Clowney review from 11 years ago

I found this in my old email archives.

Jacob Aitken

Sermon Preparation

Prof. Alan Hix

29 April 2005

Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1961), 124pp.

Biographical Information

The late Edmund Clowney is renowned throughout the Presbyterian world for his teaching and church leadership. Serving at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA for several decades, he has written largely on preaching and ecclesiology. His present book, Preaching and Biblical Theology, draws heavily off the theological method of New Testament scholar, Geerhardus Vos. Using such a method—which will be mentioned shortly—he analyzes the various attempts to integrate biblical theology into the life of the church.

Purpose of the Book

While appreciative of the necessary work of systematic theology, Clowney sees the danger in mere doctrinal moralizing and offers the pastor a fresh alternative that is faithful to the scriptures. He seeks to rescue biblical theology from false dichotomies with systematics on one hand, and liberal distortions on the other hand. Clowney also hopes the budding preacher will read the works of Geerhardus Vos.

Organization and Content

In lieu of recent liberal scholarship on biblical theology, Clowney does the necessary groundwork in providing the pastor with a working definition of biblical theology. Recent works had defined biblical theology along the lines of the “History of Religions” school of thinking. Or, the scholar might look at the text along evolutionary lines, thus negating the aspects of redemption and revelation. To have a working definition of biblical theology, Clowney notes, biblical presuppositions are necessary. Following Vos Clowney defines biblical theology as “that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (15). This definition opposes any form of liberalism or neo-orthodoxy that denies prepositional truth. It also presupposes, against evolutionary views of revelation, a unity and objectivity in the Bible.

On the conservative side, some will object that such a definition will bring biblical theology into opposition with time-honored disciplines like systematic theology. Not so, Clowney argues, if the pastor recognizes the tension between the two disciplines as necessary. The tension can be properly understood when the pastor recognizes the distinct nature of both disciplines. Systematic theology approaches the text in a linear fashion, while biblical theology traces out the historical developments within God’s redemptive history. The tension can be eased, although never done away with, if the pastor sees the “sensitivity to the distinctiveness of both the form and the content of revelation in each particular epoch [in biblical theology]” (16).

If one is to write on preaching in the modern age, he must justify the authority of preaching over against the autonomy of the post-Christian West. Clowney then does a brief survey of New Testament scholarship with respect to the proclamation of the text. In each setting Clowney notes the challenges to biblical theology that current fads in New Testament studies would pose. Many liberal scholars saw their hope in the “kerygma” of the early church. The scholars sought to emancipate the kerygma of the New Testament form the myth the Church had placed on the gospels. Such thinking immediately led to the “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” which was more indicative of liberal presuppositions than it was of concern for the truth. Regardless of what shape the challenge might take, all presupposed an impossibility of prepositional revelation. God’s message to man was personal, not prepositional. Clowney refutes: “Personal communion with communication is impossible between human subjects, and it is a strange conception of revelation in Christ which denies to him revelatory communication in making known the Father” (27).

Having a covenantal groundwork in the Old Testament, Clowney applies this to the New Testament to establish authority for biblical theology and preaching. Christ is prophet, priest, and king in the New Testament—the self-interpreted Word of John 1 (51). Besides being the Son of God, his authority is first seen as that of an Old Testament prophet proclaiming the message of God. But not only is he a prophet, he is the fulfillment of prophecy. Furthermore, the apostles are endowed with authority as they, being witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, proclaim the whole counsel of God, which has been fulfilled in Christ. “Their apostolic ministry,” says Clowney, “is the foundation of authority in the New Testament church, for by their witness the word of Christ is given to the church” (59).

The character of preaching, if it is to be driven by biblical theology, must enrich the listeners with the full scope of God’s redemptive work. Such preaching is driven by biblical eschatology. The preacher thus realizes that he is living in the last days, knows Christ’s kingdom has been established, and is driven with an urgent message of the grace of God in the person of Christ. Clowney exults, “The evangel of the prophet Isaiah is that which is fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. The year of Jubilee has come, therefore we must proclaim liberty to the captive…the latter days have come, the days in which the Lord is glorified, and he has poured out his Spirit upon men” (67-68).

The only flaw in the book comes in the middle of this otherwise edifying chapter. Clowney notes the mission-orientation of the Church was lost upon the establishment of Constantine. He writes how the church has lost much of her vigor in missions. Clowney: “No doubt this came about through the confusion of church and state which began in the age of Constantine” (69). Now, one can legitimately roast Constantine on a number of issues, but this overlooks the gospel’s explosion on the island of Britain, for example. Granted, much of the Roman and Grecian church lost their power due to state control, but he tries to put too much historical commentary in one paragraph. Clowney ends his chapter on the character of preaching with a challenge to the pastor to balance the ethical and the redemptive element in his preaching.

What does a sermon driven by biblical theology look like? The pastor has two tasks before him. He recognizes the unity of God’s salvation throughout biblical history. He proclaims to his flock that Abraham rejoiced to see Messiah’s day and we too long to feast with the prophets when the kingdom of God is consummated at the end of the ages. He also notes the “epochal structure” of redemptive history. This prevents him from arbitrarily chopping unity of God’s revelation and redemption, as the early dispensationalists did (88). However, the pastor does pay attention to the historical nature of the God’s acts in history. The preacher who would preach along the lines of biblical theology takes note of symbolism and typology in the scriptures. God’s revelation is laden with types and shadows that point to the future redemption accomplished by Christ. “Until the heavenly reality is manifested, the covenant fellowship is mediated through earthly symbols, ‘like in pattern’ to the heavenly archetype (Heb. 9:24, 25)” (100). Clowney guides the bible student in interpreting symbols and types: 1) They symbol is distinct from that which it represents; 2) There is a relation between the symbol and the reality symbolized; 3) The reference of the symbols is divinely established in revelation; 4) The symbols may be classified in various groups (103-108).

Evaluation

Clowney’s book is written along the lines of heroic disorder. His thoughts and guidance to the reader are superb and Clowney himself appears to soar at times. His passion for his subject is not lost on the reader. Nevertheless, there were times where one wondered where he was going with an idea. He did repeat a number of times several of his best ideas and phrases throughout the book, although to the delight of the reader. Writing from what appears to be an amillennialist interpretation of scripture, it is curious as to why he did not address dispensational challenges more often than he did. The book is extremely edifying and relevant to the church at large. It is a book that will stay on the pastor’s desk as he searches the scriptures. Clowney achieves his goal in exciting students to take up the task of biblical theology.

Application

Clowney’s work is utterly relevant to the church and those who long for their sermons to be clothed with the Spirit’s power. What else could enflame preaching but the glorious proclamation of what God has done in Christ in history? Whether he goes into the pulpit or the lectern, Clowney provides both a tonic to the tired preacher and a caution to the theologian who might divorce systematic theology from biblical theology. It provides the bible student with a hermeneutic that sees Christ, properly interpreted, in all scripture, thus avoiding trite moralizing.

Abraham Kuyper: A Personal Introduction (review)

As far as introductions to neo-Calvinism go, this is the most lucid. Prof Mouw goes beyond the standard “take every square inch” models of Neo-Calvinism and asks us to reflect on what it means to be created for many-ness.

mouw

His chapter on “Filling the Earth” is standard Kuyperian treatment, so I won’t spend much time on it here. His chapter “Celebrating Many-ness” was pure gold. Contrary to state-church claims, the church of Christ doesn’t depend on only one form and that being manifested in a national church. Indeed, we should celebrate a “multiplicity of institutions” (16). Pluriformity means “created complexity” (17). We have to be careful, though. Affirming many-ness without insisting on an integrated whole leads only to the nihilistic void of postmodernism.

This reminds the reader of James KA Smith’s suggestion that in Genesis 1-2 God “creates in plurals.”  This contrasts very nicely with the Greek chain-of-being concept where any movement away from the one is always a diminution from goodness.

Sphere Sovereignty

So what counts as a “creational sphere”? Mouw notes Kuyper wasn’t always clear. In fact, what is a sphere? Let’s call them structures where “interactions take place” and “authority is exercised” (23). Each structure has a “point” and to that point corresponds an authority-pattern (24).

Per Kuyper, Christians must form collective entities within each “sphere.” The many-ness of mediating structures, per Peter Bellah, protects from both individualism and statism. It strengthens social bonds.

The part I particularly enjoyed was the section on neo-Kuyperianism and the Holy Spirit. As a continuationist and a Kuyperian, I’ve often sensed that the two streams could merge quite fruitfully, yet I haven’t really seen how it is to be done. Mouw’s (or Kuyper’s) suggestions were interesting. The Holy Spirit is to prepare creation for God’s glorious future (88-89).

Politics

Indeed, we need a crowded, public square. Not a naked one. A pluralism under secularization but not secularism (110, Mouw quoting James Bratt). Mouw correctly notes how the term “Constantinian” has been so over-used to be useless (113). Kuyper is not a Constantinian (whatever that word means).

Reflections

I am not sure how Kuyper’s correct insights on the antithesis give him any grounds on thinking a secular government will protect the “spheres.” I agree with Kuyper that we should have a “crowded public square,” and perhaps this “crowd” will make it difficult for the government to take away our liberties. Perhaps.

All in all, an outstanding work.

Presuppositions for the End Times

I’ve spent a few months quietly examining my commitment to historic premillennialism.  And I want to ask the question:  is postmillennialism rationally viable?  That is a different question from whether it is true, but one, I suppose, that must be asked.  But before we get there we need to examine what a Reformed eschatology must contain.  The following should be a minimum sine qua non.

Summarized from Richard Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

I suppose as good a starting point as any would be the dius novissimus, the last day, theadventus Christi.  Here the Reformed Scholastics (excepting men like William Twisse) would also place the resurrection and Last Judgment.  As a historic premillennialist myself, I would have a few questions, but moving on…

While speculation of the last times is fruitless, the Bible does urge the wise steward to be ready, which implies some awareness of the times.  Thus, the Reformed Scholastics would speak of thesigna dei novissimi, signs of the last day.  These signs can be further delineated:

  • signa remota:  opening of the first six of the seven seals of Revelation 6:1-17: wars, famine, conflicts, pestilence, earthquakes.
  • signa propinqua:  signs nearer the end; the Great Apostasy; worldliness in the church.  Covenanted church members forsaking the church as the center of the kingdom.
  • signa propinquiora:  political unrest; regathering the nation of Israel; increased lawlessness.
  • signa proxima:  political disruption from the full manifestation of the Beast (Revelation 13-17); fulfillment of mission to the gentiles.
A note on Antichrist


Antichristus:  arises from within the church and is against the church.

  1.  he will sit in templo Dei
  2. he will rule as head of the church
  3. he will exalt himself above the True God
  4. He will cause many to fall away from the church.
  5. He will have “lying wonders.”

Chain of Being (Review)

Arthur Lovejoy analyzes a powerful if flawed concept’s “control” over Western mind since Plato. The chain of being is the continuum of “substance/essence/stuff” beginning with God (or Plato’s Good) and ending with either inorganic life or nothingness itself. The chain of being hinges around three concepts: plenitude, continuity, and gradation.

chain-of-being-multicolor
(photo courtesy of Christianciv.com)

Summary of the Idea

At the top of the chain is pure Being. At the bottom is pure nothingness. Further, Good is coterminous with Being. Thirdly, good is self-diffusive. So far this isn’t too bad. It becomes tricky when it becomes “ontologized.” a) the line between Creator and creature is fuzzy; b) if something is lower on the chain, is it less good? What’s the difference between less good and bad?

If there is an infinite distance between God and not-God, and all of this is placed on a “scale” or chain, then is there not an infinite distance between each link in the scale? This was Dr Samuel Johnson’s critique, and it highlighted the problem of the chain of being: reality had to be static and exist all at once. This called creation into question, since if the Good is necessarily self-diffusive, then it had to diffuse into creation. God had no freedom to do otherwise. Ironically, this Idea also called evolution into question: if there is an infinite distance between the links, then there is no changing from one link to another.

Analysis

This book’s value lies in its being a prime example of clear, penetrating thinking. In each chapter Lovejoy presents a new difficulty with the idea of a chain of being and the force is cumulative. The chain functions as a snapshot of the God-world relationship. Since God is perfect, and the chain is a diffusion of his goodness, and since God is eternally perfect, then we must see this eternal perfection. If not, we have to find “the missing link” (and is not evolution a mere temporalizing of the chain?)

Wrap up on Wilson

I haven’t posted anything on the Doug Wilson rape/sex scandal in a while.  Most of his groupies will die for him and are beyond all reasonable means of persuasion.  Still, facts and analysis being what they are, this by far is the most penetrating set of critiques of the Moscow, ID theology.

Wrap on Wilson

I’ve added it to the side link page.