Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Discendi Studio - a conference for theological scholarship


It's a strange day when PTC hosts a conference with a Latin title, but we think it makes sense! Discendi studio means 'zeal to learn' and it comes from a couplet at the end of the “Dedication to the Reader” in 1559 Edition of Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion (see more details below).

In April the three colleges of the PCA are going to hold a conference in which we share our work in scholarship in the varying theological fields. It should be a good chance to hear  what staff and students are thinking about and researching as well as a time to build some bridges between Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. The conference will be at PTC in Sydney April 7-9, 2009. If it is successful there may be further conferences in the other cities.

There will be lots of Calvin conferences next year with the 500th anniversary of his birth, but this one will be a bit different, because it won't so much be about Calvin as it will be trying to continue his heritage of scholarship devoted to God and ruled by his word.

Anyone is welcome to attend the conference and to propose a paper for the plenary sessions or the interest sections. You don't have to be at one of the colleges or in the PCA. You can download the full details and registration from the download section of our website

The title comes from the couplet: Quos animus fuerat tenui excusare libello; Discendi studio magnum fecere volumen. Battles translates this as “ ’Tis those whose cause my former booklet pled, Whose zeal to learn has wrought this tome instead”. Calvin acknowledges that it has been the enthusiasm of his readers to learn from him that stimulated his writing, so that the Institutes grew to be a remarkable work of theology. We hope to continue the same zeal, stimulated by Calvin’s writings.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Preaching and Spiritual formation

Craig Larsen has a great article on the Christianity Today site about preaching.  He points out that a lot of literature on spiritual formation has little place for preaching, but that preaching is, in fact one of God's given "means of grace". (I don't think he uses the term but that is what he is talking about.) That is a good point, but what makes the article even better  is that he describes how good preaching (note the adjective) should be effective in spiritual formation. It is a great list. I think my favourite item is number 4. "As our church communities listen to good preaching, it brings us into the place of corporate — rather than just individual — obedience." Have a look at the list and tell us what you think.

I also like the final point he makes - that we should therefore teach people how to listen to sermons for the sake of spiritual formation.

The other area the article could lead us to think about is if we will preach differently if we see what we are doing as the key to the spiritual formation of the church.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

WCF Chapter 2.1-2 flow chart

Here are section 1&2 of the Chapter 2 of the WCF laid out to show their flow. Compare this with the 39 Articles and the Irish Articles which were the direct historical precursors of the WCF. Both simply say "There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible". The WCF is so much fuller and deals with God's ongoing relation to the creation.

1 There is but one only living and true God,

            who is infinite in being and perfection,

            a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions,

            most holy,

            most free,

            most absolute,

            working all things

                        according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will,            

                                    for his own glory;

            most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering,

            abundant in goodness and truth,

            forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin;

            the rewarder of them that diligently seek him ;

            and withal most just and terrible in his judgements hating all sin ,

                         and who will by no means clear the guilty.

 

2   God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself;

            and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient,

                        not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made,

                        not deriving any glory from them,

                                    but only manifesting his own glory, in, by, unto and upon them:

            he is the alone fountain of all being,

                        of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things;

            and hath most sovereign dominion over them,

                        to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever he pleases.

            In his sight all things are open and manifest;

            his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature,

                         so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.

            He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works and all his commands.

            To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature,

                         whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, he is pleased to require of them.

Blogging the Confession 7 - God: absolute and transcendent

The WCF begins with Scripture, but the following chapter moves to focus on God. God is by far the most important theme of the confession. Have a look at how many of the following chapters start with a statement about what God has done, sometime expressed in terms of the work of Christ. Even when God is not mentioned directly at the start of a chapter it does not take much reflection to see that an view of his purposes shapes every chapter of the confession.

Aquinas spoke of theology treating all things "sub ratione Dei" (in relation to God). He taught that theology is a unified science because it “does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end” (
ST  I.1.3. ad1). (The graphic is from a 15th C edition of Aquinas' Summa). The WCF seeks to do the same thing.
So it is no surprise that chapter 2, offers a very full and impressive doctrine of God, albeit stated tersely. It is a statement of the indisputable majesty and greatness of the only God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is left to section 3. If I was given the chance to rewrite the confession I’d probably put the Trinity at the beginning of the chapter and let it shape the rest. That might have avoided some of the ways people read the chapter. I’ll look at the Trinitarian doctrine in the next post.

The best way to get an idea of the Chapter, specially the first two sections, is to write it out in a flow diagram. I’ll put my version in a later blog.

 Section 1 begins by affirming the unity and transcendence of God (one only living and true God … most absolute). The Reformed tradition along with all orthodox theology has always made it clear that there is a great ontological distinction between God and creation. More than some traditions the Reformed were ready to focus on this and to spell it out in biblical terms.

 It then deals with God’s character as he deals with his creation (working all things … will by no means clear the guilty). He freely and personally enters into a relationship with all he creatures, and specially all his human creature. Chapter 7 will fill this out in terms of relations which come from creation and from covenant.

 Chapter 2 again to stresses God’s self-sufficiency, and sets his relationship with his creatures in the context of this: he is glorified by them but does not need this, he is  sovereign over them, and knows all fully and necessarily. It conclude with the proper response of humans to God, which is grounded in God’s will (cf 7.1 and 21.1).

 The expression that God does not have “passions” is often taken to mean that God is apathetic or without anything like human feelings. However John Murray explains that the phrase refers either to “sufferings or to violent motions in the sense of bad temper” or to “passive qualities or properties applicable to a physical object “ (J. Murray, “The theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith” Scripture and Confession  P&R, 132). This squares with the Confession also saying that God is “loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering”. These terms have to be understood analogically when applied to God, but the scriptural precedents exclude a claim that the analogy removes anything like human affections from God.

 There is little expression here of God’s immanence, though the phrase “of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things” would include the thought that “in him we live and move and have our being”. It is perhaps here that a Trinitarian statement would add to the treatment, since it is only that doctrine which allows us to affirm that God is truly transcendent and absolute and yet also present to and involved with his creation. Related to this concern is the observation that the confession has little to say at this point about God’s love for all his creation. Again I agree that more could be said. However I’d still defend the confession’s emphasis on God’s majesty over against creation. How strong this emphasis should be leads us into a discussion about Classical Theism (a discussion I am not going to go into here!).

Blogging the Confession 6 - no rival authority

The first chapter of the WCF finishes by clarifying the scope of the Bible’s authority. The implication has been clear through the chapter that the Bible has no rival for authority. That implication is spelt out and the confession asserts that all other teaching is to be tested by the teaching of the Bible, whether it comes from councils (such as the Westminster Assembly itself) or the Church Fathers, or the medieval theologians, or any human source, or from claims to have a private spiritual revelation.

This statement wraps up the exposition of the scripture principle nicely.

Ambrose, Gregory, Jerome and Augustine in the window of Cologne Cathedral (1848).

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Good and necessary consequences

George Gillespe (1613-48) was a leading Scottish member of the Westminster Assembly. He explained his view of good and necessary circumstances and how we should use reason in understanding the Bible.
"That necessary consequences from the written Word of God do sufficiently and strongly prove the consequences or conclusion, if theoretical, to be a certain divine truth which ought to be believed, and, if practical, to be a necessary duty which we are obliged unto, jure divino. This assertion must be neither so far enlarged as to comprehend the erroneous reasonings and consequences from Scripture which this or that man, or this or that church, apprehend and believe to be strong and necessary consequences … neither yet must it be so far contracted and straitened as the Arminians would have it, who admit no proofs from Scripture, but whether plain explicit texts, such consequences are nulli non obviae … the meaning of the assertion is not that human reason, drawing a consequence from Scripture, can be a ground of our belief or conscience … the consequence itself, is not believed or embraced by the strength of reason, but because it is the truth and will of God … ” George Gillespie Treatise of Miscellany Questions quoted in Leith, Assembly at Westminster John Knox, 1973, 82.
For an interesting article about Gillespe and others see
John Fesko "The Puritan Theological Method".

Blogging the Confession 5 - hermeneutics

I’ve been looking forward to working on this installment of the WCF, since it is a chance to look at the principles of the Biblical hermeneutics in the confession.

The rest of the sections of this chapter deal with how we should read God authoritative and sufficient word. The most important theological assertion about hermeneutics is that the “inward illumination of the Spirit of God” is necessary for the saving understanding of Scripture (Section 5). The purpose of the Bible is to bring salvation (not simply to bring conversion but to lead the church in its pilgrimage) and it does this when the Spirit brings saving understanding. This is not a negative statement which portrays the Bible as an obscure book which can only be decoded by the enlightened few. Rather it is a positive statement that Spirit who inspired Scripture will lead his people to understand it. This confidence continues in section 7 which admits that there are parts of the Bible which are not easily understood but affirms that the central message of the Bible can be understood. It is sufficiently clear that the unlearned as well as the learned can grasp its message. The confession does not make this connection, but I think the implication is that the major obstacle to understanding the Bible is not its obscure or difficult message but spiritual deadness of the reader apart from the Spirit.

The framers of the Confession were confident in the clarity of the Bible under the work of the Spirit, but they were not na├»ve in their approach to interpreting the Bible. They recognised that readers did need to make use of ‘ordinary means’ (careful reading, using a knowledge of grammar and some awareness of the historical and literary context of Biblical texts). The church as a whole needs teachers who can study the Biblical text in its original languages for it is these which are immediately inspired and preserved by God. Today we are more aware of textual critical issues in the Bible than were the members of the Assembly; however we can agree that just as all we need to know from Scripture can be found “in some place of Scripture or other”, so no Confessional doctrine is dependent exclusively on dubious texts.

A further confessional principle of Biblical interpretation is expressed in section 5, that things which can be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence are part of God’s counsel and have his authority. This assertion shows that the Assembly’s method was different to what we might call a more “biblicistic” approach. The most extreme version of this was 
Socinianism which would accept only doctrines which were explicit in Scripture and allowed no terms or concepts which were not in scripture. In contrast the Assembly was committed the normative authority of Scripture, but allowed that reason had a proper role in the understanding and exposition of Scripture. Rather than crowding this post with more material I’ll put up another post with an interesting quote from George Gillespie on ‘necessary consequences’. The section also allows that there are matters involved in the ordering of the church in which what we might call “common sense” should be applied.

Section 8 expresses two common Reformation hermenutical principles. One is that Scripture should be interpreted by Scripture. The flow of thought is that the Bible is God’s inspired word and so despite complexities and puzzles presents a unified message, which means that when the meaning of one passage is not clear we should expect other passages to illumine and explain it. The section also rejects the medieval tradition of allegorical interpretation of multiple senses of Scriptures and affirms that there is one sense. These hermenutical principles are an entry way into both Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology (but that would be the topic for another blog).

Section 8 affirms the need for translations. It expresses the Reformation view that the Bible belongs to the whole people of God and should be available to all in readable translations so they may be able to worship God and experience his care.

Blogging the Confession 4 - the sufficiency of Scripture

The first part of section 6 of chapter 1 of the WCF spells put the sufficiency of Scripture, one of the important implications of its authoritative inspiration. In the 17th century this was both a theological and a political point. The Reformed, and specially the English Puritans, were on their guard against attempts by Catholicism and Anglicanism to bind the Christian conscience to works and worship which were not found in Scripture. This was necessary both for God's glory in the church and to preserve Christian freedom. In response they insisted that since Scripture was God’s authoritative Word and was provided for the good of the church, then nothing more was needed and nothing more could be added without compromising the authority of Scripture.

The three texts given to support this claim do not, in themselves establish a full doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, however they reflect three themes which form the basis of the doctrine. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 describes the Scriptures as God’s fully adequate provision to lead to salvation in Christ and to train and teach for life; Gal 1:8-9 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2 point to the need to reject false claims of revelation

The texts were added by the assembly at the insistence of the English parliament. However a consideration of texts gives an insight into the method the Assembly held could be used to determine doctrine. That is what the next blog will look at.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Now Christian ethics just is counter-cultural

There was a time when Christians in the West felt that they shared much of the moral framework of the society. I guess most of us know that day is gone. The shift is not simply that Christians live differently to the surrounding culture. The whole way we think is different.

The latest edition of Bioedge highlights this with two different stories about abortion. The
Australian story is about the bill being dealt with in the Victorian parliament. It would decriminalise arbortion and allow late-term abortions and  remove the right of a medical practitioner to exercise a conscientious objection to involvement in abortions. (I assume that means that an employer could refuse to employ a doctor who said she would not take part in those procedures, but I have not checked exactly how it would work).

Bioedge reports that the removal of the right to conscientious objection is advocated by Lesley Cannold a bioethecist who argues that pro-life doctors impose their views on mothers rather than helping them. She declares that "It is unconscionable for someone to defend the right to follow his conscience, then deny that very same right to someone else." In other words Cannold holds that for a doctor or nurse working in obstetrics to object to participating in abortions is unethical.

The
parallel story is about commentary on  Sarah Palin the Republican V-P candidate in the US who chose not abort her son who has Down Syndrome. Dr Rahul K. Parikh has written in Salon saying positive things to say about Palin’s concern for a disabled child ("what she has chosen to do is fantastic") but also claiming that Palin’s decision oppresses women and is a “sign of her hypocrisy" (choosing to follow her conscience but denying others the same right). So again to oppose abortion, or at least to do that and to test for a disablity and make a choice to carry the child to birth, is unethical.

The Bioedge commentary on Cannold highlights the different conceptions of conscience in the two positions. Cannold believes that "The right to act according to the dictates of our conscience is founded in the value of autonomy. Autonomy means self-rule. An autonomous person is one who is free to direct her life according to her own values." Bioedge explains that this means that “conscience expresses an arbitrary, even irrational choice.” In contrast traditional accounts of conscience see it responding to some other reality, reason or evidence, or God.

The two views also differ in their take on how human life should flourish. Both would agree that for a child to have Down’s Syndrome is bad. The secular view tends to be that it is a dysfunction which brings too great a cost to the mother, family, and society (and perhaps to the child). The Christian sees it as an evil which should be borne and the child as an image bearer who should be nurtured and served, even at a great cost.

There is plenty more analysis that could be added on the question of abortion, but my point here is that Christian ethics is now counter-cultural all the way down. Not only do we make different decisions to our society on many issues, we have different accounts of the good and different ways of coming at moral reflection.

What are the implications of this for how we live in our society? I’m interested in your views.

By the way Bioedge is a great way to stay in touch with developments in bioethics in a very digestible way. You can see it
here and subscribe for free if your interested.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Contextual mission or missional contextualisation or whatever you call it …

Mark Driscoll has recently been in Sydney and stirred plenty of discussion. Most discussion has  focussed on the 18 points which Tony Payne at solapanel described delightfully as "Mark Driscoll's 18 Theses nailed to the foreheads of the assembled Anglican leaders in Sydney". (In fact there were a scattering of others there as well as Anglicans, though not myself). You can see the report and read a summary here.

He says that we have to be 'missional' and 'contextual', and that is what I wanted to talk about and see if anyone out there (hello if you are the reader!) has a view and wants to keep talking.

On the one hand I am all for missional contextualisation. What I mean by that is we think and speak in the context of culture and society. Inevitably theology is shaped by who we are and where and when we live. I don't think we need to apologise for that or try to avoid it. We should admit it and enjoy it. The questions that press on us and the way we'll answer them are part of theology and preaching  and should be. As a theologian I take it as one of my exciting and solemn duties to help students develop ways to  speak faithfully about God to their world from Scripture  So not only should be we contextual, we are missional; we speak (and write and act) because we are part of what God is doing in his world. Once we've prayed "Your kingdom come on earth" we recognise the mission. So our contextualisation is not mere accommodation or compliance with the culture, it has to be redemptive and so will be subversive and counter-cultural.

So far, so good (for me, anyway).

My fear is that missional contextualisation is short-circuited. We read the Bible carefully against its own horizon and then move to express that in our context with our own horizon, but don't engage with how the church has understood and expressed the gospel and lived in the past. Older forms of thought and life are abandoned with apparent ease. Older forms of worship are judged not culturally relevant and simply  jettisoned.  I don't want to lock us into traditionalism at all, but I want to be part of a church which drinks deeply of the ways of the past, appreciates it, and keeps some and transforms some and leaves some, but thoughtfully.

I think that is why I find myself changing sides on the question of contextualisation. Some days I insist on it, but others it feels so shallow. When it is done well in conversation with the past I love it. When it is the thoughtless preference of the present for the past I find it sickening.

Am I on the right track? Are there better ways to analyse and address the issues? How do I as a theology teacher help students learn the tradition in depth, but still be ready to re-express the gospel?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Recognising the Scriptures: WCF #3


Sections 1-4 of Chapter 1 of the WCF lay out a view of what the Scriptures are: God’s inspired and authoritative word. In doing this they set the Scriptures in a wider account of God’s redemptive revelation and name the contents. All of this is quite ‘objective’. In Section 5 the Confession deals with the subjective question of how Christians come to recognise that the Scriptures are God’s authoritative word.

In the mid-17th century the key issue was how the authority of the church related to Scripture. The members of the Assembly made it clear that the church does not authorise Scripture, even though the church may direct us there. The substantive theological point comes at the end of the section, that the recognition of Scripture comes from the ministry of the Spirit through Scripture itself.

The need for the work of the Spirit is two-fold. One is that God’s word as the normative authority is authorized by God himself, as he speaks in his word. The other reason is that human sin means that we resist God’s authority and by nature reject God’s word. So in 10.1 effectual calling by the Spirit involves a change in the mind, heart and will of a believer and in 14.2 the grace of faith given by the Spirit means that “a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein”. This work of the Spirit leads to a recognition of the Bible, as the Bible is read and preached.

The picture is of the 1599 Geneva Bible, the preferred version of the Puritans.

This formulation reflects the emphasis of the Puritans on the importance of the individual conscience. The ground of a conviction of the divine authorship of Scripture is inner and personal. To us this might seem like a recipe for an irretrievable subjectivism. There certainly was a subjectivist stream in 17th century England – the Quakers would be the best known version of that. However the Reformed thinkers of Westminster were not of that ilk. In their view the reality of Scripture was an objective truth and the work of the Spirit was powerful and reliable (indeed irresistible). So while they realised that not all people came to the same conviction about Scripture (for not all had the Spirit) they expected that the Spirit would always lead believers to see the reality of Scripture.

The expression of the confession here does not have to mean people hear a single text of scripture and have an overwhelming conviction of its inspiration and authority, I’d explain it in terms of the later chapters which discuss the work of the Spirit. As the Spirit does his work of leading us to receive and rest on Christ for “for justification, sanctification, and eternal life” (14.2) we see that the Bible speaks of Christ and that he in turn directs us to the Scriptures.

In Reformed thought this section has been interpreted in two ways. One is to take the opening discussion of evidences as a positive statement about what the Spirit may use to lead us to an inner conviction. So Warfield wrote that “ ‘Abundant evidence’ one must suppose to be sufficient; and objectively it is sufficient and more than sufficient and this is what the Confession means to affirm. But, according to the Reformed theology, man needs something more than evidence, however abundant, to persuade and enable him to believe and obey God’s word; he needs the work of the Holy Spirit accompanying the Word …” (The Westminster Assembly and its Work, Baker, 1927, 211).

In contrast the presuppositionalists have treated the two sections as contrasting so that evidence and rational argument provides no basis for the Christian confidence in the Scripture. Wayne Spear argues that “ The Confession’s use of arguments for the divine authority of the Bible … does not indicate that rational argument is the necessary foundation for faith … Warfield’s apologetic method appears to depart from the position taken by the Confession. In principle Warfield holds that the evidences which will prove that Scripture is divinely inspired are valid according to the principles of universal human reason, prior to and apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit.” (“Word and Spirit in the Westminster Confession” 39-56 in L. Duncan (ed) The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century Mentor; 2003, 53).

This debate reflects two different epistemologies and is an important one. I find myself generally on the presuppositionalist side. However I don’t think that the Confession can really settle the dispute. Both evidentialist and presuppositionalist apologetics have developed in response to the scepticism and the enlightenment. In the 17th century Britains scepticism existed, but was still rare and the Enlightenment lay in the future. The WCF is not formulated to address the 19th century, let alone the 20th or 21st. There is room for both positions in this section, and we should have an ongoing healthy discussion about it.

Covenant Theology

Over at Multicultural Ministry Matters Kamal, one of our students, is blogging about covenant theology and offering a good defense to some of the common objections. It's worth a look.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

What is the Bible?

What is the Bible? It seems like a simple question, but if we are serious about the Bible being the way we know God and his salvation and the way he directs and comforts his church (as in section 1) then it is an important question.

 Sections 2-4 of chapter 1 of the WCF answer the question in a few ways. First there is a straight forward list of the books of the Bible (the canon) giving the 39 books of the Hebrew canon and the 27 books of NT canon.  All wings of the Reformation church rejected the apocrypha and argued that the canon of Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus accepted was the 39 books and that the church had no authority to add to that.

 The rejection of the Apocrypha became stronger in English doctrinal statements over the years. The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) (and the earlier forty-two articles) say of the Apocrypha  “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine”. The Irish Articles (1615) say that the Apocryphal Books “did not proceed from such inspiration and therefore are not of sufficient authority to establish any point of doctrine; but the Church doth read them as Books containing many worthy things for example of life and instruction of manners”. (The Irish Articles were the product of the very English Church of Ireland). The WCF has even less concern to express continuity with the Catholic heritage on this point.

These sections also show us what the Bible is in terms two key features: inspiration and authority. Each section states that the Scriptures are inspired by God and therefore are authoritative. Section 2 says this of each individual book, section 3 says that by contrast the Apocryphal books are not inspired and so have no authority in the Church and section 4 says that the authority of Scripture rest on God who is the author of Scripture.

The Scriptures claims both inspiration (that is God is the author or it is the Word of God) and authority and the proof texts point to some of these claims. This might seem circular (that the Bible is authoritative because it says that it is), but it is not a vicious circle. The acceptance of Scripture rests on the recognition of a deeper reality – that God speaks the Scriptures and that he therefore authorises them. The next section talks about how we come to be convinced of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

The recognition of the inspiration and authority of Scripture is still vitally important for the church. We need to be very clear that God speaks all of Scripture as his own word and that no other writing or anything else can rival its authority. This is the central point of the doctrine of Scripture, and needs careful articulation and defences in every generation. It also has to be put into action in the way we actually treat the Bible – but that comes later in the chapter.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Blogging the Confession 1 - the necessity of Scripture

Chapter 1 of the WCF is rightly famous as a classic statement of a doctrine of scripture. I’ll take a few instalments to work through it.

Andrew McGowan in his recent book the 
Divine Spiration of Scripture has argued that we should look at Scripture in the context of a doctrine of God and contrasted that with the WCF. The contrast should not be made too strongly, because the opening section of Chapter 1 assumes a doctrine of God  - his goodness, wisdom and power are displayed in creation, knowledge of him and his will are needed for salvation and he redeems his church and reveals himself. These are important things to know about God in order to understand the Bible! (Notice also the implication that we need redemption and that God deals with his church through the ages). Any exposition of doctrine assumes some doctrine to begin dealing with others. In our context in which the question of God is debated it may make sense for us to start with God in our presentations, but the WCF does not need to be faulted for starting with Scripture.

Section 1 focuses on the necessity of Scripture. It acknowledges general revelation but states that special revelation is needed for salvation. I like the way in which the explanation of that ties the history of redemption with revelation. Echoing Hebrews 1:1 the confession says that God revealed himself to the church “at sundry times and in divers manners”. Perhaps it would have been good if the though of Hebrews 1 had been continued and the Christological centre of revelation had been made explicit. However that becomes very clear in later parts of the confession (specially from Chapter 8 on).

The section says that the Bible develops because God’s revelation to his people was committed to writing, for the sake of the church. It was so that this revelation could be kept and shared and the church could be confident of what it knew of God and the revelation not corrupted that it was written. So in a few words the confession grounds the Bible in the history of redemption and focuses us on the necessity of scripture.

In the 20
th century there have been discussions about whether the Bible is revelation or a record of revelation, but the members of the Assembly had no such distinction in mind. They held that the Bible is revelation because it is a written record of revelation.

The section closes by saying that the Bible is now necessary because other forms of revelation have ceased. Heb 1:1-2
  is given as the proof text for this, implying that this cessation is understood Christologically. That is, once God has spoken by his Son who is the Creator, Sustainer, Image and Redeemer there is no more to be said. The term ‘private spirits’ in section 10 is probably a reference to private revelations. So the WCF is not committed to an absolute cessationism (that is that there can not be anything like New Testament prophecy today). Rather it is saying that God’s redemptive revelation is complete and sufficient in Christ and so in the Bible and that must be the focus of the church and the place from where we draw our nourishment. Any other claims of  revelation must be judged by Scripture.

The first section of Chapter 1 of the Confession should lead us to ask us what place Scripture has in our thinking. It is not enough to formally subscribe to the authority of Scripture, but it must be the place where we expect God to address his church and the source and test of what we believe about God and how we understand his will.

Blogging the Confession - a proposal


For a while now I have been planning to “blog” my way through the Westminster Confession of Faith. (I know it is a terrible verb). I teach WCF at PTC since it is the doctrinal position of the PCA (read in the light of the Declaratory Statement of 1901). This teaching has given me a far greater appreciation of the Confession than I had in the past. What I plan to do is to occasionally take a chapter or a few sections of a chapter and make some comments about the interesting, important and relevant aspects. I am not trying to do a full commentary. (I might say something about the Declaratory Statement at the end or touch on it as I go along).

Today I have so many things to do that I can’t decide where to start. So I thought I’d do something else instead … and start the series through the WCF. So later this morning the first installment should appear.