Use of the Old Testament

How do the New Testament writers make use of the Old Testament? In what ways did the Old Testament writers understand the inspiration of their writings?

Your answer to these questions shapes your view on Scripture, and these issues are the focus of a new book coming out this fall, called
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. It looks like it will be interesting, and it is certainly the case that some of these matters are hot topics currently.

If you’re interested in knowing where you fit in the three views, here’s a quick quiz that will give you a general sense. Some of these were questions I had never considered before, and may be new concepts to you, also-- but even if you feel a little lost or confused by these, they’re useful for insight into how complicated this issue is.

Fun quizzes, surveys & blog quizzes by Quibblo



Application summary from the Lord's Supper series

As I wrapped up a brief sermon series on The Lord’s Supper yesterday, I thought it may be helpful to summarize the applications, or “answers” to the questions I posed about the sacrament (which were, “what is it?” “when is it?” and “how is it?”):
  • The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal, which means it is a family meal-- thus, it’s not primarily an individual thing, but much more of a group thing, and in a mysterious spiritual way, it is a time of true, living fellowship with God Himself, through which He nourishes our souls with grace.
  • The sacrament is something that we should be devoted to doing: devoted to doing it in the context of worship, accompanied by Word and prayer, because these are the spiritual food that God has given us for nourishment; and devoted to doing it often-- as often as we are able-- because we long to be fed and nourished all the more on the grace of God.
  • The sacrament is something for believers gathered together, not for unbelievers: if we know salvation through Christ alone, we are welcomed through the Gate to take part in this spiritual feast; but if we approach it wrongly-- in an unbelieving way, whether because we misunderstand what the sacrament is for, or because we presume on it meaning that it doesn’t have-- then we are warned of the consequences of judgement being increased on us.

The Bible, authority, and interpretation part 2

Following up on my previous post, I’ll continue my reflections from the fascinating conversation I got to be a part of earlier in the week.

At another point in the conversation, one of these formerly legalistic teenagers commented on the damage that was done through this oppressive environment. Specifically, she said that she felt like no one was given any sense of their right to read the Bible for themselves. Instead, they were told what the Bible taught and what it meant for them.

This is oppressive-- and brings to mind a significant part of the Protestant reformation, which was to translate the Bible into the language of the people (instead of only into Latin), so that people of than the priests and bishops could read it. There is an essential aspect of the faith that comes from reading Scripture; it is the Word of God for the people of God. And it is important that people know their Bibles so that they can test the teachings of others against the Word of God (remember the Bereans, who were praised for this in Acts 17:11).

At the same time, the approach of the leaders in the legalistic community are a good example of how we tend to take sound principles too far, when there is actually a “middle ground” balance needed.

Christians today too often take the “democratization of the Bible” too far; because the Reformers saw that it was important that people other than only the authorities of the church be able to read Scripture, today we have many who have decided that their interpretation of the Bible is as good as anyone’s-- and maybe better.

In fact, not everyone can interpret the Bible equally. Some have been trained extensively for interpreting the Bible-- learning the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, studying the history, archeaology, and peoples of biblical times, training in methods and approaches of how to study and interpret Scripture, and other ways of being trained. Others have read and studied their Bibles many times over, and they simply know the Scriptures well. Still others are, frankly, not familiar enough with the Bible to make the confident assertions of interpretation that they do.

This isn’t to say that not
everyone ought to read their Bibles and, yes, make efforts at interpretation. But it is to say that all of us ought to remain teachable about even those biblical texts that we feel the most familiar with. And when we recognize that an interpretation we have made is at odds with an interpretation that others have made, we ought to be willing to hear the reasoning behind their interpretation with an open mind.

Imagine, if you will, the person who dogmatically insists that his translation of a text, though totally at odds with everyone else, is the accurate one:

Dogmatist: This is what I believe the text is saying...
Elder: I don’t see how you got that from Scripture; instead, I think the text says this...
Dogmatist: You’re wrong. It says what I said.
Elder: Well, let’s consult these commentaries, written by contemporary scholars... and, yes, they disagree with your interpretation, also.
Dogmatist: It doesn’t matter. I’m sticking with what I said.
Elder: Okay, but now I’ve consulted with the historical confessions, and they all assert that your interpretation is incorrect.
Dogmatist: That’s what they think. I know what my Bible says.
Elder: But look here, where the early church fathers wrote about exactly that... and they all say the text means something different.
Dogmatist: They can say what they want, but I still say it means what I said.

This sounds a little far-fetched-- but I’ve actually met people who were so convinced that their interpretation (and it always seems to be a “new” take on something) is right that they are willing to disagree with pastors, scholars, and others over 2000+ years of church history and interpretation of the Scripture. A wise pastor once said to me, “if your interpretation is in complete disagreement with 2000 years of church history, you’re very likely wrong.”

This is one of the reasons why I find the presbyterian approach to “doing church” so helpful. As presbyterians, the default position is that my voice alone is not the final word, nor is anyone else’s. Instead, we constantly defer to one another with humility. As presbyterians, we trust that God is at work in the others in our congregation, our presbytery, our synod, or our assembly, at least as much as He has been at work in us to reveal the truth. There will always be times when it is possible that the larger bodies are wrong-- but then we turn to the greater history of the church and test our perspectives against that. The deference to the higher bodies is always present, and always keeping us accountable for our interpretation.

We must read our Bibles, and we must work at interpretation. But we must also be ready to be shown that we are wrong. If we aren’t, then we have made ourselves the author of Scripture-- for only the author can be utterly certain of the meaning of a text.

The Bible, authority, and interpretation part I

The other day I was with a group of people who were talking about an especially legalistic environment that some of them had been a part of as teenagers-- a place where they were literally told what to believe, and that if they disagreed they would go to Hell. The leaders in this environment were, clearly, abusing their authority and making claims that no one person or group has a right to make.

One person commented on the fact that I should get a lot of sermon illustrations from these stories! (He was right...) That got me to thinking about what the real applications really were. I’d like to reflect on two broad applications here, over two posts.

At one point I asked the question of this group: how did your parents (who were all Christians) continue to believe that it was good for you to be a part of this? After all, I said, you would surely come home and tell them all about it.

Their first response demonstrated how powerful the authoritarian environment was:

No, we were told that if we reported on them we would go to Hell.

[Note, by the way, the similar nature of this environment to a classic abusive relationship-- where the victim is told that THEY (the victim) would get in trouble if they told.]

But as they went on, something else became clear. One of them said:

I was glad to be there. I needed a place where I could belong, and this place felt safe-- partly because of the rules.

And there I saw my first sermon illustration: when it comes down to it, we all gravitate toward legalism. We are all legalists.

When we’re offered an environment where the rules are known, it becomes very easy to settle into that. We know where we stand in the pecking order; we are then able to proclaim with confidence precisely why we have merited the favor of God and men.

I think this is what makes grace so threatening, so terrifying to all of us. If the work that earns us favor isn’t our work (through legalism) but Christ’s work imputed to us (by grace), we are actually dependent on something (grace) and someone (Christ) other than ourselves.

This also illustrates why even communities that are defined by Christ’s grace (namely, churches) quickly return to legalism. Dependence is very uncomfortable. Dependence is often humbling, sometimes awkward, and frequently at odds with pride. Someone who is dependent has just reason to lose some confidence in themselves.

Here’s the irony in it all: we are always dependent. Even when we think we have every reason for confidence (as with the group of teenagers who knew exactly their place in the social order of that legalistic community), we are still dependent on something: for the legalist, it is the rules and laws that we subscribe to, and the authority who creates and enforces them.

Legalism-- that idea that “I can earn merit/favor/righteousness through obedience, and take confidence and pride in myself”-- is a lie.

Bible choices

How did you choose the translation of the Bible that you use? What was the process for evaluation? What factors did you consider?

My guess is that many folks “chose” somewhat arbitrarily. Maybe they were given a nice Bible as a gift, and they decided that would become their main Bible. Maybe a friend showed her a study tool in his Bible, and she thought she would like to have those tools as well. Perhaps they’ve simply used the same Bible since they were a child-- and they can’t even remember where they got their Bible!

When I was first beginning at Hickory Withe PC, one of the members asked me, “which Bible translation will you be preaching from?” It turns out that he and his wife wanted to do their devotional reading in the same Bible that they would use on Sunday mornings-- which they wanted to be the same translation that the preacher would be using.

This is a great idea-- and an easy way to make what is becoming a more and more difficult decision: which Bible translation should I use?

There are a lot of factors that go into a Bible translation, and there is an increasing number of useful and good translations. Evaluating them can be tricky.

Thankfully, there is a new website whose intended purpose is to guide people through understanding the different translations: Whether you’re looking for a new Bible, curious about the differences between your translation and others, or wondering what translation philosophy went into the Bible you love, you’ll find a great amount of helpful information over there.

[Full disclosure: I had been meaning to mention this helpful tool already; however, by linking to them today I’m
entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the forthcoming ESV Study Bible.]

Quick thoughts on the Psalms

We’re just back from vacation, and as I wind down I thought I would throw out a couple of thoughts about the Psalms I had while driving home. These are motivated from things I saw and heard during our trip.

First, unlike the rest of Scripture the numbers don’t represent chapters; they represent the Psalms themselves. Thus, it is not correct to say, “I’ll read from Psalms 23, verse 2” because that would connote that you’re reading from chapter 23 of the Psalms. In fact, you are reading from Psalm #23, or simply Psalm 23 (note the lack of a plural “s” on the end). By the way, it’s the same in your hymnals: you aren’t turning to page so-and-so, but hymn # so-and-so.

Next: someone was telling me about what they do in their worship service (as far as readings go), and they said, “we have an Old Testament reading, a reading from Psalms, and a New Testament reading.” I’ve also heard before someone describing their devotional practice thusly: “I read a chapter from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a Proverb, and a chapter from the New Testament daily.” Here’s the thing, folks: Psalms is a part of the Old Testament! (So is Proverbs, incidentally.) So it is redandant and unclear to say, “we have an Old Testament reading and a reading from the Psalms.” I assume that these are two separate readings; one from the Psalms and one from another part-- perhaps the historical books? Or the major or minor prophets? It’s great that your liturgy includes two Old Testament readings, and that there is a weekly reading from the Psalms. And it would also be helpful to more accurately describe the other reading. (If it sounds like I’m nit-picking, realize that this person said something about this several times in the conversation, leading me to believe that it wasn’t just a semantic mistake.)

Finally, the Psalms include a peculiar aspect that isn’t present anywhere else in Scripture: they have verses that aren’t numbered. At the beginning of many Psalms, there will be a comment that reads something like, “a Psalm of ascents” or “to be sung to the tune of ‘Doe of the morning’” or somesuch. These comments are part of the original text, and are a part of the inspired Scripture just like the rest of the verses. During my vacation I heard a sermon on one of the Psalms, and this pastor included this unnumbered verse in his reading; but I have heard many other people (including some pastors) read a Psalm in its entirety, only skipping over this opening comment. It’s part of the text! So it should be read and considered just like the rest of the text. (The numbers to the Psalms are NOT part of the original, inspired text.)

Squaring our shoulders forward

I’ve mentioned before (twice: here and here) that a significant issue facing this year’s General Assembly was the question of women and how they fit into diaconal ministry. In what my friend Steven Estock called “the year of the woman,” there were no less than five overtures before the assembly that spoke to this matter, most of them asking the assembly to erect a study committee that would apply high-level scholarship to the issue.

After some substantial discussion (and some interesting moves of parliamentary procedure), the primary overture (and the rest as well, as related overtures) was answered in the negative (in other words, we voted against it) on the grounds that:

...the presbyteries should work through the implications in their own local contexts.

Their response was centered around the basis that the overtures were intended essentially to amend the Book of Church Order, and they pointed out that there are processes to amend the BCO that don’t require the time and resources of a study committee.

Already there is quite a bit of stir about this decision. Some will continue to debate the matter in a way that suggests that the vote hasn’t yet happened. Others will continue to insist that the questions being asked are such simple matters that the motives of the questioners must be suspect. (For a glimpse of some of this, you might read some of
the responses to ByFaith’s report of the decision.)

While I’m disappointed with the vote, I don’t think either of these responses is the most helpful or appropriate. Part of our presbyterianism-- a large part, actually-- is that we acknowledge that God works through His body, at least as much as (if not more than) through individual believers. So we need to trust that, if the assembly voted against this overture, God has good purposes for that.

What’s before us, then, is to receive the advice and instruction of the assembly and take up study of the issue in the lower bodies. I’m sure many are already beginning to do exactly this-- I certainly am-- and I’ll be curious to see how many overtures are presented next year with, not just questions about the issue that MIGHT lead to an amendment, but actual amendments.

Tim Keller has it right

In this interesting article from Christianity Today, PCA Pastor Tim Keller claims that the Gospel is more than only justification. He's right-- for generations leading up to our individualistic age, Christians have understood this. It has only been in recent years (and coinciding with-- or due to?-- the individualism of our day) that the concept of salvation has been limited to a one-time experience, an almost gnostic approach to spiritual life.

Here's a key excerpt from the article:
Keller answered this year's question for the Christian Vision Project, "Is our gospel too small?" (The article is not yet available online.) In so doing he took a stab at defining the gospel. "Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from the judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever."
Is God's plan to renew creation part of the gospel message? If so, is it the center of the gospel or a peripheral component of the Good News? Again, how you answer these questions affects how you will live, and how you will expect fellow church members to act.
"When the third, 'eschatological' element is left out, Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters," Keller wrote. "Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world."
Your salvation is bigger than just your conversion or justification, and it's bigger than just something that happens to you in isolation from others.

Discussing women and deacons

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Philadelphia Presbytery has submitted an overture to the PCA's General Assembly asking the GA to erect a study committee on Deaconesses. That overture has been echoed by the Western Canada Presbytery, and if I'm able to read this sort of thing at all, the committee will almost certainly be erected.

It may be needless to point out that this issue has caused quite a bit of stir and discussion. The PCA's own magazine,
byFaith, has posted a summary of the announcement of the overture and that has generated quite a bit of discussion in the comments. Other, less "official" sources have also hosted a significant amount of discussion as well. A good bit of the discussion is quite helpful, offering finer points and perspectives that would simply be impossible to gather were it not for this Internet/Information Age that we live in.

Sadly, a lot of the discussion has also deteriorated into mostly or totally unhelpful rant, name-calling, and fear-mongering. A few of the points of discussion may be summed up as follows:
  • "Scripture is clear on this matter (OR, arguing that Scripture isn't clear is a sign of our cultural liberalism and feminism)." The thought process here: because the NIV translates 1 Timothy 3:11 with reference to "their wives" instead of (the equally possible) "the women;" and because it translates "diakonos" Romans 16:1 as "servant" because it refers to a woman, then the issue is clearly settled. But who is to say that these translations are filled with cultural bias or the influence of a historical patriarchalism? Anyone who says, "Scripture is clear" has probably only been looking at English translations.

  • "The Book of Church Order (BCO) already prohibits ordaining women as Deacons." The line of thought here: The BCO is a finished, completed document that is utterly faithful to Scripture and never need be changed or amended to be brought closer to the Bible. This is difficult to reconcile with (common sense and) the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says, "All syonds or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as an help in both" (WCF 31.4).

  • "The word that is translated 'Deacon' in the Bible for men is obviously translated as 'servant' for women." Thought process: meaning changes substantially, even fundamentally, based solely on gender. This is an interesting foundational principle-- and one I'd like to hear more support for by other examples before accepting, which the arguers haven't provided.

  • "The Apostles' recognition of Phoebe, and other women in the New Testament, was a function of their cultural role-- something that doesn't apply to us." The appeal here is to the historical context, which of course is a fundamental principle in Bible interpretation. The problem is that these same folks will argue that historical context trumps literary context (or the language of the text itself-- see previous bullet) when Phoebe is mentioned, but when dealing with, say, 1 Timothy 3:11, quickly jump to the next argument...

  • "The historical context doesn't apply, since Paul was writing normative principles to Timothy about the qualifications for Deacons." Line of thought: somehow historical context is disposable for any normative portion of biblical text. The problem with that is that it would rule out the context of the deliverance and redemption of Israel out of Egyptian slavery as the setting for the 10 commandments, for example-- which most would agree poses some problems about a classic Reformed understanding of the 10 commandments.

  • "Allowing women as Deacons (even if the Bible permits it) will inevitably lead to handing over all authority in the church to women." The thinking here is a classic slippery slope notion: if one thing is bad or prohibited, then we dare not go near anything close to that thing. (This was a problem that the Pharisees often had, by the way...)

  • "Allowing women as Deacons is granting them authority and leadership that is unbibilcal." The thought trajectory in this argument is that Deacons have authority of the same sort that Elders have, and the Bible forbids women to have such authority. The problems here are rooted in the (mistaken and unbiblical) idea that Deacons are some kind of "Junior Elder" and therefore share in the role of authority with the Elders. But two problems immediately arise from this line of thought: first, the BCO itself defines the office of Deacon as "one of sympathy and service" (BCO 9.1) while it defines the Elder as office of exercising "government and discipline" (BCO 8.3)-- very different roles, one with clear distinction of authority and the other with, at best, less clear distinction. Secondly, the Deacons are "under the supervision and authority of the Session" (BCO 9.2), which begs the question: what authority do they have that, for example, a Sunday School teacher or WIC (Women in the Church) leader doesn't also have?

  • "We already have the WIC; what do we need women as Deacons for?" The idea here being that the WIC serves as a functional body of "Deaconesses" and we should simply let things remain as they are. Here again, there are two problems with this: first, Scripture does not define for us something like a WIC, and if we desire to pattern our bodies of leadership after Scripture then we should be careful about casually assuming that the WIC fulfills a role that Scripture defines for women. Secondly, and more importantly: the WIC is a ministry of leadership, structured specifically to minister to the women in the church; yet, the office of Deacon is broader than just women. Frankly, I learn a lot from women and have benefited from the ministry and teaching of many women-- and I find the suggestion that women should only minister to other women (and children) short-sighted.

  • "We ought to just do like ____ [insert name of a very large PCA church in the south] with the way they handle Deacon's assistants." I was surprised to see this argument made by more than one or two people. The thinking here: So-and-so has figured it out, and they should set the pace for all PCA churches. Again, problems arise: setting aside the very big assumption that the leadership there really has figured it out and has hit upon the perfect biblical solution, what does this have to do with what the BCO says about Deacons and women? But a closer look at the proposed practices reveals the truth: said PCA church's solution is to hire out the work of "serving tables" to outsiders (many of them unbelievers, all of them African-Americans).
I'm not convinced that blogs and discussion boards (mine included) are completely helpful in matters like these. It seems to me that folks are getting so entrenched in their positions, long before GA, that the possibility of healthy, profitable discussion on a study committee-- and even a good appointment of that committee-- is diminished.

I'm not decided about the matter. I've held back from my inclination to dig into the issue and study it to the point of deciding what my mind is about it-- though I'll take the time to do that before GA. But I am struck by this: most of the arguments against the study committee (summarized above) go against my logical inclinations-- committing fallacies and demonstrating inconsistency frequently-- and these weaken the case against a committee significantly. So I'm obviously in favor of erecting a study committee, even if I'm not decided on the issue of women as Deacons/Deaconesses.

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised that brothers and sisters in the PCA can't have a more constructive conversation about all of this. As much as anything, reading some of these discussions have caused me to grieve the lack of brotherly love and charitable grace within our denomination, and my heart has frequently been heavy about it over the past few weeks. Why is an overture to study ANY part of the BCO to consider if it is fully and truly based on Scripture so threatening?

One commenter (Scott Truax of Peace Presbyterian Church, Cary, NC) at the
byFaith page summed it up the best: "If we follow Scripture, we have nothing to fear."

"It's a gospel issue"

I was reading this article in Christianity Today about Jim Wallis, who is a leader among a Christians with a progressive political perspective, and I was struck by the fact that Ted Olsen (who interviewed Wallis) asserted that, for some, the issue of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples is, in Olsen's words, "a gospel issue."

It's not.

Make no mistake: it IS an important issue. And it certainly is an issue of biblical authority. But it is NOT a
gospel issue.

There's a key difference between an issue that is a matter of biblical authority and a "gospel" issue. A Gospel issue is one that actually threatens the truth of the Gospel-- such as a challenge to the incarnation of Christ, an assertion that the resurrection didn't happen, a claim that Jesus didn't live a sinless life, etc. Something that questions the underlying concepts of salvation is a Gospel issue. Thus, when folks in the PCA express their concern about the Federal Vision's position on Justification, for example, they are demonstrating concern about a Gospel issue.

There are a number of issues of biblical authority that aren't Gospel issues. Questions of infant baptism vs. believer's baptism, or of the function of the sacraments, are issues of biblical authority.
These are very important issues. But they aren't matters of Gospel integrity, in the same sense that Jesus being God in the flesh is a matter of Gospel integrity.

Take note of this: it is possible for someone to be in error on an issue of biblical authority and still be a Christian, and it's possible for them to remain in their error and not be considered a heretic. This is because there are differing degrees of error in terms of understanding matters of biblical truth and authority:

Working through this concept, then, Here's how these break down:

  • Truth: these are the real "gospel issues" that are universally agreed-upon as aspects of salvation, as well as a few other core beliefs (which include biblical inerrancy and authority, by the way). You might think of these as that which is required for membership in the church.
  • Mistaken opinions: Minor matters of conscience typically fall here-- someone who is of the opinion that liberty in Christ allows them to drink as much alcohol as they want on occasion, for example, holds a mistaken opinion about biblical truth. In terms of agreement or disagreement, you might think of these matters to be often matters of "semantic" differences-- where often our language and the way we say things suggests differences that suggest differences that aren't really there.
  • Errors: These are problematic, but not necessarily matters to divide over. Issues like "paedocommunion"-- where a child is offered the sacrament of communion on the basis of baptism, not on the basis of a profession of faith-- have been judged to be in this category. As such a matter was recently described by our presbytery, these might be judged as more than semantic, but not out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine.
  • Systemic errors: When we get to this stage, there are concerns that may lead to division, without requiring that we dismiss those who differ as "unbelievers." For example, in the PCA we hold that the Assemblies of God theologians have instituted systemic error in the way they view the gift of tongues. I would also argue that matters such as the one discussed with Wallis, regarding the blessing of same-sex unions by the church, falls into this category. Presbytery would label these as beliefs which "strike at the vitals of our system of doctrine."
  • Heresy: These are matters that violate the essence of the Gospel-- in other words, they are true "gospel issues" in the same way that the category of "Truth" above is, only in an opposing sense. When the remonstrants challenged the idea of the total depravity of man-- arguing that man in not inherently sinful, that he can, in fact, act in true and pure righteousness-- they were guilty of heresy. (Incidentally, they were judged as such by the courts of the church, and the response to their various points of doctrine was what we call the "five points of Calvinism.")
(Credit to David Jones and Michael Williams for this concept.)

I think it is not just useful, but essential for Christians to gain a better understanding of this. We all disagree on something-- and if you view disagreement as strictly a black-and-white, right or wrong, truth or heresy matter, then you are asserting that someone who is or may be a true brother or sister in Christ has given up the gospel.

Worse, you are asserting that your perspective is completely right and biblical-- which is never the case.

Sermon texts for February

Starting this Sunday, I'll begin the series I mentioned last week on the Cross. This series, which will be in 14 parts and will carry us through Easter, will start off with the following messages and texts in February:

2/3: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5-- The Centrality of the Cross
2/10: Romans 3:9-26-- Why Did Christ Die?
2/17: Colossians 1:19-23-- The Accomplishment of the Cross
2/24: Genesis 3:1-24-- The Problem of Forgiveness

UPDATE: This list is a work in progress, since I'm working off of
a planned series of topics instead of going directly through a book. As I study for each sermon, the Holy Spirit is shaping the direction of this series, and a better text may emerge as fitting for future sermons. When I update the list (as I did this morning) I'll bump it up to indicate the change.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I changed the final text for this month this morning; as you see, it is truly a work in progress!

Princess Molly

Over Christmas, my step-sister Louise played princess with Molly. This was the first time, really, that Molly had played princess to that extent, and all of us were a little bit surprised by how much she took to it!

But should we have been? I've been thinking about that, especially since my sister Ann Louise asked me (and others) what we thought about it. I'll try to summarize my thoughts.

The Scriptures clearly portray believers as sons and daughters of the King-- adopted, true, but sons and daughters nevertheless. In fact, when you read the accounts of how the last days will be for believers-- especially in the first part of Revelation 20-- it is clear that, as the holy children of God, set apart for His glory, we will somehow reign with Him in that glory.

What also appears to be true-- as it is latent in the words of all Scripture-- is that we were intended to reign with God from the very beginning. In part, this is what it means to be created in His image. We get this, and long for this, the most when we pause to consider how un-natural our sin is. That is what Plantinga meant when he wrote his marvelous book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be-- that "shalom," true peace and harmony with God, includes a sense of the holiness and majesty that we only see shadows of.

This idea is so rich, and has such broad application to the church. Individually, it means that, when we sin and wallow in the lowliness of instant gratification, forsaking our majesty, we ought to think, "I'm better than that!" Our means to obedience is God's grace, but our motivation for obedience is not only His grace but His dignity bestowed on us in creation, and restored in us through the cross. Corporately, it requires us to re-consider the "us vs. them" mentality that so permeates contemporary Evangelical Christianity. Yes, we are "beggars telling other beggars where to find bread" but only in the sense that the prince and the pauper traded places, and the prince got his first taste of what it means to be a beggar.

This applies to the question directly, because if this is true-- in other words, if what the Scriptures say about "the way it is supposed to be"-- then we were made for royalty. We were made to be princes and princesses. And in childlike understanding, perhaps we express this inclination best when we resonate with stories, tales, movies that suggest that all of us can have a "fairy-tale" life. In fact, it isn't a fairy tale at all.

I think little girls express this through their pretend, while little boys express this through their struggle with what looks to us like independence (but is really more of a spiritual "muscle-flexing" like a prince ought to occasionally try out). Adults express it in similar ways, but it seems much further off-- probably because so much of our view of ourselves and our world has been shaped by fallenness that we can't see past it easily.

The Pevensies weren't out of place as the kings and queens of Narnia; they were right where they were intended to be.

One way I agree with the Federal Vision proponents

One of the controversies brewing in the ranks of the PCA is concerning a theological perspective now known as "Federal Vision". Many will be aware that the PCA's General Assembly appointed a study committee in 2006 to examine Federal Vision theology, and that committee returned in 2007 with their report which was received by the Assembly (though not without some controversy).

This issue is an incredibly difficult one to understand; this is partly because, until very recently, there has not been any clear statement of exactly what it means to adhere to a Federal Vision position-- and, in some people's view, the study committee report mentioned above did not solve this problem, because there were no members of the committee that actually held the position. Others claimed that the committee's report made equivocations between the Federal Vision and other controversial perspectives that are not necessarily associated with Federal Vision. Our own Covenant Presbytery recently bumped into this as an ordained PCA Pastor, in good standing with another presbytery, met significant resistance to his transfer into Covenant Presbytery because of his sympathy toward paedocommunion (offering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to any baptized child of any age); there seemed to be some concern among a few members of presbytery that his sympathy toward the one (Paedocommunion) automatically cast him in the category of the other (Federal Vision sympathizers). (Thankfully, there has been a document released, called "A Joint Federal Vision Statement," that summarizes their perspective.)

But I digress. In a recent dialogue with others on the blog that a friend of mine writes, I learned a good deal about the structure of the arguments that the Federal Vision (or FV) proponents bring to the table. What I believe many do not realize is that they actually make TWO arguments:

First, they assert that the Westminster Confession of Faith, as helpful as it is, does not offer exhaustive definitions for the terms that it uses to categorize theological concepts. In other words, just as there are often several ways (or definitions) that a word may be used, though we only mean one of those at any particular moment-- so it is with theological terms. They claim that the Bible itself makes use of many terms in broader ways than the Westminster Confession does; thus, they say, the terminology of the Confession is useful, but it isn't exhaustive or comprehensive.

Second, they stipulate that there are other uses for certain terms, and that these other uses could (and, if they are correct, should) change the way that we understand things like church membership, practices of the sacraments, and even how we judge whether someone is justified before Christ.

It is the second argument that has gotten all of the press and attention-- but the first argument has mostly been ignored! This has led to inevitable confusion, because without the first argument then the FV proponents appear to be making all sorts of logical errors and fallacies (when, in fact, they are not).

As far as I have read and learned, I cannot agree with the FV positions on the second argument. However, as far as the first argument goes, I wholeheartedly agree. I love the Westminster Confession, and agree with it almost completely (and Covenant Presbytery has indicated that the ways that I disagree are not even substantial enough to be considered exceptions). But I do not believe it is a sufficient and comprehensive measure of truth; in fact, the Confession itself claims that it is not so. We need the Bible for many reasons-- and one of them is that it presents us with a richer, fuller sense of what theological concepts mean than what any systematic theology can offer.