Friday, November 2, 2007

And the Sign Said You Have to Have a Membership Card to Get Inside

Ponder this paragraph from Michael Bauman's Pilgrim Theology (Summit, 2007):

". . . young theologians are right to believe that if they write with candor, imagination, or creativity about certain theological realities many doors will close to them. They will not be able to make a living. They will not be allowed to participate in the life and activities of various important institutions and professional societies. Participation in new research and in publication programs will be denied them. Influential people will be alienated, and the opinion that a particular young theologian is unsound and unsafe will be disseminated quickly, widely, and slanderously — all under the pretense that evangelical scholarship is objective, reflective, and teachable. Pressure is exerted either to accommodate (i.e., to dissemble) or to leave: 'We'll have none of that kind of thinking around here!' they are told. Those who agree, and those who can and do accommodate, become the teachers of the next generation; and they perpetuate this sinister tyranny on those who follow. Those who do not accommodate are excluded and are believed to be the enemy. The danger to truth and to integrity can hardly be greater. In theology, as in politics, there are dictatorships it is our sacred duty to oppose, if not overthrow" (p. 40).


Jim said...


My insight comes from an area outside of theology. So maybe it doesn't apply at all. Nonetheless, one insight I had during grad school is that it's called a "discipline" for a reason. Namely, it discipline's thought. You cannot lead unless you've submitted. It's the novice's conceit that he can create without first submitting.

To be sure, I expect that some creativity is lost as a result. That's the cost. But the benefit is that a lot of dross is thrown out as well. I suspect that the benefit greatly exceeds the cost.

A truly creative person can learn to articulate his innovations in a way that will persuade his peers.

Gatekeeping serves a positive, as well as a negative, function.

David A Booth said...


As more of an insider than you, I want to suggest that the problem is much more severe than you might imagine.

When I was at Reformed Theological Seminary, it wasn't uncommon to hear students ask professor's "what do we think about such and such?" I hope that hearing seminary students ask questions like that would put a knot in your stomach. Such students were looking for the "correct" answers that would allow them access to the guild. Such men will never lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11).

This is not simply an area where some creativity is being lost. We are at serious risk of making a narrow strand of the Reformed Tradition to be our primary standard for faith and practice - using Scripture only to illustrate the Tradition.

Do you really want a pastor who has a second-hand faith that isn't grounded in his own serious wrestling with God's word?


David A Booth said...


Along similar lines, ATB McGowan has written: "In some circles today, when anyone seeks to explore a new idea or restate an old one in new words, there is an immediate rush to judgment. Often this approach amounts to theological bullying and oppression, leading to a situation where scholars do not feel free to go where they believe God through his Word is leading them, for fear that they will be declared heretics before they have even had time to explore the matter properly. In some situations, people run to the church courts and demand an ecclesiastical 'trial', where the more sensible approach would be to take a good long time to think and pray and study God's Word. Sometimes the pressure is more subtle, with younger scholars being advised to avoid certain issues or certain positions 'for the sake of their career'. This is a deeply regrettable and unfortunate situation. Evangelical scholars must have the courage of their convictions and be prepared to challenge (where necessary) the Creeds, Confessions, and practices of the churches (Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology."


Jim said...

Hi David,

I "think" I understand the issue, although I'm happy to concede it does not directly affect me.

My only point is that it is in fact impossible for organizations not to impose gate-keeping functions. I dare say you do not want the PCA open literally to all theological views that can be imagined or created. That would not serve the sheparding function either.

So my point is that it's not an either/or question (do you have gatekeepers or don't you have gatekeepers), it's a question of where you draw the line. Some "young theologians," inevitably, will be faced with pressure either to accommodate (which might include submission as well as dissimulation) or leave.

It's unavoidable in this world, even when all parties are acting in good faith.

David A Booth said...



Yes, gatekeepers are both inevitable and necessary - the question is what are they actually screening in and out.

1. Shouldn't the theological gatekeepers be screening OUT those men who simply agree with the approved party-line answers - but who don't wrestle directly with the Scriptures? In my judgment, this happens all too rarely. It has often been said that no-one who has memorized the Shorter Catechism has ever failed a licensure exam in the OPC or PCA. To the extent that this is true - it is also pathetic.

2. Gatekeepers need to be able to put things in perspective. There is a world of difference between someone denying the substitutionary atonement and someone who is attempting to explain the covenant of works in somewhat different language. To exclude a man from ministry who denies the substitutionary atonement is absolutely necessary. To exclude someone from ministry because he thinks there might be a better way to talk about God's relationship with Adam than that formulated by some dead Puritan is implicitly a denial of Sola Scriptura. In this case, the gatekeepers are ruling out of bounds the formal cause of the Reformation.

Best wishes,


Jeff Cagle said...


Which branch of RTS did you attend? I ask only because at RTS Washington, I didn't hear much of that. And, most of my profs were more exegetically oriented than systematically.

I agree whole-heartedly with your comment #1.

Comment #2 helps clarify the current furor over the FV. For some, taking exception to the language "Covenant of Works" *is* a denial of substitutionary atonement, because for them the phrase "substitutionary atonement" includes an entire mechanism: that on the cross, our sin was imputed to Christ and at faith, his works are imputed to us, which necessitates works being done, which necessitates a covenant of works to begin with.

In that framework, it can be very difficult to uncouple the necessary parts of the system from the parts that could be re-worded.

In that sense, the battle over the FV really is just an extension of the battle over Norm Shepherd.

Jeff M: would you be willing to take a second round of questions? I've been reading "The Federal Vision", and I'd like to understand whether some of my red flags are the results of misunderstandings or disagreements.

Jeff Cagle

Jeff Meyers said...

Jeff: Just a few comments on your comment above. Some clarification.

I have no problem with the substitutionary atonement. I embrace it. I affirm the imputation of Adam's guilt to Christ and his suffering punishment for our sin. I also affirm the necessity of his doing good works. And that his faithful works were necessary for our redemption. And I also affirm the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers. No problem so far.

What I deny is that Jesus was in some sort of pre-lapsarian kind of relationship with God before the cross such that he had to earn God's favor by means of his moral achievements. And that the merits of these moral achievements are then somehow transfered to us via imputation. I deny that Adam was in any such kind of relationship with God before the fall. I deny that Jesus earned something for us by the accumulated merits of his moral achievements in his life before the cross.

But what I don't deny is that his whole life found it's meaning and fulfillment in his self-giving death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection and glorification. I don't deny, but rather affirm that the righteous status of the resurrected Jesus is judicially (or forensically) mine because I am united with him by the Spirit through faith.

So it's not that "we" deny the necessity of Jesus' good works. We have a problem with the notion that his pre-cross works are somehow meritorious in addition to the cross. We deny that the cross gets our sins dealt with and that Jesus' pre-cross works gets us the positive righteousness that we need. There's just nothing at all in the Bible about such a scheme. It seems rather nicely symmetrical, but lacks biblical support. Someone can believe it if they want, but I don't have to in order to remain a faithful Reformed Christian.

Yes, you can ask questions, Jeff. I may not get to them very quickly since I'm on vacation for a week or so starting tomorrow.

Jeff Cagle said...

And just to be clear as well: I was NOT putting forward the positive claim that FV rejects substitutionary atonement. I don't believe that for an instant.

I was merely noting that the same forces and difficulties that went into the NS debate at Westminster appear to be the forces and difficulties at work here.

Have a good vacation.

Jeff C

David A Booth said...


I attended RTS in Jackson from '89-'91.

BTW - I am not an advocate of the FV and I do embrace the Covenant of Works as an appropriate way of explaining what the Bible teaches.

My objection is against requiring men to embrace extra-Biblical formulations, that have only been used by a tiny percentage of Christians, as being virtually irreformable.

Best wishes,