Monday, 11 February 2008

Thoughts on Biblical Theology

It is pertinent to raise some questions about Biblical Theology. Is there good reason warranted for a special discipline termed Biblical Theology beyond Exegesis and Systematic Theology? Does Geerhardus Vos’ version provide such? Does the present abuse of that version undermine the witness of the infallible authority of Scripture? I answer the first two questions NO, and the third YES.

Question One. From the distinction of the decrees of God and their execution it follows; Systematics treats of the contents of the decree in a logical manner, Exegesis in an historical manner. There seems to be no need for an additional historical discipline. A modern assumption that Theology is chiefly, if not only, an historical study is alien to the view that Theology treats with the revelation of God. Many forms of Biblical Theology make this unsound assumption. The first cases of this special study of Biblical theology were the writings of unbelieving critics of the Bible and it is not surprising that Modernists and the proponents of Neo-Orthodoxy followed their example. Thus G.E. Wright’s definition of Biblical Theology “as the confessional recital, the acts of God in a particular history… fails to return to the analogy of Scripture.” G.E. Wright, God Who Acts; Biblical Theology as Recital (London S.C.M. Press, 1952), p. 156. cited by Edmund P. Clowney in his book Preaching and Biblical Theology, (Eerdmans, 1961) p.12.

Question Two. This denial of Revelation was not the presupposition of Vos’ Biblical Theology. Rather he defined the discipline in terms of Revelation in an orthodox sense. Considerations discrediting outright Modernist and Pseudo-Orthodox schemes do not apply to Vos’ version. But the basic issue remains, whether Exegesis and Systematics are sufficient without a further historical study added in between? In addition to this general question as to the necessity of a special discipline, a question may be raised about the possibility of a Biblical Theology as defined by Vos having as its subject matter the history of Revelation. Biblical Theology is defined by Vos as “that branch of Exegetical Theology that deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.” (p. 13). Biblical Theology, (Eerdmans, 1959). This is now to been seen as Edmund Clowney’s view of Biblical Theology as, “the fruit of exegesis, an essential step in the formulation of summary statements concerning the teaching of the Bible as a whole.” (p. 15) Preaching and Biblical Theology.

Some summary observations on this definition might be made. First, it is modestly defined as a branch of another, i.e. Exegetical Theology, which to be sure is broader than Exegesis proper, including Introduction and Canonics as well as Biblical Theology. Such modesty does not usually appear in the present day writers on Biblical Theology.

Second, the word “process” in the definition gives rise to a question. What is the nature of the process? The answer is not given, but rather raises further questions by the reference to “the organic nature of the historic process observable in revelation.” (p. 15) While Vos observes “the extent to which, at the present time, the treatment of Biblical Theology is influenced by the philosophy of evolution” (p. 19), it is far from clear that the same ‘organic’ process applied to the history of revelation has escaped this influence entirely. This ‘organic’ expression applied to Biblical Revelation appears to be influenced by the works of Abraham Kuyper, as he appears to inject an element of German Idealism into his defense of Scripture. [See more in my talk “The Influence of Philosophy on Abraham Kuyper’s Theology” in the Free Reformed Student Journal, Summer 1998.]

Third, the very enterprise of a history of revelation is questionable. Do the contents of the Bible warrant the belief in a history of God’s acts of revealing those contents? In the first place, it may be a dubious assumption that “the actual self-disclosing of God in time and space which lie back of even the first committal to writing of any Biblical document, and which for a long time continued to run alongside of the inscripturation of revealed material.” (p.13) Many revelations were made to our first parents, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit in writing Genesis. Countless cases of revelations made to the Patriarchs, Judges, Prophets, and Apostles have not been recorded. The recorded event need not necessarily be the first instance of a revelation. In the second place, the second observation above gives rise to the question of how Revelation is to be considered. Is it an ‘organic’ historical process or is it rather a series of acts terminating in the entire divinely holy inspired Scripture? Vos strikes me as betraying the influence of the historist and evolutionist mentality of the 20th century, despite his resolute effort to oppose these destructive forces. The ‘organic’ process view of Revelation fosters the illusion of a progress of the object of knowledge from age to age. The error of this wide spread belief is evident when one realizes that the Substitutionary Atonement is no less clearly revealed in Isaiah 53 than anywhere in the N.T. The measure of grasping the revelation enjoyed by the saints of the O.T. is not to be confused with the Revelation itself. This is evident in the case of Daniel 7:15, 29, 8:5, 21 and 12: 8, 9.

Vos evidently objects to the view that confines “revelation proper to the bare facts of self-disclosure performed by God.” (p. 21). His alternative view is clearly the ‘organic’ theory. The act view, I believe, was always accepted by the Reformed before Kuyper whose view of Inspiration influenced Vos. It need not have any connection with the liberal abuse of it to which Vos rightly objects, and Vos, like Kuyper, unquestionably and powerfully defends the Scripture against Modernism. Yet, they allowed the influence of current tendencies that have been accentuated by their followers, with fatal consequences. Fourth, Vos himself makes an explicit statement of objections to the name “Biblical Theology”: (a) “The name is too wide, for, aside from General Revelation, all Theology is supposed to rest on the Bible.” (b) The term might be understood to imply that Biblical Theology reproduces “the truth in its original Biblical form without subsequent transformation”. Vos states that it is not the case that Biblical Theology is superior in nature to Systematic Theology because it reproduces truth without transformation. Both Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology transform truth. “In the case of Biblical Theology this is historical, in the case of Systematic Theology it is of a logical nature.” There is no superiority in nature. (c) The suffix –al in “Biblical” creates confusion since the discipline is not a major division of Theology, but in reality a subordinate of Exegetical Theology. Unhappily Vos, after admitting all these valid objections, concludes, “It is difficult, however, to change a name which has the sanction of usage.” (p.23) Vos has followers, who, unlike their mentor, would regard Biblical Theology as a, if not the, main department of Theology rendering Systematic Theology outdated.

Fifth, Vos is far from suggesting that sort of thing. It is worth observing that the division of disciplines that makes Biblical Theology an intermediate stage between Exegesis and Dogmatics is not found in the definition of Biblical Theology or in Vos’ work as far as I know. In fact such an absurdity goes counter to his views. Exegesis is distinguished from Exegetical Theology, and Biblical Theology is defined as a branch of the latter, not the former. The practice of Systematics is direct appeal to Scripture, without any intermediate discipline.

Vos, writing on the relation of Biblical to Systematic Theology states, “In Biblical Theology this principle is one of historical, in Systematic Theology it is one of logical construction. Biblical Theology draws a line of development. Systematic draws a circle. Yet it should be remembered, that on the line of historical progress there is at several points already a beginning of correlation among elements of truth in which the beginnings of the systematizing process can be discerned.” (p. 25) It may appear that Vos was well aware of the factual data in the text of Scripture that raise serious questions about this “line of historical progress” and suggests the subordination of the historical element to the total revelation of the system of the whole counsel of God. It is worthy of mention that before teaching Biblical Theology at Princeton Geerhardus Vos taught Systematic Theology at Calvin and wrote on the subject in the Dutch language. “This work, a transcript of class lectures, first appeared in hand written form at Grand Rapids in 1896 and was followed by a typed edition in 1910” note 5, page x., Introduction to Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, edited by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Chapter one of his Biblical Theology would indicate that Vos’ outlook as to Systematic Theology remained constant, while his employment turned to the area of Biblical Theology. His disciples have distinguished themselves by their lack of interest in his earlier Systematic Theology, as is indicated by the failure to have it translated into English.

The failure to appreciate Vos’ high estimation of Systematic Theology gets no support from the passage quoted by Gaffin from Mr. Murray’s article. (op.cit. p.xxii) This strategy is plainly opposed to Vos’ views and also to Murray’s superb actual practice as a Systematic Theologian.

Question Three. The inroad on the once valiant contention for the faith once delivered, is most evident in the inaugural lecture of Peter Enns as Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary, in which emphasis on history is here carried to an extreme at the expense of the historic doctrine of the church, and especially of the Word, personal and written.

The Section II of the inaugural address, “How Things Have Changed”, is a rather blatant indication of the poisonous consequences of Biblical Theology based on an ‘organic’ theory of historical progress. Enns begins by observing that things have changed in biblical studies. First, “serious historical study of Scripture must continue in view of Semitic studies and the history of Israel”. Second, as a result Enns propounds what he supposes as progress, the chaotic numerical growth and weakening, if not giving up, of the Seminary’s distinctive witness for the Gospel. His account of the present state of affairs in the circle of Evangelical scholars and writers is probably correct, but his glorification of the deplorable defection is abominable.

The most frightening passage begins when Enns states, “In my view, what I consider one of the high-water marks of this progress in the Westminster tradition is the 1987 faculty monograph, Inerrancy and Hermeneutic.” The inference, whether or not validly drawn by Enns, is that Inerrancy is ultimately a hermeneutical issue. And inerrancy is a great tradition, but its older formulations are also under going legitimate challenges through the modern study of Scripture. The way through the challenge is by debate, and if you read some of the essays geared particularly to Biblical studies, that debate results in synthesis of old and new.” Peter Enns, Biblical Context in Westminster Theological Journal, Fall 2006, p 217.

Clearly, doubt is hereby cast on the inerrancy of Scripture, and the old Modernist dishonesty is employed in keeping ancient terms but giving them opposed meanings, now in the line of the current irrationalist trend in philosophical, post-modern hermeneutics. The entire Section IV culminating in a synthesis of old and new is a choice example of the way that a basically historical orientation to Theology works havoc with Systematic Theology and with the very foundations of the faith in the infallible and thereby inerrant Word of God.

Enns has not contented himself with casting doubts on the entire reliability of Holy Scripture. His departure from historic orthodoxy extends to the infallibility of the personal Word, the Incarnate Son of God. In his article “William Henry Green and the Authorship of the Pentateuch: Some Historical Considerations” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept. 2002) he opposes Green’s appeal to Christ’s authority and infallibility in support of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Against Green, Enns gives the counter argument “that we would fully expect Jesus, precisely because he is God incarnate to exhibit such marks of accommodation” (p. 401). Enns goes on to suggest that accommodation of the cultural errors of his time in history, would not deal such a critical blow to Christianity as Green suggests. The conclusion of the discussion of this point is that “Christians now no longer look upon Jesus’ first century contours as an embarrassment to be explained away, but as evidence of the lengths to which God will condescend to redeem his people.” (p.492) This piece of pious sophistry reinforces the above contention of the destructive influence of the exegetical “historical” approach on Theology. I am astonished at the lengths to which a Christian would go to question his Lord’s infallibility. I am astonished that an institution founded in order to counteract such deviations now teaches them, and that a nominally evangelical society publishes them!

Note: This idolizing of history confuses the history that took place with the history that men write. Enns magnifies transitory theories of the latter at the expense of the supernatural facts of the former which he dismisses as myths or cultural beliefs. It is indeed a paradox that ‘history’ is called for, and results in replacing history by myths in Revelation and faith. The history faithfully recorded in the infallible Word, set forth by sound exegesis, provides ample material for Systematic Theology.

©William Young 2007. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Thoughts on Romans VII

Since the time of Augustine, the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans has been a battleground in the conflict between the champions of Free Grace and the devotees of Free Will. The Greek Fathers generally interpreted the passage as depicting the experience of an unrenewed sinner under the law. Augustine was once of this opinion, but further study of Scripture and deeper experience led him to view verses 14-25 as describing the inner conflict between the flesh and the spirit in the regenerate man. At the time of the Reformation, the great heralds of the gospel of grace, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and Beza followed Augustine’s mature view, while Erasmus and Socinus revived the view of the Greek fathers and Pelagius. Arminianism began to be published when Arminius lectured on this subject, and his followers such as Grotius, Episcopius, and Limborch adopted the same Pelagian-ising views. Dr. Hodge observes:

As a general rule, Arminian writers have been found on one side of this question, and Calvinistic authors on the other. This is indeed the natural result of their different views of the Scriptural doctrine of the natural state of man. (Commentary on Romans, p. 240)

Among Calvinistic expositors mention may be made of John Brown of Wamphray, James Fraser of Allness, John Stafford and in more recent times, along with Hodge, Kohlbrügge, Chalmers, Haldane, Shedd, and Murray.

The Pietists, represented by Bengel, deviated from the orthodox Augustinian and Reformation exegesis. More recent versions of Pietism and Perfectionism have devised the mediating view that Romans 7:14-25 depicts the experience of an immature believer, a so-called ‘carnal Christian’, but not of the Apostle at the time he penned the epistle or of a mature Christian.

In support of the Augustinian and Reformation view that Paul is describing his present experience as representative of that of the regenerate, we may point out three things.

First, there is a change in tense in verse 14 from the past to the present. In verses 7-13, the work of the law in producing conviction of sin has been unfolded. We need not enter here on the question whether this is the experience of an unregenerate man under the law or of a regenerate man in the first awakening of spiritual life. In any case, it is an experience of which the Apostle could write in the past tense. From verse 14 to the close of the chapter, the present tense in uniformly employed. What reason can be given for this striking change of tense but that the present experience of a mature Christian is now in view?

Second, expressions are used in this passage which naturally belong on the lips of the spiritual man. ‘For I delight in the law of God after the inward man’ (verse 22) is not the voice of the unregenerate. Cf. Ps. 1:2, ‘his delight is in the law of the Lord, and Ps. 119:97 and passim. The inward man, the self that does not serve sin (verse 17) is the renewed man, as contrasted with the flesh, in which no good thing dwells (verse 18). The conflict described in the words of verse 19, ‘For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do’, is understood by Arminians to be the conflict in the unregenerate between reason and conscience on the one hand, and the inclinations and passions on the other. Commentators often quote Ovid, Metamorphoses, VII, 19:

My reason this, my passion that persuades,

I see the right, and I approve it too,

Condemn the wrong; and yet the wrong pursue.

The language of Romans 7:19 is only superficially similar to that of Ovid and other heathen writers. The Apostle does not speak of a conflict between reason and inclination, but between the will and performance. The unrenewed man, even if he knows what is right, finds evil to predominate over his better judgment. The renewed man, by grace, wills the good. This is the predominant disposition of the inward man. But his complaint is his inability to perform the good that he would as he would. The context, especially verses 18 and 21, makes this abundantly clear. To ascribe such a disposition toward what is spiritually good to the unregenerate is to deny the doctrine of total depravity.

Third, once the true nature of the conflict between the flesh and the spirit in the believer is understood (cf. Gal. 5:17), the expressions that have been alleged to require a reference to the unregenerate will be seen rather to portray precisely the experience of the exercised child of God. Many have found verse 14 to be a stumbling block. The powerful discourse of Dr. Kohlbrügge on this text led to a rupture between him and former friends in Holland, particularly the converted Jew and poet DaCosta, who regarded Kohlbrügge’s doctrine as antinomian.

How can a gracious soul be said to be ‘carnal, sold under sin’? It is a fact that in 1 Cor. 3:1-3 Christians who have been addressed as saints are called carnal. It is not said that they are in the flesh, as unregenerate are in Romans 8:8,9. The unrenewed part of the renewed man, indwelling sin, has the nature of the flesh. In the Corinthians it prevailed to the extent that the Apostle addresses them as carnal rather than spiritual. In the case of the Apostle himself, in the light of the law that is spiritual, he can and must acknowledge himself to be carnal.

‘Sold under sin’ need not cause special difficulty. The case of the Christian is to be contrasted with that of Ahab ‘which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord’ (1 Kings 20:25). The exceptionally aggravated wickedness of Ahab is described in these words. The case of Ahab is not the case of Romans 7:14. Even on the Perfectionist’s interpretation of the text, this can hardly be the case. An unregenerate man feeling pangs of conscience, or a weak believer, cannot be said to sell himself for sin as Ahab did. But a deeply taught Christian can mourn over being sold under sin against his will and his earnest desires for perfect conformity to that law which is holy, just and good. The captivity to the law of sin in the members (verse 23) is not to be confused with the voluntary slavery to sin of the unregenerate.

Enough may be seen from the above to make it clear that the cry ‘O wretched man that I am!’ in verse 24 is not a cry of despair. Nor is it an expression of ignorance. The Apostle knows well the Source of deliverance. ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (verse 25). It is the cry of the prophet Isaiah and of those who have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts (Isa. 6:5). It is the confession of Job and of all who have not merely heard with the hearing ear, but who are brought by an experimental knowledge of the majesty of God to repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5,6). With David, the Christian is brought to remembrance of what he is in himself:

Because gone up above mine head

my great transgressions be;

And as a weighty burden they

too heavy are for me. (Ps. 38:4)

Error in the understanding of the reference of Romans 7:14-25 ought not to be ignored or dismissed as a trifling or minor matter; for the effect of such error is the cultivation of a superficial religion. Those who confess the Scripture doctrine of free and sovereign grace cannot connive at Perfectionist pretences without both endangering the consistency of their doctrine and the soundness of their experience. In Reformed circles, vigilance is called for to guard against the intrusion of a pretentious piety that abounds in high assurance, frothy joy and premature victory, but knows nothing of the warfare against the flesh and the poor and contrite spirit, trembling at the Word of God. The godly man will follow the footsteps of the flock, and with Augustine of Hippo, Fraser of Allness, and Kohlbrügge of Elberfeld join with Job, David, Isaiah, and Paul in their consciousness of the vexation of indwelling sin, in the perseverance in the warfare against it, and in their dependence on the blood and Spirit of Christ for deliverance.

©2008 by William Young. This article first appeared in the Gospel Magazine, Nov-Dec. 1977, and is reproduced by permission. All rights not held by the publishers of the Gospel Magazine reserved by author.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Biographical Sketch of Dr. William Young

It is admittedly difficult to write a biographical sketch of a man whose life has spanned eight decades and who at the time of this writing continues to contribute to the Lord’s work in various ways. Added to this difficulty is the fact that the good man’s life has been very rich and it has had a very powerful influence on the lives of many who have come to know him. He has served faithfully in many spheres of life: university professor of philosophy, academic colleague, theologian, author, preacher, presbyter, pastor, travelling companion, and friend. A sketch like this can only touch upon some highlights. It not intended to mislead by omitting things, but rather to provide the reader with at least some information concerning the background and life of this faithful servant of the Most High.

William Young was born in Brooklyn, NY on May 9, 1918. At a very early age, he excelled in his studies. In 1934, at the age of 16, he entered Columbia University, NY, where he became a member of the League of Evangelical Students.

Graduating from Columbia in 1938 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in pre-theological studies strong in the classical languages of Latin and Greek, he went on to study at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. During those years Westminster was a stronghold of Reformed orthodoxy and the faculty included Cornelius Van Til, John Murray, E. J. Young, Ned Stonehouse, John Skilton, Paul Woolley and R.B. Kuiper. By 1941, he had earned both the Th.B and Th.M degrees; and upon graduation, Mr. Young continued his education by pursuing a Th.D degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He graduated in 1944 with a thesis entitled “Development of a Protestant Philosophy in Dutch Calvinistic Thought Since the Time of Abraham Kuyper”. This was published in the Netherlands under the title, Toward a Reformed Philosophy. (Franeker, T. Wever, 1952)

During his time at Union Seminary Mr. Young applied to enter the Christian ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). He was ordained and received into the New York / New England presbytery in 1944. From these early days in the OPC, Dr. Young established many life-long relationships with other reformed men in the ministry as well as with several congregations in the OPC and elsewhere. One such relationship began late in 1944, when at the request of Westminster Seminary professor, John Murray, Dr. Young began to preach regularly in an unaffiliated Presbyterian congregation in Toronto known as the Bloor Street congregation. (The church later moved to Victoria Park Avenue, also in Toronto.) He served there for 2 years from 1944-1946; and after returning to his family’s home, which was now in Queens, NY, for about a year, he accepted a teaching position at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Gordon H. Clark was the Chair of the Philosophy Department at the time and Dr. Young taught courses mainly in the history of ancient and Modern philosophy. His tenure at Butler was from 1947-1954. In 1951 he took a one year sabbatical leave in the Netherlands and collaborated with Dr. David H. Freeman in the translation of Volume I of Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophical work A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.

After leaving Butler in 1954, Dr. Young matriculated as a graduate student at Merton College, one of the oldest at the University of Oxford. He was awarded the B.Litt degree in 1960 and the M.Litt in 1980. Between his years at Oxford, Dr. Young returned to preaching and teaching. In 1955, he was back at Victoria Park where he filled the pulpit for another year. In 1957, Dr. Morton Smith recommended him for a teaching post to the President of Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi; and soon thereafter, he accepted a position there as Professor of Philosophy and Psychology. He stayed there for just one year before returning to Oxford. After another brief period of study there, and several preaching engagements at the Victoria Park congregation in Toronto, Dr. Young joined the faculty of the University of Rhode Island (URI) where he taught philosophy from 1960 until his retirement in 1988.

In those years the Philosophy Department at URI had a conservative Christian character. Besides a range of undergraduate philosophy courses, Dr. Young was able to offer courses in Biblical Thought, the History of Christian Thought, and the Philosophy of Religion. Later, when a Master’s program was introduced, his course load included Symbolic Logic, Philosophical Logic, Philosophy of Language, Studies in Patristic and Medieval Philosophy, and studies in modern philosophy from Hegel to the present. Courses in classical religious thinkers – including Augustine, Edwards, and Kierkergaard – were added later. Besides publishing a number of articles and reviews during this time, Dr Young also published Foundations of Theory (The Craig Press, 1967) and Hegels’s Dialectical Method, (The Craig Press, 1972). Dr Young spent 1966 in Finland studying modal logic and working at the Wittgenstein archive.

During his early years in Rhode Island, Dr. Young attended several reformed churches, including Grace OPC in Fall River, Massachusetts where Dr. David Freeman Sr. was the pastor. Following Dr. Freeman’s retirement from the pastorate several of the older folks at Grace OPC eventually left the congregation over worship concerns. They began holding meetings in Seekonk, Mass. and invited Dr. Freeman to conduct services for them in his home. After the Freemans moved away to retire in Florida, Dr. Young took over the services in 1972. The small group, which met regularly in a Ramada Inn, came to be known as the Presbyterian Reformed Fellowship of Seekonk, Mass. This small church proved to play a major part in Dr. Young’s life for many years to come.

In 1976 Dr. Young was received as a ministerial member of the presbytery of the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC). The PRC had been formed under the guiding hand of Professor John Murray in 1965; however, by 1976 the presbytery was reduced to just one congregation, in Chesley, Ontario with a remote preaching station in Lochalsh, Ontario. Nevertheless, Dr. Young joined the denomination as it remained faithful to its founding principles and reformed distinctives related to the simplicity and purity of the worship of God. In 1978, Dr. Young led the fellowship group in Seekonk into the PRC as a congregation and the presbytery appointed him to continue preaching there as stated supply. Following his retirement from URI, he was formally called by the congregation as pastor of the church. He has faithfully served in that capacity ever since. The group has long since moved from Seekonk and now meets in nearby East Greenwich, RI. It has adopted the name Presbyterian Reformed Church of Rhode Island.

Although presently slowed somewhat by age Dr. Young continues to serve as pastor and preaches occasionally. He has seen some of the fruit of his pastoral labours as by God’s grace the little church which he led into the PRC in 1978 has grown, in spirit and in number, especially in recent years. He serves the PRC on two important committees in the presbytery. Up until very recently, he continued to write articles and reviews for various philosophical and religious publications. Dr. Young resides in the southern RI area.

© 2008 by Vincent G. Gebhart. All rights reserved.