Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who wrote the following statement? C'mon, take a guess...

"I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read, whom I extol in higher terms than Helmichius himself, as he owned to me, ever did. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above all others, above most, yea above all. His Institutes, so far as respects Commonplaces, I give out to be read after the Catechism, as a more extended explanation. But here I add -- with discrimination, as the writing of all men ought to be read."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Richard Hooker on the Efficacy of Baptism

Another fine excerpt from the theologian who weaned me away from Dortian Calvinism over a decade ago.


Were St Augustine now livinge there are which would tell him for his better instruction that to saie of a child it is elect and to saie it doth believe are all one, for which cause sith [since] no man is able preciselie to affirme the one of any infant in particular, it followeth that precisely and absolutelie wee ought not to say the other. Which precise and absolute termes are needles [needless] in this case. Wee speake of infantes as the rule of pietie alloweth both to speake and thinke. They that can take to themselves in ordinarie talke a charitable kinde of libertie to name men of theire own sorte Gods deare children (notwithstandinge the large raign of hypocrisie) should not me thinkes be so strickt and rigorous against the Church for presuminge as it doth of a Christian innocent. For when wee knowe how Christ in generall hath said that of such is the kingedom of heaven, which kingdom is thininheritance [the inheritance] of Gods elect, and doe withall behold how his providence hath called them unto the first beginninges of eternall life and presented them at the welspringe of nue birth wherein originall synne is purged, besides which synne there is no hinderance of theire salvation knowne to us, as them selves will graunt, hard it were that havinge so manie faire inducementes whereupon to ground, wee should not be thought to utter at the least a truth as probable and allowable in terminge anie such particular infant an elect babe, as in presuminge the like of others, whose saftie nevertheles wee are not absolutelie able to warrant. If any troubled with these scruples be onlie for instructions sake desirous to knowe yeat some farther reason why interogatories should be ministred to infantes in baptisme, and be answered unto by others as in theire names, they may consider that baptisme implyeth a covenant or league between God and man, wherein as God doth bestowe presentlie remission of synnes and the holie Ghost, bindinge also him selfe to add in processe of tyme what grace soever shalbe farther necessarie for thattainement of everlastinge life; so everie baptised soule receyvinge the same grace at the handes of God tyeth likewise it selfe for ever to the observation of his lawe no less the Jewes by circumcision bound them selves to the lawe of Moses. The law of Christ requiringe therefore faith and nunes [newness] of life in all men by vertue of the covenant which they make in baptisme, is it toyish that the Church in baptisme exacteth at everie mans hande an expresse profession of faith and an irrevocable promise of obedience by way of sollmene stipulation?

--Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, V:lxiv, 3-4.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

McGrath on English "Arminianism"

Although there can be little doubt that the Reformed doctrine of election continued to be widely held, particularly within Puritan circles, increasing opposition to the doctrine, largely from academic sources, was evident in the early seventeenth century. Thus Richard Hooker at Oxford, and Launcelot Andrewes at Cambridge, developed an 'Arminianism before Arminius', which received considerable impetus through the influence of William Laud, subsequently translated to Canterbury. Like Vincent of Lerins, Andrewes declined to support the latest continental speculation on predestination precisely because he felt it to be an evident innovation. The Arminianism of the leading divines of the period -- and the intense hostility towards them from Puritans -- is perhaps best illustrated from the controversy surrounding the publication of Henry Hammond's Practical Catechism in 1644. This work may be regarded as a classic statement of the soteriological convictions of the Laudian party, asserting unequivocally that Christ died for all men. This view was variously described by his opponents: Cheynell accused him of subscribing to the doctrine of universal salvation; others charged him with Arminianism. The response of Charles Barksdale to this latter charge is particularly significant:

"You are mistaken when you think the Doctrine of Universall Redemption Arminianisme. It was the Doctrine of the Church of England before Arminius was borne. We learne it out of the old Church-Catechisme. I believe in Iesus Christ, Who hath redeemed mee and all mankind. And the Church hath learned it out of the plaine Scripture, where Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sinnes of the world."

In this, Barksdale must be regarded as substantially correct. The Bezan doctrine of limited atonement was somewhat late in arriving in England, by which time the older Melanchthonian view had become incorporated into the confessional material of the English national church -- such as the catechism of 1549. This evidently poses a nice problem in relation to terminology: should one style men such as Peter Baro (d. 1599) as an 'Arminian avant la lettre', or accept that their teaching was typical of the period before the Arminian controversy brought the matter to a head and a new theological term into existence? Most Anglican divines in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries appear to have based their soteriology on the dialectic between universal redemption and universal salvation, declining to accept the Bezan solution of their Puritan opponents...

--Iustitia Dei, p. 293-294.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Judicious Mr. Hooker

The following excerpt was taken from Fragments of an Answer to the Letter of Certain English Protestants found in the Keble edition of Richard Hooker's Works, Book V, Appendix 1, 46.


"One thing further also we must note, touching obduration: that there may be in man such malice, as maketh him the child of eternal death, and yet not always such cause, as induceth God perpetually to withhold his grace: which difference between the act of reprobation and obduration is the more necessary to be well observed, in regard of those things, which the Scripture hath concerning sin against the Holy Ghost, and the sin of apostasy after grace. For we need not doubt of the cause of reprobation in them, touching whom the Apostle hath said, they crucify again unto themselves the Son of God, and make mock of him. And yet, that in them God did not always see cause to withhold his Holy Spirit, appeareth as much as the same men were once enlightened, and had been partakers of the heavenly gift of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted of the good word of God, and of the power of the world to come. On the other side, perpetuity of inward grace belongeth unto none, but eternally foreseen elect, whose difference from castaways, in this life, doth not herein consist, that the one have grace always, the other never: but in this, that the one have grace that abideth, the other either not grace at all, or else grace which abideth not." [Emphasis in text]

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Influence of the British Commission at the Synod of Dort, 1619

The following excerpt comes from Peter White's definitive work, Predestination, Policy, and Polemic: Conflict and Consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civl War (CUP, 1992), page 198.


Even more striking are the British comments on the rejectio errorum under this head [Fifth Head -- Perseverance]. By far the most important was their successful request to exclude from condemnation those who taught that true believers and regenerate ('vere credentes et regenitos') were able to fall from the faith of justification. The reasons they gave merit attention:

We ourselves think that this doctrine is contrary to Holy Scripture, but whether it is expedient to condemn it in these our canons needs great deliberation. On the contrary, it would appear

1. That Augustine, Prosper and the other Fathers who propounded the doctrine of absolute predestination and who opposed the Pelagians, seem to have conceded that certain of those who are not predestined can attain the state of regeneration and justification. Indeed, they use this very argument as an illustration of the deep mystery of predestination; which cannot be unknown to those who have even a modest acquaintance with their writings [!].

2. That we ought not without grave cause to give offence to the Lutheran churches, who in this matter, it is clear, think differently.

3. That (which is of greater significance) in the Reformed churches themselves, any learned and saintly men who are at one with us in defending absolute predestination, nevertheless think that certain of those who are truly regenerated and justified, are able to fall from that state and to perish and that this happens eventually to all those, whom God has not ordained in the decree of election infallibly to eternal life. Finally we cannot deny that there are some places in Scripture which apparently support this opinion, and which have persuaded learned and pious men, not without a great probability.
Those powerful arguments were effective, and the canon was dropped. As a corollary, the British also asked for the doctrine that temporary faith differed from justifying and saving faith only in duration not to be rejected by the synod...

Friday, November 10, 2006

My New Bible: The Harper Collins Study Bible

Being in academia has its perks. For instance, from time to time I receive complimentary examination copies of textbooks. Last week I received a complimentary edition of the new fully revised and updated Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV). I have to say that I very much enjoy the experience of getting to know the landscape of a new Bible, and a relatively new translation for me at that. (My all-time favorite translation is the RSV.) And while I am not a great fan of "Study Bibles," this one contains the most balanced biblical scholarship I have yet come across in a Study Bible. I am very much considering requiring this as a text for the next class I teach in Hermeneutics. (I guess that's why publishers send complimentary copies to academes!) What follows below is an excerpt from one of the articles front-loaded to this edition, called, "Strategies for Reading Scripture" by John Barton.

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"A CANONICAL APPROACH TO READING SCRIPTURE is essentially the way most Christians usually understand the task if they are not involved in technical biblical study, but in recent years it has also been promoted by an influential movement within biblical scholarship. It begins from the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God to the church and that the meanings to be found in it flow from this. The scriptures, it is believed, are not simply a collection of ancient books that happen to have come together to form a corpus, but a carefully selected range of works in which the church has encountered a communication from God. This is very obviously true of the writings of the NT, which are the primary witness to the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the beginnings of the Christian church, which revered him as its founder; these include the very early testimony of the apostles, above all perhaps of the apostle Paul. It is also true of the OT, in which the God whom Jesus worshipped is encountered throughout the history of ancient Israel, witnessed to by the prophets, priests, and sages, and described by historians and psalmists. In these works the word of life is to be found, and reading them is thus not at all the same kind of experience as reading any other books, not even other religious texts. It calls for a particular mental attitude and for a number of presuppositions about what will be found in the text."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Questions recently asked of me...and the answers I gave

(1) Do you see any significant shifts in Western Christianity that are of concern to you?

The shift that most concerns me in the West is the steady dismantling of philosophical and cultural modernity. On the one hand, we can rightly rejoice that modernity has finally been revealed for the tower of Babel that it was. Modernity placed all of its hopes on the supposed certainty of its scientific tools and "objective" methodologies. On the other hand, nothing has yet stepped into the philosophical and cultural void, which in recent times has been dubbed, for better or for worse, "postmodernity."

The naked truth that we now face is the realization that the church has been just as dependent on modernity as the rest of the society, and so modernity's demise marks the demise of much that Christians once took for granted. The postmodern world may offer fresh opportunities to preach the Gospel to a dying world, but what many Christians are discovering is that the message and methods once considered "tried and true" simply do not answer the questions or address the needs of the postmodern individual, who quite naturally retreats to the inner self to find any semblance of meaning or purpose for existence.

Once we realize that the default position of postmodernity is "self-absorption," then the success of the contemporary megachurch model is easy to understand, which has all but turned narcissism into a Christian virtue. Recent events have revealed how susceptible today's evangelical megachurch leaders are to the cult of personality, and thus how vulnerable they are to the narcissistic culture we live in. And yet, the megachurch model is held up by today's evangelical community as the measure and standard of kingdom-building success! What makes the megachurch such a dangerous response to the needs of postmodern man is that, rather than challenging self-absorption, it embraces and institutionalizes it. The resulting paradox is a hugely successful message that is profoundly vacuous of any objective content.

(2) What hopeful signs, if any, do you see in Western Christianity?

Ironically, the challenge of postmodernity is also an opportunity to recover a Gospel unencumbered with the artifices and constructs imposed upon it by modernity. Not only have the so-called "secular" institutions of modernity been revealed as naked, but the denominational and confessional ones of our churches have as well. This opens up new possibilities for ecumenicity based largely on the rediscovery, reappraisal, and return to more ancient (i.e. "pre-modern") paths. Some of this is already occuring in the emerging church movement, though I hesitate to give it my full endorsement because of its infancy, and because it too often appears to be the "blind leading the blind." However, there are "prophets" of a previous age, who I believe anticipated the demise of modernity, and who of late are being rediscovered and reappraised -- thinkers like Bonhoeffer, Barth, Rahner, and C.S. Lewis come readily to mind. This gives me great hope.

(3) What is your advice to students studying to become pastors today?

Stay away from self-help gurus in evangelical guise, and "how to" manuals on church growth or on successful ministry ventures (e.g. youth, adult, small group, etc.). Read lots of history, until you become sick of it. And then read some more. Learn the lessons of history by relating them to the present. Be patient with those who are ignorant of history. And when your patience for people runs low or runs out, pray earnestly for more. Don't neglect yourself or your family's well-being. In fact, put your family first, always. Enjoy the life that God has given you by making the most of those fleeting moments when you haven't a care in the world. Never feel guilty about having a good time, and resist the temptation of feeling self-righteous when the world seems to be against you. Most of all, pray that God will keep you humble.

(4) What advice would you give to those already pastoring who are feeling burnt out?

Find a way to take a break or a sabbatical. Go on a retreat. Better yet, take a long family vacation. Renew your relationship with your spouse, your family, friends and loved ones. Call an old friend who you haven't talked to in a long while. Seek the advice and counsel of an older pastor or clergy. Confide in them. Whatever you do, do not do it alone.

(5) What is your personal (general) rule of life (devotion/prayer/Scripture, etc.) as a pastor and/or professor of theology?

I rely on the constant and relentless study of the Bible, reading the lives of the saints, and using devotional aids to prayer, like prayer beads, prayer manuals/books, or seasonal disciplines like the stations of the cross to encourage and to embellish my personal regimen of prayer.