Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Teaching Church Practice (II)

The Crying Need for Real Pastoral Care Today
I trust that you had a very blessed Thanksgiving Day celebration in and with your families. Sally, my bride of almost forty years, and I spent a week in Palm Springs prior to Thanksgiving. The week away gave her the opportunity to rest up from her trip to Atlanta and me a chance to rest up from being Mr. Mom for eight days! Anyway, we’re rested, sufficiently filled with tryptophan, and ready to resume our writing of these columns again.
Shamelessly, I’ll put in two plugs for myself. First, we have a new web master for my web site which has been malfünkten (that’s not really a German word. I just made it up.) for far too long. Anyway, my second son, Geoff, is now doing my web site. I prayed about that for a long time but, in the final analysis, Sally and I thought it would give him something productive to do with his time while he’s serving his sentence. He told me he likes it a lot better than making license plates (that’s a joke).
Second, I have a book review of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics as well as a first installment of a short biography of his life up at You might want to check those out. Now let’s move on to the matter at hand.

Preaching and Pastoral Care
We were talking last time about the Reformers’ and Richard Baxter’s emphasis on preaching and pastoral care—both of which have suffered from lack of proper use. The Reformers placed a healthy emphasis both on preaching and pastoral care as did Baxter. Our tendency in the modern Church, however, is to do something more “cutting edge” than actually preaching biblical sermons and visiting the “chronics” and the “acutes.” It’s difficult, if not next to impossible, to build your empire if you have to spend your time actually visiting the members of your congregation. We can also spend a lot of time either “networking,” which can carry the connotation of “generally dorking around and wasting time while pretending to be busy” or “counseling,” which does have a legitimate place in the pastoral ministry.
Here’s the way John Leith states it his book that we’ve been examining: “Counseling and therapy are crucially important, but they cannot be exercised in the church at the expense of pastoral care of the kind that Richard Baxter wrote, namely, visiting people and knowing them by name.”[1] I’m going to let Leith’s comment about therapy pass completely off the radar and focus on his emphasis on Baxter’s requirements for visiting the people pastors are supposed to be shepherding and actually knowing them by name. This is neither difficult nor rocket science but if will take some tweaking of our expectations both as pastors as well as the proverbial man or woman in the pew.
I was talking to a man recently who was trying to get his son-in-law to go back to church. He finally succeeded, but his son-in-law insisted (read: dictated) that he would not attend any church with less than 1,000 members. One can only wonder where you can find that in the Bible, but that’s for another time. The upshot of this situation is that the man left a very good, solid, and biblical congregation for one where the music is “good.” Helpful. Very helpful.
Do we realize that once we begin—either consciously or unconsciously—to make demands on the size of the congregation that we are placing ourselves in an unnecessary stricture? I’m not arguing against large congregations, per se. I know a number of larger congregations that are very well cared for pastorally and where Christian community is both emphasized and thrives. Out here in Southern California, you can always find a mega-church if you look around. Leith reminds us, however, that in his variation on being Presbo about 65% of the congregations have less than 200 members. I imagine that other denominations have similar statistics.
On the other hand, in general size is not all that important as far as congregations are concerned with the proviso that they can be too small or they can be too large. I know of a situation where one couple was convinced that they could not find a decent church in their area—and it point of fact a number of “decent” churches existed in their area. They were looking for perfection—so the husband preached to the wife every Sunday morning in their living room. This went on for a couple of years until she left for the Baptist church down the road—just kidding. Clearly, this is on the small side.
So what is the proper size? I can’t give you chapter and verse, but Baxter makes what I consider to be a very valid point in his book The Reformed Pastor. He writes, “If the pastoral office consists in overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed to as is here required.”[2] Of course, in many modern churches today, little or no thought is given to overseeing the flock. There is substantially more concern about the size of the flock.
Baxter lays a serious charge at the feet of Teaching and Ruling Elders who refuse or are unwilling to visit the members with whom they’ve been entrusted. In modern English Baxter excoriates those people with these words: “How dare you undertake that which you know yourself unable to perform, when you were not forced to it?”[3] Let’s pause here for a moment. All of us who are involved in pastoral ministry are painfully aware of our many shortcomings. In this sense we always were and always will remain “unable” to perform what God has called us to do. That does not imply, however, that we should not give it a 100% effort. There is a huge task for seminaries to equip pastors for pastoral care as well are for Sessions/Consistories to do the same thing. No one has forced us into pastoral ministry. That being the case, we are to undertake our respective callings in a biblical fashion and not according to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, or Brian McLaren.
Conversely, congregations that are mega-; industrial strength sizes also pose unique problems vis-à-vis pastoral care and preaching. In the case of the latter, preaching tends to get watered down in such settings. For example, have you heard a really solid biblical sermon from Joel Osteen lately? The other problem has to do with pastoral care. There is truly a lost art of pastoral visitation. And when I talk about pastoral visitation, I’m not talking about going to visit the “influential” or those with “deep pockets.”
I’m referring to the spiritual exercise of taking the time to visit each member of your congregation and speak to them about spiritual matters. You’re not there to impress them with your knowledge of Kierkegaard, Derrida, Feuerbach, or Nietzsche but rather to speak to them plainly about scriptural matters. There’s an interesting story about the great Abraham Kuyper when he was a pastor in the Dutch village of Beesd. Being a recent graduate of the prestigious Leiden University, Kuyper took the call to this small village and was the intellectual giant among the farmers in this rural area. His sermons were crammed with the latest philosophy and cutting edge cultural analysis. After one such sermon a simple woman from the congregation named Pietje Baltus commented to Kuyper on her way out of the church building that he was not really preaching the gospel. Kuyper was taken aback at this effrontery, but nevertheless took her words to heart. He began visiting the members of the congregation and her in particular. She instructed him in the true gospel and Kuyper was a changed man.[4]
I cannot even begin to relate what wonderful blessings I have received from visiting God’s people in their homes. You get to see them in their familiar surroundings and to talk to them about God! It is equally difficult to relate how much spiritual benefit I have received when I went to visit a member in the hospital or a “terminal” patient at home. More times than not, I’ve left thinking to myself, They ministered to me more than I ministered to them. Of course, I truly pray that they derived something spiritual from me as well, but this “mutuality” is not to be taken lightly in the pastoral ministry.
It never ceased to amaze me how much assurance so many had when suffering from a disease that would be God’s “exit strategy” for them to enter into glory. It is truly heartening to listen to a man or woman in the congregation speak so eloquently about trusting the Lord and knowing the place to which they were going. In such cases, pastors and Elders must not leave without reading a comforting portion of Scripture and praying with the person. If I were in a hospital room and another patient was present I always ask if I can pray for them as well. Remember: people tend to get very religious in the face of death!
On your visits you want to inquire whether their Bible reading has been steady, regular. How is their prayer life? If they are married, are they reading and praying together? Is there a consistent family worship led by the father? Are there any particular areas of their life that need prayer, support, and encouragement? Baxter offers the following suggests for those who is at a loss as how to implement what Baxter is talking about when he discusses pastoral care. Here are some suggestions:
First, “Get information how each family is ordered, that you may know how to proceed in your endeavors for their further good.”[5]
Next, “Go occasionally among them, when they are likely to be most at leisure (read: sitting around in their leather thong drinking scotch), and ask the master of the family whether he prays with them, and reads the Scripture, or what he does?”[6]
Finally, “See that in every family there are some useful…books, beside the Bible.”[7] In other words, recommend some solid (not the modern evangelical fluffy spiritual junk food) Christian classics and get them accustomed to reading again rather than watching Desperate Housewives, American Idol, TBN, or the latest Survivor series.In our next issue, which will be the final installment on Leith’s recommendations, we’ll listen to what he says about choosing seminary professors and the pastor’s call. I’ll add my thoughts on counseling as a pastor.

[1] John Leith, Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 67.
[2] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p. 88.
[3] Ibid., 91.
[4] See H. Algra, Het Wonder van de Negentiende Eeuw, Van Vrije Kerken en Kleine Luyden, (Franeker: T. Wever, 1966), pp. 304-314. If you can’t read Dutch, go network or sit in your hot tub in your thong and drink a scotch. Take my word for it, this really happened to Kuyper.
[5] Leith, CC, 100.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 101.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Teaching Church Practice

The Forgotten Past
The Reformation had a number of godly men who, for whatever reason, seem to have gotten lost in the proverbial shuffle. Among such great Reformers are Heinrich Bullinger—known to his good friends as “Hank” or “Hanklein”—and Martin Bucer (or Butzer), the Reformer of Straßbourg.
John Leith opens his chapter on “Teaching Church Practice” by citing the well-known John Calvin (1509-1564) and the lesser-known but highly competent Martin Bucer (1491-1551). One of Leith’s theses has been all but lost on modern Christians: “Church practice has always been critically important for Reformed Christians.”[1]
Some might respond that the modern Church is ultimately concerned about church practice. After all, in evangelical circles just about all you hear is the desire to make Scripture practical; relevant. The irony of modern evangelicalism is that its position is far removed from what the Reformers had in mind when they spoke about Church practice. When “Church practice” is mentioned, the modern Christian is, as often as not, referring to the “accoutrements” of being entertained (ostensibly called “worship” in the 21st century); while the Reformers were referring to the biblical boundaries surrounding what was true worship of the Lord.
Now as much bad press as Calvin has received (in light of Michael Servetus, many think that Calvin’s theme song was “Burn, baby, burn!”) Leith’s next comments will come as a surprise to some: “His letters were pastoral. He understood his primary calling in Geneva…as a pastor.”[2] Leith rightly points out that Calvin was deeply indebted to Martin Bucer who taught Calvin that “that the Reformed church had to devise new methods of nurturing people in the faith.”[3] To that end, Bucer “devoted an entire book to pastoral care.”[4]
What was the content of Bucer’s work? Clearly, it was multifaceted, but by and large, “He pioneered…the use of catechetical training and admission to the Lord’s Table as a means not only of teaching the faith, but of developing the life of the community.”[5] Let’s take a few moments and analyze this.
First, Bucer was concerned about the place of catechetical training in the congregation. This has all but become a lost spiritual art. So-called “new methods” have supplanted catechism teaching/training to the detriment of the man, woman, and child in the pew. Modern Christians, on balance, are abysmally ignorant about the most fundamental truths of Scripture. They cannot tell you where to find the Ten Commandments, and, once found, what those commandments actually are. You get a “deer in the headlights” look if you ask what justification by faith, adoption, union with Christ, and other key biblical doctrines are. Even in my own ecclesiastical tradition—PCA—a number of my colleagues have chased after “George Barna-esque” methods of church growth rather than implement what Bucer found so helpful. Moreover, the number of PCA pastors required to have learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism prior to or during seminary is becoming increasingly smaller. Why is this? Only individual churches and the seminary professors can answer this for us. I’m waiting.
Second, the Reformers spent a great deal of time instructing about the place and importance of the Lord’s Supper. One thing is clear: the Reformers did not view the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to evangelize in the sense that non-believers were allowed at the table. The Holy Meal could be used to instruct non-communicant members as they grew to the point of making their public profession of faith and to strengthen Christians in their earthly pilgrimage. As an added benefit, non-believers could be instructed in the meaning of the Meal without actually allowing them to participate in it.[6]
Third, Bucer emphasized developing the life of the community. Here is an often overlooked point: for the Reformers, worshipping God was a community affair. With all of the emphasis on “community” today, the mega-church and the Emergent Church have both missed the mark of what true community is by quite a bit. Community is more of a “buzz” word today than a practiced reality. It is the reaction—not response—to the impersonal nature of the mega-church movement. People, we are told, are searching for authenticity and community. The rub comes when community is not sought in a biblical fashion but according to the dictates of Dr. Phil, Oprah, or any other pop-psychology.
It seems self-evident to me that any theologian or local congregation that understood the biblical nature of covenant would be, by default, a congregation where true community was practiced. There would not have to be a bevy of books written to instruct us how this community should be effectuated, but it should flow forth naturally from what the leaders and the congregants read and apply from Scripture. While the modern Christian is still trying to reinvent the wheel, Leith demonstrates that Bucer has already given us a very workable way of “doing” pastoral care: “To draw to Christ those who are alienated; to lead back those ho have been drawn away; to secure amendment of life in those who fall into sin; to strengthen weak and sickly Christians; to preserve Christians who are whole and strong, and urge them forward in good.”[7]
This is an excellent working definition because it hits on all cylinders, which a number of modern churches do not do. For example, Bucer begins with an emphasis on reaching out to those who are alienated from the gospel. This is both right and prudent. A number of modern churches make this their sole function, however. They go out and beat the bush to find the lost and get him or her to come to church. This is a good thing. Because these folks are a “square one,” the service and sermons tend to get “dumbed down” to reach their level of understanding. This is also good. The problem arises when the sermons and worship remain at “square one” over a longer period of time. There’s nothing wrong with being at “square one” when you become a Christian. There is something definitely awry if after a year or two that same person is still at square one and the services are still catering to “entry level” Christians. Moreover, our congregations should not be primarily non-Christian over time. There should be spiritual growth and maturity.
Bucer’s second point is very well taken. Historically, the Reformers were dealing with people who had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church. It was only natural that they might have been drawn away by ignorance or superstition or both. There are myriad reasons why those people might have been fed up with the nonsense in the Roman Catholic Church. With the necessary changes being made—mutatis mutandis—the modern Church is also facing folks who have been drawn away from worshipping God for any number of reasons. Since our culture can be described as “neo-barbaric,” it is quite possible that a number of worshippers have become seduced by the fads and pleasures of culture.
Third, there is still the problem of sin in the Church. Preaching and teaching should be directed to the harsh reality of sin as well as the spiritual antidotes to it rather than spending so much time and energy making people feel good about themselves; bolstering their self-esteem. With the Bible open, we are to call sinners away from the “pig sty” of sin and back into the arms of love, grace, and forgiveness. This call also includes amendment of lifestyle, which, when you pause and think about it for a moment, is the natural, spiritual extension of repentance unto life.
Fourth, we are to strengthen weak and sickly Christians. This can be taken a couple of important ways. Strengthening Christians involves equipping them (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Again, far, far too little time is spent in this area in modernity or postmodernity and far, far too much time spent in fluff and entertainment. “Sickly” Christians are probably those who are ill. It is our task to visit them in the hospitals, give them godly comfort, and to pray with and for them. They might also be spiritually sick, so we’ll need to be prepared to counsel them, and not farm them out to the local psychological Duck—Quack! Quack! Quack!
Fifth, we are to preserve whole and strong Christians. This is nothing more or less than feeding God’s sheep—primarily with the solid meat of the Word of God through preaching. Urging them forward in good (cf. 2 Thess. 3:13) means instructing, equipping, and enabling them by means of Scripture.
Rightly, Leith recommends a classic work such as Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. My Session and I are reading this book together currently, and I can vouch for the fact that they have learned exponentially about pastoral care and oversight. I might add that it is sheer joy watching these godly men implement what they are learning. But we find ourselves back at the same familiar point: These men that I have mentioned are all “dead guys.” Their abiding value is not when they were born or when they died, but the clear manner in which their writings breathe the air of Scripture. When we talk about “relevance” few are more relevant than the Reformers due to the fact that what they wrote was almost always in concert with the Word of God. We would do very, very well to take note of this and put it into practice within our own congregations.
So what is the point of all this “dead guys” pastoral care stuff? Probably Baxter put it as well as anyone when he wrote, “The ultimate end of our pastoral oversight, is that which is the ultimate end of our whole lives; even the pleasing and glorifying of God, and the glorification of His Church.”[8] It’s interesting what Baxter doesn’t say. The pastor is not there to build his own little empire, make his name known (Christian celebrity), or to “engage the culture” in the first place. His sole aim and purpose must be to glorify God and his Church. And I will be so bold to say to my colleagues if this is not our express goal, then we need to get out of the pastoral ministry—right now! If our motives and goals are anything other than the glory of God then we are no better than the hucksters and charlatans that we criticize on TBN.
What should the nature of our work be? Our aim should not be getting people to understand the latest movie, piece of art, or avant-garde piece of music. As mundane as it might sound, our aim is to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:1-2) and to deal with spiritual matters in a spiritual manner. Baxter put it this way:

The subject matter of the ministerial work is, in general, spiritual things, or matters that concern the pleasing of God, and the salvation of our people. It is not about temporal and transitory things. Our business is not to dispose of commomwealths, nor to touch men’s purses or person by our penalties; but it consisteth only in these two things: 1. In revealing to men that happiness, or chief good, which must be their ultimate end. 2. In acquainting them with the right means for the attainment of this end, and helping them to use them, and hindering them from the contrary.[9]

But, someone might object, these are different times altogether. “Our time” is tumultuous and requires drastic measures to reach the lost and to equip the saints. I disagree; not with the fact that these are tumultuous times, but with the panic. Few people have lived in times more tumultuous that were fraught with cataclysmic change than the Reformers. They lived when confessing biblical faith meant something and could actually cost you your life. Moreover, sin is no different now than it was when Adam and Eve first sinned. Justification by faith is no different now than it was for the early Church. Abraham was justified by faith in the coming Messiah (Rom. 4); we are justified by faith in the risen and ascended Christ.What the modern Church needs now more than ever is to teach the Church practice and to have pastors and Elders exercise godly, biblical leadership. Next week, Deo volente, we’ll examine home visitation and knowing all your people by name.

[1] John Leith, Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 62.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid. Italics mine.
[6] See the excellent monograph: W.F. Dankbaar, Communiegebruiken in de eeuw der Reformatie, (Groningen: Instituut voor Liturgiewetenschap, 19872).
[7] Leith, CC, 63, quoting from The Common Places of Martin Bucer, (David Wright [ed. & trans.]), (Appleford, England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), p. 21.
[8] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (London: SCM Press, 1956), p. 48. There is also a Banner of Truth Trust publication of Baxter’s work as well.
[9] Ibid.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Teaching the Church’s Faith (V)

The Foundation of the Church’s Faith
John Leith’s statement that I am about to quote will, no doubt, sound somewhat strange to some who call themselves Christians today. For a wide variety of reasons, Scripture has been under attack, even in those churches that want you to believe that they have a “high” view of the Word of God. The rampant immorality and blatant lack of understanding concerning even the most elementary biblical truths are ample evidence that while there very well might have been a formal view of the Bible, there certainly was not a practical, applicable view of it.
So when Leith writes, “The foundation of the church’s faith is the scripture” and “The scriptures…also provide the language for the faith” no doubt some will balk.[1] We believe that faith today is somehow not the same as it was for our grandparents or even our parents. I hear modern Christians say this more times than is comfortable. When you ask them to explain what they mean, it usually ends up in a discussion about how the culture—there’s that egregious word again!—is different, which we acknowledge in general. Certainly, in the past decades great changes have occurred in the culture in which we live, but this most certainly cannot and must not qualify as a change in the faith handed down to us.
David Wells makes this helpful observation: “[T]here is only one Gospel applicable to all people in all places and believed in the same way in every age. It this were not so, Christian faith would mean something entirely different in American than in Asia, Europe, or Africa.”[2] Unfortunately, a rather large number of modern evangelicals revel in the thought that each culture has to find its own truth from the Bible and if they want to add in some elements from other religions, then that’s okay as well, because no only has a monopoly on the truth. This approach is why you’ll hear a number of Emergent Church gurus telling you that they don’t have a clue what Scripture teaches about homosexuality, the ordination of women, or the atonement, just to mention a few of the most salient issues facing evangelicals today.
Leith is convinced—from painful experience no doubt—that every “authentic Christian theological affirmation must be biblical in the sense of” fitting into God’s redemptive-historical framework.[3] Once again, this sounds somewhat like a fremdkörper in modern evangelicalism because experience should be as valid—if not more so—as doctrine. In fact, in far too many instances evangelicals have raised experience or “what God told them” to a place higher than the truth of Scripture. We have moved far away from what the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes for us when it reminds us that “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” (1.9). This approach, according to Leith, provides the Christian with a truly biblical life and worldview as well as a comprehensive understanding of God’s saving events in history.
Of what value is such an approach? What follows needs to be said for those who do not see the value in what Leith is describing. He writes, “This comprehensive knowledge of scripture also corrected and shaped the theology of church members who were untrained in theology but were nevertheless very good theologians, more to be trusted at times than seminary professors.”[4] Some of us remember these men, but they are a dying breed. Modern pastors are, what David Wells calls “disablers” rather than enablers. That is to say, rather than giving the modern church-attendee what he or she needs, the modern disablers are more likely to attempt to fulfill the perceived needs of his (or her) audience.
The upshot of this approach and lack of biblical knowledge is described by Leith in the following manner: “Lacking this interpretive framework, they are easily pushed about by every wind of doctrine.”[5] This is a more than apt description of the modern Christian. Given the—at best—fragmented, disjunctive manner in which he or she is entertained to death, it is little wonder that he gets tossed about by every wind of doctrine that comes down the pike. The scriptures, however, speak a very different language. According to what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11ff. the purpose of church leaders is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…”
It follows that whenever church leaders neglect or refuse to equip God’s people a very real spiritual immaturity is the result. Oddly enough, this spiritual immaturity was part and parcel of the life of the Middle Ages serf. At least, however, he had an excuse: the entire Mass was in Latin and he didn’t have a Bible at home. Modern Christians are substantially more culpable than their forebears because there is every type of Bible imaginable on the market today. What is the most ironic part about our current situation is that the biblical ignorance is almost parallel to the time prior to The Reformation with this caveat: that we have the scriptures in our homes.
There is clearly culpability on the part both of church leaders as well as the man or woman in the pew for not being more conversant with Scripture. Many seminaries are also culpable in this process. Not only have they long since left off the biblical languages requirement and substituted pop-psychology courses in their place, but they have also refused to teach their students the “language of the faith.” In fact, they have bent over backwards to avoid such language and to pass on to their students the need not to “turn off” any attendee by ecclesiastical language that might be either incomprehensible or offensive—or both. One can only wonder what seminaries and modern pastors find so offensive about the very language of Scripture. What is the origin of such a disdain for scriptural language? I’ve explained part of it above, but surely another aspect is the aim of secularists of ridding the culture of any semblance of “religious” symbols or language. Being born in 1945—yes, it’s true, but I don’t care because it’s just an age factor—I can still remember when our culture looked forward to celebrating Christmas and singing Christmas carols in the public school I attended. Like it or not, we got “Bible” once a week every year. Leith accedes to the proposition that during my early years, knowledge of the Bible was, in some sense, “endemic in our culture.”[6] He goes on to say, “Those who did not read the Bible learned it from the culture, from ordinary conversation, and from schools. Most church colleges required courses in the content of the Old and New Testaments. In addition, many read the Bible themselves in regular devotions and in programs sponsored by the church…”[7]
Okay, granted that was then and this is now, we still need to ask the question how we got to where we are today. Even though part of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of secularists and the PC crowd that hardly suffices as the complete picture. The lion’s share of the blame goes to our modern seminaries and the pastors they produce. Rather than giving us godly men where there is “a common language and a language coherent with the content of the faith itself” our modern disablers are more wont to serve up something easier, something less threatening. What they fail to understand in their good intentions is that “The really great theologies that have built and nurtured Christian communities have almost without exception been expressed in biblical language.”[8]
These are words from a man who was both a pastor as well as a seminary professor and who made a rather incredible theological pilgrimage by any standards. This is the voice of experience; the voice of reason. So much was Leith convinced of his position that he wrote, “There cannot be a Presbyterian church, there cannot be a Protestant church, without knowledge of the bible in depth so that the language of scripture is the ‘native’ tongue of the Christian.”[9] What a novel idea, especially at the front-end of the 21st century! Imagine that: the language of Scripture is the native language of the Christian!
He goes on to add this very important, indispensable piece of information: “The recovery of the reading of the Bible as scripture, not as a piece of Near Eastern literature and not as a text for scientific study, must have priority in seminary.”[10] This is much-needed approach and is not an across the board indictment of the careful, critical study of Scripture. But even some conservative seminaries have not heeded this warning. In 2005 Dr. Peter Enns from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia had a book published under the title Inspiration and Incarnation.[11] Even though Dr. Enns tells us that this is to be a book that enables the man or woman in the pew better to understand the origin of Scripture, it is mostly a comparison of Scripture to other Near Eastern documents; so much so that you get the impression that the Scripture was more dependent on NE documents than the other way around.In our next issue we will, Deo volente, delve into teaching church practice according to Leith.

[1] John Leith, Crisis in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 47
[2] David Wells, Losing Our Virtue, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 105. Italics mine.
[3] Leith, CC, 48.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 49.
[6] Ibid., 48.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 49. Italics mine.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).