Follow-up on BT and ST from Ken Casillas, Ph.D.

I liked these comments on Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology (following my post on the topic) from Dr. Ken Casillas, BJU Seminary faculty and pastor of Cleveland Park Bible Church. I asked if I could excerpt them on my blog:

[Carl Trueman’s] point about ST assumptions regarding the canon, etc., is one I regularly bring up to defend the validity and necessity of ST. Nobody is purely a biblicist. Our “beef” against ST is more along these lines:

  1. Be increasingly tentative the further away you are removed from the text.
  2. Watch against your ST contradicting or illegitimately redefining exegesis/BT.
  3. Distinguish between text-driven ST and logic-driven ST.

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Court Upholds U. of California Admissions Requirements

A major case in the culture wars over Christian education has been decided.

“A federal judge on Friday rejected a claim that the University of California violates private Christian high schools’ freedom of speech and religion by not certifying certain courses for its college preparatory requirements.”

Those courses included some which used BJU Press textbooks, and I met some of the administrators from the Calvary Chapel school at the center of the controversy.

“While Judge S. James Otero sided with the university system over the constitutional challenge, a future trial will determine whether the course approval process was fairly applied to cases cited in the lawsuit.”

That means, I think, that the validity of BJU Press science textbooks may still be upheld. I don’t know whether or not that is likely.

Many lost people heap scorn on creationism. It is absolutely clear to them that faith and reason need to remain on their separate planets. They fulminate with secular indignation when faith wants to intrude.

But all truth is God’s truth. Faith and reason do not contradict each other in God’s mind because He doesn’t have to believe anything; His thinking determines reality. The unity of truth streams from God and guarantees that science rightly done will not contradict theology rightly done.

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Ontology, Economy, ST, and BT

Those who dive into the articles I’m about to recommend are going to have to understand a little something about the parallels Carl Trueman is drawing:

Ontology (from ων, οντος) = Systematic Theology (or ST)

Economy (from οικονομος) = Biblical Theology (or BT)

Got it? Yeah, you do. Think of the ontological equality in the Trinity (the Father is not any better than the Son; each person is equal). Parallel that with the unity of God’s revelation which is seen by a sound systematic theology (ST).

Now think of the economic subordination and distinction in the Trinity. Parallel that with the discrete corpora (the Pentateuch, Solomon’s writings, Paul’s epistles, John’s letters) distinguished by biblical theology (BT).

Carl Trueman

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Carl Trueman in this important article from way back when (Themelios 27:3, 2002) fears that the legitimate insights of BT are pushing out those of ST:

The triumph of biblical theology has been so complete in some quarters that we now need to realise that this new establishment might itself be generating problems of its own.

Trueman has a few major points:

  • Many preachers aren’t doing BT right; they’re just making superficial tie-ins to Jesus from throughout the Bible.
  • BT has made some preachers think that 1700 years of ST can be defenestrated (thrown out the window!).
  • A rampant BT fragments biblical truth, forgetting that the fact of God’s speaking provides a unity to the Bible.

Points taken. In my spiritual life I’ve seen the damage of neglecting to make ST conclusions from BT data.

Graeme Goldsworthy

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But not all agreed with Carl Trueman, so he graciously allowed Graeme Goldsworthy, the doyen of BT, and a gracious Christian himself, to publish a reply in Themelios 28:1.

Goldsworthy questions whether BT has really become so prevalent (he should be so blessed!). He grants Trueman’s argument that BT has been done poorly—but doesn’t this argument belie BT’s alleged prevalence? If BT isn’t being done right, is it really so overwhelmingly strong?

As for the first point mentioned by Trueman above, Goldsworthy says:

The problem of mediocrity in preaching is, I suggest, not that we keep on ending up at Jesus but the very opposite.

That is, the Jesus bad practitioners of BT end up at is not the Christ of Scripture:

Where we so often do end up is with a pale and distorted shadow of the biblical Christ, and there are many forms of this parody of the real Jesus. These can often be found in favourite evangelical clichés when given, as they often are, without proper explanation: ‘ask Jesus into your heart’; ‘make your decision for Jesus’; ‘come to Jesus and experience joy with a capital J’; (these are respectively closer to Aquinas, Bultmann, and Schleiermacher than to biblical truth). Preachers who end up with the same hackneyed clichés about Jesus are not preaching Christ,

Goldsworthy recognizes a problem in evangelical theology, but says it is certainly not the triumph of BT over ST. It is the separation and the attempted balance of the two. BT and ST need to talk: this is the hermeneutical spiral. BT and ST also need to be not 50/50 but 100/100: this is the trinitarian way of unity and diversity.

Let me put that another way. Like the Trinity, BT and ST are not separate-but-equal; instead they are involved in a constant “dance” (perichoresis), always interweaving and active.

For example, BT won’t get you to the Trinity like ST will (and must!), but BT is

the only means of preventing every biblical text having equal significance for Christians (e.g. we need it to sort out what to do which the ritual laws of the Pentateuch). It prevents us from short-circuiting texts so that we isolate them from their theological context and then moralise on their application to believers.

Goldsworthy was courteous in his reply, but he had to be a bit frustrated. The emphasis to which he had dedicated his life was being misunderstood and maligned! It speaks well of Trueman that he was happy to include Goldsworthy’s rich reply.

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Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation

Here’s a page collecting links to the controversy surrounding Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

I don’t think any fair reader of Scripture can deny that the NT’s use of the OT raises some difficult questions (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”?), but I am glad Westminster Theological Seminary views bibliology as an important enough doctrine to suspend a professor over it.

Here are a few comments on the issues at stake in Enns’ book (HT: Brian Collins):

OPC Review

Enns writes beyond the boundaries of the Reformed tradition as exemplified by chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession. When he says the Bible looks human, he means it does not look divine. When he says Genesis is part myth, he means it is not true in historic, narrative particulars. When he says “conflicting theologies,” he means the Bible contradicts itself.

D.A. Carson’s Trinity Journal Review

in the three substantive chapters, most of the space is devoted instead to convincing the reader that the difficulties Enns isolates are real, and must be taken more seriously by evangelicals than is usually the case. In other words, despite his initial claim that he is writing the book to comfort the disturbed, as it were, the actual performance aims to disturb the comfortable. This makes the book rather difficult to evaluate. Moreover, Enns’s ambitions are vaulting: the evidence cast up by biblical scholarship, we are told, is of the sort that requires that an “adjustment” be made in how we think of Scripture, akin to the re-interpretation generated by the Copernican revolution (13). Wow. So are we explaining how evangelical faith accommodates biblical scholarship, or are we asserting that a Copernican revolution must take place within evangelical faith so as to accommodate biblical scholarship?

…when Enns writes (his italics), “It is essential to the very nature of revelation that the Bible is not unique to its environment. The human dimension of Scripture is essential to its being Scripture” (20), the statement is formally true and hopelessly muddled. Using the incarnational analog, the “human dimension” of the God/man not only places him in the human environment, but leaves him unique in that environment since only he is without sin. And even more strikingly, of course, what makes Jesus most strikingly unique to the human environment is that, without gainsaying his thorough, perfect, humanness for an instant, he is also God, and thus the perfect revealer of God, such that what Jesus says and does, God says and does. But when Enns speaks of “the very nature of the revelation of the Bible” as “not unique in its environment,” he looks only at its “human dimension” and integrates nothing of what else must be said if we are to understand what the Bible is in this “human environment.” I hasten to add that I am as rigorously opposed to what he thinks of as a docetic understanding of Scripture as he. But I am no less suspicious of an Arian understanding of Scripture—or, if we may get away from the incarnational analog, I am no less suspicious of assorted non-supernatural and domesticated understandings of the Bible, understandings of the Bible that are far removed from, say, that of the Lord Jesus.

Methodologically, Enns gets himself into these problems because he has spelled out neither what he understands of the doctrine of the incarnation, nor how well analogical arguments work in this case, and what limitations might be applicable.

The failure to get this tension right—by “right,” I mean in line with what Scripture actually says of itself—is what makes Enns sound disturbingly like my Doktorvater on one point. Barnabas Lindars’s first book was New Testament Apologetic. The thesis was very simple, the writing elegant: the New Testament writers came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he had been crucified and raised from the dead. They then ransacked their Bible, what we call the Old Testament, to find proof texts to justify their new-found theology, and ended up yanking things out of context, distorting the original context, and so forth. Enns is more respectful, but it is difficult to see how his position differs substantively from that of Lindars.

Keynote

My boss just defended his Ed.D. dissertation, and he hired me to produce a slick visual presentation to accompany it. (I had to make it real small to fit on the blog; sorry!) We did some real thinking about transitions and when to click. Apple’s Keynote makes that a very smooth, intuitive process.

But working multiple hours on this presentation also raised again a question I’ve had: Is “powerpoint” (used generically like “xerox” or “frisbee” or “kleenex”) really effective and helpful, or is it distracting? Well, I think it’s both, but most frequently the last! I have often thought my good teachers could do just as well or better if they weren’t tied to digital slides. And slides in a classroom encourage kids to write down everything on the slide… and nothing else.

So what should a digital slide presentation aim to do? Should it aim to provide an outline of the talk’s content? to add helpful visuals? to make visual jokes? to stress particular quotations?

I watched a talk a few months ago that one powerpoint blog (yes, there are such things!) was touting. It had a lot of visuals that made little puns off of what the presenter was saying. The blog thought it was clever. I thought it was distracting.

Here are a few principles I picked up or extrapolated from a Microsoft book on PowerPoint:

  • Use slides to tell a story (if you watch my boss’s presentation, I especially applied this with his hammer throw illustration).
  • Use complete sentences.
  • Try to make each slide make sense on its own.
  • Read directly from your slides (and make slides that can be read from). If you use different wording people will wonder about the discrepancy. Use in front of your audience the same words you carefully crafted for your presentation.

I did a few other things I’ve decided to make principles for myself:

  • I limited transitions and eye candy and used mostly understated ones.
  • I used one kind of slide transition for each major section of the outline, using a doorway transition for the first slide in the section and a falling transition for the last.
  • I established a consistent color scheme and visual style.