Friday, February 26, 2010

Name that theologian #2


Who said this?

"Praise is the great act of rebellion against sin, the great repudiation of our wicked refusal to acknowledge God to be the Lord. In sum, therefore the Church is holy as, day by day, it magnifies God and worships his name, ever world without end."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

B. B. Warfield on why the Bible is not the 'inspired' Word of God

Evangelicals often refer to the Bible as the "inspired Word of God". The "inspired" bit is derived from the AV translation of 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God". The same wording us used in the NKJV. But the translation is inaccurate and misleading. As B. B. Warfield points out in his essay The Biblical Idea of Inspiration, the word rendered "inspiration", (theopneustos in the Greek) does not in fact mean that Scripture was inspired by God.
"The Greek term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of "spiring" or "spiration". What is says of Scripture is, not that it is "breathed into by God" or is the product of the Divine "inbreathing" into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, "God-breathed", the product of the creative breath of God.... When Paul declares, then, that "every scripture", or "all scripture" is the product of the Divine breath, "is God-breathed", he asserts with as much energy as he could employ that Scripture is the product of a specifically Divine operation." (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, P&R, p. 133).
For this reason A. T. B. McGowan proposes that we speak of the "divine spiration" rather than the inspiration of Scripture. (The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging evangelical perspectives, 2007, IVP/Apollos - see review article here). I agree that "spiration" is a more appropriate designation of Scripture than "inspiration". Also "inspired" is often taken to mean a work of genius such as in Shakespeare's "inspired" play, Hamlet. Scripture is far more than a literary classic. It is God's own Spirit-given Word. But "spiration" it is a slightly unwieldy term and I can't see catching on outside the world of academic theology. Better I think to say with the NIV and that all Scripture is "God-breathed" or "breathed out by God", ESV.
Some preachers are in the habit of introducing the reading of Scripture in public worship by saying, "This is the inspired Word of God". If we are going to use such a formula, far better to say, "This is the Word that God has breathed out".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What price Remythologizing Theology, Dr. Vanhoozer?

Kevin Vanhoozer's latest title, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship is out now. It's been a long time coming since he mentioned that he was working on the book in an interview on this blog in September 2007 - here. Looks like it will be worth the wait. The only problem is the price tag. At £75 from the publisher, Cambridge University Press and £52.25 from Amazon, the book is a little on the pricey side. I'll have to start saving my pennies.
From the Amazon product description:

"The rise of modern science and the proclaimed ‘death’ of God in the nineteenth century led to a radical questioning of divine action and authorship – Bultmann’s celebrated ‘demythologizing’. Remythologizing Theology moves in another direction that begins by taking seriously the biblical accounts of God’s speaking. It establishes divine communicative action as the formal and material principle of theology, and suggests that interpersonal dialogue, rather than impersonal causality, is the keystone of God’s relationship with the world. This original contribution to the theology of divine action and authorship develops a new vision of Christian theism. It also revisits several long-standing controversies such as the relations of God’s sovereignty to human freedom, time to eternity, and suffering to love. Groundbreaking and thought-provoking, it brings theology into fruitful dialogue with philosophy, literary theory, and biblical studies."

Friday, February 19, 2010

How does God speak to us?

More from my talk on Holy Scripture as the living and active Word of God, (see here & here):
1) Presuppositions

Two basic assumptions lie at the back of the Christian faith:

a. God is there.
b. God has spoken.

2) How does God speak to us?

a. Creation (Psalm 19)
b. A sense of God (Romans 1:18-20, Calvin on sensus divinitas)
c. Providence (Acts 14:15-17)
d. The great acts of redemption (Covenant, exodus, law, conquest, dynasty, exile & return).
e. Through his Son (Heb 1:1-4, John 1:1-18)
f. Scripture: Clarifies a, b, & c. Records and interprets d & e. Gives voice to the Spirit and enables us to discern his witness and promptings, g.
g. By the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, bearing witness with our spirits (Romans 8:15-16) and guiding in the Lord's service (Acts 13:2, 16:6 & 7).
"Without God’s acts, the world would be empty. Without God’s words, the acts would be mute." In fact, God invariably acts by speaking. Creation, providence, redemption and the consummation are the products of the Lord's mighty speech-acts.
The Bible is needed to narrate and record the works of God in creation, providence and redemption and to interpret the meaning of those events. Without the Scriptures we would have no authoritative account of the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. But the Bible gives us far more than information. In Holy Scripture we have the communicative action of the Triune God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Holy Scripture as a divine speech-act

More from my paper on Holy Scripture as the living and active Word of God (see here):
Traditionally Evangelicals have been keen to assert the propositional character of Scripture. That is only right. Biblical revelation comes to us in the form of words and those words form sentences that make truth statements or propositions. Without propositions we would have no gospel. ‘Christ died for our sins’ is a vital biblical proposition as is ‘Jesus is risen’. But an overly propositionalist approach can give the impression that the Holy Scripture is simply a book that is full of true information and it is the task of theologians to process and systematise that information. That was more or less Charles Hodge’s approach,

"The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches. The duty of the Christian theologian is to ascertain, collect, and combine all the facts which God has revealed concerning himself and our relation to Him. These facts are all in the Bible."

However, while paying due respect to the propositional nature of biblical revelation, we need a more dynamic account of the way language works that will help us to grasp the relationship between God, Holy Scripture and the Church. It is not sufficient to say, “God has given his people all the factual information they will ever need in the Bible”. This is where speech-act theory comes into play. Speech-act theory rightly emphasises that words are more than just words. They always do something. The theory breaks language down into three component parts: locutions, illocutions, and perlocutions. First of all we have locutions – basic units of speech or words and sentences. In theological terms, we confess that Scripture reveals God Word in words – locutions. But we use words to do things. With words we declare a man and a woman husband and wife, we ask for a glass of water, or order a ticket for the cinema. This is the illocutionary effect of language. By speaking, I have acted. In Scripture we have God’s own illocutions – his speech acts. By words, he makes promises, utters warnings, and enters into a covenant relationship with his people. Scripture is not simply a record of God’s words. In the Bible we have the communicative action of the triune God. Now, it is one thing for God to speak words and to do things with his words, like make promises. But what guarantees that God’s words will be received for what they are? God may make a promise, but it is another for us to trust in that promise! This is called the perlocutionary effect of language. And it is here that the work of the Holy Spirit comes into its own. He enables people to respond appropriately to God’s communicative action in Scripture.

So much for the theory, now let's see how this kind of approach is reflected in the text of Scripture itself. In both Old and New Testaments there is a tight link between God's actions and his speech. God’s words are speech-acts that initiate and carry forward the great drama of redemption. We may think of the theodrama in terms of a five act play. Act One is creation, where God’s “Let there be” (Genesis 1:3) creates the setting for the rest of the drama. In his providence God continues to rule the world he created by his word, (Psalm 147:15-18). In Act Two of the drama of redemption by his Word God entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, constituting Israel as his own special people (Genesis 22:18). In Act Three, the Word of God is made flesh for our salvation in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again (John 1:14, note the relationship between Jesus' words and deeds - e.g. Mark 2:5, 11). In Act Four the Spirit of truth is poured out upon the church to empower the people of God to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, 2:1). Act Five is the consummation where God will make all things new by his might word (Rev. 22:5).

God's person is so tied up with his words that to believe and obey his word is to believe and obey him, Isaiah 66:2. The human words of Scripture are at the same time God's covenant words to his people. To encounter God's communicative action through the prophets and apostles is to meet with God himself.

"Whenever we encounter the speech acts of Scripture, we encounter God himself in action. The Father presents himself to us as a God who makes and keeps his covenant promises. The Son comes to us as the Word of God, knowable to us through his words. The Spirit ministers these words to us, illuminating our minds and hearts, so that in receiving, understanding and trusting them, we receive, know and trust God himself." (Words of Life, Timothy Ward, IVP, p. 97)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jesus and the Word of God

An excerpt from my paper, Holy Scripture as the living and active Word of God, given at today's Reformed Ministers' Fraternal, Honiton, Devon:
Holy Scripture and the Son
Jesus taught that the Old Testament Scriptures were about him, John 5:46, Luke 24:45-47. New Testament revelation is also Christ-centred from the Gospels to Revelation where the Lamb is all the glory. In that sense there is a clear relationship between the Son and the Scriptures. The written Word bears witness to Jesus the living Word, 2 Timothy 3:15.

But is it right to drawn an analogy between Jesus as the divine Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14) and Scripture as the word of God through human beings (2 Peter 1:21)? In defending biblical inerrancy, Evangelicals often say something like this: Jesus was fully God and fully man, yet without sin. And so the Bible is the Word of God through human beings, yet without error. Writers such as John Webster (Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch) and following him Andrew McGowan (The Divine Spiration of Scripture) have questioned whether it is appropriate to speak in this way.

What’s the problem here? As Webster notes, the biblical writings are distinguished from all other literature by the designation “Holy Scripture”. The theologian invokes the concept of the ‘sanctification’ of Scripture to hold together both the divine and human aspects of the Bible, “the biblical texts are creaturely realities set apart by the triune God to serve his self-presence.” (p. 21). But Webster is unhappy with the oft drawn analogy between Scripture as a divine/human book and the union of divine and human natures in the person of Christ. He suggests that the analogy blurs the distinction between Christ and the Bible. Like Karl Barth Webster prefers to speak of Scripture as a witness to God’s Word rather than God’s Word written. Scripture sometimes speaks of itself as a witness to Jesus, John 5:39. But for Barth this means that Scripture is a fallible and very human witness to the divine Word,

"The men whom we hear as witnesses speak as fallible, erring men like ourselves. What they say, and what we read as their word, can of itself lay claim to be the Word of God, but can never sustain that claim". (Church Dogmatics Book I, 2, p. 507).

Webster formulates the idea of Scripture as testimony with greater care and respect. He does not want to so stress the fragility of Scripture’s human witness to the divine Word that the relationship between the Bible and God’s self-revelation become almost accidental. We have to bear in mind the work of the Spirit in the production, preservation and interpretation of Scripture. To cast doubt on the reliability of Scripture’s testimony to Jesus is to leave the church in doubt concerning Jesus himself.

What Webster wants to avoid in rejecting the analogy between Christ and the Bible is the attribution of divine properties to the Bible. At this point he draws on Herman Bavinck’s idea of the ‘servant form’ of Scripture. As developed by Berkhouer, this perspective is taken to suggest that in the Bible we have the treasures of God’s self-revelation in ‘earthen vessels’, subject to human weakness. Webster does not spell out what he means by human 'weaknesses', but I guess he has the traditional Evangelical doctrine of biblical inerrancy in his sights. It is rather strange however, that Webster claims Bavinck in support of his views as the Dutch theologian’s notion of the ‘servant form’ of Scripture is explicitly rooted in an incarnational analogy,

"The incarnation of Christ demands that we trace it down into the depths of its humiliation, in all its weakness and contempt. The recording of the word, of revelation, invites us to recognise that dimension of weakness and lowliness, the servant form, also in Scripture. But just as Christ's human nature, however weak and lowly, remained free from sin, so also Scripture is 'conceived without defect or stain'; totally human in all its parts but also totally divine in all its parts." (Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1, Herman Bavinck, Baker Academic, 2003, p. 435).

Of course, the analogy between Christ and Scripture demands careful handling and theological sensitivity. We must make a clear distinction between the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the person of Christ and the Bible as a divine/human book. But both Jesus and Scripture are identified as the logos of God. In his handling of the Old Testament, Jesus himself made it clear that for him, what Scripture said, God said (John 10:34 & 35). We cannot downgrade the status of Scripture as God's written word in order to safeguard the uniqueness of Jesus as the Word of God incarnate without disregarding Jesus' own testimony to the Bible. But when we confess that the Bible is God's word through human beings, we are not suggesting that there is a personal union between the divine and human sides of Scripture that is comparable to the union of God and man in Jesus. Rather what we have in Scripture is the communicative action of the living God who speaks to us through the human words of the Bible. This construction safeguards both the uniqueness of Christ and respects what Scripture says about itself as the Word of God.

It is through the witness of the written Word that we encounter Jesus the living Word. 2 Timothy 3:15. The Christ of Scripture is the risen Lord and Saviour of human beings. We have not seen him, but having read about him in Scripture and heard of him in the preaching of the gospel we have come to believe in him, love him and rejoice in him with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 1 Peter 1:8.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What the Bible Teaches about the Future by Peter Bloomfield

What the Bible teaches about the Future,
Peter Bloomfield, EP Books, 2009, 256pp

As the author rightly says, the Bible is an eschatological Book that points toward a glorious future hope. It is important for Christians to have a sound grasp of what the future holds, yet many believers are confused at this point and clarity of vision is sometimes lacking. Our hope must be based on a clear understanding of Scripture, where God’s great purpose for the world is revealed. The writer's aim is to enable the reader to know for certain where their eternal destiny lies.

Bloomfield gives a convinced Amillennialist account of biblical eschatology. He begins by pointing out that we are living in the “last days”, the period between the “already” of Christ’s first coming and the “not yet” of his return in glory. The writer’s handling of the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24) is especially commendable and helpful. But his views on the future of the Jews as set out by Paul in Romans 9-11 will not command universal acceptance even amongst those who might agree with his basic stance. It is right to stress that the old covenant promises made to Israel regard to the Promised Land no longer apply in the new covenant age. What matters now is belonging to the Israel of God comprised of believers gathered from all the nations. Nevertheless, the people of Israel are still “beloved for the fathers’ sake”. Contrary to the way Bloomfield interprets Romans 11 it seems that Paul expected that there will be a widespread turning to the Lord by Jewish people before the end comes. In the reviewer’s opinion, John Murray’s exegesis of the passage in question in his commentary on Romans is to be preferred.

Be that as it may, Bloomfield sets before his readers the urgent need to be ready for the next big event in redemption history – the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. All people, both Christians and non-Christians alike will be summoned before his judgement seat and made accountable to him. The author speaks plainly and soberly of the eternal, conscious punishment of the wicked. He also makes it clear that the final state for believers is not simply dying and going to heaven. We look beyond that to the resurrection of the body by the power of the Lord Jesus and eternal life in the new creation. Having said that, not nearly enough attention is paid to the resurrection hope in this book. While five chapters are devoted to the future of the Jews, not one single chapter is dedicated to a consideration of the resurrection of the dead in Christ. It is regrettable that the writer barely refers to 1 Corinthians 15. Any book on biblical eschatology should offer at least some sustained reflection on that key chapter. There are many good things in this study and it will no doubt sharpen the reader's focus on eternal matters. But the omission just noted makes for a rather incomplete and patchy account of what the Bible teaches about the future.

The best recent book on the subject to my mind is The Promise of the Future by Cornelis P. Venema, 2000, Banner of Truth Trust. If you are looking for a readable and up-to-date study of eschatology that does justice to the biblical contours of the Christian hope, then that's the one to get.

*An edited version of this review will appear in a forthcoming edition of Protestant Truth. The books referred to may be ordered from the PTS Christian Bookshop, here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the mystery theologian is...

Top marks to Gary Benfold (see comments on Name that theologian #1). It was Joseph Ratzinger, not Karl Barth, A. W. Tozer or P. T. Forsyth who said,
"if the Church were to accommodate herself to the world in any way that would entail a turning from the Cross, that would not lead to a renewal of the Church, but only to her death." (Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, Tracey Rowland, 2009, OUP)
As a convicted Evangelical Protestant I can't disagree with that statement. We must never forget that the cross of Christ is the source of the Church's renewal. We live because he died. But it is regrettable that Roman Catholic teaching does not do justice to the saving efficacy of the cross. The finality of the atonement is undermined by the idea that Christ's propitiatory sacrifice is re-offered at the Mass. The sufficiency of the atonement is compromised by Rome's unbiblical teaching on purgatory. Christ suffered for the sins of his people, making any further suffering on their part in "purgatory" unnecessary. When Jesus said, "It is finished!" He meant it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Name that theologian #1

Who said this?
"if the Church were to accommodate herself to the world in any way that would entail a turning from the Cross, that would not lead to a renewal of the Church, but only to her death."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Talking about regeneration

Louis Berkhof offers a typical definition of regeneration in Reformed systematic theology:

"It is in its most limited sense a change that occurs in the sub-conscious life. It is a secret and inscrutable work of God that is never directly perceived by man... Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man, and the governing principle of the soul is made holy." [Emphasis original - Systematic Theology, p. 469].

This definition captures some important aspects of the doctrine, especially that regeneration is a monergistic act of God of which man is the passive subject. But even in Berkhof's extended discussion of regeneration he fails to incorporate certain vital features of the Bible's witness. Here is an attempt to sketch an outline of the biblical doctrine of regeneration.

I. The need for regeneration

We need to be born again because in our first birth we were born dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). In that state the mind of the sinner is incapable receiving and submitting to God's truth (Romans 8:7). The heart is wicked and incapable of loving God, (Jeremiah 17:9). The will is enslaved by sin and incapable of obeying God (John 8:34). We can do nothing to raise ourselves out of this spiritual death. We cannot even respond to the message of salvation.

II. Regeneration in the Old Testament

Using a variety of language, Old Testament Scriptures speak of God giving life to those who were dead in sin. Deuteronomy 30:6, Ezekiel 36:25-27. When true faith and godliness was found among Israel as the Old Testament people of God we see the fruit of the Lord's regenerating work. The Old Testament looks forward to the advent new covenant, Jeremiah 31:33 in which the Lord will write his law on the hearts of all his people.

III. Regeneration is a gracious act of the Triune God

In systematic theology regeneration is often attributed almost exclusively to the work of the Holy Spirit. But the New Testament stresses the trinitarian character of the new birth. This follows from the principle that the external acts of the Trinity are undivided. When any one person of the Trinity acts the other two are also involved. Accordingly, while we are born of the Spirit, John 3:5, regeneration is also the activity of the Father, Ephesians 2:4-5, who works by the resurrection power of the Son, 1 Peter 1:3. So, we might say that regeneration is the act of God's sovereign grace by which the Father brings the sinner to new life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

IV. Regeneration in relation to other aspects of salvation

Reformed theology tends to discuss the application of redemption in terms of the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. In such terms, regeneration is usually described as the first link in the "golden chain" of salvation, followed by conversion, which involves repentance and faith. It needs to be said here that the ordo is not so much a chronological order as a logical one. Logically a person needs to be made alive to enable them to repent and believe the gospel. Romans 8:30 is perhaps the closest we come to a biblically sanctioned order of salvation. But the ordo salutis is not the organising principle in the New Testament's presentation of the application of redemption. That distinction belongs to union with Christ. It is only in union with Jesus in his death and resurrection that the sinner is made alive, Romans 6:4, Ephesians 2:4-7, 1 Peter 1:3. By the power of the Spirit the Father brings the sinner into union with Christ, the source of new life and salvation. While Berkhof cites texts that speak of regeneration in relation to union with Christ, he makes little of the point, concentrating rather on the relative positions of regeneration and effectual calling in the ordo salutis. While consideration of the ordo is not without value, it should not be allowed to displace the New Testament's emphasis on union with Christ. In him we are born again, justified and glorified.

V. Regeneration and the Word of God

It is often assumed that Reformed theology teaches immediate regeneration, that the new birth is the result of the Spirit working directly upon the soul of the sinner at the subconscious level. It is taught that while this usually happens in a context where the word of God is proclaimed, the word is not to be regarded as an instrument of regeneration. The New Testament does sometimes attribute being born again to the work of the Spirit without mention of the word, John 3:5-8. But other Scriptures add the qualification that we are born again through the word of God, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23. The teaching of such texts must be taken into account as we seek to formulate a doctrine of regeneration that does justice to the witness of the whole of Scripture. The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine of the Cannons of Dort are instructive here,

Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration
Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul.

VI. Regeneration and the future

While in a sense the new birth is something that happened in the believer's past, more fundamentally regeneration is an anticipation of the future renewal of all things. The word "regeneration" is only used twice in the New Testament. Once the word is found on on the lips of Jesus, where the reference is clearly eschatological, Matthew 19:28. And once we find it in the writings of Paul, Titus 3:5, where again the context has a future orientation, (Titus 3:4-7). Regeneration is an act of new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is the resurrection of the inner life ahead of the future resurrection of the body, Romans 8:10-11.

VII. The signs of regeneration

Limiting ourselves to 1 John and the "tests of life" we find in that Epistle, there are a number of evidences that a person has been born again. a) Faith in Jesus Christ, 1 John 5:1. b) Obedience to God's commands, 1 John 2:3-5. c) Love for God and his people, 1 John 3:14, 5:1-2. d) The witness of the Spirit, 1 John 3:24. Where there is no evidence of the above in a person's life it is doubtful that they are truly regenerate.
Systematics needs to work harder at incorporating the different features of the Bible's doctrine of regeneration.

Friday, February 05, 2010

2010 Banner Ministers' Conference

26-29th April 2010 - Banner of Truth Leicester Ministers' Conference - Being Men of Our Times

Speakers:
  • O Palmer Robertson
  • Iain D Campbell
  • Liam Goligher
  • Wyn Hughes
  • Ted Donnelly

Programme:

Monday 26th April

  • 5.15pm - Opening Sermon - Wyn Hughes
  • 8.15pm - The Throne of Heaven - Liam Goligher

Tuesday 27th April

  • 7.25am - United Prayer
  • 9.15am - TO BE ARRANGED
  • 9.30am - Praying Scripture in Our Times: Matthew Henry’s ‘A Method for Prayer’ - O Palmer Robertson
  • 11.15am - A Sabbath Rest for the People of God - Iain D Campbell
  • 5.00pm - Reports and Discussion
  • 8.15pm - The Book of Destiny - Liam Goligher

Wednesday 28th April

  • 7.25am - United Prayer
  • 9.15am - TO BE ARRANGED
  • 9.30am - Being a Missionary in Our Times: William Hoppe Murray’s Tenfold Challenge - O Palmer Robertson
  • 11.15am - A Sabbath Rest for the People of God: Will That Be Sufficient? - Iain D Campbell
  • 5.00pm - Panel Discussion
  • 8.15pm - You Are What You Worship - Liam Goligher

Thursday 29th April

  • 7.25am - United Prayer
  • 9.15am - Preaching the Gospel in Our Times: Matthew 24:14 - O Palmer Robertson
  • 11.00am - Closing Sermon - Loving the Lord - Ted Donnelly

>>Download the Ministers' Conference Brochure

>>Register Online Here!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? Searching for a theory of everything,
by Edgar Andrews, EP Books, 2009, 303pp.
Some Christian critiques of atheistic Darwinism resemble an unseemly scrap over some old dinosaur bones. The attitude is strident and ill tempered. Arguments in favour of the Christian position are often tired and unconvincing, amounting to little more than than variations on the theme of Paley's well-designed watch. But, to coin a phrase, here is something completely different. For starters, Andrews does not propose to argue from the presence of design in nature up to a some kind of a divine Designer. He begins with the hypothesis that the God of the Bible is the true and living God who made all things. From that starting point the genial professor attempts to show that reality is exactly as we should expect if his underlying assumption is true.
The book is full of detailed scientific discussion on the origin of the universe and Darwinian evolution. With his multidisciplinary expertise Andrews ranges over many different fields in his quest for a 'theory of everything' - an all encompassing description of the material universe that makes best sense of all the available data. He skilfully guides the reader through the complexities of the Big Bang account of the origin of time and space, Einstein's theory of general relativity, the laws of nature, quantum mechanics, string theory and much more. The writer subjects evolution by natural selection to critical scrutiny, demonstrating that random genetic mutations cannot account for the evolution of all living things from a single cell "jelly pod". Andrews concludes that no merely naturalistic 'theory of everything', not even one that reconciled general relativity with quantum mechanics could explain why an ordered universe exists in the first place. If all that sounds a bit highfalutin and technical for those (like me) with a non-scientific background, then be not afraid. Sooty is on hand to help, as are countless other handy metaphors from a breakfast of cereal, yoghurt and toast, to ferrets and steam engines.
Here is an example of Christian apologetics at its best; appealing, well argued and based on the the biblical presupposition, "In the beginning God" (Genesis 1:1). While the book was not written simply as a rejoinder to Richard Dawkins and his neo-Darwinian fellow travellers, Andrews ably shows that atheism is ill equipped to explain the origin of the universe and the development of life on earth. The author concludes by telling us the good news that our Maker is also the Redeemer of fallen human beings through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reading Who Made God? will strengthen Christians in their faith and better enable them to witness to their non-believing friends. Atheists who happen upon this book should be prepared to have their views challenged and undermined by the compelling force of professor Andrews' arguments.
Edgar Andrews interviewed at challies.com.
Order from PTS Christian Bookshop here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Holy Scripture as the living and active Word of God

Just finished witing a paper to be given at a Ministers' Fraternal later this month. Here are some words from the intro:

What I want and try and do in this paper is sketch out a theological account of Holy Scripture. What do I mean by that? My contention is that Evangelical treatments of the Bible sometimes fail to place Holy Scripture in its proper theological context. We focus on the production of the Bible in terms of its inspiration. We analyse some of the attributes of Scripture such as inerrancy or perspicuity. That’s all well and good. But in focusing so closely on individual aspects of Holy Scripture we can sometimes fail to see the big picture. We need to stand back and ask, the first order question, ‘What is the relationship between God, Holy Scripture and the Church?’

Should we see the Bible simply as a human book that speaks of the church's consciousness of the divine (the Liberal approach)? Or would it be better to regard Scripture as a God-given text that the church must seek to understand and obey as best it can (the Biblicist or Fundamentalist approach)? Both positions are obviously reductionistic. The first fails to take seriously Scripture's own claim that it is the living and enduring Word of God. The second recognises the divine origin of the Bible, but does not give sufficient attention to the place of Scripture in communicative action of the triune God.

How then may we understand Scripture in relation to God's self-revelatory presence and his saving purposes for the Church? That is the big question that we cannot afford to ignore as pastors and preachers. After all we are Ministers of God, Ministers of the Word and Ministers of the Church. In a sense all our work is concerned with triangulating the relationship between God, his Word and his people. If we should focus on God and Church to the detriment of the Word, the result will be mysticism or worldly pragmatism. Concentration on God and the Word to the exclusion of the Church forgets that the Word was given in order to found and build up the Church. If all our attention is on the Bible and the Church we have lost sight of the living and active God who has called the Church into existence by his Word.