Monday, 30 November 2009

Returning to the Real World

I am now back in the real world (at least, my real world) after two weeks elsewhere. As indicated in the previous blog, I was in New Orleans where I attended three annual gatherings: the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society for Biblical Literature.

At ETS, I heard several lectures, although the one I enjoyed most was the annual Society lecture given this year by Bruce Ware who spoke about the role of the Holy Spirit in connection to the humanity of Jesus, with a special focus on how the Spirit helped the Saviour in resisting temptation to sin. What made his lecture appealing to me was not only its focus on Christology; in addition the speaker used terminology that was understandable and his words also contained a warm devotional aspect. I have never understood why I sit through many addresses I cannot follow and then applaud the speaker at the end. But this was a lecture I understood and appreciated, and I am still thinking about what I heard.

At IBR, I listened to a lecture by Tremper Longman III on the role of commentaries on books of the Bible. His lecture was lucid and gave helpful advice on writing such works, and given that he is the editor of two series as well as the author of several commentaries his assessment on that level is very useful. Nevertheless, he did not really deal with an important detail, which is, Why should readers trust the authors of commentaries? Indeed a comment was made (I can't now recall by who) that scholars should be allowed to study the Bible without having to take confessional statements into the reckoning. But it is commitment to confessional statements by biblical scholars that maintains confidence in them by readers. When authors of commentaries contradict doctrinal statements, especially doctrinal statements they have promised to uphold, readers lose confidence in their writings.

During SBL, I heard a lecture by Tom Wright that was sponsored by IVP in connection to his new book on the doctrine of justification that he wrote in response to John Piper's criticism of his view of justification. As on previous occasions when I have heard him, Wright was charming (why do I think of sitting beside a warm fire with a cup of Horlicks each time I listen to him?), scholarly (quoting passages of the Greek New Testament with ease, naming scholars from here and there as they come to mind) and elusive (after hearing him several times, I still don't know what he believes about justification). Of course, I realise I could be confusing elusiveness with my stupidity, which is why I went the next day and bought his book, hoping that it would at last let me know what he believes about this crucial doctrine. I'll let you know if it does.

Yet a week later, I have returned to what I think is the real world. The return was helped by my flight home, but the means of entry back into the real world was not because the plane descended from the sky down to Heathrow airport. Instead, during the flight I read Douglas Sweeney's short assessment of the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards called Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word. Here was a book written about a scholar whose abilities far transcend any that I have heard in my lifetime, who devoted himself to serving God by ministering to his people and building them up in their faith as well as endeavouring to win those yet outside the kingdom. I will give my thoughts on this book in a subsequent blog. For the present, I am thankful that it brought me down to earth.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Across the ocean

In recent days I have tasted a little bit of American church life. My first weekend was spent in Detroit where I gave three addresses connected to Calvin (his views on the Lord's Supper, the doctrine of adoption, and the call of Abraham). The congregation belongs to the Free Church of Scotland and it values its connection to the spiritual heritage of the Reformation as it flowed to them through the stream of Scottish Presbyterianism. Needless to say, my wife and I felt very much at home in this congregation.

My next weekend was spent in Columbus, Mississippi, where my wife and I stayed at the home of David and Sheena Strain. David, who is now minister of Main Street Presbyterian Church there, was a fellow student with me and we stayed next door to them during our time at the Free Church of Scotland College. We had the privilege and pleasure of listening to David preaching twice on the Lord's Day, first from Romans 2 in the morning and then from Ruth 3 in the evening. His congregation welcomed us warmly and we were grateful to spend the Sabbath with them. I would urge you to listen to or read David's sermons here.

We are now in New Orleans where I am attending the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting. I have met many friends whom I only see at this gathering and it is encouraging to discover how the Lord is enabling them to serve him in various theological institutions and missions. Yet this gathering is very diverse as can be seen from the various speakers and the wide range of topics published by Christian publishers. What struck me today as I listened to various speakers and noted some titles on display is how far evangelicalism is from the heritage of the Reformation. Of course, many would claim that evangelicalism has always had a very loose connection to Calvinism.

The distance is clearly seen in much contemporary Christian literature: such as in attitudes to the Bible (questions are raised in books regarding its inerrancy), in understanding of the worship of God (where it is assumed that he will accept all that is offered as long as it is wholehearted), in declaring his Word (preaching needs communication techniques, which is not very far from communication tricks) and so on.

Nevertheless I am enjoying my time in America.