Saturday, September 22, 2007

Commentaries on Matthew

Over at the Road to Emmaus, Chad Knudson provides a good list of helpful commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew.

My personal favorite Matthew commentaries include:
Matthew, by J.C. Ryle.
Matthew, by John A. Broadus.
Matthew, by William Hendricksen.
Matthew: A Commentary, by Frederick Dale Bruner.
The Gospel According to Matthew, by Leon Morris.

Dr. Mohler Affirms Confessionalism

In his annual fall convocation address at Southern Seminary on August 28, Dr. Mohler reaffirmed the importance of confessional subscription just after 4 more Southern Seminary professors signed the Abstract of Principles, Southern's doctrinal statement.

BP writer Jeff Robinson wrote:
Confessions of faith, Mohler said, have been crucial throughout church history because they have helped Christians to distinguish orthodox doctrine from heresy. He pointed to examples such as the Nicene Creed that arose out of the Council of Nicaea in 325. The creed affirmed the orthodox expression of the deity of Christ against the threat of Arianism -- a heresy that argued Christ was merely a created being, that there was a time when He did not exist. The orthodox belief in Christ's deity as set forth in the Nicene Creed is central to the Gospel and the proclamation of it, Mohler said.

Baptists have been a confessional people throughout their history, Mohler said. Southern Baptists did not adopt a confession until 1925 because the denomination's churches and associations had their own statements of faith. The SBC first adopted the Baptist Faith & Message in 1925 because denials of God's truth were rampant in the culture and were threatening churches, Mohler said.

Some argue that the Bible is their only creed, but Mohler note that cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons also claim the Bible as their source of doctrine. Thus, it is important for Christians to know, in summary form, what the Bible teaches. While Scripture is the sole authority for Christians, confessions serve as concise expressions of its most important doctrines, Mohler said.

He concluded with nine reasons why confessions are important. Confessions, he said: define the truth, correct error, operate as standards for God's people, assist in worship, connect modern Christians to the faith of their fathers, are useful as a teaching mechanism, protect the teaching, summarize the teaching of Scripture and define Christian unity.

HT: Excogitating Engineer

Federal Vision Soter-Ecclesiology

In the Federal Vision discussion at De Regno Christi, Peter Leithart made the following succinct comment about Federal Vision teaching:

The FV claim is: If the visible church is the body and kingdom of Christ, and baptism is the entry rite into the visible church, then baptism joins the baptized to the body of Christ and makes him or her a subject of His kingdom. Baptism makes the baptized a member of the more-than-human community of the church; baptism makes the baptized a member of the body of Christ, which really is the body of Christ, that is to say, the human community joined to the Incarnate Son through the Spirit.

This is consistent with the Federal Vision's emphasis on the objective character of the church and with its program to cast nearly every aspect of salvation in objective terms. My fear in such an approach is that it will create Christian nominalism, a people who "honors Me with their lips" (objective) but whose "hearts are far from Me" (subjective).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Classic Dispensationalism and Modernism

Marsden's book, Fundamentalism and American Culture, made an interesting point about dispensationalism, which was the standard theology of most strands of Fundamentalism. In my post below, I argued that Fundamentalism, like liberalism, was based on modernist presuppositions. In this post, I'll summarize Marsden's argument that dispensationalism's hermeneutic is based on modernism as well.

Classic Dispensationalism itself claims to have a "literal" hermeneutic, but that doesn't simply mean the Bible should be treated as "literature" composed of a number of literary genres; rather, it means that the Bible should be interpreted to be "scientifically" precise in all its statements and details. Dispensationalists are known for their scientific interpretation of passages in every literary genre and for their meticulous classification and division of texts into various categories based on that interpretation.

Interestingly, dispensationalism's "scientific" hermeneutic led to its insistence on a radical discontinuity between the Old and the New Testaments. Dispensationalism interprets prophecy the way a scientist interprets data; therefore, dispensationalists admit only one kind of prophetic fulfillment - precisely the one meaning that the human author had in mind when he wrote it in history. The scientific hermeneutic cannot allow for OT promises to be fulfilled in the church because those promises were made to the geo-political nation of ethnic Israel.

The great problem with the dispensationalist's hermeneutic is that it is based on rationalist, modernist, scientific assumptions about interpretation and language and it fails to recognize the various biblical genres, especially the unique biblical genre of prophecy. Moreover, it refuses to accept as paradigmatic and normative the NT's own hermeneutic of the OT. To sum up, the problem with dispensationalism is that its hermeneutic is derived from modernist presuppositions rather than from the Bible itself.

Fundamentalism and American Culture

I just finished reading George Marsden's book, Fundamentalism and American Culture. The thesis of the book is that Fundamentalism was a conservative reaction to modernism.

Modernism claimed that it had destroyed Christianity by introducing the higher critical study of Scripture and the theory of evolution. Modernism captured the universities with evolution as a modern alternative to creation, and challenged the seminaries and churches with higher criticism, which undermined the unity and integrity of the Bible. Christianity, according to modernists, was no longer a viable worldview; therefore, it must be abandoned in favor of philosophical naturalism, or Atheism. Liberalism and Fundamentalism were the two responses to modernism within the "Christian" camp, both of which tried to salvage Christianity from total destruction.

Liberalism sought to save Christianity by changing its essential character. Liberals accepted the rationalistic presuppositions of modernism and agreed with its conclusions, but it defined the Christian faith in such a way that modernist conclusions could not undermine it. Schleiermacher was the first to argue in complete form that religion is the "feeling of absolute dependence," which is a purely subjective experience of faith and not based on anything objective. Defined this way, Christianity need not have any basis in objective facts, such as the resurrection of Christ, Nicean Christology, and the historical fall of Adam. The historicity of all such stories could be rejected and the Christian faith would remain in tact, since Christianity was the experience of dependence not objective facts.

While liberalism sought to save Christianity from modernism by agreeing with modernism and re-defining Christianity, Fundamentalism tried to save Christianity by agreeing with the modernist rationalistic presuppositions, while denying its conclusions. Fundamentalism had no problem with the notion that the human mind is the starting point of knowledge. They approved of scientific inquiry and discovery, but they disagreed modernist conclusions. So, Fundamentalists set out to beat the modernists and liberals at their own game, to argue against higher criticism, and to try to undermine evolutionary theory with science. The Fundamentalists often were put to shame when they tried to fight the liberals and modernists on their own terms both because they accepted modernist presuppositions and because they often didn't study sufficiently.

J. Gresham Machen
Machen, a conservative "Fundamentalist" Presbyterian, argued against liberalism on two fronts. First, he claimed that liberalism is not Christian and that while it tended to use historic Christian terminology, it filled those terms with new and foreign meaning, such that it changed virtually every historic doctrine of the faith. Second, he claimed that liberalism is not scientific because it divorced the faith from science, grounding religion in pure experience, cutting it off from science.

Shailer Matthews
Matthews, a liberal Protestant, argued that liberalism is both historical and scientific, contra Machen. First, it is historical. He argued that what liberalism has in common with historic Christianity is the "feeling of absolute dependence" which is the religious experience of historic Christians. Doctrines have always changed. The Bible itself shows doctrinal progression. Liberalism simply moves along that continuum, while retaining the kernel of the ancient subjective faith. He also argued that though religion and the religious experience is not based on science, it nonetheless provides science with data to study. Theology, then, is the emperical study of human experience in the Bible, in church history, and in the individual consciousness. Liberalism is therefore scientific.

My Conclusion
The problem with both liberalism and Fundamentalism is that both begin with modernist starting points. The proper foundation of epistemology is not the independent mind of man as the Enlightenment and modernism suggests but the Word of God, which must be presupposed for any knowledge to be possible at all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Federal Vision Discussion

De Regno Christi will be hosting a discussion of the Federal Vision beginning Monday September 17, 2007. Questions to be addressed include: "First, What is the problem in Reformed Christianity that Federal Vision is trying to fix? Second, is it a real problem, and, if so, did/does the FV address it adequately? Finally, if FV is inadequate, what alternative plan for addressing the problem do FV critics propose." Doug Wilson, Richard Gamble, Peter Leithart, D.G. Hart, John Muether, and Richard Lints will be among the participants.

HT: James Grant

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Anatomy of Cowardice

In reflecting on Tom Ascol's posts on cowardly anonymity and ministerial courage, I started to mull over the nature of cowardice. Cowardice is essentially the fruit of idolatry, fear of men, and legalism. Cowards believe that by doing something wrong or by not doing what is right, other men will approve of them and they will have greater happiness in their lives. It is a form of legalism, which says if I "do" or "work hard for" what other men "approve," then I will be "acceptable" (justified) in their eyes, and they will make my life happier for it. Conversely, cowards fear that if they do what is right and in accordance with God's laws, men will disapprove of them and make their lives miserable. These are actually the terms of the covenant of sin, the Satanic covenant, that promises acceptablity in the sight of others and happiness on the basis of sin. Cowards believe those Satanic promises and sin accordingly.

The antidote to cowardice is a clear understanding of the gospel covenant, particularly of justification and sanctification. God's people are acceptable in God's sight only for what Christ has done in their place. Thus, they do not have to work for the approval of anyone and should not try to win the approval of men. God approves of them, and God is for them. So, why should they try to work for anyone else's approval? Furthermore, if God's people obey God's laws, God will bless them and protect them. Obedience is certainly sometimes costly in physical terms, but it always brings about happy fellowship with the Father through Christ in the Spirit. How do we know? God has already given us His Son. How will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Cowards don't believe the promises of God. They work for the approval of men. The solution is to trust Christ and to believe His promises that He will perserve, sanctify, and reward His own who obey Him, even though that obedience may cost them their very lives.

Anonymity and Cowardice

Tom Ascol over at the Founder's blog has an excellent post about the cowardice of anonymity. The Bible never makes room for us to make accusations of others without putting our names to our accusations. Every biblical example of any man who ever stood for the truth was known for his stand and had to be willing to take the heat for it.

In Revelation 21:8, cowardice is the first in a list of sins that will send you to hell: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the destestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."