Monday, February 07, 2011

To Affinity and back

Greg Beale, Stephen Clark, Carl Trueman, Peter Milsom
The Affinity Theological Studies Conference does exactly what it says on the tin. It is given to theological study and it is a proper confer-ence. Papers are circulated beforehand for attendees to study. At the event the papers are introduced by their authors prior to small group and plenary discussion sessions. The theme this year was,  "The Truth Will Set You Free: The Doctrine and Function of Scripture in the 21st Century."

Ever since the Garden of Eden, one of the devil's master strategies has been to cast doubt on the word of God. Once we begin to wonder, "Has God said?", we are on the high road to ruin.  This has especially been borne out during the last 150 years or so, where the doctrine of Scripture has been a storm centre of controversy. There is no sign of the storm dying out, with various cross winds threatening to blow the church off course.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that Princeton theologians A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield had offered the definitive defence of the Bible as God's inspired and inerrant Word in their various writings on the subject, most notably their jointly-authored article Inspiration, published in The Presbyterian Review 6 (April 1881). But things ain't that simple. It is often claimed, even by some in the Evangelical camp that the Princeton view of the Bible was based on wrongheaded Enlightenment assumptions. Furthermore, it is argued  that the teaching set forth by Hodge and Warfield was out of kilter with the way the church had regarded the Scriptures over the centuries. Carl Trueman attempted to respond to these points in his paper, Is the Princeton View of Scripture an Enlightenment Innovation? Looking at the issue from a strictly historical point of view, Trueman set out the essential elements of the Princeton position on the Bible and demonstrated that there were precedents for this view in the history of the church, most notably in the writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, the Reformers and Reformed Orthodox scholars. He concluded his survey,

As a result, if the Princetonians are to be seen as innovators, it cannot be in terms of their articulation of the concept of inerrant autographs or in their concern for verbal inspiration and the connection of this to notions of truth. On these points, they stand within an established tradition of Christian discourse which goes back beyond the Reformation to the early church.
Next up for consideration was Peter Naylor's paper on Lost in the Old Testament? Literary Genres and Evangelical Hermeneutics. Naylor's brief was to respond to some of the challenges to the traditional Evangelical doctrine of Scripture from the world of Biblical Studies. He gave special attention to the issue of identifying literary genres found in the Bible. Should we regard Genesis 1-3 as mythological depiction of creation? Is the Book of Jonah to be read as historical narrative, or is it in fact an extended parable? Is Peter Enns right to say that the discovery of Ancient Near Eastern texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which often depict events found on the Bible, compromise the uniqueness of Scripture? Naylor argued that both Genesis 1-3 and Jonah should be read as historical narrative and gave some clear criterion for identifying biblical literary genres. Believing in the supernatural God of the Bible we should have no problem in regarding portions of Scripture that depict the miraculous as historical. While the Old Testament might overlap with Ancient Near Eastern documents, the differences between these texts and the Bible are highly signifigant. The Bible is monotheistic rather than polytheistic. There is no notion of creation ex nihilio in Babylonian literature and no account of the fall of man into sin. Naylor warned against Evangelicals embracing a demythologizing approach to the Bible,
The assured results of liberal criticism have been empty pews, closed churches, loss of confidence, inability to stand against the tide of moral corruption that has been sweeping aside all the waymarks that once guarded the British people.
Peter Enns was under fire once more in Greg Beale's paper on The Right Doctrine, Wrong Texts: Can We Follow the Apostles’ Doctrine But Not Their Hermeneutics? Enns has argued that the apostles employed a typical Jewish non-contexual approach to Old Testament exegesis. In effect they obtained the right doctrine concerning Christ from the wrong Old Testament  texts. Beale set out to challenge this view. He reflected on the relationship between ancient Jewish and apostolic exegesis and set out five presuppositions of the apostle's exegetical method,
1. the assumption of corporate solidarity or representation ;
2. that Christ is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and true Israel, the church, in the NT;
3. that History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the latter parts (cf. Matt. 11:13f);
4. that the age of eschatological fulfilment has come in Christ;
5. as a consequence of (4), it may be deduced that the latter parts of biblical history function as the broader context to interpret earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors, and one deduction from this premise is that Christ as the centre of history is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises .
The paper then considered a case study, the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15. By giving careful attention to Hosea, Beale showed that the prophet himself held the expectation of  a new, eschatological exodus, inaugurated by Israel's lion king (Hosea 11:10-11 cf. Numbers 23:24 & 24:9). Matthew was not being non-contextual in saying that this event was fulfilled in Christ. Beale assured us that "there is good reason and evidence that supports the notion that Jesus and the Apostles did interpret the Old Testament in line with the originally intended meaning of the Old Testament writers themselves."

Papers were followed my stimulating times of small group and plenary discussion. Watch this space for more reports.


Jonathan Hunt said...

Has this conference been more useful than the last one? (reports seemed to make the debate sound rather fruitless and polarised)

Exiled Preacher said...

I didn't attend the last one so I couldn't honestly say. The discussions this year were helpful. As you might expect, there was more unanimity on the inspiration and authority of the Bible than on the role of the law, which they looked at last time.