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Once More On Church, Culture, and Transformationalism

Sep 17, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

I won’t go through all the links, but if you’ve traipsed through the blogosphere in recent weeks you may have noticed a series of volleys involving Carl Trueman, Darryl Hart, and Bill Evans (among others) on the subject of transformationalism. It’s an important discussion and one that has taken place before.

Case in point: I found James Bannerman’s chapter “The Church in Its Relation to the World”–in volume one of The Church of Christ (1868)–to be some of the sanest and wisest 13 pages I’ve read anywhere on the subject.

Bannerman begins by putting our subject in the proper context. The work of the church in relation to the world has everything to do with the work of Christ in relation to the world. This work Bannerman understands to be “His purpose of grace;” that is, “the work of conversion and sanctification and preparation for heaven” (81). No longer on earth, Christ has left behind “a twofold agency” to which he has entrusted this task.

First of all, Christ has supplied us with his Spirit to carry forward the “work of spiritual recovery and redemption among men, which He Himself, when on earth, had only begun” (82).

Second, Christ has left us the Church, with its work of Word and sacrament, to be “another instrument in the hand of Christ for carrying forward and accomplishing His purpose of grace on earth” (82).

In short, the work of Christ on earth was one of recovery and redemption, and to continue this work after his ascension into heaven, Christ left behind the Spirit and the Church.

The Mission of the Church

Setting up the question as he does, you have some idea where Bannerman is heading with this discussion. But he does not settle for vague implication of this or that truth. He gets more specific and asks the exact question which seems to bedevil so many Christians today: “What, then I ask, is the mission of the church, and its office in relation to the world?” (83). Great question, no? We would do well to pay attention to Bannerman’s three responses.

“In the first place, the Christian Church, in reference to the world in which it is found, is designed and fitted to be a witness for Christ, and not a substitute for Christ” (83). The church, Bannerman argues, is a visible and outward witness joining with and confirming the internal and invisible work of the Spirit. The preaching of the church proclaim aloud the divine truth of Christ and the ordinance (or sacraments) of the church a public testimony for Christ. In word and sacrament, the church is, along with the Spirit, “the standing and perpetual witness on the earth on behalf of a Saviour” (84).

Importantly, Bannerman insists that the church is “fitted to be a witness,” but is “neither designed nor adapted to be a substitute for Christ” (84, emphasis in original).  Christ is in heaven, no longer present on earth; we are not meant to be a substitute for him in his absence. In fact–evangelical proponents of incarnational ministry notwithstanding–it is Catholic ecclessiology which reckons the church to be a permanent incarnation of Christ. Bannerman is adamant that the church is forever pointing upward to Christ in heaven, not embodying his presence on earth. We are ambassadors, not substitutes.

“In the second place, the Christian Church in the world is an outward ordinance of God, fitted and designed to be the instrument of the Spirit, but not the substitute for the Spirit” (87). Recall that the Spirit and the Church are the twofold agency of Christ on earth. It has pleased God, Bannerman maintains, to conjoin outward ordinances with internal effect, visible organization with invisible influence, ordinary means with supernatural grace. The church is, in a special way, the residence of the Holy Spirit, and through the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments the Spirit’s work is carried out.

The church, then, is fitted to be the instrument of the Spirit, but is not a substitute of the Spirit (89). In the Catholic system grace is dispensed through the sacraments ex opere operato (“by the working that is worked”) regardless of personal faith. The church acts as a kind of substitute for the Spirit, the power and efficacy of spiritual recovery residing not in the Spirit but in the ordinances of the church. Strangely enough, the Roman system is not all that different from the extreme pragmatists and Finneyites in evangelical circles who expect the Spirit to work so long as we push the right button and pull the right levers.

“In the third place, the Christian Church in the world is fitted and designed to serve as a means for effecting the communion of Christians with each other–not to be a substitute for the communion of Christians with their Saviour” (91). One of the great ends to be accomplished by the church, Bannerman argues, is the union of disciples into one fellowship. Instead of an individual Christianity, the church gives us a social Christianity. We care for each other, pray for each other, exhort one another, love one another, and by all manner of privileges enjoy a fellowship the world cannot enjoy and does not understand.

So once again, the church is fitted as a means of communion among Christians, but not as a substitute for communion with Christ. We are not joined to the church so that we may be joined to Christ. Rather, we are joined to Christ; and therefore, we ought to be joined to one another in the church. The church does not, and cannot,”stand to the sinner in place of Christ” (92). We have direct and immediate union with Christ through his Spirit.

Summing Up

Some Christians in discussing the relationship between the church and the world have little patience or careful ecclesiology like Bannerman offers. But it is essential for understanding our relationship to culture and what exactly your local church should or shouldn’t be concerned to accomplish. If Bannerman is right, Christ’s ministry in the world was to save sinners, bring them into fellowship with another, and see them safely through to their heavenly home. This does not describe everything he ever did, but I believe it is a fair summary of Christ’s relationship to the world. God sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

And if the Spirit and the church exist as the twofold agency of Christ, left by our Lord to continue the work he began, then it stands to reason that the church’s relation to the world would be similar to Christ’s, provided we understand that we can never replace Christ. The church is no substitute for Christ, or the Spirit, or for immediate union with Christ. Rather, our role as the church–in relation to the world–is to bear witness to the saving power of Christ, to exercise the appointed means whereby the Spirit redeems and sanctifies, and to join in one body for mutual fellowship and support those who have been joined to Christ.

Does this mean Christians should be indifferent to suffering in the world? Or pursue irrelevance in their neighborhoods and in their workplaces? No and no. But I dare assert that Bannerman’s doctrine of the church makes more eminent sense, and is more plainly biblical, than contemporary notions whereby the church is called upon to be something it cannot be and do something it cannot do.

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Coming Very Soon: Crazy Busy

Sep 16, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

I received several copies of the book, so I know they now exist. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short about a (Really) Big Problem is due out in the next week.

Crossway has put together a nice website for the book: crazybusybook.com. The site will give you a number of helpful links, including:

Speaking of videos, you won’t want to miss this sparkling conversation between me and Justin Taylor. Trust me, it’s JT at his finest. As the kids say: Best. Interview. Ever.

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Customer Service in the Church

Sep 13, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Yes, I know, “customer service” is not the right phrase. The church doesn’t serve customers. The church is the body of Christ. So what this post is really about is “loving people well by being organized and responsive.” But that’s hard to put in a title.

Two days ago I sat alongside our church’s bookkeeper for well over an hour as she kindly tried to track down some tax information for me. First she called our current bank to get some paperwork from 2011. She was on the phone for five minutes. I answered a few security questions, handed the phone to our bookkeeper, and within a few minutes she had the bank (a credit union actually) faxing us the information we needed.

Then she called the church’s former bank (and my former bank). Since we switched banks in 2011 we need information from them as well. The two of us–mostly our bookkeeper–were on the phone for more than an hour. In fact, I left once my part was done and don’t even know how long our hardworking bookkeeper had to stay on the phone to get what she needed. We kept getting transferred to different departments and different people, most of whom didn’t know how to help us. The customer service was obviously out-sourced and not all that competent. In the end, it took ten times as long to get what we needed, and even then they said they would mail it in a few days.

What’s the lesson here for the church? Simple: let’s be like the first bank and not the second.

  • Does your church have a website that is easy to navigate?
  • Are the basic things like worship times, directions, and contact information easy to find online?
  • Is your automated phone system simple to understand and to operate?
  • Do you have a system in place to respond promptly and friendly to general inquiries?
  • Does your office staff (and everyone else for that matter) know how to graciously answer questions (even dumb ones) or connect people with the right person who can?
  • Do you convey an attitude that says “I am happy to help and glad you called/wrote/stopped by” or one that says “You are a bother and your problems are unimportant to me”?
  • Is your Sunday morning crew (ushers, greeters, check-in folks, etc.) friendly and knowledgeable or territorial and easily frustrated?
  • Are the rooms in your church well marked and the appropriate signs clearly displayed?
  • Is the information on your website and in your bulletin up to date and accurate?
  • Can people depend on the church staff to follow through on commitments, remember their calendar, communicate ahead of time about meetings and important events, and respond to reasonable questions (or direct them to people who can)?
  • Is your church clean?

No doubt, these “customer service” type items do not embody the core commitments of gospel ministry. But as an expression of kindness, love, and hospitality, they are not insignificant. During one of the long periods while my bookkeeper was put on hold, she turned to me and whispered, “This is why we switched banks.” Smart move. Bad customer service is a terribly annoying, if not grueling, experience. Surely we want to do better than this in the church.

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What Are the Essentials of the Christian Faith?

Sep 12, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Almost every Christian makes some distinction between essentials of the faith and non-essentials. The distinction itself is fairly uncontroversial. But what exactly are the essentials? That’s a bit tougher.

There are a number of ways to answer that question. We could look at church history and what God’s people have always believed. We could look at the ancient creeds and confessions of the church. We could look at the biggest themes of Scripture (e.g., covenant, love, glory, atonement) and the most important passages (e.g., Genesis 1, Exodus 20, Matthew 5-7, John 3, Romans 8). I want to take a little different route and consider what are the behaviors and beliefs without which Scripture say we are not saved. These are not requirement we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.

I don’t pretend that this is anywhere close to a comprehensive list from the Bible. But a list like this may be helpful in guarding against false teaching and examining our own lives.

Ten Essential Christian Behaviors

1. We repent and turn from our sins (Matt. 5:29-30; 11:20-24; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Heb. 10:26-27).

2. We forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:33-35).

3. We are undivided in our devotion to God and to Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:24; 10:38-39; 19:16-30; John 12:24-26).

4.    We publicly acknowledge Jesus before others (Matt. 10:32-33; 21:33-44; 22:1-14; 26:24; John 5:23)

5.    We obey God’s commands and do not make a practice of sinning (John 14:15; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2).

6.    We live a life that is fruitful and not fleshly (Matt. 12:33-37; 21:43; 24:36-51; 25:1-46; Gal. 5:18-24; 6:5; Heb 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

7.    We are humble and broken-hearted for our sin (Matt. 5:3; 18:3-4; 1 John 1:8-10).

8.    We love God and love others (Matt. 22:34-40; John 11:35; 15:12; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 John 3:14-15).

9.    We must persevere in the faith (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29-31; 12:12-17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 5:11-12).

10.    We help our natural family and church family when there are physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8; 6:18-19; 1 John 3:17).

Ten Essential Christian Beliefs

1.    We must be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:5).

2.    Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 3:18, 36; 6:35, 40, 47, 53-58; 8:19, 24; 11:25-26; 12:48; 14:6; 15:23; 20:30-31; Gal. 3:7-9).

3.    The benefits of the gospel come by faith, not by works of the law (Acts 15:8-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16, 21; 3:10-12, 22).

4.    Salvation comes from Jesus Christ, our faithful high priest, the radiance of God’s glory and our brother in the flesh (Col. 1:15-23; Heb. 2:4).

5.    God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6, 16).

6.    We are saved by Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18).

7.    The good news of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-11).

8.    Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected and our bodies will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

9.    Jesus was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16; 1:3, 18-20; 6:3-4, 20-21).

10.    God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-14).

You could multiply lists like this tenfold. The point is not to be exhaustive, but to show by way of example just how many things the Bible considers to be essential and how precious these truths should be to the Christian. There are a number of behaviors in Scripture which serve to prove or disprove our Christian commitment. Likewise, there are a number of beliefs in Scripture without which we cannot be saved and which must be true if salvation is even possible. We would do well to study these beliefs and behaviors, embrace them, and promote and protect them with our fullest zeal and efforts.

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Is God Too Good for Your Tastes?

Sep 11, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

“Let’s get down to the real issue here,” the landowner says.  “At the heart of the matter, this isn’t about a denarius or your hard labor under the sun. It’s about your heart.  You are upset because I am generous.”

That’s the gist of what the master of the house says to the laborers in the vineyard. The men were upset because the last workers received the same as the first. The men who came early in morning did not appreciate God’s extraordinary grace to the men who came at the end of the day.  “Is your eye evil because I am good?” That’s the convicting question the master posed to his men.

It’s a convicting question for all of us.

Are you the type of person who marvels at God’s generosity or gets jealous over it? Are you prone to unhappiness when you see the undeserved happiness of others? Do you begrudge God’s kindness if giving to others the blessing of children, of marriage, of beauty, of wealth, of opportunities?

Obviously we have to steward those things well. We must not be haughty about our blessings or presume that we will receive all the earthly good we want just by virtue of belonging to our heavenly Father. But even with those important caveats, certainly we can affirm that it is the Spirit’s fruit in our lives when we rejoice over the Lord’s kindness to others.

We love it when God is generous with us. And it bothers us when he seems to be more generous with others. You know how you make a kid very happy? Give him a toy. You know how to make him very unhappy? Give his sister two toys. We all like grace, but we want it to be “fair” grace. We want “grace” apportioned as we see fit. We want “mercy” to be given to those who deserve it most—people like us, naturally. But if grace has to measure up or fulfill some calculation it’s not really grace, is it? Do you really want God to be in the fairness business with you? Isn’t it better to accept that everything you have is by grace and all they have is by grace as well?

Our Good Master passes out the denarius as he sees fit, because it’s his denarius. None of us would get a denarius if God didn’t go out into the streets, hire us, promise us his goodness, and then deliver on his word. So let him hire more workers and pay them whatever he wants. A mark of a mature Christianity is that we root for each other. Let God be God and let him be good—on his own terms.  He’s been good to you; let him be good to others, as good as he wants to be.

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A Word for Us All

Sep 10, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

What does Jesus want to say to the church in the West? To the church in North America? To the church in the South, or in New England, or in the Midwest? What does Jesus want to say to your church?

That all depends: what is your church like? Where are you strong? Where are you weak? We live in a big country with hundreds of thousands of churches. If you think the issue out there is too much law, you’d be right. If you think the issue is cheap grace, you’d be right about that too. Jesus wouldn’t say just one thing to the church in this country–let alone in the West or in the world–because the church in this country is diffuse and diverse.

If Jesus had seven different letters for the churches in Asia Minor, I imagine he’d have more than one thing to say to the churches in North America.

Ephesus was your listless, loveless church. They were orthodox, moral, and hard working.  But they weren’t concerned about the lost and may not have been too concerned about each other. They were doctrinally sound, naval-gazers. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Love.”

Smyrna was your persecuted, 10-40 window church. They were afflicted, slandered, and impoverished. But they were spiritually rich. They were vibrant, but fearful. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be faithful.”

Pergamum was your ungrounded, youth-infused church. They were faithful, passionate witnesses. But they had compromised with the world and accommodated to their sexually immoral and idolatrous culture. They were missional, but misguided. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Discern.”

Thyatira was your warm-hearted, liberal church. They were strong in compassion, service, and perseverance. But they undervalued doctrinal fidelity and moral purity. They were loving, but over-tolerant. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Think.”

Sardis was your flashy and successful, but ultimately shallow megachurch. They were like your big Bible-belt churches chocked full with nominal Christians. They had a great reputation. But in reality, they were spiritually dead. They were the church of the white-washed tombs. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Wake up.”

Philadelphia was your small, storefront, urban church. They felt weak and unimpressive. But they had kept the word of God and not denied his name. They were a struggling, strong church.  To them and to us, Jesus says, “Press on.”

Laodicea was your ritzy, influential church out in the leafy part of town. They thought they had it all together. But they were as spiritually poor as they were materially rich. The church was filled with affluence and apathy. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be earnest.”

We all tend to see certain errors more clearly than others. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we see our own dangers most clearly and don’t presume that every church has the same problems. We must pay attention to the whole counsel of God. We need to study all of it and preach from all of it, not just the stuff that hits our sweet spot. God has a word for all of us—if we are willing to look hard enough and willing to listen.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 09, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Three of the best lines from one of my favorite movies. In the first scene, they are discussing what they will do with their share of the money.

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Book Briefs

Sep 06, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

The Book Briefs will likely be less frequent and less full for some time to come. My PhD program officially starts this month (and so do my tuition payments). So for the foreseeable future I need to limit my extracurricular reading almost exclusively to books and articles that will find their way into my dissertation. I told myself this is the last week to finish some books I’ve been meaning get through; after this a number of great books will have to sit on the sidelines.

Thankfully, the four books below–all published this year–are quite good. Presuming you are not in a doctoral program, you would do well to pick up any or all of them.

Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay? (The Good Book Company, 2013). I can’t figure out why we haven’t had a book like this before, but it’s just what we need. Allberry, a pastor in the UK who himself struggles with same-sex attraction, has written the perfect book to hand to skeptics and wobbly believers. The tone is irenic, the content firm, and the length manageable (less than 100 pages). Allberry covers the necessary texts and answers–in an intelligent, yet brief and winsome way–the most common questions and objections. I will be recommending this book often in the years ahead.

K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Crossway, 2013). Oliphint, an apologetics professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written an excellent book which passes down (and translates) Van Tilian presuppositionalism for a new generation. The argumentation is dense at times, but that is owing to the subject matter not to Oliphint’s clarity or lucidity. As much as possible, Oliphint steers clear of professional jargon and academic rabbit trails.

Without a doubt, the book’s strength is the careful attention Oliphint pays to the text of Scripture. This is an exegetical work, not abstract philosophizing. In particular, I found the discussion on Acts 17 illuminating. Covenatal Apologetics makes a valuable contribution to ongoing epistemological discussions and makes a practical contribution to the day in and day out defense of the faith. I hope Oliphint’s new terminology sticks and many will slowly digest this important work.

Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (De Capo Press, 2013). In this fascinating book, Thomas Fleming, a well respect historian and author of more than fifty books, argues that the Civil War was fought because  of “a disease in the public mind” (a phrase used by President James Buchanan in 1859). The “disease” refers broadly to the tendency toward extremism and implacable winner-take-all attitudes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In particular, Fleming locates the “disease” in the North in abolitionism and, in the South, in the fear of slave insurrections. It might be going too far to say Fleming sympathizes with the South, but it would be accurate to say he criticizes Northern radicals for lacking any understanding or empathy for the fears that were fomenting in the South. Fleming presents slavery in all its deplorable harshness, but he also takes to task men like William Lloyd Garrison and John Quincy Adams for needlessly insulting the South and refusing to entertain compromise solutions to the brewing conflict. By contrast, Fleming sees in Lincoln that political savvy, charitable opponent of slavery the country needed–but, alas, it got him too late and his life was cut short before he might have been able to oversee a more profitable peace.

Books on the Civial War and slavery provoke strong feelings, so not everyone will be convinced with Fleming’s thesis (I wasn’t in every respect). But  he writes well and tells the tragic story of slavery in America with a strong voice and knack for connecting the dots across the decades.

Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford University Press, 2013). This is one of the finest examples I’ve come across of first class scholarship which also serves the church. Calvin scholars, Reformation scholars, and social historians will not be able to ignore Manetsch’s excellent contribution to the field. At the same time, I can’t imagine pastors not being edified as they read about the Venerable Company’s hard work, pastoral faithfulness, endurance, and normal human failings. The sections on pastoral calling, church discipline, and preaching were especially good. The book has a clear structure and a useful summary chapter. On top of all this, Manetsch is a skillful writer and, by all accounts, a wonderful teacher and Christian. Pastors should get this book.

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Cross Conference Trailer

Sep 05, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

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Reading Charles Hodge in Context

Sep 05, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

In many circles, Charles Hodge is most famous for this infamous statement:

The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches. (Systematic Theology 1:10)

Sounds pretty bad, right? Or at least, it can be made to sound pretty bad: Charles Hodge the naive, cold-hearted rationalist who approached his Bible as if he were on a treasure hunt for wooden and timeless principles. For liberals and post-evangelicals–not to mention past-evangelicals who get up in the morning looking for someone from Old Princeton to kick–this statement from Hodge epitomizes everything that’s wrong with conservative inerrantists. These descendants from Hodge, it is said, treat the Bible like an owner’s manual dropped out of the sky, like a dead insect to be examined, like a staid collection of lifeless propositions.

But what did Hodge actually say? Or mean to say given the context?

The quotation above comes from the first chapter of Hodge’s Systematic Theology. Like dozens of Reformed systematicians before him–including Francis Turretin, whose Institutes of Elenctic Theology was used at Princeton before being replaced by Hodge’s Theology–Hodge began his work with a Prolegomena examining the nature and method of theology. Right or wrong, there is nothing particularly novel about Hodge’s general approach.

What sounds jarring to our 21st century ears is Hodge’s emphasis on theology as science. If I were writing a systematic theology, would I introduce “science” as my all-encompassing metaphor? Probably not. But in a hundred years will Christian theologians compare their theological approach to drama or dance or jazz or mystery? Doubtful. Will people look back at our day and wonder if our fascination with entertainment and stories  overly influenced our theological method? They may. And they may be right, just like we are right to wonder if Hodge went too far to emphasize theology as science.

But in both cases–looking back at Hodge now, and someone looking back at our day a century from now–the important thing is to look beyond the analogies themselves to understand what the theologians were trying to communicate. There is a sense in which “theology as drama” is a helpful reminder that God has a story to tell and we are a part of it, that the Bible presents to us a glorious story of redemption and restoration, and that at the center of this story is the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Approaching theological reflection as a drama has its merits. But so does approaching theology as a science. The Bible is a big book and different analogies capture different aspects of the truth.

For Hodge, theology was like a science because in theological reflection the Christian must arrange the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation (19). Theology is “something more than a mere knowledge of facts” (1). Hodge never thought of systematic theology as the recitation of barren propositions. But he likened theology to science because he believed the work of the systematician was to show how all the parts of the Bible relate to each other with logical consistory and harmony.

Any Christian who affirms the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture–and consequently, the Bible’s overall unity–should find no quarrel with Hodge’s aims. His great concern was that we see the Bible not as isolated points and unrelated facts, but in all its “unending harmony and grandeur” (3). Hodge defends his method by arguing that the human mind cannot avoid systematizing truth and God desires that we do so (3-4). In rejecting the “speculative method” of deists and transcendentalists, and the “mystical method” of enthusiasts and liberals, Hodge champions the “inductive method” whereby we observe the text and arrange the truths that we observe into a coherent whole

Of Head and Heart

Does Hodge rely too much on the trustworthiness of our mental faculties? At times, perhaps, but he is certainly not afraid of experiential knowledge. He speaks of believers having “an unction from the Holy one” to believe the truth and of “an inward teaching” that “produces a conviction which no sophistries can obscure, and no arguments can shake” (15). Hodge did not want experiential knowledge to ever trump that which is objectively revealed in Scripture, but given the right caveats and put in the right place he could affirm that “the inward teaching of the Spirit is allowed its proper place in determining our theology” (16). This hardly sounds like the Hodge his caricaturists would like him to be. In fact, the Hodge who argued that “the true method of theology” is “inductive, which assumes that the Bible contains all the facts or truths” of theology (17), also argued that the “facts of religious experience,” when authenticated by Scripture, should be “allowed to interpret the doctrinal statements of the Word of God” (16).

“Science” was Hodge’s way of affirming Scripture’s unity, consistency, and harmony. The inductive approach had nothing to do with suspicion of experience or a preference for theology by Excel spreadsheet. If anything, Hodge’s method reflects his concern that “it is no uncommon thing to find men having two theologies–one of the intellect, and another of the heart” (16). Hodge knew that some men have better theology in their hearts than in their heads and that good theology in the head should make it into the heart. That anyone would find the orderly systematization of biblical revelation a lifeless or dull ordeal would be surprising to Hodge.

The Bible, for Hodge, was not a periodic table of religious elements to be analyzed and quantified. It was a precious deposit of truth which would shine even brighter when arrayed in all its God-given splendor. The Bible is indeed a store-house of facts—soul-thrilling, experiential, coherent, gospel-laden, Christ-exalting facts. What could be more important than to arrange those facts so we can see how they all relate to each other? You may call that drama. Hodge called it science. Sounds pretty good to me.

All of which is to say, those who make Hodge sound the worst are typically those who have read him least.

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