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Posts Tagged ‘Scripture’


In his book Children at the Lord’s Table?, Cornelius Venema includes an appendix on the issue of baptism. This appendix, he notes, is his chapter in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism edited by Gregg Strawbridge. This is an interesting irony since Gregg is one of the people mentioned who advocates for infant communion in the PCA.

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established His church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His Church and as such entitled to its ordinances.” B.B. Warfield

Venema rightly goes after the presuppositions that operate in this discussion. The case is not won on the basis of proof-texts because each side brings different presuppositions regarding the nature of the covenant of grace in its varying administrations. This appendix is here because Venema also sees this problem as the basis for the infant communion debate. He uses the appendix to spend more time explaining the proper relationship between the various administrations of the covenant of grace.

Venema admits both sides have arguments from silence. Just as there is no statement explicitly keeping children in the covenant community (no command to baptize them), there is no statement explicitly removing them from the covenant community. If there was, the would have been a serious battle in the church shortly after Pentecost.  We don’t see this. Rather, we do see, from the beginning, the repetition of the phrase “this promise is for you and your children”. Peter continues to expand it to the Gentiles. Peter is speaking the language of Genesis 12, 15 & 17 in the context of the sign of initiation into the covenant community (just like Genesis 17). But, I get ahead of myself.

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Systematic Theologies are not the most exciting reads.  Joshua Harris seeks to change that with his book Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. This is a systematic theology for the average person. Harris sticks to the essentials: doctrine of God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, Salvation, Sanctification and the Church.  For the most part he avoids controversial areas, though for some the essentials of the Christian faith can be controversial.

One thing that sets this apart from most (not all) books of this kind is that theology is not seen as abstract.  He begins with the notion, similar to John Frame, that truth is to be lived.  It is a foundation for our lives, providing stability in the storms of life (as Harris notes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount).

“Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.”

Another thing that sets this apart from just about every systematic theology I’ve read is the use of narrative to explain or illustrate the importance of particular doctrines.  It is similar to the work his friend Don Miller has done, but not nearly as funny.  He even has a few hand-drawn illustrations in his section on sanctification.  So this is far more interesting than Berkof or just about any systematic theology.

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I recently wrote a post on Gospel Pardon as part of my interaction with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  That book is about the errors of both legalism and antinomianism.  In that post I mentioned Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel which I had read and reviewed earlier this year ( Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 with increasing frustration).  He has what I consider to be extreme views based on a hyper-dispensationalistic hermeneutic.  We engaged in an on-line discussion where it became increasingly clear to me that we were talking past each other as a result of our very different approaches to interpreting Scripture.

While I thought I was ending communication he left one last ginormous comment.  So, I’ll use that comment to have one last installment of our discussion.  If you have questions about the relationship of the OT and NT, law and gospel, and what really is the rule of life for Christians you may find some interesting points made here.  Then again ….

Thanks for this! It’s been fun to dialogue. The ideas you are presenting are familiar to me, but it has been good practice for me to think about which Scriptures to share. In this post, I will clarify that:

1. the New Covenant was put into effect at Jesus’ death (Hebrews 9:16-17)

This is not at issue at all.  What is at issue is the relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.  Both the Old and New Covenants were manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Live & Do This).  As we will note later, some treated the Old Covenant as if it was the Covenant of Works (Do this & live).  As John Piper notes, “The flesh turns the law into a ladder.”  As people born in Adam (Romans 5), we are under the covenant of works.  As a result the Law works death in us since we are sinners.  But even the Mosaic covenant was given to redeemed people.  It was not given for them to earn life, but to manifest life.  All who believe in the promises of God (keeping in mind the progressive nature of revelation, we know more than Abraham) are under the Covenant of Grace.  This why Hebrews 4:2 says they (the wilderness generation) had the gospel preached to them.  The gospel is not only in the New Covenant.  In fact, Paul often uses OT figures to explain the truth of the gospel.  For instance, Paul quotes Ps. 32 about the bliss of forgiveness/justification in Romans 4.  You’ll note it is not tied to the sacrificial system but his confession of sin as the instrumental means (this after David had been a believer for years- gospel pardon!)

The Old and New Covenants are not identical though.  There was real progress, and the issue in Hebrews was a temptation to leave the newer, better covenant for the Old Covenant, which at that point in the history of redemption (and now) amounts to apostasy.

2. Jesus was born under Law (Galatians 4:4) and his audience was too (Galatians 4:4) and Jesus expanded on the Law (Matthew 5:21-48).

Yes, Jesus redeems all those under the Law as a Covenant of Works.  He does this in 2 ways.  First, he perfectly fulfilled the law as our Substitute.  Second, he suffered the curse of the law as our Substitute (Galatians 3).

3. The Lord’s Prayer teaches a conditional forgiveness (“as we forgive others”) while in contrast Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 teach the opposite (unconditional forgiveness) after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’m not so sure it teaches conditional forgiveness.  But if it did … think about who is teaching this.  Am I to disregard anything the Eternal Son of God in flesh teaches?  In your hermeneutic, yes.  In a biblical one?  No.  We find no basis for this, unless we do violence to 2 Timothy 3 as you have done by neglecting ALL that Paul says the law is useful for.

In fact, the Great Commission (given AFTER his death & resurrection!!) includes the instruction to “teach them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.”  That would seem to include how to pray from earlier in that same gospel.

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Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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Part 3 of The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley is called Crossing the Line.  I thought he’d cross it, and he did.  The section is essentially on his hermeneutic (or method of interpretation).  He crossed the line into what I think is a very bad place.

The matter of interpretive method is very important.  Most false teaching arises from a faulty method of interpretation.  It is Farley’s faulty method of interpretation that gives birth to the various errors in his teaching (and the strange theories he foists upon us to float some of them).

By now you are probably thinking- “get to it already”.  If you are, this is how I often feel when I listen to Glen Beck.  He also has some hermeneutical issues when it comes to theology, but I digress even further.

Farley embraces a view I have only found among hyper-dispensationalists (I’m not saying he’s a hyper-dispensationalist, just that his hermeneutic is very similar).  It is that the new covenant did not come into effect until the cross & resurrection, so (and this is the odd part) the gospels are not part of the New Testament proper.  They are written to Jews, not Christians, so Jesus’ words there are not binding upon us in any way.  The Old Testament is instructive to understand our sinfulness and how God would eventually save sinners.  But the Old Testament is not to be used as a guide for life in any way, shape or form.  We find “a thorough background in how God initiated a relationship with humankind and how we did whatever we could to ruin this relationship.”

In my previous post I forgot to interact with his material on 2 Timothy 3.  But it fits in here very well.  He quotes 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but I’ll put a few more verses in there for context.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (NIV)

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Books on postmillennialism are rare these days, because postmillennialists are relatively rare (though the number is growing).  200 years ago, a very large number of Christians were postmillennial.  I have friends who are postmillennialists, one of whom wrote a book.  I’ve finally read that book.  Keith Mathison wrote Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope because many people misunderstand this view, and he wants to persuade more Christians that this is the biblical eschatology.

Disclaimer: I probably should get my eschatalogical journey out on the table since this can often color how we view this subject.  As a young Christian, I read lots of books by Dispensationalists on eschatology (because, sadly, they seem to be the ones inundating the market with books).  So, from 1986-1990 or so I was a dispensational premillennialist. But I was finding that Scripture was disabusing me of this view.  By the time I went to seminary in 1991, I was an historic premillennialist without realizing what my view was called.  I was initially suspicious of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  By the time I left seminary I was an amillennialist, and have remained so for 15 years.

Hermeneutical Considerations This is where Keith starts, and for good reason.  He lays out some Presuppositions and Definitions.  He lays out his presuppositions about the existance of God, His willingness to communicate, the authority of His Word, our being made as image bearers and ability to receive that Word before hitting interpretive considerations.  He concisely lays out the necessity of faith, the need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the role of community and tradition in intrepreting Scripture.  It is only after this that Keith defines the 4 most common eschatalogical views (quiz, I’ve named them all already- what are they?).

“The thesis of this book is simple: Postmillennialism is the system of eschatology that is most consistent with the relevant texts of Scripture, a covenantal approach to Scripture, and the nondisputed doctrines of Reformation theology.”

He just dropped a term he hadn’t mentioned: Covenant Theology.  In the second chapter he distinguishes between Covenant and Dispensational Theology.  He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary before he went off the theological reservation and I met him at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a SHORT chapter, but he concisely defines & critiques Dispensational Theology and then explains Covenant Theology since most American Christians are essentially unfamiliar with Covenent Theology.

Historical Considerations What the church has believed on this issue is important.  It is not definitive or authoritative.  It is also a mixed bag as various theologies came into being and were clarified over time.  The last of these to come into being is Dispensational Premillennialism (though there have been premillennialists for quite some time).  He shows that the historical claims some have made for their positions just don’t hold water.  Postmillennialism was the main position during the time of the Puritans and into the early 20th century, however.

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I first read Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity in the mid-90’s.  I read all of his books on pastoral ministry, finding them helpful.  A decade in to pastoral ministry, and preparing for my next call, I decided to read it again.

I found that while the book hadn’t changed, I had.  I fully agree with Peterson’s main point that pastors have largely abandoned their calling for a substitute, a counterfeit that undermines the work of God.  I also fully agree with the tasks of pastoral ministry being largely prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction.

Where I am not so on board is how he gets there.  He draws from sources  that I am at time uncomfortable with.  I’m not a TR.  I read books, and benefit from them, that are outside of the Reformed heritage.  I read Nouwen, a Kempis and other devotional writers.  I’m interested in reading de Sales as well.  But the bulk of my significant reading is within one stream of thought.

Peterson pulls from Greek mythology, neo-orthodox authors and devotional writers.  He does not often ground his thoughts in Scripture, which is odd since that is one of his 3 angles.  I think I only found one reference to a Puritan, who have written numerous volumes on prayer, Scripture and the need for soul friends (aka spiritual directors).  This I find to be a glaring weakness.

So, while Peterson’s book is helpful, it is less helpful than perhaps it could have been.  This is sad, because we do need more books that focus on shepherding people, not treating pastors as CEOs.

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