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.

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When Matter Becomes Form

This is a review of Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation vol. 4.

And so ends the greatest theologian of all time. The following are highlights around the central theme of grace restoring nature. Indeed, with Bavinck we see the rejection of dualisms: “The dualisms between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material, eternity and time, essence and form…are products of a false philosophy and contrary to Scripture” (458).

*The Church*

In his discussion of the church Bavinck always comes back to the truth that it is in the Reformed churches that preaching is exalted. Bavinck makes an important distinction that Lutherans see the Spirit working per verbum, while Reformed see him working cum verbum.

*Ethics*

Ethics

While Bavinck appreciated a Christianized society, he didn’t think all sins (e.g., fornication, drunkeness) should be punished by the State (437).

Bavinck’s discussions on the sacraments are par for the course with most Reformed dogmatics, so no need to explicate them here. He takes Calvin’s view as a middle path between Roman realism and Anabaptist gnosticism. He believes the Supper should be monthly.

*New Creation*

This is the most important section. When you want good eschatology, always go to the Neo-Calvinists, never American neo-Puritans. Recreation

“The resurrection is the principle of the renewal of all things” (428).

Judgment

Bavinck ably rebuts the hippy, humanitarian idea that hell is too mean for God, especially when evaluated on human sentiment. “For when the interest of society becomes the deciding factor, not only is every boundary between good and evil wiped out, but also justice runs the danger of being sacrificed to power…Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearances notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands. The same applies with respect to eternal punishment in hell (708).

The New Earth

“The state of glory will be no mere restoration of the state of nature, but a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ, transforms all matter into form, all potency into actuality, and presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming into a springtime of eternal youth (720).

“The difference between day and night, between the Sabbath and the workdays, has been suspended. Time is charged with eternity of God. Space is full of his presence. Eternal becoming is wedded to immutable being. Even the contrast between heaven and earth is gone (730).

Conclusion:

Perhaps, as others have noted, this book isn’t as good as volumes 1-2. But it’s still the best thing on the market regarding this locus of systematic theology.

Many episkopoi in one church

Let’s assume for the moment that episokopos in the Greek New Testament means “bishop.”  Things get really interesting in the following passages:

Acts 20:28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you [a]overseers [bishops], to shepherd the church of God which He [b]purchased [c]with His own blood.

Phil. 1:1:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the [a]saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, [b]including the overseers [bishops] and deacons:

In these two passages Paul is speaking to specific, local churches. I can grant for a moment that the Ephesian elders represented a multitude of churches in the Ephesian area.  Perhaps.  You still have many bishops within one church-area.

Calming down on Neo-Calvinism, to all

The evangelical/Calvinist resurgence in American life is properly termed “New Calvinism.”  The Dutch intellectual tradition from 1880 to sort of today is Neo-Calvinism.  Admittedly, new and “neo” are the same thing, but they are applied differently at different times in history.

So, some in the Reformed world are saying that Dutch Neo-Calvinism (or any of its American variants) is the bad kind and Westerminster Calvinism is the good kind. There is a WTJ article floating around somewhere to the same effect.

I think that’s a bit simplistic.  So here are some pros and cons to Dutch Neo-Calvinism.  I include the following in the survey:  Bavinck, Kuyper, Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd, Stoker, Knudsen, sort of Van Til, and the legacy of Calvin College.

Plantinga and Wolterstorff are wild cards.

The Good

These guys are strong on creation.  Bavinck is simply sublime, Van Til more forcefully so.  Al Wolters’ little monograph begs to be reread.  Jamie Smith noted that God creates in “plurals.”  This is about as close and forceful a break with the Platonic ontology as one can get.  When you read the Prophets on New Creation and eschatology, you can hear a Dutch accent in the background.

The Bad

As is probably typical of Dutch American existence, these guys can get insular and clannish.  Orthodoxy isn’t the only church with a claim on phyletism (whatever that is).  But maybe Scottish Americans like myself are also clannish.  I’m not aware that I am, but it is possible.

Do some Neo_Calvinists denigrate philosophy?  Maybe.   But if you read Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and Bavinck, that’s just not so.  Bavinck’s theological and philosophical reasoning is as astute as any.  See below.

God himself is the principle of existence for theology (principium essendi). Objective revelation of God in Christ is recorded in the Scriptures and this is the external source of knowledge (externum principium cognoscendi). The Holy Spirit is the iternal source of knowledge. This leads Bavinck to a line he repeats throughout the book: there must be a corresponding internal organ to receive the external revelation. This anticipates the later Reformed Epistemology school.

Do some denigrate piety?  Probably, and this seems to be a recurring theme among culture-reclaimers (see modern day Reconstructionism).  But it doesn’t logically hold that because some denigrate piety, Neo-Calvinism as a whole must.  What the pietist Calvinist needs to show is that the Neo-Calvinist’s commitment to Christ’s Lordship in all spheres logically entails skipping my prayers tonight.  I don’t think it can be done.

Can cessationist pray Eph. 1:17?

Paul writes,

“That God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

What does “revelation” mean?  The bible lists several types:

  1. Natural revelation (creation, logic, science, etc).
  2. Special revelation (God’s speaking, theophanic appearances, etc).
    2a. The Bible.
    2b. Words of knowledge/prophetic utterances
  3. Jesus

So when Paul wants God to give them a spirit of revelation, which kind does he mean? I think all sides can rule out (1), since it wouldn’t make much sense in the context of Paul’s prayer.  Let’s leave aside all varieties of (2) for a moment.  (3) could work but I am not sure Paul means that.  Strictly speaking, if (3) obtains then we have the following:

(3*) God would give a spirit of wisdom and Jesus in the knowledge of him.

Technically, that’s true.  And that’s not a bad way to pray.  But from our perspective I’m not sure that adds too much to the discussion.  What does it mean to have a spirit of Jesus?  Well, basic Sunday School lessons could work here, and the Bible elsewhere commends the Spirit of Christ.  But if revelation = Jesus, then what content does that add to our knowledge?  It’s not immediately clear.  And I don’t think that’s what cessationists have in mind when they say “revelation.”  Sure, they will quote Hebrews 1, thinking revelation ceased with the coming of Christ, but that only proves that Jesus is the final word, not the Bible.

Therefore, I suggest that when a cessationist reads Ephesians 1:17, he sees it as saying,

(2a*) God will give you a spirit of the closed canon of Scripture.

It’s not immediately wrong, but it’s clunky and almost certainly not what Paul had in mind.

Lost Virtue of Happiness

Moreland, J. P. and Issler, Klaus.  The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Navpress).

Far from being a self-help book, Moreland and Klauss (MK) define happiness in terms of its more ancient setting: a happy life is one that allows me to pursue virtue. In Christian terms, a happy life is a disciplined life that allows me to pursue the Kingdom of God.

Today happiness is defined as “good feeling” (MK 16). If happiness is defined as my good feelings, and if the goal of happiness is to pursue my good feelings, then everything has to center around…me! This creates what sociologists call “the empty self.”

Further, the empty self is what we project outwards to others. MK also have interesting suggestions on how the empty self leads to loneliness–and they posit solitude as the correction to loneliness.

Unlike other spiritual disciplines books, this offers a number of practical suggestions for enabling the “disciplined life.” Of course, the reader won’t accept every suggestion (and in fact, I disagree with a few of them). Nevertheless, most are quite helpful and have further enriched my own prayer life.

Of Particular help:

studying: the mind works from whole to part to whole. Moreland suggests–and this is something I’ve been doing for about a decade–to study the table of contents before you read a difficult book. If it is well-organized, the book won’t be that difficult.

increasing prayer time: It’s hard to kneel down a pray for a good, cold hour. However, Moreland suggests a number of strategies that can enrich and eventually lengthen prayer time. Instead of “dive-bomber prayers,” he urges “pressure cooker prayers.” Instead of saying, “Dear Jesus, please be with Suzy today,” we can keep coming back to the Lord in 2 or 3 minute increments and lifting Suzy up, often bolstered by Psalms, and “wrestling with the Lord in prayer” over Suzy. After a while, we realize we have been often in prayer, even working with God.

Calm down: Moreland has a controversial, yet probably workable suggestion on anxiety. He has noted that neuroscience is seeing that the heart has its own “system.” He recommends breathing techniques that will calm the heart. This is fine as long as we don’t say “thus saith the Lord.”

Deliverance ministries: MK are correct that demons cannot possess believers. Let that be said loud and clear. However, demons can attack and afflict believers. This isn’t that startling a statement. If you are attacking satanic strongholds and winning victories for the kingdom, do you really expect Satan to stand idly by? How will a demon attack you? As Paul says, by letting sinful passions “gain a foothold.”

Evaluation:
I recommend it for intermediate believers who already have a strong foundation in the spiritual disciplines.

Love your God (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P. Love your God with all Your Mind (Navpress).

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Many have rightly hailed this book as a game-changer. Unfortunately, not enough have. It’s hard to put this book’s importance into words. It changed my life in college. Enough with the praise; let’s begin.

Moreland’s thesis is developing a Christian mind is part of the essence of Christian discipleship (Moreland 43). Further, since the mind is a faculty of the soul (72, more on that later), one cannot develop one’s soul in relation to God without taking the mind into account. Yet Moreland is not encouraging us to become arcane theology wonks. He places the life of the mind within cultivating a framework of virtue (104-112). Virtue is elsewhere explicated as “the good life,” the life lived in accordance with God’s design (35). A virtuous life is a free life: freedom is the power to do what one ought to do. Finally, a virtuous life is a communal life.

Indeed, for example, it is this communal aspect of the virtuous life that Aristotle sought (170). It is a view of friendship that is formed around a common vision and shared goods (shades of Augustine!). Rather, New Testament fellowship–koinonia–is commitment to, and participation in, advancing the Kingdom from the body of Christ. What relevance, then, to the life of the mind? New Testament fellowship should be guided by the good life as revealed in the gospel, which includes a life of epistemic virtue. We are to build each other up in this.

Notae bene

Theology and Worship: God is a maximally perfect being. He is not just a perfect God, but perfect in all possible worlds. From this Moreland develops his theology of worship. While not Reformed, he anticipates some like an RPW. I disagree with his “testimony” time after the sermon, but mainly because this almost always kills the flow and narrative of worship (have you ever been to the last night of summer camp in youth group? Then you know of what I speak).

Interestingly, Moreland also accepts rule by elders, if not by synod.

Ethics: happiness, following the ancients and utilizing the New Testament, is a life of virtue whic includes suffering (35).

Philosophy and the Soul: we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73). While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God. On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire). What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories. This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false. This is also what R. L. Dabney meant by “connative” powers (I think; see Dabney Discussions II: 240, 243, III: 281; The Sensualistic Philosophy, chs. 1-2).
Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies. Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Moreland further gives some practical lessons in logic and analytical reading. That, too, changed my life. Few things are more beautiful than a well-time modus ponens.

Conclusion

This is a book to be savored, meditated upon. I’ve bought it several times and whenever I see it at used book sales, I buy it to give it away. It is that important. Don’t stop here, though. Immediately transition to Kingdom Triangle.