This is the first biography that actually made me mad. Not necessarily at the author, but at the culture as a whole. James Buchanan, by Jean Baker is a decent short biography. It is part of the American Presidents Series, which simply introduces us to each President. It has almost nothing about his personal life, only a brief discussion of why many consider the only bachelor president to be the first homosexual president, and is much too short to be considered scholarly, but it does review his public life and make comments.
The book begins by asking in the introduction how can the most qualified man in American History to be President fail so badly at it when he finally achieved it. Buchanan had served in the state legislature with great distinction, had shown himself competent in the House, made a name for himself in the Senate, and declined invitations to sit on the Supreme Court from two separate Presidents. He also served as the Secretary of State for James K. Polk, and arguably had the most work and most success of any Secretary of State to date. He negotiated for Oregon and a peace treaty with Mexico during his four year stint in that position. He later came out of retirement to be successful as a minister to England. Yet, Buchanan is always in the bottom five Presidents of all time, and usually at the bottom as the worst President in history.
Yet, the author concludes he was a failure as a President because of his "legalistic, strict constructionist approach to the executive powers in Article 2 of the US Constitution." She goes on to state that while Buchanan prided himself that the Civil War did not break out on his watch, he was wrong. That war broke out with secession in 1860, not firing the first shot at Fort Sumter. A view that the Supreme Court confirmed in a later decision by the way.
Now, I have to admit that I am a Southerner, and that when people ask me who was right in the Civil War, I usually reply, James Buchanan. Davis and the Deep South were wrong, Lincoln and the North were wrong. Only Buchanan got it right. While the author of the book chastises Buchanan for his literal adherence to the Constitution when the great Presidents saw room for expansion of powers and did whatever it took to get the job done. Of course, Lincoln, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt are the examples usually referenced. But what makes me so mad is that maybe we should not be so results oriented. Lincoln, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt all violated the Constitution to get what they wanted. Buchanan refused to do it. He would not take to himself more power so that he could preserve the Union. He felt the Constitution gave him no ability to take an army into a rebellious state. He defended himself by pointing out that the Constitutional Convention suggested a clause that gave the President the right to correct delinquent states, and it was rejected, even Madison voted against it. Thus, he would not take that power to himself. It had been rejected explicitly. Lincoln did without care or concern, but Buchanan took his oath to uphold the Constitution a little more seriously.
Today’s culture has put results ahead of principles. Lincoln is looked upon as a great President because he ended slavery (actually the 13th Amendment ended slavery), so the Civil War is seen as the correct path and deemed right. Franklin Roosevelt is deemed a good president because they ended the Depression, and thus his New Deal must be a good thing. Harry Truman is deemed a good president because he won WWII, therefore, the Atomic Bomb is usually seen as acceptable military strategy. It is high time that we stop using the results to approve the method, and start judging presidents by the Constitution. Maybe then we would have a different view of James Buchanan.
Monday, December 26, 2005
This is the first biography that actually made me mad. Not necessarily at the author, but at the culture as a whole. James Buchanan, by Jean Baker is a decent short biography. It is part of the American Presidents Series, which simply introduces us to each President. It has almost nothing about his personal life, only a brief discussion of why many consider the only bachelor president to be the first homosexual president, and is much too short to be considered scholarly, but it does review his public life and make comments.
I do hope that all had a Merry Christmas. I was too busy having a Merry Christmas to post anything prior to Christmas. So let me say now, Merry Be-lated Christams and blessings to all this New Year.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Mark Horne has joined the discussion about pastors as the continuation of the OT priesthood. He argues the Westminster Confession does view the office of pastor as the continuation of priests because of Form of Presbyterian Church Government that came out of the Westminster Assembly as because of Larger Catechism Question Q.156, which discusses who should read the Scriptures during worship. He points out that the footnotes show the restriction of lay readers in the Westminster comes from OT references to the law being read publicly by the Levites. Although admitting the footnotes were forced on the Westminster Divines, and that later questions show how the office of pastor is connected to the office of prophet, he claims that the Westminster tradition shows the office of pastor to be the Levitical priestly office in the OT.
Despite Rev. Horne’s reasoning, I believe he has still failed to show that pastors are modern day priests. Nor does he show that many of the Westminster Assembly thought pastors to be modern priests. I think what Rev. Horne has shown is that the office of pastor does not have a one to one correspondence with OT offices, especially with offices whose job dealt with the temple. The NT pastor does read the Bible, which Levites did, proclaims the word, which prophets did, and rules the people, which judges or kings did in the OT. The NT office of pastor is just that, a New Testament office. It does not fit perfectly with any OT office, and we should not force it into such a mold. Rev. Horne has shown that the Westminster Divines thought along these lines by referencing Larger Catechism 156 and 158.
Rev. Horne’s thesis also takes a historical hit when one considers the Puritan tradition in England. The Vestment controversy had roots in what we are discussing now. The Vestiments, robes worn by the clergy, they claimed had a jewish, ie. priestly, origen. Bishop Hooper refused to ever wear them on account of his scruples to the idea of pastors being priests. Despite wearing them for a time, Archbishop Cramner along with Bishops Latimer and Taylor all expressed contempt for them before their deaths. Also Peter the Martyr Vermingly desired the church to be rid of them forever. This is the history of English Church. Despite Horne’s claim to the contrary, it certainly would have been controversial to claim the office of pastor is the OT office of priest.
Another blow to Rev. Horne’s idea is that not every Levite was a priest who sacrificed in the temple. Only the line of Aaron did the sacrificial work. Thus, linking pastors to Levities reading the law is not the same as linking pastors to priests. An important distinction that I fear is blurred in Rev. Horne’s article.
Rev. Horne also links another article of his that I believe is much more helpful. This article is a paper written for the candidates and credential committee of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA. Here Rev. Horne is much more careful about the Levite/priest distinction, and unconvincingly tries to show how they could be synonymous. Yet, Rev. Horne’s paper shows both another hole in his argument and confirms my fear for where this argument is going. The hole Rev. Horne accidentally exposes is the fact that it is traditionally not reformed to link the office of pastor to the office of priest or Levite. The paper admits that the pastor is generally linked to the office of prophet or even perhaps judges. Yet, of more value is his stated desire in getting the office of pastor linked to the office of priest. He says in his conclusion:
Finally, if we allow that the Levites were the precursors to our pastors, then should we not ask if perhaps Levitical worship provides guidance and principles for pastoral worship?
There it is. Rev. Horne sees not just a redefinition of the office of pastor but of all worship along with it. This allows a weekly communion, and perhaps a more sacrificial view of the Supper. It leads to seeing ministers as mediators of the presence of God. All of which Horne argues for in his paper or in his footnotes.
Friday, December 16, 2005
There is a movement afoot to redefine the work of priests, and to re-institute priests into Protestant churches. This process of re-introducing priests should not surprise us much since movements exist to make the Lord’s Supper an actually sacrificial meal that contains objective grace. Priests may then be needed to dispense such a meal. The task begins by reworking the role of the OT priest. Rev. Barach explains what he believes was the role of the priests in the Old Testament.
What were the duties of priests in the Old Covenant? They don't exactly appear to be mediators. As Leithart has shown, priests were primarily housekeepers. They cooked God's food, guarded access to God's house, made sure the house was lit, smelled nice, had bread on the table, was kept clean, and worked to see that God's people (who are also God's house, represented by the tabernacle and temple) were taught, kept clean, and so forth. Priests are God's chefs, guards, housekeepers: servants in His royal retinue.
Does anything appear to be missing to you? Can anyone think of a duty of the priests that is not listed? Making sacrifices perhaps? I do believe that the job of overseeing sacrifices is included by Rev. Barach in calling them God’s chefs, but the omission of making sacrifices is glaring. Especially since this appears to be the main focus of their job in the OT. They made daily sacrifices, morning and evening. They made special sacrifices on holy days. The Bible concentrates on this aspect of the priest much more than it does their making the temple of the Lord smell nice. Rev. Barach’s refusal to recognize the job of making sacrifices as the primary role for priests helps explain why he cannot see how priests were mediators. Although, in another article, he recognizes that Christ as our priests gives us access to God, the Holy of Holies, which only High Priests could do prior to Christ. After noting this is the sense of Hebrews 10:19-22 and I Peter 2:5, he continues to tell us;
But some people are priests in a special sense. Pastors are a special sort of priest, servants appointed by God to teach, to proclaim God's Word, to help us carry out our calling as God's priests.
Elsewhere he includes serving the Lord’s Supper as part of the role of this new special priesthood called pastors. It should be noted that Rev. Barach freely admits his debt to Peter Leithart and his book Priesthood of the Plebes, and James Jordan and his book From Bread to Wine.
Some of you may be asking, ‘what is the big deal?’ Here is my concern with such a movement. Barach has downplayed the sacrificial role of the priests, but not eliminated it. He has focused upon the housekeeping role, but misapplied it. And I believe he has confused the office of prophet and priest. First, if Rev. Barach really wanted to say the priests were housekeepers, and maintained the physical appearance and working order of the temple, then the modern day priests would be deacons, not pastors. Who is charged with making sure bread is on the table of the new temple of God, the people of the church? Acts 6 makes clear that it is the deacons, not the apostles. Second, Rev. Barach has denied a mediatorial role of priests. They offered sacrifices day and night, and on special days including the Day of Atonement. This was the priests mediating with God via the sacrifices that they alone could make. This job is officially finished because of the work of Christ. Third, Barach’s definition of the role of pastors seems to be all about teaching and preaching. This job is more associated with the office of prophet than that of priest.
This last reason shows my fear of what is really at stake in this debate. The new emphasis and re-definition of priest to make it seem as if pastors are the continuation of priests will make pastors mediators and give to them the job that is finished by Christ. Only the pastor/priest will be able to offer the Lord’s Supper which will now be viewed as a sacrifice, as the priests of old did with sacrifices. This by the way is what the Roman view of priests contains. Only the pastor/priests will be able to open the presence of God for us by having sole authority over worship in the church. James Jordan includes "organizes/disciplines the people for worship" as a job of the priest on page 11 of his book according to Barach’s article. Only the pastor/priest will be able to dispense pardon for the people. See Peter Liethart’s. series of articles about Liturgical worship and the role of absolution by the pastor/priest.
The Bible is clear that we all have access to him because he is our only mediator. He is the only sacrifice, and he is the only one who forgives sins. These things belong to him alone, and the priesthood of Aaron prefigured His work. The Reformed Confessions are clear as well. See WCF chapter 8, Larger Catechism 36-45, and HC 12-19, 29-30. This subtle new twist is no harmless thing. It leads down a road that the Church abandoned during the Reformation.
Westminster Brass is a group blog that I have been asked to participate in. Occassionaly I will be posting the same articles I post here. Occassionaly, I will post new ones. Make sure you check it out.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Daniel at Sibboleth, which incidentally is the best blog name I have run across, argues that Confessions of faith are not to be misconstrued as ‘boundaries, but rather should be envisioned as ‘trajectories’. This of course denies the whole point of confessions, creeds, and statements of faith. Allow Daniel to express his views of the role of confessions in his own words.
(1) a given confession of faith as an "outline." That allows for this or that point to be disputed; it allows for an overall sameness is thrust while simultaneously allowing different people to fill in gaps in different ways. (2) A confessional tradition as setting "trajectories". I like this option because it assumes growth, change, development and even divergence over time (i.e., it is in step with reality).
In the article he gives as historical evidence the Presbyterian practice of allowing scruples to the Westminster. There is no doubt that many today in the OPC and PCA view the Westminster in one of the two ways suggested by Daniel. Yet, I believe Daniel’s argument fails for the following reasons.
1. The scruples to a confession are by no means universal. Yes, American Presbyterianism allowed Scruples in the Adopting Act, but there are many other traditions that do not allow scruples to any points. For example the RCUS does not allow one to scruple. It is strict subscription or find another denomination. So while Daniel’s point may help him in American Presbyterian circles, it does not help in trying to say confessions in general should be 'trajectories.’
2. This is not the view churches have taken throughout history. Just look at the Nicaean Creed as an example. The creed was written to exclude men like Arius from the faith. One could not scruple the word ‘homoousian’ in the Nicaean Creed. It was not viewed as a trajectory to launch new way of thinking. In fact it was reaffirmed at Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and I could go on and on. The point is that early creeds were not viewed the way proposed at Sibboleth. The creeds were drawn up precisely as boundaries. The creeds kept out men like Arius and Nestorius.
3. The creeds tell us what the Bible says and does not say because they are summaries of the teaching of the Word. Daniel tries to make the jump that creeds then also tell us that the Bible cannot say certain things. I disagree with this jump. Daniel’s argument assumes a some things, and one is that people today will be able to see truths in the Bible that the earlier generations missed. The creeds received and used today do not speak on areas of the Bible that are unclear. Has anyone ever seen a creed that mandates a particular end times view? The creeds are usually about salvation, Christ, and God. Not exactly hidden subjects in the Bible. Also, every denomination that I know of has a procedure for amending the creeds if it is found to be in error. Hardly a sign that creeds dictate what the Bible can and cannot say.
If the creeds are not boundaries in some real sense, then they have absolutely no purpose at all. They are just documents for us to discuss, or paper to line birdcages. Creeds have always been designed to keep members from heresy, and keep heretics out. In other words, boundaries.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Andrew Sandlin has made it known that he is not a follower of the so called Federal Vision. He points out that he is not in agreement with many points put forth in the Auburn Avenue theology, such as sacramental efficacy and union with the Church being union with Christ, nor is he a high churchmen. These things I freely acknowledge, and do not challenge. Despite this I have from time to time placed Andrew Sandlin as a promoter of the Federal Vision on this blog. Allow me to give my reasons, and then give your feedback of whether or not I should continue to include Rev. Sandlin as a promoter of the Federal Vision. I am willing to be convinced either way on this one.
The main reason I have occasionally included Rev. Sandlin is his holding to Theological Development. I believe that this is a central tenant of the Federal Vision. In a sense Theological Development serves as the glasses one needs to have the Federal Vision. Simply because Sandlin ends up in different places than most of the Federal Vision adherents does not disqualify him.
Another reason is that Rev. Sandlin agrees with the great work of Theological Development, Christian union. Sandlin participated in the old Reformed Catholicism blog arguing for union between Protestant and Rome. He can be found to be calling Roman Catholics brothers from time to time, and even claims the Eastern Orthodox formula for the Trinity cannot be improved upon. Which, by the way, has always made me wonder if he holds to the fact that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, but that may be a conversation for another day.
Sandlin does end up in the same place as many Federal Vision adherents on other issues as well. He has a similar dim view of creeds holding that only the early church creeds ending with Chalcedon are the test of orthodoxy. He basically agrees with Norman Shepherd’s view of justification, which seems to be a major center piece in the current debates.
Thus, in summary, Sandlin does hold to what I consider the foundation of the Federal Vision, and holds to one of its pillars, the justification view espoused by Norman Shepherd, but not to the other major pillar of sacramental efficacy. As for his other two denials. I believe the high liturgy movement to be a non-essential, and it should not disqualify one from being a Federal Vision man, and his third statement would probably draw ire from most Federal Visionists, and thus I do not see how it applies.
If I have done Rev. Sandlin an injustice in your opinion, I would like to know.
Mark Horne argues against using icons in worship and is upset that Woodfuff Road Presbyterian Church claims that Federal Vision adherents promote the use of icons in worship. Some how an unpublished book by Guy Waters serves as the source.
Before continuing, I should point out that I am a former member of Woodruff Rd. PCA. I was there under Dr. Rod Mays, and briefly there for the current pastor, Rev. Carl Robbins. That being said, I have to agree with Rev. Horne. I have never run across the promotion of iconography in worship by any of the Federal Vision blogs or books. I have not read them all, but I have read enough. I do not have the context for Guy Waters’s remarks, so I will withhold judgment, but the session of Woodruff Rd. has to take that statement down. If they believe they have proof, they should produce it. If their only proof is Guy Waters, then they need to take it down. Rev. Horne did not allow comments on his blog post concerning the subject, but if he did, I would have urged him to bring Woodruff Rd. up on charges before the GA or whatever court is appropriate.
Don’t get me wrong. I am against the Federal Vision, and I think it heresy. However, it can be argued against and defeated without making up false accusations. I sincerely hope that Woodruff Rd. will remove the claim of iconography or back up their assertion.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
In 2001, the Presbyterian Church in America decided that the phrase, God created, “in the space of six days” in the Westminster Confession of Faith could mean a variety of things. Most of these views had little or nothing to do with “six days.” One should notice that recommendation number 2 states that the “diversity of views” means that the Westminster’s view must take a back seat to allow everyone else’s view a place at the table. People at the time worried that this would lead to a slippery slope that would expand beyond the creation controversies into other areas of the Confession or theology.
Welcome to the bottom of the slippery slope. The “diversity of views’ argument is being tossed around by almost all the Federal Vision adherents. They want the Westminster’s view to take a back seat again, and allow the many other views on doctrines like justification and the sacraments. They can cite Norman Shepherd and his redefinition of faith to say in thesis number 11 “Justifying faith is obedient faith,” as a diversity of views. Then they can have the Westminster’s phrase “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, (XI.2)” to actually mean ‘receiving, resting, and acting.’ Or one could redefine the ‘righteousness of God’ as his faithfulness rather than his moral perfection and apply that to any passage he wanted. This would allow them to deny a covenant of works (VII.2) among other things. This then is the dilemma how to stop such redefinition. Sadly, the answer is plain. The PCA has no ability to stop them. In fact, the precedent is in favor of allowing the diversity of views to exist. Creation was sacrificed in order not to look anti-intellectual in the world’s eyes, and now all the Confession is sacrificed to the Federal Vision and to whoever else comes along. Gone are the days when the Confession said what it meant. Now, are the days when the Confession says one thing, but all other voices are acceptable.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a very interesting biography of Abraham Lincoln. It follows not only Lincoln, but his top three rivals for the Republican Nomination for the Presidency in 1860, Salmon Chase; William Seward; Edward Bates; and later adds Edwin Stanton. All of whom end up in Lincoln’s cabinet. By taking this interesting approach, she is able to give us a glimpse into the personal side of Lincoln by quoting liberally from personal letters and journals of these men. In fact, she has done a remarkable amount of research into the journals of almost anyone who ever came across Lincoln giving you the thoughts of General McClellan, all of Lincoln’s cabinet, and Lincoln’s personal secretaries, just to name a few.
The book is quite good. I enjoyed her writing style. The ending where she describes the “Night of Horrors” where the assassinations of Lincoln, Seward, and Johnson were attempted is very good. She simply relates events, and lets the survivors and witnesses to the events tell the stories in their own words. It is actually quite moving, and I grew up in the South. Reading this book one gets a good insight into the burden of running a war, and political campaigns. I would recommend the book to all who want to know more about President Lincoln as a man.
Yet, I have this against her. She white washes Lincoln completely. The theme of her book is that Lincoln was a political genius because he never made an enemy, and never let grudges develop. Yet, she tries to equate this to being a great statesman and President. I do not believe the two to be the same. She never speaks of Lincoln’s attempt to arrest the Chief Justice of the United States. She never discusses the unconstitutional act of creating the state of West Virginia, or the dilemma of taking land from a Virginia which was still a state in the Union, only in rebellion in Lincoln’s view, without Virginia’s consent. She barely mentions his suspension of habeas corpus without Congressional approval. She dedicates all of two sentences to Lincoln’s raising money to sway critical off year elections in several states. Then when she has built this great picture of a Lincoln who was loyal to his friends and above reproach on all matters, she writes off his dismissal of Motgomery Blair from his cabinet, as only “possibly” a part of deal that caused Fremont to withdraw from the 1864 Presidential campaign. He had told Blair earlier that he would never ask Blair to leave to satisfy his political enemies, and then from all facts, did just that. These things make Ms. Goodwin fall into the category of hero worship in her biography. Yet, I still recommend the book for those who want to know Lincoln as a person. The book falls short of giving us a view of Lincoln the President or upholder of laws, or even a complete record of his events in Presidency; however, through the quotations from her many sources one finishes with a feeling they know Abraham Lincoln the man.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Pick up any Presbyterian history book, and they will all say the same thing about the Great Awakening. Praise on top of praises. Edwards, Whitefield, and the Tennent family will be set on pedestals. Now, depending on how conservative your book, you will find differing reactions to the Second Great Awakening.
Far be it from me to disagree with history, but I think we ought to be careful before proclaiming the First Great Awakening such a success. I shall briefly argue that pro-Awakening side, the New Side, was actually wrong and did much damage to the church, and the anti-Awakening side, the Old Side, stood forth for orthodoxy, and suffered for it.
First, the pro-Awakeners instituted the conversion narrative as a pre-requisite for membership in churches. This practice has no biblical foundation, and was unknown in the churches of America at that time, even in congregational New England. The narrative is still used in many Presbyterian churches today, although today it is mainly a rubber stamp procedure. A candidate for membership tells everyone when they came to know the Lord, their own conversion narrative, and then the elders decide if it is credible or not. The Old Side simply asked for a profession of faith (ie. what you believe, not how you came to believe it), and then both sides did require living out the beliefs as members.
Second, the New Side instituted the ‘Terrors of the Law’ as a method of gaining or winning souls to Christ. This was a technique of preaching pointedly to the sins of the people and describing the terrors of hell, in order to prepare the way for the gospel. This was often done in one on one conversations as well. The New Side believed in putting people under great distress before giving them the relief of salvation in Christ to make sure they truly knew their sin. This lead to wild outbreaks of screaming and ranting and wailing and disruptive outbursts that Edwards speaks of in his books, and the type of outbursts condemned in the Second Great Awakening by many, and today lauded by Pentecostals as proof of divine power. The Old Side, of course, stood against such things believing God could save on a message of love, mercy, giving, or law, and could even do it without such a period of distress (by the way the period of distress is often what the New Side wanted to hear in the conversion narrative).
Third, the New Side, unintentionally I believe, destroyed the model of the local pastor being the primary source of religious authority. George Whitefield was the first modern evangelist. He had no congregation, and traveled to America 7 times. He visited all 13 colonies. Other New Side leaders followed his example. Gilbert Tennent did tours through New England. John Wesley tried his hand at it in America. James Davenport did it so much that he was brought on trial for neglecting his home church (it was a civil crime in New England), but found mentally incompetent to stand trial. The New Side Presbytery licensed people to be evangelists. This made people begin to look for the mega-evangelist as the authority, and not the local minister. This was partly because of the heavy abuse that the local minister often took from men like Whitefield and Tennent. Whitefield was not allowed into any pulpits in Philadelphia because he had abused the local clergy so much, but his fans built him a church. The Old Side wanted rigid rules about not preaching out of bounds and gaining permission before entering another man’s pulpit on account of how often the New Side men preached in pulpits without permission, which of course introduced division into many churches. This is one of the main ways the Awakening spread.
I hope that one can see now how the Great Awakening laid the foundation for the Second Great Awakening. In fact, it is basically a logical outgrowth. The Second Great Awakening took the model of the First Awakening, expanded it a little here and there, and out came the Second Great Awakening. The arguments over the Second Great Awakening are not the same as the arguments over the First Awakening. The Old School (anit-Second Awakening) are simply the New Side (pro-First) who did not want the minor expansions the New School (pro-Second Awakening) had added. I think it is about time that historians take a dimmer view of both the First and the Second Great Awakenings and start to recognize the still demonized Old Side anti-Awakening party as true defenders of the faith.
Monday, November 21, 2005
It seems I am being accused of having made a logical fallacy in my last post. The fallacy of Post Hoc, the fallacy of using the fact that one event preceded another as sufficient evidence for causality. It apparently won me the ‘Whatever’ award of the week, for which I am very proud. It also generated a few laughs at my expense.
While I will grant that I did not connect all the dots in the last post, I do not think I have committed the fallacy in question. Even if the post was a bit sketchy, it does not necessarily follow that I am wrong. If I mistakenly assumed that my readers have an exhaustive familiarity with the Mercersburg Theology or the Federal Vision theology and its arguments, I apologize. Allow me now to connect the dots for everyone now.
Philip Schaff admits that the great and most important work of theological development is Christian union, the reuniting of all the churches, including the Roman Catholic, under one banner. Christian union is the ultimate endpoint of Schaff’s line of thinking by his own admission in his book, What is Church History? John Nevin makes clear his positions on church creeds and confessional distinctions in his book, The Anti-Christ by saying:
In admitting moreover the necessity of confessional distinctions, we do not allow them to be good and desirable in their own nature. They are relatively good only, as serving to open the way to a higher form of catholicity than that which they leave behind; whilst in themselves absolutely considered, they contradict and violate the true idea of the Church, and are to be bewailed on this account as an evil of the most serious magnitude
Nevin does not want anything to do with distinctions, especially confessional distinctions. They are inherently evil in his view. The people should rise above such distinctions. They have no importance except to weight us down. Hopefully my readers can begin to see here the seeds of theological relativism. It is no surprise to find the generation after Schaff and Nevin attempting to merge with any church that will have them. They were rejected by the Presbyterians prior to their successful uniting with the Evangelical Lutheran denomination. The merger with the Evangelical Lutherans allowed the Lutheran creeds to stand alongside the Heidelberg Catechism in the new denomination, the Evangelical Reformed. The new denomination’s constitution stated, "Wherever these doctrinal standards differ, minister, members, and congregations, in accordance with the liberty of conscious inherent in the Gospel, are allowed to adhere to the interpretation of one of these confessions." By this the new church allowed even individual members within the same congregation to have different opinions on the use of images, the efficacy of sacraments, and other doctrines. Rev. Peter Grossmann said it well, "When one body claims to hold equally to three conflicting confessions, we can be sure that there will either be disunity if doctrine is taken seriously, or even worse there will be the conclusion that doctrine is unimportant." The Mercersburg Theology led to the latter. Schaff’s drive for organic union and Nevin’s disrespect for confessions allowed men to say, when theologies differ, just decide for yourself. To strengthen my case, E&R publications credited the theology of Philip Schaff for this merger. That really ought to be enough to dismiss the Post Hoc fallacy charge.
Do the Federal Vision men exhibit the same signs as the Mercersburg men? Yes, I believe they do. Busy attacking me as foolish, no one bothered to deal with my example of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (Doug Wilson’s denomination). After allowing member churches to adhere to almost any Reformed Confession, including Baptist confessions, they state the following in their constitution:
G. Controversies within a local congregation regarding matters arising from differences between our various confessions will not be adjudicated beyond the local church level. All churches agree to work cheerfully and carefully in their study of doctrinal differences, and to strive for like-mindedness with one another
Thus differences in the Westminster and the London Baptist confessions over baptism are unimportant and should be left alone. Differences regarding the Sabbath between the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster should also be ignored. You get the picture. This is similar thinking to the E&R in the early 1900’s. When Confessions differ, just decide for yourself. The denomination does not think it matters.
But there is more! Andrew Sandlin claims:
We CRs have a broadness of our own, but it is the broadness of the orthodox Christian tradition itself. We are committed to what Thomas Oden terms “classical Christianity,” the early ecumenical orthodoxy of the undivided church as set forth principally in the Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian Creeds.
Here Sandlin argues that Christianity can differ on many points as long as it does not differ on the points covered in the early creeds. In this perspective, justification by faith alone is one of those doctrines that one does not have to believe. Works, faith, whatever, just as long as one understands Christ is one person in two natures. It should not be hard to see this progression toward theological relativism.
What about Nevin’s view of the creeds and confessions? Does anyone believe that the creeds are barriers to catholicity that need to be overcome? Why yes! One quote from Rev. Rich Lusk should be enough:
Nevertheless, the Catechism can serve as a barrier to Reformed catholicity. The Shorter Catechism essentially reduces the biblical story to a set of propositions. It treats theology in a highly analytic way, as a matter of defining terms (e.g., "What is justification?", "What is sanctification?”, etc.).
For Rev. Lusk, defining words like justification and sanctification gets in the way of ecumenism and catholicity. John Nevin would be proud.
Mercersburg adherents and Federal Vision supporters both find themselves on the same slippery slope. They view confessions as barriers to catholicity and Christian union, they believe creeds with differing theologies can be held equally, and they affirm that doctrine develops and changes. One hundred years ago, this led to relativism in Mercersburg defenders, and I believe the foundation has been laid for a repeat with the Federal Vision. Aside from the name-calling, no one has yet to step up and offer a counter argument.
So remember, the next time you hear someone defend their theological viewpoint by asserting that differing theologies of salvation (or the sacraments or whatever) are allowable because they come from different parts of the same Reformed tradition, be assured that that is a step towards relativism.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Finally, the high regard for Mercersburg Theology is open and apparent. They wish to be High Church Calvinists like John Nevin and Philip Schaff. I am sorry that Rev. Meyers thinks that Nevin is not understood and that he is used as an albatross to tie around necks. Nevin and Schaff destroyed the German Reformed Church. They ran out members that disagreed, they forced Liturgy and new theology on the church. It lead to decades of strife, contentiousness, and hostility. In the end, Nevin won because they controlled the seminary. The RCUS merged with the Evangelical Lutheran church, and then they merged with a Congregational group to make the United Churches of Christ. Rev. Meyers is right about one thing. Being a Mercersburg High Church Calvinist is not being on the road to Rome and her doctrine. It is on the road to no doctrine at all.
If the Reformed tradition turning into the UCC is not proof enough, then examine the new denomination of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). This denomination is permeated with Federal Vision proponents such as Wilson, Sandlin, and I believe Leithart ministers in one of their churches. There constitution allows member churches to choose which Reformed confession to follow including the Westminster and the London Baptist confession. What about the differences over such things as sacraments? Those differences are not important. Doctrinal unity gives way to organic unity. The Federal Vision is not on the road to Rome for even Rome recognizes doctrine is important. The Federal Vision is on the road to relativism.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Rev. Jeff Meyers has a very able bodied defense of doctrinal development. He states his case in very well written and thoughtful essay. He expresses his views well when he comments
I'd want to insist that even the things that might be genuinely new (e.g., I think Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan have truly broken new ground in several areas over the years) are essentially organic outgrowths of the tradition.
He goes on to tell us about new exegetical insights formed over the years.
the whole idea of a "new perspective" is that we are looking at the same old stuff, but from a new angle. Since it's the same stuff, we're not going to come up with anything that's totally earth shattering, brand-spanking, overturns-everything-I-ever- believed new. But since it is, nevertheless, a new perspective, we're going to see things there that we never saw before. . . . It opens up new avenues of application. It brings together aspects of the text where the connections were unclear before.
It is this aspect of the Federal Vision movement that I believe unifies it as a movement. It is this aspect that I believe does not get enough attention. We should be examining this claim in the light of Scripture for this is the claim that underpins the rest of their theology. I believe in this view of theological development there are several troubling aspects.
1. An implicit historical superiority of the modern age. I am not trying to glorify the past or say that those in the 16th century were better Christians. I am saying that neither are we better Christians than those who lived in the 16th century or before. Those before us did not have all sorts of unclear connections or blank spots that our new insights from history, exegesis, and technology have allowed us to fill in. For example, many have accepted the ‘New Perspectives’, which arise from a new understanding of First Century Judaism. Thus, our modern greatness has given rise to a new understanding of the Bible in light of such knowledge. Should we take our modern word, or the word of men like Ignatius, who knew first century Jews? (Ignatius warns often of Jewish legalism – see Epistle to the Magnesians chapters 8-10).
2. Based on a Hegelian model of reality. Peter Leithart baffles me with this post. He commends the Philip Schaff’s Priniciple of Protestantism, but wishes there was less Hegalianism in it. This is the book that admits up front that "The idea, unfolded in comprehensive and profound style particularly by the later German philosophy, that history involves a continual progress toward something better, by means of dialectic contrapositions, is substantially true and correct". How can we accept the superstructure or the results if the foundation is wrong? Can we trust such a view of history?
3. Seeming denial of truth. This flows out from Hegelian concerns. If theological development is true, then how can one ever know if what he believes is true? Is his new perspective true? Is it the next step in the synthesis chain or is it a self-deluded jump to mold the bible and God into our image? Where does one turn to discover the answer? Both sides point to the Bible, they simply define the words differently on account of new insights. They cannot turn to those who have come before them for it violates the very spirit of theological development. Truth remains elusive, unreachable, and unknowable.
4. Systematic theology becomes useless. This admittedly is less of a concern, but worth point out since Rev. Meyers makes the comment that it is a conservative disciple by nature. Each new insight requires a complete reworking of systematics to fit in the new info, and by the time that is done, it is time for another new info. If theological development becomes the norm, then systematics, like creeds which are a systematical exercise, will become the enemy. It is a discipline that holds thought and theology back.
I put this points out there for discussion because my denomination, the RCUS has been through this before. Theological development tore the RCUS apart beginning in the 1840’s. It gained control and the result is the modern day United Church of Christ. The UCC is united by only one thing, and that is the fact that nothing is to be held for too long. All should be thrown out, like
Monday, October 31, 2005
Mark Horne has a post attacking the idea that the confessions can be "solid rock amid shifting sands." You can decide for yourself whether he is directly referring to my post of a similar title. His words deserve a response either way.
Rev. Horne is correct that the confessions themselves are not the “Solid Rock.” That appellation belongs to Scripture. However, the confessions are “apt summaries of the Word of God.” If one believes that Scripture, the solid rock, never changes, why would one think that the summaries of Scripture should change? None of the confessions deal in subjects such as millennial views or apologetical approaches. They deal with primary issues like salvation, the church, and creation. Rev. Horne suggests that Reformed faith is dead on arrival if its adherents cling to the confessions. For some reason Rev. Horne would say Scripture is unchangeable but summaries of Scripture are malleable and ever changing.
The only reason I can imagine why a summary of the never changing Word of God should change is if man cannot know the Word of God. This would explain why we must have a summary that is in constant motion with the times. Any minister believing this would hopefully be honest and take an exception to WCF 1.7. However, anyone who thinks the Word is unknowable is in a very untenable position. First, if the Word is unknowable, then the 2000 years of theology in the church has been wrong because no one really understood what God was communicating to man. Second, he would have to admit that he could not know the Word of God either, and thus, the confession could very well be more accurate than he is on any given subject.
The church has for centuries found no need to change or abandon confessions like Nicaea or Chalcedon, but if Rev. Horne’s logic is true, then that is simply proof that the church has been dead for centuries rather than evidence of the accuracy of those confessions. To argue that it is nothing but a practice of dead orthodoxy to hold fast to confessions as summaries of God’s Word is nothing more than avowing that one has disagreement with certain aspects of those confessions. It is time for these men to either write a confession, a generally-accepted delineation of their system of faith, that they believe IS maintainable or admit that they believe the Word of God is unknowable and that confessions, including the ones they have promised to uphold, are more a stumbling block than anything else.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
You need to read Matt’s piece on women at home. Very well done. Look around on his site for the first part of this discussion.
Does anyone know of a Partial Preterist commentary on Revelation? I have Ken Gentry’s works on dating the book and the Beast, but have not yet come across a verse by verse commentary from his viewpoint. I would be interested in seeing the entire book from the Partial Preterist perspective.
Thanks in advance.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I would like to hear a Federal Vision interpretation of Acts 15, especially Peter’s speech. Verse 10 of that chapter says, "Now therefore why tempt ye God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." I have not seen much discussion on this verse, and I think it presents some problems for the Federal Vision position of faithful obedience as doable. Peter here is disputing with brothers, elders in fact. Obviously then these who want to argue for law keeping and circumcision are not those who want faithless law keeping. These men from Judea are full of faith and desiring to pursue the law of righteousness by faith, but yet Peter says it is wrong to do so. He also clearly states that the law is a yoke that no one is able to bear. I would like to hear an exegesis of this passage from the "Law is Doable" perspective.
Monday, October 24, 2005
There seems to be a lot of discussion on the Covenant of Works. It is one of the contentious issues of the Federal Vision controversy. Sadly, I have to say that I disagree with both sides in the debate. What that makes me, I am not sure. But here is a quick look anyway.
First, the Federal Vision adherents seem to deny the Covenant of Works existed. This is linked with their denial of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Dr. Jordan puts forth an alternative that we do not want the merit of Christ, but rather his maturity. He does not see a covenant of works and a covenant of grace, but immaturity and maturity. I do believe in a Covenant of Works. It is not hard to spot in the Bible. All the parties are present in Genesis 2 and 3. Conditions given, and a promise made. We even see in Hosea 6:7 God say Adam transgressed the covenant, "they like Adam have transgressed the covenant". So it is quite biblical to speak of a covenant being made with Adam. The New Testament is full of setting the idea of salvation by works (a Covenant of Works) next to salvation by Christ (Covenant of Grace). Romans 10:5, 11:6-7, Galatians 3:12-13, and especially 4:21-26 where Paul says there are two covenants. All of these are but a sampling with the two major passages being Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15. In these two passages we see the two covenant heads set side by side. Adam and Christ, who is called the Second Adam or the Last Adam. Here we see that one is either in Adam and his covenant or in Christ and his covenant. These are the two classic passages showing us the two covenant system. Thus, I cannot side with the Federal Vision men and deny a covenant of works made with Adam.
Second, the Truly Reformed, if we shall call them that, seem to imply that the Covenant of Works was a Westminster invention. They claim that no other confession prior to the Westminster (save an Irish Confession in 1611) taught a Covenant of Works. While, I will grant that the title, Covenant of Works comes first in the Westminster, it seems fairly obvious that most of the Reformed Creeds prior to the Westminster held to it. The Heidelberg Catechism question 60 is clear when it states that Christ fulfilled obedience for us, implying a covenant of works. That along with question 9 and 10 speaking of man being required to live up to the law perfectly, and several other questions make the Heidelberg teaching a Covenant with Adam and Eve that demands perfect obedience that Christ then fulfills for us. That is about 100 years prior to the Westminster. Turretin speaks of a Covenant of Nature. Witsus tells us the Covenant of Works also used to be called the Legal Covenant and/or a Covenant of Nature showing us that concept had been around for sometime. Calvin seems to hold to a covenant with Adam where we all exist until Christ "transfers into us the power of his righteousness (2.1.6)." The concept of the Covenant of Works is easily seen throughout the Reformation, not just with the Puritans. But does it occur earlier? Yes, I believe it does, though again without the current title. It is not hard to find in the Middle Ages with men like Anselm clearly stating Adam could have earned life with obedience and with their fall all men fell with them, and other aspects of the Legal Covenant. Clearly one is lead to believe that Anselm would have had no difficulty with the Covenant of Works. I only have space for one more example, so we shall use Chrysostom a bishop of Constantinople because he is well known and from his position he would have had great influence with his writings. It is evident from Chrysostom’s commentary on Galatians and his Homilies on Romans that Chrysostom held to "two covenants." One covenant is of bondage and the other of freedom and grace. This puts the idea of two covenants all the way back to the 4th Century.
It seems to me that the Greenville argument that Westminster perfects the doctrine of the Covenant of Works harms the cause, in that it implicitly accepts a developmental idea. I do not know if Greenville Theological Seminary is opposed to the idea of Doctrinal Development, but I will say that during a Medieval Church History class the teacher wanted us to know that the Medieval Church is the bud from which the Reformation flowers. This is an almost direct quote of Schaff, and might I add, not proved during the rest of the class.
This ought to be enough to get the discussion going. I look forward to the responses.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
There is an interesting discussion about strict subscription that should be commented upon. Rev. Meyers shows his opposition to strict subscription by quoting James Jordan. Jordan argues that the system of doctrine in the Westminster has little to do with the details of the Confession.
Well, of course there is a "system" in the Standards, but the question is how detailed that system is. To say that there is a general system though many details in the Standards are not necessarily bound into that system, is quite different from saying that the Standards form a system that is tightly locked down in every detail.
What Rev. Jordan means by detail is 'word' or 'thought'. The system of the Westminster is not to be bound in every word or thought of the Confession. The System is something much broader. Thankfully, Rev. Jordan supplies an example.
For instance, we hear today that the “covenant of works” notion is an integral part of the Westminster Standards’ theology, and that departing from it is a departure from the Standards. Not so. The Westminster documents also use the phrase “covenant of life.” The “system” is that there are two stages of human life, a first stage with Adam and a second stage with the New Adam.
Here Rev. Jordan explains that even though the Westminster speaks of a covenant of works and a covenant of life the "system" of the Westminster only means two stages. The entire idea of covenant is thrown out the window as if it were some extraneous abstract idea that has no meaning.
Which brings us to the idea of strict subscription. Is it still subscription when one does not believe the words of the document are important. It seems to me that ‘Good Faith’ or ‘Loose’ subscription is really just interjecting Neo-orthodoxy into Confessional readings. The debate is between the ‘Confession is the system’ and the ‘the Confession contains the system’. Jordan, the Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network, and others argue for the Neo-Orthodox Confessional reading. These men want to be subscribers to the Confession, but only if they can ‘demythologize’ it first. Strip it of its silly old notions and replace them with the new enlightened ones. Once we allow this into our churches (as the PCA already has) then no Scriptural truth is safe.
I just had to post a comment from Rev. Meyers that can be found in the comments to article under previous discussion.
1. The fact that REFORMED churches are still clinging to a 500-year old document is evidence of our loss of theological vitality.
2. The Westminster standards were written to answer the pressing issues and questions for 17th-century people - mostly English speaking people, too. This is fine. Confessions and catechisms are supposed to speak to the culture and use the language and conceptual categories familiar to people in order to disciple them in the biblical faith. But we no longer live in the 17th century. Duh.
3. Does anyone really think that we will still be using the Westminster Standards 200 years from now? Yikes.
4. There's been a great deal of theological and exegetical work done since the 17th century. Just think of the work on the Trinity in the broader church, but also in our own Reformed circles the theological work done on the covenant. The best of that work needs to be proclaimed publicly in our confessions and catechisms.
5. Until we compose something contemporary we will continue to have people tempting us to accept some form of "living in the past" as the answer to modern problems. As if repeating Reformed scholastic definitions of terms is what the modern world needs.
Never before has such a clear case of Mercersburg Theology been laid before us. These 5 points are full of Historical and Theological Development, but also contempt for the past. Nothing shows the Federal Vision’s hatred of the past more than point number 1. Rev. Meyers is actually saying that there is no way people 500 years ago could have come up with quality of theology that we can today, even though they have access to the same bible. Theological vitality is tied to shedding off theologies of the past and coming up with innovative ideas. If it such a bad idea to be clinging to 500 year old documents as good theology, just think how awful it must be to read documents from the Middle Ages, or worse yet those poor simpletons that sat at the feet of the apostles. Poor Polycarp and Ignatius! What trash their letters must be! And the Nicene Creed? Utterly useless. Just look at point 4 if you doubt Rev. Meyers argues that way. We have improved the doctrine of the Trinity and have better exegesis because a few guys now know what Judaism really looked over 19 centuries ago.
Charles Hodge once said of Philip Schaff’s Theological Development that it would cause people to always see an evolution of and never a possible devolution from the gospel. Could there be any clearer proof than Rev. Meyers’s point number 1?
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I have been slow to make any judgments about Harriet Miers and whether or not I think she will be a good Supreme Court Justice. Readers of this blog probably can guess that I am fairly concerned about it. Her qualifications do not concern me, but her beliefs do. Mainly because I have no idea what they are. I have been puzzled about why President Bush nominated her. His ‘trust me’ defense does not hold much water with me. However, I did just read an article in World Magazine that makes a good defense of Bush’s motives. The article argues that intellect alone does not make a good judge, but heart has to be a consideration. I suggest all read it for it makes some good points about needing to know a person’s heart and how heart ought to be a part of why we appoint people to positions. Imagine yourself for a moment having a task of great value, would you sooner give it to the unknown man with a good resume or your best friend who is competent and whom you know you can trust. It seems to me the bigger gamble is on the unknown quantity.
Just for the record I still have grave concerns about Ms. Miers but I understand the reasoning of President Bush. The problem is that I do not trust President Bush to be a good judge of heart. After all, President Bush is the one who looked into the soul of President Putin of Russia and saw a man he could trust rather than the autocratic KGB agent who rolls back Democracy, does joint military exercises with China, and stays out of the war on terror that the rest of the world sees.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Jeff Meyers tries to answer the question I have been dying to know about the Federal Vision. How can one advocate changing the standards (especially the Westminster) to fit the new insights of Biblical Theology, and then still claim early Reformed writings back up your point of view? Either it is a new insight, or it is not? Which is it? Sadly, Rev. Meyers fails to give an adequate answer. He tries to tell us that it is both new and not new, which ducks the question. Then he states,
Some of the terminology and phraseology is new. I'd admit that. But again, this should be no problem. That's one of the great things about "system" confessional subscription. We don't bind ourselves to a particular forms of words, just to the overall content. So we have freedom to reformulate biblical truth for the context in which we're called to minister.
This is a telling answer. What Rev. Meyers is arguing is that the system is what is important, not the content. This is how one argues for changing the Standards, but can still claim to be a part of that ‘system’ or tradition. Rev. Meyers would have us believe that the system remains unaltered even if all the words in the system are changed. Thus, one can change the meaning of ‘elect’ or ‘justification’ or the meaning of baptism and the supper, perhaps even the meaning of the Regulative Principle of Worship, and the system will remain the same.
Now, I think where Rev. Meyers and I will disagree is on the affect of reformulating biblical truth. Rev. Meyers thinks it does not affect the system of doctrine, and I believe it does, at least the way it is being done now by the Federal Vision proponents. It is one thing to speak confessional truths in a language and manner that is understandable by your audience, it is another to speak in a manner that is understandable to your audience, but contradicts the confession. The first, I believe, is ministering biblical truth in a particular context, and the second is reformulating biblical truth for the context.
Meyers goes on in his blog to accuse those who oppose the Federal Vision of “cultural imperialism.” He is saying that those who want to remain faithful to the Standards are stuck in a by gone cultural, and refuse to see how one must reformulate the message to fit the modern culture. Rev. Meyers wants to change the message to fit with the changing times, not only for the needs of the audience, but also for the advances in Biblical Theology. After all, changing the message does not affect the system for Rev. Myers. Thus, again, Philip Schaff’s Principle of Protestantism rears its ugly head. The dialectical movement of doctrine throughout history is what Myers is ascribing to in his post. One cannot hold to the doctrine of the Reformation because the Reformation was a previous stage of development, and it would be ridiculous to cling to that which history has past by. The system is more important. And the system for Rev. Myers is not what the Westminster or the Three Forms teach, not any more. Rev. Myers holds to a system that contains internal change in a movement toward a fianl synthesis.
The debate over the Federal Vision is not just about justification or the sacraments, as Rev. Meyers rightly points out. It is also a debate about whether or not the truth is knowable, whether or not it is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is the doctrine of the church a solid rock upon which to build, rock that can be written down in Confessions and trusted forever, or is it shifting sands that blow and move around with the times.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I am currently on vacation, and that is why this page has not had any updates recently, but I thought I should take a few seconds to comment on the recent Air Rage epidemic. Air Rage of course is Road Rage for those in air travel.
I recently flew a series of flights from Bismarck, ND to Knoxville, TN and witnessed at least two such events myself. One incident had a stewardess spend no less than 3 minutes arguing with a passenger to return his seat to an upright position for landing. It is a standard rule to straighten your seat back when the plane is about to land, but this passenger would not comply. They argued rather loudly for an extended period of time, and I did not get to see who won. The reason, for those of you who are wondering, that one must return the seat to an upright position is because if the plane crashes, the seat my block those in the rows behind you from being able to exit quickly.
The second incident involved my spilling a drink. I spilt my coke, and the lady next to me and I received the lion’s share of the drink. We dried off as best we could and the seat as well, but apparently some dripped in-between the seats and onto the floor. This angered the passenger behind me because his carry-on item received a few drops of coke. I did not immediately notice his anger, but it was brought to my attention later. I apologized while the plane taxied to gate, and he refused to accept my apology. Only after his wife pleaded with him and repeatedly told me it is okay, did I even get anything remotely related to an acceptance of my apology.
A shocking third incident occurred a week later when my 80 year old grandmother flew from Jackson, MS to Knoxville, TN and a fellow passenger took her seat. My grandmother was in row 3, near the front on the aisle, and in need of making a quick connection. Her plane was already 50 minutes late. Some man who had a seat in the back, row 12 next to the window, took her seat, and did not let her sit down when confronted. His reason? He had to get off the plane quickly, and did not want to wait. My grandmother eventually took his seat in the back. Yet, the stewardess found out, and tried to make the man move, and he still would not relinquish his stolen seat.
The only possible explanation for such amazing acts of selfishness, and rudeness is Air Rage. Perhaps it is transmitted like the Bird Flu, but no matter what it appears to be everywhere. I will be flying home soon, and I am sure to run into more.
Until then let everyone be warned. If you are flying the biggest trouble you will probably face is from someone next to you.
Monday, October 03, 2005
In the interests of fairness, I should report that I have discovered Dr. Jordan’s side of the story. The broad references to men motivated by political gains and those who opposed him while in Tyler, TX are directed at Joe Moorecraft. Also, Dr. Jordan’s view on the Mississippi Valley Presbytery is based on this timeline of events. I hope that the Mississippi Valley did a little more than is reported in this timeline.
In the end, it does not matter. I still think that James Jordan is wrong. He should have named names. If he meant Joe Moorecraft, then say it. It is childish to attack without naming names. Also, I bet that even Joe Moorecraft is motivated by doctrinal concerns, and not just pure political gain. Just in case any think that this is all my twisted view of things, Federal Vision defender, Joel Garver agrees that theology is at the heart of the debate. All Jordan’s recent essay shows me is that Jordan has a deep-seated bitterness against Rev. Moorecraft, and against all those who refuse to be innovative with their doctrine.
Friday, September 30, 2005
I hate to say it but I am opposed to John Roberts. I hope that I am wrong, but until I am proven as such I think the country lost in the trade of Reinquist for Roberts. The reason, judicial philosophy. I do not think that Republicans took seriously the need to find Roberts’s judicial philosophy. I am fairly certain that Roberts will not be a Judicial Activist, but that does not mean he therefore is an Originalist. We cannot mistake Judicial Restraint with an Originalist position. Philologous or James Solis, a friend of mine who will eat me alive for this post, recently said this about Roberts:
I for one was satisfied by the only real answer Roberts could give on the question of his judicial philosophy. When asked if we would be for the little guy of the big guy, Roberts replied, "If the Constitution says that the little wins, then the little guy wins. If the Constitution says that the big guy wins, then the big guy wins."
While it is good he sees the Constitution as the deciding factor, what he does not say is whose view of the Constitution gets to speak. Currently five Justices think the Constitution says city governments can take your land and give it to other private citizens. It is pretty clear that the authors of the Constitution would not have agreed. Currently at least five Justices think the Constitution says people can kill their babies. Five Justices think that the Constitution says putting to death Washington D.C. sniper, who is under 18, is cruel and unusual punishment. What I want to know is Roberts going to view the Constitution through the eyes of precedent or through the eyes of Madison and the other framers. Roberts constantly said that he respected the precedent. He even respected the precedent of Roe v Wade and the privacy cases leading up to it too. I did not see much in his answers to convince me that he is going to stand with Thomas and Scalia and fight for an Originalist interpretation of the Constitution. His view of Restraint will stop him from returning America to the goverment of the Constitution.
Philologous has also suggested that the Senate should not use its "advice and consent" powers to stop a judicial nominee. He effectively quotes Madison. However, we currently have several Justices who base decisions on Foreign Law. If a President put up a nominee who stated they would do such a thing, should the Senate confirm him or her? That is only his/her judicial philosophy? Can the Senate exclude on such bounds? Yes, I believe so. Would Madison? Yes, I bet he would. It does not take long to see in the writings of Washington to see the dangers of foreign encroachments to American sovereignty. Madison’s record as President brings out the same point. The Senate has always been allowed to reject things they believe are wrong in other matters where only consent is asked of the Senate. Treaties for example. Henry Cabot Lodge rightfully led the rejection of Woodrow Wilson’s treaty to end WWI and the League of Nations because it violated American sovereignty. It put the Constitution in jeopardy. The Liberal judicial philosophy of the Constitution as a “living breathing” document and use of foreign courts is the same. It puts the Constitution in jeopardy. The Senate cannot consent to such things.
Now, I freely admit that Roberts will probably not further the damage done by Liberal Judicial Activism in the past, but he also will not undo it. He will not return the power to the states stolen by Federal corruption. He will not return our free speech by striking down Campaign Finance Reform. He will not do many things because he believes more in Judicial Restraint than the Constitution, in my opinion at least.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Admittedly, I started Robespierre: The Fool as Revolutionary a long time ago. I put it down because I thought it would be a biography of Robespierre, but it really is a tour of the French Revolution as a whole. Not much personal information about the Butcher of France, but it still is a decent book. It really should have decided whether or not it wanted to be about Robespierre or the French Revolution for the book follows many of the leaders of the Revolution and begins long before Robespierre arrives on the scene. Yet, it ends with Robespierre’s death and leaves the reader wondering what happened in the rest of the Revolution, and how did Napoleon arrive on the scene. It should have been one or the other.
Other than that disappoint point, Otto Scott does a wonderful job of exposing the horrors of the French Revolution by simply retelling how it happened. He does not try to analyze the Revolution, he just tells the story. It is enough to make one hate the French all over again. I must say I came out of the book feeling very sorry for the pitiful Louis 16th not to mention his son Louis 17th who died, not by the losing his head, but by sheer neglect. The guards just stopped feeding him, and stopped coming to check on him after they had killed both of his parents. He died of neglect. Barbaric. I learned a great deal of names and events that I will probably soon forget, but it was probably still worth it.
One thing I did learn that I found a great stroke of divine justice is that the event that brought Robepierre’s leadership of the Revolution to an end is a festival held by the Assembly to celebrate the existence of the Divine. Robespierre hated Christianity, but hated atheism as well since “the people believe there is a god.” Thus, for Robespierre it was an act of aristocracy to deny God existed. They held a giant festival where everyone was forced to wear their best suits, and the Assembly all bought new blue uniforms for “blue was a virtuous color.” Speeches were made, food eaten, it was just like old times in Paris, which is apparently what made people think Robespierre had become a “tyrant in the name of anti-tyranny.” Robespierre tried to kill himself to avoid the guillotine, but was too afraid and only shot his jaw off. So he ended up with his head in the basket like all of the people he had condemned before.
“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!” France’s gift to the world.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Dr. James Jordan has made some provocative comments in his Biblical Horizons newsletter. I do agree with Jordan on one point. It is a shame that great theological works are not being turned out as they may have in years past. When was the last great Systematic Theology written? I do wish that more of the great thinkers of our day would look to put their thoughts in print; however, I disagree with Jordan’s conclusion on such a matter. He states,
It seems no longer so. The controversies over the so-called "federal vision" and "new perspective on Paul" are but two examples of the closing of the Calvinistic mind, at least in many parts of the Reformed world. Men with little knowledge of history, evidently incapable of thinking presuppositionally, and sometimes (not always) rather obviously motivated by political concerns (if not by sheer envy), have not hesitated to distort and even lie about this thing called "federal vision" (which, as they discuss it, is largely a product of their own minds).
This is a bold claim with no support. Who is attacking the Federal Vision merely of political concerns? Point them out! Instead Jordan cowers under mere innuendo. There are people attacking the Federal Vision, but to say that men like Dr. Joseph Pipa and Morton Smith know nothing of history and can’t think presuppositionally is preposterous. I had both of these men in seminary, and I can personally attest to their knowledge of history and presuppositional thinking.
Jordan in the next article continues his blatant attack on all who oppose him and his thinking. After chastising all who oppose the Auburn Ave. Theology, he tells us all "to grow up." He then continues,
Having said that, I’m going to take the gloves off and point out that those critics who accused us of being Eastern Orthodox, etc., knew full well that we were not anything of the sort. They knew that they were lying about us. They were motivated by evil desires, often envy, and for that reason sought to tear us down. It was not ignorance. It was not really juvenile thinking. It was just envy and evil. Why should I sugar-coat it and pretend that this is not so, when everyone involved knows that it is?
While I have no knowledge of the events he is discussing here, it again seems odd that even with the gloves off, no names can be found. Who are these myesterious men who oppose people for political gain? Finally, we see names in the next paragraph.
A second large problem connected with the current noise is deceptiveness. The Mississippi Valley presbytery of the PCA has issued a report on FV and related issues, again erroneously lumping the NPP with the FV.
Jordan believes that the Mississippi Valley Presbytery is part of the slander campaign. He even seems to give proof with the “lumping of the NPP with the FV.” But, there is one problem with that assesment, the report did not lump them together. The report deals with the New Perspectives on Paul and the Federal Vision, but it does so in separate sections. The report also deals with N.T. Wright and Norman Shepherd in separate and distinct sections. One can argue, as I have, that the report tries to take on too many topics, but I do not think that one can argue they are lumped together. They are even under different headings.
Sadly, Jordan’s no-name rant on all that oppose the will of Federal Vision People has really rallied the troops. Those excited about Jordan’s claim that all who are not with him are anti-intellectual include, Mark Horne, Sibboleth, and Barb. Those are just the blogs I frequent, so there could be many more.
It upsets me a little that these rants are accepted among Federal Vision adherents, all the while clamoring for more dialogue, as Jordan does. If someone on the other side of this debate did such name calling and finger pointing at no one in particular, it would be condemned (see reaction to John Robbins), and it would be used as proof of a corrupt church system only out for political gain. If anyone thought that the Federal Vision feud was over, think again. This appears to be a controversy that will be around for quite some time.
As much as I think the New Perspectives movement distorts first century Judaism in the extra biblical literature, I think that their biggest error is ignoring the Gospels. We have a divinely inspired picture of first century Judaism, and it ought to trump all else. Several gospel encounters should shed light on the nature of first century Judaism.
John 3 is a perfect example. Christ present Nicodemus with a beautiful picture of salvation by grace in stating that we must be born again. Yet, Nicodemus cannot comprehend it. He thinks Christ speaks of a physical rebirth. Christ chastises him for not understanding grace, the need to be born again. Nicodemus a teacher of Israel did not think much of grace. Nicodemus asks, “how can these things be?” to the teaching that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Hardly the response of someone who already lived and participated in a religion of grace.
Matthew 23:4 shows us Christ describing what the Pharisees do as they teach. They “bind heavy burden and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” Surely this is a description of a graceless religion that cares only of works. Peter echos this sentiment in Acts 15 when he says the law is a yoke that “neither we nor our fathers could bear.”
The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-26 is another example. Although men like Steve Schissel try to turn this story into an affirmation that the law is doable, it really condemns salvation by works. We must not forget when reading this story that Christ begins with “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God.” Christ is beginning by reminding the rich young ruler that no man is good, no man keeps the law. Only God is good. Then when the rich ruler does not get it and still asks what he “lacks”, Christ shows him all he lacks is a heart that desires God. It is the 10th commandment, the internal commandment that he cannot keep. We should also not stop there. The story continues to the disciples who then hear the camel and the eye of a needle teaching. They rightfully ask, “Who then can be saved?” Christ responds, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” No man can save himself. No man can save himself by the law, but God can save. God alone is good and God alone can save.
Matthew 5:20 and indeed all the Sermon on the Mount is related to that point. “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This is to tell us that as good at law keeping the Pharisees and religious leaders are, they still deserve only death. Not only does this help show us that the Judaism of the time of Christ looked to obedience to the law for righteousness, it shows us also that obedience to the law is impossible. Why? Because the law is internal as well as external. This is why those who know they are poor in spirit, mourn that fact, are meek, and thirst for that righteousness they lack will receive it. They are blessed and will be filled with a righteousness that is not their own, but comes from Christ.
These are but a few of the gospel accounts of first century Judaism. I am sure that many who are better than I can quickly show more. Often the NPP refuses to accept Biblical testimony to the nature of Judaism. The Bible paints a picture very different than that painted by most NPP advocates.
Friday, September 23, 2005
I am not an expert on the New Perspectives on Paul by any means. However, the exegetical movement has gained strength and underpins a lot of the Federal Vision controversy. As obvious from some discussions on previous posts it leads to dramatically different readings of Paul, and the Bible as a whole. The main tenant of the NPP is that first century or second temple Judaism was a religion of grace and not a religion of works. Thus NPP advocates have to now read the condemnation of Judaizers not as a condemnation of works as a whole because that is a misunderstanding of Judaism. This allows them to find a more positive role for works in places like Romans 2.
Instead of arguing about specific exegesis, which will get no where since the presuppositions are different, let us examine first century Judaism. Admittedly, I do not have access to all of the material, but I think an argument can still be made that Judaism is indeed a Pelagian religion of works, not one of grace.
One source of first century Judaism is the Apocrypha. These are the books that are often included in Romanist Bibles, but not in Protestant ones. They were written during the second temple period and thus give us a glimpse Judaism at that time. These books do not put forth a picture of Judaism as a religion of grace. In fact, Romanists often quoted from Ecclesasticus (sometimes called Ben Sirach) to prove works are needed during the Reformation. First and Second Maccabees are even worse as they encourage the keeping of Hanukkah, make the law keeping of Judas Maccabeus as the basis of his victories, and show us that sin offerings for the dead can atone for the sins of the dead. While that may be a mercy for the dead soldiers it is a mercy grounded on the law keeping of Judas. The additions to Esther seem to linger on law keeping adding that Esther hated her marriage bed because it was with the Gentiles, and she kept away from the table of the Gentiles, and hated her position as Queen of the Gentiles. So too do the additions to Daniel adding stories where vindication is given to upright Jews like Susannah not by the miraculous mercy of God, as Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but by wisdom and legal maneuvering. Third Maccabees is again about remaining loyal to Jewish law even in a foreign land. It even goes as far to suggest that God will reward the law keeping. Fourth Maccabees blatantly offers salvation through ‘virtue’ and obedience. Psalm 151 gives more glory to David than to God. Even if the Prayer of Manasseh does suggest mercy, it is clearly in the minority. Many of these second temple Judaism books are heavy with Pelagianism.
Another source is the Mishnah. This gives us a good glimpse into what the Rabbis of the first century taught. Here Sanders fails to convincingly show grace in Judaism. We see ideas such as Gehenna, a place where those whose works were balanced between good and evil go to scream and pay for their evil deeds before heading up to heaven. The school of Shammai follows this doctrine. It is a Pelagian doctrine since man must still pay for his sins himself through suffering. Many rabbis seemed to also argue that election of Israel was also grounded in obedience, either in that of a patriarch or the future obedience of Israel. Others thought the covenant had been offered to all nations, and only Israel accepted it. These reasons are blatantly Pelagian. Sanders pushes them aside and emphasizes the fact that Israel is elect as proof of grace. Ignoring the works basis of that election.
I have a hard time seeing where first century Judaism can be seen as anything but a Pelagian system where works/obedience serve as the basis for salvation. Allow me to quote the end of Ecclesasticus (51:30), “Do your work in good time and in his own time God will give you your reward.”
I just finished a biography of George Washington called, Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Flexner. It was okay. I learned a lot of facts, and the book is readable, but not necessarily well written. The chapters are short, and that is a plus. I got the book at Mount Rushmore, so I have no idea if it is even well received in real bookstores. I usually like to do a little more research into the books I buy, but I had to get a book from Mount Rushmore. How many times does one get to go to Mount Rushmore?
I have one major complaint about the book. I felt as if Flexner had an agenda to smear the first President with the charge of adultery or at least impropriety via innuendo. He spends a chapter on Washington’s boy hood relationship with a woman named Sally, who ends up marrying a neighbor. Washington apparently confessed his love for her, and wrote her off and on for the rest of his life. In the beginning of her marriage, he still writes with some passion that she encourages, but that quickly ends. The rest of their correspondence appears to be only friendly. Flexner brings up Sally often, and compares her favorably to Martha Washington. Flexner never speaks highly of Martha, and states George never loved her because he always loved Sally. No proof offered. After Washington becomes President, Flexner introduces another woman who attended the dinners George and Martha gave in Philadelphia. She too is compared favorably to Martha, and Flexner assumes that George would have preferred her company to Martha’s company. Despite the existence of love letter from Martha to George and scenes of great devotion between Martha and George at the end of George’s life, Flexner feels the need to run down their marriage again by implying that no one was ever able to “prove” adultery, but declares George to have been a ladies man. That running theme really irritated me, and I would recommend everyone buying a different biography of General Washington.
On the bright side, I do recommend Mount Rushmore.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I have not blogged in a little while because I have been having discussions with some of my friends in Colorado Springs. It has been a sad, painful experience to say the least. Some, who formerly believed, now no longer do. Others seemed more and more confused on the gospel by the minute. They freely and quickly spout justification by faith and works.
It began with a group email conversation with former co-workers, one of whom attends an Emergent Church, or a church affiliated with the movement or whatever they want to call it. It is obvious the doctrine of justification by works must be taught or at least allowed to grow in that congregation. I protested and pointed to Scripture, but to my horror, other former co-workers jumped in siding with justification by works. These were members of mainline denominations, non-denominational churches and they all had no clue about the doctrine of justification. Upon hearing the traditional Protestant exegesis of James 2 and the belief that works flow from thanksgiving for salvation, they pronounced it “full of crap.” By the way, I used to work at a Christian ministry in Colorado Springs that had weekly chapels that apparently do not bother with salvation either.
It is one thing to know that evangelical churches out there are not doing a good job of proclaiming the gospel, but it is another to be hit right in the face with it. It was a good reminder to why I became a minister in the first place. It also reminded me not to take even the most basic doctrines for granted. The gospel must be proclaimed or people will revert to trusting in themselves. May God strengthen His church to boldly proclaim his message once more.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The Reformed Church in the United States position paper on N.T. Wright has been put on the web. It is good and passed unanimously. If you do not know why the RCUS would go out of its way to condemn the odd teachings of an Anglican Bishop, it is because he has a great following in the Presbyterian and Reformed world. Not only did he speak at the 2005 Auburn Ave. Conference, but many men openly confess their adherence to Wright's re-write of Paul and his odd brand of Biblical Theology.
Please browse the report. I think you will find it helpful.
“The Old Coon”, “the Greatest Statesman never to be elected President”, “the Great Pacificator”, and “The Great Compromiser”: all titles that belong to Henry Clay. I just finished reading Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union by Robert Remini. A fantastic book. I have praised Mr. Remini’s writing style in past posts, so I will not recount it here.
Clay stands as the greatest Senator, and or Congressman that America has ever had. He was a man of principle, and he never wavered from them. Yet, he lost 3 attempts at the Presidency, and two more attempts at gaining his own party’s nomination, a party that he started. Both times that he lost the nomination, his party won the presidential election. Both were war heroes, and neither truly held Whig party beliefs. Despite all of that, Clay still has a legacy that will go unmatched as far as service to America. He formed the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise Tariff, and the Compromise of 1850, to name a few.
Yet, Remini does a good job of exposing the private side of Henry Clay. Remini is willing to flat out state that Clay was a bad father. His sons all were failures, drunks, or committed to mental institutions. Clay apparently often cheated on his wife, and his notoriously loose morality helped defeat his Presidential hopes many times. But, Remini lets us know that late in Clay’s life during a period of loss and grief, he joined the church, and never fell out of communion with it for the last decade of his life. Hopefully it was a true conversion.
The book is a good insight into the most influential man in the early 1800’s in America. If you like history, Henry Clay is worth a look.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Howard Phillips has some interesting thoughts on John Roberts. Phillips had not yet made up his mind on the nomination, but raises some good points. Here is the quote that most disturbed me.
A liberal law partner [of Roberts] at Horgan & Hartson says—and this is a rough paraphrase: “I’ve had dinner with John Roberts, or lunch, on more than a thousand occasions, and if you asked me what he thinks about anything other than whether he prefers bacon, lettuce and tomato to tuna fish I couldn’t tell you.”
Charles Krauthammer, another pundit whom I respect, sees some trouble in John Roberts. I have to say that I am looking forward to seeing these hearings. I have to admit that I am even more interested in the next Supreme Court nominee. For me the verdict on Bush’s presidency is still out. Is he a conservative? Well he cut taxes, but loves deficit spending. He seems to respect federalism in some cases, but does not mind increasing National bureaucracy, and federalizing airport personnel. John Roberts could tilt the scales for Bush one way or another. Is Roberts a Thomas or a Kennedy? I fear that the hearings will be pointless. I fear that Republicans will try to argue you should not get to vote against a judge because of judicial philosophy, which is why Republican overwhelmingly approved Ruth Ginsburg. Then they turn around and whine about judicial activism. Yet, I suspect Roberts will not answer anything and remain a mystery for sometime even after he gets his seat on the bench.
I hope Roberts comes out strong and answers question for the Senate. I also hope Bush nominates someone who has a clear record for the next seat. He won’t, but hope springs eternal.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Now that the worst appears to be over, and evacuations are running smoothly, talk has turned to investigations and fault. Thankfully the racism finger pointing appears to be done with as well. However, the worst fall out could still be to come.
Let begin by acknowledging my fault. In an earlier post, I did criticize the President for a slow reaction. I have since learned that I probably was mistaken as to the speed of aid delivered. FEMA had coordinated with the Red Cross, who had trucks of water, food, and other supplies standing by. They were prevented from entering the city and going to the Superdome and Convention Center by the Louisiana department of Homeland Security. This is NOT a branch of the Federal Department of Homeland Security, thus freeing Bush of blame and placing it solely on Louisiana. I guess I owe Matt and President Bush an apology. Also some thanks to James and WoCoFunk for putting me back on the straight and narrow. However, I do still think that President Bush should have gone back to the White House quicker (he waited a full day after the levees broke before returning), and addressed the nation from there. Symbolism is important, and while Crawford may be equipped to do as much as the White House, Crawford is not the nation’s capital. That is about as far as I am willing to blame President Bush with what I know now.
James also brings up good points about Federalism to which I would like to add my voice. The new danger of Katrina could be more power going to the National Government. Soon people will be demanding FEMA have more authority to shove aside state governments to make sure help is given. It is becoming more and more obvious that the governor of Louisiana made some pour decisions. She would not let the Red Cross bring food, water, and supplies to the Superdome and Convention Center. She did not give her National Guard enough authority, she turned down help from President Bush. The list gets longer and longer. So many people will claim that the National government should by-pass the states and act directly with its own authority. Our “conservative” President has already showed that this power grab is his mode of operation as he has done such things as Federalize airport security, create a department of Homeland Security, and accept the idea of an Intelligence Tzar.
Yet, should not the lesson of Katrina be the less National government involvement the better? Maybe the real lesson here is that who we elect to our State offices matters. Is it possible that a commission investigating the disaster will find that the laws are not bad, the set up is good, the people of Louisiana just elected an incompetent, and have suffered from years of Legislatures who never revised evacuations plans, spent money on non-essentials, and did not improve the levees? The growing reach of the National government has made us not care about local and state politics. Off year elections get little attention, and hardly have a turnout at all. Can you name your state representative? What about your state senator? These are the people that make the laws for your state. These laws played a major role in the recent disaster. Katrina’s legacy ought to be a lesson about paying attention to local and state elections, but it will probably be a new department and increased power for the National government. Well, if it worked for Amtrak . . .