alastair.adversaria » Controversies

Wine in Communion Redux

Almost three years ago now, I posted on the subject of the importance of using alcoholic wine in the celebration of the Eucharist. I argued that the use of grape juice was a serious departure from the scriptural teaching regarding the sacrament. Posts are generally forgotten about within a few days at most and are never read again. For some strange reason, however, there are times when old posts are revived and enjoy a second fifteen minutes of fame. Over the last few days a few people have asked me questions about my post on wine in communion. For this reason, I thought that it might be helpful to write a brief post responding to some of the questions that have been raised in response to my original post on the subject.

You take the use of particular elements far too seriously. What would you do, for example, in the case of a person with gluten intolerance?

There are occasions when it is perfectly appropriate to make exceptions. The problem comes when people use such valid exceptions to undermine or negate the rule. For example, the fact that some people might be physically incapable of kneeling does not excuse the rest of us from doing so.

What about people with allergies to wine or former alcoholics?

In the case of allergies to wine, it is worth pointing out that the allergy is generally to something other than the alcohol. In such instances I would suggest that it is probably best to serve an alcoholic, rather than a non-alcoholic, substitute. In the case of recovering alcoholics, much depends on the particular case. The vast majority of arguments against the use of wine in communion on account of alcoholism are utterly without foundation. Most former alcoholics can drink wine in communion without any problem. Even if a church chooses to provide a non-alcoholic substitute they should do so for that individual alone. Everyone else should be served alcoholic wine.

Those with scruples about the use of wine should not be catered for. If they won’t accept wine, then they will just have to go without. People with unscriptural scruples should not be encouraged in their errors. Unless there are strong individual reasons why a substitute is necessary, no choice should be offered. Those who unbiblical scruples should certainly not be permitted to hold the rest of the church hostage to their uninformed consciences. Besides, it really is not for the servant to decide what is served at his Master’s table.

The Scriptures are quite undogmatic about the type of bread that we use for the celebration of the Eucharist; doesn’t this suggest that we shouldn’t be that dogmatic about the use of wine?

The Scripture may be undogmatic about the type of bread that is used (although some would dispute that claim), but it makes clear that it must be bread. Likewise, we have considerable freedom in our choice of wine. We can celebrate according to the biblical pattern using red or white wine, sweet or dry wine, regular or fortified wine. It really is up to us. However, we are taught by Scripture to use wine, rather than anything else.

White wine?!

Why not? In a number of traditions, white wine has often been used for the celebration of the Eucharist. This is certainly not a novel or entirely unusual practice. The symbolism of the element does not rest primarily on the colour of the wine that is used. Many believe that the whole symbolism of the wine rests upon its being dark or reddish in colour, making it look like blood. On this basis they can justify replacing the wine with other dark or reddish liquids. I have attended churches where Ribena

has been used in the celebration of the Supper. However, in Scripture the significance of the use of wine rests on details such as its being the fruit of the vine and being alcoholic.

Red wine is probably slightly to be preferred over white wine on account of its colour. However, this detail really is an adiaphoron. One benefit of using white wine would be that it would have the effect of shocking us out of unhelpful ways of viewing the sacrament. It is not there to be looked at, but to be drunk. The wine is not there to be a ‘picture’ of Christ’s blood; it is Christ’s blood.

Christ may have employed wine in His institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. However, He also almost certainly used unleavened bread. Why make an issue about wine and not about the use of unleavened bread?

First, the type of leaven used in the ancient world was different from our yeast. Unless we use sourdough, our bread is technically unleavened.

Second, the Eucharist is not merely the fulfilment of the Passover ceremony, nor, in the NT, is it merely based on the Last Supper. Oscar Cullmann has argued, for example, that the Eucharist was seen by many within the earliest Church as some sort of continuation of the post-resurrection meals and was not merely based on the Last Supper.

Third, the use of leavened or unleavened bread has been a matter of heated debate in the past in Church history, principally between the Eastern and Western Church in the eleventh century. The Eastern Church used leavened bread, while the Western Church tended to use unleavened.

Fourth, leaven is not neutral in symbolism. The Scripture speaks of purging out old leaven to celebrate the feast, drawing on the pattern of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). On account of this and the negative symbolic sense that leaven tends to have within the NT (Matthew 16:6, 11-12; Luke 12:1; Galatians 5:9), many have insisted that the Supper must be celebrated without it.

However, leaven is not purely a symbol of evil. At the Feast of Pentecost new leaven was used (Leviticus 23:17). Old leaven is cut off; new leaven is introduced. Jesus uses leaven as a positive image in one of His parables of the kingdom (Luke 13:20-21). Leaven symbolizes the hidden spread of the kingdom of God and its message. At Pentecost the new leaven of the Spirit was introduced. We are to cut off the old leaven of malice and wickedness and introduce the new leaven of the Spirit. The use of leavened bread highlights one dimension of biblical imagery, the use of unleavened another. There may be good reasons for using leavened bread on one occasion and using unleavened on another.

The use of leaven is an adiaphoron for good theological reasons. Such reasons are not present in the case of wine.

Your argument from scriptural symbolism notwithstanding, the Scriptures that God have given us nowhere explicitly teach that alcoholic wine must be used. In light of this, how can you say that the use of grape juice — which is clearly the ‘fruit of the vine’ — is against God’s instructions?

God has not just given us the Scriptures; He has also given us intelligence. God does not insult the intelligence that He has given to us by spelling out explicitly that which is clear to any careful reader.

As James Jordan has remarked, a good servant is attentive to the slightest gesture of his master. Only a bad servant needs to have explicit commands in order to do his master’s bidding. Only an evil servant seeks loopholes in the explicit commands of his master in order to avoid doing that which he knows deep down is his master’s will. If we truly are good servants we will immediately pick up on the fact that God wants alcoholic wine on his table and will act accordingly.

Should a common cup be used? Should individual cups be avoided?

I don’t think that the Scripture presents us with as clear an argument for the use of a common cup as many believe. I suggest that this is another adiaphoron. I am not even sure that there was a common cup at the Last Supper (Matt?). There were a series of cups of wine drunk as part of the Passover celebration and it is possible that, rather than passing one cup around, the ‘cup’ referred to the particular serving of wine that they were about to drink as part of the celebration. The ‘cup’ would perhaps function like the way that a toast does in our celebrations. Each individual would have an individual cup. Passing around individual cups and drinking at the same time might therefore be closer to the original celebration.

What do you think about the practice of intinction?

The biblical pattern for the Eucharistic rite is really quite simple. Intinction is a practice that breaks with this biblical pattern. Intinction is also more unhygienic than the use of the common cup, a practice that many express health concerns about. The fact that high church Christians often follow this practice means nothing. High church Christians frequently get liturgy wrong and are not the pattern that we should be following.

What size should portions be?

Again this is an adiaphoron. However, I think that portions should ideally be a lot more substantial than they are in most churches. We are eating a meal. A larger hunk, rather than a miniscule morsel of bread would be nice. Also a larger glass of wine would help us to recognize that the Eucharist is not primarily about ideas, but about joy and celebration in the kingdom of God.

In your post you claimed that wine is a drink that is dangerous and that it takes maturity to partake in such a celebratory meal. How does this impact the arguments for paedocommunion?

Wine is dangerous and must be handled with maturity. This is a significant dimension of the symbolism. The Table of the Lord is a place of wisdom and not the table of fools (Proverbs 9:1-6). Young children are trained in wisdom by being taught to treat wine appropriately at the table of wisdom. The supervision of older and wiser persons ensures that young children do not learn to drink as fools drink. The wisdom and maturity that the table speaks of is not an individualistic matter, but something that is true of the congregation as a whole.

I am currently in a church that only serves grape juice. I am deeply troubled by this practice. What should I do?

Important as these things are, we need to beware of causing unnecessary division over them. God is gracious and does not judge us as harshly as we tend to judge each other. I can understand why this would be a difficult and sensitive issue for a pastor of a church to work through or a member of a church to live with. Even if you want to reform the church’s practice, you don’t want the sort of reform that tarries for no one. Reform needs to be taken slowly, in order to avoid unnecessarily alienating people. Reform is important and, if we are obedient we should be working towards it. However, there is a sort of unloving and impatient reform that actually causes great damage, despite its noble intentions. God gives us time to grow out of old practices and does not force us to change completely overnight (witness the significant overlap of the old and new covenants, for instance).

There are occasions when a strong line needs to be taken. Those who want the church to capitulate to their unscriptural scruples should not be pandered to. Although we must be patient and gracious in reform, we must also be persistent. We may reach a point where some people must be resisted, even if this results in their leaving for another church.

The reform that I primarily have in mind here is a gradually phasing out of the use of grape juice. In a church that resists the use of wine altogether, the issue may need to be addressed more forcefully. It is one thing to resist the use of wine for yourself. It is quite another to resist its being served to others.

The biblical teaching on the use of wine in communion fills my heart with a joy that I feel a deep-seated need to express. Can you recommend a good way for me to go about doing this?

Certainly. This would be a good place to start.

Links

Links from the last few days:

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According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.

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An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

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Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Against the Youth-Driven Church

This video has been posted by a number of people in the blogosphere. Like most others, I strongly disagree with this guy in a number of areas and believe that his argument against the Emerging Church is riddled with problems. However, rather than mocking, I think that it might be helpful to try to see where he might just have a point.

There was a time when many Christians were very concerned to keep away from pop music and TV because they believed that they introduced dangerous ‘worldly’ ways of thinking and acting. As sophisticated and enlightened contemporary Christians we tend to look at such notions with amusement and see the preoccupation with avoiding such ‘worldliness’ as being largely a concern of a naive fundamentalism. We happily watch 18 (or R)-rated movies and provide clever reviews that show the Christian themes that are subtly interwoven with the sex and the violence. We listen to music that celebrates radically unchristian forms of sexuality or to Christian artists that often seek to ape such music. Perhaps we are justified in this; what really troubles me is that the concerns for godliness and a distinctly and transparently Christian way of living exemplified by many of an older generation really don’t seem to register with us to the same extent. For all of the naivete of their vision, they had a vision for such holiness and godliness, which is more than I can say for many of us. For all of our sophistication I sometimes wonder whether we could learn some basic lessons in being a godly and a holy people from an older generation.

We live in a youth-driven society. Whether in the media or on the web, older people are hardly visible. For instance, the very fact that most of our theological discussions occur online prevents most elderly people from having any active voice in the conversation. When older people appear in the media, they are often ridiculed. Their style, their tastes, their knowledge of the world, their ethics and their values are all out of date. The new and the young are to be celebrated and the old is to be sidelined and dismissed.

Many areas of the Church have bought into this way of thinking. They have glorified the ‘new’ and sit very loosely to the accumulated wisdom of older generations. The Emerging Church is one area where this can be observed. The concern to be hip and on the cutting edge often trumps the concern to be faithful and submissive to the wisdom of our fathers in the faith.

The Church should be one place where a radically different culture prevails. It should be a place where older generations are honoured and treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Biblical societies are generally ruled and led by elders, not by young turks. Many contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this and their churches are driven by the desires of their young people and the most influential leaders are under the age of 40 (ideally, it seems to me, churches should not be led by people under the age of 50).

One of the deepest sins of many of the youth-driven trends in the Church is their determined movement away from catholicity. Rejecting a catholic Church they opt for youth churches or stratify the Church into age groups in other ways. Rather than worshipping in a way that reflects the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, their worship tends to be dominated by (generally sappy and biblically illiterate) songs written by young, popular and rich Western Christian evangelical artists who are within the contemporary Christian music industry. One of the great things about singing traditional Christian hymns is that we have the opportunity to sing words written by people from all over the world, from countless different backgrounds and generations, and with hugely varied vocations. We get to sing songs by laypeople and bishops, by monks and martyrs, by missionaries to pagan lands and travelling preachers, by Reformers and by Catholics. We sing songs written by people many centuries and countless miles removed from us. We sing songs written by people from cultures that are quite alien to our own, but with whom we share a citizenship in heaven. In the process the parochial nature of our own tastes is challenged and we learn to listen with appreciation and humility to people who differ radically from us. Of course, singing the psalms, we have something even better. We have the opportunity to sing words written by Moses and David.

Sadly, rather than express our respect for our older brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to the wisdom of the Christian tradition of music and worship, we tend to start worship wars, causing tensions and splits in churches because of our (frankly) ‘worldly’ desire to sing songs that conform to our contemporary Western appetites. Generally the modern worship wars seem to be driven by our ever-changing tastes in music, rather than by real theological or biblical concerns. Where are the voices calling for increased use of the psalms? They are few and far between, largely because the psalms do not generally provide what we believe that the ‘worship experience’ should give us. Where are the deep theologies of worship? Much of the worship wars are about our love for ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’, rather than about any sort of coherent theology of Church music. Although I am someone who believes that ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’ music should not be ruled out of the Church, I have no desire to align myself with those for whom the introduction of such music is purely an attempt to accommodate the worship of the Church to their their personal tastes in music, rather than an attempt to discern how God would have us worship Him and what is fitting for the praise of the saints.

Our concern tends to be that we have a good ‘worship experience’, rather than that we worship God joyfully and appropriately. If a particular song or style of music doesn’t conform to our personally tastes, so be it. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. Fittingness for the task of worshipping God should always take priority over everything else.

Finally, I have commented in the past on the infantilization of many quarters of the Church. It is not surprising that this tendency is accelerated in churches where the younger generation sets the agenda. The comments that the man makes in this video about the ‘young and stupid’ are not without a degree of correspondence to reality.

All of this, and the biblical command to honour and respect our elders, makes me quite reluctant to poke fun at this man’s expression of his opinion. For all of his misunderstanding and prejudice, he does have some valid points to make and we would do well to pay heed.

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

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Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
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Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
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Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
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There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
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Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

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John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
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Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

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What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

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But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

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I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

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There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

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Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Links

The last few days have been very busy, so I haven’t posted any guest posts. They will recommence later this afternoon. A belated happy St. Patrick’s day to all of my readers!

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye recently.

Al Mohler’s ‘Is Your Baby Gay?’ post sparks controversy. It has been discussed by a number of people on the blogosphere (here on the Evangelical Outpost, for example). Mohler has since written a clarifying post. Mark and Macht are both critical of Mohler’s claim that certain forms of eugenics would be justified in the case of an unborn child who would most likely have a ‘homosexual orientation’. Apart from this issue, on which I am agreed with Mark and Macht, I am encouraged to see a rather more nuanced and balanced treatment of the issues of homosexuality from a leading evangelical than we have come to expect. As Lauren Winner has commented, if the Church were to speak about such issues better, we could then speak about them less. That would be a blessing indeed.

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Mark Goodacre continues to blog on the subject of the Jesus family tomb: ‘Discovery Website Adjusts Tomb Claims’ and ‘Talpiot Tomb Statistics Update’. Richard Bauckham guest posts on Chris Tilling’s blog: ‘Ossuaries and Prosopography’.
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Stephen over at Hypotyposeis blogs some thoughts on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which Chris Tilling continues to review on his blog (it shouldn’t be much long until the review is longer than the book itself).
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Leithart blogs on the Christian roots of Europe.
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Ros Clarke blogs some quotations from JBJ’s ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’.
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Edward Cook suggests that the genealogy of Luke 3 was most probably originally in Hebrew [HT: Dr Jim Davila].
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David Field posts notes for a talk that he gave, entitled ‘New Perspectives on Romans’.
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Chris Tilling writes a Bultmann poem.
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Tim Gallant links to a video raising questions about the scientific basis of global warming claims. I have no firsthand knowledge about the issues relevant to the global warming debate, but I do know a thing or two about how gifted the media is at draining complex debates of all nuance and presenting the public with grossly simplified and distorted pictures. I also know about the appeal of the unorthodox line of argument and the pull of the conspiracy theory. We all like to believe that we have privileged insight that others do not possess. A little selective knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. There are a lot of people who feel duty-bound to have a strong opinion on everything, even things that they don’t know have a clue about. The media happily fuels such people with prepackaged prejudices.

On the other hand, I am also well aware of the problems that attend the politicization of specialist debates. Most people bluff to some extent to hide their levels of ignorance on certain subjects; the temptation to bluff is greatest for politicians. On top of this, nuance does not go over well in the world of politics, where people are prone to move into polarized camps. Once an issue like global warming becomes politicized, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise critical questions about the scientific claims that are being made.

I also wonder sometimes whether we are inclined to overstate the impact that human beings have on the environment, wanting to flatter ourselves that we have more of an effect on and control over the world than we really do. The idea of a massive problem that we have created is more welcome than the idea of a huge climate shift that results from powers beyond our control. Man does not like to be reminded of his own impotence and the fact that his destiny is in many respects determined by greater forces than his own. All of these things lead me to retain a measure of skepticism towards the various claims being made in the global warming debates.

Jon uses this video as a springboard from which to discuss conspiracy theories and the need for orthodoxy to engage with heresy, if it is to arrive at a fuller knowledge of the truth. Jon observes something that I have commented on in the past: there are telltale signs of conspiracy theories and much of the thought in our circles as conservative Christians manifests all the classic symptoms. Young earth creationism is a perfect example (as is anti-Roman Catholicism). The truth or falsity of the claims of young earth creationists is beside the point here; the issue is that their approach to the issues is all too often the approach of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories have a noxious effect on society and its public discourse. For this reason, if I were to have children I would prefer to have them educated by an atheistic evolutionist who would train them to think critically and engage with the best that science has to offer, than a conservative evangelical who would teach them conspiracy theories about science and discourage them from truly engaging with those with whom they disagree (I hope that I will never be called to make such a choice).

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Jon also has a helpful post on the subject of Richard Gaffin’s interaction with Rich Lusk (see here for further comment).
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Preparing tomorrow’s soldier [HT: Jon Barlow]
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The world’s oldest living man (116) puts his long life down to the fact that he has never been married.
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Ireland sends Pakistan home in the cricket World Cup. Makes up for the heartbreak of the rugby, I guess. Sadly, the joy of Ireland’s victory has since been overshadowed by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer.
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Herschelle Gibbs scores six sixes in a row, a first for one day cricket. The minnows in the World Cup have really suffered this year; four of the five highest margins of victory in the World Cup (by runs) have been recorded in the last week.
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Tony Blair meets Catherine Tate. Catchphrase comedy generally annoys me greatly, but I grinned at a few points in the last minute of this sketch, despite myself.
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Weird Al parodies Dylan (not anywhere near as funny as ‘White and Nerdy’, but funny nonetheless) and (a fairly good imitator of) Dylan sings Seuss [HT: Mark Traphagen].

Update: NTW lecture, ‘Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?’ [HT: Richard]. Be warned, it is a huge file (90MB).

Links

There are still a number of days available for those who want to guest post over Lent, (the instructions for entries can be found here). If you are interested, please respond as soon as possible. Remember, a contribution doesn’t have to be written reflections. You could post a video, an MP3 of yourself talking or singing a song, or a picture that you have drawn. As long as it is within the guidelines set out within the linked post above, it will be very much appreciated.

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Ben Myers posts the fourth installment of the Thomas Torrance audio lectures and reports a PR disaster for the Christian music industry.
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Gregg Strawbridge and Mark Horne respond to Guy Waters on Covenant Radio [HT: Barbara]
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Leithart reminds us of the sacramental piety of the Wesleys. It is interesting to observe how little press this dimension of the Wesleys’ beliefs and piety can receive. A few years ago I was reading an old book on early Methodism and came across a letter sent by John Wesley in 1745, written to his brother-in-law Westley Hall, a number of years after his evangelical conversion. It served as a reminder of how quickly some of our great evangelical heroes would be anathematized were they here to resist their own airbrushing. The following is an extract from Wesley’s letter:

You think, First, that, we undertake to defend some things, which are not defensible by the Word of God. You instance three: on each of which we will explain ourselves as clearly as we can.

1. ‘That, the validity of our ministry depends on a succession supposed to be from the Apostles, and a commission derived from the Pope of Rome, and his successors or dependents.’

We believe, it would not be right for us to administer, either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops, whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles. And, yet, we allow, these Bishops are the successors of those, who are dependent on the Bishop of Rome. But, we would be glad to know, on what reasons you believe this to be inconsistent with the Word of God.

2. ‘That, there is an outward Priesthood, and consequently an outward Sacrifice, ordained and offered by the Bishop of Rome, and his successors or dependents, in the Church of England, as vicars and vicegerents of Christ.’

We believe there is and always was, in every Christian Church (whether dependent on the Bishop of Rome or not) an outward Priesthood ordained by Jesus Christ, and an outward Sacrifice offered therein, by men authorized to act, as Ambassadors of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God. On what grounds do you believe, that, Christ has abolished that Priesthood or Sacrifice?

3. ‘That, this Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy, which still continues in the Church of England, is of Apostolical Institution, and authorized thereby; though not by the written Word.’

We believe, that, the threefold order of ministers, (which you seem to mean by Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy,) is not only authorized by its Apostolical Institution, but also by the written Word. Yet, we are willing to hear and weigh whatever reasons induce you to believe to the contrary.

My purpose here is not to defend Wesley’s sentiments. Rather, I am suggesting that perhaps evangelical faith need not be as inimical and alien to High Church Christianity as many evangelicals suppose it must.

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Cynthia Nielsen is blogging on Jean-Luc Marion (Part 1, Part 2)
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Byron Smith (whose blog you should be reading) is interviewed by Guy Davies.
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Leithart asks: ‘Who Defines “Reformed”?’
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A few N.T. Wright articles and blog posts (!!):

Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years
God’s Power Does Not Excuse Human Despoiling
Sex Both Powerful and Potentially Dangerous
Base Criticism on Facts, Not Prejudice

I am not convinced that the blog is Wright’s best medium. Sometimes I wish that he would just cancel all his speaking engagements, popular book projects and the like and just get the big book on Paul finished.
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Whoever suggested this series of adverts deserves a hefty payrise.
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Jack Bauer: Pre-School Teaching Assistant
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A New Pope (first saw this one a few months back, but never got around to linking it)
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The editor of First Things, Joseph Bottum, has won at the Deity level in Civilization III. Kudos! This truly remarkable achievement was mentioned within this superb article on the series of games that have accounted for a disturbing percentage of the waking hours of my existence [HT: Mark Whittinghill of BHT].
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Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals in conversation [HT: The Presbyteer].

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And for any of you who might be concerned, despite recent indications to the contrary, my future input on this blog is not going to be reduced to posting long lists of links and comments on the latest Peter Leithart posts.

Leithart Responds to His Critics

A Pink Reformation?

Yes, this does need to be said again

Clark and Wilson

You would not believe how frustrating it is to follow the debate between Clark and Wilson. Clark has posted here and here; Wilson responds here, here and here. I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks that Clark is so determined to disagree with Wilson that he will create differences where they do not exist. Of course, the gospel is at stake in these slightest of differences. It always is, isn’t it!

Michael Spencer comments:

You know, when you have someone decrying another person’s faith entirely on the basis of an argument that simply cannot be comprehended by a fairly educated Christian teacher and preacher (me), then what in the heck is going on? Presbyterians can go at it over things that the rest of the Christian world can’t even point at and nod.

I’ve listened to a lot of Federal Vision criticism and defense, and it makes me want to hear the welcome sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Along with recent discussions between FV proponents and critics about the nature of union with Christ, this sort of discussion reveals a particularly ugly side of Reformed theology — the tendency to get bogged down in the pettiest of disagreements whilst claiming that one is defending the heart of the Christian faith. When the gospel has been so utterly dissolved into theological fine print one wonders if there is anything to rejoice in anymore. The gospel is not about a precise and finely-attuned relationship and distinction between justification and sanctification. It never was and, praise God, it never will be.

This is why I love reading people like N.T. Wright. Wright’s gospel is so simple and straightforward that one cannot but rejoice. It really isn’t very complicated. Of course, when a mind that has been tying itself in knots over fine distinctions without differences encounters Wright it will go away deeply confused. The confusion, however, is in the mind of the reader, not in Wright himself.

When it comes to the distinction between justification and sanctification it seems to me that much of the heat of this debate arises from the fact that the wrong questions are being asked (both by many FV writers and by their critics). It seems that the question that guides the debate is still the question of how an individual can get right with a holy God. However, the more that I look at the Scriptures, the more that I come to the conclusion that this can only lead us to misunderstand the biblical teaching on justification. Justification in the Scripture is about how God sets men to rights (not, however, about a process of making people righteous), rather than about how men can get right with God. Once this has been appreciated the distinction between justification and sanctification is nowhere near as sharp as it would be otherwise (for instance, we can say that God is righteous to justify a person, among other reasons, because He has committed Himself to sanctifying the person and that, if He were not committed to sanctifying them then He would not be righteous to justify them) and faith and works can be far more closely related. We can even go so far as to claim that part of the reason that God is righteous in justifying us has to do with the holiness of faith.

If I were working in terms of the theological questions that shape Clark’s understanding of justification, my underlying theological concerns would probably lead me to much the same conclusions. However, my conviction is that the questions that shape his position are simply the wrong ones and that a better set of questions could lead us far beyond the impasses of many of the Reformation debates and may even allow for a more sympathetic reading of Roman Catholic theology on this matter. Whilst the idea of a sympathetic reading of Roman Catholic theology appalls many, I see no reason why it should, provided that we have arrived at such a reading through closer attention to the Scriptures, rather through the sacrifice of biblical convictions on the altar of compromise.

Update: Wilson blogs another response here.

Are Protestants Heretics?

I do hereby conclude: When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteen century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.

Read the whole article by Edward T. Oakes, S.J. here. [HT: Michael Spencer from BHT]

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

John 6 Debates

Over the last few days there has been a rather heated debate on John 6 raging in certain quarters of the blogosphere. Whilst the tone of the debate has generally left much to be desired, the interpretation of John 6 is a subject that very much interests me.

From what I gather, the debate was kicked off with this post from Paul Owen, entitled ‘Why Most Calvinists Misread John 6′. Owen argues that ‘Calvinists take a clearly Eucharistic passage and turn it into a treatise on predestination.’ It seems to me that this is quite an unfair and unjustified generalization, but this aside, I think that Owen does raise some valid concerns. There is a tendency in some circles of the Reformed world to treat passages such as Romans 9 and John 6 in a manner that is inattentive to the purposes of the passages in their contexts, largely reducing the passages to articulations of classic Reformed doctrines of soteriology.

The debate was then taken up by James White here. Kevin Johnson responded with this. White answered Johnson and Owen gave some additional thoughts here. Lee Johnson enters the debate here.

I am convinced that many of the points of Reformed soteriology can be argued to from such passages. However, the ease with which people see the Reformed doctrine of election in John 6, for example, concerns me. Reading John’s gospel closely, it is by no means obvious that John’s doctrine of election is the same thing as the Reformed doctrine. This is not to say that John disagrees with the Reformed doctrine of election, but rather to point out that, when John speaks of God’s choosing people or giving people to Christ, the Westminster Standards might not be our best guide for understanding what he means by such language. The Johannine doctrine of election is something that I have previously addressed in this post.

I have become increasingly convinced that bringing the questions of ‘Calvinist’/'Arminian’ debates to the text almost invariably produces much heat and little light. The questions of such debates are frequently the wrong ones and we would be far better off listening more closely to the text and allowing our theology to sit a bit more loosely to certain exegetical questions. Disputing common Reformed readings of John 6 should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformed doctrine of election, for instance. However, a more careful reading of John 6 might lead us to question the way that the Reformed doctrine of election has been framed, challenging us to re-articulate the biblical concerns that underlie the doctrine in more biblical categories.

I have found that putting the questions of the debates of systematic theology to the side for a little while and trying to understand the questions that the Scriptures themselves raise and address leaves one with a very different perspective when one returns to those systematic questions. There was a time when I would have regarded the chief task of any interpretation of Romans 9 to be that of articulating the Reformed doctrine of election. Putting such questions to one side for a while and engaging with the text without them increasingly led me to the conviction that the text was trying to say much more than my original questions would allow it to say. Questioning the usefulness of my initial questions, I started to replace my original questions with new ones. I also began to wonder whether certain of the issues that had once seemed absolutely central to me were all that important within the context of Scripture itself.

One of the principal issues that is being raised in recent debates over the FV and NPP is that of the relationship between exegesis and theology. To what degree can the Reformed doctrine of justification survive a rereading of the book of Romans? To what extent does the Reformed doctrine of election rely upon particular readings of John 6, Ephesians 1 or Romans 9? Can one reject traditional Reformed readings of whole books of Scripture and still maintain Reformed theology? In many of the questions of the current debates the underlying question is the degree to which biblical language can be regarded as something different to confessional language, whilst still retaining the truth of confessional language on its level of discourse (I am also convinced that, despite the protest of some, there are substantial theological questiosn at stake as well). Is it possible to use the word ‘election’, for instance, in two distinct senses (biblical and confessional) without being disingenuous?

In my estimation, one of the great gains of the NPP and FV is the manner in which they have alerted us to the ‘otherness’ of biblical language. Theology and exegesis retain a lively dialogue, but they are far less likely to be confused or to be forced upon each other. Once one has distinguished between confessional and biblical language as different levels of discourse, exegetical questions can be left far more open, particular passages are far less likely to be over-burdened with theological freight and the text is far less likely to be domesticated and dominated by the theological system.

This discussion on the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19 (do read the comments) is a good example of the manner in which a particular perceived relationship between the voice of the text and the theological system can lead to trouble in distinguishing the question of the validity of the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction from the question of the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19. I am convinced that we can reject traditional Reformed exegesis of the book of Romans, whilst retaining a Reformed doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification does not stand or fall with a particular approach to the exegesis of the Pauline epistles.

Returning to John 6, I would like to see a thoughtful discussion of the passage, a discussion which gives far less weight to the traditional theological questions that have been traditionally associated with the passage. Whilst I am baffled at how anyone can read John 6 and not see clear references to the Eucharist (see the discussion here, particularly the comments), not everyone who fails to see such references holds to a low view of the Eucharist. For this reason I would like to leave the question of the interpretation of John 6 far more open and relax the connection between the passage and the questions of Eucharistic theology somewhat. My doctrine of the Eucharist does not stand or fall on an interpretation of John 6, just as my Christology does not stand and fall with a particular interpretation of the meaning of the title ‘Son of God’. Sometimes it would be nice if the systematic theologians would give exegetes a bit more room to breathe.

It can be incredibly frustrating to dialogue with people who tie theology and exegesis so closely together that any questioning of their exegesis is seen to be an assault on their theology. This is a common problem in a Reformed context, largely because people often know their confessions, catechisms and systematic theologies far better than they know their Bibles. The Bible is read in terms of the language, concerns and systems of the confessions and the systematic theologies, leaving little sense of the fact that Scripture does not speak Westminsterese or any other such Reformed dialect. I believe that huge swathes of traditional Reformed exegesis are problematic, largely as a result of such tendencies, but I fail to see why this need entail a complete overhaul of Reformed theology.

Good theology does not ensure good exegesis. In many places systematic theologians are the exegete’s worst enemy, as they have taken texts hostage as proofs for their systems. Whilst theology must always inform exegesis and vice versa, I hope that the current debates will result in an increased independence for exegesis from systematic theology. This increased independence will hopefully serve to create a more fruitful form of interdependence between the two disciplines.

Some Links

Leithart on Rosenstock-Huessy on Descartes, Marxism and Tribalism.

Bill Wilder (who made a helpful series of lectures on N.T. Wright a year or so back) writes a WTJ article on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, arguing for a position that closely approximates to that of James Jordan. Wilder arrived at his position independently of Jordan, but cites Jordan favourably in the footnotes.

In Media Res has an interview with Jeff Meyers (whose new Ecclesiastes commentary, A Table in the Mist, I am presently enjoying) and the first part of an interview with Peter Leithart. The Leithart interview is on the subject of Postmodernism and Postmodernity. Having recently enjoyed his lecture series ‘Solomon Among the Postmoderns’ (available to purchase here), I would recommend Leithart’s treatment of postmodernity as a welcome change from many of the overly positive and negative treatments that one generally encounters.

R. Scott Clark — How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy Over Justification. Incredibly frustrating to read. The fact that misunderstandings of such magnitude persist many years into the FV debate makes one wonder if progress will ever be made. It is the introductory chapter of Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, which can be purchased here.

With a respected source and enough repetition, the truth of many theological claims can be taken more or less for granted and seldom be subjected to close scrutiny. One such claim is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ claim: “if your preaching of the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.” Mark Horne addresses the meaning of Romans 6:1 here. I have long felt uncomfortable and have occasionally protested against the way that Romans 6:1ff. is employed as an answer to an argument for ‘antinomianism’.

Whilst Romans 6:1ff. can be used as a response to what some call ‘antinomianism’, we must be careful in using the verse in such a manner, as Paul’s point is not quite the same as our point. Terms such as ‘antinomianism’ are also unhelpful as they fail to distinguish between the moralism that we occasionally encounter in contemporary Christianity and the ‘Torah-ism’ that Paul was dealing with in the epistles. They are not the same thing and the confusion that results from conflating such things will have far-reaching effects on our reading of Paul.

FV-related discussions

Tim Gallant responds to Scott Clark on the subject of paedocommunion and 1 Corinthians 11.

Jon Barlow’s response to Richard Phillips here and to Scott Clark here are very well written. I must say, I am impressed with how temperate Jon’s response to Clark is, given the tone of Clark’s posts in this Puritanboard thread. Even if we leave their tone to one side, the sheer number of misrepresentations and distortions that are present in Clark’s comments is quite astounding.

1 John 2:19 Discussion

James Jordan’s reading of 1 John 2:19:—

“Out from us they went out,” — that is, they set out on teaching missions.

“But they were not out from us,” — that is, they had no valid commission from us.

“For if they were out from us they would have remained with us,” — that is, if they had valid commissions from us, they would have remained with us in our true teaching.

“But [this happened] in order that they might be manifest that none of them are out from us.” — that is, their false teaching shows that they were not sent by us.

This seems to me to make far more sense of 1 John 2:19 in its context than those readings that take the verse as working in terms of a visible/invisible Church distinction. This verse is currently being discussed on Lane Keister’s blog.

Where Have All the Good Atheists Gone? — On the Loss of Important Conversations.

Richard Dawkins

Prosthesis links to this post by Thomas Adams at Without Authority:

The intellectual laziness of modern atheism is a shame because, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Christianity needs smart atheists to keep it honest. In my estimation, the best example of a “purifying atheist” is Friedrich Nietzsche (for a wonderful synopsis of Nietzsche’s contributions to Christian thought, please check out Byron Smith’s post here). The son of a Lutheran pastor, Nietzsche had a deeper understanding of Christianity than the vast majority of theologians, past and present. And unlike modern atheists, he took the idea of God very seriously. He may have reached some of the same conclusions about religion as modern atheists, but he took a very different route. His writings bear witness, not to a simple-minded dismissal of God, but to a profound confrontation with his religious heritage. In the end, his struggle may have yielded a purer and more faithful account of the Christian faith. Thus, Eberhard Jungel could say that “[Nietzsche's] thoughts come very close to the Christian truth which he was opposing. They merit special attention.” A hundred years from now, I doubt that anyone will be saying the same thing about Harris’ recent book.

A few days I picked up Theology After Wittgenstein and skim-read some sections of it, as I hadn’t done so for some time. Fergus Kerr comments somewhere that Wittgenstein was one of the last of the great philosophers to have his work so permeated by theological questions. Wittgenstein may not have agreed with the Christian tradition, but he believed that it was deserving of intellectual respect and serious engagement. With the lack of such engagement in the thought of most non-Christian intellectuals today and the gradual abandonment of a conversation between non-Christians with a genuine and sympathetic appreciation of the riches of the Christian tradition and thoughtful churchmen we are all poorer off.

Sometimes I wonder why Christians get distinctly second-rate critics like Richard Dawkins. Sometimes I wonder whether such critics are all that we deserve. Perhaps the world has lost interest in serious intellectual engagement with us because we are no longer prepared to listen; we are too interested in ourselves and how we are right to think that we might be able to learn from others, whether within the world or within different theological or ecclesiastical traditions. We want the world to listen to our voices, to read our books and to watch our films, because we think that we are right and the world is wrong (yet another manifestation of the narcissism that so often afflicts us). I am not so convinced that our voices are the ones that are most worth listening to, nor do I believe that Christians are always right and the world always wrong where we disagree.

In my recent post on theology and the life of prayer, I concluded by pointing out the important role that theology can play within the context of the academy, sustaining a conversation between the world and the Church, through which the Church can arrive at a deeper knowledge of the truth, and be delivered from certain errors. Lesslie Newbigin has a wonderful statement on this, which I find exceedingly helpful:

The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation of what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as arrabon of that salvation — as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole. It can do so only because it lives by the Word and sacraments of the gospel by which it is again and again brought to judgment at the foot of the cross. And the bearer of that judgment may well be and often is a man or woman of another faith (cf. Luke 11:31-32). The church is in the world as the place where Jesus, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwells, is present, but it is not itself that fullness. It is the place where the filling is taking place (Eph. 1:23). It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him. This dialogue, this life of continuous exchange with the world, means that the church itself is changing. It must change if “all that the Father has” is to be given to it as Christ’s own possession (John 16:14-15). It does change. Very obviously the church of the Hellenic world in the fourth century was different from the church that met in the upper room in Jerusalem. It will continue to change as it meets ever new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them. — The Open Secret, p.180

If there is one thing that I have come to appreciate over the last few years, it is critics. We all need them. When there is a lack of genuine criticism, a lack of a party of considered dissent, we can become complacent and be content to live with half-truths. I have learnt more from interacting with people who disagree with me than I have from those who agree with me. One of the things that most distresses me in the current Church climate is the loss of genuine conversations about issues that we disagree over to the extent that all sides begin to preach only to the converted. The debates surrounding the work of N.T. Wright and the ‘FV movement’ are good examples here. With few exceptions, real critical engagement with the thought of Wright and the FV has been non-existent. For example, Wright has been dismissed by many without a serious attempt to understand him. The current Reformed climate is not able to support serious conversation between differing viewpoints, without an attempt to impose groupthink.

On this blog I have often been critical of certain tendencies of modern Reformed and evangelical churches. I write as someone who, if pushed, will admit to having a lot of ‘evangelical’ in him and as one who feels a deep affinity with and appreciation of many aspects of the Reformed tradition. My criticisms have often been harsh (often far too harsh), but these criticisms have been given, not as a means of dismissing evangelicalism and the Reformed faith, but as a means of calling people to greater intellectual honesty. I like to believe that the best movements are able to continue the tradition that we see in the Scriptures of prophetic critique from within and engagement with the thought of those without. I have been saddened to see that many are unhappy with the existence of such conversations, or are not prepared to take the effort that is involved in engaging with them. I have also been encouraged to find a number of exceptions to the rule.

Active and Passive in Salvation

In the comments of my earlier post on Phillip Cary’s article on monergism and synergism, Joel Garver helpfully reminded me of the work of Michael Hanby, which, in turn, reminded me of this interesting Leithart post.

Phillip Cary on Monergism and Synergism

The question of whether Augustine is a monergist or a synergist is more complicated. For one thing, even at his most monergistic, Augustine does not deny that we are active in our own salvation. Augustine is a monergist with respect to the origin of faith, for instance, in that he sees it as resulting from prevenient or “operating grace” rather than “co-operating grace” (his terms). But for Augustine this does not take away the role of human free will, for what prevenient grace does is precisely to move our wills so that they freely will the good. Hence for Augustine grace never undermines or replaces free will. In that sense he is never a radical monergist, as if the human will had no active role to play. On the other hand, he is indeed a monergist in a less radical sense, because for him the gift of faith is wholly the work of God, since even our freely willing to accept God’s gift is a work of grace alone.

So in that sense, Augustine is clearly a monergist with respect to the gift of faith, unlike the Arminians. Ultimately it is up to God, not us, whether we freely choose to accept what God has to give us. However—and here is the real complication—this does not make Augustine a monergist with respect to salvation. The reason why is that Augustine does not have a Calvinist concept of saving faith. For he does not share Calvin’s distinctive new doctrine about the perseverance of the saints, according to which everyone with true (i.e., saving) faith is sure to persevere to the end and be eternally saved. For Augustine, you can have a perfectly genuine faith but not persevere in faith to the end of your life. There is no guarantee that believers will not lose their faith and thus ultimately be damned. Hence no matter how true your faith presently is, that does not mean you are sure to be saved in the end. Consequently, Augustine’s monergism about faith does not make him a monergist about salvation.

Read the rest here. Ben Myers gives some thoughts on the question here. I am increasingly coming to the conviction that the whole monergism/synergism debate is wrong-headed and that a more refined understanding of creation as divine gift is needed. What we have in relationship with God is a unilaterally established reciprocity. Much of what I encounter in contemporary Calvinistic doctrines of salvation can be regarded as a collapse of reciprocity in a suffocating form of monergism, suggestive of a weak grasp of the significance of our faith in a Triune God.

What would John Calvin Say to the NPP?

John Calvin

As someone who believed medieval Rome taught a piecemeal salvation through a treadmill of sacramental performance, something which he equated in its essence to that of inter-testamental Judaism (aka Pharisaism) as a religion which rung the changes on works-righteousness — seeing both of these as examples of man’s innate tendency to idolatry and self-justification, he would not recognize the New Perspective as doing justice either to the exegesis of Scripture or a diagnosis of man’s real problem. He would regard it as wrongheaded pastorally as well as historically. As one who insisted on double-imputation, he would find the New Perspective’s denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as wholly inadequate to deal with the real problem of fallen (Adamic) man’s relationship to God. As one who made the cross central, he would be perplexed at the inadequate responses of the New Perspective to the question which inquires as to the necessity of the cross or what it actually achieved. Penal substitution through satisfaction were Calvin’s main emphases and a perspective which substitutes ecclesiastical categories (who belongs to the covenant community?) rather than soteriological categories (how can a sinner be made right with God?), and one that answers the former by emphasizing “boundary markers” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he would view as Catholicism redivivus.

So claims Derek Thomas. I would like to think that Calvin would have done a better job of understanding the NPP before he dismissed it.

A Critic of my Understanding of Liturgical Exegesis

Lee, from Two-Edged Sword, posts a critique of my understanding of liturgy and the ontology of Scripture, as articulated in the following posts — ‘How Gutenberg Took the Bible From Us’ and ‘James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection’. Lee also refers to my ‘Eating and Drinking in John 6′ post and the following discussion as a good example of differences that arise from my approach to Scripture.

His post is representative of a few of the negative responses that I have had to my thoughts on the character of Scripture. I am not sure how exactly to go about responding to such a post as there are a number of serious misunderstandings of my position within it.

For the record, I firmly believe that every Christian who can read should have at least one Bible in their home, preferrably a number of different versions, ideally a number of texts in the original languages. I would also encourage Christians to spend time reading biblical commentaries and to learn how to use Bible helps. I am convinced that reading the Bible at least once daily is good practice for the Christian and that lack of interest in reading the Bible for oneself is more often than not a sign of weak spiritual health.

None of this contradicts my fundamental point, which was that the primary form of the Scriptures is not what we call ‘the Bible’. The chief way in which the people of God are to encounter the Scriptures is in their performance within the context of the Church and its liturgy. It is undoubtedly a privilege to be able to read the text of our Bibles, but we must not presume that God gave the Church the Scriptures as ‘the Bible’. The Scriptures that God gave His people were not principally designed to be read privately as a book. Private Bible reading is a valid engagement with Scripture, but it should never be the form of engagement with Scripture that takes priority in our lives. Engagement with Scripture in the context of the Church’s life, liturgy and lectionary must always come first.

The Scriptures are addressed to the people of God. Whilst the Scriptures address each of us personally, they do not address us as detached individuals, abstracted from the body of which we are members. The Scriptures were certainly given in written form, but they were not given in the form of the modern Bible. They were not bound together in one volume, nor were they given for private ownership. The Scriptures were not even given so that everyone could read them. The chief way that the people of God are called to engage with the Scriptures is by hearing the Scriptures read aloud and expounded, rather than by reading it for themselves. There is a difference. Reading for ourselves is good, but the emphasis must remain on the hearing of the Word, something that occurs in the context of the assembly of the Church.

Furthermore, we must recognize that there are many parts of the Scriptures that were given principally as what I have in the past referred to as ’stage directions’. The book of Leviticus, for example, is mostly concerned with stage directions. Whilst the book was to be read aloud and studied, it was more like a recipe book than a story. The meaning of Leviticus is not first and foremost to be found in the study of the text itself, but in the extra-textual rituals that it establishes.

I have used this fact to argue that relatively minor portions of Scripture, which may seem relatively insignificant to us, given the fact that so little words are devoted to them, may actually be far more significant than many lengthy passages. There are those who argue that our emphasis upon particular truths should correspond with the amount of attention that they are given within the Bible, ‘attention’ here referring to the number of words expended on the subject in the biblical text. I have come to regard such a position as deeply flawed.

A good example of the differences created by different ways of approaching the Scriptures can be seen in attitudes to the Eucharist, for example. If we engage with the Scriptures chiefly in the form of biblical text to be studied and read we will recognize that very few verses are devoted to the subject of the Eucharist. We might draw from this that the Eucharist is a relatively secondary truth of the Christian faith and that the great focus upon the subject is an unwelcome byproduct of certain false turns in the Church’s history. On the other hand, if we engage with the Scriptures primarily as a text to be embodied in the life, liturgy and lectionary of the Church, the Eucharist will be seen to be far more important.

The Eucharist is given to the Church to be done, rather than chiefly to be meditated on. It is a simple rite and few words are needed to institute its proper practice. However, given that the Eucharist is to form a regular and central role in the Church’s liturgy it has a greater significance for our Christian faith than truths to which dozens of chapters of Scripture are devoted. We interpret the Scriptures through the lenses given to us by the Eucharist. We see allusions to the Eucharist throughout the Scriptures. In so doing we are not exalting the Eucharist above its proper station, but are engaging with the Scriptures as more than mere text.

To what shall I compare the Scriptures? It is like some texts that a great king wrote and entrusted to his servants, in preparation for a great feast. Amongst the texts there were the scores for the musicians at the feast, the recipes for the cooks, the instructions for those preparing and decorating the banqueting hall and table, the poems to be read by the poets, the tales to be told by the storytellers, the speeches to be given by the speechmakers, and the invitations to be sent to the guests.

Once we have appreciated the complex and multifaceted character of the Scriptures we will read them quite differently. Neglected books like Leviticus will receive far more attention. The sacrificial rituals and annual feasts of Leviticus would have profoundly shaped the way that Israelites would have read the whole of the Scriptures. It would also have powerfully moulded the authors of Scripture and we should read their writings recognizing the degree to which the practices of Leviticus formed the fabric of their lives. The same can be said of those who do not read the NT as belonging to the context of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Lee argues that I am setting the stage for sacerdotalism, that I am teaching that there is no way to encounter Christ apart from the priest. In response to this claim I want to make clear that when I talk about engaging with the Scriptures primarily in the form of their performance within the Church and its liturgy I do not refer to the ‘Church’ as a mere institutional hierarchy, but as a community with a shared life and practice. There is no ordinary way to encounter Christ apart from His Church. It is through the operations of the body that the Head makes Himself known. However, the body is not just composed of members of a clerical hierarchy.

Outside of the context of the Church the Scriptures are not ordinarily a means of grace. Those who interpret the Scriptures apart from the Church often end up falling into gross error. Countless cults started life with people seeking to understand the Scriptures apart from the Church. We are only equipped to understand the Scriptures as we life within the context of the Church. To the Christian who faithfully participates in the life of the Church (which is nothing other than the life of the Holy Spirit) the Scriptures are a means of blessing. They read their Bibles as members of the Church, not as people abstracted from the Church.

As regards the Church’s ‘dispensing’ of salvation, the Church does nothing of the kind. The Church does not ‘dispense’ salvation; it is rather the form that God’s salvation takes. Tim Gallant puts this far better than I could:

And that is why it is the wrong question to ask whether “the Church saves.” That’s kind of like asking whether having lots of money brings wealth. No, the Church does not save. Jesus saves. And His salvation comes in the shape of the Church. Being the dwelling-place of God - that is salvation. Being built together as a community of love - that is salvation. Being a member of the Body of Christ - that is salvation.

The Church does not save. The Church is salvation, because the Church is God’s goal in Jesus Christ.

Lee goes on to argue that I am undermining Sola Scriptura. I strongly dispute this claim. My problem is not with the Scripture. Far from it! My concern is for the Scriptures to play a far fuller role in the Church’s life than they do in much contemporary evangelicalism. My problem is with the way in which the Scriptures have been reduced from what they once were into the privately-owned, mass-produced Bible of the modern Church. The simplistic opposition that Lee posits between Scripture and liturgy is a good example of this.

Lee writes:

I do have a few objections to Alastair’s view. The first is Acts 17:10-13. The Bereans appear to do just the opposite of what Alastair advocates. They go to the service, listen attentively and then read the service through the light of the Scripture, not the Scripture through the light of the liturgy/service. And the Spirit calls them ‘more noble’ for doing so. II Timothy 2:15 seems to counter his understanding as well. ‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ This sound much more like the grammatical parsing and rational thinking through the Word that Alastair seems to eschew rather than the ‘inhabiting’ the word through the liturgy advocated in the posts.

Both of these points miss the point. I really don’t see why I should have a problem with either of these passages. Some brief remarks on the Bereans might help here. Paul calls forth the OT as witness to the truth of his gospel (cf. Acts 17:2-3). The Bereans are fair and carefully examine this witness, unlike those from Thessalonica, who presumably just dismissed the testimony that Paul brought forward. All the evidence points towards this examination of the Scriptures taking a very different shape from what most ‘Bereans’ do today. The examination was a public examination of the OT Scriptures in the context of the synagogue, not a private reading of the Bible outside of the context of the people of God. Those who were leading the examination of the OT Scriptures were most likely synagogue leaders (although there were likely a number of others present). This was not a private Bible study. Most people who use this passage to justify their practice today misuse it.

The Berean’s study of the Scripture took place in the broader context of the liturgy and the sacrifices and worship practices of Israel. These were lenses that they would bring to their reading of the text. Whether these discussions took place within the immediate context of the synagogue’s liturgy is besides the point. Lee seems to read the passage to suggest that Paul was leading a synagogue service and that the Bereans then went to examine the liturgy of the service from the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with examining liturgy from the Scriptures — the text illuminates the liturgy and the liturgy illuminates the text — but it strikes me as a strange reading of the passage in question. There is no reason to believe that Paul was presenting the Bereans with some new liturgy. He brought a new teaching, which the Bereans fairly and publicly cross-examined.

What about II Timothy 2:15? Once again I don’t see what the issue is here. Paul is teaching that a minister of the gospel should be concerned to gain all the skills necessary for him to perform his task of ensuring that the Church acts according to the authority of God, exercised in the Scriptures, effectively. It is important to recognize that Timothy is not primarily being addressed as a private person here. Rather he is being addressed as one who must lead a church in its engagement with the Scriptures. He is the one who has the greatest responsbility in this area. He must guide the flock as a faithful shepherd. He must ensure that quarrels about words do not take over (v.14) and that the dangerous teachings of men like Hymenaeus and Philetus do not spread (vv.16-17).

Lee claims that ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ sounds ‘much more like the grammatical parsing and rational thinking through the Word that Alastair seems to eschew rather than the ‘inhabiting’ the word through the liturgy advocated in the posts.’ Once again, let me clear up misunderstanding. There is no problem with grammatical historical exegesis and other similar approaches to Scripture in principle. I am convinced that they have an important role to play and that pastors in particular should be skilled in such areas. However, my point is that grammatical historical exegesis is not the primary way in which we are to engage with the Scripture. Grammatical historical exegesis is a gift that serves far greater forms of engagement with the Scripture that occur within the life of the Church. I have no problem with grammatical historical exegesis; my problem is with merely grammatical historical exegesis — exegetical approaches that bypass typological, liturgical and creative forms of Scripture reading.

What about ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’? Is this really a reference to grammatical parsing? I think that N.T. Wright’s reading in his For Everyone commentary is an example of a more likely reading (and one that he is certainly not alone in arguing for), although I believe that he is stretching it if he believes that Paul had the illustration that he uses in mind:

In particular, he wants preachers and teachers to ‘carve out a straight path for the word of truth’. Some translations say things like ‘rightly dividing the word’, and it’s possible Paul means something like that (in other words, ‘being able to show how the sentences work, what each part means, and how they all relate to each other’). But it’s more likely that the picture he has in mind is of a pioneer hacking out a path through the jungle so that people can walk safely through. Part of the job of the teacher is to do what Paul himself is doing in this passage: to see where there are brambles, creepers and dead trees blocking the path where the word should be following to people’s hearts and minds, and to shift them out of the way.

Lee’s next point, that the Scriptures were originally written down and were only incorporated into liturgies later, is still besides the point. It could be pointed out that most of the stories narrated in the NT Scriptures (on which Lee seems to be focusing his point) would probably already have been shared within churches before the gospel accounts were written. The story of Christ already affected the life and liturgy of the Church before the inspired gospel accounts were written. The gospel accounts incorporate elements that had already been incorporated in the life and liturgy of the Church and most likely drew upon the existing liturgy of the Church as a source to some degree (e.g. the words of institution of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer). The NT texts would also be read out of the context provided by the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist and practice of Christian Baptism.

I do not believe that we need to argue that the NT documents were written as liturgical documents. The fact is that, if they are Scripture, they are liturgical documents. The text is not an entity that has an autonomous existence. For Scripture to be Scripture is for it to have a particular relationship to the Church as an interpretative community, to be part of the Church’s liturgy, life and lectionary.

Lee goes on to write: ‘Let us not forget that we see the Bible existing as we have it now quite early on. Athanasius in the 4th century gives a list of the books that stand in our bible, meaning that churches and people were collecting the inspired books into one canon by that time.’ Once again, he seems to be seriously missing my point. Gathering a list of scriptures that belong to the Church’s canon is very different to having what we call a ‘Bible’ (Lee seems to have missed much of the point of my Gutenberg post).

Lee seems to have a very limited understanding of what I mean by ‘liturgy’. By ‘liturgy’ I refer to the form of public worship. This ‘form’ need not be written down, nor need it be fixed. ‘Liturgy’ includes such things as the readings in worship, the Church calendar, the prayers and the celebration of the sacraments. I am arguing that the liturgy, defined in such a manner, and contextualized by the broader life and fellowship of the Church, is the primary context in which the Scriptures were given to be encountered.

In the course of making some of his final criticisms, Lee makes this point:

The idea that the Lord’s Supper was anything more than a symbolic spiritual representation was rejected by the church at least through 9th century. Yet, it changed and the bread became the body and John 6 was used a proof text. Christians before the 10th century would have understood John 6 in a completely different way than those after.

There are a number of places in the Church Fathers where John 6 is read as a reference to the Eucharist. Furthermore, the idea that they didn’t see the Eucharist as ‘anything more than a symbolic spiritual representation’ is simply without foundation. I would love to see Lee try to prove this case. It seems to me that his confusion may arise from the fact that the Church Fathers did not oppose symbol to reality as moderns do.

Ruminations on Two Posts from Peter Leithart

Over the last few days Peter Leithart has posted two posts that have really resonated with issues that I have been thinking about of late. The following are some extensive thoughts sparked off by Leithart’s own comments. (more…)

Wright Questions Please!

Over the next week or two I hope to follow up my talk on Wright’s understanding of Jesus with talks on his understanding of Paul. Within those talks I will particularly focus on Wright’s understanding of justification. My aim is to preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright by exploring his theology on its own terms. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary responding to the critics.

I intend to conclude this series of talks with a talk responding to any burning questions that people might have regarding Wright’s work on Jesus and Paul, or even about the man himself. If anyone has such questions please send them to me. If you have encountered a particular criticism of Wright and you are not sure how best to answer it, if there is an aspect of his thought that simply puzzles you, if you want clarification of his position on a particular matter, please leave your question. You can write them in the comments of this post or my audio posts, or send them to my e-mail address. I will try to answer the best questions in my final talk. The best questions will be searching, relevant, helpful and of interest to a number of listeners. Critics of Wright are especially welcome.

N.T. Wright Lectures


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What I have Listened to Today

Today I listened to a number of audio lectures and programmes. The latest edition of St. Anne’s Pub was superb. The interview with Dr. Chad VanDixhoorn was especially interesting. Jeff Meyers has some good thoughts on it here.

One of the other things that I listened to was the latest issue of the James White’s Dividing Line, something that I usually avoid. James White’s blog is one that I watch out of the corner of my eye and, when I saw that the latest edition discussed the Federal Vision and ‘New Perspectivism’, I thought that it might be interesting to listen to.

A lot of predictable statements were made (e.g. that Wright’s view of justification is ‘unevangelical’ and ‘not at all within the Reformed, or even Protestant, tradition’). These sorts of claims have been addressed on numerous occasions in the past and I have little interest in treating them again here. However, I did feel that it would be worth commenting on some statements that White made concerning the way that British evangelicals view Wright.

White reports that the British evangelicals he knows are ‘absolutely befuddled’ and laugh when he tells them about the way that Wright is lauded in some conservative evangelical circles in the US. White claimed that they said that in the UK Wright is not viewed as a ‘relative conservative’. Wright is supposedly ‘not an evangelical at all; he’s not even particularly conservative’; he’s just a ‘good old Anglican’.

I am well aware that some British evangelicals view Wright this way. However, I know many British evangelicals who regard Wright very favourably. I count myself as one of them. I get the feeling that anyone who appreciates Wright is by definition not evangelical in such people’s eyes, so I don’t put much value on their opinion in this issue.

A lot of the problem here arises from the complex character of British evangelicalism. The word ‘evangelical’ is as much misused in the UK as it is in the US and sometimes it is hard to work out exactly what it means any more. There are those who would insist that I cannot be an evangelical because I believe in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, for example, which is strange when one considers the fact that Luther and Wesley did too. Such definitions are rather arbitrary and fail to observe the fact that there is significant variety of belief among conservative evangelicals.

An evangelical need not hold to a low view of the Church or the sacraments. Just because evangelicals like Spurgeon never could understand the logic of baptismal regeneration doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unevangelical. Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Methodists and Presbyterians would strongly disagree with his assessment of the doctrine. Nor does the fact that many evangelicals have avoided them mean that incense, clerical vestments and set prayers are unevangelical either. I am irritated by the fact that certain vocal groups within evangelicals would seek to disenfranchise those who disagree with their chiefly functional ecclesiologies and ‘merely symbolic’ understanding of the sacraments.

There is a tendency for certain quarters of the evangelical church to question the legitimacy of other evangelicals because they have significant differences on certain issues. Many people are just unwilling to see themselves as part of a very broad tradition, containing people who have very different understandings about certain aspects of the faith. Or perhaps they just lack the imagination to appreciate that evangelical convictions can be upheld within radically different ecclesiologies.

Perhaps one of the deepest fault lines in British evangelicalism is the one that runs between non-conformist and Anglican evangelicals. Anglicans can be viewed with deep suspicion and occasionally antipathy by some non-conformist evangelicals, something that may be hinted at in the comments of White’s friends that Wright is just ‘a good old Anglican’.

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Wine in Communion Redux

Almost three years ago now, I posted on the subject of the importance of using alcoholic wine in the celebration of the Eucharist. I argued that the use of grape juice was a serious departure from the scriptural teaching regarding the sacrament. Posts are generally forgotten about within a few days at most and are never read again. For some strange reason, however, there are times when old posts are revived and enjoy a second fifteen minutes of fame. Over the last few days a few people have asked me questions about my post on wine in communion. For this reason, I thought that it might be helpful to write a brief post responding to some of the questions that have been raised in response to my original post on the subject.

You take the use of particular elements far too seriously. What would you do, for example, in the case of a person with gluten intolerance?

There are occasions when it is perfectly appropriate to make exceptions. The problem comes when people use such valid exceptions to undermine or negate the rule. For example, the fact that some people might be physically incapable of kneeling does not excuse the rest of us from doing so.

What about people with allergies to wine or former alcoholics?

In the case of allergies to wine, it is worth pointing out that the allergy is generally to something other than the alcohol. In such instances I would suggest that it is probably best to serve an alcoholic, rather than a non-alcoholic, substitute. In the case of recovering alcoholics, much depends on the particular case. The vast majority of arguments against the use of wine in communion on account of alcoholism are utterly without foundation. Most former alcoholics can drink wine in communion without any problem. Even if a church chooses to provide a non-alcoholic substitute they should do so for that individual alone. Everyone else should be served alcoholic wine.

Those with scruples about the use of wine should not be catered for. If they won’t accept wine, then they will just have to go without. People with unscriptural scruples should not be encouraged in their errors. Unless there are strong individual reasons why a substitute is necessary, no choice should be offered. Those who unbiblical scruples should certainly not be permitted to hold the rest of the church hostage to their uninformed consciences. Besides, it really is not for the servant to decide what is served at his Master’s table.

The Scriptures are quite undogmatic about the type of bread that we use for the celebration of the Eucharist; doesn’t this suggest that we shouldn’t be that dogmatic about the use of wine?

The Scripture may be undogmatic about the type of bread that is used (although some would dispute that claim), but it makes clear that it must be bread. Likewise, we have considerable freedom in our choice of wine. We can celebrate according to the biblical pattern using red or white wine, sweet or dry wine, regular or fortified wine. It really is up to us. However, we are taught by Scripture to use wine, rather than anything else.

White wine?!

Why not? In a number of traditions, white wine has often been used for the celebration of the Eucharist. This is certainly not a novel or entirely unusual practice. The symbolism of the element does not rest primarily on the colour of the wine that is used. Many believe that the whole symbolism of the wine rests upon its being dark or reddish in colour, making it look like blood. On this basis they can justify replacing the wine with other dark or reddish liquids. I have attended churches where Ribena has been used in the celebration of the Supper. However, in Scripture the significance of the use of wine rests on details such as its being the fruit of the vine and being alcoholic.

Red wine is probably slightly to be preferred over white wine on account of its colour. However, this detail really is an adiaphoron. One benefit of using white wine would be that it would have the effect of shocking us out of unhelpful ways of viewing the sacrament. It is not there to be looked at, but to be drunk. The wine is not there to be a ‘picture’ of Christ’s blood; it is Christ’s blood.

Christ may have employed wine in His institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. However, He also almost certainly used unleavened bread. Why make an issue about wine and not about the use of unleavened bread?

First, the type of leaven used in the ancient world was different from our yeast. Unless we use sourdough, our bread is technically unleavened.

Second, the Eucharist is not merely the fulfilment of the Passover ceremony, nor, in the NT, is it merely based on the Last Supper. Oscar Cullmann has argued, for example, that the Eucharist was seen by many within the earliest Church as some sort of continuation of the post-resurrection meals and was not merely based on the Last Supper.

Third, the use of leavened or unleavened bread has been a matter of heated debate in the past in Church history, principally between the Eastern and Western Church in the eleventh century. The Eastern Church used leavened bread, while the Western Church tended to use unleavened.

Fourth, leaven is not neutral in symbolism. The Scripture speaks of purging out old leaven to celebrate the feast, drawing on the pattern of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). On account of this and the negative symbolic sense that leaven tends to have within the NT (Matthew 16:6, 11-12; Luke 12:1; Galatians 5:9), many have insisted that the Supper must be celebrated without it.

However, leaven is not purely a symbol of evil. At the Feast of Pentecost new leaven was used (Leviticus 23:17). Old leaven is cut off; new leaven is introduced. Jesus uses leaven as a positive image in one of His parables of the kingdom (Luke 13:20-21). Leaven symbolizes the hidden spread of the kingdom of God and its message. At Pentecost the new leaven of the Spirit was introduced. We are to cut off the old leaven of malice and wickedness and introduce the new leaven of the Spirit. The use of leavened bread highlights one dimension of biblical imagery, the use of unleavened another. There may be good reasons for using leavened bread on one occasion and using unleavened on another.

The use of leaven is an adiaphoron for good theological reasons. Such reasons are not present in the case of wine.

Your argument from scriptural symbolism notwithstanding, the Scriptures that God have given us nowhere explicitly teach that alcoholic wine must be used. In light of this, how can you say that the use of grape juice — which is clearly the ‘fruit of the vine’ — is against God’s instructions?

God has not just given us the Scriptures; He has also given us intelligence. God does not insult the intelligence that He has given to us by spelling out explicitly that which is clear to any careful reader.

As James Jordan has remarked, a good servant is attentive to the slightest gesture of his master. Only a bad servant needs to have explicit commands in order to do his master’s bidding. Only an evil servant seeks loopholes in the explicit commands of his master in order to avoid doing that which he knows deep down is his master’s will. If we truly are good servants we will immediately pick up on the fact that God wants alcoholic wine on his table and will act accordingly.

Should a common cup be used? Should individual cups be avoided?

I don’t think that the Scripture presents us with as clear an argument for the use of a common cup as many believe. I suggest that this is another adiaphoron. I am not even sure that there was a common cup at the Last Supper (Matt?). There were a series of cups of wine drunk as part of the Passover celebration and it is possible that, rather than passing one cup around, the ‘cup’ referred to the particular serving of wine that they were about to drink as part of the celebration. The ‘cup’ would perhaps function like the way that a toast does in our celebrations. Each individual would have an individual cup. Passing around individual cups and drinking at the same time might therefore be closer to the original celebration.

What do you think about the practice of intinction?

The biblical pattern for the Eucharistic rite is really quite simple. Intinction is a practice that breaks with this biblical pattern. Intinction is also more unhygienic than the use of the common cup, a practice that many express health concerns about. The fact that high church Christians often follow this practice means nothing. High church Christians frequently get liturgy wrong and are not the pattern that we should be following.

What size should portions be?

Again this is an adiaphoron. However, I think that portions should ideally be a lot more substantial than they are in most churches. We are eating a meal. A larger hunk, rather than a miniscule morsel of bread would be nice. Also a larger glass of wine would help us to recognize that the Eucharist is not primarily about ideas, but about joy and celebration in the kingdom of God.

In your post you claimed that wine is a drink that is dangerous and that it takes maturity to partake in such a celebratory meal. How does this impact the arguments for paedocommunion?

Wine is dangerous and must be handled with maturity. This is a significant dimension of the symbolism. The Table of the Lord is a place of wisdom and not the table of fools (Proverbs 9:1-6). Young children are trained in wisdom by being taught to treat wine appropriately at the table of wisdom. The supervision of older and wiser persons ensures that young children do not learn to drink as fools drink. The wisdom and maturity that the table speaks of is not an individualistic matter, but something that is true of the congregation as a whole.

I am currently in a church that only serves grape juice. I am deeply troubled by this practice. What should I do?

Important as these things are, we need to beware of causing unnecessary division over them. God is gracious and does not judge us as harshly as we tend to judge each other. I can understand why this would be a difficult and sensitive issue for a pastor of a church to work through or a member of a church to live with. Even if you want to reform the church’s practice, you don’t want the sort of reform that tarries for no one. Reform needs to be taken slowly, in order to avoid unnecessarily alienating people. Reform is important and, if we are obedient we should be working towards it. However, there is a sort of unloving and impatient reform that actually causes great damage, despite its noble intentions. God gives us time to grow out of old practices and does not force us to change completely overnight (witness the significant overlap of the old and new covenants, for instance).

There are occasions when a strong line needs to be taken. Those who want the church to capitulate to their unscriptural scruples should not be pandered to. Although we must be patient and gracious in reform, we must also be persistent. We may reach a point where some people must be resisted, even if this results in their leaving for another church.

The reform that I primarily have in mind here is a gradually phasing out of the use of grape juice. In a church that resists the use of wine altogether, the issue may need to be addressed more forcefully. It is one thing to resist the use of wine for yourself. It is quite another to resist its being served to others.

The biblical teaching on the use of wine in communion fills my heart with a joy that I feel a deep-seated need to express. Can you recommend a good way for me to go about doing this?

Certainly. This would be a good place to start.

Links

Links from the last few days:

***

According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.

***
An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

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Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Against the Youth-Driven Church

This video has been posted by a number of people in the blogosphere. Like most others, I strongly disagree with this guy in a number of areas and believe that his argument against the Emerging Church is riddled with problems. However, rather than mocking, I think that it might be helpful to try to see where he might just have a point.

There was a time when many Christians were very concerned to keep away from pop music and TV because they believed that they introduced dangerous ‘worldly’ ways of thinking and acting. As sophisticated and enlightened contemporary Christians we tend to look at such notions with amusement and see the preoccupation with avoiding such ‘worldliness’ as being largely a concern of a naive fundamentalism. We happily watch 18 (or R)-rated movies and provide clever reviews that show the Christian themes that are subtly interwoven with the sex and the violence. We listen to music that celebrates radically unchristian forms of sexuality or to Christian artists that often seek to ape such music. Perhaps we are justified in this; what really troubles me is that the concerns for godliness and a distinctly and transparently Christian way of living exemplified by many of an older generation really don’t seem to register with us to the same extent. For all of the naivete of their vision, they had a vision for such holiness and godliness, which is more than I can say for many of us. For all of our sophistication I sometimes wonder whether we could learn some basic lessons in being a godly and a holy people from an older generation.

We live in a youth-driven society. Whether in the media or on the web, older people are hardly visible. For instance, the very fact that most of our theological discussions occur online prevents most elderly people from having any active voice in the conversation. When older people appear in the media, they are often ridiculed. Their style, their tastes, their knowledge of the world, their ethics and their values are all out of date. The new and the young are to be celebrated and the old is to be sidelined and dismissed.

Many areas of the Church have bought into this way of thinking. They have glorified the ‘new’ and sit very loosely to the accumulated wisdom of older generations. The Emerging Church is one area where this can be observed. The concern to be hip and on the cutting edge often trumps the concern to be faithful and submissive to the wisdom of our fathers in the faith.

The Church should be one place where a radically different culture prevails. It should be a place where older generations are honoured and treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Biblical societies are generally ruled and led by elders, not by young turks. Many contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this and their churches are driven by the desires of their young people and the most influential leaders are under the age of 40 (ideally, it seems to me, churches should not be led by people under the age of 50).

One of the deepest sins of many of the youth-driven trends in the Church is their determined movement away from catholicity. Rejecting a catholic Church they opt for youth churches or stratify the Church into age groups in other ways. Rather than worshipping in a way that reflects the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, their worship tends to be dominated by (generally sappy and biblically illiterate) songs written by young, popular and rich Western Christian evangelical artists who are within the contemporary Christian music industry. One of the great things about singing traditional Christian hymns is that we have the opportunity to sing words written by people from all over the world, from countless different backgrounds and generations, and with hugely varied vocations. We get to sing songs by laypeople and bishops, by monks and martyrs, by missionaries to pagan lands and travelling preachers, by Reformers and by Catholics. We sing songs written by people many centuries and countless miles removed from us. We sing songs written by people from cultures that are quite alien to our own, but with whom we share a citizenship in heaven. In the process the parochial nature of our own tastes is challenged and we learn to listen with appreciation and humility to people who differ radically from us. Of course, singing the psalms, we have something even better. We have the opportunity to sing words written by Moses and David.

Sadly, rather than express our respect for our older brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to the wisdom of the Christian tradition of music and worship, we tend to start worship wars, causing tensions and splits in churches because of our (frankly) ‘worldly’ desire to sing songs that conform to our contemporary Western appetites. Generally the modern worship wars seem to be driven by our ever-changing tastes in music, rather than by real theological or biblical concerns. Where are the voices calling for increased use of the psalms? They are few and far between, largely because the psalms do not generally provide what we believe that the ‘worship experience’ should give us. Where are the deep theologies of worship? Much of the worship wars are about our love for ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’, rather than about any sort of coherent theology of Church music. Although I am someone who believes that ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’ music should not be ruled out of the Church, I have no desire to align myself with those for whom the introduction of such music is purely an attempt to accommodate the worship of the Church to their their personal tastes in music, rather than an attempt to discern how God would have us worship Him and what is fitting for the praise of the saints.

Our concern tends to be that we have a good ‘worship experience’, rather than that we worship God joyfully and appropriately. If a particular song or style of music doesn’t conform to our personally tastes, so be it. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. Fittingness for the task of worshipping God should always take priority over everything else.

Finally, I have commented in the past on the infantilization of many quarters of the Church. It is not surprising that this tendency is accelerated in churches where the younger generation sets the agenda. The comments that the man makes in this video about the ‘young and stupid’ are not without a degree of correspondence to reality.

All of this, and the biblical command to honour and respect our elders, makes me quite reluctant to poke fun at this man’s expression of his opinion. For all of his misunderstanding and prejudice, he does have some valid points to make and we would do well to pay heed.

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

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Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
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Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
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Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
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There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
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Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

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John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
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Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

*

What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

*

But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

*

I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

*

There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

*

Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Links

The last few days have been very busy, so I haven’t posted any guest posts. They will recommence later this afternoon. A belated happy St. Patrick’s day to all of my readers!

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye recently.

Al Mohler’s ‘Is Your Baby Gay?’ post sparks controversy. It has been discussed by a number of people on the blogosphere (here on the Evangelical Outpost, for example). Mohler has since written a clarifying post. Mark and Macht are both critical of Mohler’s claim that certain forms of eugenics would be justified in the case of an unborn child who would most likely have a ‘homosexual orientation’. Apart from this issue, on which I am agreed with Mark and Macht, I am encouraged to see a rather more nuanced and balanced treatment of the issues of homosexuality from a leading evangelical than we have come to expect. As Lauren Winner has commented, if the Church were to speak about such issues better, we could then speak about them less. That would be a blessing indeed.

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Mark Goodacre continues to blog on the subject of the Jesus family tomb: ‘Discovery Website Adjusts Tomb Claims’ and ‘Talpiot Tomb Statistics Update’. Richard Bauckham guest posts on Chris Tilling’s blog: ‘Ossuaries and Prosopography’.
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Stephen over at Hypotyposeis blogs some thoughts on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which Chris Tilling continues to review on his blog (it shouldn’t be much long until the review is longer than the book itself).
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Leithart blogs on the Christian roots of Europe.
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Ros Clarke blogs some quotations from JBJ’s ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’.
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Edward Cook suggests that the genealogy of Luke 3 was most probably originally in Hebrew [HT: Dr Jim Davila].
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David Field posts notes for a talk that he gave, entitled ‘New Perspectives on Romans’.
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Chris Tilling writes a Bultmann poem.
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Tim Gallant links to a video raising questions about the scientific basis of global warming claims. I have no firsthand knowledge about the issues relevant to the global warming debate, but I do know a thing or two about how gifted the media is at draining complex debates of all nuance and presenting the public with grossly simplified and distorted pictures. I also know about the appeal of the unorthodox line of argument and the pull of the conspiracy theory. We all like to believe that we have privileged insight that others do not possess. A little selective knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. There are a lot of people who feel duty-bound to have a strong opinion on everything, even things that they don’t know have a clue about. The media happily fuels such people with prepackaged prejudices.

On the other hand, I am also well aware of the problems that attend the politicization of specialist debates. Most people bluff to some extent to hide their levels of ignorance on certain subjects; the temptation to bluff is greatest for politicians. On top of this, nuance does not go over well in the world of politics, where people are prone to move into polarized camps. Once an issue like global warming becomes politicized, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise critical questions about the scientific claims that are being made.

I also wonder sometimes whether we are inclined to overstate the impact that human beings have on the environment, wanting to flatter ourselves that we have more of an effect on and control over the world than we really do. The idea of a massive problem that we have created is more welcome than the idea of a huge climate shift that results from powers beyond our control. Man does not like to be reminded of his own impotence and the fact that his destiny is in many respects determined by greater forces than his own. All of these things lead me to retain a measure of skepticism towards the various claims being made in the global warming debates.

Jon uses this video as a springboard from which to discuss conspiracy theories and the need for orthodoxy to engage with heresy, if it is to arrive at a fuller knowledge of the truth. Jon observes something that I have commented on in the past: there are telltale signs of conspiracy theories and much of the thought in our circles as conservative Christians manifests all the classic symptoms. Young earth creationism is a perfect example (as is anti-Roman Catholicism). The truth or falsity of the claims of young earth creationists is beside the point here; the issue is that their approach to the issues is all too often the approach of conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories have a noxious effect on society and its public discourse. For this reason, if I were to have children I would prefer to have them educated by an atheistic evolutionist who would train them to think critically and engage with the best that science has to offer, than a conservative evangelical who would teach them conspiracy theories about science and discourage them from truly engaging with those with whom they disagree (I hope that I will never be called to make such a choice).

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Jon also has a helpful post on the subject of Richard Gaffin’s interaction with Rich Lusk (see here for further comment).
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Preparing tomorrow’s soldier [HT: Jon Barlow]
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The world’s oldest living man (116) puts his long life down to the fact that he has never been married.
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Ireland sends Pakistan home in the cricket World Cup. Makes up for the heartbreak of the rugby, I guess. Sadly, the joy of Ireland’s victory has since been overshadowed by the tragic death of Bob Woolmer.
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Herschelle Gibbs scores six sixes in a row, a first for one day cricket. The minnows in the World Cup have really suffered this year; four of the five highest margins of victory in the World Cup (by runs) have been recorded in the last week.
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Tony Blair meets Catherine Tate. Catchphrase comedy generally annoys me greatly, but I grinned at a few points in the last minute of this sketch, despite myself.
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Weird Al parodies Dylan (not anywhere near as funny as ‘White and Nerdy’, but funny nonetheless) and (a fairly good imitator of) Dylan sings Seuss [HT: Mark Traphagen].

Update: NTW lecture, ‘Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?’ [HT: Richard]. Be warned, it is a huge file (90MB).

Links

There are still a number of days available for those who want to guest post over Lent, (the instructions for entries can be found here). If you are interested, please respond as soon as possible. Remember, a contribution doesn’t have to be written reflections. You could post a video, an MP3 of yourself talking or singing a song, or a picture that you have drawn. As long as it is within the guidelines set out within the linked post above, it will be very much appreciated.

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Ben Myers posts the fourth installment of the Thomas Torrance audio lectures and reports a PR disaster for the Christian music industry.
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Gregg Strawbridge and Mark Horne respond to Guy Waters on Covenant Radio [HT: Barbara]
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Leithart reminds us of the sacramental piety of the Wesleys. It is interesting to observe how little press this dimension of the Wesleys’ beliefs and piety can receive. A few years ago I was reading an old book on early Methodism and came across a letter sent by John Wesley in 1745, written to his brother-in-law Westley Hall, a number of years after his evangelical conversion. It served as a reminder of how quickly some of our great evangelical heroes would be anathematized were they here to resist their own airbrushing. The following is an extract from Wesley’s letter:

You think, First, that, we undertake to defend some things, which are not defensible by the Word of God. You instance three: on each of which we will explain ourselves as clearly as we can.

1. ‘That, the validity of our ministry depends on a succession supposed to be from the Apostles, and a commission derived from the Pope of Rome, and his successors or dependents.’

We believe, it would not be right for us to administer, either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops, whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles. And, yet, we allow, these Bishops are the successors of those, who are dependent on the Bishop of Rome. But, we would be glad to know, on what reasons you believe this to be inconsistent with the Word of God.

2. ‘That, there is an outward Priesthood, and consequently an outward Sacrifice, ordained and offered by the Bishop of Rome, and his successors or dependents, in the Church of England, as vicars and vicegerents of Christ.’

We believe there is and always was, in every Christian Church (whether dependent on the Bishop of Rome or not) an outward Priesthood ordained by Jesus Christ, and an outward Sacrifice offered therein, by men authorized to act, as Ambassadors of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God. On what grounds do you believe, that, Christ has abolished that Priesthood or Sacrifice?

3. ‘That, this Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy, which still continues in the Church of England, is of Apostolical Institution, and authorized thereby; though not by the written Word.’

We believe, that, the threefold order of ministers, (which you seem to mean by Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy,) is not only authorized by its Apostolical Institution, but also by the written Word. Yet, we are willing to hear and weigh whatever reasons induce you to believe to the contrary.

My purpose here is not to defend Wesley’s sentiments. Rather, I am suggesting that perhaps evangelical faith need not be as inimical and alien to High Church Christianity as many evangelicals suppose it must.

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Cynthia Nielsen is blogging on Jean-Luc Marion (Part 1, Part 2)
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Byron Smith (whose blog you should be reading) is interviewed by Guy Davies.
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Leithart asks: ‘Who Defines “Reformed”?’
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A few N.T. Wright articles and blog posts (!!):

Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years
God’s Power Does Not Excuse Human Despoiling
Sex Both Powerful and Potentially Dangerous
Base Criticism on Facts, Not Prejudice

I am not convinced that the blog is Wright’s best medium. Sometimes I wish that he would just cancel all his speaking engagements, popular book projects and the like and just get the big book on Paul finished.
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Whoever suggested this series of adverts deserves a hefty payrise.
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Jack Bauer: Pre-School Teaching Assistant
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A New Pope (first saw this one a few months back, but never got around to linking it)
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The editor of First Things, Joseph Bottum, has won at the Deity level in Civilization III. Kudos! This truly remarkable achievement was mentioned within this superb article on the series of games that have accounted for a disturbing percentage of the waking hours of my existence [HT: Mark Whittinghill of BHT].
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Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals in conversation [HT: The Presbyteer].

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And for any of you who might be concerned, despite recent indications to the contrary, my future input on this blog is not going to be reduced to posting long lists of links and comments on the latest Peter Leithart posts.

Leithart Responds to His Critics

On Vulgar Language

A Pink Reformation?

Al Mohler blogs on controversies over homosexuality [HT: Tim Challies].

Yes, this does need to be said again

Garrett reminds us of some important facts about the FV debate.

Clark and Wilson

You would not believe how frustrating it is to follow the debate between Clark and Wilson. Clark has posted here and here; Wilson responds here, here and here. I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks that Clark is so determined to disagree with Wilson that he will create differences where they do not exist. Of course, the gospel is at stake in these slightest of differences. It always is, isn’t it!

Michael Spencer comments:

You know, when you have someone decrying another person’s faith entirely on the basis of an argument that simply cannot be comprehended by a fairly educated Christian teacher and preacher (me), then what in the heck is going on? Presbyterians can go at it over things that the rest of the Christian world can’t even point at and nod.

I’ve listened to a lot of Federal Vision criticism and defense, and it makes me want to hear the welcome sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Along with recent discussions between FV proponents and critics about the nature of union with Christ, this sort of discussion reveals a particularly ugly side of Reformed theology — the tendency to get bogged down in the pettiest of disagreements whilst claiming that one is defending the heart of the Christian faith. When the gospel has been so utterly dissolved into theological fine print one wonders if there is anything to rejoice in anymore. The gospel is not about a precise and finely-attuned relationship and distinction between justification and sanctification. It never was and, praise God, it never will be.

This is why I love reading people like N.T. Wright. Wright’s gospel is so simple and straightforward that one cannot but rejoice. It really isn’t very complicated. Of course, when a mind that has been tying itself in knots over fine distinctions without differences encounters Wright it will go away deeply confused. The confusion, however, is in the mind of the reader, not in Wright himself.

When it comes to the distinction between justification and sanctification it seems to me that much of the heat of this debate arises from the fact that the wrong questions are being asked (both by many FV writers and by their critics). It seems that the question that guides the debate is still the question of how an individual can get right with a holy God. However, the more that I look at the Scriptures, the more that I come to the conclusion that this can only lead us to misunderstand the biblical teaching on justification. Justification in the Scripture is about how God sets men to rights (not, however, about a process of making people righteous), rather than about how men can get right with God. Once this has been appreciated the distinction between justification and sanctification is nowhere near as sharp as it would be otherwise (for instance, we can say that God is righteous to justify a person, among other reasons, because He has committed Himself to sanctifying the person and that, if He were not committed to sanctifying them then He would not be righteous to justify them) and faith and works can be far more closely related. We can even go so far as to claim that part of the reason that God is righteous in justifying us has to do with the holiness of faith.

If I were working in terms of the theological questions that shape Clark’s understanding of justification, my underlying theological concerns would probably lead me to much the same conclusions. However, my conviction is that the questions that shape his position are simply the wrong ones and that a better set of questions could lead us far beyond the impasses of many of the Reformation debates and may even allow for a more sympathetic reading of Roman Catholic theology on this matter. Whilst the idea of a sympathetic reading of Roman Catholic theology appalls many, I see no reason why it should, provided that we have arrived at such a reading through closer attention to the Scriptures, rather through the sacrifice of biblical convictions on the altar of compromise.

Update: Wilson blogs another response here.

Are Protestants Heretics?

I do hereby conclude: When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteen century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.

Read the whole article by Edward T. Oakes, S.J. here. [HT: Michael Spencer from BHT]

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

John 6 Debates

Over the last few days there has been a rather heated debate on John 6 raging in certain quarters of the blogosphere. Whilst the tone of the debate has generally left much to be desired, the interpretation of John 6 is a subject that very much interests me.

From what I gather, the debate was kicked off with this post from Paul Owen, entitled ‘Why Most Calvinists Misread John 6′. Owen argues that ‘Calvinists take a clearly Eucharistic passage and turn it into a treatise on predestination.’ It seems to me that this is quite an unfair and unjustified generalization, but this aside, I think that Owen does raise some valid concerns. There is a tendency in some circles of the Reformed world to treat passages such as Romans 9 and John 6 in a manner that is inattentive to the purposes of the passages in their contexts, largely reducing the passages to articulations of classic Reformed doctrines of soteriology.

The debate was then taken up by James White here. Kevin Johnson responded with this. White answered Johnson and Owen gave some additional thoughts here. Lee Johnson enters the debate here.

I am convinced that many of the points of Reformed soteriology can be argued to from such passages. However, the ease with which people see the Reformed doctrine of election in John 6, for example, concerns me. Reading John’s gospel closely, it is by no means obvious that John’s doctrine of election is the same thing as the Reformed doctrine. This is not to say that John disagrees with the Reformed doctrine of election, but rather to point out that, when John speaks of God’s choosing people or giving people to Christ, the Westminster Standards might not be our best guide for understanding what he means by such language. The Johannine doctrine of election is something that I have previously addressed in this post.

I have become increasingly convinced that bringing the questions of ‘Calvinist’/'Arminian’ debates to the text almost invariably produces much heat and little light. The questions of such debates are frequently the wrong ones and we would be far better off listening more closely to the text and allowing our theology to sit a bit more loosely to certain exegetical questions. Disputing common Reformed readings of John 6 should not be interpreted as an attack on the Reformed doctrine of election, for instance. However, a more careful reading of John 6 might lead us to question the way that the Reformed doctrine of election has been framed, challenging us to re-articulate the biblical concerns that underlie the doctrine in more biblical categories.

I have found that putting the questions of the debates of systematic theology to the side for a little while and trying to understand the questions that the Scriptures themselves raise and address leaves one with a very different perspective when one returns to those systematic questions. There was a time when I would have regarded the chief task of any interpretation of Romans 9 to be that of articulating the Reformed doctrine of election. Putting such questions to one side for a while and engaging with the text without them increasingly led me to the conviction that the text was trying to say much more than my original questions would allow it to say. Questioning the usefulness of my initial questions, I started to replace my original questions with new ones. I also began to wonder whether certain of the issues that had once seemed absolutely central to me were all that important within the context of Scripture itself.

One of the principal issues that is being raised in recent debates over the FV and NPP is that of the relationship between exegesis and theology. To what degree can the Reformed doctrine of justification survive a rereading of the book of Romans? To what extent does the Reformed doctrine of election rely upon particular readings of John 6, Ephesians 1 or Romans 9? Can one reject traditional Reformed readings of whole books of Scripture and still maintain Reformed theology? In many of the questions of the current debates the underlying question is the degree to which biblical language can be regarded as something different to confessional language, whilst still retaining the truth of confessional language on its level of discourse (I am also convinced that, despite the protest of some, there are substantial theological questiosn at stake as well). Is it possible to use the word ‘election’, for instance, in two distinct senses (biblical and confessional) without being disingenuous?

In my estimation, one of the great gains of the NPP and FV is the manner in which they have alerted us to the ‘otherness’ of biblical language. Theology and exegesis retain a lively dialogue, but they are far less likely to be confused or to be forced upon each other. Once one has distinguished between confessional and biblical language as different levels of discourse, exegetical questions can be left far more open, particular passages are far less likely to be over-burdened with theological freight and the text is far less likely to be domesticated and dominated by the theological system.

This discussion on the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19 (do read the comments) is a good example of the manner in which a particular perceived relationship between the voice of the text and the theological system can lead to trouble in distinguishing the question of the validity of the doctrine of the visible/invisible Church distinction from the question of the proper interpretation of 1 John 2:19. I am convinced that we can reject traditional Reformed exegesis of the book of Romans, whilst retaining a Reformed doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification does not stand or fall with a particular approach to the exegesis of the Pauline epistles.

Returning to John 6, I would like to see a thoughtful discussion of the passage, a discussion which gives far less weight to the traditional theological questions that have been traditionally associated with the passage. Whilst I am baffled at how anyone can read John 6 and not see clear references to the Eucharist (see the discussion here, particularly the comments), not everyone who fails to see such references holds to a low view of the Eucharist. For this reason I would like to leave the question of the interpretation of John 6 far more open and relax the connection between the passage and the questions of Eucharistic theology somewhat. My doctrine of the Eucharist does not stand or fall on an interpretation of John 6, just as my Christology does not stand and fall with a particular interpretation of the meaning of the title ‘Son of God’. Sometimes it would be nice if the systematic theologians would give exegetes a bit more room to breathe.

It can be incredibly frustrating to dialogue with people who tie theology and exegesis so closely together that any questioning of their exegesis is seen to be an assault on their theology. This is a common problem in a Reformed context, largely because people often know their confessions, catechisms and systematic theologies far better than they know their Bibles. The Bible is read in terms of the language, concerns and systems of the confessions and the systematic theologies, leaving little sense of the fact that Scripture does not speak Westminsterese or any other such Reformed dialect. I believe that huge swathes of traditional Reformed exegesis are problematic, largely as a result of such tendencies, but I fail to see why this need entail a complete overhaul of Reformed theology.

Good theology does not ensure good exegesis. In many places systematic theologians are the exegete’s worst enemy, as they have taken texts hostage as proofs for their systems. Whilst theology must always inform exegesis and vice versa, I hope that the current debates will result in an increased independence for exegesis from systematic theology. This increased independence will hopefully serve to create a more fruitful form of interdependence between the two disciplines.

Some Links

Leithart on Rosenstock-Huessy on Descartes, Marxism and Tribalism.

Bill Wilder (who made a helpful series of lectures on N.T. Wright a year or so back) writes a WTJ article on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, arguing for a position that closely approximates to that of James Jordan. Wilder arrived at his position independently of Jordan, but cites Jordan favourably in the footnotes.

In Media Res has an interview with Jeff Meyers (whose new Ecclesiastes commentary, A Table in the Mist, I am presently enjoying) and the first part of an interview with Peter Leithart. The Leithart interview is on the subject of Postmodernism and Postmodernity. Having recently enjoyed his lecture series ‘Solomon Among the Postmoderns’ (available to purchase here), I would recommend Leithart’s treatment of postmodernity as a welcome change from many of the overly positive and negative treatments that one generally encounters.

R. Scott Clark — How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy Over Justification. Incredibly frustrating to read. The fact that misunderstandings of such magnitude persist many years into the FV debate makes one wonder if progress will ever be made. It is the introductory chapter of Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, which can be purchased here.

With a respected source and enough repetition, the truth of many theological claims can be taken more or less for granted and seldom be subjected to close scrutiny. One such claim is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ claim: “if your preaching of the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.” Mark Horne addresses the meaning of Romans 6:1 here. I have long felt uncomfortable and have occasionally protested against the way that Romans 6:1ff. is employed as an answer to an argument for ‘antinomianism’.

Whilst Romans 6:1ff. can be used as a response to what some call ‘antinomianism’, we must be careful in using the verse in such a manner, as Paul’s point is not quite the same as our point. Terms such as ‘antinomianism’ are also unhelpful as they fail to distinguish between the moralism that we occasionally encounter in contemporary Christianity and the ‘Torah-ism’ that Paul was dealing with in the epistles. They are not the same thing and the confusion that results from conflating such things will have far-reaching effects on our reading of Paul.

FV-related discussions

Tim Gallant responds to Scott Clark on the subject of paedocommunion and 1 Corinthians 11.

Jon Barlow’s response to Richard Phillips here and to Scott Clark here are very well written. I must say, I am impressed with how temperate Jon’s response to Clark is, given the tone of Clark’s posts in this Puritanboard thread. Even if we leave their tone to one side, the sheer number of misrepresentations and distortions that are present in Clark’s comments is quite astounding.

1 John 2:19 Discussion

James Jordan’s reading of 1 John 2:19:—

“Out from us they went out,” — that is, they set out on teaching missions.

“But they were not out from us,” — that is, they had no valid commission from us.

“For if they were out from us they would have remained with us,” — that is, if they had valid commissions from us, they would have remained with us in our true teaching.

“But [this happened] in order that they might be manifest that none of them are out from us.” — that is, their false teaching shows that they were not sent by us.

This seems to me to make far more sense of 1 John 2:19 in its context than those readings that take the verse as working in terms of a visible/invisible Church distinction. This verse is currently being discussed on Lane Keister’s blog.

Where Have All the Good Atheists Gone? — On the Loss of Important Conversations.

Richard Dawkins

Prosthesis links to this post by Thomas Adams at Without Authority:

The intellectual laziness of modern atheism is a shame because, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Christianity needs smart atheists to keep it honest. In my estimation, the best example of a “purifying atheist” is Friedrich Nietzsche (for a wonderful synopsis of Nietzsche’s contributions to Christian thought, please check out Byron Smith’s post here). The son of a Lutheran pastor, Nietzsche had a deeper understanding of Christianity than the vast majority of theologians, past and present. And unlike modern atheists, he took the idea of God very seriously. He may have reached some of the same conclusions about religion as modern atheists, but he took a very different route. His writings bear witness, not to a simple-minded dismissal of God, but to a profound confrontation with his religious heritage. In the end, his struggle may have yielded a purer and more faithful account of the Christian faith. Thus, Eberhard Jungel could say that “[Nietzsche's] thoughts come very close to the Christian truth which he was opposing. They merit special attention.” A hundred years from now, I doubt that anyone will be saying the same thing about Harris’ recent book.

A few days I picked up Theology After Wittgenstein and skim-read some sections of it, as I hadn’t done so for some time. Fergus Kerr comments somewhere that Wittgenstein was one of the last of the great philosophers to have his work so permeated by theological questions. Wittgenstein may not have agreed with the Christian tradition, but he believed that it was deserving of intellectual respect and serious engagement. With the lack of such engagement in the thought of most non-Christian intellectuals today and the gradual abandonment of a conversation between non-Christians with a genuine and sympathetic appreciation of the riches of the Christian tradition and thoughtful churchmen we are all poorer off.

Sometimes I wonder why Christians get distinctly second-rate critics like Richard Dawkins. Sometimes I wonder whether such critics are all that we deserve. Perhaps the world has lost interest in serious intellectual engagement with us because we are no longer prepared to listen; we are too interested in ourselves and how we are right to think that we might be able to learn from others, whether within the world or within different theological or ecclesiastical traditions. We want the world to listen to our voices, to read our books and to watch our films, because we think that we are right and the world is wrong (yet another manifestation of the narcissism that so often afflicts us). I am not so convinced that our voices are the ones that are most worth listening to, nor do I believe that Christians are always right and the world always wrong where we disagree.

In my recent post on theology and the life of prayer, I concluded by pointing out the important role that theology can play within the context of the academy, sustaining a conversation between the world and the Church, through which the Church can arrive at a deeper knowledge of the truth, and be delivered from certain errors. Lesslie Newbigin has a wonderful statement on this, which I find exceedingly helpful:

The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation of what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as arrabon of that salvation — as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole. It can do so only because it lives by the Word and sacraments of the gospel by which it is again and again brought to judgment at the foot of the cross. And the bearer of that judgment may well be and often is a man or woman of another faith (cf. Luke 11:31-32). The church is in the world as the place where Jesus, in whom the fullness of the godhead dwells, is present, but it is not itself that fullness. It is the place where the filling is taking place (Eph. 1:23). It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him. This dialogue, this life of continuous exchange with the world, means that the church itself is changing. It must change if “all that the Father has” is to be given to it as Christ’s own possession (John 16:14-15). It does change. Very obviously the church of the Hellenic world in the fourth century was different from the church that met in the upper room in Jerusalem. It will continue to change as it meets ever new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them. — The Open Secret, p.180

If there is one thing that I have come to appreciate over the last few years, it is critics. We all need them. When there is a lack of genuine criticism, a lack of a party of considered dissent, we can become complacent and be content to live with half-truths. I have learnt more from interacting with people who disagree with me than I have from those who agree with me. One of the things that most distresses me in the current Church climate is the loss of genuine conversations about issues that we disagree over to the extent that all sides begin to preach only to the converted. The debates surrounding the work of N.T. Wright and the ‘FV movement’ are good examples here. With few exceptions, real critical engagement with the thought of Wright and the FV has been non-existent. For example, Wright has been dismissed by many without a serious attempt to understand him. The current Reformed climate is not able to support serious conversation between differing viewpoints, without an attempt to impose groupthink.

On this blog I have often been critical of certain tendencies of modern Reformed and evangelical churches. I write as someone who, if pushed, will admit to having a lot of ‘evangelical’ in him and as one who feels a deep affinity with and appreciation of many aspects of the Reformed tradition. My criticisms have often been harsh (often far too harsh), but these criticisms have been given, not as a means of dismissing evangelicalism and the Reformed faith, but as a means of calling people to greater intellectual honesty. I like to believe that the best movements are able to continue the tradition that we see in the Scriptures of prophetic critique from within and engagement with the thought of those without. I have been saddened to see that many are unhappy with the existence of such conversations, or are not prepared to take the effort that is involved in engaging with them. I have also been encouraged to find a number of exceptions to the rule.

Active and Passive in Salvation

In the comments of my earlier post on Phillip Cary’s article on monergism and synergism, Joel Garver helpfully reminded me of the work of Michael Hanby, which, in turn, reminded me of this interesting Leithart post.

Phillip Cary on Monergism and Synergism

The question of whether Augustine is a monergist or a synergist is more complicated. For one thing, even at his most monergistic, Augustine does not deny that we are active in our own salvation. Augustine is a monergist with respect to the origin of faith, for instance, in that he sees it as resulting from prevenient or “operating grace” rather than “co-operating grace” (his terms). But for Augustine this does not take away the role of human free will, for what prevenient grace does is precisely to move our wills so that they freely will the good. Hence for Augustine grace never undermines or replaces free will. In that sense he is never a radical monergist, as if the human will had no active role to play. On the other hand, he is indeed a monergist in a less radical sense, because for him the gift of faith is wholly the work of God, since even our freely willing to accept God’s gift is a work of grace alone.

So in that sense, Augustine is clearly a monergist with respect to the gift of faith, unlike the Arminians. Ultimately it is up to God, not us, whether we freely choose to accept what God has to give us. However—and here is the real complication—this does not make Augustine a monergist with respect to salvation. The reason why is that Augustine does not have a Calvinist concept of saving faith. For he does not share Calvin’s distinctive new doctrine about the perseverance of the saints, according to which everyone with true (i.e., saving) faith is sure to persevere to the end and be eternally saved. For Augustine, you can have a perfectly genuine faith but not persevere in faith to the end of your life. There is no guarantee that believers will not lose their faith and thus ultimately be damned. Hence no matter how true your faith presently is, that does not mean you are sure to be saved in the end. Consequently, Augustine’s monergism about faith does not make him a monergist about salvation.

Read the rest here. Ben Myers gives some thoughts on the question here. I am increasingly coming to the conviction that the whole monergism/synergism debate is wrong-headed and that a more refined understanding of creation as divine gift is needed. What we have in relationship with God is a unilaterally established reciprocity. Much of what I encounter in contemporary Calvinistic doctrines of salvation can be regarded as a collapse of reciprocity in a suffocating form of monergism, suggestive of a weak grasp of the significance of our faith in a Triune God.

What would John Calvin Say to the NPP?

John Calvin

As someone who believed medieval Rome taught a piecemeal salvation through a treadmill of sacramental performance, something which he equated in its essence to that of inter-testamental Judaism (aka Pharisaism) as a religion which rung the changes on works-righteousness — seeing both of these as examples of man’s innate tendency to idolatry and self-justification, he would not recognize the New Perspective as doing justice either to the exegesis of Scripture or a diagnosis of man’s real problem. He would regard it as wrongheaded pastorally as well as historically. As one who insisted on double-imputation, he would find the New Perspective’s denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as wholly inadequate to deal with the real problem of fallen (Adamic) man’s relationship to God. As one who made the cross central, he would be perplexed at the inadequate responses of the New Perspective to the question which inquires as to the necessity of the cross or what it actually achieved. Penal substitution through satisfaction were Calvin’s main emphases and a perspective which substitutes ecclesiastical categories (who belongs to the covenant community?) rather than soteriological categories (how can a sinner be made right with God?), and one that answers the former by emphasizing “boundary markers” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he would view as Catholicism redivivus.

So claims Derek Thomas. I would like to think that Calvin would have done a better job of understanding the NPP before he dismissed it.

A Critic of my Understanding of Liturgical Exegesis

Lee, from Two-Edged Sword, posts a critique of my understanding of liturgy and the ontology of Scripture, as articulated in the following posts — ‘How Gutenberg Took the Bible From Us’ and ‘James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection’. Lee also refers to my ‘Eating and Drinking in John 6′ post and the following discussion as a good example of differences that arise from my approach to Scripture.

His post is representative of a few of the negative responses that I have had to my thoughts on the character of Scripture. I am not sure how exactly to go about responding to such a post as there are a number of serious misunderstandings of my position within it.

For the record, I firmly believe that every Christian who can read should have at least one Bible in their home, preferrably a number of different versions, ideally a number of texts in the original languages. I would also encourage Christians to spend time reading biblical commentaries and to learn how to use Bible helps. I am convinced that reading the Bible at least once daily is good practice for the Christian and that lack of interest in reading the Bible for oneself is more often than not a sign of weak spiritual health.

None of this contradicts my fundamental point, which was that the primary form of the Scriptures is not what we call ‘the Bible’. The chief way in which the people of God are to encounter the Scriptures is in their performance within the context of the Church and its liturgy. It is undoubtedly a privilege to be able to read the text of our Bibles, but we must not presume that God gave the Church the Scriptures as ‘the Bible’. The Scriptures that God gave His people were not principally designed to be read privately as a book. Private Bible reading is a valid engagement with Scripture, but it should never be the form of engagement with Scripture that takes priority in our lives. Engagement with Scripture in the context of the Church’s life, liturgy and lectionary must always come first.

The Scriptures are addressed to the people of God. Whilst the Scriptures address each of us personally, they do not address us as detached individuals, abstracted from the body of which we are members. The Scriptures were certainly given in written form, but they were not given in the form of the modern Bible. They were not bound together in one volume, nor were they given for private ownership. The Scriptures were not even given so that everyone could read them. The chief way that the people of God are called to engage with the Scriptures is by hearing the Scriptures read aloud and expounded, rather than by reading it for themselves. There is a difference. Reading for ourselves is good, but the emphasis must remain on the hearing of the Word, something that occurs in the context of the assembly of the Church.

Furthermore, we must recognize that there are many parts of the Scriptures that were given principally as what I have in the past referred to as ’stage directions’. The book of Leviticus, for example, is mostly concerned with stage directions. Whilst the book was to be read aloud and studied, it was more like a recipe book than a story. The meaning of Leviticus is not first and foremost to be found in the study of the text itself, but in the extra-textual rituals that it establishes.

I have used this fact to argue that relatively minor portions of Scripture, which may seem relatively insignificant to us, given the fact that so little words are devoted to them, may actually be far more significant than many lengthy passages. There are those who argue that our emphasis upon particular truths should correspond with the amount of attention that they are given within the Bible, ‘attention’ here referring to the number of words expended on the subject in the biblical text. I have come to regard such a position as deeply flawed.

A good example of the differences created by different ways of approaching the Scriptures can be seen in attitudes to the Eucharist, for example. If we engage with the Scriptures chiefly in the form of biblical text to be studied and read we will recognize that very few verses are devoted to the subject of the Eucharist. We might draw from this that the Eucharist is a relatively secondary truth of the Christian faith and that the great focus upon the subject is an unwelcome byproduct of certain false turns in the Church’s history. On the other hand, if we engage with the Scriptures primarily as a text to be embodied in the life, liturgy and lectionary of the Church, the Eucharist will be seen to be far more important.

The Eucharist is given to the Church to be done, rather than chiefly to be meditated on. It is a simple rite and few words are needed to institute its proper practice. However, given that the Eucharist is to form a regular and central role in the Church’s liturgy it has a greater significance for our Christian faith than truths to which dozens of chapters of Scripture are devoted. We interpret the Scriptures through the lenses given to us by the Eucharist. We see allusions to the Eucharist throughout the Scriptures. In so doing we are not exalting the Eucharist above its proper station, but are engaging with the Scriptures as more than mere text.

To what shall I compare the Scriptures? It is like some texts that a great king wrote and entrusted to his servants, in preparation for a great feast. Amongst the texts there were the scores for the musicians at the feast, the recipes for the cooks, the instructions for those preparing and decorating the banqueting hall and table, the poems to be read by the poets, the tales to be told by the storytellers, the speeches to be given by the speechmakers, and the invitations to be sent to the guests.

Once we have appreciated the complex and multifaceted character of the Scriptures we will read them quite differently. Neglected books like Leviticus will receive far more attention. The sacrificial rituals and annual feasts of Leviticus would have profoundly shaped the way that Israelites would have read the whole of the Scriptures. It would also have powerfully moulded the authors of Scripture and we should read their writings recognizing the degree to which the practices of Leviticus formed the fabric of their lives. The same can be said of those who do not read the NT as belonging to the context of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Lee argues that I am setting the stage for sacerdotalism, that I am teaching that there is no way to encounter Christ apart from the priest. In response to this claim I want to make clear that when I talk about engaging with the Scriptures primarily in the form of their performance within the Church and its liturgy I do not refer to the ‘Church’ as a mere institutional hierarchy, but as a community with a shared life and practice. There is no ordinary way to encounter Christ apart from His Church. It is through the operations of the body that the Head makes Himself known. However, the body is not just composed of members of a clerical hierarchy.

Outside of the context of the Church the Scriptures are not ordinarily a means of grace. Those who interpret the Scriptures apart from the Church often end up falling into gross error. Countless cults started life with people seeking to understand the Scriptures apart from the Church. We are only equipped to understand the Scriptures as we life within the context of the Church. To the Christian who faithfully participates in the life of the Church (which is nothing other than the life of the Holy Spirit) the Scriptures are a means of blessing. They read their Bibles as members of the Church, not as people abstracted from the Church.

As regards the Church’s ‘dispensing’ of salvation, the Church does nothing of the kind. The Church does not ‘dispense’ salvation; it is rather the form that God’s salvation takes. Tim Gallant puts this far better than I could:

And that is why it is the wrong question to ask whether “the Church saves.” That’s kind of like asking whether having lots of money brings wealth. No, the Church does not save. Jesus saves. And His salvation comes in the shape of the Church. Being the dwelling-place of God - that is salvation. Being built together as a community of love - that is salvation. Being a member of the Body of Christ - that is salvation.

The Church does not save. The Church is salvation, because the Church is God’s goal in Jesus Christ.

Lee goes on to argue that I am undermining Sola Scriptura. I strongly dispute this claim. My problem is not with the Scripture. Far from it! My concern is for the Scriptures to play a far fuller role in the Church’s life than they do in much contemporary evangelicalism. My problem is with the way in which the Scriptures have been reduced from what they once were into the privately-owned, mass-produced Bible of the modern Church. The simplistic opposition that Lee posits between Scripture and liturgy is a good example of this.

Lee writes:

I do have a few objections to Alastair’s view. The first is Acts 17:10-13. The Bereans appear to do just the opposite of what Alastair advocates. They go to the service, listen attentively and then read the service through the light of the Scripture, not the Scripture through the light of the liturgy/service. And the Spirit calls them ‘more noble’ for doing so. II Timothy 2:15 seems to counter his understanding as well. ‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ This sound much more like the grammatical parsing and rational thinking through the Word that Alastair seems to eschew rather than the ‘inhabiting’ the word through the liturgy advocated in the posts.

Both of these points miss the point. I really don’t see why I should have a problem with either of these passages. Some brief remarks on the Bereans might help here. Paul calls forth the OT as witness to the truth of his gospel (cf. Acts 17:2-3). The Bereans are fair and carefully examine this witness, unlike those from Thessalonica, who presumably just dismissed the testimony that Paul brought forward. All the evidence points towards this examination of the Scriptures taking a very different shape from what most ‘Bereans’ do today. The examination was a public examination of the OT Scriptures in the context of the synagogue, not a private reading of the Bible outside of the context of the people of God. Those who were leading the examination of the OT Scriptures were most likely synagogue leaders (although there were likely a number of others present). This was not a private Bible study. Most people who use this passage to justify their practice today misuse it.

The Berean’s study of the Scripture took place in the broader context of the liturgy and the sacrifices and worship practices of Israel. These were lenses that they would bring to their reading of the text. Whether these discussions took place within the immediate context of the synagogue’s liturgy is besides the point. Lee seems to read the passage to suggest that Paul was leading a synagogue service and that the Bereans then went to examine the liturgy of the service from the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with examining liturgy from the Scriptures — the text illuminates the liturgy and the liturgy illuminates the text — but it strikes me as a strange reading of the passage in question. There is no reason to believe that Paul was presenting the Bereans with some new liturgy. He brought a new teaching, which the Bereans fairly and publicly cross-examined.

What about II Timothy 2:15? Once again I don’t see what the issue is here. Paul is teaching that a minister of the gospel should be concerned to gain all the skills necessary for him to perform his task of ensuring that the Church acts according to the authority of God, exercised in the Scriptures, effectively. It is important to recognize that Timothy is not primarily being addressed as a private person here. Rather he is being addressed as one who must lead a church in its engagement with the Scriptures. He is the one who has the greatest responsbility in this area. He must guide the flock as a faithful shepherd. He must ensure that quarrels about words do not take over (v.14) and that the dangerous teachings of men like Hymenaeus and Philetus do not spread (vv.16-17).

Lee claims that ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ sounds ‘much more like the grammatical parsing and rational thinking through the Word that Alastair seems to eschew rather than the ‘inhabiting’ the word through the liturgy advocated in the posts.’ Once again, let me clear up misunderstanding. There is no problem with grammatical historical exegesis and other similar approaches to Scripture in principle. I am convinced that they have an important role to play and that pastors in particular should be skilled in such areas. However, my point is that grammatical historical exegesis is not the primary way in which we are to engage with the Scripture. Grammatical historical exegesis is a gift that serves far greater forms of engagement with the Scripture that occur within the life of the Church. I have no problem with grammatical historical exegesis; my problem is with merely grammatical historical exegesis — exegetical approaches that bypass typological, liturgical and creative forms of Scripture reading.

What about ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’? Is this really a reference to grammatical parsing? I think that N.T. Wright’s reading in his For Everyone commentary is an example of a more likely reading (and one that he is certainly not alone in arguing for), although I believe that he is stretching it if he believes that Paul had the illustration that he uses in mind:

In particular, he wants preachers and teachers to ‘carve out a straight path for the word of truth’. Some translations say things like ‘rightly dividing the word’, and it’s possible Paul means something like that (in other words, ‘being able to show how the sentences work, what each part means, and how they all relate to each other’). But it’s more likely that the picture he has in mind is of a pioneer hacking out a path through the jungle so that people can walk safely through. Part of the job of the teacher is to do what Paul himself is doing in this passage: to see where there are brambles, creepers and dead trees blocking the path where the word should be following to people’s hearts and minds, and to shift them out of the way.

Lee’s next point, that the Scriptures were originally written down and were only incorporated into liturgies later, is still besides the point. It could be pointed out that most of the stories narrated in the NT Scriptures (on which Lee seems to be focusing his point) would probably already have been shared within churches before the gospel accounts were written. The story of Christ already affected the life and liturgy of the Church before the inspired gospel accounts were written. The gospel accounts incorporate elements that had already been incorporated in the life and liturgy of the Church and most likely drew upon the existing liturgy of the Church as a source to some degree (e.g. the words of institution of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Prayer). The NT texts would also be read out of the context provided by the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist and practice of Christian Baptism.

I do not believe that we need to argue that the NT documents were written as liturgical documents. The fact is that, if they are Scripture, they are liturgical documents. The text is not an entity that has an autonomous existence. For Scripture to be Scripture is for it to have a particular relationship to the Church as an interpretative community, to be part of the Church’s liturgy, life and lectionary.

Lee goes on to write: ‘Let us not forget that we see the Bible existing as we have it now quite early on. Athanasius in the 4th century gives a list of the books that stand in our bible, meaning that churches and people were collecting the inspired books into one canon by that time.’ Once again, he seems to be seriously missing my point. Gathering a list of scriptures that belong to the Church’s canon is very different to having what we call a ‘Bible’ (Lee seems to have missed much of the point of my Gutenberg post).

Lee seems to have a very limited understanding of what I mean by ‘liturgy’. By ‘liturgy’ I refer to the form of public worship. This ‘form’ need not be written down, nor need it be fixed. ‘Liturgy’ includes such things as the readings in worship, the Church calendar, the prayers and the celebration of the sacraments. I am arguing that the liturgy, defined in such a manner, and contextualized by the broader life and fellowship of the Church, is the primary context in which the Scriptures were given to be encountered.

In the course of making some of his final criticisms, Lee makes this point:

The idea that the Lord’s Supper was anything more than a symbolic spiritual representation was rejected by the church at least through 9th century. Yet, it changed and the bread became the body and John 6 was used a proof text. Christians before the 10th century would have understood John 6 in a completely different way than those after.

There are a number of places in the Church Fathers where John 6 is read as a reference to the Eucharist. Furthermore, the idea that they didn’t see the Eucharist as ‘anything more than a symbolic spiritual representation’ is simply without foundation. I would love to see Lee try to prove this case. It seems to me that his confusion may arise from the fact that the Church Fathers did not oppose symbol to reality as moderns do.

Ruminations on Two Posts from Peter Leithart

Over the last few days Peter Leithart has posted two posts that have really resonated with issues that I have been thinking about of late. The following are some extensive thoughts sparked off by Leithart’s own comments. (more…)

Wright Questions Please!

Over the next week or two I hope to follow up my talk on Wright’s understanding of Jesus with talks on his understanding of Paul. Within those talks I will particularly focus on Wright’s understanding of justification. My aim is to preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright by exploring his theology on its own terms. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary responding to the critics.

I intend to conclude this series of talks with a talk responding to any burning questions that people might have regarding Wright’s work on Jesus and Paul, or even about the man himself. If anyone has such questions please send them to me. If you have encountered a particular criticism of Wright and you are not sure how best to answer it, if there is an aspect of his thought that simply puzzles you, if you want clarification of his position on a particular matter, please leave your question. You can write them in the comments of this post or my audio posts, or send them to my e-mail address. I will try to answer the best questions in my final talk. The best questions will be searching, relevant, helpful and of interest to a number of listeners. Critics of Wright are especially welcome.

N.T. Wright Lectures


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Review of Waters

Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul - A Review and Response

Nicholas Perrin’s reviews of Guy Waters’ book, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response are now available on the N.T. Wright page:—

A Reformed Perspective on the New Perspective
Some Reflections on Hermeneutics and Method

Anti-Anglicanism


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Today I listened to a number of audio lectures and programmes. The latest edition of St. Anne’s Pub was superb. The interview with Dr. Chad VanDixhoorn was especially interesting. Jeff Meyers has some good thoughts on it here.

One of the other things that I listened to was the latest issue of the James White’s Dividing Line, something that I usually avoid. James White’s blog is one that I watch out of the corner of my eye and, when I saw that the latest edition discussed the Federal Vision and ‘New Perspectivism’, I thought that it might be interesting to listen to.

A lot of predictable statements were made (e.g. that Wright’s view of justification is ‘unevangelical’ and ‘not at all within the Reformed, or even Protestant, tradition’). These sorts of claims have been addressed on numerous occasions in the past and I have little interest in treating them again here. However, I did feel that it would be worth commenting on some statements that White made concerning the way that British evangelicals view Wright.

White reports that the British evangelicals he knows are ‘absolutely befuddled’ and laugh when he tells them about the way that Wright is lauded in some conservative evangelical circles in the US. White claimed that they said that in the UK Wright is not viewed as a ‘relative conservative’. Wright is supposedly ‘not an evangelical at all; he’s not even particularly conservative’; he’s just a ‘good old Anglican’.

I am well aware that some British evangelicals view Wright this way. However, I know many British evangelicals who regard Wright very favourably. I count myself as one of them. I get the feeling that anyone who appreciates Wright is by definition not evangelical in such people’s eyes, so I don’t put much value on their opinion in this issue.

A lot of the problem here arises from the complex character of British evangelicalism. The word ‘evangelical’ is as much misused in the UK as it is in the US and sometimes it is hard to work out exactly what it means any more. There are those who would insist that I cannot be an evangelical because I believe in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, for example, which is strange when one considers the fact that Luther and Wesley did too. Such definitions are rather arbitrary and fail to observe the fact that there is significant variety of belief among conservative evangelicals.

An evangelical need not hold to a low view of the Church or the sacraments. Just because evangelicals like Spurgeon never could understand the logic of baptismal regeneration doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unevangelical. Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Methodists and Presbyterians would strongly disagree with his assessment of the doctrine. Nor does the fact that many evangelicals have avoided them mean that incense, clerical vestments and set prayers are unevangelical either. I am irritated by the fact that certain vocal groups within evangelicals would seek to disenfranchise those who disagree with their chiefly functional ecclesiologies and ‘merely symbolic’ understanding of the sacraments.

There is a tendency for certain quarters of the evangelical church to question the legitimacy of other evangelicals because they have significant differences on certain issues. Many people are just unwilling to see themselves as part of a very broad tradition, containing people who have very different understandings about certain aspects of the faith. Or perhaps they just lack the imagination to appreciate that evangelical convictions can be upheld within radically different ecclesiologies.

Perhaps one of the deepest fault lines in British evangelicalism is the one that runs between non-conformist and Anglican evangelicals. Anglicans can be viewed with deep suspicion and occasionally antipathy by some non-conformist evangelicals, something that may be hinted at in the comments of White’s friends that Wright is just ‘a good old Anglican’.

Archbishop of Canterbury on Homosexuality

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

The archbishop of Canterbury has told homosexuals that they need to change their behaviour if they are to be welcomed into the church, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Rowan Williams has distanced himself from his one-time liberal support of gay relationships and stressed that the tradition and teaching of the Church has in no way been altered by the Anglican Communion’s consecration of its first openly homosexual bishop.

The declaration by the archbishop - rebutting the idea that homosexuals should be included in the church unconditionally - marks a significant development in the church’s crisis over homosexuals. According to liberal and homosexual campaigners, it confirmed their fears that the archbishop has become increasingly conservative - and sparked accusations that he has performed an “astonishing” U-turn over the homosexual issue.

This is very encouraging. [HT: Boar's Head Tavern]