Friday, November 17, 2006

For Something Completely Different...

We at The Conventicle can't always live in the past. So for something a little more up to date, here are two links well worth your time.

My friend David Robertson (minister at St Peter's Free Church in Dundee) takes some heat for his review of Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. Check out David's response.

Also, Al Mohler is taking part in a new "conversation on religion" entitled On Faith sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. This forum has assembled an interesting and impressive panel of religious leaders, scholars, theologians, historians, journalists, etc. Mohler's first column will give you a good taste of the 'conversation.'

Now back to the 17th century!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

History of Biblical Interpretation: Post-Reformation Blues

The history of biblical interpretation is generally speaking an underdeveloped field of research. Over fifty years ago, the infamous Basil Hall drew attention to the widespread neglect of the history of exegesis:

The history of biblical exegesis is one of the most neglected fields in the history of the Church and its doctrine when compared with the attention given to person, institutions, confessions, liturgies, and apologetics...With the renewal of biblical theology (and with the study of the history of exegesis which is being renewed in our time) the opportunity has come for a fresh reading of Christian thought and life not only in the Reformation age, but also in the Patristic age and in the high Middle Ages. This work, when accomplished, will change for the better some fixed patterns of interpretation (Cambridge History of the Bible, 3:76).

Since Hall, some improvement has been made, especially in the area of Reformation exegesis. But the era the of post-Reformation still remains mostly uncharted territory. For example, nearly ten years ago, Carl Trueman states, "As yet there are no significant studies of the exegetical and interpretative strategies of the Reformed Orthodox of the seventeenth century" (Interpreting the Bible, 160-161). More recently, Richard Muller made a similar observation,

The history of biblical interpretation is, moreover, a comparatively new field: it is really only in the last twenty years that we have seen examinations of the biblical interpretation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that do justice, historically and contextually, to the exegesis of the era - and the study of the seventeenth century still lags behind (After Calvin, 41).

Now, the million dollar question is why? My initial reaction is at least three-fold:

  • Since the Restoration, Nonconformity has suffered the fate of many who never claimed the victor's prize - marginalization. While sympathizers of the theological tradition of the Puritans have continued to uphold their legacy, the academic world has paid them little respect.

  • With the rise of the Enlightenment, the premodern questions, systems, and commentaries of the Puritans are often seen at best as provincial and at worst irrelevant.

  • While there has been a resurgence of research on the post-Reformation, much of the scholarship has been busy seeking to demonstrate with various amounts of academic dexterity Calvin's alleged agreement or disagreement with the Reformed orthodox and paying little attention to more constructive matters. Although this is changing - thankfully!

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Meditations: Translating Punishment!

Tim and Susan, look forward to reading more about your work. Thanks for the sneak peek! Chris and Joe, how about feedback from ETS later in the week?

Now, to start things off this week, here are a few 'meditations' on...well, you guessed it - John Owen.

For Owen, central to the Christian religion is substitutionary atonement. It is the “life, soul, and centre of all Scripture revelations” (Works 1:353, 358).

Because of the fall of Adam in the Garden, all are under the curse of the law. In this curse, death, both temporal and eternal, was contained. In other words, justice demands punishment for sin. So how could God punish sin and pardon sinners and remain just? Part of the answer to this question is what Owen calls the “conjunction” between Christ and his church.

In order to procure the salvation of the church, a translation of punishment was necessary – “namely, from them who had deserved it, and could not bear it, unto one who had not deserved it, but could bear it” (Works 1:353).

But for this translation of punishment to take place, there must be a peculiar conjunction or relationship between sinners and the one who is punished for their sins. Owen outlines a threefold relationship between persons in general and Christ and his church in particular.

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is natural. God has made “from one man (i.e. Adam)” all men (Acts 17:26). Every man is every man’s brother. Therefore, to be our substitute, Christ voluntarily assumed our nature. His relation to us did not arise out of a necessity of nature, but by a free act of his will he took on our nature. As Hebrews 2:14-15 (a hugely important text for Owen) states, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is mystical (or moral or spiritual). As head and husband, Christ died for the church. “The church designed to be the spouse of Christ in the counsel of God; whereon he loved her and gave himself for her” (Works 1:357; cf. Hos. 12:12; Eph. 5:25-32).

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is federal (or covenantal). This is the most important. For it is upon this relationship that the translation (or imputation) of our punishment to Christ and his righteousness to us is based. “So did the Lord Christ undertake to be surety of the new covenant in behalf of the church, Heb. 7:22, and thereon tendered himself unto God, to do and suffer for them, in their stead, and on their behalf, whatever was required, that they might be sanctified and saved” (Works 1:358).

At the cross, God’s justice and mercy meet. Without this relationship between Christ and his church, we are left in our sins. But with this “intimate conjunction” sin is punished and we are pardoned. To God be praised.

I leave you with this reflection by Owen. Take special note of the last sentence.

These are some of the foundations of that mystery of transmitting the sins of the church, as to the guilt and punishment of them from the sinners themselves unto another, every way innocent, pure, and righteous in himself…No heart can conceive, no tongue can express the glory of Christ herein…In due apprehensions hereof let my soul live – in the faith hereof let me die, and let present admiration of this glory make way for the eternal enjoyment of it in its beauty and fullness (Works 1:358, 359).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Justification of a Madman

I thought it time to post something on my research, though I am still in the infant stages. At present I am looking at iconoclasm in the Reformed tradition particularly in the lives of John Calvin, William Perkins, and William Dowsing. "Hold on, who was that last one?" That is what I hear when I tell people who I am researching. By many scholars he is remembered as an iconoclastic madman. While admitting certain flaws in Dowsing, my project is starting to become somewhat of a "justification" of this madman's iconoclastic campaign. In this post I share just a flavor of what I have found so far...

Tucked into lesser read verses of Judges 6 (vv25-27) is a rarely quoted section of the Gideon narrative. Before Gideon would be raised up to lead Israel in defeating the Midianites, he was told first to “tear down” his father’s altar to Baal and to “cut down” the wooden image that was beside it. These idols had seduced the affections of God’s people. Gideon believed, and the book of Judges supports, the notion that superstitions in Israel had to be condemned and physically removed if God were to bless their efforts in battle.
William Dowsing (1596-1668) is not remembered with the mystique of Gideon. But he thought of himself in those terms. Remembered by some as the Arch Vandal, he blazed into history as a radical figure in the English Civil War, commissioned by the Earle of Manchester under an Ordinance of 1643 to tear down “pictures and superstitious images” in the name of God and Parliament between 1643 and 1644. Rather than a Gideon, Dowsing is often thought more of as an Elmer Gantry, mindlessly opposing vice with no thought deeper than his own aggrandizement. However, while contextual differences abound, there remains a compelling similarity between the Mighty Man of Mannaseh and the meticulous Iconoclast General: both held that their actions were squarely in line with the will of God and that they were necessary for God to bless their respective countries…
Their [Calvin, Perkins, Dowsing] similarities and differences are many. Calvin and Perkins were theologians and preachers, Dowsing was a yeoman-farmer. Calvin and Perkins were writers, Dowsing a reader. What is compelling about grouping them together is that while Calvin and Perkins disseminated incredible influence, Dowsing represents the influenced. The theologians were men of letters, the farmer was a man of action. It was in the preaching and writing of William Perkins that Calvin’s theology of worship was solidified in England and made accessible to the common man. As Jonathan Long wrote, "The genius of Perkins is to be found in his ability to apply with striking effect the theology of the Reformation to the exigencies of Elizabethan England in the language of the average man." William Dowsing was the average man of the next generation who followed that theology to what he considered to be its necessary end: the Gideonesque “tearing down” of images and superstitions that had captured the affections of English Christians.

I am sure it will take a much different shape after a few more months of research, but this is where I am now. Let it be said among you, I have posted my first post.



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