Doctrines on a Page

Let us never overlook the obvious. The Lord feeds His people. He does not call out a people from the world in order to let them starve. His grace is all-sufficient, and He loves to feed us in remarkable ways, and in remarkable places. The wilderness is no barrier for Him—water flows from the Rock, the Rock being Christ, and bread falls from heaven, the bread being Christ also.

How are His people supposed to take in this food? How do we swallow? How do we chew? The answer is that we appropriate this blessing by one means only. Faith—genuine, evangelical faith.

This is not a faith that merely conforms to a certain doctrine on a page. It is a faith that looks to Jesus Christ, the one in whom we meet with God. He is the one who has shown us the Father. He is the one who reveals what God is like. He is the one who sustains us with the example of His life. He is the one who includes us in Him, for He is the new Adam, and we are all His covenant descendents.

Now everything just said can be reduced to certain doctrines on a page. If you stare at those words, as though they were a mural, then the closer you get, the further away the blessing will be. But if these words of life are seen as a window, seen through as a window is seen through, you will come by faith and meet with your God. And He will bless you. Jesus rebuked certain Bible students of His day with these words—”You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life—and it is they that bear witness of me.”

How Water Means

We serve the living God, and we are to be characterized by that same life, the life which He has imparted to us. This is the basic division in Scripture—life and death. The division is not between those who know the passwords and those who do not. The division is not between those who go through the motions and those who do not.

Baptism is the sovereign declaration of life, but a long time ago the enemy of our souls taught us how to slander our baptisms by dallying with the ways of sin and death after having received our union with Christ in baptism. Paul is astonished at this inconsistency. How can we live in sin when we have been buried in the death of sin? We have been raised to newness of life, and so how can we live in death? Reckon yourselves dead to sin, therefore, Paul tells us.

His exhortation tells us two things. First, it tells us what baptism is; this is not the same thing as telling us what baptism ought to be. We do not control what baptism is by our sins, or our doctrines, or anything else. The second thing his words teach us is that it is possible for baptized Christians to live in a way that is inconsistent with what He has given to them and is teaching them. This inconsistency needs to be understood by us as the way of death. And this death always carries with it its own telltale marks on its forehead. In a religious setting like ours, the way of death is marked by peevishness, pettiness, scruples, hypocrisies, endless rules, squabbles, grievances, and the like. Those who live this way will not inherit the kingdom.

You are forgiven. Your sins are washed away. What does this mean? It means embracing that life by faith. And this means forgiving others.

Incarnation and Metaphor

“Indeed, the central and defining event in Christianity, the Incarnation of the invisible God in visible man was, like creation and all other metaphor, God’s act of making part of Himself available to the understanding of man . . . In Baxter’s prose, then, we find the theological rationale for the figures that constitute so much of Puritan religious poetry” (Daly, pp. 78-79).

The Hollow People

“Since style, surfaces, and group identity are so important in contemporary life, postmodern society is highly geared towards fashion. The postmodern social scene is preoccupied with what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out.’ Being on the cutting edge becomes an obsession. Fashion, of course, must be in a state of constant chance. Otherwise it cannot serve its function of sorting out the high-status trendsetters from those who are backward and déclassé. Whereas the classical era defined status by position (ruler, head of the family, office of the ministry), and the modern era defined status by achievement (property owner, self-made millionaire, star athlete), postmodern society defines status in terms of style (wearing the right clothes, striking the right attitude)” (Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times, p. 85).

Boast Not Against the Branches

“The church at Rome has many ancient glories, but what does it have the Jerusalem did not have? . . . Now in response to this, Rome would maintain that she is far more than just a particular church in a particular city, that she is not just a branch on the tree, but rather that she is the tree itself. This is internally consistent, but this is not what Paul tells them. These words from Romans 11 are not just being applied by me to the church at Rome, they were written by Paul to the church at Rome. Paul expressly warns the Gentiles at Rome (Rom. 1:7; 11:13) that their removal from the Catholic Church was a very real possibility. ‘Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee’ (v. 18). What we have here is a letter from Paul the apostle to the church at Rome, telling her that she is not the root, but simply another branch on the tree. He states further that if she becomes haughty and proud, she could be removed as completely as previous branches were removed . . . The issue is whether or not the apostle Paul warned Rome of what could happen to her status as an ancient church when she began to produce men who looked more like Caiphas than Peter. Do not be haughty, he said, but fear. ‘Fear what?’ the question comes back. The apostle told Rome to fear removal” (Mother Kirk, pp. 33-34).

The Sacred Lie

“Of all the revelatory details offered by the Book of Job, the most extraordinary remains the counterpoint of the two perspectives, made possible by the dialogue format; it resembles a theatrical production, the object of which is not catharsis but the disappearance of all catharsis . . . the author manipulates these correspondences too skillfully not to be aware of them. The difference in perspective on the same act of collective violence is the true subject of the Dialogues. The sacred lie of the friends is contrasted with the true realism of Job” (Girard, Job, p. 32).

Steve Wilkins and the PCA

Here is the ecclesiastical situation with Steve Wilkins as I currently understand it. As a result of the Auburn Avenue controversy, Lousiania Presbytery of the PCA was asked to look into Steve’s orthodoxy, which they did by means of a committee. And, given his orthodoxy, it is not surprising that they cleared him. But the controversy has continued apace anyhow, and the Standing Judicial Commission in the PCA was given authority in the matter. They have asked the Louisiana Presbytery to look into the matter again. The cynical among us might infer from this the upspoken expectation that “they might want to get the answer right this time.” If the results of the second exam are not satisfactory, my understanding is that the SJC can then assume original jurisdiction, and take matters from there. I am not familiar with the BCO in the PCA so I would invite anyone to please correct me if I have missed something important. Which several of you have done, and I have entered the corrections.

Now this second exam by the Louisiana Presbytery took place this last Saturday. Part of it included asking Steve to respond in writing to a number of questions presented to him. His written answers to those questions can be found HERE. You can see from reading through this material that the questions were not softball questions — they addressed all the substantive issues, and Steve answered them clearly, cogently, and well. I understand that in the near future an audio version of the oral exam will be available at this site also.

As I read through this material last night I was struck by a number of things. I would like to mention the bottom line first, but then go on to draw out what is really at stake for the PCA. Reading through Steve’s answers was a genuinely bracing experience. His answers were biblical, confessional, orthodox, clear, honest, historical, faithful, and right. I am very grateful to be a friend of his, and proud to be associated with him in this.

But a lot is at stake. The need of the hour is this. Every person who has been following this Federal Vision thing at all needs to make a point of following this particular segment of it, and really should read through these answers that Steve has given. Because of how everything has fallen out, it looks as though Steve gets to be the cause celebre of this whole thing, at least within the PCA. But this is what that means. When you look at the claims in the memorial against Steve from the Central Carolina Presbytery, and you look at Steve’s orthodox answers, there are only a few possible explanations for what could happen here. The first (and greatly to be desired) possibility is that honest and conscientious TRs will see that whatever differences they might have with Steve, they do not rise to the level of requiring any kind of censure or discipline. Steve is well within confessional bounds. I pray that this will happen with many honest TRs who love Christ and the Westminster Standards, and who do so in that order.

But what if strident opposition continues despite these answers? This creates several possibilities also. One of them, sadly, is that it might be driven by a high level of theological ignorance. Certain men are being asked to follow arguments that they are simply not equipped to follow. Another possibility is simply old-fashioned hostility and malice. The facts don’t matter to them, and they will do whatever they do to Steve simply because they think they can. And yet another possibility is that they have been persuaded somehow that because Steve’s answers are orthodox, they must be dishonest. And so they want to convict him for the heresy they know he must harbor somewhere deep in his heart.

So as I see it, the ideal situation would be for ten thousand Reformed believers to read through Steve’s answers now, and then turn and patiently wait for the SJC to make their determination. As I see it, given this clear confession of faith, any negative assessment of Steve is only possible if the judges are 1. clearly in over their heads 2. simply vindictive or 3. prepared to admit spectral evidence. If a conviction of heterodoxy happens through any combination of these three factors, I think it needs to happen in the bright light of day, with all sorts of checked out people looking at them as they do whatever they do. This must not be a back-room deal. It is an examination of a public minister’s public teaching. That teaching is out on the table. We can all read it. And we can witness for ourselves whether or not the SJC is reading the same things we are.

Deep Metaphor

“In focusing on the metaphorical nature of the physical world and the metaphorical language of the Bible, Taylor was moving toward an understanding of meditation as a literary, as well as a religious, exercise. And he knew it” (Daly, p. 73).