Friday, April 30, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 6


Because the animating values of those in the PCA are so much more diverse than its formal values, the PCA has struggled to maximize its organizational strengths. For example, despite our formal values of connectional polity and cooperative ministry, less than half of the churches of the PCA support any denominational agency or committee (less than 20 percent give at the Partnership Share level). Presbyteries are increasingly perceived as mere credentialing bureaus or discipline courts with little ability to unite members in ministry. The cooperative efforts that do exist are often directed toward affinity gatherings or the ministries of large churches that have become missional expressions of the animating values of specific groups.

This is not to suggest that overall there has been a great deal of cooperative effort. We remain an anti-denominational denomination – excusing individualistic ministry by re-telling the narratives of past abuses in former denominations, demonizing denominational leadership or movements to justify non-support of the larger church, or simply making self-survival or selffulfillment the consuming goal of local church ministry. In these respects we simply reflect the surrounding secular and religious culture where institutional and organizational commitments have been eroded by the demise of family systems and loss of community identity. These losses are exacerbated by economic and technological changes that simultaneously shrink our world and allow each of us to live in personal isolation or in shrinking, special-interest enclaves. However unique we may feel is our struggling to maintain historical distinctions, ministry continuity and generational cohesion, we actually echo struggles occurring in every major Evangelical denomination. The response of most has been to focus increasingly on their own security, not recognizing that (for denominations as well as local churches) allowing people to focus on themselves inevitably destroys the selflessness that is the church’s lifeblood.

In order for those of us in the PCA to see beyond self-interests and to be willing to work cooperatively despite differences in our animating values, we must have a renewed sense of collective mission. The catalytic power of our founding was fueled by a shared zeal to wrest a Biblical church from mainline corruptions. Differing understandings of what it meant to hold to Reformed distinctions in ministry and mission were either unrecognized or suppressed to support the primary mission of combating liberalism. That mission was compelling enough unite us in ministry despite our differences. Willingness now to honor our differences while harnessing our shared blessings will again require a sense of being united in a cause that is of similar Biblical consequence.

Such a cause cannot be concocted from marketing schemes or designed to reflect the ministry preferences of a particular branch of our denomination. The cause that is our present calling must be forged from a comprehensive and realistic understanding of the challenges this generation must face in order to live faithfully before God and for his Kingdom. Some of these challenges are external, thrust upon us by dynamics of our history and culture. Other challenges are of our own making and will have to be honestly faced and fairly handled in order for our church to participate meaningfully in God’s purposes. Such external and internal challenges the PCA faces are listed below. These lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather are intended to help us face the magnitude of our tasks and, consequently, the necessity of facing them together.

Summary: The PCA is not a united denomination. Part of this is due to a history of various groups forming a coalition against the heirarchy of the PCUS in order to form the PCA. The forming of a separate denomination opened up the disagreements among these groups. The present problem is shown by the fact that individual churches generally do not support the denomination. Blaming the denominational leadership is the main problem. However, our current challenge means we have to rethink what we’re doing.

Comment: The problems of the denomination date back to its beginning, when it was formed by disparate groups within the PCUS who were united in their opposition to the direction the denomination was going, but not by much else. The inherent weaknesses of the coalition appeared after the denomination was formed. Unfortunately, little was done to overcome those divisions. It is true that many blame the PCA denominational heirarchy. While that heirarchy is certainly not responsible for all the problems we face as a denomination, it has done little to alleviate concerns among individual members, member churches, and member presbyteries, often acting in ways that simply exacerbate the problems. Two illustrations will suffice. “We are a grass-roots denomination” is a slogan that has often been heard at GA. Whether the people using this phrase recognize it or not, what people hear is that indivudal churches may do as they please. That has been the de facto practice of the church since its inception. Second, the PCA has become another PCUS—not in theology, but in the way it conducts business. The denominational heirarchy has become increasingly divorced from the denomination at large. At least in appearances, it is following the lead of a handful of the largest churches in the denomination with little consideration or, seemingly, concern for the vast majority of churches.

Our current challenge, however, is not different from the challenge to the church throughout the ages. We are to be a church that faithfully preaches the whole counsel of God both within the church and to the surrounding world. That may be done in different ways by different churches and by different indivduals. It is in part the responsibility of presbyteries and the General Assembly to support churches in this worlk as long as they are not compromising the constitution of the church.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 5

A. Animating Values of Local Churches in the PCA

The PCA has historically held that the authority for beliefs or practices not specified in our constitutional standards resides in local leadership. This means that there is considerable diversity in the PCA’s “animating values” – the concerns, goals and practices that get us up and going each morning for the work of our individual presbyteries, ministries and churches. We can often identify a local church’s animating values by having its people identify its primary ministry goals – or, more simply, what do they think are the marks of great ministry. Animating values can appropriately differ given the great variety of contexts in which churches minister. The list below would identify the “animating values” of many local churches in the PCA:

Great ministry in the local church is characterized by . . .

1. Everyone understanding and applying Scripture

2. Perpetuating and refining Reformed Theology

3. Worshipping God rightly and well

4. Involving everyone in personal evangelism

5. Everyone grasping the grace of the Gospel

6. Multiplying “healthy” churches

7. Transferring the Faith to the next generation

8. Right administration of the Sacraments

9. Transforming culture

10. Good Bible preaching

11. Helping people to love Jesus

12. Support of Christian schooling

13. Reclaiming the nation for Christ

14. Supporting Christian artists

15. Supporting Pro-Life movements

16. Creating Christian community

17. Supernaturally renewed relationships

18. Securing family/married life

19. Ministry to the disadvantaged and oppressed

20. Racial reconciliation

21. Supporting mission work

22. Revival thru viral repentance and faith

23. Pervasive prayer

24. Predominant personal piety

25. Separation from unbelief

26. Church growth

27. Biblical care of hurting people

28. Other ...

B. Animating Values of Groups within the PCA

Just as individual churches have animating values, so also do groups of churches or individuals within the denomination. Again, these values are diverse, but because they characterize groups that are often seeking to set direction for others beyond their immediate context or for the denomination as a whole, such values can create tensions with groups who have different animating values. As a consequence, polarities have developed both in what groups identify as their animating values and in how they perceive others.

With apologies for obvious stereotyping, we identify some of these group polarities and perceptions below – not to perpetuate tensions – but to “name the elephants in the room” that must be handled in order for us to pull together for Kingdom purposes. We intend by the labels below to be “equal opportunity offenders,” helping each group to understand its role in the PCA and how that group may be perceived by those with different animating values. Of course, the real goal is not to offend, but to help all see that our differences typically are varying emphases on aspects of the formal values we all affirm.

As with local churches, we can often identify a group’s animating values by having its adherents identify their primary ministry goals (which may or may not be formally stated). The left column of the chart below identifies goals common among groups in the PCA; the left [sic] column identifies how others may perceive groups with these ministry goals.

Our primary mission/calling is . . . Perception of others

1. Properly expressing Reformed Theology (insensitive to relational)

-restore Southern Presbyterianism [all mind]

-ensure doctrinal faithfulness at all levels

2. Reaching the lost (ignores doctrine & doxological)

-multiply churches [all heart]

-multiply people in churches

-multiply mission support

3. Restoring the culture (idolizes the past & politics)

-reclaim nation-founding commitments [fears future]

-support conservative politics

4. Protecting the Faithful (idolizes family/community)

-separate from secular [fears culture]

-support schooling alternatives

5. Transforming the Culture (idolizes external o/ internal)

-oppose oppression (e.g., poverty, racism) [forgets spiritual]

-reach “gatekeepers” (e.g., media, arts, profs)

Summary: Churches and groups (formal and informal) within the PCA differ in what they see as the purpose and work (the “animating values”) of their particular church or group. Because churches differ in their goals, and because various “special interest groups” in the church vary in their focus, there is tension within the denomination. It is important that we all recognize that our relationships with others in the denomination who differ from us are affected not only by what we stand for, but by how we are perceived by others. Only then can we begin working on drawing together as a denomination.

Commentary: I doubt that anyone would disagree with the general content of this section. The analysts also admit that some of these are stereotypes, at least admitting that the analysis is flawed at this point. On the other hand, given the characteristics of the various groups as this analysis has laid them out, it is probably not a bad analysis. However, two things concern me. The first is that our animating values should be determined by our formal values. In other words, what we do as churches and as individuals and groups within the denomination should be restricted by our constitution. Behavior, goals, and projects that violate our constitution ought rightly to be opposed.

It is at this point that I think most of the tensions within the PCA arise. From visiting many churches in the denomination over the years in various sections of the country, I find that Church A doing something different from Church B, or Church A having different emphases from Church B is not really a source of tension. The tension comes in two cases: 1) when Church A perceives Church B as not really being a proper church if it isn’t just like Church A; and 2) when Church A is doing something contrary to the constitution of the denomination, and Church B points that out. For example, I don’t care if a church in a major metropolitan area is reaching out to the artistic community. In fact, I think it’s a wonderful thing. But if that church were to decide to soft-pedal what the Bible says about sexual behavior in order not to offend artists who might be continuing to engage in illicit relationships, that would be a problem, and ought rightly draw the ire of others in the denomination.

Noah's Ark Silliness

Have pieces of Noah's Ark been found? See the story here:, as well as other news outlets on the web. To star, I believe that a real Noah built a real ark, and lived on it with real animals for a year, surviving a real, world-wide flood. I believe that the ark came to rest on the "mountains of Ararat" (Gen 8:4).

But I doubt that these folks, or any other bunch that has gone searching over the centuries, has found remains of that ark. It is possible, of course. But there would be no way to prove that any wood found there was left from Noah's ark. Even if it were possible to prove that it was from Noah's ark, what would it tell us that we didn't already know? Is our faith based on pieces of wood or on the Word of God?

In addition, if there really were pieces of Noah's ark left on the mountain, we all know what would happen. They would become the object of superstitious faith; as did the bones of saints, pieces of wood from the True Cross, nails that pierced the hands and feet of Jesus, and the other flotsam and jetsam that filled the reliquaries of medieval Europe. Do you really want to start that all over again?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 4

II. IDENTIFYING OUR MISSION (understanding “Formal” and Animating” Values)

Formal” Values (Values stated in the approved standards of the church)

The values that frame our mission are both formal and animating. The formal values are found in the standards approved by the church in its legislative processes. These documents interpret the church’s understanding of its Scriptural obligations and have varying levels of authority. Together these documents serve to identify the values that the church has officially agreed will guide its beliefs and practices.

A. The Westminster Confession of Faith (with Larger and Shorter Catechisms)

B. The Book of Church Order

C. Historic Motto:

Faithful to Scripture

True to Reformed Faith

Obedient to Great Commission

D. 2006 Strategic Plan Statement: “A healthy denomination is characterized


1. Preeminence of Christ

2. Increasing numbers of healthy churches

3. Presbyteries involved in cooperative ministry

4. General Assembly contributing to health of denomination (coordinating resources for effective fulfillment of Great Commission, serving judicatories through committee/agency work, fulfilling appropriate review and oversight functions)

5. Committees and Agencies effectively carrying out work of GA

“Animating” Values

(The concerns and goals that “get us up and going” each morning) Though the formal documents that identify our formal values are developed with meticulous care, they are in many ways the broadest expression of our church’s mission priorities. Beyond the formal values that establish the general nature and commitments of the denomination are the “animating values” that stimulate the daily activities of individuals, local churches or groups within the denomination.

Summary: Defining “formal” (the church’s purpose and work as expressed in its standards) and “animating” (the understanding of the church’s purpose and work that serve to motivate people in the church) values.

Commentary: This section is straightforward. The primary difficulty is that the “motto” of the church and the 2006 Strategic Plan have somehow been elevated to “formal” values, in essence raising them almost to constitutional status. I don’t remember that such a move has ever been formally taken. If anyone knows, please let me know. In some sense, I don’t have any objection to the “motto” and the 2006 Strategic Plan, but they ought to fall under “animating” rather than “formal” values.

Monday, April 26, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 3

B. How Has the PCA’s Mission Developed So Far?

The development of missional purpose begins with identifying the values we hold most dear. When our values guide the plans we make for addressing challenges to Kingdom progress, then we believe we are acting consistently with our mission and have zeal for these purposes. Our values are well identified in the “motto” of the PCA: Faithful to Scripture, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.

The phrases of this motto also provide insight into the missional development of the PCA. It is fair to say that commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture was the driving force of our founding and that the churches who initially came into the PCA immediately united in this value. Determining what it meant to be true to the Reformed faith was not as unifying, and created significant debates among us for the next 30 years. These debates both clouded understanding of our mission and inhibited cooperative participation in it. While progress has been made in defining how we will hold each other accountable for being true to the Reformed faith, relational tensions wax and wane around this issue. Thus, the next stage of PCA development likely relates to the last phrase of our motto. How we do mission together, and whether we can do mission together, is the key to our future. If we are able to unite in missional purpose, we have much to contribute to the future of the Kingdom; if we cannot, then our future is likely incessant, inward-focused pettiness.

PCA Missional Development

Faithful to Scripture First 30 seconds

True to Reformed Faith Last 30 years

Obedient to Great Commission Next era How will we do mission?

What is our present mission/calling?

Determining how we do mission together will likely surface past relational and perspectival tensions, but failing to define our mission guarantees our demise. Thus, developing plans for doing mission together simultaneously puts us in a position of great peril and opportunity. The peril of renewed dissension is obvious, but pursuit of the opportunity is essential. Only if we can unite around missional plans that employ our differing gifts in sacrifice and service to Kingdom priorities – only then does our church point toward a future that will inspire her people’s zeal and justify her God’s blessing.

Summary: The PCA is agreed on the inerrancy of Scripture, but is has seen considerable dissension over what it means to be Reformed, or “true to the Reformed faith.” In defining our mission for the years ahead, we need to do so in such a way that avoids the dissension of the past, and unites us in service to the kingdom.

Comment: All right. I confess. I’m a pedant. The use of “suface” as a transitive verb (“together will likely surface past relational and perspectival tensions”) made me crazy. However, the primary problem with this section is the same as the previous section. It is simplistic. For one thing, while it is likely that the PCA was agreed on inerrancy when it was founded (it is, after all, written into our officers vows), that seems to be less clearly the case now. Or, at the very least, the definition of inerrancy is undergoing change. Just witness the response to the removal of Peter Enns from the faculty at Westminster Seminary. Many of the blog posts and comments were written by men in the PCA. As a result, it is fair to say that among some men in the PCA, inerrancy may not mean what it did in 1973, and there may be a diminishing commitment to the doctrine.

Second, it is true that there has been dissension over what it means to be Reformed. That is a good thing, not a bad one, as the paragraph implies. The better we know who we are, the better we will be able to define our mission. It was the defining of Luther and his followers in opposition to the Catholicism of his day that enabled them to forge ahead with their own mission. It was the distinguishing of Reformed from Lutheran that allowed both groups to focus better on their own missions. In each case, there was significantly hotter debate than the PCA has seen in its almost forty years. Third, at this point it is fair to ask the question, what does it mean to be confessional? The PC(USA) claims to be confessional. But for that denomination, it means that they have a Book of Confessions that thells them where they were in the past, but has little or no influence on current thinking or practice in the denomination. According to the PCA officer vows, being confessional means that we “receive and adopt” the Westminster Standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture.” That means that the Standards are a starting place for debate. If we conclude that in some place or other the Standards do not reflect the teaching of Scripture, then the Standards need to be changed, rather than ignored. It is likely the case that much of the dissension in the PCA over the last couple of decades has come as a result of some in the PCA being confessional more in the former, PC(USA) sense, and some being confessional in the latter sense.

Third, the missional disunity of the PCA has been characteristic of the denomination since the birth of the denomination. It is to the shame of the denomination that we have been presbyterian only with regard to organizational structure, and congregational in almost all our attempts at fulfilling the Great Commission, and that this problem has never been adequately addressed by the denomination.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 2

A. Charting Change

In order to bring about healthy change a church must develop a “holy discontent” with some aspects of its present situation. If people assume that everything is right (ER in the chart below), then there is no incentive to change. Apathy and immobility characterize the church because any change is presumed to be the enemy of present comfort. But the antidote to apathy is not panic. Those who seek to bring about change by claiming that everything is wrong (EW in the chart below) create cynicism and paralysis. Change is meaningless when hope dies. When everything is wrong the perceived enemy is not change but rather the leadership (past or present) that allowed this hopeless situation to develop. Thus, motivations for healthy change cannot be found in either self-serving apathy or otherdirected cynicism, but rather in something between.

Healthy change occurs when problems are acknowledged – providing motivation for change – along with a realistic vision of what life can be when problems are addressed – providing hope for the future. People who have hope for a changed future are neither apathetic nor despairing; they believe, “We Have a Mission(WHAM in the chart below) and want to make progress in God’s purposes. A compelling sense of mission creates zeal for change, and makes any barrier to progress toward the envisioned future the real enemy. The “sweet spot” for healthy change occurs when God’s people understand and unite in missional purpose. Mission creates zeal for change, hope for tomorrow, and a desire to see plans that tell us how our lives can further God’s purposes.

Thus, the goal of this Strategic Plan is not to convince others that everything is right or that everything is wrong. In order to annul apathy, we intend to be realistic about the challenges we must face (both internally and externally). In order to dispel despair, we intend to identify the resources and blessings God has granted the PCA. Finally, we intend to propose plans for using these resources and blessings in ways that we pray will unite and ignite God’s people for his purposes. All of this we do because we believe we have a mission, and we believe the vast majority of those in the PCA believe the same.

Charting Change

Situation Attitudes Responses Perceived Enemy

EW CynicismParalysis Past/Present leadership enemy

WHAM Zeal/Change Barriers to Progress

ER Apathy/ Immobility Change is Enemy

Summary: In understanding the situation of the PCA, there are three possible attitudes: 1) everything is wrong with the denomination; 2) nothing is wrong with the denomination; 3) some things are wrong with the denomination, but they can be fixed with the right attitude, and the right use of resources.

Comment: Wow! What a simplistic, even simple-minded, analysis. First, I don’t think anyone in the PCA is in either the ER or the EW groups. That means we’re all somewhere in the middle. We agree that there are problems. The things about which we disagree involve the best approach to solving those problems. Another way of putting it (referring to the chart above) is that from one perspective, one of the barriers to real progress is past and/or present leadership. Another barrier to progress is the wrong kind of change. In the USA, for example, a lot of people are convinced that President Obama’s change is a barrier to real progress. So the real situation is much more complex that this analysis allows for.

But note also the acronyms. Ew, that really stinks! Er, I don’t see what the problem is. Wham! We have a mission! Now let’s get everybody excited about our mission! This sounds like something that came out of a retreat weekend by the folks in “The Office.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 1

There are four documents that make up the PCA Strategic Plan: a Plan Narrative Analysis, a Funding Plan Model, an Executive Summary of the Funding Plan Model, and a discussion of Rules Changes to the PCA Book of Church Order and Rules of Assembly Operations necessitated by the Plan. I will proceed through the documents in that order. The Narrative Analysis is by far the longest of the documents (28 pp in pdf), so it will take a number of posts. I will try to deal with 1-2 pp per post. This is the first page of the Plan. I give the text of the Plan itself, followed by a brief summary, concluding with comments. That will be the format for all of these posts.

PCA Strategic Plan Prepared for 2009 and 2010 Cooperative Ministries Committee


The Presbyterian Church in America progresses into its fourth decade with increasing

awareness of the challenges presented by our changing world as we seek to be faithful to our Sovereign Lord. One obvious way of measuring the net effect of these challenges is the decreasing rate of the PCA’s numerical growth. Through the early decades of our existence we grew at between five and eight percent per year (enabling us roughly to double in total size each decade). In recent years our growth has been two to three percent. These dynamics are typical of young organizations and institutions whose periods of advance and regression are often represented by a modified S-curve:

While numerical growth is not necessarily a gauge of faithfulness or influence, slowed growth at least requires consideration of how we should best represent our Savior and most responsibly participate in the progress of his Kingdom. Organizations that best fulfill their mission determine how to maintain their values while honestly facing challenges that could lead to longterm decline (anticipating needed change before a decline in the S-curve becomes precipitous). This Strategic Plan seeks to address these realities by helping the PCA identify its challenges, address them with strategies that are consistent with our biblical values, and build denominational support for implementing these strategies. The overall goal is to enable the church to work together to steward its blessings and resources to advance the cause of Christ according to the principles and priorities of his Word.

Summary: The PCA is not growing as quickly as it has been, down from approximately 8% increase per year to 2-3% increase per year. This fact needs to be considered now, in light of the challenges the PCA is facing, in order to avoid the possibility of moving from continued growth to slow (and increasing) decline.

Comment: While true, this does not consider the reasons for the faster growth in earlier years, such as the addition of the RPCES in 1982 by joining and receiving, the addition of Korean-language presbyteries starting in 1982, churches moving into the PCA from other denominations or from independency, and other factors. Those considerations alone could account for the more rapid early growth, and the current slower rate of growth.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Note to a Friend: Why Using Dr. Chappell to Explain the PCA Strategic Plan is Unwise

The new PCA Strategic Plan is out, and available at the PCA website (see here: The reader will notice that Dr. Bryan Chappell was selected to present the plan on video. In my estimation, this was an unwise move on the part of the Cooperative Ministries Committee, for the following reasons.

First, to the naturally cynical among us, it looks like a political move. I confess to being among the naturally cynical. It may well be that Dr. Chappell was chosen for the videos simply because he is an able and compelling speaker. However, Dr. Chappell is also the president of the only PCA seminary. Since he travels widely, and speaks frequently, his is perhaps the most widely recognized face in the PCA. That gives his presentation of the Plan a cachet that it would not have had if it were presented and explained by Joe Blow. If we want the Plan to be considered on its merits, it would be better to keep personality out of it.

Second, to the naturally uncynical among us, the fact that Dr. Chappell is presenting the Plan must mean that the Plan is a good one. After all, isn't he the president of the PCA's seminary, one of the fastest-growing seminaries in the country (779 students, 451 full-time equivalent as of Fall 2009)? In other words, whether the intent was there or not, there is in fact a political effect to having Dr. Chappell do the presentation.

It would have been better had Roy Taylor, the PCA Stated Clerk, done the presentation. After all, it certainly fits in with the scope of his duties. Or if not him, someone not known, whose presentation would therefore lack the built-in bias of Dr. Chappell's presentation.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: Discourses of Redemption, by Stuart Robinson

This is a review of a very old book (published in 1869). It has not, as far as I know, ever been reprinted. It is available now on Google Books, as well as in several of the better libraries around the country. I have heard rumors that it is soon to be reprinted, and if it is, I would encourage my readers to buy it. However, since I don't know for certain, I'll just let my readers know that if it is to be reprinted, and I get the details, I will let my readers know immediately.

Robinson was a Southern Presbyterian, and his view of the church can be summed up in Jesus' statement to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." Robinson's book was brought to my attention by Nick Willborn, and I have finally gotten around to reading.

The work can be called an early attempt at Biblical theology, or redemptive-historical theology. But the reader must not expect to meet here something equivalent to Bruce Waltke's Old Testament Theology, nor even something like Geerhardus Vos's Biblical Theology. What it shares with Vos is the fact that the chapters are discourses, or lectures, though these lectures were personally put into writing by Robinson, not later collected from lecture notes. It also shares with Vos the fact that it covers both Old and New Testaments. What it does not share with either Vos or Waltke is their interaction with critical scholarship. It is not that Robinson was ignorant of that scholarship. It is rather that he found it unhelpful. Beside that he was doing something completely different from what anyone else was doing in those days.

Robinson moves through the Bible, selecting particular passages that highlight the development of the gospel and the growth and organization of the church. Thus, Discourse III deals with the revelation of redemption to the patriarchs, while Lecture IV presents the organization of the church visible in the patriarchal period. He proceeds through the various periods of the Old Testament showing the growth and development of the gospel. Shifting to the New Testament, he deals with a number of passages from the Gospels, showing what was revealed by the earthly ministry of Jesus. He finishes with several passages from the New Testament epistles and a concluding Discourse from the end of Revelation.

I found a number of the Discourses particularly helpful. Discourse IV on the organization of the visible church with its seal is very useful for those struggling with understanding the role of baptism in a truly biblical-theological fashion. The discourses on the role of David and his kingship as pointing to the Messianic kingdom clarify a number of issues that are being disputed today in Reformed circles. Discourse XI, on the three parables of Luke 15 clearly demonstrate the Trinitarian nature of redemption. The treatment of the the rich man and Lazarus in Discourse XIII is a clear defense of the justice and necessity of hell. The final Discourse (XX) sounds the clarion call of the gospel as it comes from the enthroned Christ.

There are in addition some useful appendices. I would draw the reader's attention especially to Appendix B on the role of the church in the scheme of redemption, and Appendix D on the biblical view of the relationship between church and state.

If this book is brought back into print, I encourage you to buy it. Those who bring such useful works back into the public eye should be rewarded for their labors.

Finally, I would draw your attention to Dr. C. N. Willborn's article "Biblical Theology in Southern Presbyterianism," in The Hope Fulfilled: Essays in Honor of O. Palmer Robertson, ed. Robert L. Penny (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), 3-25.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Lord of the Sabbath, by Keith Weber

This is a short work (158 pages of text, plus a little over six pages of end notes and bibliography). However, it is a thoroughly packed work, so the reader should not expect a quick read. As might be guessed from the title, it deals with the issue of the Christian Sabbath. Unlike many other works on the topic, it is not filled with direct references to or quotations of earlier works on the topic. Instead, it is an exegetical work that focuses on a number of important Bible passages relevant to the Sabbath. Of the ten chapters, the first five deal with specific Old Testament passages that define the Sabbath and its place not only in the context of the people of Israel, but in the wider context of the development of theology in the Old Testament. The remaining five chapters deal with specific New Testament texts that focus on the relation of the Sabbath to the Christian believer. In the book, Weber omits two things that might be expected in such a work. First, he gives no list of what must not (or what must) be done on the Sabbath. Second, he has adopted a deliberately irenic tone toward those with whom he disagree. These are both significant strengths of the work. He adds to these the strict focus on answering the question, “What does the Bible say on the matter?” The result is a book that presents a compelling case without antagonizing those who would be inclined to be skeptical of Weber’s conclusions.

Chapters that I found especially helpful are those on the significance of the law in the Old Testament (ch 3); a discussion of the Sabbath psalm, Psalm 93 (ch 4); Jesus’ statement about being Lord of the Sabbath (ch 6), and his discussion of Hebrews 4 (ch 8). Weber avoids extensive discussion of Hebrew and Greek, though it is clear that he has done his preparation in the original languages. He consistently remembers that he is not writing for the biblical specialist, nor for the systematic theologian, but for the common English-speaking reader of the Bible. He carefully leads the reader around possible pitfalls and into a carefully nuanced understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath.