More on being confessional

It seems to me that most people who claim to subscribe to the Reformed symbols today fail in both excess and defect. There is an excess in that the symbols are elevated to some sort of timelessly normative standard which appears to rival Scripture. It is not difficult to find language of the symbols as ‘defining’ the Reformed faith. This is, bluntly, rubbish. Scripture alone defines faith for anyone who can hope to pretend to the title ‘Reformed’. Certain symbols may be welcomed insofar as they are judged to express the true teaching of Scripture. They are, to repeat myself, norma normata, not norma normans. This is not an abstruse or difficult distinction, but it is a vital, and routinely forgotten, one. (An illustration might help: my...

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A meditation on the indicative mood

I won’t name the liturgical resource, because it is a good one, a very good one, and does not deserve to be vilified for one slip, but I was glancing through it, and lighted upon the Pentecost service. ‘Consider,’ it invited us, ‘Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8…’Acts 1:8 reads: ἀλλὰ λήμψεσθε δύναμιν ἐπελθόντος τοῦ ἀγίου πνεύματος ἐφ ὑμᾶς καὶ ἔσεσθέ μάτυρες ἔν τε Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ [ἐν] πάση τῆ Ἰουδαία καὶ Σαμαρεία καὶ ἔως ἐσχάτου τῆς γῆς. (‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem,and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’–my tr.) Forgive the grammarian in me, but this is all in the indicative mood, not the imperative mood; there is no...

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Pastoral eschatology

More thoughts on eschatology… I am fully convinced–and became so in pastoral ministry, performing funerals–that we cannot and should not speculate about the eternal fate of any particular person. God will judge, and (my other Spring Harvest soundbite) when we see God’s judgement we will be astonished by the depths of His mercy, and by the heights of His justice. The NT offers many chillingly serious warnings about the reality of God’s eschatological severity (the main reason I find universalism too easy a way out), but will never speak of any named human person in hell. (In a parable, Lazarus is received into Abraham’s embrace, ‘a certain rich man’ is condemned to suffer; the most the New Testament will say of Judas...

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On the lack of eschatological regret

In a public conversation with Ian Coffey (at this conference), I hit upon a phrase, quite by accident, which I’ve been musing on since. A vital theme in Christian eschatology is an adequate account of ‘the lack of eschatological regret’. That is, it seems to me a necessary part of the experience of eternal life that there is nothing we–or indeed God–look[s] back on and thinks ‘I wish it had been different’. One consequence of this, of some pastoral importance, is the suggestion that I will not regret God’s sovereign decisions concerning the final fate of my parents, wife, children, … A universalist stance is acceptable on this canon, it seems to me (even if not on several others); the older Reformed orthodoxy...

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How to be confessional

Ben, at Faith and Theology, has posted on the documents made public by Westminster Seminary that led to the suspension of Peter Enns, which has already generated a lot of discussion (Ben’s post and the ensuing discussion is here; the documents themselves can be found here). I have not read Enns’s book; nor, I imagine, will I. (I am a devotee of Dr Johnson on such matters: ‘Whenever anyone publishes a new book, you should immediately go out and read an old one.’) I have, I confess, only glanced through the WTS statements. The discussion around the case, however, highlights something that has been of concern to me for a while: I fear that we no longer know how to be confessional. I teach a course from time to time on ‘Christian...

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