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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration of Scripture’


My years working in Ligonier Ministries’ phone room were tumultuous ones for the larger evangelical community. The Promise Keeper’s movement was huge, and divisive among lay people. More importantly, two documents were released: Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) and the subsequent Gift of Salvation (GOS). These caused division among many among evangelical leaders. Some friendships and relationships would never be the same.

“To work toward unity in the gospel is not a matter of ecclesiastical politics: it is a matter that touches the soul of tahe church itself and the souls of all its members.”

This is the old cover.

In response to ECT, R.C. Sproul wrote Faith Alone, a defense of sola fide which interacted with the document. In response to GOS (and subsequent release of The Gospel of Jesus Christ by evangelical leaders) he wrote the recently repackaged Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together.

It is important to keep this context together. In seeking greater dialogue and “unity” with Roman Catholicism, some evangelical leaders were causing conflict and division among Protestants. Here Sproul is once again focusing on the doctrine of sola fide as one that did and should unite Protestants including Evangelicals.

Sproul is clear, and generally irenic. He wants to rebuild bridges, not destroy them. He doesn’t want to forfeit the core of the gospel to gain “unity”.

Part 1 of the book focuses on the context, historically and contemporary respectively, in two chapters. Part 2 of the book is a critical analysis of GOS over the course of 3 chapters. The bulk of the book, 6 chapters, is Part 3 which explains The Gospel of Jesus Christ. The appendix of the book contains GOS and The Gospel of Jesus Christ for reference.

Sproul begins with the historical and theological context of “communion of saints”. As a matter found in the Apostles’ Creed (and for Presbyterians like Sproul and myself in the Westminster Confession) this is an important doctrine to understand. He brings us through the distinctions between the visible and invisible church, the marks of the church, and when it becomes necessary to leave a church that has lost the marks of a true church. He also lays out the shape of unity so we don’t seek the wrong kind of unity.

“When an essential truth of the gospel is condemned, the gospel itself is condemned with it, and without the gospel an institution is not a Christian church.”

He begins the contemporary context with a discussion of how words change meaning. Evangelical is one of those words whose meaning has changed greatly over time. The root of the word pertains to the gospel. Evangelicals were people concerned with believing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now it means many things, including voting blocs in American politics, which have nothing to do with the gospel. The two defining doctrines of evangelicalism were sola scriptura (including the inspiration of the Scriptures) and sola fide. In the 1970’s the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures were undermined in many historically evangelical circles. In the 1980’s & 90’s it was the latter that was undermined. It became possible to self-identify as an evangelical but not hold to these core doctrines.

He also considers whether or not the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has changed, thereby making unity possible. The bottom line is that Trent still stands and it condemns both sola scriptura and sola fide. The position of Trent is maintained in the newer catechisms of the Church of Rome. If the Catholics who signed these documents (ECT & GOS) affirm these doctrines they too are condemned by the Church of Rome.

As Sproul notes, there are some understandings of salvation shared by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Sproul has a history of being fair when handling the views of Roman Catholicism. That continues here. He gives credit where credit is due. They do, for instance, affirm grace and faith as necessary for salvation. Here is where distinctions are vastly important and R.C. does continually remind us of them. These distinctions are like the rock on the path you keep tripping over. We cannot ignore these distinctions. Sadly, the evangelicals who signed the documents think they affirm sola fide but it doesn’t. There is fide, or faith, but not the sola. It comes close but never gets there. That last yard is important, vital, necessary as a few Super Bowl teams have discovered. The disagreements over the ground of justification continue (imputation vs. infusion, Christ’s righteousness vs. our personal righteousness, faith alone vs. faith & works, grace received by faith vs. grace received from sacraments, and the list goes on). Similar terms is not to be confused with similar meaning and understanding.

“In summary we believe that imputation is essential to the gospel and that without it you don’t have the gospel or gospel unity. … Evangelicals who signed GOS could still affirm the normativity of a doctrine of justification, but not the normativity of the doctrine of sola fide, which clearly contains the essential ingredient of imputation.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was written by both evangelicals who signed ECT and GOS, and evangelicals who were critical of the documents, like Sproul. It clarifies many of these issues that were obscured in ECT and GOS using a series of affirmations and denials. What follows is Sproul unpacking the historic Protestant understanding of the gospel.

The document is not perfect. For instance, in denying that the power of the gospel rests on things like the eloquence of the preacher, it does not deny that it depends on the efficacy of the sacraments. But the documents gets to most of the most important issues. Sproul covers plenty of ground in his explanation of the document. He doesn’t go very deep into those matters as a result. But he is clear and continues to make proper distinctions (a seemingly lost art).

Getting the Gospel Right is a good book. It examines important doctrines within the context of a recent theological controversy. For some this may be incredibly helpful. Others, who have not interest in historical theological controversies, may not appreciate how the book is written. R.C. is typically clear and engaging. This is a helpful volume that should not overwhelm the average reading by either its length or depth. I’d recommend it greatly for those trying to sort out the key differences between historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism on the key matters of salvation.

[I received a promotional copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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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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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.”

(more…)

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