Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Song for Reformation Day

Click here for an epic song celebrating Luther posting the 95 theses

set to a tune from er...Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang!

Review Part 3: The Drama of Doctrine

Part 2 of Vanhoozer's work is taken up with a discussion of Scripture as the God-given theo-dramatic script that the church is to follow. He seeks to rehabilitate the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. "The church performs not its own words/script but the words of Word and Spirit." (p. 114.) But sola scriptura is more than just a doctrine of Scripture abstracted from the life of the church. "Sola scriptura is ultimately the name of a practice to be performed by the church in the power of the Spirit." (p. 115.)
The canon of Scripture is authoritative for the church because the canon is the covenant document that constitutes the church. Scripture reveals the history of God's covenant dealings with humanity from the Abrahamic to the new covenant. Christ is the focus of God's covenant acts, laws and promises. The covenant is administered today by the Holy Spirit's use of Scripture. From another perspective, the canon is the product of the prophetic office of Jesus Christ. He "is the content of the Scriptural witness, the one who interprets the Old Testament witness, and the one who commissions the New Testament witness. (p. 195.) The church is called to live out the teaching of Scripture because "the canon appears as a function of Jesus' lordship over the church." (p. 196.)
Vanhoozer has some very helpful things to say about the relationship between the church, Scripture and tradition. He insists that tradition is Biblical. The writer gives the example of Philip preaching the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Eunuch in accordance with the apostolic tradition and so brought him to faith and understanding. But not all traditions are necessarily Biblical. The canonical traditions and practices take precedence over all other forms of tradition. Tradition is helpful. The Rule of Faith formulated by the early church under the guidance of the Spirit enables us to understand the Biblical script accurately. The ancient creeds give us an example of 'Masterpiece Theatre' that the church today can learn from and follow.
Vanhoozer makes a distinction between what he calls "Performance I" and "Performance II" views of the relationship between church and canon. Those who espouse Performance II such as George Lindbeck in his The Nature of Doctrine locate doctrinal authority in the cultural-linguistic practices of the church. Postmodern theorists focus on the church's culture-bound, fluctuating understanding of Scripture rather than on the meaning of Scripture itself. In that case, the interpreting community of the church usurps God's authority as the author of the text of Scripture. The implications of this position are disastrous:"For Biblical studies it means that "How does the church use Scripture?" not "What does Scripture mean?" has become the operative question. (p. 169.)
Sola Scriptura insists that our authority lies not in the church as an interpretive community, but in God, the playwright of the drama of redemption and the author of the canon of Scripture. "The triune God stands behind the canon, ensuring the truth of its testimony, guaranteeing the fulfilment of its promise, in many and diverse ways, keeping his word." (p. 178). What matters primarily is what God does though the Biblical texts rather than what the church makes of those texts. Vanhoozer is an authentically Protestant theologian at this point. What he says regarding the authority of Scripture over and against exponents of "Performance II" updates the Reformer's critique of the Roman Catholic view of the relationship between church and tradition.
"Performance I" interpretation is all about the way in which the church follows the normative patterns of Scripture. This view recognises that the theo-drama is God's play and that the church is to perform the role the he has scripted for his people. The Spirit who inspired the canon also illuminates the church that she might understand and practice the Scriptures. Because the Spirit is at work in the church, her traditions have value and ministerial authority. Tradition serves the church by passing on the apostolic faith from generation to generation. "Performance I" is based on the Spirit's use of Scripture in the life of the church. This perspective reminds us that the Scripture is the script that the church has been called to perform. "To practice sola Scriptura means to participate in the canonical practices that form, inform and transform our speaking, thinking and living - practices that the Spirit uses to conform us to the image of God in Christ". (p. 237.)
Vanhoozer's view of Scripture in the context of the theo-drama is refreshing. He interacts sensitively with the postmodern context and challenges the evangelical churches not just to confess the doctrine of Scripture, but to follow the scripted and spirited practices of the Bible. He recognises the role of the human authors of Scripture without downplaying "the Spirit's prompting the human authors to say just what the divine playwright intended (p. 227.) He does not describe the Bible as inerrant, but there is nothing in The Drama of Doctrine that suggests at least to me, that Vanhoozer has revised his stance on this matter, see here .
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.

Monday, October 30, 2006

New Format

I've changed the look of my blog. The new Blogger in Beta makes it really easy to add links and other stuff without fussing around with with HTML. It's quite cool in a geeky sort of way.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Graham Harrison on "Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1966 & Today"

Our Chapel Hall was packed on Monday evening as people gathered to hear Graham Harrison reflect on Lloyd-Jones' address Evangelical Unity: An Appeal (see here ).
The message that Lloyd-Jones gave in October 1966 under the auspices of the Evangelical Alliance was a watershed moment for evangelicalism in the UK. Much controversy still surrounds what was said and done 40 years ago. This month's The Banner of Truth magazine is almost wholly given over to an article by Iain Murray entitled Dr Lloyd-Jones: A Review of Criticism. Harrison was able to draw upon this article to illustrate the highly critical attitude of some toward Lloyd-Jones' message in 1966. For example, John Brencher dismissed Lloyd-Jones' appeal as 'sectarian' and alleged that he 'divided those whom God had united on the basis of Scripture and who had a common purpose and trust.' Dr Gaius Davies is critical of Lloyd-Jones' 'very scurvy treatment' of Dr Jim Packer in the wake of the events of 1966.
Part of the problem in assessing exactly what Lloyd-Jones meant is that his address was not published until 1989 in Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth Trust). Contemporary press reports gave the impression that Lloyd-Jones had demanded that evangelicals in the 'mixed denominations' should leave their churches immediately and join a new evangelical super-denomination. But this is a distortion of Lloyd-Jones address.
Some have suggested that Lloyd-Jones hijacked the Evangelical Alliance event by delivering an altogether unexpected message. But this is not the case. The convening committee had been made aware of Lloyd-Jones' views in private meetings. They had asked him to share his views with the conference.
Graham Harrison drew our attention to the substance of Lloyd-Jones message. The preacher had three basic concerns. 1) The historical situation that faced evangelicals in the 1960's. Since the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948, the ecumenical movement had been gaining ground. It was hoped that all the different denominations would be subsumed into one church with the pope as its figurehead. How were evangelicals to respond to this? 2) The doctrine of the church. For too long, evangelicals had sidelined discussion of this vital New Testament doctrine. They were content to remain in their historic denominations and to have fellowship with other evangelicals only through movements and para-church organisations. Was it right that evangelicals should put allegiance to theologically compromised denominations before church-level fellowship with other evangelicals? 3) The gospel: How could evangelicals go on being identified with men who did not believe the essentials of the faith? There were men in the mainline denominations who denied the New testament teaching on resurrection of Christ and his atoning death. Some even dismissed the Biblical doctrine of God in favour of an impersonal 'ground of all being'. To divide from such false teaching is not schism because schism is division between evangelicals over matters not essential to the gospel. The integrity of gospel witness was being compromised by evangelicals not standing apart from serious false teaching in their denominations. In the light of these facts, Lloyd-Jones urged evangelicals to come together and stand unitedly for the gospel on a church level.
John Stott, the meeting's chairman was alarmed by all this. He envisaged evangelical Anglican clergy leaving the Church of England en mass. Stott used his position to publicly contradict what the preacher's message, 'I believe history is against what Dr Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it. I hope no one will act precipitately.' But Lloyd-Jones did not want evangelicals to leave their denominations overnight. Ministers had to help their people to see the issues with patience and grace rather than leave their churches on impulse. His plan was not for a new evangelical super-denomination, but for a loose affiliation of evangelical churches under the umbrella of the old British Evangelical Council.
Harrison refuted suggestions that Lloyd-Jones' policy was motivated by a Welsh Nonconformist prejudice against Anglicanism. He pointed out that "the Doctor" was hardly a tongue-tied Welsh backwoodsman, uncomfortable in English society. In fact he spent much of his life as an 'exile' east of Offa's Dyke. Lloyd-Jones happily co-operated with evangelical Anglicans prior to 1966. Even after that fateful year, he remained on good terms with evangelical Anglican men.
But tensions between Lloyd-Jones and evangelical Anglicans were exacerbated by the Keele Conference in 1967. At that Conference, the evangelicals repudiated their former exclusive stance and opted for further involvement in the denomination. It was accepted that all who were involved in ecumenical dialogue had the right to be treated as Christians whatever their doctrinal standpoint. The keynote conference address was given by the Liberal and Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Ramsay. Evangelicals now wished to be recognised as a 'wing' within the Anglican Communion rather than the true upholders of the gospel embodied in the 39 Articles.(See here for more details.) It was this kind of thinking, which was in development in the years prior to 1966 that Lloyd-Jones was seeking to challenge. L
What of his 'scurvy' treatment of Jim Packer? The two men had worked closely in the Puritan Conference. But in 1970 the Conference was wound up and reconstituted as the Westminster Conference without the involvement of Packer. The reason for this was that Packer, together with another evangelical, had co-authored a book entitled Growing into Union with two Anglo-Catholics. The authors agreed that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics belonged together in the Church of England and appeared to endorse baptismal regeneration. It was Packer's emerging ecumenical tendencies that precipitated the breech between the two men.
Graham Harrison concluded by suggesting that Lloyd-Jones had spoken with prophetic insight back in 1966. The failure of evangelicals to stand together in church-based fellowship aside from the mixed denominations has been disastrous. Evangelicalism in the UK has weakened both doctrinally and spiritually. The inability of the Evangelical Alliance to deal adequately with Steve Chalke's repudiation of penal substitution was given as a case in point. The older, critical attitude to Roman Catholic teaching has been replaced by a new openness to ecumenical relations between evangelicals and Catholics. Evangelicalism's faithfulness to the gospel itself is at stake. The message of 1966 for today is that our churches need to stand together for a robust Biblical gospel. But beyond that, we need a mighty outpouring of the Spirit in revival to breathe new life and power into contemporary evangelicalsim.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Blogger in Beta

Today I made the change to Blogger in Beta (see here). The only noticeable change so far is the nice little "label" feature that enables you to categorise your posts. There may be some more goodies in store, but that's it for now.
I'm just glad to have my PC back in working order after more than a week of nasty hard drive grief. PC World "We're with you every step of the way!" weren't exactly helpful. Unless being kept on hold for long periods on an 0870 number without actually getting to speak to anyone is helpful. A local chap sorted the problem out and managed to recover most of my data.

Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity

I'm reading Robert Leatham's The Holy Trinity (P&R 2004) at the moment. This passage from one of the great Cappadocian theologians "vastly delighted" John Calvin:
Besides all this and before all, keep I pray you the good deposit, by which I live and work, and which I desire to have as the companion of my departure; with which I endure all that is so distressful, and despise all delights; the confession of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. This I commit unto you to-day; with this I will baptize you and make you grow. This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the One Godhead and Power, found in the Three in Unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of Three Infinite Ones, Each God when considered in Himself; as the Father so the Son, as the Son so the Holy Ghost; the Three One God when contemplated together; Each God because Consubstantial; One God because of the Monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.
From Gregory of Nazianzus' (ca. 330-391) Orations 40.41

Friday, October 13, 2006

Review Part 2: The Drama of Doctrine

Vanhoozer divides his book into three main parts: Part One: The Drama, Part Two: The Script and Part Three: The Dramaturge. I hope to reflect on each part in turn in a series of posts and then finish with a concluding review post.

Part One: The Drama:

In this section, Vanhoozer develops his controlling idea that doctrine is best viewed as theo-drama. He quotes Dorothy Sayers to the effect that the gospel is “the greatest drama ever staged…a terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero.” (p. 39). Theology must be faithful to the good news of the gospel that proclaims what God has done on the stage of world history. There is more to theology than restating underlying Biblical propositions. This does not mean that propositions are unimportant. The gospel is premised on propositions such as “Jesus is risen”. But Biblical propositions must not be dedramatised, abstracted from the theo-drama and forced to fit into an “epic” system. The danger of such an approach is that theology is distanced both from God’s communicative acts in Scripture and the life of the Church.

A vital task for theology is to identify the dramatis personae of the theo-drama. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. The theo-drama of salvation from sin is only effective if God is truly revealed in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be unorthodox at this point is to be cut off from saving participation in the drama of redemption.

Theology deals with the entrances and exits of this Triune God. The climatic entrance of God is the incarnation of Jesus Christ as “God with us”. Christ has exited our world via his atoning death, resurrection and ascension.

Evangelical theology deals not with disparate bits of ideas and information but with divine doings – with the all embracing cosmic drama that displays the entrances and exoduses of God”. (p. 39).

The supreme authority for theology is God’s communicative action in Scripture. The Bible does not simply describe the theo-drama. God uses Scripture to enable his people to participate fittingly in the drama. Vanhoozer draws on speech act theory at this point. The Bible contains more than “just words” because words are speech acts – they do something. In Scripture we have God’s illocutions – what God does with his words. For example, he makes promises and reveals his purposes. But God also ensures that his word has a perlocutionary is effect. By the Spirit, God’s word is believed, understood, received and obeyed.

The people of God have been swept up into the theo-drama by the communicative acts of the Triune God. We have our roles to play in the great drama of redemption. The purpose of doctrine is to direct us to perform our Biblically scripted roles faithfully in the present day. Doctrine must always be related to the mission of the church, especially the tasks of evangelising the world and building up the people of God. “The mission of the church, and therefore of theology, is to participate in and continue the joint mission of Word and Spirit.” (p. 71).
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New Blogger (in Beta)

Have you moved your blog to the New Blogger in Beta format? Eventually we will all have to see here . Is the New Blogger better than the old and did you experience any problems when you switched versions?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Review Part 1: The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer

The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005, 488pp, Westminster John Knox Press

This book is an attempt to view Christian doctrine as “theo-drama”. The focus of the theo-drama is the communicative saving acts of the Triune God. Vanhoozer writes, “the gospel – God’s gracious self revelation in Jesus Christ - is intrinsically dramatic. Why is it then, that Christian doctrine so often appears strikingly dull by way of contrast?” (p. xi. ) In our postmodern age where “feeling is believing”, doctrine is dismissed as divisive and irrelevant. Part of the problem is that theology often seems to be remote from the Christian life. Vanhoozer proposes to bridge the gap between doctrine and practice by insisting that the purpose of theology is to help believers to participate fittingly in the theo-drama. Developing the metaphor of drama, Vanhoozer proposes that we view Scripture as the script of the play, theological understanding as performance, the church as the company of players and the pastor as director.

Thinking of doctrine in dramatic rather than theoretical terms provides a wonderfully engaging and in integrative model for understanding what it means to follow – with all our mind, heart, soul and strength – the way, truth and life embodied and enacted in Jesus Christ.” (p. 16.)

Throughout the book, Vanhoozer draws on drama theory in order to set the whole field of Christian doctrine in a dramatic context. This can be helpful and illuminating. But sometimes, too much space is given to the details of drama theory to the detriment of Biblical exposition.

Vanhoozer writes from the standpoint of Reformed Theology, but he is not afraid to question the methodology of 19th Century Reformed Theologians such as Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield. (See here & here). His canonical linguistic approach to Christian Theology seeks to address postmodern concerns without surrendering the authority of Scripture as the divinely authorised script that the Church is to follow.

See here to "Experience the Drama" of Vanhoozer being interviewed on his book.

Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for rest of review posts.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Martyn Lloyd-Jones "1966 & Today"

Local readers may be interested in this event:

The Protestant Truth Society
Penknap Providence Church,
Tower Hill, Dilton Marsh.
Westbury, Wiltshire

Monday October 23rd 7.30pm

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
“1966 & Today”

In October 1966 “The Doctor” gave his historic address, Evangelical Unity: An Appeal. This was a watershed moment for Evangelicals in the UK. Forty years on, we consider the challenge of Lloyd-Jones’ message and what it means for us today.
“We are interested in truth and in the living God”
(D. M. Lloyd-Jones, October 1966)

Speaker: Rev. Graham Harrison (Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport)

For details & directions see website: