelicals are pretty superficial in their prayers.  “Bless Josh” is not really what the Father is looking for.  It reeks of a lack of thought both in knowing God and knowing Josh.  I also agree with Pastor Davis that Scripture should direct our prayer life.   Our areas of agreement began to dissipate quickly.  So quickly that I never finished the book.  The reason was there were unconstructive thoughts arising.  I felt I was being overly-critical.  Perhaps I wasn’t, but I decided for my own sake to stop reading.  Little did I realize it had it’s own cottage industry.

What was the problem?  I’ll mention 5.

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