Review: 75 Bible Questions

He should have stopped after page thirty, for then it would have been a magnificent pamphlet instead of a painful book.  The opening section defending Reformed soteriology is probably the best in print.   I am still waiting on Orthodox Bridge to do a review of it.  The next section on God’s law is decent but the theonomy debate has moved on.

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The final section on eschatology is just bad.   There are good varieties of postmiillennialism.  Puritan and Covenanter Historicism, for one. This isn’t it. He offered no exegesis on the timing of the resurrection and the Bock/Blaising/Blomberg crowd have already won the debate.  He didn’t even try to interact with the epeita…eta construction in 1 Corinthians 15.  This is bad.    Further, he cannot explain why men live longer in the millennium (though he is correct, contra amillennialism, that they will and these passages should be read literally).  Further, he cannot locate a “link” between dominion and the return of Christ, which is brand of postmillennialism desperately needs (it makes sense after a few moments thought:  if there is no link between our current obedience and dominion and the late-return of Christ, then we cannot define the texts as postmillennial.   We can just as legitimately see an era like the Reformation as the “golden age” and expect an apostasy now.).  Even more, he defaulted to the view that all premillennialists are of the Hal Lindsey variety.  Tactics like these explain why Historic Premillennialism is the mainstream view among conservative evangelical scholars.  In short, this book reaffirmed my premillennialism.

The appendices alternated between insightful and sinful.  His tactics of resistance are necessary against a humanist institution.  I’ve used a few of them before.  They are sinful against a Christian institution (even one as corrupt as a certain one in the American South; 1 Corinthians 6).  This is particularly ironic since he (rightly) earlier says we should have Christian courts to adjudicate these matters.

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On the Soul of the South

This is a hard post for me to write.  Somebody will be offended.  Since there is no avoiding that, the only fair thing to do is to piss everyone off.    And a warning note: some of the language I use will be coarse, but when I am using it I will be quoting Yankee generals, who as a general rule despised black people (contrast that with Stonewall Jackson).

This article has several goals:  I will use the thought and “soul” of High Southern culture to show the inadequacies of the Confederate position, the sinful hypocrisy of the North–which continues to this day, and to show the utter bankruptcy of modern Conservative thought (I like the moniker “High” as contrasted with “Old,” “New,” or worse, “Paleo.”  I will explain why below).

As to the actual legitimization of the Confederacy I have no wish to enter that debate.  I can give a passing answer: in terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, neither the Federals nor the Confederacy were ultimately legitimate.  See? I can make both sides angry. I will make a few passing remarks on the Confederacy, though.  I really don’t think Jefferson Davis was a competent leader.  No doubt he was morally superior to Lincoln, but Lincoln was a true genius; Davis was not.  Davis made a better martyr than he did a leader.  (Trick question:  If the Confederacy was necessarily treasonous, how come the US Government refused to try Davis for treason?)

A few words about slavery.  That the Bible does not categorically condemn slavery is another instance where the sons of this world are wiser than the sons of the kingdom.  Not only does the Bible legitimize forms of slavery, it is quite specific and provides details on how slavery (or indentured servitude) can better society.   I remember at RTS Jackson we got to Philemon in Pauline Theology.   Everyone was quick to point out that the Bible made it possible to get rid of slavery:

Me: Really, what verse?
RTS:  (Silence)

Don’t get me wrong:  I think a theology of dominion can place the discussion of slavery in a better light.  Following Rushdoony (Politics of Guilt and Pity) I believe that regenerate man is dominion man; he is a priest-king ruling over the new creation.  It’s usually better if he were free.  Of course, modern Reformed people are scared of dominion, so they really can’t combat the secularist on this point.  Chalk another one up to the sons of this world.

One thing I do not intend to give is a naive, pollyannish defense of “The Old South.”  I do think it was strong in areas we are weak.  Further, I think it’s existence (at least mentally today) sheds painful light on modern conservatives.  It is schizophrenic for modern American conservatives to condemn Obama’s big government yet praise Lincoln.  What was Lincoln but the consolidation of Federalism?  And while I love the Covenanters–and I consider myself in the Covenanter tradition on the Establishment Principle–and while I understand their desire to end slavery, I do not think they were wise to support Lincoln.  They are absolutely correct to condemn the anti-Christian nature of the American state.  How on earth do they support Lincoln, who further empowered this anti-Christian State beyond Richard Cameron’s wildest nightmare?

Conclusion

So where do we go from here?  As the current government spirals out of control the issue of secession will be inevitable.  I only pray we can have wise thinking beforehand.

regenerate and renewed south can sing with Dr F. N. Lee,

Now the Triune God must never be forgotten!
Again He’ll march through the land of cotton
and from here, Dixieland — we’ll yet win, America! 

For the Brave New World that now is so perverted,
in God’s good time is going to get converted
and the Earth, will get full — of the fear, of the Lord! 

Our God will yet revive us
and our King will bring
both Dixieland and Yankeeland
and all the world to serve Him!
Don’t shirk, let’s work,
and live the Gospel Story!
Begin, we’ll win,
and give God all the glory!

 

Covenantal Ethical Epistemology Diagrammed

The following helpful charts are taken from Christianciv.com.

Two faiths - one and many

(Above is THE spear-thrust through the heart of Anchoretism and hyper-ousia theology.   You cannot understand anthropology without knowing the above chart and why we Reformed reject it.  This is where seminary failed me miserably, and I failed in trying to originally respond to anchoretism)

Theonomy Files, no.4: The Van Til Problem

This post does not seek to attack or criticize Van Til.  I am simply stating that Van Til represents a dialectical problem for the modern American Reformed church.  And for the record, I like Van Til the theologian and Van Til the churchman and Van Til the preacher.  I reject Van Til the apologist.

Van Til is the default position of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for better or worse.  I only say that to illustrate that Van Til is a mainstream, normative figure in conservative Presbyterianism (The PCA does not have the Van Tillian ties that the OPC has, as is evidenced by RTS-Jackson).  The corollary to the previous sentence:  the implications of Van Til’s thought should be normative, yet they are rejected.    In The Doctrine of Scripture Van Til said (and I am quoting from memory) that “the earth cries out from man’s sin and demands an account” (p. 6).  Now, some could say, “Yes, but he is just paraphrasing Genesis 3.”  I say he isn’t. Van Til’s larger context is not simply that Adam did this in Eden, but that covenant-breaking man does this in general.

You might ask, “So what?”  Well, this is precisely the presupposition (pun intended) behind Gary North’s and Ray Sutton’s 5 Point Covenant Paradigm, point three:  ethical sanctions.  All of the old recons had argued (and I think quite cogently) that there is a causal correlation between sin/covenant-breaking and the earth itself.  So my question to the Institutional Reformed:  how can you agree with page 6 of The Doctrine of Scripture and yet reject the idea behind point 3 of Sutton’s Covenantal Paradigm?

That’s not even the biggest problem for the Institutional Reformed.   Is natural law an application of natural theology?  Most say it is.  Yet Van Til destroyed natural theology (distinct from Common-Sense realism, as I will prove in my later review of Van Til).  But the Institutional Reformed accept Van til’s theology, so how can they accept natural law?

The above is more of a problem for northern, OPC-ish communities on Van Til.  The southern, PCA-ish communities do not have quite the problem.   The PCA was created apart and outside of the Van Til narrative.  RTS-Jackson was not Van Tillian.  They were not anti-Van Tillian, either.  They knew that Van Til was a good ole boy from up North, so they couldn’t openly attack him, and true, many of the profs I sat under didn’t care too much for natural theology.   Later, other prominent pastor-professors would come and say we need to use “Common Sense,” of which I was hostile at the time.  I never noticed any syllabi or reading lists on Common Sense epistemology.   I asked them specifically, “What is common sense?”  They couldn’t answer.  Now, I admit I was a bit wrong there, too.  There is a good answer and good use to Common Sense epistemology.  I suspect their real reason to Common Sense epistemology was two-fold:  1) too many Van Tillians were theonomists and 2) CSR was sort of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian, to which they saw themselves the rightful heirs.

So far I’ve defended CVT in this post.  I’ll point out some problems.  Most people critique his writing style.  They say he is too difficult to read.  I no longer think that is true.  CVT for the most part is saying plain things from traditional Reformed scholasticism (with a few exceptions).  The problem is that Reformed seminaries no longer teach this and so the students can’t understand basic concepts that older generations thought were foundational.  The problem isn’t Van Til; it’s the academic world.

A real problem, though, is that most of the 3rd generation recons didn’t understand Van Til (or traditional reformed theology) but thought they did and went ahead doing theology–with disastrous results.

Language Helps for the Young Seminarian

You shouldn’t listen to me simply because I know everything.  I don’t.  However, I have made all the mistakes and if you reverse engineer it, you can see what to do.  Depending on the evangelical seminary you are going to, the curriculum will heavily emphasize the languages, sometimes to a glaring fault.  If you take the following considerations to account, your language study at seminary will be much easier (and these are the hardest courses).  I will focus more on Hebrew.  I minored in Greek in college and Greek is a Western language anyway, so it isn’t that hard to learn.  Hebrew is, though.

Textbooks

Go ahead and read, study, and memorize large sections of the textbook before you get to class.  Preferably do this in the three month interval between graduating one school in the summer and going to seminary.   Learn as much vocab as you possibly can.  It’s boring at times and modern day hippie educators say that’s the worst way to learn, but they can jump in a river.  It’s the only way to learn languages at the beginning (Yes, I know of the “immersion” technique, but since there aren’t any ancient Hebrew communities, that won’t work).  Ask the department which text they are using.  Grammars usually don’t change from semester to semester, and even if they do the content is the same.

Lexical Aids

Sadly, the best lexical material is the most expensive.  You can throw Brown-Driver-Briggs in the trash can.  It is much bulkier than other books and it simply isn’t that good.  At the very least you must get Holladay’s.  If you have an insanely rich backer, get Koeller‘s.  If you can’t afford either, van Pelt’s grammar has a very basic lexicon in the back, which combined with the vocab words at the end of the chapter, will give you a good enough vocab.

Workbooks

Go ahead and get the Basic Workbook and the Graded Reader.   Start working through the former immediately.  They will be assigned as homework assignments anyway.

Computer aids

I’m fairly certain much has changed in seven years, but when I was there many students got BibleWorks on their computers.  The profs frowned on it because it made translation too easy.  All you had to do was scroll your mouse over a word and it glossed and parsed it for you.  I would spend 30 minutes parsing ten verses when another student spent two minutes.  On the other hand, when you get to the exegesis classes, you will be required to put many passages in your paper in Hebrew font, complete with pointers and all.   Even if your Word Processor can do that, I didn’t have the intelligence with computers to work it.  Suppose you know how to type in Hebrew font, try putting a Dagesh Lene or a Vocal Shewa between the letters.   Yeah, good luck with that.  With BibleWorks all you have to do is copy/paste.  This literally takes hours off of your paper.  It’s pricey, but it might mean the difference between passing and failing.

Extras that you don’t need but are helpful anyway:

Vocab Reader:  van Pelt and Pratico published this one.  It gives you progressive lists of which words occur the most frequently. If you memorize certain lists, your ability to spot-read will increase.  Technically, you don’t need it, but it is a useful resource.

Old Testament Parsing Guide:  Parses every verb in the Hebrew Bible for you.  If you have BibleWorks you don’t need this.  Be careful how you use this, as it can become an “iron lung.”

Recommendations for the seminarian

College was one of the more delightful social experiences for me.   I truly got to explore my faith through reading.  Sadly, seminary was one of the worst–if not the worst–experiences of my life.  I’ve beaten up on RTS Jackson in the past–and I always shall–but some problems were mine.   Anyway, if a  young seminarian reads this and takes these reading recommendations to heart, then some good will come of it.  I am not an expert, but I have read an insane amount so I know a little on these issues.

These are book/learning recommendations that should be with the student always.  These are not books to be read once and set aside, but to continually guide the reader.  I am leaving out biblical commentaries, since there are so many.

Philosophy
Thales to Dewey by Gordon Clark.  I don’t want to get into the Clark-Van Til debate, but even if Van Til were correct, and I don’t necessarily think he is, his writing style and worldview is so abstract and borderline incoherent that I seriously question how useful it can be.  It’s not simply a matter of understanding Van Til, but of knowing that the person with whom you dialogue also understands Van Til, a point that even Bahnsen conceded.  Clark on the other hand has a clear and warm writing style, and hits upon deep issues.

Thomas Reid: Inquiry and Essays.  Okay, I doubt this will help your preaching much, but Reid helped me a whole lot with foundational issues, and he cleared away a lot of the Van Tillian debris.  For what it’s worth, Hodge wrote volume one of his systematic theology with Reid in mind.

Church History

History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker.  There are probably better sources, but Walker has stood the test of time.  He is more critical than I am of the biblical account, but his critical resources pay off well centuries down the road.

Schaff, Philip.  Church History set.  Seven volumes, which is probably too much to have on the immediate shelf, but covers more detail than Walker

Theology

Hodge, Charles.   There is no way of knowing who has the best systematic theology.  It depends on what you are looking for.  Against evangelical feminism and Arminianism, Wayne Grudem is the best.  Against Anchoretism and Catholicism, Hodge is the best.  And since Reformed folk are leaving in droves, Hodge is the need of the hour

Edwards, Jonathan.  Complete Works.  Not everything Edwards said is good, and Hodge/Dabney take him to task.  However, is worldview is “God-soaked” and Lloyd-Jones recommended every young pastor to read through Edwards.

Preaching

Anything by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Also get the audio sermons.

Alternatives to theonomy in seminary—it wouldn’t have mattered

I suppose I probably could have spared myself a lot of grief in seminary by not taking the theonomy route.  I mean, I’m not a theonomist now, so it wouldn’t have mattered right?  Well, it’s not so simple.   Let’s consider:

  1. Under no circumstances would I have countenanced any political movement that did not kiss the feet of King Jesus.  Even so, there remain alternatives to theonomy.
  2. I even quoted published critics of theonomy (Poythress)to professors and they still said it was unacceptable.

On the other hand, had I grounded my political ethic solely in Rutherford, Gillespie, and the covenanters, my argument–or at least my rhetorical presentation of it–would have been indestructible.  The conversation would have gone something like this:

Covenanter:  Professor/teaching assistant, is it acceptable to employ Old Testament laws in constructing a political ethic for today?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, for theonomy is wrong/marxist/homosexual/terrorist*/we fired Bahnsen.

Covenanter:  Did I say anything about theonomy?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, but you mentioned Old Testament laws and that’s theonomic.

Covenanter:  I am glad to see you admit that much of the Bible teaches theonomy, but that is not what I was advocating.  Have you read Rutherford?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No.

Covenanter:  Rutherford based much of his argument on the validity of Old Testament ethical norms for today.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Well, the Reformed faith has come a long way since then.

Covenanter: But Professor, Lex, Rex was specifically written in the context of forging a distinctively Presbyterian identity, especially if you combine his argument with Gillespie’s, both of which are to be read against the background of the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenants.

Professor/teaching assistant:  But we live in a democracy.  You can’t just expect everyone to agree with those rules.  That’s a theocracy!

Covenanter: I am glad to see you concede the theocratic roots of Presbyterianism.  I agree that such expectations are unrealistic for current America.  That’s quite irrelevant, though.   What God commands is often not contingent on what’s possible.  Isn’t that the point of Calvinistic evangelism?

Professor/teaching assistant:  So, you just want to go kill everyone that disagrees with you?

Covenanter:  No, don’t be silly.  My point is that for us to be consistent with our Presbyterian identity, we must come to grips with the ecclesiastical and political issues of those Covenants.   If that means we need to abandon key modern American ideas and structures like the 1st Amendment (which has already been repealed in the Patriot Act), American Idol, and MTV, then so be it.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Why do you hate America?

Covenanter:  I don’t hate America.   I want what’s best for America.

Professor/teaching assistant: But many aren’t Christians.  Doesn’t this mean they will be executed for worshipping false gods?

Covenanter:  Your objection presupposes something that is impossible on my system:  the only way a state could systematically do such things on a large scale is to be a large state.  Yet this is the very thing I deny.  But to answer your question–it could be death, but more likely it will be exile.  And quite frankly, why would a Buddhist or a Romanist even want to live in a Covenanter state?

 

The previous conversation never actually happened as stated, but it is a summary of a number of conversations I had with students and teachers.  After a while I stopped referencing Bahnsen and used the arguments of Rutherford, but to no avail.

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*I had all of these terms used at me on my last day of class by a professor.