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Posts Tagged ‘inerrancy’


I’ve said it before, I’m glad Sinclair Ferguson retired.

I miss listening to his sermons, so I wish he hadn’t retired too. But his retirement has meant a steadier stream of great books. One of those books is From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4

This is not a new book such much as a revised and expanded version of Handle with Care! which was released in 1982. It was written to fulfill a commitment he’d made to provide a book on the Trinity. Unable to prepare that manuscript, they were willing to receive Handle with Care! Hopefully we will see that book on the Trinity some day.

In some ways, From the Mouth of God reminds me of Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word. They cover much of the same territory. Their styles are different due, in part, to differences in age and cultural background. Both are very good books and worth reading. Both are relatively short and accessible to lay people. I intend you use both in the teacher training, and officer training, that I am in the process creating and revising respectively.

As you might realize from the subtitle, the book is divided into three sections: trusting the Bible, reading the Bible and applying the Bible. The middle section is the longest. Unfortunately the section on application is the shortest. As one who can struggle with this aspect of sermon preparation, I would have liked this to be explored more thoroughly.

His opening chapter It Is Written covers the Bible as God’s self-revelation. He brings our depravity as expressed in a darkened understanding into the equation. Ferguson uses passages like Hebrews 1 to affirm that the Bible is historical, verbal, progressive and cumulative, and Christ-centered. He discusses the dual authorship of Scripture as an expression of the doctrine of concurrence. He also covers the doctrine of accommodation, that God speaks in such a way that we can understand. The second chapter, Getting It Together, focuses on questions of the canon. This includes the OT canon and Jesus’ view of that canon. He addresses inerrancy and infallibility, as well as finality. Inerrancy is often misunderstood. For instance, it includes the lies of men. It accurately reports those lies in some historical accounts. Faithfully communicating those falsehoods and errors does not mean the Bible itself errs.

He wraps up the first section with Is It God’s Word?, which evaluates the claims of Scripture to be God’s word. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also illumines the Scriptures for us. We see the depth of our dependence upon the work of the Spirit in knowing God.

Ferguson opens the section on reading the Bible with an example of how not to read it: allegory. Christians have struggled with how to read, and therefore understand, the Bible. The priest of my youth told us “Don’t read the Bible, you’ll get it wrong.” And many do. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t Do-It-Yourself. We have a responsibility, and need, to read the Bible for ourselves. We aren’t saved by implicit belief in what the priest or pastor knows & believes. We must explicitly believe saving truths, and we know them through the Scriptures.

Explaining Paul’s statements, Ferguson discusses rightly handling the Word of God, thinking in the hopes the God grants understanding (2 Tim. 2:7). He then turns to the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain some principles for interpretation. He contrasts this with the medieval church’s 5-fold interpretation.

In Keys, he notes the 5 keys to interpreting Scripture: context, Christ, the unfolding drama, and gospel grammar. These keys help us by helping us grasp the historical and literary context, the redemptive-historical context, its connection with Christ and reminding us that the indicatives (facts) of the gospel precede the imperatives (commands) so we live by grace. In Prose, Poetry, Wisdom, and Prophecy focuses on the different literary genres in the Old Testament. He briefly provides the basics needed to understand each of these genres. He includes brief examples of how to interpret each. Similarly in Gospels, Epistles, and Visions Ferguson looks at the genres in the New Testament. In For Example, he interprets the book of Ruth. He repeats one of the keys he noted earlier: “in reading Old Testament narrative we must always have in mind the way in which the promise of Genesis 3:15 unfolds in terms of God’s covenant promise working out through deep conflict to establish his kingdom in Christ.”

Ferguson moves to application with What’s the Use?. Here he returns to 2 Timothy 3 to help us understand the use of the Scriptures in making us wise for salvation. This chapter will find its way into my officer training.

In Seed Needs Soil he addresses the condition of hearts that hear the gospel. This is one of the few places I disagree with Ferguson. It is a minor disagreement. I believe the parable is told to explain the different reactions to the ministry of the Word for the disciples. I don’t think it is meant for us to be self-reflective as if we could prepare our hearts. Still, he does a good job explaining the nature of those hearts.

He concludes with Speaking Practically, which is about how to implement the material you have read. He discusses the role of discipline to develop a routine, and a method for reading the Bible. We have to actually read the Bible, consistently and repeatedly, to bear great fruit. Each of the first 5 years or so that I was a Christian (until I went to seminary) I read the Bible through once a year. I gained a good working knowledge of the Bible as a result. Unfortunately it was the NIV, and many key phrases in my head don’t match up with the ESV. Even after 20 years in ministry, while reading the Bible for my own devotion I continue to see new connections points (I just read Exodus 22:28, noting its connection to NT texts about honoring the king).

Though Ferguson is done, the book isn’t. He includes two brief appendices. The first is John Murray on The Guidance of the Holy Spirit, and John Newton’s letter on Divine Guidance.

This is a good book that leaves you wanting more. I recommend it for all those interested in teaching others, and people interested in why they should trust the Scriptures and how to read them.

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Most bloggers focus on the best books of the year. I’m not competent to rank books I haven’t read. I am often a little behind as I read based on needs not just desire. So I focus on the books I read in the last year. It was a light year as I spent more time than I wanted reading my own book to edit it. So, here we go!

The Creedal Imperative (ebook) by Carl Trueman. This is the first Trueman book I’ve read. Okay, only one so for. It was a very good book arguing for the use of creeds and confessions. It is not a very big book but it covers some important territory.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. It starts off a bit dry and philosophical as it examines the ways various cultures have trying to answer the problem of suffering. He then argues that only Christianity has a satisfying answer to this problem. Then he goes into proactive mode in addressing how we can prepare the spiritual reserves, so to speak, to survive pain and suffering.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. I started this book in 2012 or 13 but finished it in 2014. It is an extremely long book, but I thought an extremely helpful book I will return to as I consider various ethic issues (I recently returned to his material on the Sabbath in light of a discussion in Presbytery). I appreciate how Frame looks at things.

Against the Gods (ebook) by John Currid. This is another short book . This one focuses on the relationship between biblical material and ANE material. Currid argues for a polemical approach to understand similarities. It is helpful for helping to defend the faith from attacks based on archeological findings.

Antinomianism (ebook) by Mark Jones. I think this is a very important book that helps us make some important distinctions as we think about both grace and law. Jones focuses on the strains of antinomianism that arose during the age of the Puritans. He does make some modern application.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield. The best part is the story of her conversion as a lesbian “gay theory” professor. There is much to learn about how homosexuals view the Christians. She found many of those views to not be necessarily true as Christians loved her and she read the Word. She also had to face how much life would change. I could do without the argument for exclusive psalmody, but there is much to benefit from otherwise.

Taking God at His Word (ebook) by Kevin DeYoung. This is a short, solid defense of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. It is quite accessible to the lay person. Well worth reading, and keeping on hand to let others borrow.

Song of Songs by Tremper Longman III. I read this commentary for an upcoming series in Sunday School. It was a very helpful commentary on a quite, at times, confusing book.

Rooted by Raymond Cannata and Joshua Reitano. This is a great little book on the Apostles’ Creed designed to either be read alone or with a group. What is distinct about this book is the missional bent of the material. They don’t just want to help you expand your knowledge and understanding to to see the call to bring these truths into the world to the glory of God.

unPlanned by Abbey Johnson. This is one woman’s story about life as a Planned Parenthood director who comes face to face with the truth about Planned Parenthood. It is a very interesting story from a former insider. Part of the story involves the love she experienced from the majority of the pro-life protesters she saw on a regular basis. This is in stark contrast to the paranoia and fear so many PP people had when thinking about them. Eventually the dissonance grew to great after operating a sonargram during an abortion.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera. This was a very interesting book about the Hall of Fame (future) reliever. You can clearly see the providence of God. His faith is often in the background, but it is a great story even if you are not a Yankees’ fan.

Resisting Gossip (ebook) by Matthew Mitchell. There are not many books about the sin of gossip. This is one of the few, and it is a good, gospel-centered one. This book deserves a reading.

The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Ralph Davis. The former OT professor looks at Psalms 1-12. Excellent material with a very practical focus.

The Good News We almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung. This is another excellent book by Kevin DeYoung. This time he tackles the Heidelberg Catechism. It is accessible for younger Christians and filled with pastoral wisdom.

Parcells: A Football Life by Bill Parcells and Nunyo DeMasio. This is a very interesting book about Parcells’ life, football and the many people he worked with. It is fascinating from a leadership perspective, and will build most people’s understanding of football and how teams should be built.

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) by Gregory Beale. This is another important book addressing a contemporary problem. It is far more technical than DeYoung’s. It is geared more to pastors, but well-read lay persons would appreciate it.

Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch. This is an important subject for Christian growth. Shame is experienced by all, but can be crippling to many. It is a hidden root for many symptoms. Welch unpacks the gospel to show the ways it moves us from shame to honor.

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Back in 2009 I was a spectator in a Presbytery debate about a pastor wanting to transfer into said Presbytery. The concerning symptoms were doubting the historicity of Job and Jonah as well as uncertainty about the number of authors for his favorite book of the Bible, Isaiah. There were some men from Westminster who were very concerned about the influence of Peter Enns on this young man though he didn’t go to Westminster. They were trying to get to the root cause of these symptoms, the erosion of inerrancy. Peter Enns, thanks to his books, has become something of a poster child for the erosion of inerrancy. If there was a wanted poster in a conservative church office, his face would be on it.

G.K. Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) does not exist apart from Peter Enns. The first four chapters, over 120 pages and over half the books, are taken up in “dialogue” with Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.

I have not read Enns’ books though I probably will at some point thanks to the lessons I learned from Dr. Roger Nicole. I know people who love Peter Enns as they react to perceived “fundamentalism” or rigidity with respect to perceived problems with regard to the Old Testament and inerrancy. Beale quotes extensively from Enns, usually giving the context, not just a sentence that can be taken out of context to put him in an unnecessarily bad light. Beale’s argument is that there are better ways to understand those passages that do not compromise the historicity of the text and therefore the inerrancy of the Scriptures. The point being that once you are able to discredit the historicity of the Scriptures you begin to lose the foundation for the theology of the Scriptures. Enns, and others, seem to think the theology remains even if the historicity is suspect our flat out absent (note the recent debates about the historicity of Adam). At some point I may come back and blog in a deeper fashion about these chapters. It was my intention to do so but life only allows so much time and energy.

I suspect that the other half of the book also has Enns in view, but no direct appeal is given to him. The questions addressed there are the authorship of Isaiah and the phenomenological language used with regard to creation (this is basically a summary of Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission). He provides more than sufficient arguments, to my mind, for believing there was only one author behind Isaiah (this does allow for an editor to arrange material or add a historical statement like we see in Deuteronomy about Moses’ death). He also provides a compelling, to me, case for seeing much of the phenomenological language in light of creation as a cosmic temple. While there may be overlap with other ANE traditions (due to the remnant of the imago dei and therefore knowledge of God) there are marked differences that show Israel was not just copying them.

This is not easy reading and comes across as far more “academic” than Enns’ more popular style (which he seems to use to excuse failing to provide other legitimate understandings of passages or genres that preserve inerrancy). I do think this is important reading for pastors and others involved in church leadership (oversight of the ordination process in particular). If one likes Enns this will provide food for thought, the other side of the argument so to speak that Enns doesn’t normally offer. If you aren’t a fan of Enns this should validate your concerns that he gives too much away. In fact his more recent book seems to go farther down the road than the one Beale discusses here.

Chronologically, this was written before Enns was removed from Westminster Theological Seminary and therefore before Beale ended up replacing him. On the basis of this book, and his commentary on Revelation, I’d say that was a good choice to bring academic rigor and a high view of inerrancy to the post.

This book is well worth the investment of time and mental energy. This is an important topic and one that won’t go away. It is best to be prepared for those moments when that nice guy being examined begins to say things that ultimately undermine the faith of the sheep, even if they won’t recognize it.

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Much has been said on the internet about the PCA GA, as usual. I have found misrepresentations, distortions and knee jerk reactions galore. I hope to avoid all that. I hope to be as objective as I can.

For me the General Assembly began around 5 pm on Tuesday afternoon. My friend Eddie and I attended the Ligonier Panel on Christology. The panel featured R.C. Sproul (obviously), Ligon Duncan, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson and Richard Pratt. They each brought a different emphasis in how they viewed Christology under attack in the church and world. I was exhausted from not enough sleep the night before, so I can’t recall all that was said. Ferguson talked quite a bit about the influence of Schleiermacher on the church of Scotland. Many of the same things can be said about the church in the States. Pratt talked about issues of Christology on the mission field. People need to know who this Christ really is, and how He saves. Apart from solid Christology there really is no gospel message. It was good to see Sproul in public. He seemed sharp and on track. This was a moderated discussion. I’d recommend you watch it.

As I noted, I was exhausted. There were many good things about the opening worship service, but I thought the sermon went on too long. And there was a second, shorter sermon before the Lord’s Table. The focus for the 3 services would come from Revelation 21-22, all things new. The first message was about the new creation we will one day inhabit.

We then began business with the election of the Moderator. Two men were presented to us as nominees. Most of us knew neither of them. This is one of my great frustrations with General Assembly- being asked to vote for people I do not know. The choice of a Moderator is very important. A good moderator keeps the business flowing. A not so good one gets the assembly bogged down in procedural matters which actually interfere with the business. Let’s just say we didn’t choose wisely. I am sure he is a great guy, but this is an honor but not honorary. It is a great responsibility. Perhaps we need to do a better job preparing nominees for the task of leading General Assembly.

The next morning I went to 2 seminars. Okay, 1 and 1/2. I was a bit late for the seminar on repentance. Ed Eubanks was helping us think through how the Bible uses repentance in distinction to how we use the term. There was a fair amount of give and take in a constructive manner as some of his thoughts were challenged. I think the bottom line is that we need to have a fuller understanding of the various ways in which Scripture urges us to respond when we as Christians sin. Sometimes our theological and homoletical shorthand is neither sufficient nor clear.

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Here are my answers to the study notes as I prepare for my oral exam next week.  I thought some people might be interested in the types of things I must know.  Since there are over 300 questions, I’ll go chapter by chapter through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Please …. I’m not putting them up to debate issues.  I recognize that not all Christians will agree on these matters.  It may not represent your doctrinal standards, but it is mine.  If you think I misunderstood the Confession of Faith, I’m open to correction as long as you keep in mind that perhaps you have misunderstood the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter I: Of The Holy Scriptures

1. Distinguish between “general” and “special” revelation.  “General” revelation is available to all men everywhere.  The creation declares God’s invisible attributes (Ps. 19, Rom. 1).  “Special” revelation is the Scriptures.

2. Is general revelation clear? Is it authoritative? Is it sufficient? To what end?  “General” revelation is clear, and it is authoritative.  It is sufficient only that we may know that God exists.  Our sinful nature distorts and twists “general” revelation such that people either deny there is a God or they worship a false god.  It is insufficient for us to know how we may be saved.  As a result, it is sufficient to condemn us.

3. According to the Confession, why are the Scriptures necessary? They are necessary that we might know what we are to believe concerning God and what duty He requires of us.  They are necessary due to the lies and attacks of the flesh, Satan and the world against God and truth.

4. What are the four attributes of Scripture and what is meant by them?  Authority, sufficiency, infallible, & clarity.  The Scriptures have authority on all matters to which they speak because they are God’s Word to us. They are sufficient in that they tell us all we need to know for our salvation and life of godliness.  They are infallible meaning they are fully reliable and not deceived or deceiving.  Clarity means that all that we need to know is clearly expressed.  Non-essential matters are less clear.

5. What is meant by the Scripture’s self attestation?   Scripture itself teaches that God is its author.

6. Describe for us your understanding of inerrancy?  The original manuscripts contain no errors or falsehoods, therefore Scripture is reliable.

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It was very strange not going to Synod this year.  It was the first I’ve missed since my first as a new pastor in 1999.  I chose not to be certified to vote as a pastor w/out call.

I’ve talked to a few of my fellow Presbyters about what happened in my absence.  Tonight I came across Dr. William Evans’ articleabout this unordinary meeting of Synod.  Apparently he has been busy, since he also has a piece there about Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  He simply lays out so problems with the book.  But on to Synod where the issue of inspiration arose.

For the first time in years, more than one person was nominated to be Moderator of Synod.  It is interesting on a number of levels.  One, Barry Dagenhart, has deep roots in the ARP and would probably affirm the status quo and put a big priority on relationships.  The other, Dr. J.R. DeWitt, is a relative newcomer to the ARP (more recently than yours truly), but Drs. Evans, R.J. Gore and Sinclair Ferguson believed that his theological acumen are vitally important as the ARP addresses some important issues.  He would not maintain the status quo, and is quite fearful of a top-heavy denomination (which the ARP cannot be accused of having with any seriousness).

I agree that a man with theological acumen, and who will not seek to preserve the status quo but rather move us into the future, is greatly needed.  I’d humbly disagree with Sinclair Ferguson that Dr. DeWitt is that man.  One of the great things about the ARP, which I’ve needed to have modeled to me, is the emphasis on love as well as truth.  Our pursuit of truth must be done in love and hopefully preserve the relationships that already exist.  My experience with the Dr., limited as it is to debate on the floor of Synod, would make me hesitate in applauding his election as Moderator.  While I may side with him theologically, I fear that the price of winning the debate may be too great.  I really hope I’m wrong. 

I would like us to take our theology more seriously, and build stronger relationships with other conservative Reformed denominations.  We do need to repent of our in-grown ways.  But that is a product of spritual renewal.  I want us to be more than well-connected with the PCA, OPC et al.  I want us to grapple with the call to be missionaries to this culture and our communities.  I don’t sense that winsome, missionary spirit with Dr. DeWitt.  I think we had the right motives but not the best choice, if that makes sense.  Mark Ross probably would have been a better choice, but convincing him to serve would probably be difficult.

Regarding Scripture, 3 different motions were approved to strengthen our stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since we are in the process of revising our Form of Government it is important that new ministers understand and affirm these things lest we drift off to the left over time.  Without these fundamental commitments, our ability to properly address the theological issues before us becomes weak and suspect.  To include these affirmations in the ordination vows, and as standards for Synod employees, is what was missing from our affirmation of these truths over 2 decades ago.

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