A Pregnant Paragraph

The late Scholastics lost faith in the intelligibility of reality because they relinquished the metaphysical unities. For them reality was held to consist of unrelated particulars. Church and state are not antecedent entities but simply contractual associations. The church then becomes a voluntary society, the state a compact, and marriage simply a contract. Here is the philosophy of individualism undercutting the great unities well in advance of the Reformation. Certain theological dogmas also were undercut, for if reality consists of unrelated individuals, then the three persons of the Trinity must be three gods. Nevertheless the doctrine of the Trinity was retained on the ground that what is true for philosophy need not be true for theology. But in that case theology, with no philosophical undergirding, can rest only on authority. The tendency of the papacy to make more pretentious claims as its power waned was also paralleled by the recourse in theology to authority when the grip on truth was relaxed.

-Roland Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 15-6

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Redemptive-Historical Preaching and the Tower

The OPC has been good for me, but my days in it are numbered. So I guess I’m reflecting on it.

I’ve found the Redemptive-historical approach to preaching preferred in the OPC both irritating and insightful. How shall I describe it? Here’s my illustration.

There is a tower which rises to a top room in which the view is unparalleled. The whole point of the tower is to get to that room, and if you never do, you won’t look out and understand why that tower exists. This is what Redemptive-historical preaching affirms: there is no wonder in Scripture which is not ultimately the wonder of Christ. If you do not find Christ in Scripture, you don’t really understand what Scripture is for. It is an important insight, first developed from the Scriptural leads the Apostles left us by Origen. To allegorize is to realize that these letters must mean more, and to seek something else. If we lose Origen’s allegorical exegetical procedure, we will lose the responsible interpretation of Scripture.

One of the thing people get wrong is that they go to Origen seeking what he never had, and dismiss him for it. There are many things that Origen did not have, but what we need to recognize is that there is little in the way of sophisticated theology and hermeneutics that does not come through a way Origen pioneered. Redemptive-historical preaching has learned what Origen taught about finding Christ in Scripture: it is how Scripture must be read.

We can do better than Origen did, of course. And I think we can do better than always doing Redemptive-historical preaching. Redemptive-historical preaching understands the room at the top of the tower. The problem is, it always seems to take the express elevator there. If that is all you do, that is all you will believe exists. I think it is valuable to also take the regular elevator also, and the stairs, and even to scale the outside of the tower. The important room, after all, is supported by everything that it rests upon. Everything in Scripture on the way to Christ is also deliberately there. There is nothing wrong with sometimes taking the express elevator, but there is something to be said for getting there more gradually sometimes, and even for approaching it in the most difficult way.

A Pastor’s Conference

I’m going to the Trinity Pastor’s Conference this week. I’ve never been to a pastor’s conference before. I’ve never wanted to be a pastor before.

But now I do. What I’d like to learn are the skills of pastoring, those things which are not part of the crucial academic aspect. What I’d like to find is a group of pastors who will help me confirm (or the contrary) the call to the ministry. I’ve been passive a good, long time. I have not actively pursued the office. Now it is time to be active.

5 years as a member in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have taught me many things, one of which is that I am definitely a Reformed Baptist. I believe I could do full subscription to the 1689 LBC. In fact, I would like to. 2 years at Westminster have taught me that anything short of robust confessional subscription is a diminished Christianity.

I am grateful that no stage, so far, has come without learning. One of the kindest things ever said to me was by Michael Haykin when I interviewed for the program at Southern. “You’ve really come a long way, haven’t you?” It is the right way to put it. Trueman famously and good-humoredly despises the word ‘journey.’ I believe what he says is that only contemporary trendy types and medieval Nominalists use the word. There is a better way, because it all depends on where you are going. Platonists are the greatest viatores.

I am a nomad, by temperament, upbringing, and what meager integrity I have obtained so far. C. S. Lewis said that if there is nothing in this world that can satisfy us, then it stands to reason that we are made for another world. It might also be observed that this positive statement gives a large role to dissatisfaction when it comes to life on this planet. Platonists are the greatest viatores because we are of all the positions you can take, the one that begins with most dissatisfaction, and it is the one which most aspires.

So I aspire to the ministry, and if you are a Reformed Baptist so aspiring, there are only two offices. It is a thing still to wonder about. The magisterial reformation recognized four ecclesial offices: deacon, ruling elder, teaching elder and doctor. These are distinctions which allowed Christianity to flourish in Western Civilization. I am not sure that we can have a robust Christianity without them. In Baptist polity the last three get compressed, but I think there is a practical distinction still to be made.

Specialization is necessary, but intermediation is as well. Specialization ought to require interdependence, but interdependence is not something the specialist is always trained to appreciate. Pastors ought to be specialists, but they do not always recognize the need for specialists in the theological disciplines. The fact is that being a pastor is a more obvious specialization than being a Biblical scholar or a systematic theologian. But because the pastorate is a specialization, and because most people cannot specialize in more than one thing, pastors need to be connected to specialists in the theological disciplines.

The theological disciplines also need to be connected to the broader academic disciplines. There is a prevailing, diminished view of the need for academic specialization. It is probably due to the fact that this specialization is the least obvious, the most recondite. But you cannot be academic without being connected to the academy in general. To the degree that you disconnect, you languish. And if you do not have the rigor of academic discipline, in academic disciplines, all you have is amateurs. The problem with the amateur is not that he exists, but that his existence depends on professionals.

There is one vital link I’m driving at in all this: the one who cannot be an academic specialist but who understands the importance and serves to maintain and preserve the connection. Me!

Advice from the 1970’s that still holds

I must leave it to the judgment of present-day theologians and their followers whether they are really serving their cause by trying to eliminate from Christian theology all notions originally derived from Greek philosophy. Certainly those historians who follow a similar tendency and deny the significance of Greek philosophy for early Christian thought can be corrected through an objective study of the sources.

-Kristeller, again.

The Words of a Master

You may not have come to this blog in search of the words of a master, but you have on this occasion found them.

How does a Master of historians speak?

We have the right and duty to communicate our findings and to express our views as best we can. We should not advertise them beyond their merit, or bully our critics, but patiently await the verdict of our successors. We have no power over the future. Our hopes may be deluded, and the fruits of our labor rejected or forgotten. We should like to believe that the past and present will always contribute to the future and be encompassed in it, and also that what is past has a life in itself and a potential future. This is a faith which we cannot prove, though it may sustain us. We can only know and do what is given to us, and we must leave the outcome to the natural and human forces that govern the world and that we hope may be guided in the end by a higher law and providence.

-Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought, 13-4