Monday, February 28, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Over the weekend, Western Carolina Presbytery of the PCA voted to reject the proposed amendments to the BCO. I've updated the map to reflect this latest vote. I have to add, the vote tally is the strangest I've seen yet: 0-7-34 on 14-1 and 0-6-36 on 14-2. That's a lot of abstentions!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

If the Church grows because you are doing what's been proven to grow organizations, then you have your reward.

Lindsay Brooks, Co-Host of the Radio Show

Two Recent Articles about Erskine

In the last few days, two articles have been written in various places online about Erskine and the ARP. The first was written by Rev. Wes White and is entitled Erskine PCUSA Theology Professor on Inerrancy. Rev. White brings to the attention of a wider audience the response of Dr. Richard Burnett to the requirement of affirming inerrancy by Erskine faculty. Needless to say, Dr. Burnett objects.

The second article, which appears today at The Aquila Report is written by Rev. Ken Pierce and is entitled No New Battles--The Inerrancy Controversy Strikes Again on the Erskine Campus. Rev. Pierce points out the current self-contradiction of Erskine claiming to hold to inerrancy, and yet employing theology professors who deny the doctrine. He also highlights the difficult position the administration of Erskine, including President Norman, must find themselves in.

Both articles are worth taking the time to read. Be sure to also note the comments on Rev. White's article. Thanks to both Rev. White and Rev. Pierce for continuing to keep Erskine at the forefront of the news and minds of the Reformed community. We in the ARP appreciate the kind words and help of our brothers in the Lord!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Two more presbyteries voted in the last week on the (now defeated) proposed amendments to the PCA's Book of Church Order. I have updated the map below to show these latest votes:

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Happy TR

Just a technical note: since Rev. Brian Carpenter is no longer blogging at The Happy T.R., I have removed the link from my list of links on the right. For those of you, like me, who enjoy his writing, you can see him write occasional posts over at Wes White's site. He recently posted an excellent account of witnessing to one of his neighbors, which is worth reading. Keep up the good work, Pastor Carpenter!

Grave Words from "Crossed Fingers"

Conservative Presbyterian denominations eventually become divided between Confessionalists and Church growth advocates. In our era, the Confessionalists regard the Church growth people as touchy-feelie sell-outs, while the Church growth people regard the Confessionalists as nit-picking, low-pension losers. Liturgically, the war between two extremes is a debate over the psalm book vs. the overhead projector. [North inserts a footnote: "Two centuries ago, the psalm book had no musical notation. Today, the overhead projector songs have no musical notation."]Each side wishes the other would just go away.

Once this division appears, the Confessionalists always lose control of the denomination. There are no known exceptions. The lure of large churches, large pensions, and assistants who do most of the marriage counseling prevails. The Church growth people concentrate on what they do best: growing their churches by whatever works. The Confessionalists concentrate on what they do best: overwhelming one-time visitors with unfamiliar theology. In Presbyterian government, votes count. The Church growth people eventually gain more votes. The Confessionalists then have three choices: (1) spend their lives being outvoted at General Assembly; (2) quit attending General Assembly; or (3) leave to form a new denomination, which will subsequently divide at least once--the Machen-McIntire phenomenon. In the two (or more) new groups, the cycle then begins anew.

The problem is point two of the biblical covenant model: representation/authority.
Presbyterians like to pretend that all votes are equal. This is an old Whig belief, and it has always flourished in the face of the facts. Twentieth-century modernists have known better: elite core groups provide direction for the voters. The elite core groups in Presbyterianism have not changed significantly for over four centuries: ordained men who possess advanced academic degrees issued by non-Presbyterian institutions ("doctors") -- John Calvin is the classic example -- and pastors of large congregations. Over the last century, the former have had a tendency to go liberal; the latter have had a tendency to go pietistic, i.e., non-controversial. To these two groups has been added a third in the twentieth century: senior bureaucrats in the permanent denominational boards. These three groups have become the operational models of success in Presbyterianism.

Young men seeking to enter the Presbyterian ministry must first go through the screening process controlled by the first group. The doctors, not the presbyteries, impose the sanctions. If the students survive, they are then forced to seek jobs. Who has jobs to offer? Hardly anyone; we are talking about Presbyterians, not Baptists. But if there are any jobs available, they will be offered by the remaining two elite groups: pastors of large congregations and senior bureaucrats. The small-congregation Confessional preachers have only this to say: "Silver and gold have we none, and not many Federal Reserve Notes, either." Men respond to positive sanctions. They can see who has positive sanctions to offer. They can also see who doesn't.

Gary North, Crossed Fingers: How the Liberal Captured the Presbyterian Church (Appendix B: How to Immunize Presbyterianism)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WCF Sunday School Week 3: Of The Holy Scriptures, Part 2

I'm playing catch up, as I am now a week behind on posting the resources used in my Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian. On February 6, we covered the second half of Chapter 1 (sections 7 through 10). We dealt with the issues of perspicuity, interpretation, and preservation of Scripture. I drew heavily from A. A. Hodge's Commentary on the Confession for this lesson. I've posted below my notes (there was no handout this week), as well as a couple of links for further reading. When I upload the audio from the class, I will add that to this post, as well. Notes and handouts for previous classes can be found by clicking on the Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class link in the "Labels" list on the right side of the site.

Week 3 Lecture Notes

Further Reading:
Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended. (The Christian Research Press, 1997). NOTE: Although the title would lead you to believe this is a "King James Only" work, Hills simply applies the principles of the WCF to the text of the New Testament.

Letis, Theodore. The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority, and the Popular Mind. (The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 2000). NOTE: This book is out of print and extremely difficult to find. The library at Biola University has a copy, but that is the only one copy in Southern California that I know of!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts on Letham's "In the Space of Six Days"

Monday, Meet The Puritans posted an article written by Robert Letham entitled "In the Space of Six Days: The Days of Creation From Origen to the Westminster Assembly." This article was published in the Westminster Theological Journal back in 1999 (Westminster Theological Journal 61 no 2 Fall 1999, p 149-174.). It is important to keep the date of the article's publication in mind, since it was at that time that the days of creation were a hot button issue in the PCA.

Letham's stated thesis in his article is: "This article focuses on how the six days of creation in Genesis 1 have been understood in exegetical history until the time of the Westminster Assembly." (149). He then adds, "We will not argue that any one position on the question is the right way to understand Genesis."

Letham then cites 18 historical examples of theologians who have given their opinion on how the days of creation are to be understood. The people included in his survey are: Origen, Basil the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, Bede, Anselm, Robert Grossteste, Aquinas, Luther, Bullinger, Calvin, Peter Martyr, "Sixteenth-century Reformed Confessions," Richard Greenham, William Perkins, Ussher, Ames, and lastly "Members of the Westminster Assembly."

Throughout the article, Letham attempts to demonstrate a diversity of views in the Church concerning how we are to understand the days of Genesis. I agree with Letham that there have been divergent views in the past; however, Letham then seeks to conclude that since there have been divergent views in the past, we must still allow divergent views in the present. He writes, "We will be wise to heed the warnings Augustine and Calvin give on the difficulty of interpreting this chapter, and so beware of dogmatic claims they themselves did not advance." (174, emphasis added).

Several things strike me as interesting in this article. First, Letham warns us against "dogmatic claims", and yet allowing the framework view (which he is clearly advocating--see below) to be accepted in Presbyterian denominations is, in fact, a dogmatic position. The dogma moves from "in the space of six days" to "we allow divergent views." One is still making a claim concerning doctrine, the claim has just changed.

Second, while Letham claims to "not argue that any one position on the question is the right way to understand Genesis" (150), it is clear that he is attempting to lay the historical groundwork for justifying acceptance of the Framework Hypothesis. That was, after all, the issue of the day in 1999. Letham clearly supports the Framework Hypothesis when he states of Origen that "a non-literal view of Genesis 1 has a pedigree reaching back to the third century" (151). Then, when commenting on Robert Grossteste's view, Letham writes, "Here, in this medieval scholastic bishop, lie the roots of what eventually became known as the framework hypothesis" (161). His citation of Aquinas immediately follows, and Letham comments, "A generation or so after Grossteste's masterpiece, Aquinas also provides a basic groundwork for what is now known as the framework hypothesis." Interestingly, Letham then adds, "He [Aquinas] asks how this relates to Augustine's position and finds no incompatibility." (163). So, the views of Grossteste and Aquinas, which lay the basic groundwork for the framework hypothesis, have no incompatibility with Augustine's instantaneous creation view.

Letham states that Martin Luther was the "first of the major exegetes we have considered who without ambiguity adopts the interpretation that the days of creation are of twenty-four hour duration, at the same time arguing that the earth is only six thousand years old" (164). But, Letham is not satisfied with Luther's view, and interjects: "in commenting on the seventh day he is silent on the absence of the previous refrain 'and there was evening and there was morning,' an absence that seems to set this day apart from the other six and thus to pose questions as to the nature of the six" (164). So, Luther was explicitly clear as to what he believed the six days of creation were referring to, but because he did not comment on a lack of a phrase on the seventh day, his view is unclear.

Letham's summary of Calvin is perhaps the most disappointing. He begins by asserting, "Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis (1554), does not deal directly with the details of the discussion on the days of creation. This, in itself, may be significant, for he steadfastly refused to engage in speculation, confining himself to what was clearly revealed" (164-5). Of course, this begs the question of what was clearly revealed. Letham goes on to state that the one orthodox figure Calvin opposed was Augustine and the idea of instantaneous creation. Note that previously, Letham has stated that the "basic groundwork" for the framework hypothesis was compatible with Augustine's view and that now Augustine's view is apparently the one position that Calvin feels the need to oppose. However, Letham instead comes to the conclusion that, "is it is as idle to speculate on the time of creation (when it was made) as on the space of creation (where it was made" (166-7). Interestingly, Letham neglects to cite Calvin's views expressed in places other than his comments on Genesis 1 and the Institutes (1:14). Calvin in several places clearly believes in creation in six days (see his comments on Exodus 20:11, Leviticus 22:27, John 5:17, and Acts 12:10 all of which use the explicit language of "in six days.").

Perhaps more troubling than Letham's selective citing of Calvin is his insertion into Calvin's views that Calvin was "correcting Augustine and Grossteste on the basis of scientific discovery" (167). What a poor thing to say about a man who stridently defended the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Yet, this is another theme which runs through Letham's article: that science ought to inform our exegesis. In his introduction, after quoting Grossteste, Letham states, "Why most of us today do not immediately understand the reference in Genesis 1 to the waters above the firmament in the way Augustine and Grossteste did is due to advances in natural science rather than biblical studies. As our understanding of nature has developed so it has impinged on our exegesis of the Bible" (149, emphasis added).

Next on Letham's list after Calvin is Pietro Martire Vermigli (Peter Martyr). After demonstrating that Vermigli believed "This is the strength of our faith, that all things are established by the word of God" (169), Letham goes on to say "Vermigli occupies similar ground to Calvin in granting integrity to science and natural philosophy, allowing it to assist in Biblical exegesis" (169, emphasis added).

Letham's treatment of James Ussher is perhaps the worst of any in the article. He plainly states, "Ussher's reasons [for holding to six-day creation] seem rather lame" (171-2) without any evidence of their "lameness" other than listing Ussher's reasons. Letham attempts to hijack Ussher as one supporting the Framework Hypothesis: "First he created dwelling places, then creatures to dwell in them, the thought that undergirds the later framework hypothesis, foreshadowed in Grossteste and Aquinas" (172, emphasis added). I believe Ussher, the man who calculated the creation of the world to October 23, 4004 BC, would be quite surprised to find that he advocated a non-historical view of the days of creation! Letham less-than-charitably concludes, "The end result is that Ussher considers only part of the evidence and presents it as if it is the whole" (172).

Letham then moves to William Ames, who, like the Westminster divines, affirms that creation "was accomplished part by part in the space of six days" (172). Letham writes that this statement "foreshadows the cryptic reference in The Westminster Confession of Faith" (174). He then adds that "Ames leaves the six days undefined" (172)!

Letham lastly deals with the members of the Westminster Assembly itself. He states, So far our searches in Pollard & Redgrave and Wing have yet to unearth a single work specifically on creation or the book of Genesis composed before 1647 by any member of the Westminster Assembly or other leading Puritan, such as Perkins, Ames, Owen Cartwright, or Fenner" (173). Of course, David Hall has shown that several of the Westminster Divines, as well as other leading Puritans did, in fact, state their views on the days of creation, and that they held to six twenty-four hour days. But, Letham does not stop there. He goes on to accuse the Puritans of not being "interested in interacting with contemporary science [Note: Once again, science enters into theology]. At a time of such scientific and philosophical ferment this is astounding. Their interests had switched to the narrowly soteriological and ecclesiastical" (174, emphasis added). Letham quotes John Leith approvingly: "By the time of Westminster, orthodox theology was already being carried on in isolation from the intellectual currents of the day" (173).

Letham concludes that the text of Genesis 1 is not clear, that we ought to "beware of dogmatic claims" that men such as Augustine and Calvin "did not advance" (174), that "until the mid-sixteenth century the interpreters we cited were all abreast of the philosophy and science of their day, and often made us of it in biblical interpretation" (174, emphasis added), that the days of creation were "never a matter of confessional significance" to the Reformers (174), and finally that the Puritans "never attempted a serious theological interpretation of creation," because, as quoted above, "their interests had switched to the narrowly soteriological and ecclesiastical" (174).

What, then are we to conclude after reading Letham's piece? First, that although he clearly states he will not argue that any one position on the question is the right way to understand Genesis, his bias in favor of the Framework Hypothesis is clearly demonstrated. Second, Letham also advances a position in opposition to the Westminster Confession, chapter 1.9 ("The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.") when he repeatedly advocates science and natural philosophy be used "to assist Biblical exegesis" (149 and see also 167, 169). Third, Letham seems to indicate that there may not be any one way to correctly understand the creation account, which is also contrary to WCF 1.9 which states that the true and full sense of any Scripture is not manifold, but one. There is one correct way to understand the days of creation, and that one correct way is stated in WCF 4.1: that creation took place "in the space of six days." Fourth, Letham seems to align the Framework Hypothesis with Augustine's instantaneous creation view, when he writes, without qualification, that Aquinas "finds no incompatibility" (163) with Augustine's view and Aquinas's own proto-framework view. This is very interesting, since Letham himself admits that it is Augustine's view in particular which Calvin opposed (165-6). Fifth, Letham notes that Augustine's view of instantaneous creation is based on Sirach 18--a passage from the Apocrypha. Sirach 18 is cited four times in Letham's article: Augustine used it to support his view, Anselm and Aquinas both cite it, and Calvin addresses it as well. The problem is that Letham never states a negative word about this citation by Augustine et. al. of apocryphal literature! The one objection that is noted by Letham is not that Augustine's view was based on non-authoritative human writings (WCF 1.3), but, as Calvin pointed out, Augustine used a bad translation of the Apocrypha (166)!

This article demonstrates a clear agenda by Letham to promote the Framework Hypothesis and in so doing, Letham sacrifices much more than the Confession's language of "in the space of six days," as the whole Westminster hermeneutic is brushed aside to make way for science to enter into exegesis. This article is better classified as propaganda for the Framework Hypothesis than as academic research deserving of publication in a theological journal.

Monday, February 14, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Another weekend, another Presbytery votes. See the updated map below.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Update on Church Plant in Leith, Scotland

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Rev. Athole Rennie, a fellow ARP-er and pastor/church planter working in Leith, Scotland. At that time, Rev. Rennie was working to build up a core group in Leith for the purpose of planting a church. God has blessed that effort, and the core group which has been built up is now meeting on Sunday afternoons, and has chosen a name for the church: Grace Church Leith.

I rejoice with them at the success they have had thus far and will continue to pray for the important work they do in the land of Knox and Melville. Please keep them in your prayers, as well. To learn more about the work Rev. Rennie is doing, visit Reformission Scotland or e-mail him at If you are on Facebook, you can "Like" the group "Grace Church Leith" as well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Blog Worth Following

My friend and fellow ARP-er, Rev. Benjamin Glaser, has moved his blog to a new address and renamed it Mountains and Magnolias.

If you don't already follow him, I recommend this blog to you. Keep up the good work, Ben!

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

Two more Presbyteries voted, and I have updated the map to reflect their votes. Also, please note that the total vote tallies on my map differ slightly from those on The Aquila Report. I am counting the two presbyteries that split their vote in the "split" category, while TAR is counting them as both the "For" and "Against" categories. The numbers still add up, though.

Monday, February 7, 2011

PCA BCO 14 Amendments Map Update

On Saturday, the Platte Valley Presbytery voted to approve the proposed amendments to the PCA's Book of Church Order. The vote is now 28 presbyteries approving the amendments, 36 rejecting, and 2 split (approve the amendment to 14-1 and reject the amendment to 14-2. Of course, the amendments are already defeated, since the required 2/3 of presbyteries to approve cannot be reached. The updated map is below.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dabney on Confessionalism and 6 Day Creation

I would beg you to notice how distinctly either of the current theories [Gap Theory or Day-Age Theory] contradicts the standards of our Church. See Conf. of Faith, ch. iv, §1. Larger Cat., que. 15, 120. Our Confession is not inspired ; and if untrue, it should be refuted. But if your minds are made up to adopt either of these theories, then it seems to me that common honesty requires of you two things ; to advertise your Presbyteries, when you apply for license and ordination, of your disbelief of these articles; that they may judge whether they are essential to our system of doctrine ; and second; to use your legitimate influences as soon as you become church rulers, to have these articles expunged from our standards as false.

Robert Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervon, 1972), 256.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ARPTalk Update

Dr. Charles Wilson has two new articles up at ARPTalk. The first is my own article posted here last week: "Understanding the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church & Its Relation to Erskine College and Seminary."

The second is written by Dr. Wilson himself: "Erskine Theological Seminary Irrelevant to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church." In it, Dr. Wilson makes some very poignant observations concerning our Seminary, including that Dr. Steve Lowe, the interim Executive Vice President of Erskine Seminary, is a United Methodist minister. He also points out that our Barthian Professors are still "looming large like the proverbial elephant-in-the-room." Erskine Seminary has some serious problems. Head over to ARPTalk and read it all for yourself.

Good Post on "Recovering the Reformed Confession" and 6 Day Creation

Yesterday, while doing some browsing on the subject of six day creation, I came upon this article: Two-Edged Sword: Recovering the Reformed Confessions and 6 Day Creation. It was a good read, so I pass it on to you.

The author ("Lee") makes five points concerning the arguments Dr. R. Scott Clark makes in Recovering the Reformed Confession regarding six day creation:
  1. Clark starts by stating that proponents of the 6/24 hour day view of creation have always been unable to show a theological reason for holding to this view.
  2. Clark dismisses the argument of David Hall and others that point to WCF 4.1 and the "in the space of six days" statement as addressing a different question. [a personal pet peeve of mine!]
  3. Clark has a long excursus on heliocentric versus geocentric universe discussions in the past.
  4. Clark claims these men came to their views "exegetically" and thus it is an extraconfessional and exegetical disagreement.
  5. Clark states this is not a debate between "two religions . . . not even between two different hermeneutical principles, but rather a debate over the application of those principles and specific exegetical applications" (pg.61).
Lee then deals with each of these five points and shows how Clark got it wrong. Go over to Two-Edged Sword and read it all.

Al Mohler Sees that One Thing Leads to Another

After reading about the two professors at Calvin College who say we must redefine our doctrine of original sin because of evolutionary theory, I saw an article by Dr. Albert Mohler which confirmed what I wrote. Dr. Mohler writes (emphasis added):

If evolution is true, then the entire narrative of the Bible has to be revised and reinterpreted. The evolutionary account is not only incompatible with any historical affirmation of Genesis – it is also incompatible with the claim that all humanity is descended from Adam and the claim that in Adam all humanity fell into sin and guilt. The Bible’s account of the Fall and its consequences is utterly incompatible with evolutionary theory. The third chapter of Genesis is as problematic for evolutionary theory as the first two.
See the entire article by Dr. Mohler, here: Creation vs. Evolution: The New Shape of the Debate.

Another Split Presbytery in the PCA

Covenant Presbytery voted to approve the amendments to the PCA BCO 14-1, but rejected the amendment to BCO 14-2 (just as Ohio Valley Presbytery had done previously). The updated map can be viewed below:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Denial of Six Day Creation Leads to...

Yesterday, I saw the following headline on The Aquila Report: "At Calvin College: Questions Raised About Adam and Eve and the Fall." Some snippets from the article include:

Professors Daniel Harlow and John Schneider of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., published scholarly articles asserting that strong evidence from both biblical studies and science creates conflicts with parts of the historic Reformed confessions and requires theological explanation.
In particular, they question whether Adam and Eve actually existed, whether there was a literal Fall, and whether we need to reinterpret the doctrine of original sin as presented in the Reformed confessions.

While I greatly admire the work that the gentlemen at The Aquila Report do, I had to ask myself, how is this news?

The Christian Reformed Church has never taken a stance on the length of the days of creation, though they have in the past declared theories of evolution as unacceptable. There is a natural progression from ambiguity on the days of creation to denial of a historical Adam and Eve to "reinterpreting the doctrine of original sin." Should we at all be surprised then, that those who deny the doctrine of creation continue into greater error?

Six day creation is a fundamental tenet of reformed theology. There is a reason the Westminster divines added the clause "in the space of six days" to the Confession. We must do all we can to preserve this system of doctrine and do away with compromising theories. Defense of six day creation is, after all, a defense of God's revealed word.

Neely Gaston Accepts Position at Gordon-Conwell

This story was just reported by the ARP Blog:

Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary announced today that Dr. Neely Gaston, former Erskine Theological Seminary Executive Vice President, will join the Seminary’s Charlotte (NC) team as Chief Advancement Officer.
Which I find interesting, in light of what was reported twelve days ago, at the same site:

Dr. Neely Gaston resigned his position as executive vice president of Erskine Theological Seminary this morning. “Over the past few months, Neely and I have discussed his growing desire to return to pastoral ministry,” said Erskine President David Norman. “This desire, combined with the intensity of the events over the past 18 months at Erskine, has led Neely to this decision."

Just interesting, that's all.