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Journal Journal

David Hall

With this opening installment of "Journal Journal," we welcome David Hall as a new Contributing Editor of Antithesis. In this new feature, David Hall briefly summarizes and comments on various contemporary theological essays appearing in a spectrum of journals in order to provide a brief resource for continuing study and to update readers on current developments.
"Straddling Modernism and Postmodernism" by Leonard I. Sweet; Theology Today, July 1990, vol. XLVII, no. 2 (Princeton Theo. Sem.)

This article may be up for article of the year, despite its liberal environment! In it, Sweet sees both of the major contemporary currents of theology as out-of-touch with the church. Quick to turn a phrase (e.g. Sweet refers to "`the killer Bs' -- Allan Bloom and William Bennett" -- p. 161), Sweet excoriates the agnostic heart of deconstructionism in this manner: "...in spite of all the anti-foundationalist critiques of reason and the barbarism of rationalism, process theologians prove to be some of the staunchest defenders and practitioners of the agnostic, agonistic nature of the scientific method" (p. 161). After exposing "a hermetic elitism" (p. 162) of the process theologians, Sweet criticizes that the, "incredulous insularity that leads John Cobb and Joseph Hough to `call on Christians to give up Christocentrism' at the same time they advocate locating theological education wholly within the realm of the church" betrays "just how remote from the pew, process thought has built its bridges to the culture. The only more blatant irrelevance that comes to mind is the march toward Marxism-Leninism by the darlings of the Western church (liberation theologians) and the academic darlings of the Western university (Marxist scholars). This procession is unforgettable. For crossing the bridge going the other way was another liberation march -- the whole geo-political world of communism in stampede from Marxism-Leninism, led by members of the Eastern church. Marxism has been moribund for years. The last to know it were the Western church and academy" (p. 163).

Further, Sweet views the "conjunctive theologies" (similar to `hyphenated-theologies', e.g., feminist-theology, or liberation-theology) as the final stage of theological degeneration, and exposes decon-structionism's philosophic root as follows: "Mark C. Taylor upholding and John D. Caputo notwithstanding, we have been down this road before, in a different vehicle. The model and make was then known as `death of God' theology. Deconstruction is one of the most blatantly atheistic theologies produced by the modern era" (p. 163). Sweet prophesies, "God only knows what to say about a theology which...is distinguished by its beliefs that nothing can be known for certain; that there is nothing outside the text, and the text breaks apart in one's hands until one is left holding emptiness; that every subject is dead or a bad metaphysical joke; that meaning is undecidable, indecipherable, and indeterminate; and that ideas of religious revelation are ludicrous" (p. 164). In his concluding paragraph, Sweet observes, "the modern era is undergoing collapse and disintegration; its wounds mortal; its illness, terminal....The church's intelligentsia, confused and dispirited, is in no position to do much about these destructive forces" (p. 1). This is an article to read, an example of a truly self-critical approach. It moves us to pray that all theologians will take an honest inventory of their adopted philosophies of ministry. It also dissects for us the latest theological fad -- deconstructionism.

"Sex Education and The Biblical Christian" by James L. Fletcher, Jr, M.D.; The Journal Of Biblical Ethics in Medicine, Spring 1990, vol 4, no. 2

In a long overdue article, the Christian Pastor and Counselor can now have at his fingertips a concise rebuttal to the safe-sex myth (cf. also the recent editorial by Dr. Robert C. Noble in the April 1, 1991 Newsweek [p. 8] for a secular rendition.). In this article, Dr. Fletcher first argues that secular sex-education between 1960 and 1980, rather than preventing unwanted pregnancies, served to increase those by 500%. He calls on physicians as doctores to teach as their Latin moniker implies. In treating the casualties of the Sexual Revolution, it is important for the Christian physician to know both that (1) safe-sex education "has produced little or no effect on sexual activity" (p. 23), and that (2) safe-sex typically harbors no moral repugnance toward induced abortion, the ultimate back-up" (p. 23).

In the second part of this article, Fletcher presents empirical data showing that School Based clinics and other so-called safe-sex techniques have not proven effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies or STD's. He also recommends several good abstinence-based curricula, and reminds the Christian physician (and Pastor) that "the ideologies at war, despite the misunderstanding of some Christians, are mutually exclusive: We may hardly deliver a lasting lesson on chastity when it is followed by a condom-on-a-zucchini demonstration" (p. 26). In conclusion, he implores, "We remonstrate about tobacco and cholesterol, why not about promiscuity?" (p. 27). This is a well-documented article, with no unnecessary verbiage. It should be read by all. Share this one with a Doctor in your congregation. It even has the makings for a good sermon or two. These are the kinds of articles for which this journal is becoming known.

"Church-Related Software and Hardware" by J. Ralph Hardee; Review and Expositor, Spring 1990, vol. 87, no.2

This article, with three appendices ("Church Administration Software", "Church Computing Resources", and "Glossary"), is an excellent and state of the art summation. It is one of the best bibliographies on ecclesio-computing I've seen. The first appendix lists suppliers and their basic products, while the second is an annotated bibliography. This is a worthwhile article to copy and save (or is it Flush Right and Merge?).

"Dr. John Stott on Hell" by Robert L. Reymond; Presbuterion, Spring 1990, vol XVI, no. 1

In a much needed response to Stott's recent apology for annihilationism, Dr. Reymond (now at Knox Theo. Sem.) answers Stott's plea for dialogue on this subject. Nonetheless, one realizes that Stott probably didn't want this kind of dialogue. Reymond seeks to rebut Stott's arguments point-by-point. This is a helpful article for those wading through this issue and could be adapted for a good adult Sunday School discussion on a number of related matters.

There is also an interesting, if brief response from Stott in the Fall, 1990 issue of Presbuterion (vol. XVI, no. 2). One can see in that response that Stott has received Reymond's criticism, yet is still unconvinced. Instead, Stott pleads for a recognition of the diversity of possible interpretations, and begs "that biblical Christians should not dogmatise here, but allow some flexibility of interpretation" (p. 128). Too bad.

Also this issue of the newly-improved Presbuterion contains several Short Contributions which are quickly read, and helpful. In addition, a spiffed up Book Review Section makes this journal much improved.

In Presbuterion Fall, 1990 are two outstanding models of exegetical artistry. The first article which I'd recommend is "Who Are `The Rich' in James" by George Stulac. This pastor exhibits the skills of an exegete as he provides a fine study on the `rich' in James, an extract of his forthcoming commentary on James on the IVP label. Stulac summarizes the linguistic, historical, literary, and canonical factors well, with a nice concluding section on application.

Another article which is even better is Ron Lutjens' "You Do Not Do What You Want: What Does Galatians 5:17 Really Mean?" In this survey of interpretations, ranging from Augustine, to Luther, to Hans Dieter-Betz, Lutjens shows his mastery of the history of the hermeneutic of this passage, as well as superior exegetical skill. All this from a Pastor, combines to yield an article which is both comprehensive and original. This is exegesis from the Reformed tradition at its best! It is hoped that this journal will continue to offer superior exegetical articles like these (Subscription for this semi-annual journal is $6.00).

One more article to consult or copy from this journal is Prof. Robert Peterson's "Perseverance and Apostasy: A Bibliographic Essay". In this short article, Peterson provides helpful resources on these subjects from popular, historical, exegetical, and theological perspectives -- nice to have available.

"Has Lordship Salvation Been Taught Throughout Church History?" by Thomas G. Lewellen; Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan-Mar 1990, vol. 147, no. 585

This article is a must for the contemporary pastor, because it contains so many defenses of error! In yet another response to J. MacArthur's last book, Lewellen argues that "Lordship salvation" as opposed to free (read: without commitment) salvation has not been taught throughout history. And he picks the worst possible pillars from history upon which to buttress his argument. Of all people, Lewellen chooses Luther, Calvin, and Augustine to agree with him. His revisionist (and poorly researched) history seeks to place a wedge between ancient and modern Calvinists. History will not support this. One wants to ask:"Has historiography ever been taught throughout certain Seminary's Church History departments?"

The "non-Lordship" view (a more honest term), Lewellen contends, was held by Augustine (based on a singular out-of-context quote -- "Faith, to Augustine, was simply mental assent to understood propositions, and nothing more" -- p. 56), and Calvin, whom Lewllen thoroughly misunderstands. You've got to read this to believe it! The only legitimate support for the non-Lordship view comes from Lutherans, who share a few aspects of the creedal position of DTS on the Law. Lewellen blames the Puritans for creating the Lordship view, and cites the Westminster Confession of Faith as a prime example of such. He at least gets it right that the WCF teaches Lordship salvation. He also cites Dabney out of context to make him appear to disagree with Calvin on this basic issue.

Most distressing is his distortion of Calvin (as seen in the following). While citing Calvin as viewing faith as "something merely passive"(p. 56), Lewellen rejects Calvin's own thesis that "The one coming to Christ does absolutely nothing" (p. 57), because this history does not fit with Lewellen's theory. When comparing J. MacArthur's recent agreement with the Westminster standards on this subject, Lewellen, thinks that MacArthur is more of a Westminster advocate than was John Calvin "who disagreed with it" (p. 59).

The historical errors abound in this article. The author seems so intent on buttressing his novel theory that he distorts the works of Augustine, Calvin, Dabney, Packer and most of our other Reformed forefathers in the faith -- quite an accomplishment for one short article. Yet the article is a must read due to its centrality at the heart of our faith, sanctification, and in view of the esteem for the author and his theological community. This would be a good article to reproduce for an adult Sunday School class or for a group of Elders to hone their theological skills. Read it, but don't believe it!

"And It Came To Pass: The Bible as God's Storybook" by Leland Ryken; Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 1990, vol. 147, no. 586

In this, the second of four parts of the 1989 Griffith-Thomas Lecture at DTS, Ryken continues his development of the possibilities for evangelicals using narrative theology. In this article, he suggests that we might see the Bible as a whole better, if we looked at it as a literary piece connected by essentially literary features, e.g. central plot with conflict, interaction among characters, dialogue from the characters, focus on the choices of those characters, as well as, elements of suspense, surprise, and discovery present in stories. Further Ryken urges preachers to be sensitive to the unity and coherence of plot-lines, protagonist vs. antagonist motifs, and concrete experiences of the characters. Championing narratology as "the best possible organizing framework for individual parts of the Bible" (p. 133), Ryken is adroit at challenging us to be more sensitive to literary features, to be more extensive in developing settings, and to focus on characters as "in some sense universal" (p. 135). He also pleads for us to retain the distinctiveness of Biblical narrative, including the factual realism and marvelous romantic tendency. "Most distinctive of all," he says, "is the regularity with which God is a character in the stories" (p. 140). Finally Ryken encourages us to see our own "story-telling" as the most essential witness, and urges us to develop more story-tellers, who will tell the good story. This is another challenging article, which deserves to be read, as well as criticized. Yet, it has much of value for the Pastor.

Also, in the subsequent issue of Bibliotheca Sacra, July-Sept. 1990, vol. 147, no. 587 is the sequel. "`I Have Used Similtudes': The Poetry of the Bible" by Leland Ryken is the 3rd installment of the 1989 Griffith-Thomas Lectures at Dallas Seminary. In this one, Ryken explores the dynamics and prevalence of poetry as a Scriptural genre. He even estimates that the Bible is at least 1/3 poetry. He sees the essence of this poetry, not so much in the parallelism alone, as in the imaging, employment of metaphor, and other figurative concepts. This part concludes with a section on "Implications for Preaching and Teaching," but it is the weakest in the series so far.

"Presbyterians in the South, Centralization, and the Book of Church Order, 1861-1879" by Jack Maddex; Journal of Presbyterian History, Spring 1990, vol. 68, no. 1

This is a superb article for the Pastor or Elder interested in the development of the Southern Presbyterian government. Spawned by the Civil War, along with the unique cultural factors at work during that era, the PCCSA was immediately faced with the creation of its constitution. This article by a Thornwell expert (at the Univ. of Oregon) explores the evolution of Thornwellian concepts as they survived the pressures of Reconstruction in the mid-19th century. Maddex is a most competent historian who includes a phenomenal set of footnotes. These are the most exhaustive footnotes, I've ever seen for one article (214 footnotes)! His thesis is that despite Thornwell's legacy of decentralization in Southern Presbyterianism, Thornwell really advocated a large measure of centralization in the beginning. The final result of the 1879 Book of Church Order was far different from Thornwell's original proposals in 1861. The fears, cultural distrust of Reconstruction, and exigencies of the post-civil war economy forced the Southern Presbyterian church into far more decentralization than Thornwell originally wanted. For all who desire a better understanding of the antecedent of modern southern Presbyterianisms, this article is central for a better understanding of such roots. It is written by a sensitive and realistic historian, who seems to have sniffed out the real plots, often obscured by reverence for tradition.

In fine, visit your local library, or subscribe to a few good journals, and save yourself a lot of time by benefitting from OPR ("Other People's Research").


Rev. David W. Hall is Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. He has contributed to various theological journals and is Editor of The Presbyter's Review, a digest of theological journals.
Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1991
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