Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Real Reformed?

Over the last couple of weeks I have been reading an ongoing debate between to gentlemen over what amounts to the Reformational understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition (understood as the history of interpretation of the Bible). Both men say they hold to the true Reformational view, and accuse the other of failing to do so.

One of the two participants, a Presbyterian, seems to think he holds the high ground on what it means to be Reformed. His logic seems to be that since he holds to more of Calvin's views, then he is the one who can and should claim to be Reformed. Clearly then this person views being Reformed as an adherence to the letter of the beliefs of the Westminster Catechism (WC). To an extent I can agree with that notion; one cannot hold doctrines antithetical to Reformed beliefs (like Arminian views of predestination) and still consider themselves Reformed.

That said, must one be lock step with the WC to be Reformed? The other participant, a Reformed Baptist, seems to think not. He seems to think that there is an ethos of the Reformation that is more important when it comes to being Reformed. He seems to be of the opinion that there is a philosophy of handling Scripture that is more at the heart of what it means to be Reformed than the particular conclusions that were reached in the past, and are enshrined in the WC.

So there we have the two positions. One person thinks that the conclusions of the Reformation matter more than the process of reformation, and the other thinks the process of reformation more important than the conclusions of the Reformation. Personally I think the process is more important. One of the central tenets of the Reformation is the idea of "semper reformanda," of the church "always reforming." By definition this would seem to indicate that the conclusions of one generation are not the end of what it means to be Reformed.

The Presbyterian seems to argue that we can do exegesis of Scripture if we want, but we must not venture beyond the matrix of the WC, and that to reach conclusions contrary to the WC is to engage in "nuda scriptura" interpreting the text in a vacuum. But the Reformed Baptist argues against this very thing; he asserts that there is of course a context, but that context that must not be ventured away from is not that of the interpretation represented by the WC, but that of the biblical authors. The Reformed Baptist insists that the Word must mean what it always meant. The Presbyterian seems to insist that the Word must mean what the WC says it teaches.

The Presbyterian has, ironically, given in to a very Roman Catholic way of thinking. His arguments are in fact very similar to that of Roman Catholic apologists; both he and RC apologists argue for the primacy of a historical interpretation of the Bible regardless of whether that interpretation is supportable by normal means of interpretation or not. In cases where the Scriptures do not speak with one voice, as is the case in the question of the proper subject of baptism, the Presbyterian, like the RC apologist, asserts the authority of a creed.

In short, the only two differences that I can see between this Presbyterian and the RC apologist are in the temporal locus and content of the authoritative historical interpretation. The two may disagree on what the content of tradition is, and where in history it is to be found, but both agree that tradition defines what Scripture teaches, rather than the reverse.

The Presbyterian calls himself a Reformed Catholic. It seems more appropriate to regard him as a Catholicised Presbyterian. In my view, as soon as he embraced the primacy of historical theology over sound exegesis, he abandoned the right to call himself Reformed.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Lately I have come across a number of occasions where people quote a sripture in a way that suggests that the interpretation is self-evident, and it self-evidently agrees with them, and disagrees with me. My standard response to them is to ask "Can you please show me how the passage teaches that in context?".

Rarely is an actual effort made to justify the interpretation . Usually the response is to make some sweeping generalisations about how scripture teaches a thing elsewhere, as if if the presence of a teaching in one passage somehow proves the teachig exists in others.

Let me give an easy example in Romans 7. Is Paul referring to himself as a Christian there, or as a non-Christian? Personally I say he is referring to his life before Christ. Now, there are good arguments to support the idea that Paul is referring to the Christian life in Romans 7. However "Paul teaches that there is a struggle against sin elsewhere" is not one of them. I can agree that Paul teaches about the struggle that the Christian has with sin, in say Galatians 5, without having to agree that he is teaching it in Romans 7. The fact is, if you want to say that Paul is teaching abotu the Christian life in Romans 7, you are going to have to appeal to evidence from within and immediately around Romans 7. Galatians 5 does not fit.

Whenever I make that point in such a debate, I usually get accused of not allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. That isn't tue though. Allowing Scripture means letting clear passages help us understand unclear ones. It is not an excuse to let us take one clear scripture and override the teaching of another clear scripture. That practice is less "letting Scripture interpret Scripture" and more "cherry picking".

Enough for now. Blessings!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Need A Vacation

The last few days have seen me slow down substantially simply due to being too fatigued to maintain my usual frenetic pace. Not good. I need a vacation.

But what would I do on a vacation? if I could choose anything? Good question. I suppose would have to make two lists; one with and one without my family. Yes, I refuse to feel guilty about feeling the need to occasionally be secluded from even my most loved ones.


With My Family

  • Lots of camping, preferably a cross country tour. I think I'd take a summer to do that, stopping to camp in some fo the most scenic areas this great country has to offer. I don't have space to go into all the places I'd wat to take the kids to that I know of, let alone the ones I don't know about yet.
  • A trip to Kingdom Bound ( ) The kids would love Six Flags!
Without My Family
  • I'd go on a spiritual retreat, probably Billy Graham's The Cove.
  • I'd take courses at some pictureseque campus. Maybe I'd go back to Acadia. Wolfville is definitely a beautiful spot.
  • Find me a warm beach and a book, baby!
I imagine I should have a third list, namely witout my kids but with my wife. I would probably do a tour of Europe with particular attention to spots of biblical, and historical significance. Some out of the way things. I would also probably do a missions trip to South America.

I'll stop dreaming for now; I need to get back to house hunting!

Monday, March 21, 2005

I Need A Notebook

I just finished watching the movie "The Notebook" with my wife. I have to say I cried often and long. My wife cried longer.

It is a very touching film, and, despite some of the less than moral elments of the plot, the one sense that I take away from the whle film is that ther is little else more precious than to be able to say that you have loved one person in an absolutley unique way in your life, and that you stayed weith her. I could not agree more.

I think the reason that the marriage between the main characters worked is that they were both willing to put in the work day after day. That at least is the sense you are left with.

Its weird in a way that theme gets in there. The whole movie to that point seems somewhat idyllic and romanticised. Gettting that dose of reality seems almost out of place. But even then the words are spoken with a passion fuelled by romance, so perhaps it is not so out of place as that. It also may not be out of place given that Noah's character is one that effectively marries hard work and almost blind roamntic passion. The rebuilding of the plantation seesm to bear that out.

All in all a wonderful story. Very heartfelt, and a testimony to the selfless character of love.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Feeling Rushed

Sorry to be away so long; I have been frighteningly busy. I have still found time to think about blogging though. I have been wondering what topics I might tackle.

A few issues have been percolating in my mind, but they are not yet ripe. For now, let me simply do this:

From one of my favorite Rush tunes "Between The Wheels":

To live between a rock and a hard place
In between time
Cruising in prime time
Soaking up the cathode rays

To live between the wars in our time
Living in real time
Holding the good time
Holding on to yesterdays

You know how that rabbit feels
Going under your speeding wheels
Bright images flashing by
Like windshields towards a fly
Frozen in the fatal climb
But the wheels of time
Just pass you by
Wheels can take you around
Wheels can cut you down
We can go from boom to bust
From dreams to a bowl of dust
We can fall from rockets' red glare
Down to "Brother can you spare..."
Another war
Another wasteland
And another lost generation

It slips between your hands like water
This living in real time
A dizzying lifetime
Reeling by on celluloid

Struck between the eyes
By the big-time world
Walking uneasy streets
Hiding beneath the sheets
Got to try and fill the void

So why do I like it? Partly its the tune; there is a steady keyboard that gives a sense of foreboding to the music. But I admit I like the lyrics too. Using very modern imagery I find themes here reminiscentof the Techer of Ecclesiastes. Don't believe me?

I read "It slips between your hands like water this living in real time" and I think of how the Teacher speaksof many things, life itself, as meaningless.

I read "Holding the Good time. Holding on to yesterdays" and I think of Eccl. 7:10.

Compare the chorus to Eccl. 4:1-3.

Or consider "Got to try to fill the void" with the Teacher's own efforts to find meaning.

All those similarities between a work that is a few years old and one that is several centuries old... I guess there really is nothing new under the sun.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Interpreting Stories

I am a fan of Narrative Theology. That is, I am a fan of discerning theological truth by looking at the Bible stories. Interpreting a narrative is different than it is for interpreting a letter. Letters a re pretty straightforward really; you just need to expound and expand on the author's own argument, which the author has self-consciously made.

For narrative theology it is different. It is not often that there is only one argument being made in a story, though sometimes you can get a sense that the author has an axe to grind. Most often you can get several lessons form the same story.

To my mind this makes the gospels, Acts, and much of the Old Testament vital for sharing Christ in the world today. After all, the world today seems to learn best from story, which is narrative.

That isn't to say that there are no pitfalls. One that comes immediately to mind is that narrative theology is inherently more subjective than others. Because there is not often a particular point the author is trying to make, it is possible for an interpreter to decide individually what the point or points should be.

The corrective to this is to not disassociate narrative truth, the truth that God wants to communicate through stories, from propositional truth, that which God relates through direct statements.

Another pitfall is that we can be tempted to start applying the method of narrative theology to nay narrative. A story is a story is a story, so why not get narrative truth from any and every story?

The corrective is to maintain a strong understanding of inspiration and revelation. Only the Bible is God's story told clearly enough to lead a person to a saving relationship with Him. Other stories are not sufficient. They can be sufficient to the extent that the point a person back to the Bible.

There are other pitfalls, but for the time being I have taken enough space.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Hollywood and My Faith

I thought I'd share some of the movies which have gotten me thinking spiritually over the years:

Dead Poets Society
The Matrix (though not in a positive way)
Groundhog Day
Bruce Almighty
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Fisher King
The Lord of The Rings Trilogy
The Passion of the Christ
Pay It Forward
The Pianist
The English Patient
Simon Birch
X2: X-Men United

Of course I could list other spiritually significant movies, but these are the ones I have seen. Not all have been positive, but all have been thought provoking.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Just found this article

and it is worth reading.

Comics and Faith

No, I am not referring to comics of the stand-up variety. That was yesterday's blog.

No, today I am thinking of the superhero comics that I read in my teen years that kept me thinking about spiritual things. Mind you, at the time I would not have thought consciously along those lines. I recall thinking that these were cool ideas or characters or something. At any rate some comics that got me thinking:

X-Men Graphic Novel- God Loves, Man Kills
This is an amazing story. It really gets you thinking about how religion, specifically the Bible, can be twisted in order to accomplish ends that are astonishingly anti-biblical. I remember thinking, when I first bought it, that the problem was not the Bible though, but how it is used. Nowadays I see a parallel between that thought and the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument. I don't buy the parallel completely since guns are not made for any purpose other than destruction (whether that destruction brings about a greater good being a related but different topic) while the Bible has a wholely good purpose in bringing people to God. Still it is worth considering how even a love letter can be used to bring, and justify, harm to many.

Wolverine, 1st Mini-series
This is the story that sees Wolverine transformed from a one-dimensional killing machine to a character who struggles with inner-demons to be more than just a one-dimensional killing machine. In the end Wolvie finds peace in the effort, rather than the success. A kind of "the journey is the destination" thing. Nowadays I see echoes of Paul's thinking in Romans 7, but there is a distinct difference in that Paul's conclusion does not simply concede that successfully becoming more than we are is impossible,we had best make the most of the effort. He concludes instead: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord." Ro. 7:24,25 (NLT)

Ghost Rider
The first series featured Johnny Blaze being possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance, Zarathos. The conclusion to the series is what got me. Dying, Zarathos is consumed with a single mission, to destroy his enemy Centurius. Zarathos frees Johnny Blaze from the curse of being possessed by leaving Johnny to inhabit a soul crystal in which centurius has been imprisoned. It is not enough for Zarathos to know that Centurius is imprisoned, he has to get vengeance beyond that, and destroy his enemy utterly. In the process he imprisons himself along with Centurius, but that does not seem to matter. I gathered from that the thought that vengeance, if it is allowed to really control our thinking, will ultimately lead to self-destruction. "Christian brothers, never pay back someone for the bad he has done to you. Let the anger of God take care of the other person. The Holy Writings say, 'I will pay back to them what they should get, says the Lord.'" (Romans 12:19 NLV)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

And People Think I'm Weird...

Emo Philips quotes on morality and religion:

"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."

"Probably the toughest time in anyone's life is when you have to murder a loved one because they're the devil."

"I was walking down fifth avenue today and I found a wallet, and I was gonna keep it, rather than return it, but I thought: well, if I lost a hundred and fifty dollars, how would I feel? And I realized I would want to be taught a lesson."

"At my lemonade stand I used to give the first glass away free and charge five dollars for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote."

"Whatever happened to the good ole days, when children worked in factories?"

Why be prejudiced against anyone because of their race or nationality or creed... when there're so many real reasons to hate others?

And my personal favorite:

I was in San Fransisco once, walking along the
Golden Gate Bridge, and I saw this guy on the bridge about to jump. So I thought I'd try to stall and detain him, long enough for me to put the film in.

I said, "Don't jump!" and he turns...
He said, "Nobody loves me."

I said, "God loves you, you silly ninny."...

He said, "I do believe in God."

I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"

He said, "A Christian."

I said, "Me too. Protestant or Catholic?"

He said, "Protestant."

I said, "Me too! What franchise?"

He says, "Baptist."

I said, "Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"

He says, "Northern Baptist."

I said, "Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?" He says, "Northern Conservative Baptist."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reform Baptist?"

He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?"

He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region."

I say, "Me too! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"

He says, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Some Interesting Books

Books which have influenced my thinking in some maner (besides the Bible of course) in no particular order:

The Cross of Christ- John Stott
Surprised by the Power of the Spirit- Jack Deere
Surprised by the Voice of God- Jack Deere
Devotional Callsic -edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith
Systematic Theology- Wayne Grudem
The Presence of the Future- G.E. Ladd
The Blessed Hope- G.E. Ladd
The Gospel of the Kingdom- G.E. Ladd
Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers- Bill Easum
Evangelicalsim and the Furture of Chrisitanity- Alistair McGrath
A Call To Spiritual Reformation- D.A. Carson
The Incendiary Fellowship- Elton Trueblood
The Company of the Committed- Elton Trueblood
Christ Our Righteousness- Mark Seifrid
The Epistle To the Romans- Doug Moo, NICNT
The Purpose Driven Church- Rick Warren

Feel free to let me know if you've read any of these or if you have any recommendations. Also if you are wondering what some of these are about, ask and I'll tell you in a future blog.