Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative

Got this new book by Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary Philadelphia as a throw-in to get my recent purchase from WTS over the magical $40 mark to get shipping for a buck. Really glad I did. Excellent little book that only took me two hours to read. Including the intro and forward it is about 125 pages.

Now I of course disagree with Dr. Trueman on some of his thoughts on free-market capitalism and gun-control and universal healthcare. Though I agree wholeheartedly with the negative side that he notes on this and believe that only through a Christian worldview can it be kept in check. Even more to the point Biblical Law looks a lot more like a “nanny-state” than most conservatives would like to think and or believe.

On another front his description of politics in America is spot-on (to use a British colloquialism). He does a good job I think in describing the many contradictions on the Left and the Right when it comes to ideology. He takes a not-so-veiled shot at Fox News and its commentators that are featured at 5:00pm and 8:00pm. His criticism of Fox comes from two angles. First its founder Rupert Murdoch hardly espouses the policies that the news network’s idealogical mouthpieces preach. Secondly is the irony of the “family values” network’s use of highly attractive and scantily clad anchor babes (to use a Limbaugh phrase) as well as the need for Fox News to belittle the intelligence of its watchers by reducing every issue to a Manichean “liberal = evil” and “conservative = good”. For those of you wondering he does take full aim at MSNBC and Olberman/Maddow as well.

Overall an excellent book and well worth the money and effort.

You can find the work here at WTS Books.

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 2

Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are the subject of our next inquiry into the “Science” of Hermeneutics. It has been posited in the comments section of the answer to Part 1 that this should be used as a proof text for those who support Women’s Ordination and to not to leads to “General Assembly-like” pronouncements like women not being able to teach adult men but being able to teach male children.

There are several questions that come up when thinking here and must be understood when looking at these two passages. 1) How should we look at Old Testament passages cited by New Testament authors (inspired by the same Spirit?) 2) How much can we read into a text before we obscure and obfuscate its meaning? 3) Can a text have separate contexts?

However first we need to define the major word of this pericope. PROPHECY. John Calvin in his commentary on Acts 2 says, “…this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency.” John Chrysostom in his Homily V on Acts 2 also gives the same definition as John Calvin saying,” but for the grace, he fetches the prophet as witness. “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.” [“And your sons,” etc.] To some the grace was imparted through dreams, to others it was openly poured forth.” This Prophecy of which both Calvin and Chrysostom speak has nothing to do with teaching or preaching, as some have surmised, but has to do with the revelation of the Will of God. In this case Peter is speaking to the Jews who are wondering why Cretans and Arabs are speaking in tongues they do not understand. They are speaking not only in a tongue the Jews cannot understand but of a way that cannot be understand because the Holy Spirit has not been imparted to them. John Piper in a sermon on Acts 2 says this:

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the presence of God in the world to reveal himself by some action or word. Therefore when Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, he means that God will draw near to men and women and make himself known and felt in a powerful way. There is a great difference between perceiving a lake at a distance and being immersed in the lake. So there is a great difference between experiencing God as a distant object of knowledge and being immersed in his presence. The picture of a worldwide pouring compels us to think of being soaked and saturated and swept along by the Spirit of God. Joel wanted his readers to anticipate an unmistakable flood-tide of God’s presence.

The context of Peter’s commentary and quotation of Joel 2 belies nothing that would tell us Peter here is speaking about teaching and preaching in the Church. Peter is speaking to the Jews during the event of Pentecost when Jesus’ words to the Apostles were fulfilled. To make the argument that Peter here is is quoting Joel to give the office of teacher to both men and women is stretching the meaning of the text. As we see from the several commentators we cannot give a meaning to a text that it itself cannot and does not give. This on its own not only breaks Scripture’s internal hermeneutic but it violates the rules of literary analysis, tools that even wacko conservatives use to help determine the meaning of the text. Also as Reformed Christians who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith as the best summary of the Doctrine of the Christian life we must (unless you are like our dispensational friends that believe that we can still receive prophecy after the death of the last Apostle) say that Prophecy has ceased. Richard Gaffin, Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in his book Perspectives on Pentecost in summary says, “The apostolic witness, prophecy and tongues were bound up with the foundation of the church following the ascension of Christ, and therefore, since the foundation has been laid, have no purpose for today.” For a Reformed believer if Prophecy has ceased then what Joel and Peter speak of in this passage cannot have bearing on us because we do not live in the Apostolic age. The Westminster Confession says:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section 1:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Chapter 1, Section 6:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Even moreso Paul in 1st Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Now who is to be preaching and teaching? Elders. What are the qualifications for Elders according to Paul (who like Peter and Joel is inspired by the Holy Spirit)? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the office of Overseer, or Elder is restricted to “…the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Now where do Elders receive their call to head the Church? For that let us take a look at Acts 20:17-38. In this passage Paul is writing to the Elders at the church in Ephesus. He is giving them a sort of pep talk and exhorting them to keep strong in the faith that has been delivered to them and to be vigilant like a shepherd tending to their flocks. Now what does this description sound like to you? Sounds like the daily work of a Pastor does it not? Also worth remembering is the location of Timothy when Paul writes to him. Where is he? Ephesus. So if Paul believes that only qualified men (not all men) can be Elders, and Elders are the Shepherds of the Church, and Elders are to be the ones preaching and teaching what does that say about Joel and Peter and there speaking of Prophesy? Well we can be sure that it does not mean that Peter in Acts 2 and Joel in his book chapter 2 cannot be, if taken with the whole counsel of Scripture, to mean that the act of “Prophesy” which both men and women are called can be conflated to therefore mean that both men and women are called to and can preach and be Teaching Elders in the Church of Christ.

Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 7

One more from the “experts” on the Pictorial imagery of the Godhead then I’ll post my thoughts. Article can be found here.

Pictures of Christ

By John Murray

The question of the propriety of pictorial representations of the Saviour is one that merits examination. It must be granted that the worship of Christ is central in our holy faith, and the thought of the Saviour must in every instance be accompanied with that reverence which belongs to his worship. We cannot think of him without the apprehension of the majesty that is his. If we do not entertain the sense of his majesty, then we are guilty of impiety and we dishonor him.

It will also be granted that the only purpose that could properly be served by a pictorial representation is that it would convey to us some thought or lesson representing him, consonant with truth and promotive of worship. Hence the question is inescapable: is a pictorial representation a legitimate way of conveying truth regarding him and of contributing to the worship which this truth should evoke?

We are all aware of the influence exerted on the mind and heart by pictures. Pictures are powerful media of communication. How suggestive they are for good or for evil and all the more so when accompanied by the comment of the spoken or written word! It is futile, therefore, to deny the influence exerted upon mind and heart by a picture of Christ. And if such is legitimate, the influence exerted should be one constraining to worship and adoration. To claim any lower aim as that served by a picture of the Saviour would be contradiction of the place which he must occupy in thought, affection, and honour.

The plea for the propriety of pictures of Christ is based on the fact that he was truly man, that he had a human body, that he was visible in his human nature to the physical senses, and that a picture assists us to take in the stupendous reality of his incarnation, in a word, that he was made in the likeness of men and was found in fashion as a man.

Our Lord had a true body. He could have been photographed. A portrait could have been made of him and, if a good portrait, it would have reproduced his likeness.

Without doubt the disciples in the days of his flesh had a vivid mental image of Jesus’ appearance and they could not but have retained that recollection to the end of their days. They could never have entertained the thought of him as he had sojourned with them without something of that mental image and they could not have entertained it without adoration and worship. The very features which they remembered would have been part and parcel of their conception of him and reminiscent of what he had been to them in his humiliation and in the glory of his resurrection appearance. Much more might be said regarding the significance for the disciples of Jesus’ physical features.

Jesus is also glorified in the body and that body is visible. It will also become visible to us at his glorious appearing “he will be seen the second time without sin by those who look for him unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

What then are we to say of pictures of Christ? First of all, it must be said that we have no data whatsoever on the basis of which to make a pictorial representation; we have no descriptions of his physical features which would enable even the most accomplished artist to make an approximate portrait. In view of the profound influence exerted by a picture, especially on the minds of young people, we should perceive the peril involved in a portrayal for which there is no warrant, a portrayal which is the creation of pure imagination. It may help to point up the folly to ask: what would be the reaction of a disciple, who had actually seen the Lord in the days of his flesh, to a portrait which would be the work of imagination on the part of one who had never seen the Saviour? We can readily detect what his recoil would be.

No impression we have of Jesus should be created without the proper revelatory data, and every impression, every thought, should evoke worship. Hence, since we possess no revelatory data for a picture or portrait in the proper sense of the term, we are precluded from making one or using any that have been made.

Secondly, pictures of Christ are in principle a violation of the second commandment. A picture of Christ, if it serves any useful purpose, must evoke some thought or feeling respecting him and, in view of what he is, this thought or feeling will be worshipful. We cannot avoid making the picture a medium of worship. But since the materials for this medium of worship are not derived from the only revelation we possess respecting Jesus, namely, Scripture, the worship is constrained by a creation of the human mind that has no revelatory warrant. This is will worship. For the principle of the second commandment is that we are to worship God only in ways prescribed and authorized by him. It is a grievous sin to have worship constrained by a human figment, and that is what a picture of the Saviour involves.

Thirdly, the second commandment forbids bowing down to an image or likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. A picture of the Saviour purports to be a representation or likeness of him who is now in heaven or, at least, of him when he sojourned upon the earth. It is plainly forbidden, therefore, to bow down in worship before such a representation or likeness. This exposes the iniquity involved in the practice of exhibiting pictorial representations of the Saviour in places of worship. When we worship before a picture of our Lord, whether it be in the form of a mural, or on canvas, or in stained glass, we are doing what the second commandment expressly forbids. This is rendered all the more apparent when we bear in mind that the only reason why a picture of him should be exhibited in a place is the supposition that it contributes to the worship of him who is our Lord. The practice only demonstrates how insensitive we readily become to the commandments of God and to the inroads of idolatry. May the Churches of Christ be awake to the deceptive expedients by which the archenemy ever seeks to corrupt the worship of the Saviour.

In summary, what is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit.

John Murray (1898-1975) is Former Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

One More Before We Get Back to Timothy

Here is an excellent article by Richard Gaffin, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia that appeared in Modern Reformation magazine. I am an unabashed Cessationist and found this article in this weeks White Horse Inn e-mail quite good.

Defense of Cessationism

by Richard Gaffin

“Cessationism is a term that carries a lot of baggage. By itself it’s negative, suggesting what no longer exists or, in current debate about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, what one is against. So at the outset, certain misconceptions about the “cessationist” viewpoint need to be addressed.

It’s not that today God’s Spirit is no longer at work in dynamic and dramatic ways. What, for instance, could be more powerful and impressive, even miraculous, than the 180-degree reversal in walk that occurs when the Spirit transforms those dead in their sins into those alive for good works? This, Paul says, involves nothing less than a work of resurrection, of (re-) creation (Eph. 2:1-10). Awesome indeed!

Nor is the point that all spiritual gifts have ceased and are no longer present in the Church today. As will become clear, at issue is the cessation of a limited number of such gifts; the continuation of the large remainder is not in dispute…”

Read the rest on the Modern Reformation website.

Pastor As Theologian Part III of III

Part 3 of 3 of Carl Trueman‘s thoughts that I see as a call to all who see Pastors as Theologians.


In a way this brings me back to the points with which I started. You want to integrate your faith with your studies? It simply cannot be done in the purely academic environment of the university because the modern university in its very essence is designed to reject the kind of integration for which you seek. It can only be done when theology is given its proper place within the church, within the worshipping community. And that is why it is not just a matter of principled Christian obedience that you are actively involved in a local church fellowship; it is also a matter of sanctified common sense if you wish to pursue your university studies with true Christian zeal.

Why is this? Because church is the place where you will be reminded again and again of what it really is that you are studying and how it affects you. You may debate sin in a theology class, but in a sermon you will be told something you will never hear in a university lecture theatre: that you are yourself a sinner, intimately involved in the very thing you talked about so abstractly at the seminar. You might talk about atonement with your supervisor; but only the preacher will tell you that Christ died for you. You might study eschatology for an essay assignment, but only in church will you take the Lord’s Supper, remembering that you do this until he comes again in glory. In other words, you need not only to supplement the liberal stuff your lecturers teach you with sound, orthodox evangelical theology; you also need to place yourself in an environment where the indifference to and distance from real life that academic theological study engenders can be alleviated. And that place is church.

I hope this prospect excites you. When you hear on Sunday that you worship the God who rules over history, who is sovereign, who is powerful to save, and yet who stoops to take flesh himself, to care for the poor and the needy – does it not make your heart burn within you when you come to deal with issues of theology and biblical studies on a Monday morning? Of course, much of your studies will be tedious, frustrating, antithetical to the faith you hold dear; but the bottom line is, don’t let it grind you down; and don’t let the university set your theological life agenda as it sets your theological studies curriculum. Make sure that your head and heart are filled with enough good stuff to enable you to deal with dross as and when it comes your way. See your theological work as you should see all of your work: an act devoted to the glory of the God who bought you with his precious blood and will one day glorify you in heaven.

I close, therefore, with the words of one much better placed than I am to speak of the theological scholarship of his own day, liberal and conservative, Catholic and protestant; one who was accomplished across a whole range of academic disciplines in a way that would now be impossible; a man honoured by one of the great universities of Europe for his contribution to theology; but also a man who knew the love of Christ in his own heart and who sought through his writings, scholarly and devotional, to shed that love abroad. I speak, of course, of the great Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. Writing on ‘The Idea of Systematic Theology’, he wrote the following:

The systematic theologian is pre-eminently a preacher of the gospel; and the end of his work is obviously not merely the logical arrangement of the truths which come under his hand, but the moving of men, through their power to love God with all their heart and their neighbours as themselves; to choose their portion with the Saviour of their souls; to find and hold him precious; and to recognise and yield to the sweet influences of the Holy Spirit whom he has sent. With such truth as this he will not dare to deal in a cold and merely scientific spirit, but will justly and necessarily permit its preciousness and its practical destination to determine the spirit in which he handles it, and to awaken the reverential love with which alone he should investigate its reciprocal relations. For this he needs to be suffused at all times with a sense of the unspeakable worth of the revelation which lies before him as the source of his material, and with the personal bearings of its separate truths on his own heart and life; he needs to have had and to be having afull, rich, and deep religious experience of the great doctrines with which he deals; he needs to be living close to his God, to be resting always on the bosom of his Redeemer, to be filled at all times with the manifest influences of the Holy Spirit. The student of systematic theology needs a very sensitive religious nature, a most thoroughly consecrated heart, and an outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon him, such as willfill him with that spiritual discernment, without which all native intellect is in vain. He needs to be not merely a student, not merely a thinker not merely a systematizer not merely a teacher – he needs to be like the beloved disciple himself in the highest, truest, and holiest sense, a divine.2

Such was Warfield’s vision. Impossible, you say, impossible to achieve that level of integration between devotion and study. Well, yes, with us these things are impossible – but with God, all things are possible. Let us pray that the great God of grace might grant us some measure of that Christian experience in our studies and teaching which Warfield describes so eloquently!

Pastor As Theologian Part II of III

Again this is the second part of a two-part presentation of Carl Trueman‘s essay on the Pastor as Theologian.


How does this play out in practice? Well, first, we must rid ourselves of any notion that we are, so to speak, God’s gift to the Christian church. We may know more theology than the person sitting next to us on the pew at a Sunday morning service; we may well be able to beat them hands down in any debate which may erupt concerning some theological point in the context of a church meeting or even an informal discussion over coffee; but that does not mean we are in any sense a more effective, God-glorifying Christian than they are. If Christianity involves the intimate union of belief and practice, of knowledge of God which finds its being through piety, as Calvin would say, that is the godliness of the true Christian, then technical mastery of the niceties of scholarship does not in any sense count by itself as genuine Christianity. As a result, mere technical accomplishment does not qualify you to take a leadership role within your local congregation, or provide an occasion for you to lord it over others. Many of us are quite capable of reading and mastering the ins and outs of a car maintenance manual; but I would hesitate to recommend myself as capable of changing the brake blocks on my own car, let alone that of someone else. Thus, knowing what prayer means is not the same as knowing what it means to pray; knowing what, say, the Chalcedonian definition says is not the same thing as knowing the Chalcedonian definition’s personal significance.

Luther captured this truth nicely when he distinguished between his own theology and that of his opponents by contrasting the existential impact and personal demands of Christian doctrine as he understood it with the position of others. His enemies, he said, knew that Christ had died and been raised from the dead; but he knew that Christ had died and been raised from the dead for him. The difference is between, a scholar sitting in a library and reading a note from the archives saying that the cavalry are on their way to save the beleaguered troops, and actually being one of the beleaguered troops who receives the note.

The outcome of the Enlightening of the universities was devastating for theology precisely because the Enlightenment demanded that theology give an account of itself not in terms of itself, its own inner dynamics and ultimate purposes, but in terms of the universal criteria which had been established for judging what was and was not plausible within the university framework. Basic to this, of course, was the loss of the idea that the Bible was a supernaturally inspired book and that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. As Stephen Williams has persuasively argued in his book Revelation and Reconciliation,1 the former offended Enlightenment epistemology, the latter outraged Enlightenment morality. At the time, this was not considered to be too serious to the Christian faith: the self-confidence of the Enlightened Christians, bolstered by the fact that Christianity was, after all, utterly dominant in the cultural realm, led them to continue to believe that Christianity was self-evidently superior to other religions and belief-systems, even without a supernatural Bible and saviour understood in terms of Chalcedon.

That the theological toothpaste was well and truly out of the tube at this point only became evident later. Nobody at the time ever thought that Christianity would have to justify its special place in life and thought, so obviously superior did it seem to all the other alternatives. Indeed, the fact that the Bible was not inspired in the traditional sense of the word, and that Christ was not saviour in the traditional sense of the word, did not mean that both were not still that much better than the rest. Nevertheless, in conceding these two points, Enlightenment theologians conceded the two points which actually supported the pursuit of theology as one discipline possessing its own integrity. Now, without any epistemological or soteriological centre to hold it together, the stage was set for the discipline to fragment hopelessly, not just as a result of the external pressures created by the rising tide of information and of sub-disciplinary specialisation in academic culture in general, but also by its own lack of any internal basis for providing coherence and unity. The result is that today, it is rather misleading to speak of theology or divinity as a university discipline. More often than not, it is a disparate collection of various subjects, methodologies, and philosophies that just happen to be in the same department for reasons which have more to do with institutional history and administration than any inner-coherence or mutual relationship.

Theology is not just a question of content it is also a question of context; and if we simply replace liberalism with evangelicalism with regard to content whilst remaining happy with the overall context, we will have failed.

Let me elaborate this as follows using a silly, but I hope pointed, analogy. Let’s imagine that at some point in the future it is decided that the discipline of medicine needs to be reformed. This is done first of all by denying that certain medicines had curative properties which others lacked. Initially it is assumed that while antibiotics are obviously superior to baking soda in curing infections, the difference in curative power is one of degree, not kind; but gradually, over time, all compounds come to be regarded as having equal power to cure. In addition to this first claim regarding curative powers, the reformers also deny that there are any diseases out there that need to be cured. Again it is initially assumed that the very ill person is actually not very ill but simply in possession of less health than others; gradually, however, the logic of the position works itself out and it becomes an act of cultural imperialism to claim that any one person is more or less ill than any other. Indeed, such a claim will certainly lose you your job within the medical faculty. The results, of course, are predictable – the discipline of medicine, whose very purpose was reflection upon and the curing of human diseases, fragments because there is nothing to keep it together, no central concern or conviction which can provide a positive base for disciplinary integrity. In addition, the hospitals run by the students of these great men of medicine gradually empty as their patients are either killed off by the treatments offered, and other people simply go elsewhere for treatment, knowing instinctively that what is on offer is not adequate for their needs.

Then along come a group of students who, for whatever reason, gradually become disillusioned with what they are being taught. For some it does not match up to their own experience; for others it is singularly useless when they themselves are ill; for yet others it is because they have been reading of some other books on medicine which, while not featuring on any reading list they are ever given in medical school, yet seem to make a good deal of sense. Over time they formalise themselves into a Pharmaceutical and Medical Students Fellowship, where they meet once a week to discuss medical questions and to attack the received academic orthodoxy. Indeed, once a year they even arrange a conference where the speakers are a bunch of crazed fundamentalists who have somehow managed to get jobs on medical faculties despite being committed to the outlandish ideas that medicine is good for you, poison is bad, and people actually suffer from diseases (though, interestingly enough, many of these speakers hold faculty positions in the history of medicine, or the interpretation of medical texts, not in medicine proper).

There is a problem with this group, however: yes, they are intellectually committed to the old reactionary notions of disease and cure; yes, they want to think through the medicinal issues for


themselves; but at the end of the day, all they do is talk. They consider their task done when they demonstrate to Professor Smith and Dr Jones that it is plausible even within the setting of the medical school to believe in disease and cure; and at base, all they really want is for Smith and Jones and their ilk to accept them and their viewpoint as having a legitimate place at the discussion table. They don’t actually want to go out and apply what they have learned to themselves or to the sick lying in hospital; they are fearful even in their fellowship groups of ever using the old offensive terminology ol illness, cure, poison, and remedy; and they certainly don’t want to imply that Smith and Jones don’t make interesting and legitimate contributions to debate. Indeed they often laugh loudest when Smith cracks a joke about ignorant medical fundamentalists of the past such as Louis Pasteur and Alexander Fleming; these students just want to be known as clever men of medicine who, despite their intellectual commitment to curing people, are nevertheless on the whole perfectly decent and user-friendly and not going to rock the boat by actually trying to cure people. They have rejected the shibboleths of contemporary medical theory, but they have done so within the same context and culture as their opponents: not that of curing people, but that of juggling with clever and interesting ideas.

Pastor As Theologian Part I of III

I’d like to post a few snippets from a larger article by Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia concerning the role of the Pastor in undertaking theological study. I find the central problem with the mainline church is the ignorance of both Pastor and Elder as to not only basic Christian Doctrine and how it works together to understand the development of our identity in Christ but how “Knowing God”, as J.I. Packer put it, delivers for us a much richer and fuller worship and prayer life. I have separated the article into three posts.

The Importance of Being Earnest: Approaching Theological Study

Carl Trueman

Themelios 26.1 (Autumn 2000): 34-47.
[Reproduced by permission of the author]

There can be no more pressing question to be addressed by the theological student than that of how academic theological study proper is to be related to the everyday life of that same student as a Christian believer. Now this is a vast subject, and scarcely one that can be covered adequately in this paper. It is, after all, an issue with which some of the church’s greatest minds have wrestled with for a lifetime and yet never come up with a fully satisfactory answer. It is important at the start, therefore, that I clarify precisely what specific issues I intend to address in this paper in order, as the advertisers would say, to prevent disappointment later on. My aims will be modest. I shall not deal with specifics, merely with the general framework within which your studies should be approached…

…My first basic point, then, is this: don’t imagine that you can successfully integrate your theological studies with your daily Christian walk unless you have first established the latter on a sound footing. Are you praying daily for spiritual help, not just for your work, but for your life in general? Are you reading God’s word every day not simply to pass your examinations but to familiarise yourself with salvation history, with God’s revelation of himself, so that you yourself can understand more fully the God who has redeemed you and your own identity as one of the redeemed? Are you attending a local church regularly (and I must stress at this point that CU is no substitute for church) where the word is faithfully preached and the Lord’s Supper is duly administered? If not, then you might as well stop now, for I have nothing more of use to say to you here; if you have not laid such basic foundations for integrating your studies with your faith, then you are simply not ready to address the more specific issues which academic theology raises for the Christian…

…At this point I confess my debt to John Calvin who, at the start of his Institutes, while not using the word ‘theology’, highlighted the fact that knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are intimately linked to the extent that it is not easy to see which precedes the other. Calvin’s definition is useful here because it highlights the fact that theology has two poles which stand in relation to each other: on one side, there is God who reveals himself; on the other side there are human beings who receive that revelation. As Calvin will go on to say, that revelation of God is accommodated to human capacity – not that it is an imperfect, misleading and inadequate synthesis of the human and the divine, but that it is divine truth expressed in a manner which human beings can grasp. In short, the nature of theology is determined both by the God upon whom it depends and upon the humanity that receives it. This means that whatever model we develop to understand how theological study and Christian devotion are to be integrated must proceed on the basis of who we understand God to be; who we understand ourselves to be; and therefore the relationship that exists between the two…

…We must always remember that human beings are not simply intellectual automata. Our beliefs are not simply the result of value-neutral logical processes working from self-evident truths. This is something which the collapse of Enlightenment rationalism in the wake of postmodern critiques has made very clear indeed; and yet this is something which Luther and Calvin could have told us five hundred years ago, which Paul had spotted way back in the first century, and which the serpent so brilliantly exploits in Genesis 3. Christian belief is therefore a moral as well as an intellectual stance. The reason that individuals do not believe in Christ is because they are in a state of moral and intellectual rebellion against God. This is not to say that non-Christians are as bad as they could be; but it is to point to the fact that objections to Christian belief all contain a fundamental moral element which refuses God’s claims. After all, Christ points us to our sinfulness, our moral turpitude; he stands in judgement on our self-righteousness; he calls us to repent, die to self, and live for him, though every instinct in our minds and bodies militates against this; and surprise, surprise, we do not like this at all. Furthermore, while we remain on this mortal plain, we will continue to struggle against our basic human desire to be free of God. Loss of faith, like lack of faith, is thus never simply a problem of epistemology; it is also a problem of morality. In the same way the failure to integrate any particular aspect of our lives into the larger reality of our union with Christ, from our studies in the university library to our behaviour within the marriage bond, is not simply a problem of technique but also a problem also of morality…

…All this is to leap ahead of ourselves, but it does underline the fact that knowledge of an abstract, impersonal kind should never be mistaken for that personal, doctrinal knowledge which lies at the heart of the Christian life, faith, and church. The simple point, therefore is: when you leave the lecture theatre and walk through the door of the church, remember first, who you are – a sinner saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less. Second, remember that while you may have gifts, great gifts, to offer the church – that is for the church to recognise and for you to offer in all humility. Your attitude should be that of the servant who sees his or her skills as an opportunity for the more effective serving of others than as a basis for exalting yourself above the level of those who have not had the privilege of a theological education.As a result the next step towards getting theological study right, after the foundation of personal and corporate worship, is involvement as a servant at whatever level in the day-to-day running of the church, whether as a Sunday School teacher, a Youth Club leader, or even as a church cleaner. Even Christ stooped to wash feet – and we should be prepared to make ourselves no less humble…