January 30, 2008
For those of you not familiar with Richard Muller, he is somewhat of a giant in Historical Theology of the Reformation and post-Reformation period. Many on the more conservative and traditional end of the Reformed spectrum (and others) hold him in high regard as (1) he has shown the vitality of post-Reformation figures’ theological activities and engagement with Scripture–the theological and exegetical vitality of those involved in the framing of the Westminster Standards, for example–and (2) he is seen by many to have dismantled the idea that there is a radical disparity between Calvin and the Calvinists after him, among other things. Parts of his multi-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics are standard text-books and readings in various Systematic Theology and Apologetics classes at Westminster Theological Seminary, and I suspect other Reformed seminaries as well.
In the middle of a less well known work of his, The Study of Theology, Richard Muller makes the following comments. I think they get at something many of us on the Conn-versation blog hold dear. Faithfully standing in our Reformed tradition means we need to re-articulate our theology and to re-understand what it looks like for us to live out Christ as we (the church) move into ever changing contexts.
How should such an approach impact our conceptions of what it means to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), to mention an example directly relevant to many reading this blog? What should it mean to be a confessional denomination? What ‘is’ a confession? Cannot a confession be Biblical at one point in time and yet still need re-articulation in later and different contexts? Is there a way to be a church standing in the heritage and trajectory of the WCF and yet not be bound to subscribe to it in a ‘strict’ manner? Is there a way to subscribe to the WCF requiring not that we simply hold to it but rather demanding that we—in conversation with the WCF—rearticulate and recontextualize our theology in changing worlds? (Have I used enough Harvie Conn vocabulary here?)
With these questions in view, some of which may go beyond Muller’s intentions, what do we think of his comments below? (more…)
January 23, 2008
I often find that my theological/ecclesiological thinking is spurred by astute observers of the secular – and particularly business – culture. In a bit the same vein as The Starfish and the Spider comes Mark J. Penn’s (with E. Kinney Zalesne) compelling but easy read – Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes. Penn’s thesis is deceptively simple. Small changes in patterns of behavior in our culture can achieve outsize influence, and those who identify them correctly can benefit.
Americans as people and the US as a nation have changed. We’re not the great melting pot anymore, but a sliced and diced conglomeration of micro communities and special interest groups. Think Mexican-American evangelical Protestants. Or Christian home schoolers. Penn is the one who first identified “soccer moms” as a crucial constituency in Clinton’s 96 reelection campaign, and is now intrigued by the lack of concensus in Republican party politics. His observation is that by using data, one can identify and isolate a particular group or trend, analyze it, and convert the resulting knowledge into investable action.
Penn asserts that one percent of the public – or a mere three million people – is enough to launch a new movement. He calls these “societal atoms – small trends that reflect changing habits and choices.” These operate just under the radar, and “are the seeds of unexpected change.” He provides 75 examples of such cells of activity, including groups as diverse as those with “uptown tattoos,” millionaires who live below their means, do-it-yourself doctors, sex-ratio singles, the new Luddites, and teen knitters. Find and identify a group, meet its needs, and reap the rewards.
Conversely, Penn warns that ignoring microtrends invariably results in bad decision-making. It’s a risky thing these days to process macro-level information from one’s own particular point of view, and rely on gut-feel. Conventional wisdom conclusions are frequently flat out wrong, and erroneous judgment has its own consequences. To avoid this, Penn challenges his readers to be intentional in recognizing their presuppositions, and to be willing to seek out and engage pertinent data.
Although Penn’s book is largely a postmodern, anti-meta narrative analysis of American life, his microtrends do reveal some common themes. Individualism and self-expression are on the ascendancy, and social cohesion is in decline. A small group of dedicated, intensely passionate people can spark a movement. And, contradictory trends are bound to emerge at once because there is almost always more than one way to approach things.
January 23, 2008
That’s a mind bender. Normally in the academy a rejoinder to a review is entitled in special circumstances–usually when an author has felt his or her work has been misunderstood or misrepresented substantially. It’s very rare to have a counter-rejoinder though. You can see why: the tit-for-tat get’s old, little progress is actually gained, and it looks rather petty.
Nevertheless, at the risk of being subject to this criticism, I’ve written an additional “tat.” I’ve just tried to summarize why I think Helm is wrong and how we need to move forward. For those interested, have a look here.
January 21, 2008
I’m a little surprised others haven’t posted this yet. Please check out the following site: www.saveourseminary.com. Please take a look at that site. Whether you’re alumni, a donor, or just someone who has been touched by the seminary, please consider signing it. Please also pray for the future of the institution.
January 19, 2008
In the wake of the revitalization of this blog (something I am very happy has happened), I’d like to quote Harvie Conn and reflect on the implications of his quote which seem to have something to say to the current tensions not only within the Reformed world, but also some of the tensions that hit us Westminster students closer to home.
In the Preface to Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, Conn lays out the goal for the book. He writes:
Our primary interest is in helping the pastor understand what has been going on in the last couple decades and how these developments can be analyzed and, to a degree, appropriated by someone with a continuing commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible. Our goals, then, are not only defensive but also creative and affirming (9-10).
I see in that quote an attitude that encapsulates the best of what the Reformed faith can offer. It does offer a framework within which one can defend oneself, and one’s church, from heresies and serious theological errors. But the Reformed faith has always, since its inception, been a progressive faith that is constantly reforming itself. The Reformed faith also provides a base for creative and affirming scholarship that may reform and revise certain aspects of its heritage, but never causes one to abandon that heritage.
I’m not sure the term “Reformed” really helps the issue. The term is in the past tense, bringing with it the sense that all the work has already been done. Perhaps it would have been better to use “Reforming.”
But let’s not get hung up with semantics. The point is that Conn was carrying on the heritage that he inherited. Not in a stagnate way, but in a way that I think the Reformers would have wanted it to be carried on. I don’t think the Reformers, or anyone with an ounce of humility, would have believed that their word was the last. When approached with new evidence the appropriate response is not to hide behind a document written from a viewpoint that is alien to more than half the world. Rather, the response should be to learn from our heritage then engage with the evidence and, finally, measure both by Scripture.
I’ll end with a quote from a professor who encapsulates the best of what the Reformed world has to offer, both in his love for his tradition and for his creative and reforming scholarship:
Our tradition certainly has a well-documented legacy of serious, historically oriented biblical studies, open to seeing new ways where the Spirit and evidence lead, open to seeing how God is leading his people to greater understanding of his Word. And there is much work waiting to be done with respect to furthering this legacy concretely by engaging new discoveries and theories, as well as perhaps reinvestigating older discussions. (Peter Enns, “Bible In Context: The Continuing Vitality of Reformed Biblical Scholarship”)
It is a sad day in the Reformed world when some would rather hide behind their history than responsibly approach the present.
January 15, 2008
I hope I am charitable and humble in what I write here. I begin typing this with great fear that I will not be these things and that I will bring dishonor to our Lord. I hope I have approached this with enough prayer…
Tim Challies has just concluded a series of posts about inerrancy http://www.challies.com/archives/articles/scripture/errors-and-contradictions-in-the-bible.php .
In certain ways I am excited by this series of posts and comments. They show a deep commitment to wrestling with the importance of the authority of God and Scripture in the church and what that means. They show a commitment to helping others in the church in areas that are important and practical. At the same time, I am deeply disturbed at this series of posts, many of the comments, and how the comments of some who are wrestling with questions were essentially ignored—or given some sort of ‘pat answer.’ In view of this, I desire to write some sort of engaging and dialogical response. Since I want to touch on many issues, especially a few of those raised in some of the comments but not answered, this post is somewhat lengthy.
As with everyone (I imagine) in that discussion, I have deep personal investments in these issues on many levels. I am a member of a Confessional Reformed (evangelical) church and believe that the Bible is inerrant—by which I mean that everything in it is doing exactly what God wants it to be doing. He inspired it in exactly the way he wanted it back in the ancient world that he controlled.
I have seen much discussion by Tim Challies of how questions of supposed contradictions and errors tend to come from people who are just ignorant, have not read their Bibles, and are just spouting off the latest fad from a website. Also, any supposed error or contradiction really is not either of those. Either (1) it is not a real error or contradiction or (2) we are assured that ‘experts’ have dealt with the issues. Since Gleason Archer has been brought up in all this, I will look at one of his pet books, Daniel. (more…)