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Archive for February, 2008

On Buckley’s Passing

William F. Buckley was indeed, a “great man” in the best and 
broadest sense of the phrase. If not for him, I am not sure the 
Soviets would not still be with us and against us. 

I have long thought so much of his public effectiveness was that his 
entire being was a caricature of pompous liberalism. It is hard for us to 
remember (indeed, we do not remember, we are told) the time when 
to “be intelligent” meant to be liberal. The Lionel Trillings of 
liberal East Coast intelligentsia, dominated everything. To be 
conservative was to be stupid. Buckley’s entire persona was the 
complete reversal. He was a gentle Jonathon Swift making one laugh 
uproariously with his lifted eye-brow, pointing pencil, and vast 
vocabulary that was the New York liberal inverted and turned back on 
him. He didn’t DO satire. He WAS satire, all the way to the marrow 
of his bones. Because of his alchemy, unattractive people like 
Whittaker Chambers were given a serious platform, and in the end, 
their very serious and brilliant experience of history transformed 
history. The number of ex-Communist who had “been there” like James 
Burnham, would never have had a place had it not been for him. He was 
one of the great hosts of the century. 

Hugh Hefner was a great host for one of the diseases of the 20th 
century with his elegant, but infected and evil mansion. Buckley was 
perhaps the other great and elegant host who was used to restore 
health and sanity, and gave place, for many, many who deserved and 
needed that. 

There would never have been a Reagan if there had not been a Buckley. 
They were the great tandem.

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I spent the last few days at A Conversation on Denominational Renewal, which thankfully met in St. Louis. The conference was well attended, about 300 or more people. The audience was mostly PCA ministers and elders, but because it was held in St. Louis there were a good many Covenant Seminary Students and professors.

I’m not going to summarize the conference. All I will say is that it was quite stimulating and helpful. When they post the mp3s of the lectures on their website, you need to listen to them. I’ll try to alert everyone when they are posted.

I’d like for us to discuss one part of Jeremy Jones’s lecture on Wednesday morning. The title was “On Renewing Theology.” I think it was one of the most challenging lectures of the lot.

Jeremy addressed problems with the way we tend to conceive of and do theology in the Reformed world, especially the PCA. Early on he talked about “The Ecclesial Culture of Reformed Sectarianism.” He lamented the fact that so many Reformed ecclesial cultures end up as little more than “denominational police states.” How does this happen?

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Part One

Continuing through The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies:

The author gives some of his own appraisals rather than immediately quoting Durel, even though that is how he began his chapter. In Davies’ opinion, while the Puritans would invoke their own interpretation of Scripture in order to condemn, say, Calvin’s Church in Geneva when a difference was pointed out to them, they were ultimately ignorant of the greatness of the variance between their own convictions and those of the Continental Reformed Churches.

They would probably have been surprised had they realized the extent of their divergence from the customs of the Reformed Churches. They would have been even more amazed that, in certain features of her worship, the Established Church in England approximated more closely to the Reformed Tradition than they did themselves (p. 38).

The main point here was the use of written prayers, as opposed to only extemporaneous prayers, in public worship. Some Puritans, such as Richard Baxter, had no such scruples against using written prayers. But many did. Their influence is seen in the Westminster Directory, which Horton Davies says, “brought Puritan practice nearer to Calvin’s” (p. 39), but couldn’t actually include written prayers to be read in worship.

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Arising Early (Mark 1:35-39)

Mark likes to play with the words for resurrection. Again and again in his Gospel, Mark tells us how Jesus raised up the people He healed or how they arose. He does not need to mention their posture, but he chooses to do so, emphasizing their rising. And the terms he uses are the terms associated in this Gospel with Jesus’ own resurrection.

On a first reading, these words may not jump out at us. But by the time we come to the raising of Jairus’s daughter and certainly by the time Jesus rises at the end of the Gospel, we should be able to see what Mark has been doing all along.

His Gospel is like a mystery novel. When you come to the end and you see what all the clues were leading up to, you can go back and read the book again and recognize the clues for what they are. And so, after finishing Mark’s Gospel, we can go back and read it again with the final scene in mind and see all the ways in which Jesus’ healings and the ways in which people rise or are raised foreshadow what will happen to Jesus and what will happen to those who belong to Him.

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In my blog entry yesterday, I raised a couple questions for Calvin about his theology of the sacraments.  It seemed to me, at least from Sinclair Ferguson’s summary, that Calvin talks as if we shouldn’t need sacraments.  The Word ought to be sufficient for us; the sacraments were added because of our weakness.  I wanted to follow up on that today.

Ferguson’s summary of Calvin’s view appears to me to be accurate.  Calvin approves of Augustine’s description of the sacraments as visible words: “Augustine calls a sacrament ‘a visible word’ for the reason that it represents God’s promises as painted in a picture and sets them before our sight, portrayed graphically and in the manner of images” (Institutes 4.14.6).

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One striking aspect of the recent “Federal Vision” conflict in the various conservative micro-Reformed groups is a debate over what older theologians really meant and said. Examining the credentials of various people who speak with great assurance on these matters one sees repeatedly degrees in church/theology history studies. In fact, in Reformed circles, it seems that about the only advanced degrees offered are in historical studies.

I should like to offer what I regard as a considerable caveat. I do not believe that men who sing pop choruses or plodding Trinity Hymnal songs on Sunday can get very far into Luther or Calvin, or for that matter Turretin. Men whose personal opinion is that society can be left to the devil cannot really get into the outlook of the Reformers.

I submit that it is important to have some feel for what people were singing and how they were singing it at various times in history. Is it a coincidence that “Reformed scholasticism” began to develop at the same time that the fiery dance-like chorales and psalms of the Reformation began to die down into slow, plodding, even-note mush? It is a coincidence that the “Puritans” had problems with assurance of salvation, given their destruction of enthusiastic singing? I don’t think so. People who sing the psalms as real war chants, as war dances that precede battle, don’t have problems with assurance and don’t have time for scholasticism. Neither do people with strong, fully-sung liturgies.

Obviously, much can be understood by reading the writings left by various historical personages. But without understanding the songs they sang, from the inside, we will not have the Spirit that they had, and our understanding will be incomplete and flawed.

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In a book entitled Serving the Word of God, Sinclair Ferguson has an essay entitled “Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and Communion with Christ.”  The essay’s okay, though I don’t know if it breaks any new ground.  But it raises two questions I wish I could pose to Calvin:

1.  Ferguson points out that Calvin, together with the Augustinian tradition (so the question may really be for Augustine!), views the sacraments as “visible words” (pp. 204-205).  He says, summarizing Calvin’s view,

The signs display or exhibit Christ to the eyes and to the sense of vision, just as the word displays Christ to the ears and to the sense of hearing as the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and shows or exhibits it to us (p. 208, emphasis mine)

and later he refers to the function of pictures.

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