Category Archives: Culture and Politics

Carl Trueman Preaches at SWBTS

Dr. Carl Trueman speaks in the SWBTS chapel Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Dr. Carl Trueman speaks in the SWBTS chapel Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Yes, you heard that right. Dr. Carl Trueman was invited to speak in the chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas yesterday. Seminary President Paige Patterson introduced Dr. Trueman as “my favorite Calvinist” for his activities as a “critic of the culture.” In the video of Dr. Trueman’s chapel sermon, you can see his friendly response in which he expresses his admiration for Dr. Patterson’s role in leading Southwestern and the SBC back to a more conservative theological position. Then he delivers a sermon on the advent of the prophet Elijah from 1 Kings 17:1-24 and proclaims the power of not only God’s Word, but also his holiness, his mercy and his power over death. My pastor, Joe Troutman, and I attended the service, got a bite to eat off campus while Dr. Patterson and his wife hosted Dr. Trueman for lunch (oh, to be a fly on the wall of that conversation!), gave him a tour of the campus, after which Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church officially took possession of him in preparation for tonight’s OPC DFW Reformation Conference 2014 on the role of creeds and confessions in the Protestant Reformation and their benefit to the life and worship of the church today. If you haven’t already registered, it’s not too late. Pictures and audio to follow on this blog in the coming days.

View “The Advent of the Prophet Elijah” (1 Kings 17:1-24)

Register for OPC DFW Ref Con 2014

 

Filling in the Blanks on the Life and Death of Ian Paisley

Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley (1926-2014)

Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley (1926-2014)

Among the King James Onlyist writers I used to read back in the height of my fundamentalist zeal, one of the more scholarly, by comparison, was David Cloud, whose work may be found at his website Way of Life Literature, Inc. He was definitely a schismatic fundamentalist on many issues, but he did not descend into the nuttiness of Ruckmanism. I found many of his writings on the defense of the KJV to be somewhat more satisfying than the fringe lunacy of Gail Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions, which was her personal regurgitation of many of Peter Ruckman’s views on the Bible version debate, up to and including the inspiration of the KJV, and David Cloud wrote a worthy critique of her book.

David Cloud also included short bios of many proponents of the exclusive use of the King James Version. Called, in classic fundamentalist typography, “TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS (do they think we’re all deaf?),” my favorite is the one on OPC minister and Westminster Theological Seminary grad, Edward F. Hills (read it here), author of The King James Version Defended, which introduces the textual arguments of then Dean of Chichester, John William Burgon, the first great opponent of the Critical Text developed by the committee selected to revise the King James Version in 1881 which fell under the influence of, to hear modern fundies tell it, Roman Catholic-loving, heretic-defending spiritualists, Westcott and Hort (cue ominous music—BOM BOM BOMMM!) and misuses the presuppositional apologetic method, which he calls the logic of faith, to provide his unique twist to Burgon’s outdated scholarship. Hills’s book was my all-time favorite criticizing modern English Bible versions, because it was otherwise very informative with his short histories of “Unbelief” and “Modernism” and detail on the textual sources of many of the contested readings. Indeed, Hills, provoked by a quote of B. B. Warfield which praised higher textual criticism, went on to get the needed credentials and work as an actual textual critic in that field for 20 years before writing his book. Despite my critical description above, it contains many examples of fine scholarship when it comes to reporting the facts of the history of textual criticism and the translation of the King James Version, and it also planted many of the seeds of Reformed theology which would take root and bear fruit in my own mind and heart in the years to follow. It’s just the methodology by which he reaches his conclusions with which I disagree.

Another of the TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS which intrigued me was that of the founder of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and Irish Protestant political leader, Ian Paisley (read it here) who died on Friday. It tells the story of a courageous public figure who endured violence and assassination attempts for boldly standing up to Pope John Paul II (footage) and calling him the Antichrist among other anti-Catholic activities and rhetoric. And although he was considered a revivalist, Paisley also was consistent with his fundamentalist anti-Catholicism when he boycotted a Billy Graham crusade for allowing the participation of Roman Catholics. And most relevant to Cloud’s appreciation of him was his rejection of modern English translations of the Bible. Cloud reprints at least part of a speech delivered by Paisley at a World Congress of Fundamentalism at Bob Jones University in 1983 called (again, reach for your hearing protection) “THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES VS. THE CONFUSION OF THE TRANSLATIONS.”

This TESTIMONY was last updated back in 2004. It only gives the reader the information regarding Paisley’s views which parallel those of American fundamentalists who consider the pope the Antichrist from the perspective of dispensational premillennialism, rather than post- or amillennialism, to which Paisley likely subscribed. It excuses his otherwise “heretical” Calvinism, denial of congregational polity and the leadership of only one elder, called either the pastor or the preacher, or just “Preacher.” It omits a dark period in which he was involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse against children in a boy’s home (HT: Jeri Massi). Cloud’s report also leaves out the details of the violence on the ground which Paisley’s political rhetoric inspired, or the man himself lead. Because his webpage remains so incomplete, Cloud also neglects to point out the fact that in 2007, after decades of spearheading the movement to suppress Roman Catholic civil rights in Ireland, which led to thirty years of violence in what is called “The Troubles,” and leadership of the Ulster Resistance which teamed up with other Protestant groups dedicated to violence against Roman Catholic civil rights, when the Catholic Irish Republican Army disarmed itself and promised an end to its terrorism, according to the New York Times obituary on the late fundamentalist Presbyterian minister and First Minister of Ireland, Ian Paisley, entered into a power-sharing unity government with a leader of his former Catholic opposition.

The day many thought would never come arrived in Belfast on May 8, 2007. Mr. Paisley, founder of the Democratic Unionist party, which sought continued association with Britain, and Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader and former commander of the Irish Republican Army, which had fought for a united Ireland, took oaths as the leader and deputy leader, respectively, of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.

This is not to say that Paisley necessarily recanted his stern anti-Catholic views regarding the Pope, or his rejection of modern English Bible versions, or his other fundamentalist views, but it is to say that when all you know about someone originates from a fundamentalist resource, you will want to compare it to other sources of information to make sure you are getting the whole story. It is nice to hear that Paisley’s controversial career ended on a more conciliatory note the way it did.

OPC’s Doctrine of Assurance Blamed for Bergdahl’s Religious Uncertainty

In this day when America is, for better or worse, trying to wind down its war against radical Islamist jihadists, Skidmore College Professor and Director of Religious Studies, Mary Zeiss Stange, opines in a USA Today piece that we don’t think enough today about how religion can be a source of evil as well as good. Just let that sink in for a moment. But Stange’s focus is not on radical strains of Islam. Hers is on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. You know, that “hyperconservative offshoot of the mainstream Presbyterian Church USA” which she calls “Calvinism on steroids” because it “sees the world in stark either/or terms” in which you are either “saved and bound for heaven. Or you are a sinner, treading a one-way path to the fiery pit of hell.” She characterizes the struggle to discern one’s eternal destiny as “making extraordinary demands on a sensitive young person’s conscience and conduct.” Having painted this dramatic portrait of my denomination with such colorful brush strokes, broad as they may be, she then proposes the possible diagnosis for the “chaotic mood swings” which lead to Bowe Bergdahl’s “transformation from gung-ho warrior to pacifistic deserter”: “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church compels followers to feel the inner spark of absolute certainty of one’s own God-given righteousness.” This is what we hyperconservative Calvinists on steroids call “assurance of salvation.” But Stange’s description of this teaching is overly simplistic, and with the use of the phrase “absolute certainty,” she is associating the OPC with that predominant flaws of the fundamentalist movement. In the doctrinal standard of the OPC, the Westminster Confession of Faith, we find a little more nuance in what we confess about the Bible’s teaching on assurance. Chapter 14, “Of Saving Faith,” section 3, reads,

This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

Likewise, in Chapter 18, “Of the Assurance and Grace of Salvation,” the doctrine is treated more fully. Section 3 again demonstrates our allowance for degrees of assurance which may often fall far short of Stange’s portrayal of “absolute certainty.”

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

These excerpts indicates that not all will come to “absolute certainty” regarding their assurance of salvation, but this lack of absolute certainty does not necessarily entail the absence of faith. A weak faith, maybe, but a saving faith nonetheless. Since 2012, the congregations of the OPC have been praying that Bowe Bergdahl would come to faith in Christ, if he truly does not believe, or, if he does, that the Lord would strengthen that faith, that he might grow up “to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of [Bowe’s] faith.” We are careful to point out that assurance is a goal, yet it is not a constant, unwavering quality of the genuine Christian life. For those who find this assurance of faith elusive, it is our desire to comfort, encourage, and point them again to the imputed righteousness which Christ procured by his humble, sinless life, propitiatory death and glorious resurrection in the Word of God preached, and signified and sealed to them in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each of these are ordinary means of God’s grace which can develop an assurance that is not contingent upon the strength of one’s faith, or the quality of his works. So it’s not as if those of us who believe in assurance of salvation strive to keep the heat turned up on people to make sure they get some “feeling” of certainty, or else they’re in trouble. That is mischaracterization of the doctrine of the grossest sort on the part of Professor Stange.

Yet it is just such a one-dimensional view of the doctrine of assurance which Professor Stange would have us believe makes my religion a “source of evil.” The idea that moral absolutes and the search for assurance of salvation are bad is consistent with the contemporary religious and philosophical culture in Western civilization, where secularism and relativism are the virtues of our time.  I can’t help but see the climactic light saber duel between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, in which the latter paraphrases Jesus (and George W. Bush) by declaring the ultimate either/or proposition, “if you’re not with me, then you are my enemy,” to which the former replies, “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

That’s right, dear reader, if you affirm the Ten Commandments, and believe that only through repentance of sin and faith in Christ can one find assurance of salvation from eternal conscious torment, then to liberals like Mary Zeiss Stange, whose kind of view is currently in favor, you have embraced the Dark Side, and your form of religious extremism is what makes people want to kill the innocent and take over the world, and it may even be what stresses our kids out when they can’t “feel” this “absolute certainty” and makes Bowe Bergdahls of them. I never cease to be amazed by the logical leaps which liberals make about orthodox Christianity. It’s positively fundamentalistic.

But Bergdahl’s woes cannot be the sole responsibility of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, because, from what I’ve read, the Bergdahl family were members of two different OPC congregations in the past, neither of which exist today. I’ve heard that it is possible that they may remain under the oversight of their regional presbytery, and Bob and Jani do retain an ongoing relationship with pastor turned missionary Phil Proctor, but the OPC does not seem to be as solely influential in the life of the Bergdahl’s, Bowe least of all, as it may appear.

The Bergdahls: Muslims? Christians? Traitors? Patriots?

For five years, citizens of the United States have waited, wondered and prayed for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who was taken into custody by the Taliban on June 30, 2009 after leaving his outpost (OP) in Afghanistan. While there were indications of possible desertion on Bergdahl’s part, and a 2012 Rolling Stone article reporting email correspondence between Bowe and Bob Bergdahl in which Bowe expressed rather distressing sentiments critical of the United States, many of us did not follow the story closely enough to be aware of these things. As far as people like me were concerned, Bowe Bergdahl was a straightforward victim of the war in Afghanistan, who was bravely suffering for his country in the hands of the enemy.

As you may or may not be aware, I am a member of a congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). One Sunday in 2012, a flyer was distributed to our churches, calling on us to pray for the health, safety and faith of Bowe Bergdahl, and peace of mind for his family. Responding to this call, our congregation, and many like ours, corporately prayed for the Bergdahls. This flyer was the most I would read about Bowe Bergdahl until this past weekend when he was released, and his father, Bob, raised eyebrows by reciting a Muslim prayer from the Koran in a personal statement to Bowe. This, added to the growing awareness of Bowe’s desertion and possibly traitorous intentions while among the Taliban, and Bob’s recently publicized tweet expressing his desire for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, has made the person of Bob Bergdahl the object of much controversy as well. People wonder if he converted to Islam, or if he is an Islamist sympathizer.

Even I began to wonder, given our denomination-wide efforts to pray for the Bergdahls, if they were at least still members in good standing of an OPC church, and inquired about this on Facebook, hoping for some input from OPC ministers with which I am in contact. I did learn much in private messages with my FB friends which was reassuring regarding the ongoing Christian faith of the Bergdahl family. It is safe to presume that Bob and Jani Bergdahl have become all too familiar with the Christian grace of perseverance over the last several years, and, despite the release of their son, no end of their need for perseverance seems to be in sight. Prayer on behalf of the Bergdahl family remains a tremendous obligation.

Details about Bowe and his leaving his outpost, statements by fellow soldiers who knew or were involved with recovery operations, and the political and national security implications of releasing the Taliban figures from indefinite detention, continue to dominate the daily news. Yesterday, the Washington Post published a profile of Bob Bergdahl and World Magazine has now also run a story featuring the perspective of the Bergdahl’s former pastor and friend, Phil Proctor, who remains in contact with the Bergdahl family.

Today in my Facebook newsfeed, I discovered another statement from Proctor who wishes to silence the rumors that the Bergdahls have converted to Islam or seek to aid Islamist efforts against the United States. This statement was posted by Andy Webb, Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on his Facebook page, The Outer Monologue. Phil Proctor writes:

I appreciate your asking about the Bergdahls. I’ve really been saddened about how the Christian community is jumping all over this. Here’s the deal…

I pastored the Bergdahl family in 2003, prior to going to Uganda. We were very close, and remained so throughout my time in Uganda (I just found out this evening that apparently I’m referenced in some important Rolling Stone article from 2012).

Bowe was a young man with all the dangers of home-schooling—a brilliant and inquisitive mind, a crisp thinker, and someone who had never really been exposed to evil in the world. He was wanting to determine whether the Christian faith was his own, or his parents’ and was doing a lot of exploring of ideas—never drugs or alcohol, but trying to be an outdoors/Renaissance type figure. We’ve stayed in close contact with Bob and Jani, especially since Bowe’s capture. Since we moved here to Northern Virginia, Bod and Jani have stayed in our home on a couple of occasions and I’ve spoken on the phone with Bob once a month or so.

Bob felt (with some justification) that the US government was not going to engage with diplomatic efforts and so decided to try to free his son himself. He learned Pashtun and developed a lot of contacts in the Middle East. The Qatar connection is one that either originated with Bod or, at the very least, became very personally connected to Bob. Bob has, for quite some time, been saying that the closure of Guantanamo is integrally connected to the release of his son.

Whatever one thinks of Bob’s political views, I can attest to both he and Jani’s unwavering commitment to Christ and trust in him. I’ve prayed with both of them regularly. They both have been through a torture mill that I cannot begin to comprehend—5 years of a living death. It has affected their health, both physically and mentally, as Bob has been completely obsessed with tracking down any possible communication avenue to get his son home. There are a number of things I would disagree with Bob on in terms of political statements, but at the end of the day, I think this whole mess is a WHOLE lot more complicated than a 30 second sound bite (sic) can explore—the very existence of Gitmo attests to the complicated nature from the very beginning, and it’s only gotten worse over the years.

To the foundational issue: Bob and Jani both have regularly confessed their dependence upon Christ and rest in him—the most recent being Bob’s conversation with me about a month ago. They are broken peop;le who need prayer, love, and compassion. I personally intend to run as hard as I can in the opposite direction of judging his words in the moment of his crucible—I would HATE to have that standard applied to my moments of stress, which have never reached anything approaching his intensity and duration!

Feel free to forward this and use it as widely as you like.

Yours in Christ,

Phil Proctor

Pastor, Sterling Presbyterian Church (OPC)

Sterlingopc.org

 

FYI, My most recent conversation with Bob and Jani was 30 minutes ago. Still Christians.

Commending Cinematic Discernment

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Noah (2014) is Gnostic!

In his post, “Sympathy for the Devil,” Dr. Brian Mattson connects the dots and demonstrates The Noah movie is not a Bible movie, but it’s “creative license” was issued from the Kabbalah, and other Gnostic sources, from the bodiless Adam and Eve at the beginning of the film, to the circular rainbow at the end of the film.

Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.

 

So let me tell you what the real scandal in all of this is.

 

It isn’t that he made a film that departed from the biblical story. It isn’t that disappointed and overheated Christian critics had expectations set too high.

 

The scandal is this: of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie (for whatever reasons: “it’s a conversation starter,” “at least Hollywood is doing something on the Bible,” etc.), and all of the Christian leaders who panned it for “not following the Bible”…

 

Not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.


DO NOT ignore Dr. Mattson’s post! This is the most important and informative one to surface in this deluge of Noah “conversation.” 

Dr. Mattson recommends that all Christians get informed on Gnosticism so they can spot this kind of stuff in the future. He recommends we begin by reading Against Heresies by the Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons (begin here). It gave us most of what we’ve known about Gnosticism since the late second century. It’s required reading in this era of Gnostic revival. Noah is only the latest platform promoting Gnosticism in our culture.

For the record, no one is saying don’t go see the movie. What people like me would say is be an informed viewer. I don’t care if you like it or hate it, or if you ever see it. But if you do, do not miss the fact that there is more to “creative license” than meets the eye.

We Don’t Need No Education

For those of you still awaiting my closing post on “Gender Roles: Complementarianism,” rest assured I have not forgotten, but the post is still not ready. Stay tuned, true believer! In the meantime, I enjoyed the following video…

Listen as Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California and Ligonier teaching fellow, discusses the tendency toward anti-intellectualism throughout church history, and calls believers to not only love God with their hearts and their strength, but also with their minds. This lecture was delivered at the 2012 Ligonier national conference on “The Christian Mind.”

Watch: We Don’t Need No Education

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34

Gender Roles, part 1–Egalitarianism

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As the father of a young lady who is growing in her understanding of Reformed theology, I have had to wrestle with the relative merits of “patriarchalism” versus “complementarianism.” What are the definitions of these fifty cent words, you ask? How glad I am that you asked!

Allow me to preface these definitions with yet another term—egalitarianism–and the environment in which these three terms have become points around which various parties rally. With the advent of feminism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, efforts to free women from all forms of tyranny, real or perceived, in society, the home and the church have sparked a two-pronged response. Feminism promotes the ideal of egalitarianism, which asserts the absolute equality of men and women in every way, so that the institution of marriage is often disparaged, women are encouraged to work outside the home and pressured to refrain from the honorable vocation of domestic engineering (that is, being a housewife), and to answer an unbiblical call to pastoral ministry in the Christian church. This movement became part and parcel of the ideals of liberal Protestant theology and practice throughout the twentieth century. Toward the end of that century, however, the movement began making inroads into otherwise conservative Evangelical churches.

Throughout the history of the development of Christian theology, orthodoxy was commonly believed among the whole church, and remained generally agreed upon and largely unwritten, since there was little to no disagreement about the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. This is why we see in church history how that it is the aggressive assertion of heresy which forces the orthodox to go back to the drawing board and more carefully work out and put into writing the correct understanding of the Bible. In theology as well as commerce, competition forces one to work harder to increase the quality of their philosophical principles, goods and services.

How, in this environment, are Christian families to insulate their children from the erroneous claims of modern feminist egalitarianism? In the next post, we’ll deal with conservative Evangelical responses to egalitarianism which have resulted in the spectrum with which we must deal today.

ACE and WHI Remember Dr. C. Everett Koop (1916-2013)

Yesterday I tweeted a request to Reformed bloggers in the know to post on the Reformed side of American medical icon, the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at the age of 96. Dr. Koop’s medical and public service bonafides are a matter of public record. One quick and easy summary may of course be accessed, where else? Wikipedia! Here also is a press release from HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sabelius, detailing his legacy from the point of view of the federal government. But in addition to his service to the City of Man, Dr. C. Everett Koop was an accomplished lay leader in the City of God, serving as a Presbyterian church elder, and until the day of his death, a board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), the para-church organization which was so instrumental in introducing me to and cultivating in me the Reformed faith and theology.

Incidentally, tomorrow afternoon, my pastor and I depart for ACE’s Texas Hill Country Bible Conference in Boerne, Texas. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of tribute they put together for him there. For now, though, the ACE website offers a “Koop Classic”: Life, Bioethics and Christianity (2010, ACE).

But in answer to my (“all about me”–apologies to Dr. D.G. Hart ;-) request, two of my favorite Reformed bloggers has indeed posted remembrances of Dr. C. Everett Koop: Drs. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger. You may read Dr. Horton’s at the White Horse Inn blog, and Dr. Riddlebarger’s post at the Riddleblog. Horton gives a nice summary of meeting Dr. Koop and his service to his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, featuring the audio of a 2001 interview and a link to Dr. Koop’s contribution (“Faith-Healing and the Sovereignty of God”) to Horton’s out of print 1990 expose of televangelism, The Agony of Deceit–download it as soon as possible! Riddlebarger adds an amusing anecdote of Dr. Koop’s sobering reaction to his sense of humor. Both posts are great reads.

Be sure to peruse the other links I tweeted yesterday regarding the late Dr. C. Everett Koop from Christianity Today and Banner of Truth magazines and the Gospel Coalition blog featuring both compliment and criticism. Finally, in search of an image of Dr. Koop inside the building of Tenth Pres, I ran across a video of his 2010 marriage to Cora Hogue (pray comfort for her in her loss), officiated by former pastor, Phil Ryken, who is now the President of Wheaton College, whose sermons are still featured on ACE’s broadcast, Every Last Word. For those who are interested in viewing this heartwarming moment, the service begins about 30 minutes into the video, after the beautiful music of Westminster Brass.

Koop-Hogue Wedding Ceremony from Tenth Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

Hearing Frame’s Side of the Story

Dr. John Frame, Professor of Theology and Philosophy at RTS, Orlando

As one who was first introduced to Reformed theology by Dr. Michael Horton in a televised interview promoting his first book, I have a great affection and appreciation for the work of those who are, in Reformed circles, associated with what Dr. John Frame (RTS, Orlando) calls “The Escondido Theology.” Frame and others seem to think that for Reformed folks to interact with Lutheran theology on the things with which they agree is some sort of compromise of the integrity of Reformed theology. As a layman who hasn’t read it all on this controversy, that’s the impression I get. Frame’s book is promoted as a discussion primarily of the Two Kingdom approach to Christ and culture, but I’ve just learned that there is more to Dr. Frame and the Escondido Theology that this one issue.

In terms of coming to a greater understanding of the broader controversy myself, I was pleased to find that Scott Oakland interviewed Dr. Frame on a recent episode of ReformedCast. Agree or disagree, it is important to understand Frame’s point of view on the matter. Looking back to the days in which he helped found Westminster Seminary California, Dr. Frame portrays himself as not fitting in with any of the “parties” that formed among the faculty there. I also found it helpful to hear him express his concerns with how closely many among the faculty wanted to stick to the Reformed confessions, while he, in my opinion, thought the Reformed principle of sola scriptura was better honored by not “turning biblical and systematic theology into historical theology” (or something like that–it’s been a few days since I heard the interview). This helped me understand why Dr. Frame was willing to be a little more “progressive” in his approach to worship, and became a veritable whipping boy among many in the so-called “worship wars” (see, for example, how Frame’s writing is treated in Hart and Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.) While I do not doubt Dr. Frame’s commitment to the Reformed interpretation of Scripture, it does seem to me that he has a more moderate approach. Neither side of this Escondido debate deny that the Reformed Confessions are subject to the authority of Scripture, but I perceive that in some ways Dr. Frame seems so much more openly self-conscious of highlighting the authority of Scripture over the Confessions that he runs the risk of coming off more broadly evangelical than Reformed on the issue of worship. I could be wrong, but this is my initial impression.

Many of you have read more Frame than I have, and have a more informed opinion of his approach to Reformed theology. Feel free to enlighten and correct my impressions in the comments. I simply wanted to share my thoughts on the interview as I recommend it to you. If any of you have wondered about the back and forth that sometimes takes place online about the so-called “Escondido Theology,” this interview is an important resource for gaining some insight into both sides of the debate.

Exposing Myths Regarding Slavery and the Crusades

The September 9 episode of the White Horse Inn featured an interview between Michael Horton and Jeffery Burton Russell, author of  Exoposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends. The following is an edited excerpt from this interview, in which Russell summarizes in layman’s terms common misconceptions about Christianity’s guilt regarding chattel slavery and the Crusades. I hope you find these to be helpful thumbnail sketches:

Horton: The moral questions–that Christianity is intolerant–if you look back at the history of Christianity, very often that criticism is wrapped up in lots of things, like getting hit with tennis balls coming out of that machine; they’re shooting at you so quickly you can’t bat them away.

[They say] Christianity is intolerant. Look at slavery; look at the history of injustice towards women. There’s just so many problems, that Christianity cannot possibly keep its promise to make the world a better place.

Russell: Yeah, let’s just mention a couple of them. Let’s look at slavery, for example. Well, it’s precisely Christians who did away with slavery. People may point out that people had slaves; well, so did everybody else! Slavery was unfortunately a worldwide institution in the ancient world. The whole movement against slavery was started by Christians: by Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy. They were the great leaders of the movement, first to abolish the slave trade, and then to abolish slavery altogether. So, Christianity’s record with regard to slavery is extremely good.

Unfortunately, we know that many of our founding fathers had slaves, but again, it was Christians, not atheists, who moved against the institution.

Then, on the intolerance question: people always raise questions about the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Crusades are somehow seen as a colonialist, Western invasion of indigenous peoples, and view it as a terrible thing. But people seem to be ignorant of the background of the Crusades.

The background of the Crusades is simply that all of the southern Mediterranean lands from Spain to all around North Africa, to as far as what’s now Iraq and Iran–these were Christian territories with Christian populations. The great cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch were the centers of Christian bishops, and this is a thoroughly Christian area up until the 600’s. In the 600’s, the Arabs quickly come out of Arabia. By 750 BC, the Muslims defeated the Byzantine Empire and occupied most of the Christian lands. So it’s not as if Christians were attacking these innocent people who had been there for ages and ages.

Christians were fighting a defensive war. The immediate cause of the Crusades lies in the fact that most of the Muslim rulers that previously allowed Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem,  had taken over Jerusalem, and by the 1080’s were forbidding any Christians to go to Jerusalem, and that created a horrible reaction in Europe. So the Crusades were to open up the pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

So, in a sense, there is no doubt that a lot of the Crusaders behaved very badly. We certainly have plenty of evidence of that. But the motive of the Crusades, and the motive of most of the Crusaders were to open up the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to take back some territory that the Muslims had taken from them 400 years earlier.

Horton: So in many of these cases, one, it’s just that we don’t understand enough of the historical background; and two, that we sort of anachronistically project our standards of universal human rights on cultures that in any case–whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever—simply had no reference for what we are talking about.

Russell: Yeah. There’s a lot of projection, on the part of historians in the last forty years, of modern values and attitudes back onto the past. It used to be that our aim was to open minds to the various ways of thinking: how did Babylonians think? How did the Chinese think? Christians, Jews and so forth. But now, most teaching of history seems to be very propagandistic. Instead of opening peoples’ minds to various points of view, most historians seem to be imposing a particular ideology on their students and teaching them only one side of things.

Apartheid and the Dutch Reformed

Q. This question came up as I browsed the web on Liberation Theology this morning.  Encyclopedia com mentioned that “Reformed Christianity in South Africa has been one of the ideological pillars of apartheid…”  Do you know anything about that history or the position of the Reformed Church on it?  My understanding is that the Boers brought the Dutch Reformed Church with them when they colonized South Africa.  However, I don’t know how representative of Reformed Theology they were or how it might have been perverted by racism there.  Any insights?

Call me lazy, but I will not be answering this very first question to the Genevan Help Line. The reason is not that I lack the ability to Google “South African Apartheid” and “Dutch Reformed Church,” among other key phrases, or even to consult more reputable sources, but I happen to have a friend who is a native of South Africa, and he happens to be Reformed, so I knew his knowledge and experience would prove a valuable resource to consult. In response to D. Kelly, my friend, Lorimer, writes:

Wow! This is a loaded question!

To answer this you must go back to 1652 when the Dutch first came to South Africa and brought the Dutch Reformed practices with them. The misconception is that these were only Dutch people but the truth is that other Europeans came along.  The French, Scottish, German, and of course the English also came during this time period.

The French, also known in South Africa as the Huguenots, were the actual initiators of the separation of the Dutch Reformed Church into three main branches of the Reformed Church. One of these churches became the National Church of South Africa, from which would come South Africa’s first President, Paul Kruger. South African currency derived its name, the Kruger Rand, from this important figure.

This church and president wanted to protect the resources of South Africa, so they established moral laws. Fast-forward many years, and many wars; to make the long story short, the Dutch Reformed Church when it arrived in South Africa was different from the way it was when apartheid came into play.

The Boers (which were not all Dutch) used religion as a means of oppressing the blacks and teaching young white kids that God has chosen them as a superior race. So, in a sense, the statement “Reformed Christianity in South Africa has been one of the ideological pillars of apartheid…” is somewhat true in that it depends on which of the three branches it comes from. The “true” Dutch Reformed Church is very much Reformed.

 

Taking the Bible “Seriously,” Not Literally

Syrian statue of Saul of Tarsus falling from his horse at the appearance of Jesus

Here’s another example of how people are incapable of absolute objectivity. As you know, I’m currently reading Oxford Church Historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 2009 book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (© 2009, Viking). Fortunately, the author makes no pretense to absolute objectivity. In his telling of the history of Christianity (or, more fashionably, “Christianities”), he explains that at times his own opinion will show through. Boy, does it ever! In some cases, these opinions appear in the form of his own imaginative theory for how something fundamental to Christianity may have developed in a way other than how the Bible explicitly states that it did. What scholar worth his salt is going to take the Bible’s historical claims at face value? Especially those involving supernatural experiences.

In his introduction, MacCulloch calls “modern neurosis” the presupposition that the Bible is authoritative. The “scholarly” approach is to take the Bible “seriously” in a way that disregards the literal interpretation of the Bible.

“The Bible’s authority for Christians lies in the fact they have a special relationship with it that can never be altered, like the relationship of parent and child. This does not deny relationships with other books which may be both deep and long-lasting, and it does not necessarily make the parental relationship easy or pleasant. It is simply of a different kind, and can never be abrogated. Once we see this, much modern neurosis about the authority of the Bible can be laid aside. Maybe the Bible can be taken seriously rather than literally” (MacCulloch, page 8).

In what way might we take the Bible seriously without taking it literally? I suppose the answer is to simply admire and attempt to follow the Bible’s moral teachings, receiving them as wrenched from their presumably mythological context. In other words, orthodox Christians need to become theological liberals. We should bravely affirm that the Bible can be wrong about history, but right about morality and spirituality. In other endeavors, if one is wrong in one area, it undermines his credibility in other areas. If the Bible is historically untenable, then it is spiritually untenable. Why, then, bother with the Bible’s morality, when we can change our morals with the times—which is precisely what theological liberals do with biblical morality. They lay it aside, along with their neurosis about the authority of the Bible. MacCulloch’s own unrepentant homosexuality is a prime example of this fact.

In chapter one, “Greece and Rome (c. 1000 BCE-100 CE),” MacCulloch gives us an example of how he takes the Bible seriously, though not literally. In his description of imperial Rome’s racial inclusivity, and generous granting of citizenship to foreigners of all kinds, he finds the possible origin of the preaching of the Christian gospel among Gentiles. MacCulloch suggests that “pride” in Paul’s own Roman citizenship could have been the real source of his desire to invite Gentiles into the number of God’s chosen people. If we took the Bible seriously, then we, too, could confidently make up our own reasons to explain away the Bible’s historical narratives! MacCulloch leads by example:

Why was Rome’s expansion so remarkably successful? Plenty of other states produced dramatic expansion, but survived for no more than a few generations or a couple of centuries at most. The western part of the Roman state survived for twelve hundred years, and in its eastern form the Roman Empire had a further thousand years of life after that. The answer probably lies in another contrast with Greece: the Romans had very little sense of racial exclusiveness. They gave away Roman citizenship to deserving foreigners—by deserving, they would mean those who had something to offer them in return, if only grateful collaboration. Occasionally whole areas would be granted citizenship. It was even possible for slaves to make the leap from being non-persons to being citizens, simply by a formal ceremony before a magistrate, or by provision in their owners’ wills.32

Where this highly original view of citizenship came from is not clear; it must have evolved during the struggle for power between the patricians and the plebeians after the fall of the kings. In any case, the effect was to give an ever-widening circle of people a vested interest in the survival of Rome. That became clear in one dramatic case in the first century of the Common Era, when a Jewish tent-maker called Paul, from Tarsus, far away from Rome in Asia Minor, could proudly say that he was a Roman citizen, knowing that this status protected him against the local powers threatening him. It might have been his pride in this status of universal citizen which first suggested to Paul that the Jewish prophet who had seized his allegiance in a vision had a message for all people and not just the Jews (MacCulloch, p. 42).

If we only had the scholarly authority to associate things that are historically verifiable–like the extent of Roman citizenship–with fundamental elements of Christianity–like their proclaiming to Gentiles the life, death, resurrection and royal ascension of the Jewish Messiah–then we wouldn’t have to suspend our disbelief enough to take the Bible literally when Paul’s physician-associate, Luke–himself a careful historian (cf. Luke 1:1-3)–records in the sequel to his gospel, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus, and divine calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles:

                [9:1] But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest [2] and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. [3] Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. [4] And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” [5] And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. [6] But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [7] The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. [8] Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. [9] And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

[10] Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” [11] And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, [12] and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” [13] But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. [14] And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” [15] But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. [16] For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” [17] So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” [18] And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; [19] and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. (See also Acts 22:1-21)

I mean, seriously!

A “Friend” Tells Our Story

In case I’ve never mentioned it, I love the way Penguin publishes their books! It’s probably just the nostalgia associated with the first Penguin Classic I ever bought as a teenager, Pilgrim’s Progress.

Recently, I was browsing at Barnes and Noble and discovered a recent church history book published by Viking (Published by the Penguin Group). Naturally, I was drawn in. The book is called Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Oxford Professor of Church History, Diarmaid MacCulloch.

Perusing the introduction, it became clear that, while this writer may be a super scholar (he’s got a long list of awards and other honors to his name), he is not a believer, although he used to profess faith. In fact, he was an Anglican deacon, but refused to enter the priesthood due, fortunately, to controversy swirling around homosexual clergy. See his Wikipedia entry linked above for more on this story.

Although intrigued, I was not quite sure if I should spend my money on the book, so I visited that old place where people can check out books temporarily without having to pay for them, unless they are returned late. Remember libraries? Pretty cool places.

Reading the introduction is a roller coaster ride for an orthodox Christian like myself. MacCulloch, as close as he has always lived to Christianity, makes some rather odd observations about the development of Christianity, but he assures the reader he is a “candid friend of Christianity” (p11). Fair enough. The writing is very engaging, and I have a healthy respect for common grace as it relates to the vocation of unbelievers, and I am sure there is much good information I  can gain from this book.

My pastor and his family swung by our house this afternoon, and I showed him that I was reading MacCulloch’s Christianity, and wanted to learn what he knew about the writer. He said they used his previous history, Reformation, as a textbook at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also said that the British WTS Church History prof, Carl Trueman, knows MacCulloch and respects his work. My pastor also wants me to let him know what I think after I read it. If any of my readers are familiar with MacCulloch’s work, please share your thoughts and reactions with us in the comments section.

So, with such a hearty endorsement, I suppose I can afford to set aside the other books I’m bogged down in, and focus on this one for a few weeks until I can’t continue. As much as I love books, I’m a slow and easily distracted reader. My “ADD” will kick in at some point, I’ll return the book to the library (on time, hopefully), and then go purchase the paperback edition of both Christianity: The First Three Thousand Yearsand Reformation: A History

Here’s a BBC  interview of MacCulloch on his history of Christianity, in case you’re interested in what’s in store for me as I read his book:

The Mission of the Church

Don’t miss the latest episode of Westminster Seminary California’s Office Hours podcast, featuring an interview with Rev. Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan. Rev. DeYoung is the co-author of What is the Mission of the Church? and writes from his unique perspective as one whoought to be Emergent, but isn’t.” Office Hours host, Dr. R. Scott Clark discusses with him how the biblical mission of the church compares to some of the many trendier ways of being “missional.” One of the key issues they discuss is the fact that the promises of God for the individual and the cosmos,  both of which are contained in the gospel which it is the church’s mission to proclaim, are positive blessings which God will bring about in his time and in his way, and for which it is not always intended that we are to draw up a missional strategy of social outreach in order to participate in the fulfillment of these promises.

Kevin DeYoung also blogs at the Gospel Coalition. I just subscribed to his RSS Feed.

Enter “The catholic Calvinist”

If you’re at all politically inclined, I’d like to invite you to follow a series of posts I’ve begun this evening in which I’ll be blogging through Rick Santorum’s book, “It Takes a Family” at http://www.wepickrick.net/profile/JohnDChitty.

If my posts or my support of such an overtly religious candidate bothers any of my 2k brethren, many of whom likely support the only Protestant in the Republican nomination race, feel free to express your concerns or questions here (with 2k issues) and at my WePickRick.net blog with political issues.

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