Encouragement for Preachers

I have only been preaching consistently for seven years and I certainly do not consider myself to have arrived at some sort of expertise by any stretch of the imagination. However, I recently ran into more than one conversation regarding principles of effective preaching, and so figured I’d throw some thoughts out there into the abyss.

To me, all effective preaching rests on three principles — 1. Know the Word, 2. Know Yourself, 3. Know Your People.

1. Know the Word (and the God who speaks in it!). This is the starting point of all effective preaching — And to be clear, I define effectiveness at bottom as pleasing to God and edifying to the faith of his people.

Whatever weaknesses you have as a speaker, if your preaching is a faithful and competent presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the text of Scripture, then you will have fulfilled your first calling as a preacher. And conversely, whatever strengths you have as a speaker, if your preaching is NOT a faithful and competent presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the text of Scripture, then you will have failed in your first calling as a preacher.

Concern yourself first and foremost with the Word, and let your answer to all other concerns flow out of that first love.

*Side note: To not apply the word is to not really know the word. So, this is emphatically not an argument for just doing exegesis in the pulpit. A sermon is not a commentary.

2. Know Yourself. One of my pet peeves is when I hear preachers pontificate about the mechanics of preaching as though, if everybody would just do what they do then the churches would all be full and everything would be right with the world. The truth is, preaching is an intimately personal thing, and you will never be quite right if you don’t find yourself as a preacher. Pick up tips from others, Yes, but do not try to be them.

Almost all of the questions regarding the mechanics of preaching that we generally want to ask can be answered for you by taking this fundamental question first into account: “Who am I?” – In other words: How does my mind work? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Etc.

Should you use a manuscript or not? An outline? How in-depth should it be? How many illustrations should you get in there? Is it OK to speak theologically? How much humor is appropriate?

If you find yourself when trying to preach without a manuscript trailing off in a hundred different directions, so that after 45 minutes neither you nor anybody else has any idea how you got where you are, then dear friend, get ye a manuscript! If you find yourself when preaching with a manuscript feeling confined and talking like a robot, then dear friend, get rid of the manuscript! (And, if you talk like a robot or you can’t stay focused with OR without a manuscript, then rethink your calling!)

God has wired you a certain way for a reason. Are you theologically-minded? It is a gift! Use that mind to find ways to communicate the beauty of theological richness to your people in ways that will resonate with them. Are you a naturally funny person? It is a gift! Use your humor to serve the truth of the word by disarming and grabbing the mind and heart.

*Fair warning for beginners: This takes a lot of time, conscientious engagement, and critical reflection. It took me around 150 or so sermons before I could in good conscience say, “this is who I am in the pulpit, and I’m comfortable with that.”

3. Know Your People. If you are living with your people rightly – as a pastor who loves them – then this will be inseparable from #2. If you are in fellowship with them – koinonia: a relationship of mutual participation – then they are a part of you, and you are a part of them. This must be formative for your regular pulpit ministry. Otherwise, your preaching will not be enfleshed. It may accomplish some good things, but it will not be conducive to creating the sort of community that Jesus wants his body to be.

Unless you are in true fellowship with your people, you haven’t earned the right to be heard by them. Be vulnerable with them before asking that they be vulnerable with you. Know their life-situations. Know what sorts of things resonate with them. Think of them and pray for them as you prepare. Go into the space where you usually preach and picture them sitting in their seats looking back at you.

Whatever else might be said, if you are conscientiously engaging in these three things — knowledge of the word, yourself, and your people — then whatever faults and weaknesses you might have, you can have confidence that God will use your pulpit ministry for good.

Preaching is weird. And it is hard. But it is awesome. The Lord be with you all.

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William Whitaker and the “Entire Sense” in Typology

William Whitaker on Hosea 11.1, Exodus 12.46, and the full sense of Scripture:

“It is sufficiently plain that the former is to be understood of the people of Israel, and the latter of the paschal lamb. Who, now, would d are to transfer and accommodate these to Christ, if the Holy Spirit had not done it first, and declared to us his intention?–namely that the Son in the first passage denotes not only the people of Israel, but Christ also; and the bone in the latter, is to be understood of Christ as well as of the paschal lamb. They who interpret these places merely of the people of Israel or the paschal lamb, bring only part of the meaning, not the whole: because the entire sense is to be understood of the sign and the thing itself together, and consists in the accommodation of the sign to the thing signified.” (Disputation 5.2)

Note that for Whitaker, the full meaning of a passage of Scripture in typology is not to be considered in the typic passage itself, but in the joining and accommodation of the type to the antitype, which fuller meaning is explicitly declared to us now by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

An Evaluation of Lane Tipton’s Critique of Dan McCartney

Earlier this week, I provided a positive assessment of the hermeneutic of Dan McCartney.  Here I want to address the criticisms leveled against McCartney’s work by Lane Tipton, who has been at the forefront of the assault against Christotelic hermeneutics as it has been practiced by his colleagues at Westminster Seminary for the past several years.

Before reading this post, please read my previous positive assessment of McCartney first, if you haven’t yet.  https://christthetelos.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/dan-mccartneys-hermeneutic-a-positive-reformed-assessment/  My comments here will be more brief than they would otherwise be, because they will assume the background of that previous post.

Lane Tipton began his anti-Christotelic project very shortly after the Board of Westminster Seminary in 2009 unanimously declared the views of Doug Green and Mike Kelly to be in line with the position of the seminary and urged the faculty to seek unity moving forward.  By at least 2010, Tipton began what can rightly be considered a crusade against Christotelic hermeneutics: Lecturing against the views of his colleagues in class, publishing an essay on the topic for the OPC’s 75th anniversary volume (which is the main subject of this post), doing internet podcasts on the subject, and even posting a video (for his doctrine of Christ class, Feb. 2011) on Westminster Seminary’s website directed against Dispensationalism on the one hand and Christotelism (as it was then practiced by his colleagues at WTS) on the other. In fact, the first few class hours in both doctrine of Christ and doctrine of Salvation when I was at WTS (I took these in 2010-2011) were devoted to “the objective presence of Christ in the OT,” over against dispensationalism and Christotelism.

In 2011, Tipton published an essay titled, “The Gospel and Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics” for the volume Confident of Better Things, published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the denomination’s existence. Tipton’s essay is directed specifically against Dan McCartney’s 2003 paper, “Should We Employ the Hermeneutics of the New Testament Writers.”  His critiques of McCartney in that essay have essentially been repeated in various venues and with varying degrees of intensity throughout the years since then. His most recent talk at the 2014 Reformed Forum Conference is no exception in this regard.

It does seem after listening to that Reformed Forum talk that Tipton’s presentation may be slightly more balanced now. Nevertheless, it is clear that he is still standing by the main lines of his initial critique of McCartney (and, indirectly, of Doug Green and Chris Fantuzzo).  I believed when first reading the essay and still believe today (after reading it for the fourth time) that Tipton’s critique is well wide of the mark.

In the first section, Tipton looks at three passages — Romans 1.1-4, 1 Corinthians 15.1-4, Luke 24.44-47 — to make his case that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a redemptive-historical, “transtestamental” reality.  Though one might quibble some with the confidence of Tipton’s exegetical conclusions, this is all fine as far as it goes.  If he would have left his project as a positive treatment of his understanding of the clarity and pervasiveness of the gospel in the Old Testament considered apart from the New, nobody would likely bat an eye, beyond possibly having some suggestions for greater clarity.  The problem comes when Tipton goes on to posit that his colleagues (and in particular, Dan McCartney) are arguing the opposite of this, and that they do not at all agree that Christ is in any sense really present in the OT.

In the second section, Tipton gives a presentation of typology in the Reformed tradition, looking at Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5 and 8.6 as well as the work of Vos and Kline.  Again, fine as far as it goes.

Though, we could at this point ask the question about Tipton’s presentation of the organic metaphor for redemptive revelation (from Vos): If none of us had ever seen a seed develop into a flower, would we have been able to anticipate the precise form the seed was going to take once it was fully grown?  In other words, put yourself in the epistemological shoes of someone who’d never observed the phenomenon of seed to fully mature flower.  As the organism progressed through its various stages, you would have a cognizance of something happening — it is headed somewhere.  But, you would not have clarity as to what the final form would be. It seems a valid critique against the current Westminster position on the progress of redemptive revelation — or, at least the position that has been advocated by Tipton and Garner — could be that they are advocating in some sense placing the flower back into the seed.

Beyond that, it will suffice to point out that what is highlighted in these first two sections of Tipton’s essay are the two things I’ve been saying from the beginning are the two real issues at play between the current WTS view on the one hand and men like McCartney, Green, and Fantuzzo on the other: 1. Just how clear is the OT revelation about Christ prior to the fulfillment of the gospel? and 2. Just how pervasive is the OT witness to Christ considered on its own terms apart from the New?

The real problem, however, comes when Tipton turns his sights to Dan McCartney.  Having already laid the groundwork of seed to flower organic growth of redemptive revelation, Tipton offers an interpretation of McCartney that has him positing the opposite view.  That is, that the New Testament is not the natural outgrowth of the redemptive revelation of the Old, but rather a potential fulfillment that is only after the fact read back into the Old by the interpretive community.  (Again, here it is essential to read my previous piece on McCartney’s work, because I am not here going to reiterate what I already wrote there but rather offer some statements and brief commentary on Tipton’s critique.)

Here are some of the words Tipton has to offer on McCartney:

Tipton: “Typology for McCartney is not grammatical historical because the driving force of typology is fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament, which is set disjunctively over against the original historical meaning of the Old Testament.” (202)

My comment: “Disjunctively over against?” Is this a fair representation of McCartney’s position? It seems far more accurate to say that McCartney posits a real connection between the two (which is in fact what he actually says in his paper).

Tipton: McCartney “has presupposed something other than the history of special redemptive revelation as the ‘original context’ for understanding the Old Testament Scriptures.” (204)

My comment: Where and What, exactly?  Tipton capitalizes on one statement — and actually, one word in that statement — from McCartney to make this point: “original human historical meaning.”  Tipton isolates this statement, zeroes in on it, and suggests that what McCartney is getting at is a complete separation of divine and human meaning.  But, why is that a necessary read of McCartney?  It seems to me at least just as likely — in fact much  more likely given what McCartney says elsewhere — that what McCartney means by human meaning isn’t to say that the grammatical-historical level of the text is something other than divine revelation, but rather that at this level the question the exegete is trying to answer is, “What was the human author trying to say in his unique historical and literary context?”

Tipton: “It seems that McCartney advocates a notion of history in the Old Testament that is more akin to the Kantian notion of phenomena (i.e., history devoid of any distinctive theological content) than the history of special revelation.” (204)

My comment: Oh my. Really?  Kantian?  Where is the justification in McCartney’s own words considered in context for such a charge?  The charge is based on a premise the veracity of which Tipton by no means adequately proves — that McCartney has taken any possibility of theological content out of redemptive-history considered as such.

This is what leads to Tipton’s capitalizing on McCartney’s statement that typology is  a “theological construction” based on a “conviction.”  Tipton argues that the reason McCartney chooses this specific wording is because of his supposed “Kantianism” — this taking theological content out of history (206).  But, is that fair?  Note again what McCartney is actually saying there:

Typology is a theological construction based on a conviction that two events in history or an event in history and a (separate) event in a text are somehow actually related (not just comparable or similar, nor just literarily related) in that the meaning of the former event (or the written record of such) only becomes fully manifest in the later event. Such a construction cannot be derived purely from the events themselves. Historical meaning indeed provides a tethering point for typology, but what drives typology is the fulfilment in Christ, not the historical meaning itself.

Two things: 1. What is the “conviction” McCartney is talking about? — It is a conviction in the real connection (we might say, the redemptive-historical connection) between type and antitype.  McCartney is not taking typology out of the text per se.  What he is doing is arguing that the full meaning of the type only becomes fully manifest in the fulfillment of the anti-type.

But, Tipton is not willing to entertain the possibility.  So, he goes on:

Tipton: “Constructing typology merely in epistemic categories as McCartney does betrays the Enlightenment turn toward the knowing human subject rather than the revelatory activity of the triune God.” (207)

My comment: This, once again, completely misconstrues what McCartney actually argues: which is that type and antitype as such are really and redemptive-historically connected, but that we only see the full meaning of the type in light of the antitype.  The “epistemic” category for McCartney is about our understanding of the text, not what the text per se is.

But, again, Tipton is bent on locating problematic presuppositions that are driving McCartney’s every word.

Tipton: “It appears to me that McCartney is committed to the notion that the Old Testament has a Christological witness (i.e. the gospel understood as Jesus’ death and resurrection) only insofar as you can discern that witness through the realization of redemptive history in Christ’s resurrection and through the apostles’ understanding of that realization in the New Testament.” (208)

My Comment: Once again, Is this fair?  It seems Tipton is accusing McCartney of taking divine revelation completely out of the text itself and placing it in the subjective state of the interpreter and the interpretive community.  But, this is not the case.  McCartney clearly affirms that the text is about Christ.  It does not become to be about Christ.  What changes is our understanding of the text, not the text as such — which is irreducibly divine revelation, and divine revelation about Jesus Christ.

Tipton: “On McCartney’s model the witness to Christ in the Old Testament is understood as a potential one that is actualized after and in light of the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (210)

My comment: Again, this runs directly counter to much of what McCartney says in his paper. He argues that the OT always was and is about Christ — that was the divine intention. What changes post-resurrection is our understanding, not the meaning of the text as such.

Tipton’s conclusion re. McCartney: “The net result of McCartney’s approach is that he must find some way to get Christ in the back door of the Old Testament, having denied him access from the front door. Hence, he forges his wrong-headed Christotelic hermeneutic based on a host of biblically and theologically erroneous presuppositions regarding the nature of the original contextual meaning of Old Testament redemptive revelation.” (212)

My comment: Well, gee, that’s a great way to advance discussion and encourage ongoing dialogue, isn’t it?  How can we really discuss issues, as anti-Christotelites are consistently telling us they want to do, when the discussion is infused with this sort of rhetoric — rhetoric, at that, based on very tenuous assertions.

Conclusion:


So, what is the big overarching problem here?  How can two men read the work of the same man and come away with such vastly differing understandings of what he is saying?  I offer three proposals:

1. Part of the issue, I will grant, as I have before, could be that McCartney could ideally have worded his points a bit more carefully.  But, here’s the thing: His paper was written and offered as part of an ongoing discussion.  It would be quite appropriate to ask questions for clarification, to offer positive proposals on how he could be more clear.  But the rhetoric of Tipton’s critique effectively shuts the possibility of such discussion off at the door, and transforms what should be an in house conversation geared toward greater understanding and unity in Christ into a battle of heated polemics — in other words, much heat, little light.  These are the sorts of things that lead to people getting fired at major seminaries.

2. Tipton capitalizes on the most problematic sounding statements of McCartney and isolates them from the broader context of both the paper itself and also McCartney’s larger body of work as a whole.  Along these lines, too, Tipton does not allow McCartney’s own qualifications and clarifications in the paper he is critiquing to shape and nuance his criticisms.  I would argue that this is a larger systemic problem with much intra-reformed polemics present day.

3.  The most fundamental problem I see with Tipton’s critique is that he takes everything McCartney says about the change in our perspective post-resurrection — what we can see — and transfers those statements to McCartney’s view of what Scripture as such is. Whether or not Tipton is conscious of the fact that this is what he is doing is another question. But it is at least clear to me that he is doing it, and that people are buying it.

Don’t believe the hype.

Dan McCartney’s Hermeneutic: A Positive Reformed Assessment

It is no secret at this point that at the center of the Christotelic controversy is the work of Dan G. McCartney. McCartney’s 2003 paper, “Should We Employ the Hermeneutics of the New Testament Writers?” (http://www.bible-researcher.com/mccartney1.html) has come under much criticism in recent years,  and in various venues. One WTS board member has even referred to this paper recently as “the basic document of record on the christotelic debate.”

Rather than wade through all the many criticisms of McCartney and the various contexts in which those criticisms have been made, here I want simply to provide an alternate interpretation than what has been considered canonical by McCartney’s detractors.

McCartney has been accused of holding several problematic positions — many of which, if true, would call into question his credentials as a Reformed biblical scholar. These criticisms come in various forms. But they are almost always variations of three basic concerns: 1. McCartney takes Christ out of the Old Testament. 2. McCartney severs the organic connection of the Old and New Testaments by denying that the OT considered on its own terms is redemptive revelation about Christ. 3. McCartney’s hermeneutic is derived not from Scripture but from postmodern reader-response literary theory.

It is my contention that none of these charges can rightly be taken from McCartney’s words considered in context – giving due heed to McCartney’s own qualifications and clarifying statements, and in connection with his work as a whole – and interpreted charitably (i.e., not read in the worst possible light).

First, it is essential to note what McCartney is doing in his paper.  He is entering into academic dialogue with two interlocutors on the question of the NT interpretation of the OT.  First, there is Longenecker, who says the NT writers frequently do not employ a grammatical historical (hereafter GH) interpretation of the OT, and that we should not follow them in this.  On the other hand there is Beale, who claims that the apostles do in fact employ GH exegesis of the OT, and that we should follow them.  In contrast to these two positions, McCartney argues (in agreement with Longenecker)  that the NT writers do not always follow a strict grammatical historical hermeneutic, but that we should follow them in this nonetheless.  In other words, he is with Longenecker on the nature of apostolic hermeneutics over against Beale, but against Longenecker on the question of whether or not we should follow the apostles in their method of interpretation.

So, McCartney says:

I want to suggest a third answer: The New Testament writers were not doing grammatical-historical exegesis nor did they consistently interpret according to original historical contextual meanings, but we should follow their exegetical lead anyway.

However, as McCartney is very clear to say from the outset, this is not to say that the exegesis of the apostles is never justifiable on strict GH grounds, just that many times their exegesis is something other than what often goes by the name of GH exegesis in our day.  So, he states: “All would agree, I think, that the New Testament writers do sometimes follow “natural” or contextual meanings.”

This is very important to keep in mind, because often McCartney has been accused of saying that there is no messianic hope in the OT considered strictly on GH grounds.  But from the outset we see him affirming that the NT authors do at times follow strictly natural or contextual meanings.

McCartney goes on to say that the reason the apostles saw the OT the way they did was because they saw it as primarily a divine text, that speaks to God’s people in every generation, and that historical/contextual meaning for them was not the primary concern.

So, he agrees with Beale that we must follow the hermeneutic of the apostles, even while disagreeing with Beale on what exactly that hermeneutic entailed:

Hence there is a sense in which we must emulate the exegetical practice of the New Testament writers. If we do not adopt the viewpoint of Jesus and the apostles that Christ’s death and resurrection is the key focus of the Old Testament, that Christ is himself the centerpiece of all God’s promises, that Christ is the true Israel, true Son of God, that the meaning of the biblical texts for the present-day people of God has to do with our relation to God in Christ, then how can our interpretation be deemed in any sense Christian?

Note here certain key statements: “Christ’s death and resurrection is the key focus of the Old Testament,” “Christ is himself the centerpiece of all God’s promises.”  Keep in mind that McCartney is being accused of saying that Christ is only present in the OT via retrospective retrojection, and not really.  However, such a notion would seem fully inconsistent with the above.

McCartney goes on to deal with Typology.  His argument on this score is that typology is tied to historical meaning and therefore dependent in some sense on GH exegesis, but is not itself GH exegesis.  He says:

Typology may very well build on historical correspondence, and may be able to link to grammatical-historical interpretation for one of the corners of typological housebuilding, 9 but typology is not grammatical-historical exegesis. Typology is a theological construction based on a conviction that two events in history or an event in history and a (separate) event in a text are somehow actually related (not just comparable or similar, nor just literarily related) in that the meaning of the former event (or the written record of such) only becomes fully manifest in the later event. Such a construction cannot be derived purely from the events themselves. Historical meaning indeed provides a tethering point for typology, but what drives typology is the fulfilment in Christ, not the historical meaning itself.

Again, note several key statements.  First, typology is based on a conviction that two events (and/or the written record of those events) are really, and not merely literarily connected.  Second, the meaning of the former event only becomes fully manifest in the later event — Not (and note this well!) that the later event gives the former its meaning, but rather that the later event clarifies and fills the meaning of the former.  Third, historical meaning provides a tethering point for typology.

These points are essential to see, because McCartney has been accused, in connection with these three points, of 1. severing the organic connection between type and antitype (and OT and NT more generally), 2. Taking any inherent Christological meaning out of the original text considered on it own terms, and 3. Doing away with the importance of original historical context in interpreting types. All three of these charges would seem to be contradicted by the above paragraph.

Does this mean that there are no valid concerns that can be raised with McCartney’s view of typology?  Not at all.  But, it would seem that those concerns would have more to do with his narrow definition of GH exegesis, rather than the substance of what he is actually saying.  He is not here rejecting confessional Reformed hermeneutical principles at any substantial point.

Another accusation that has been made against McCartney is that he is reliant on a sort of reader-response hermeneutic — that he locates Christological meaning in the subjective interpretation of the community rather than in the text itself.  But, note what McCartney goes on to say:

I challenge this [pure GH method], not on post-modernist grounds or by appealing to some recent subjectivist literary theory, but on biblical and theological grounds.

So, if we take McCartney at his word, his concerns are biblical and theological.  And what exactly is the nature of those biblical and theological concerns?  Well, it is the very thing McCartney’s most outspoken critics are presumably most concerned to uphold: the divine authorship of Scripture.

Grammatical-historical method does not, and by its very nature cannot, deal with the special hermeneutical considerations of a divine text. A text written by several individuals from different cultures over the course of several centuries, which is at the same time authored by One who knows where history is going before it gets there, is inherently unique. Grammatical-historical interpretation proceeds on the assumption of the similarity of its text to other texts. The Bible is indeed a text like other texts, but it is also in certain ways sui generis, and thus requires something more.

McCartney then goes on to make a statement that has often been capitalized on by those wanting to portray him as outside the Reformed tradition:

“Pure” grammatical-historical method in Old Testament study does not give us the gospel. When we try to read the Old Testament from the vantage point of its original context we find hints at the gospel, and we find principles about the nature of God and man that imply the gospel, and we find prophetic expectations of a gospel, but one cannot really see the gospel itself until one gets to the New Testament (cf. Heb 11:39-40). But then we are, after the fact, able to see how the Old Testament is as a whole, moving toward the gospel. A second reading, a re-reading of the Old Testament from the standpoint of knowing its eventuation in Christ, manifests what God was doing all along.

This paragraph makes some nervous, supposedly because of the possibility of taking Christ out of the OT. However, as we have noted, McCartney has actually implied otherwise above. And in other places in his work, he clearly affirms a Christological meaning in the OT considered even on its own. (See here, https://christthetelos.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/how-much-did-the-human-authors-of-the-old-testament-know/)

And even in this quote, let’s note what McCartney affirms: the OT contains “hints,” “principles,” and “prophetic expectations of a gospel.”  Considered in context and interpreted charitably, I find it hard to see where McCartney can rightly be accused of taking Messianic hope out of the OT.  What he is arguing against is the idea that we can get the full gospel of death, resurrection, ascension, gentiles included as gentiles, etc., out of the OT considered strictly on GH grounds, apart from fulfillment in Christ.  But he is not saying that there is no Christological focus in the OT considered on its own terms.  Again, there is no problem with raising concerns here.  But let us do so seeking understanding, and not insist that McCartney is saying something other than what he actually says.

This then sets the stage, so to speak, for McCartney’s use of the mystery novel analogy for the unfolding story of Scripture.  That analogy assumes various things that McCartney has already made clear. 1. The divine authorship of the text — God always intended his word to point to and reveal the gospel of Jesus Christ.  2. All stages of the story are tied together by God’s purposes in redemptive history and in the written record of that history in the redemptive revelation of his written word. 3. The text at each stage in the progress of the story is driving us forward to its climax in Christ.

Just as a good mystery writer knows the solution to the puzzle even as he lays out the material, so the Bible’s divine Author knew the end of the story before he set out the process of revealing the story in time. I vigorously and whole-heartedly believe that Jesus was absolutely correct when he told the disciples in Luke 24 that the Old Testament was about him, his death and resurrection, and the offer of the gospel to the nations. And from our post-resurrection perspective, we can see it. But I have difficulty in seeing how one can aver that an ordinary time-bound human, believer though he be, could have seen it prior to the event. 14 Where, in a strictly grammatical-historically understood Old Testament, is the death and resurrection of Messiah? Jesus and Paul and Peter all say that Jesus’ death and resurrection is not just predicted but lies at the core of the meaning of the Old Testament, yet not a single Old Testament passage, when viewed strictly from its ostensive grammatical-historically determinable meaning, unambiguously states that the messiah will die and rise three days later. We can only see it after the fact. A genuine “first reading” of the story allows for a surprise element. Or as Paul calls it, a mystery which is now revealed.

Note that the fuller meaning revealed in Christ does not infuse the OT with meaning that it does not already have.  Rather, what McCartney is arguing is that it sheds light, clarity, to the meaning that is already there in the text, so that what is new is not something that has changed in the text itself, but rather our epistemological vantage point, in the age of fulfillment.  The first reading is meant to put us back into the mindset of the age of anticipation.  The second reading sees everything in light of fulfillment in Christ.

So, We have here in fact no hint of the thing McCartney has been consistently accused of–that of postulating a purely retroactive meaning thrust unnaturally upon the text by the “creative interpretive community.”  No, for McCartney the gospel of Jesus Christ is the one and only completion of the story.  To be sure, he argues that the full gospel of the death and resurrection of the Messiah can’t unambiguously be gained from strict GH exegesis (as he has defined it).  But he does not say that this meaning is not there, or that it is somehow disconnected from the GH context of the text.

Really, it is difficult to see where this differs in substance from Vern Poythress’ work on the divine meaning of Scripture.  For instance:

“History and the promises of God are forward looking.  The story is yet to be completed.  It is altogether natural to construe this feature as implying that earlier promissory statements of God may be more deeply understood once the promises begin to be fulfilled, and especially when they are completely fulfilled… in at least a few cases… we find prophecies that take unexpected [!] form” (“What Does God Say through Human Authors,” 89-90)

Poythress has in fact stated in multiple places that “grammatical historical interpretation is not enough.”  And, interestingly, he has made this claim specifically with regard to typology (“Understanding Dispensationalists,” 115-116).  In other places Poythress would himself advocate a two reading method in interpreting the OT. (See, for instance, “The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses”, p. 7).

Now, to the question that inevitably comes regarding this mystery novel analogy, “How then could Jesus and the apostles hold people accountable for failing to see that Jesus was the Messiah if the OT doesn’t clearly reveal the gospel from the outset?”  The answer is simple: Because the people who were held accountable for failing to see Christ as the fulfillment of the Scriptures were guilty of sinning against the light they had in fact received.  Christ came and fulfilled the Scriptures.  They saw it. They hoped for a Messiah.  But they rejected the one God had perfectly  provided.  They rejected the only one who could be both Suffering Servant and Conquering King.  They rejected, in other words, the only one in whom the whole story perfectly holds together.  The one who does in fact fulfill every single promise made to God’s people of old, and in a way far more glorious than anyone could ever have imagined.

In support of all this, McCartney points us not, as he has been accused of doing, to any postmodern literary theory, but to the redemptive historical character of biblical revelation:

The Bible is redemptive-historical in character. This is not without any support in the text itself. The later Old Testament writers, for example, did understand the earlier parts of the Old Testament, as well as the events of their own time, as elements of a redemptive history, a redemptive history that is also eschatological. Redemptive history is not just about the past; it pushes its way into the future, and has eschatological purposes that could not be perceived in its original environment.

God’s word was always and is always pushing us forward, not simply presenting to us a static past. And this forward-looking flow of Scripture is what we must see. For, according to McCartney, the Scripture is forward-looking even when the human author of a given text may have been concerned simply with recording a historical narrative, or giving laws for the life of the community of God’s people in the land of Canaan. This is all based on the conviction that, as Jesus and the apostles have told us, Scripture is a book that points us to Christ.

Then, McCartney asks the pressing question: “Where then is control?” How, in other words, do we authenticate which interpretations are valid and which are not? And the answer  is really the heart of McCartney’s point. Such control can’t be located in a standard that is found outside of Scripture itself – that is, it cannot be found in GH exegesis (at least as McCartney has defined it). Because, as McCartney has already claimed (with Longenecker, and Poythress), the apostles themselves did not follow this method. Rather, what drove exegesis of the OT for the apostles was fulfillment in Christ, not simply the Old Testament Scriptures considered by themselves apart from fulfillment in Christ.

This insight is nothing new or unique with McCartney. It is even essentially admitted by those who would take issue with McCartney on certain points. For instance, commenting on the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s Temple in Christ and his work, G.K. Beale has said:

The reason that the Ezekiel expectation is interpreted as beginning fulfillment in a perhaps somewhat unexpected way is because of Christ’s death, which has caused the redemptive-historical turn of the ages. Christ’s work is now the dominant interpretive lens through which to understand Old Testament expectations. (The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 316).

Further, as I have already shown in previous posts, Reformed exegetes like John Calvin have often admitted that the apostles’ application of OT texts to Christ does not always come from GH exegesis, but rests on the conviction that Christ is the goal of all Scripture (Calvin’s comments on Ps. 8.5-6, Heb. 2, Rom. 10.4-8, among other places).

However, none of this means that there is no control to Christian exegesis. For, as McCartney says,

The real “control” for the apostles and for us comes from at least three directions: 1. An assumption of coherency of God’s story. 2. The conviction that Christ is the endpoint of the story. 3. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s involvement.

These controls don’t necessarily give us absolute certainty that our every interpretation will be correct. But they do give us confidence that with God’s help we can adequately grasp the content of Scripture and its presentation to us of Christ and his gospel.

These clearly don’t quite give us a “box” that clearly differentiates legitimate from illegitimate hermeneutical activity. They are rather like tethers or trajectories than walls, and hence cannot provide independently verifiable proof of legitimacy. And I make no claim that these “controls” are exhaustively adequate, and would even urge us to continue to think about how we can differentiate good from bad interpretations without jumping to the supposed haven of “pure” grammatical-historical exegesis. But the fact that God is not idle in the continuing story of the church which grew out of the story should give us confidence in interpretation, not despair at the lack of rational certitude. The Spirit leads his church (hence tradition, though not inspired, is certainly a big part of understanding the story). Further, the meaning of the Bible is very much tied up with knowing God (cf. Calvin, Institutes, Bk 1—knowing self and knowing God intertwined. Surely knowing the Bible and knowing God are equally entwined). And this is why every Christian instinctively reads the whole Bible as a Jesus book until he is taught not to do so.

McCartney goes on then to bolster our confidence in the veracity, the coherency, and the Christological import of all Scripture, as well as the legitimate place of GH exegesis as an essential part of our exegetictask:

The text of the whole Bible, the assumption of its coherency, and its ultimate purpose in pointing to Christ, provide parameters for determining which interpretations correspond and appear valid, and which do not. Grammatical-historical exegesis serves us well as one tool among others in carrying forward the recognition of the Bible’s coherency, so long as the context for our exegesis remains not only historical but also canonical. None of these tethers provides certainty, but then not even “pure” original-meaning grammatical-historical interpretation offers certainty. But when coupled with faith in God in Christ these principles can give us confidence that we know the truth that God has revealed.

Conclusion:

As I see it, legitimate criticisms can be made of McCartney on two fronts: 1. He is working with a very narrow definition of grammatical-historical exegesis. And 2. He does at times word things in unclear ways that might ideally be stated differently. Here, it would be beneficial if McCartney’s interlocutors would ask questions for clarification and offer positive proposals to move dialogue forward, rather than label him as an enemy of Reformed principles from the outset and seek to locate unbelieving presuppositions in his thought that corrupt his entire exegetical house.

However, when it comes to the specific criticisms that have driven the certitude of some that McCartney is something other than a Reformed biblical scholar – even driving some to refer to him as “extreme,” “liberal,” “Kantian,” etc., it would seem that on a patient and fair reading of his words in context, these accusations are in fact wide of the mark.

Among other things, Dan McCartney has been accused of such things as “severing the organic connection” between the OT and NT, taking Christ entirely out of the OT, denying a Messianic hope in OT Scripture, founding his hermeneutic not on Scripture but on postmodern literary theory, Kantianism, Barthianism, holding to pagan notions of “mystery.” In response to all such claims, I ask:  How, on a responsible reading of his words in context can we get such notions clearly stated or implied from what he has actually written?

Detractors of Christotelic hermeneutics have in the past insisted that they are interested in discussing the issues. Great. Same here. But, how can any meaningful discussion really be had when we are labeled from the outset as enemies rather than brothers? How can any meaningful discussion really be had when the worst is assumed of one another from the start?

As I’ve argued in my previous posts, I see the substantial differences as resting in two particular areas. 1. How clear was the OT revelation about Christ prior to his coming?—Christocentrics arguing it was fairly clear and pervasive, Christotelics arguing it was more shadowy and less pervasive, but both in agreement that there is such a hope in the OT considered on its own terms. And 2. Following from (1), How much exactly did the human authors of the OT really grasp of the full import of their words? These are differences worth discussing. But, I continue to say that they are not by any means differences Reformed believers should divide over.

In the end, it seems to me that the criticisms leveled against McCartney are actually proof of McCartney’s most basic insight: hermeneutical method is subservient to hermeneutical goal. For, it seems that his critics have entered into an assessment of his work with the a priori goal of branding him out of line with Reformed principles, and their methods have been an outworking of this goal.

But, if our goal is peace and unity, as it ought to be, then we must strive to understand each other. When we do this, there may well be (as there often in fact are) legitimate and substantial differences, which we can and should vigorously debate. But we mustn’t create differences where there in fact are none. And we mustn’t make the differences we do have out to be bigger and more serious than they actually are.

Why I Remained Reformed

Switching it up here a bit.   I may pick back up the Christotelic hermeneutics theme sometime next week.  But for now I want to break from that briefly to address a question I get fairly frequently.  That is, “Why are you a Protestant?”, and more specifically, “Why are you Reformed?”  I don’t want to give any detailed rationale here for Protestantism or the Reformed tradition, but rather simply to provide a broad brush narrative of how I wound up confirmed in my Protestantism after something of a drawn-out struggle.

My struggle over whether or not to remain a Reformed Protestant was fairly long. It took place over several years, beginning with my reading of the early fathers early in my undergrad years and looking around at the Protestant churches and saying, “Hey, something just doesn’t seem right here.”

Over that time, two major things happened. 1. I came to see most popular arguments both in favor of Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism as being overly simplistic. 2. The all important question to me shifted from the abstract to the tangible. I started off asking the question, “What is Catholicity?”, but I ended up asking the question, “Where is Jesus?”

On the first point: Gordon-Conwell seminary is the best thing that ever happened to me intellectually. If I had gone to WTS right out of undergrad, I almost certainly would not have remained Presbyterian.  It’s possible I may have been able to not go all the way RC or EO, but I would at least have gone Anglican (which I now see as part of the Reformed tradition, btw–another topic for another day).  Having grown up around Philly with several friends who went to WTS, and having already read many of the systematics texts used at Westminster, I knew their representation of the Reformed tradition fairly well. The last thing I needed at that time was to be forced to drink Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, and Bavinck from a fire hose. What I needed was to be able to see the broad scope of the Christian tradition and the Reformed tradition’s place within that broader catholic tradition. Gordon-Conwell enabled me to work through the issues with the academic freedom and time necessary for somebody in my position. My profs there also expressed much appreciation for all branches of the church catholic… Something I desperately needed to see Protestants doing at that time. Their version of Protestantism was more positive than negative. Less focused on polemics and more on irenics. This was very helpful.

During my years at Gordon-Conwell I read both the early fathers and the Reformed sources deeply and broadly.  It was during my studies there also that I met two key figures in my life–Philip Schaff and John Nevin.  Schaff and Nevin gave expression to many of the things I was seeing and feeling at the time (even though now there are some things I would disagree with them on).  They exemplified for me what it would mean for someone to be both Reformed and Catholic.  And through them I went on to reinterpret the Reformation sources with a fresh perspective.

With the help also of my GCTS profs and historians like Oberman, Pelikan, McNeil, Zachman, and Avis, I came to see Calvin, Bucer, Vermigli, Ursinus, Zanchi, et al as fundamentally Catholic theologians, whose basic concern was to serve and reform the Catholic church, not to break away from her. In short, by the end of my studies at GCTS I was able to say without hesitation that the Reformed tradition historically considered is a Catholic tradition (or, if you prefer, a “catholic” tradition). And this enabled me once I got to Westminster to see a lot of the theological idiosyncrasies of that institution for what they are — idiosyncratic — yes, valid expressions of Reformed faith but not speaking for the tradition as a whole. It also helped me to see that much of what I grew discontent with in the Presbyterian churches during my time of struggle was to be attributed more to the assimilation of the American evangelical tradition into the Reformed and Presbyterian churches than it was to something inherent in the historic Reformed tradition per se. (Mark Noll and E. Brooks Holifield were especially helpful for me here as well.)

On the second point: Once I started to see the historical viability of Protestantism, I began asking different sorts of questions–questions less abstract and more practical. I started to focus on Jesus himself as a living reality, and on my church as an expression of his universal body. My church (Calvary PCA in Willow Grove, PA) was a group of people who had loved me greatly for many years. I saw in them the love of Jesus. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. As I was thinking almost solely in the abstract at the time, the initial question that drove me was, “What is Catholicity?” But eventually the all-important question became, “Where is Jesus?”  It turns out these are really one and the same question, I just didn’t know it at first.

So, I took my head out of the clouds and started looking at the people standing in front of my face, and asking the question: “Is Jesus present and active here, among these people?” And the answer to that question was over and over, “Yes, clearly, resoundingly.” And as that was the case, I could not in good conscience leave these people–who were real, and whose good fruit and Spirit-given love I could not deny–for some sort of abstract ideal that may or may not have had any basis in reality.  (That is a very subtle form of idolatry — considering ideals more important than people).

In this regard, too, I became convinced upon continued reflection on all these questions in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ that God is far too merciful and patient with us to make our eternal salvation hinge upon the question of whether or not we are able to have all these sorts of things figured out. — our ability to parse out the details and most accurate presentation of a complex 2,000 year history and locate that group which is most truly connected to the apostles.  Yes, I still think such historical inquiry and investigation is very important.  But, the most important thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection for our salvation, and the body of those who are united to him by faith and to each other in him by love.  And in the end, the thing God will require of us is not how good students of history we are, but how much we loved him by loving the people he has placed in front of us.

So, it took several years, but I eventually came to the conclusion (around 6 years ago) that I would remain a Presbyterian unless or until it became impossible, and not merely difficult, for me to do so. For unity in the body of Christ is the way of the cross. It is the way of sacrifice and self-denial — and if such unity was really my main concern (as I professed it to be) then I must be willing to die somewhat to my ideals for the good of my brothers and sisters. And I must be willing, wherever I saw the churches of which the Lord has made me a servant acting out of line with the catholic implications of the gospel and our tradition, to show them a better way as a member of their communion, rather than shouting at them from afar.

One final note (and here’s where the current post does intersect somewhat with Christotelic hermeneutics). Once I got to Westminster, what I received during my time there was a renewed love for and excitement about the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and the Christ who is the substance and telos of those Scriptures. This renewed love came from the biblical studies faculty at Westminster, a faculty that has now sadly largely been dismantled.  These men showed me their faith by their works — showed me their love for Scripture by how they handled it. (This is sort of ironic in a way because I am still what seminarians would call a “history and theology guy.”)  My biblical studies classes and professors at WTS opened my eyes to see Christ in the Scriptures in new and profound ways; ways that have dramatically shaped my faith and life and ministry to this day.  If delighting in the written word of God is one of the hallmarks of Protestant faith, then God re-infused such delight into my weary soul through the teaching of men like Doug Green, Dan McCartney, Mike Kelly, and Chris Fantuzzo — Men who in addition to teaching me how to read and interpret Scripture, also exemplified for me the scholarly integrity and irenic ethos that I believe represents the best of the Reformed tradition.

So, that’s my story in sum. Of course there’s a whole lot of detail left out, but that’s the broad scope.

Also, here’s a list of the top ten books that helped me remain Protestant:

1. Philip Schaff: The Principle of Protestantism
2. John Nevin: The Mystical Presence
3. John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
4. Augustine: On Christian Doctrine
5. Paul Avis: The Church in the Theology of the Reformers
6. Paul Avis: Beyond the Reformation?
7. John T. McNeil: Unitive Protestantism
8. Jaroslav Pelikan: The Christian Tradition (5 vol.)
9. Heiko Oberman: The Dawn of the Reformation
10. John Calvin: Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper

*Honorable mentions: The Old Scots Confession, The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, and The Westminster Confession of Faith.

How Much Did the Human Authors of the Old Testament Know?

It is often asserted in critiques of Christotelic interpretation that one of the hallmarks of that hermeneutic is that the Gospel is not really in the Old Testament considered in itself.  If true, this poses a problem both biblically and, for Reformed Christians, confessionally.

It is important to note from the outset that what goes by the name “Christotelic” includes a spectrum of views, not all of which are the same.  Some indeed might say that the gospel is not really in the OT in any sense except insofar as it is read back into the OT in light of Christ.  Others, however, are more careful.  This is why we have to deal with particular writers particularly, and not simply throw everyone under one umbrella.

Take, for instance, Dan McCartney.  While saying that we don’t find the entire gospel in the Old Testament considered by itself, McCartney would agree that there is a Messianic hope in the Old Testament Scriptures.  So, in his essay, “The New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament,” McCartney says, “Special revelation in the New Testament clarifies the Christocentricity of Old Testament redemptive history” (116).  Note, McCartney does not say that the NT gives the OT its Christocentricity, or that the OT becomes Christocentric, but rather that the NT clarifies the Christocentricity of the OT.  So, when McCartney says, “clarifies the Christocentricity,” what that seems to mean is that there is a Christocentricity in the OT considered on its own.  But that Christocentricity is only seen clearly and fully in light of the NT.

Hence, for McCartney, “we may see things in the Old Testament that are really there but would not appear apart from the New” (ibid., emph. mine)

And with regard to Doug Green, his whole paper on Psalm 23 (considered problematic by anti-Christotelites) presents the Psalm in the context of the Psalter as messianic prophecy, not just that it arises as such in the intertestamental period.  But rather that it is messianic prophecy in its canonical context, pre-Christ.

Further, Green’s paper on Psalm 8 presents the Psalm, in GH context, as pointing God’s people even pre-Christ in an eschatological (and therefore messianic) direction.

So, he says,

The stories of Israel and David are covenantal stories and therefore stories with a telos, or destiny. To describe the ideal of what Israel and David are meant to be – glorious and godlike and having dominion over creation – is to describe the ultimate destiny of Israel and “David” (understood now as a messianic figure). Once we read Psalm 8 in connection with Israel’s covenantal history we are inevitably drawn towards an eschatological interpretation – one that finds its full and final meaning in the climax of Israel’s story. Put another way, the primary thrust of Psalm 8 is not creational and static (what all humans are in Adam) but re-creational and eschatological (what Israel and “David” will become at the climax of history)

Psalm 8 is considered messianic prophecy because it is to be read, in canonical and redemptive-historical context, in connection with Israel’s covenantal history, which itself points us in an eschatological direction — it is a story with a telos.  And that telos is Christ.

Indeed, all of Green’s work on the Psalter is meant to present the entire Psalter — considered in redemptive historical and canonical context — as a book of Messianic prophecy

So then, what is the problem?  Well, the difference between Christocentric and Christotelic hermeneutics does not hinge on the question of whether or not there is a messianic hope in the pages of the OT considered on its own terms.  But it hinges rather on the clarity of that hope.  (Again, there might be some who take such a hope out of the OT entirely, but this is not the case of all, and so it cannot be a hallmark of Christotelic hermeneutics.)

Now, we tend to enter into these discussions assuming we all agree on the definition of the words we’re using.  I am convinced that a big part of this controversy is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the different “sides” are using terms in different ways.  One example of this would be the definition of grammatical historical exegesis.  I addressed that before so I won’t do it again  here.  But I bring this up because this is another area where I believe that is the case — this time with regard to what we mean when we use the word, “gospel.”

So, with that in mind, here’s a question nobody has to this point asked (at least to my knowledge): What exactly do we mean when we say, “the gospel is present in the Old Testament considered on its own?”

For Christotelic advocates who would agree with that statement, what it means is that God gave to his people in ages past through the prophets the hope of a great Delieverer — an eschatological Prophet, Priest, and King — who would deliver his people from their enemies and bring a New Covenant whereby they would be fully restored to Yahweh and enjoy full and lasting shalom.

What anti-Christotelites seem to mean by that, on the other hand, is that the whole apostolic Gospel — the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth — is objectively present in the Old Testament, and was seen, known, and believed even apart from the fulfillment of that gospel.  Not, of course, that the very specific details were known — times, names, manner of death, physical appearance of the Messiah (etc.).  But that the basic outlines of the specific NT gospel were seen and believed prior to the fulfillment of that Gospel.

Now, this is a real difference.  And it is certainly one worth discussing as brothers.  I personally see good arguments that can be made on both sides here.

Nevertheless, note that in each case, God’s people of old were saved by faith in God’s promises.  The issue is not therefore whether or not those promises were there and believed.  The issue has to do with the specificity of their content.  To use confessional terminology, both sides would agree that Christ was foresignified to his people of old by types and shadows.  The issue between them comes down to this: just how shadowy were they? And also, just how pervasive is this in the OT considered on its own?  But, those who hold to Christotelic hermeneutics do not do away with the category of Messianic prophecy.  And the notion that they do is entirely unfounded.

1 Peter 1.10-12 is helpful here in stressing both the shadowiness and the realness of Christ in the OT prior to the age of fulfillment.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,  inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

The prophets of old searched and inquired diligently.  Why?  Because they knew that they did not know with clarity exactly how these things would be fulfilled.  Their knowledge was limited.  Nevertheless, the OT prophets did know three specific things, at least: 1. There was a coming Deliverer. 2. The Deliverer would suffer, 3. Consequent to his suffering that Deliverer would bring in glory. Now, this could imply knowledge of a  very detailed gospel — the whole basic outline of the apostolic proclamation of Christ and his redemptive work.  Or, it could just imply simply what it says — that the prophets knew of the suffering and consequent glory of the coming Deliverer.  This is not something that orthodox varieties of Christotelic hermeneutics would deny.

Of this passage John Calvin comments:

the prophets ministered to us more abundantly than to their own age, and… this was revealed to them from above; for in Christ only is the full exhibition of those things of which God then presented but an obscure image.

Note that Calvin does clearly say that the prophets knew and hoped in a coming Messiah.  But, the meaning of their words is only clear now, for the message they proclaimed was presented in “but an obscure image” prior to the time of fulfillment.

Further, what is often missed by critics of Christotelic hermeneutics is the fact that there are things that are essential to the gospel that were very much unknown in ages past.  Things that the apostle Paul refers to as musterion — such as “Christ in You” (Col. 1.26-27) and the bringing of the gospel to the nations (Eph. 3.8-10). These are things that in light of Christ we can and should rightly draw out of the OT, but they are nevertheless things that Paul says are mysteries that were “hidden in ages past.”

And in fact, on the second of these mysteries — that of the gospel going out to the nations and Gentiles being included as Gentiles in the body of God’s people — the very Paul who calls this a “mystery hidden in ages past” actually draws this very reality out of the Old Testament himself.  One instance of this would be how he uses of Deuteronomy 32.21 in Romans 10.19, and applies that text to God making Israel jealous by bringing the gospel to the nations.  And this, by the way, is not what Deut 32.21 is saying in grammatical historical context.  But it is still nonetheless rightly applied to the gospel in light of the coming of Christ and God’s purpose for all of Scripture to meet its goal in him.

So then, the Westminster Confession of Faith is entirely correct when it says in 8.6:

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

Amen!  But, let us not privilege ordo salutis over historia salutis.  The saints of old were saved by Christ, to be sure.  Further, they were saved by faith in the promises of God in Christ that were held out to them — according to the revelation they had to that point received — by promises, types and sacrifices.  But the particular epistemological state of their minds and their knowledge is something we cannot know for certain and do not need to know for certain.  They were saved by Christ.  This is something we would all agree on.

Just how clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ was revealed to the people of God prior to Christ’s advent in history is something we can and should continue to discuss as brothers, as we strive side by side for the faith of the gospel and seek to fulfill the apostolic exhortation to be of the same mind.  But let us not say that men who clearly have affirmed the eschatological/Messianic trajectory of the OT Scriptures have not affirmed it, and that they have taken Christ and his gospel out of the Old Testament.

Of Trees and Unicorns

Lane Keister wrote something of a response to my post from the other day on Christotelic hermeneutics.  A few thoughts, some of which should be obvious to those who have been following this discussion.

1. My point about making accusations without substantiation had to do with what is currently on the public record, not (of course) what may or may not have gone on behind closed doors. It also had to do with men like Keister himself, who have been making lots of confident assertions without any supporting documentation.

Part of the issue here is this: Why in the world does what should be a public theological discussion have to be completely secret in the first place?  We think God’s people deserve better than to be left with nothing but bald assertions about deviant views held by their elders and those who have been training their ministers for decades.  To be sure, the ethos at WTS in this regard is something wholly out of line with that of her founder.  http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2014/09/november-24-2/

2. Connected with (1) is how completely odd it is to me to continue hearing people urging patience with regard to WTS divulging reasons and information.  At the beginning I was willing to exercise patience.  And other than the grief I felt for Doug Green and Chris Fantuzzo, both of whom I know to be largely innocent (with Dan McCartney) of accusations hurled at them by certain persons, I refrained from making any comments other than what could be deduced based on the public record.

But, here’s the thing: The board’s initial decision re. Doug’s views was made in November 2013.  And it has now been four months since the public announcement to dismiss Green. Also, Chris Fantuzzo was fired the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year. Further, leading up to that point the controversy had been broiling around WTS several years, as from t least 2010 men like Lane Tipton had been calling out their colleagues in the classroom, on internet podcasts, and even on the seminary’s own website: http://wts.edu/stayinformed/view.html?id=902.  Sorry, I simply am not buying the notion that Westminster “just needs more time.”  And you shouldn’t either.

3. Lane seems to think that I’m buying my thoughts on the ethical issues at play in all this from Tremper Longman.  But, as thankful as I am for Tremper’s persistent calls for answers to important and reasonable questions, I saw what was going on at WTS as a student with my own eyes.  And I know the men involved.  Longman’s posts, though worth reading, haven’t really added anything new to my own opinions re. WTS.

4. Nowhere did I once mention Peter Enns in my piece, and yet the only substantial point made in Keister’s response has to do with Enns.  Why would that be?  Here’s what happens.  In the face of extreme charges (made both by the seminary as an institution as well as other individuals), we try to clarify what we believe Green and McCartney have actually argued for, with citations from their writings and appeals to the history of our tradition (I’ve drawn connections with Calvin, William Evans has very helpfully done so with Old Princeton and Sinclair Ferguson), in an attempt to ground our points in reality.  They respond by saying, “That’s nice and all, but I really want to keep talking about this over here.”

The problem is that Lane and others have for months now been begging the entire question.  To steal a silly metaphor: It’s as if they’re staring at oak trees and saying, “Hey everybody, look, a bunch of unicorns!”