Saturday, January 29, 2005

Confessional Scholasticism versus Biblical Theology Revisited: Over the past few days I pondered adding a preface to a post I made back in June, AD 2004. That post is found at the link above. Here is an excerpt from the preface that has now been added.
What does Sola Scriptura mean? What does Sola Scriptura look like in practice? Do we look at the Bible though the glasses of historical theology, or do we look at historical theology through the glasses of Scripture? Can there be a sin of "confession-olatry"? Do we really want to say that any one era of historical theology, Puritan or whatever, was really the last word on exegesis and theological development? Does not Sola Scriptura demand Semper Reformanda?...

~ The Billy Goat ~
Meanderings: At 7:30 AM this morning, the thermometer on the front porch was registering 4 below zero. Burrrr.... That's long-john weather. It's also for those who care, ice-fishing weather. No, I don't care, and I don't ice-fish. What gives us who live in these Northern climates hope at this time of the year is the observable objective fact that the days are getting longer. Spring is indeed coming.

Michigan State University beat the University of Michigan in men's basketball last night. Hurrah! Go Green! A few short weeks and the NCAA dance will commence. I'm not really following who's ranked and so on. It's just that the NCAA dance is the next big thing after the Super Bowl, and is a sign of the coming of Spring. A hundred years from now who will care about which school won the NCAA in 2005? Whose going to really care a year from now?

That's just it. Fame and glory quickly fade; here today, gone tomorrow. True worth and meaning in life is found in those things that encompass more then just this cosmos. Yes, we can and should enjoy the legitimate things of this life such as sports and so on. We just need to hold them loosely, and not let them become idols.

Well, enough meandering for now.

Sola Deo Gloria,

~ The Billy Goat ~

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Prof sets forth How Islam Plans to Change the World- (BP)
By Lauri Arnold, Jan 19, 2005, BPNews

"In the weeks and months that followed Sept. 11, 2001, churches across America reported a high increase in the number of attendees -- and so did mosques across America.

“9/11 was a wakeup call. Suddenly people began to say, ‘What is Islam?’ and it was quite amazing after 9/11 that Muslims began saying, ‘Come to the mosque and find out what Islam is,’” said William Wagner, professor of missions at Golden Gate Theological Seminary and author of “How Islam Plans to Change the World,” a new book from Kregel Publications...

...Four years ago, Wagner set out to research six groups and their missiological strategies for growth: the Assemblies of God denomination, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims and the Southern Baptist Convention. Further into his research, he discovered that only three of the six had an overall mega-strategy of growth –- homosexuals, Mormons and Muslims. Even further into his research, Wagner became more impressed with the strategy that had long been expressed and set in motion by Islamic leaders..."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Reformed Theology vs. the Reformed Attitude I came across this post by The Jollyblogger entitled Reformed Theology vs. the Reformed Attitude. He makes a number of points I am sympathetic to. If you call yourself Reformed, you need to read this post.

~ The Billy Goat ~
Their Gods Perished with them. The Woodcrafter has posted an interesting letter from a contact in India with regard to the tsunami. The letter, can be found here..

~ The Billy Goat ~

Monday, January 17, 2005

What kind of "Reformed" are you?
(Post-Reformed Redux)

Are you...

  • a Reformed catholic? (emphasis on small "c" for our purposes.)

  • a Reformed Evangelical?

  • a Reformed Puritan?

  • Reformed? What's "Reformed"... Somebody who went to reform school?

The above question and the options offered come from two strands.

The first strand goes back a month or so to Tim Etherington's attempt to put some definition to the term "Post-Reformed", a term for which he was taken rather severely to task, and which term he recanted, though not recanting the ideas he was seeking to label. The new label became Compassionate Calvinism which did catch at least the spirit of Tim's concerns; concerns that I also share and enter in to.

The second strand came into play when I came across an old e-mail from an old friend, the friend who was used of God years ago to introduce me to the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed theology in general. In that Christmas e-mail of several years ago is the following:
"You are probably wondering if I've reverted back to a Puritan Scrooge?? Nah. Never happen. I am a very contented confirmed Reformed Catholic. In fact, I'm almost a confirmed Reformed Orthodox..."

By the way, the friend who made this statement is a Presbyterian Pastor in the PCA.

So there is the multiple choice question, and the answers that I believe get down to some of the issues that were of concern and discussion in the "Post-Reformed" debacle. I now better understand why I never really fit in at our former church. It was Reformed Puritan in perspective, and this round Reformed Evangelical never could really fit, nor wanted to fit, that square hole.

What kind of "Reformed" are you? It is my thesis that how you answer this question has direct bearing on how you view and understand semper reformanda...

Sola Deo Gloria,

~ The Billy Goat ~

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Craftiness of Christ
by Dallas Willard

I came across this article by Dallas Willard, author of The Divine Conspiracy, that struck me as very perceptive. You will want to read the whole article to fully appreciate it. Here are a few selected quotes to wet your appetite.
~ The Billy Goat ~

"Critics of The Passion have complained about the extent of the violence inflicted upon Christ, as presented in the film. The unrelenting bruising and beating and suffering shown has been rejected as unnecessary, and as undesirable for the viewer. I suspect that these critics come close to missing the entire point of the film, which is the nature of human redemption. Nowadays human redemption is not thought to amount to much, and what little there is to it can be dealt with by education and counseling, and perhaps a law here and there, or some improvement in living conditions. Gibson certainly is much closer to the core of traditional Christian teaching in his vision of the human heart and its world as a reservoir of unlimited capacity to hurt and to harm.

Those currently regarded as "in the know" about human life, with their remedies, have to turn a blind eye to the actual course of human events. Up to today, multitudes of human beings are tortured, slaughtered, and starved on a daily basis by those who have the power to do so, and where lying, cheating, stealing, and sanctimonious hardness of heart is routine in societies which, nevertheless, take themselves to be "better" than others. Through the medium of the events of Christ’s Passion, portrayed as an unceasing stream of wonton violence upon Jesus, tearing his body to shreds, the film communicates a vision of human evil that is off the scale of human capacity to deal with it...

...Satan knows Jesus to be the only truly radical person to enter human history; for Jesus, if undiverted, will refuse to use evil to defeat evil, and will set afoot a new order that does not employ the devices by which evil persons try to secure themselves and get their way. Satan’s project was to stop Jesus from getting to his redemptive act of crucifixion. From the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, he had tried to destroy him or to deflect him. Now, in the final hours before the cross, Satan tries to break Jesus down by pressuring him with the hopelessness, in human terms ("No man. No man."), of what Jesus is attempting. After the crucifixion and death scenes, Satan’s final appearance in the film shows his total exasperation and despair at having failed to keep Christ from doing the one thing that would open the doors to deliverance of human beings from the grasp of evil by demonstrating the power of good over evil...

...Exercises in imagining another path for Jesus besides a bloody crucifixion are not entirely lacking. We have The Last Temptation of Christ, the book and the movie, and now The Da Vinci Code, the book and movie soon to be. Now try to imagine yourself loving, worshipping, giving up your life for such a person as the Jesus of those books. Imagine a great civilization formed around him. Imagine, if you can, the saints and martyrs that have formed the core of Christian believers throughout the ages living and dying as they did for that "Jesus." Imagine the multitudes now dying for Christ in many places throughout our world doing that. For that matter, try to imagine the authors, Nikos Kazantzakis or Dan Brown, laying down their lives in devotion or in death for the Jesus they present in their writings. But of course multitudes of remarkable and unremarkable human beings have given and will give everything to and for the Christ of Mel Gibson’s The Passion. One has to think that Jesus really knew what he was doing...

...Many individuals have protested that they would believe in God if they had more evidence. It needs to be pointed out, however, that just believing that God exists is not the only issue. What kind of God are we talking about? And is it indeed true that they would then believe? How much more evidence would it take? And would they then be glad there is a God? Would they then believe because they wanted God, wanted it to be his world, wanted not to be God—the ultimate point of reference in their lives—themselves? Would they be prepared to love God? More than evidence is required to bring a person to that point. And is it completely clear that the "more evidence" called for is not already available to those who are willing to seek it? Does the evidence have to be presented in a way that the unbeliever cannot avoid it, cannot not be aware of it?...

...Remarkably, even after his resurrection Jesus continued his low-profiled ways. The human mode would have been to pay a post-resurrection visit to Pilate, perhaps, and to say something like, "Now could we have that discussion about power and truth once again?" Or perhaps to swing by the High Priest’s house, or causally to drop in on the Sanhedrin in session. But no. That of course would have only been to give in to the temptations earlier posed to him by Satan. It would have been the "wisdom" of man, not the wisdom of God. Instead, "God raised him [Jesus] up on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." (Acts 10:42) And then, of all things, he simply sent his bedraggled little friends out to the whole world to enlist students to him, promising his unseen presence with them. With nothing, to begin with, but his example, words and personal presence, they, to a striking extent, overcame a world of brutality routinely equal to that displayed in The Passion; often dying in the process, but also convincing multitudes of the vision and the ethical idealization incarnate in Jesus and his cross. All of this is simply a fact, as it is a fact that for the last two centuries or so historical force has been against this vision and idealization...

...The philosophical problem of how to develop moral character in human beings, so that they actually lead a moral life, has not been solved today. Indeed, though that problem was arguably the most important matter for moral thought in antiquity, it is now a problem that those known as the leading contemporary moral philosophers will hardly touch or try to relate to their theories. The main difficulty in solving it has always been that individuals and groups must start from a history of evil, and the way to overcome that history has, arguably, never been found outside of the pattern set by Christ and his people. Forgiveness has to be a massive reality in the heart of human affairs. This is available in Christ’s way of crucifixion. If there are other promising ways, of course, they should be fairly and thoroughly considered, and the generosity of Christ is such that, if we can find a better way than his, he would certainly be to first to tell us to take it."

(For complete article, click here.)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Another Potok fan revisited: I see that David over at Fearfully Human just posted an article about his recent reading of Chaim Potok's The Promise. I've mentioined Fearfully Human elsewhere in regard to Potok's work. Here is a brief quote from this latest post.
"What draws me to his books like a hungry soul is something I have found in no other writer with the depth and beauty and honesty of Potok's writing - a look at the conflict between old faith and new faith. Faith and Reason, Faith and Art, Tradition and Innovation. He seemed never to be afraid of the darkness, the ugliness, the absence of God. And he trudges through these darknesses, leads us through them with a rare nobility, to a place where our discontent, our faithlessness, our doubts and hurts and angers can be given a face, called by name, and allowed to reconcile with our expectations of what life, and God, ought to be like. He gives me hope that there is place for balance in the tension, and not only balance but beauty and humility and the virtues that seem so despairingly short in our world."

When it comes to Potok's novels, I sense David and I are kindred spirits. I did recieve The Gift of Asher Lev for Christmas, and have since read it. It is as compelling as the other Potok books I've read. My feeling is that Chaim Potok wrote the Asher Lev novels in the same way he had Asher Lev paint. I don't know if that makes sense, but perhaps those of you who have read the Asher Lev novels understand what I'm trying to say, and can articulate the thought in a better way...

Peace, ~ The Billy Goat ~

Friday, January 07, 2005

Living in Israel? ... Or Babylon?
Puritan Covenant Theology Redux

This article is in response to an invitation from Joe Carter of the Evangelical Outpost to participate in the Evangelical Outpost Blog Symposium revolving around an article by David Gelerntar at Commentary magazine that claims Americanism is the successor of Puritanism. Contributions to this Evangelical Outpost Blog Symposium can be found at the link above. (Final revision, 01/10/2005)

David Gelernter has recently published an article at Commentary magazine entitled, Americanism and Its Enemies The article is provocative and compelling reading. Gelernter's thesis is that "Americanism" is a direct descendent of New England Puritanism in particular, and more broadly Puritanism generally. In Gelernter's words:
"Americans kept talking about their country as if it were the biblical Israel and they were the chosen people.

Where did that view of America come from? It came from Puritanism--Puritanism being not a separate type of Christianity but a certain approach to Protestantism... And here is a strange fact about Puritanism. It originated in 16th-century England; it became one of the most powerful forces in religious if not all human history...

...What happened to it? In a narrow sense, Puritan congregations sometimes liberalized and became Unitarian; the Transcendentalists, prominent in American literature from roughly 1820 through 1860, are often described as the spiritual successors of the Puritans. But Puritanism was too potent, too vibrant simply to vanish. Where did all that powerful religious passion go?

I believe that Puritanism did not drop out of history. It transformed itself into Americanism. This new religion was the end-stage of Puritanism: Puritanism realized among God's self-proclaimed "new" chosen people--or, in Abraham Lincoln's remarkable phrase, God's "almost chosen people."

..But my thesis is that Puritanism did not merely inspire or influence Americanism; it turned into Americanism. Puritanism and Americanism are not just parallel or related developments; they are two stages of a single phenomenon...

There is much more, and you will want to read the whole article to understand the context of these brief quotes.

Throughout Americanism and Its Enemies Gelernter quotes from Pilgrim father and New England Puritan alike to illustrate the close connection in the Puritan mind between the new country they were settling, and the Israel of Old Testament times. They were "Israel". As Almighty God directed the affairs of Israel of old, so now in the Puritan era He was directing and guiding the "New Israel". This new Israel was a "city on a hill". Old Testament Scripture passages were paraphrased to describe the Puritan vision and thought.

Part of Gelernter's thesis is that when Puritanism disappeared in history, it morphed not just into the more narrow theological school of Unitarianism, but that the vision and fervor of political Puritanism was transformed into "Americanism".

The bottom line? Anti-Americans hate Americanism for the same basic reasons Anti-Puritans hated Puritanism.

In terms of the Puritan vision and thought, Gelernter has accurately related the factual history. Nor can it be denied that much of Americanism is couched in language that the Puritans used to describe their view and vision of themselves. I will leave it for those more knowledgeable to debate the connection of Puritanism to Americanism that Gelernter has advocated.

What is in my mind has to do more with how the theology of the Puritans fed their vision, and in turn became fuel for the religion of Americanism.

I can still remember the 1980 U.S. elections. It was a historical turning point, probably one of the most significant politically in my lifetime. One of the phenomena of that time was the rise of The Moral Majority under the leadership of Jerry Falwell. Much was made of the Christian heritage of the United States. I think it is fair to say that The Moral Majority was an attempt to bring Americanism back to a more specifically Puritan vision of America being a special people and nation specially favored of God, and with a God given mission. What is ironic is that the Puritan theology behind that vision was in contrast and even opposition to the more popular Evangelical theology that Falwell, and many associated with him, held to. It was at this point the split personality of American Evangelicalism begins to be seen.

The Puritans held to what is called Covenant theology; a theology that emphasizes the continuity between the Old and New Testaments in a way that brings much of the Old Testament view into the church age. One of the keys of Covenant theology is a "replacement" view of Israel. In the New Testament age, the new people of God that makes up the Christian church replaces Israel. The Old Testament promises to Israel are now transferred to the church. Another term for this view is "supersessonism"(1).

What is not so well remembered in many Evangelical and Reformed circles is that the Covenant theology held by the Puritans was in some radical ways, different from the Covenant theology articulated today by many of those who hold that view. No document better reflected basic Puritan thought then the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). The WCF used by most Presbyterians today is not the same WCF originally compiled in 1647. The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, used by the Congregatinal Puritans, was written in 1658, and was taken in the main from the WCF

The most graphic illustration of the above assertion is found in a comparison of the original statements in the WCF relating to the civil magistrate. The Savoy Declaration contains similar though somewhat muted language at this point. In the original WCF's Chapter XXIII, paragraph III, the civil magistrate's duties included:

" order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed..." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Free Presbyterian Publications, Glasgow, 1973)

The above statement is not found in the versions of the WCF the vast majority of Presbyterians in the United States hold to now days. In those versions that portion of the WCF was changed to reflect a different perspective, one reflecting that the civil magistrate was not to interfere in the affairs of the church.

The point of the whole discussion of the WCF is to illustrate how the Puritan mindset was deadly earnest in their assertion of the Puritan movement being the new Israel of God. They meant that much more literally then we now days give them credit for, or are able to imagine. The history of Quakers and Baptists in early New England stands as a testimony to how the Puritans viewed and practiced their view of the civil magistrate. As Israel of old was to enforce conformity in worship, (and it was), so also the "New Israel"(2).

It is that very vision of supersessionism that merges into the language of Americanism. America is a special nation, favored of God, with a vision and mission that goes beyond our borders to include all mankind. Gelernter's article points to example after example throughout American history; the founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and even Harry S. Truman. The Old Testament imagery and thought is pervasive.

It is that theological background to Americanism that is in contrast to the Dispensationalism of Jerry Falwell and many others who were involved in The Moral Majority, as well much of the American Evangelical church at large. There is a broad spectrum in Dispensationalism; from old dispensationalism on the right to the more recent Progressive Dispensationalism on the left. But wherever a dispensationalist falls in that spectrum, their focus is more on the discontinuity and difference between the Old and New Testaments in contrast to Covenant theology's focus on continuity and sameness. In Dispensationalism, promises to Israel in the Old Testament are not automatically transfered to the New Testament church.

That is why I spoke earlier of the "split-personality" of political Evangelicalism at large. Historic Puritan Covenant theology imagery came into a largely dispensational political Evangelicalism through the back door of Americanism. The historic theological basis of this kind of Evangelical vision of political involvement stands in opposition to the professed theology of much, though not all, of that Evangelicalism.

The same could be said for much of the Reformed church that holds to the modified and adapted Covenant theology reflected in the modern versions of the WCF. They rejected the imagery of the original confession as it related to the Puritan political vision, but it came back to many of them in the imagery of Americanism. Yes indeed, Gelernter's thesis that Puritan fervor and vision is now found in Americanism is provocative, but it is not without basis.

Since that 1980 election, Evangelical Christians in the United States have struggled with this question. Are we as Christians to be Davids in a political Israel, or Josephs and Daniels in our Egypt or Babylon? Gelernter's thesis of a metamorphosis of political Puritanism into the religion of Americanism gives much food for thought on that question.

Another point Gelernter mentions in his article is that Americanism is "a millenarian religion". For the better part of the 19th century, the predominate millenarian view in American Evangelicalism was postmillennialism. This postmillennialism carried a very positive view of the future. There is a claim that the Puritans were for the most part postmillennial. That may be, and I'll leave that question for others to answer. My point is that Americanism is basically postmillennial in its positive view of the future. The optimism found in the speeches of Ronald Reagan amply illustrate that vision. Once again a mostly premillennial American Evangelicalism, with the premillennial foreboding regarding the future, is found embracing a political Americanism with a vision more in line with classic postmillennialism. Ironic indeed!

I believe as Christians we are called upon to be like Joseph or Daniel in our respective Egypt or Babylon. In an increasingly fractured post-modern culture, such is our calling. It is a dangerous thing for any one person, culture, or nation to have a Messiah complex. Yes, we need to do good whenever and wherever we can, but only Jesus is the Messiah, the one who can and will redeem a fallen and broken world. When "Americanism" or any "ism' seeks to take the place of Jesus Christ, it is to be resisted. Nor can we allow Americanism to cloud or get in the way of the pure gospel message which is not bound by culture or tradition, but crosses all such boundaries, and embraces all of mankind out of "..every tribe and tongue and nation" (Revelation 5:9).

Why did Puritanism as a cultural force to be reckoned with, dissolve into theological Universalism and political Americanism, and that with barely a whimper? Could part of it be that the New World they settled was not the New Heavens and New Earth of the Biblical promise they sought to claim?

Sola Deo Gloria,

~ The Billy Goat ~

1. For an extended discussion of what supersessionism is, see Michael Vlach's articles at Theological Studies

2. In more recent times, the Christian Reconstruction movement as refelcted in the writings of Rousas J. Rushdoony, Gary North, and others associated with the Chalcedon Foundation, probably best represents the historic Puritan view view of Covenant theology as it relates to the civil state. There are also a few small Presbyterian synods that still hold to the orginal language of the 1647 version of the WCF.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Challange

“But Elfstone, I will challenge one thing you said: ‘No matter what happens here on earth, God is always in control.’ Is that so? Then why did He let more than 80,000 die a few days ago in Asia as a result of the tsunamis? If He is a kind, benevolent God, then how could he let something like that happen?” (For Elfstone's Response click here)

Monday, January 03, 2005

How can we help?
"Jesus wept..."

ABWE Tsunami Relief

This page has links to the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism Tsunami Relief updates along with a page for making on-line contributions for relief efforts.

International Aid, Spring Lake, Michigan, USA

A reputable Christain organization that is a member of the ECFA. Among other things, they are sending portable medical clinics to the devestated areas of Asia. On-line donations accepted.

I know there are other worthwhile organizations involved in relief efforts. May God help us to show the compassion of Christ to a suffering, needy, and hurting world...

~ The Billy Goat ~

Creation Groans

Over 125,00 dead and the numbers will go higher. The face of the earth is changed, and maps will have to be re-written. The whole creation groans waiting for the revealing of the sons of God... (Romans 8). Sin did not just impact mankind, it impacted all creation, and it is all creation that will eventually be redeemed.

We find we are not in control. Things happen that we can do very little about. Yes, I know there should have been a warning system on the Indian rim just as there is on the Pacific rim, but a warning system is just that. A warning system... Earthquakes and tidal waves will still happen... We may be able with a warning system to mitigate the damage they do, but the events themselves are outside our control.

We are not God.... We are creatures... Modernity wanted to make mankind as a collective whole to be "god"... Post-modernity says we are all our own individual "gods"... Our "gods' can not save use... The earth shrugs... Our idols fall to the ground, broken and shattered.... Don't ask where God was in all this... Better you ask where are the "gods" we have been trusting in.... Where are our idols now?

Sola Deo Gloria,

~ The Billy Goat ~