Posted by: reiterations | September 2, 2014

Unity in the Theological Disciplines

From a liberal viewpoint, it is impossible to find a unity of the various theological sciences by looking to the unity of divine truth.  Liberals reject the evangelical answer – the movement from knowledge of God’s revelation to the practical application of that knowledge.  According to Farley, this linear model ignores the fact that theologians work within a historical framework that raises practical concerns: “There is simply no way of conducting theology above the grid of life itself.”  It is important, therefore, to disengage the unity of theology from the traditional framework in which theology depends on authoritative texts (and, for some, traditions).  Farley’s commitment to a critical stance toward Scripture precludes finding the unity of theological disciplines in the unity of divine revelation.  Another author wrote, “Critical method is incompatible with confessional faith insofar as the latter requires us to accept specific conclusions on dogmatic grounds.”  The liberal strategy will not follow the way of authority, and the clergy paradigm is bankrupt.  So, how are theology’s disciplines integrated?

For Farley, without an authoritative Bible, the unity of theology must reside elsewhere.  He placed it in what he called “theologia,” the sapiential and personal knowledge of God.  By moving “theologia” beyond orthodoxy, he essentially argued that knowledge of God can arise outside of orthodoxy.  The key is this: achieving a unity of theology depends on each person’s experience of developing “theologia.”  This spiritual development process does have an intellectual component, but each individual may choose his own theological path to find “theologia.”  A person may make use of many different modes of contemporary scholarship in working toward a personal wisdom.  So, Farley moved away from traditional commitments and grounded the unity of the theological disciplines in the subjective arena – in the recovery of the individual’s development of a personal knowledge of God.

Evangelical theologians simply cannot accept this solution.  Broadly, if not in detail, Farley reverted to Schleiermacher’s approach.  He located the unity of theology in human subjectivity and experiences.  This leads to theologies that claim Christian allegiance but cannot sustain discernible Christian content over time.  Ironically, it will make the unity of theology all the more difficult to achieve because, without theological guidance, experiences are entirely malleable and adaptable.  Following the liberal, experiential-expressivist model (Lindbeck’s term) will make unity difficult to retain.  But, for evangelical theology, the ontological ground of unity in theology arises out of the One whom we know, not out of us who do the knowing.  The self-revelation of this One is our path to unity.  So, the question for evangelical theology is this: how can theology that puts “sola scriptura” at the center of its noetic structure, and which finds the unity of theology in the unity of God’s self-revelation, take account of scholarly developments?  This is a large question.  For now, I will say only that a positive answer would justify Thomas Oden’s assessment: not only is the unity of Christian teaching the unity of its object – the triune God – but the only theological unity worth seeking is the unity that is divinely given.

From: To Know and Love God: Method for Theology by David K. Clark; “Foundations of Evangelical Theology” series (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003), pp. 181-182.

David K. Clark is Professor of Theology at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Lead Pastor at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Posted by: reiterations | September 1, 2014

The Platonists – An Early Intellectual Challenge to Christianity

The declining age of learning and of mankind is marked, however, by the rise and rapid progress of the new Platonists.  The school of Alexandria silenced those of Athens, and the ancient sects enrolled themselves under the banners of the more fashionable teachers, who recommended their system by the novelty of their method and the austerity of their manners.  Several of these masters, Ammonius, Plotinus, Amelius, and Porphyry, were men of profound thought and intense application but, by mistaking the true object of philosophy, their labors contributed much less to improve than to corrupt the human understanding.  The knowledge that is suited to our situation and powers, the whole compass of moral, natural, and mathematical science, was neglected by the new Platonists, whilst they exhausted their strength in the verbal disputes of metaphysics, attempted to explore the secrets of the invisible world, and studied to reconcile Aristotle with Plato on subjects of which both these philosophers were as ignorant as the rest of mankind.  Consuming their reason in these deep but unsubstantial meditations, their minds were exposed to illusions of fancy.  They flattered themselves that they possessed the secret of disengaging the soul from its corporeal prison, claimed a familiar intercourse with demons and spirits and, by a very singular revolution, converted the study of philosophy into that of magic.  The ancient sages had derided the popular superstition.  After disguising its extravagance by the thin pretence of allegory, the disciplines [disciples?] of Plotinus and Porphyry became its most zealous defenders.  As they agreed with the Christians in a few mysterious points of faith, they attacked the remainder of their theological system with all the fury of civil war.  The new Platonists would scarcely deserve a place in the history of science but, in that of the church, the mention of them will very frequently occur.Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; taken from the edition edited by J. B. Bury (1861-1927), published in 1896.  The quoted portion is the last paragraph of Chapter 13.

Posted by: reiterations | August 31, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (344)

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.  Then, the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.”  Then, the righteous will answer Him, saying,” Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You drink?  And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You?  And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?”  And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, You did it to Me.”  (Matthew 25.31-40)

Posted by: reiterations | August 30, 2014

Keeping One’s Focus on God

Reformed Christians are well known for their concern for theological precision and their careful, logical exposition of the Word of God, and these are tremendous gifts to Christ’s church.  Because we are so intent on the study of theology, however, some of us can be prone to turn God into just another subject about which we learn.  But the Lord is no mere subject, and if our pursuit of sound doctrine does not end in heartfelt praise for our most holy Creator, something is seriously wrong with our theology.Tabletalk magazine, Volume 38, Number 8 (August, 2014), p. 60.

Written by Robert Rothwell, co-associate editor of Tabletalk.  Rothwell has written the daily studies in this monthly magazine for more than ten years.

Posted by: reiterations | August 29, 2014

The Prophet Jeremiah’s Hometown

We are introduced to Jeremiah as “one of the priests at Anathoth.”  Anathoth was (and still is) a small village in easy walking distance of Jerusalem, about three miles to the north-east, close to the edge of the wilderness that led down to the Dead Sea.  We know two other things about Anathoth.  First, it was one of the places set aside for the Levites within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 21.18) – which is why it would have had priestly families living there.  And, secondly, it was the ancestral home of Abiathar.

Abiathar was, you might say, the “loser” in the great conflict between two branches of the priestly descendants of Aaron that took place during the closing years of David’s reign and the early years of Solomon.  The other contender was Zadok.  Abiathar, having served David faithfully before and during his reign, had aligned himself with Solomon’s older brother and rival, Adonijah, at the time of the succession.  So, after Zadok had sided with Solomon by anointing him king, one of Solomon’s earliest acts (after murdering Adonijah) was to banish Abiathar to his home village of Anathoth (1 Kings 2.26-27).  The Zadokite clan remained in control of the Jerusalem priestly guild from then on.  Abiathar’s family no doubt nursed their resentment through the generations in the obscurity of Anathoth.

Now, it is possible (though not certain, of course) that Jeremiah from Anathoth was a member of the priestly family descended from Abiathar.  So, Jeremiah’s life would have been steeped in the traditions of this priestly lineage and well-educated in the historical and theological heritage of his people.  And Abiathar’s family went even further back to include Eli, priest at Shiloh during the early ministry of Samuel.  This would explain Jeremiah’s familiarity with the fate of Shiloh, for example (Jeremiah 7.12-15; 26.6) and his love for Hosea, the northern Israelite prophet of the previous century whom Jeremiah quotes or alludes to often.  The life of Jeremiah would also create an uncanny echo of the words of the anonymous prophet who condemned the house of Eli, saying that any who survived would do so “only to destroy your sight and sap your strength” (1 Samuel 2.27-36).  Jeremiah certainly fits that description.

But, the most formative influence of such a family background on Jeremiah would be in relation to the ruling priestly establishment in the Jerusalem temple and its corrupt and compromised alliance with the monarchy there.  One can imagine that the residents of Anathoth took a jaundiced view of those who wielded power between the temple and the palace, and Jeremiah put his prophetic finger on their unholy behavior with painful force.  If, however, Jeremiah’s hostile posture towards the Jerusalem establishment was connected to his family roots, we will be left wondering what it was that later brought him into so much disfavor with his family that they plotted against his life (Jeremiah 11.18-23).

From: The Message of Jeremiah: Against Wind and Tide by Christopher J. H. Wright; “The Bible Speaks Today” series (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), pp. 43-44.  Comment on Jeremiah 1.1-3.

Posted by: reiterations | August 28, 2014

Jesus is Greater Than Moses

These first six verses present the doctrine on which the exhortation of the rest of the chapter is built.  In order to understand the exhortation, we need to understand the premise and, to understand the premise, we need to review what the Jews of that day thought about Moses.  To appreciate how, why, and to what extent Jesus is better than Moses, we need to see how important Moses was even before this.  Even before this we need to ask why it was necessary to prove that Jesus is better than Moses.

Moses was esteemed by the Jews far above any other Jew who ever lived.  God miraculously protected him as a baby and personally provided for his burial.  Between these two points in his life are miracle after miracle after miracle.  He was the man to whom God spoke face to face.  He had seen the very glory of God and, in fact, even had this glory reflected in his own face for a brief while.  After he came down from Sinai, “the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him” (Exodus 34.29).  He was the one who led Israel out of Egypt.  As Paul stresses in Romans 2, Jews had great confidence in the law.  The Old Testament commandments and rituals were their supreme priorities and, to them, Moses and the law were synonymous.  The New Testament often refers to the command of God as the “law of Moses” (Luke 2.22; Acts 13.39, and others).  Moses not only brought the Ten Commandments but he also wrote the entire Penteteuch, which lays out the levitical and other laws that governed everything the Jews did.  Moses gave the plans for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.

Some Jews believed that Moses was greater than angels.  God spoke to the prophets in visions but, to Moses, He spoke face to face.  He spoke to him in a burning bush.  He spoke to him out of heaven.  He spoke to him on Sinai and wrote the Commandments with a finger of fire.  He was, above all others, God’s man.

Yet, in this passage of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit calls on Jewish readers, especially, to look at Jesus.  Moses was, indeed, great, but Jesus is far greater.  Jesus is shown to be superior to Moses in office, in work, and in person.  In His office, He is the apostle and high priest.  In His work, He is the builder of the house.  In His person, He is the Son.

From: Hebrews by John MacArthur; “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary” series (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1983), pp. 73-74.  Comment on Hebrews 3.1-6.

Posted by: reiterations | August 27, 2014

The Bible’s True Theological Dividing Point

Here is this great book.  We divide it up, and we call it the Old Testament and the New Testament, and we all know what we mean by that.  But, you know, if we were to be strictly accurate, we would not describe it in that way.  The real division of the Bible is this: first, everything you get from Genesis 1.1 through Genesis 3.14, then everything from Genesis 3.15 to the very end of the Bible.  What you have up through Genesis 3.14 is the account of the creation and of God’s original covenant of works with man and of how that failed, because man broke it.  Beginning with Genesis 3.15, you get the announcement of the gospel, the covenant of grace, the way of salvation – and that is the whole theme of the Bible until you come to the last verse of the Book of Revelation.  That is the real division of the Bible.D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

Posted by: reiterations | August 26, 2014

On Thomas Cranmer’s Catholicity

Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments,” four times reprinted in full (on 6,000 large quarto volumes) between 1837 and 1877, and read in most pious Victorian homes in a standard one-volume abridgement known as “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” has stamped, on the English mind, the image of Thomas Cranmer as a martyred Protestant.  This is not false, but it would be nearer Cranmer’s own mind to say that he was burned for being a catholic.  It was a happy irony that allowed him to make his last speech in response to an invitation to show himself “a catholic indeed,” for that was just what he believed he was doing when he abjured his recantations, the papal claims, and the real presence.  To him, as to all the Reformers, Protestantism (unlike Anabaptistry) was precisely a quest for catholicism – that is, for solidarity with the catholic church that Jesus founded.  The Reformation was the work of churchmen and, as such, was neither a lay-minded reaction against ecclesiastical superstition and graft nor an outbreak of nationalistic sectarianism but a conscious attempt to restore to the church of the West the catholicity that it had so long lost…

Cranmer judged that, for three or four centuries before his time, due to papal absolutism, priestcraft, the theology of the mass, and neglect of the Bible, the church in England, as throughout Europe, had lapsed grievously from the catholic norm, and his overriding concern as churchman, theologian, and praying Christian was to see this deviation corrected.  Cranmer’s passion to regain and hold fast catholicity gave unity to his work as Archbishop of Canterbury and is the clue to understanding both him and it.

From: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer: Volume 4: Honoring the People of God by J. I. Packer (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999), p. 237.

Posted by: reiterations | August 25, 2014

One Reason the Bible is Necessary for Us

The Bible is also necessary because God no longer reveals Himself by dreams and visions and prophets.  Those vehicles of revelation are no longer needed and they no longer function.  William Gouge, a Puritan patriarch at the Westminster assembly, argued that “pretence of new light and immediate inspiration in these daies, is a mere pretence.”  Francis Cheynell complained of people in his day who too quickly gave a platform to anyone who had persuaded himself that he had some spiritual interpretation of the Word by “inspiration, suggestion” or “assistance of the Holy Ghost.”  And George Walker, yet another member of the assembly who wrote on the topic, had hard words for weak men who told ladies to marry them because of some “pretence of inspiration and divine revelation.”  Whether out of laziness or desperation, men should not try to push a woman a little closer to a wedding because “God had said” they were meant for each other.

From: Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), p. 6.

Chad Van Dixhoorn serves as Associate Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.  He is also Associate Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia.

Posted by: reiterations | August 24, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (343)

But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord.  At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me in Your saving faithfulness.  (Psalm 69.13)

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