Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Inerrancy and Worldview by Vern S. Poythress

Inerrancy and Worldview is the latest book from Vern Poythress. It is meant to be part of a new trilogy of books centered around challenges to the inerrancy of the Bible (the next book in the series, Inerrancy and the Gospels, is due out in October).

Poythress' book thoughtfully explores the numerous reasons why many people (Christians included) balk at the idea that the Bible is inerrant. Poythress defines inerrant as meaning "it is completely true in what it says, and makes no claims that are not true." He points out that attacks are multi-faceted: "some of the voices directly attack inerrancy. Others redefine it" (13).

And so the book is aimed at those who would attack inerrancy. Obviously, a book which covered merely objections to inerrancy would be incredibly long, and so Poythress aims at something more modest - and unique. "We will concentrate here on difficulties that have ties with the differences in worldview" (14). 

At a basic apologetic level, this work is wholly presuppositional in its approach. Poythress never deigns to pretend the Bible may or may not be the word of God. He acknowledges that it is, and then proceeds to diagnose what is wrong with the skeptic - not the Bible. "People come to the bible with expectations that do not fit the Bible, and this clash becomes one main reason, though not the only one, why people do not find the Bible's claims acceptable."

Poythress interacts with a range of challenges from a worldview perspective: challenges from materialism, history, language, sociology, anthropology, psychology, perceived contradictions, challenges from our attitudes, and also from our own corrupt spirituality. Some of the most helpful work is done when Poythress utilizes Van Til's personalism vs. impersonalism distinction to answer the 'problem' of miracles.  What Poythress does most skillfully is to demonstrate that each and every argument against inerrancy begins with precommitments which distort one's evaluation of inerrancy. The skeptic, for example, perceives contradictions in the text because he does not believe that God speaks through the Scriptures with a unified voice. He has worldview commitments which preclude possible solutions to perceived contradictions in the text. 

Modernists have issues with the exclusivity of the Christian faith, as well as complaining of the Bible being a sort of 'moral straitjacket.' Even liberal 'Christians' have issues with inerrancy related to a host of beliefs which Poythress demonstrates to be unbiblical. There's something here for every branch of unbelief - Christian and non-Christian alike. 

The author has no illusions that this book is a one-size-fits-all case for inerrancy. It is not meant to be. It is specifically targeted towards dealing with unbelief at its root, not at its branches. He acknowledges repeatedly that sin is the root of the problems people have with the Bible. In the footnotes he frequently points readers to more substantive books on different subjects where issues can be explored further while plainly refusing to follow rabbit trails (even very attractive ones that would enrich the chapter) - a type of restraint I hope to learn someday.

I admire this book as a specially focused apologetic tool. It is thoroughly presuppositional, uncompromising, and refreshingly plain to read. I would not hesitate to put it in the hands of a believer who is struggling through inerrancy, but I do think there are better books, generally speaking, for unbelievers trying to discern if the Bible is what it claims to be. It wouldn't hurt for those peripherally interested to simply read the chapters related to their own bugaboos. Also, I think the appendix (discussing the human authors of the Bible and their place in an inerrant text) is worth the price of admission alone.

You can get the book at Westminster Books, or you can read it online for free in PDF format.  (Poythress is cool like that - which is why you should just buy the book anyway.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Romans Commentary!

A new volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary is available.  Evidently, Leon Morris' fantastic volume on Romans is being retired and replaced by this new addition to the series.  Doug Moo, who has a pretty fantastic volume on Romans himself, says that this new version is a good combination of "academic depth and accessibility."  One of the great advantages of this new volume, of course, is that it deals with contemporary debates on justification that were not quite as prominent or mainstream as it was when Morris wrote the original Pillar Commentary on Romans.

Right now, Westminster Books is selling the book alone for 40% off, which is lower than Amazon's current price.  However, if you buy the entire 14-book set, you can get all of the books for 50% off - a deal that can't be beat.  Great deals abound.

While I'm at it, I want to remind our readers that they can get Fred Zaspel's book Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel for only $7.  It's a crazy price for a great book.  Also, I know I recommended this book a month or so ago, but the price on it is still fantastic.  If you want a solid book on the life of Herman Bavinck, Ron Gleason's biography of him is being sold at Westminster for 60% off.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fixing the Weak Link in the PCA

The Presbyterian Church in America is a confessional denomination.  Exceptions to our confessions (The Westminster Standards) are common among ministers in the PCA.  Currently, presbyteries have latitude to decide what exceptions are acceptable and which exceptions are not.  The problem, of course, is that an element of subjectivity has been inserted into the discussion which is difficult to shake.  This problem comes in the form of the phrase "vitals of religion."  Below are the two crucial places in the Book of Church Order where the phrase occurs.
The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion. (21-4)

Heresy and schism may be of such a nature as to warrant deposition; but errors ought to be carefully considered, whether they strike at the vitals of religion and are industriously spread, or whether they arise from the weakness of the human understanding and are not likely to do much injury. (34-5)
Various presbyteries currently define this phrase differently, if at all.  For some, denying 24-hour creation strikes at the "vitals of religion."  For some, (evidently in the PNWP) paedocommunion does not strike at the "vitals of religion," while other presbyteries would strongly disagree.  The  subjective nature of this concept of "vitals" is, in our view, the fault line which will eventually be the cause of the PCA's split.

If one searches the Book of Church Order for a definition of "vitals of religion," they will come up empty-handed.  Hence, for many, giving communion to non-communing members is not only contrary to the Westminster Standards, but strikes at the vitals of religion, while others would beg to differ.  A solution can be avoided for some time, but what will eventually happen is a denomination where Presbyteries are united denominationally who hold mutually different ideas of what the "vitals of religion" actually are.  We are aware that this is already the case.  Further, this in essence creates an undefined confession within our confession. This is problematic because our new confession is unstated and undefined.

One solution is strict subscription.  In this view, candidates are not permitted exceptions.

Another solution is to continue as we are, watching the split spread from one end of the denomination to the other.

We propose a third way - a series of solutions that might help remedy the current situation:
  1. Amend the BCO with a definition of "vitals of religion."
  2. In this section, outline a uniform denomination-wide list of allowable exceptions.  Currently, this is at the discretion of each Presbytery.
  3. When exceptions are taken, these should be "bound exceptions," meaning that the person taking the exceptions is not allowed to teach or in anyway inculcate anything contrary to the our Standards. 
  4. Amending the standards.  For example, many people take exception with the WCF in 7.4, which says that, "This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament." It seems possible to argue that perhaps a change to the section needs to be made so that exceptions, such as these, are rarer and more meaningful.
We should state, for the record, that we like the Standards the way they are.  That being said, many would have to agree with us that if the vast majority take an exception somewhere, that really does become the de facto norm.

If the notion of "vitals of religion" is not dealt with now, then what do we do in 30 years when it might be argued that women being ordained into the ministry of the PCA does not strike at the "vitals of religion"?  Without a clear definition of this phrase (or its removal), it is difficult to see how an issue like this can be dealt with.  We owe it to future generations of the PCA to deal with these questions now and to make the hard calls before the situation is completely out of our hands.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stellman Leaves the PCA - and a Storm in His Wake

Yesterday, Jason Stellman announced that his views of justification and the authority of Scripture are no longer in accord with the Westminster Standards, and as such he has resigned from the Presbyterian Church in America. The fallout has been troubling.  Responses have been all over the map. To me, this mostly resembles a bunch of jackals fighting over a carcass. Just reading the comments section over at Stellman's original post is enough to cause one to give up reading altogether.

Some have taken this opportunity to shake their heads and lament that this is what 2K theology consistently leads to.  Others have chocked this up, in part, to Westminster California, and are implying some sort of future mass exodus of Westminster Grads to Rome. Others are taking the opportunity to claim that Westminster's view of nature and grace are the real gateway drug to Rome. I can't help but be troubled by the repulsive responses I have seen to Stellman's announcement, but I am most troubled by the responses coming from the Federal Visionists. Whether one is reading Leithart's thoughts, the comments section, or Doug Wilson's response to the whole situation, it is clear that FVers see this as some sort of exoneration of Leithart.
If he has sought the forgiveness of Peter Leithart personally, then of course the forgiveness he seeks generally should be extended by others (Luke 17:3-4). But a shift like this does not happen overnight, and if he was afflicted with these doubts while he was engaged in prosecuting Leithart (as it seems he had to have been), he would have done far better to have sought Leithart's counsel instead of seeking his head.
I wouldn't say Leithart, in his own reflections on the matter, is gloating, but I also wouldn't say he's not gloating.  The point of the trial was to answer this question: Is Peter Leithart out of accord with the system of doctrine he claims to believe and vowed to uphold?  In principle, it does not matter who prosecuted the trial.  Even an atheist, well apprised of the Standards and of TE Leithart's teachings should have been able to show from Leithart's writings that his beliefs were out of accord with the Standards.

What is most repulsive in all of this is that Reformed folk would use this as an opportunity to trumpet their own small-time theological agenda.  This is about the Gospel, and this is about the authority of Scripture, plain and simple.  This is not about 2K or Nature/Grace or whatever else people think led him to Rome.

Wes White has had some helpful thoughts on this issue.  More recently, Lane Keister, who himself testified at the trial against Leithart has encouraged people to stop flaming and trolling the comments section, but to instead pray for Stellman. I agree. The mess that I am seeing at Creed Code Cult is hardly the sort of thing that would make someone who is out of accord with the Standards step back into line or want to come back to the Kingdom. I'm still praying for it, and I hope the rest of you will, as well. Like many of you, Josh and I want to be able to call Jason Stellman our brother in the Lord. If Stellman is, in fact, headed Romeward, then he is knowingly following "another Gospel," which Paul says is no gospel at all. In the fearsome anathema that Paul pronounces on those who endeavor to add works to God's grace in justification, Paul says such men fall under God's curse. We fear for our friend, because without the completed work of Christ alone, he will have nothing to commend himself before God on the day of judgment. No bones about it, by God's own authority, if anyone says that he stands in the work of Christ plus his own works, he has no hope. Please pray for Jason!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why It Is a Blessed Thing That The Fall Happened

In one of his sermons ("East of Eden"), Jonathan Edwards spends time briefly reflecting upon the blessedness of Adam (if he had obeyed God and been confirmed in righteousness).  He then spends some time talking about why we, as fallen creatures, experience greater joy and blessedness than if Adam had never fallen.  "But there are many things that greatly contribute to the happiness of those that are saved that Adam, if he had stood, would not have had."  I'll bullet-point Edwards' seven things:

1. Saints have union with Christ to enjoy, which they would not have enjoyed if Adam had not fallen.
2. Because of their union with Christ, "they also enjoy nearer relation to God the Father, and are partakers of a greater love of the Father."
3. Christ's obedience, Edwards argues, is a more glorious obedience than Adam's would have been, and therefore was "rewarded with a better reward."
4. Because of their redemption, Christians also share in Christ's exaltation on his throne, "which was the reward of his mediatorial righteousness."
5. Edwards argues that Christians have a more intimate knowledge and enjoyment of God, since Christ was incarnated: "he has taken upon him the human nature and so is nearer to them."
6. We experience a higher manifestation of God's love in Christ.  "This will make all their enjoyments and blessedness the sweeter, the consideration of their being the fruits of such a wonderful love and grace."
7. Finally, Edwards says that as a consequence of the Fall, the redeemed "will have a greater manifestation of the glory of God, God having taken occasion from the fall of man to make a more wonderful display of his glory in the work of redemption. And the more is seen of the glory of God, the greater advantage is there for happiness in the contemplation of it."

Notice the decidedly God-centered character of these answers.  It's just another thing which makes Edwards such an admirable thinker, worthy of emulation.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gaffin Translation of Ridderbos Now Available for Free

If yesterday's post on Romans 11 held any interest for you then you will be delighted to know that Dr. Gaffin has made the translation of Ridderbos which I referenced available for us to distribute. This hard-to-find document can be downloaded by following this link. I have created a zip file with it in various formats (PDF, DOC, Kindle, and ePub). Enjoy! Here is the link.

Now you no longer have to dig through the oversized section at the RTS Jackson library if you want to read this document.