Monday, August 07, 2006

REFLECTIONS ON THE RECENT SCCCS CONFERENCE

My wife and I just got back from our short trip to the SCCCS Conference (Southern California Center for Christian Studies). SCCCS was one of the ministries that the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen developed. You can also see my wife's reflection on the conference on her blog, www.angelabrisby.blogspot.com .

AN ABANDONMENT OF BAHNSEN'S LEGACY

I was sorely disappointed with the conference this year. SCCCS has become influenced by the New Perspective on Paul and the Auburn Avenue theology. Many have stated that Bahnsen would not have had a problem with where things are now, but I highly doubt this. Bahnsen himself devoted several pages in his Theonomy In Christian Ethics discussing the necessity of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, which many (though not all) in the Auburn Avenue and Norman Shepherd movements deny. What is at stake is a complete revision of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Not only this, but this year's conference was on Christianity and the movies. Throughout the conference, we were told that image is just as important as the Word. I don't deny that image is important, and I don't deny that Christ is the image of God. But God has been pleased and still is pleased to save primarily by the foolishness of preaching, as the apostle Paul calls it. The sacraments (the visible words) seal the Word preached in our hearts. This is why we Reformed Baptists (and many other Reformed Christians) think that the regulative principle of worship is vital to corporate worship.

IS PROPOSITION ALL THAT BAD?

Another theme that ran throughout the conference is that story is the important motif that we see throughout Scripture. That is to say, since we live in a postmodern society, we should supposedly get away from theological proposition, and return to the concept of story.

I see the above as extremely simplistic. I do not deny that story is important, but we need to have a good balance in all things. Just like we need both doctrine and practice, and theology and holy living, we need both story and proposition.

The fact is, even though people claim to think postmodernly, no one really, truly is able to think postmodernly. People still believe that 3+2 is always five. They still think in absolute categories, and the Christian faith with its notion of absolute truth still encompasses their thought. This is what Van Til and Greg Bahnsen always pushed forth.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future if SCCCS continues on its current route. I predict that they will completely abandon Van Til's legacy and Bahnsen's heritage.

SOME DISTURBING EXAMPLES OF THINGS THAT TOOK PLACE

This section is kind of an addendum, as it were, listing some disturbing things that took place at the conference.

*Brian Godawa called Roman Catholics "Christians." Since when do those who deny the gospel (justification by faith alone) have a right to the name of Christ?

*A movie was shown that Tony Campolo made. (Campolo is not very orthodox, from what I understand.) The summary of the movie is that a Christian threw a birthday party for a prostitute. After the movie was shown, the speaker called this an example of "the gospel." A friend of mine rightly raised his hand during the discussion, asking how this was the gospel. There was no theological content to it. After my friend asked the question, someone who should have known better (being the son of Greg Bahnsen) mentioned that the gospel is "taking care of widows and orphans." Really?! So Mormons have the gospel? I mean, Mormons take care of widows and orphans. But what this fails to realize is five things.

(1) The passage in question is James 1:26-27. It says that "true religion" is to do those things. It does not say those things are "the gospel."

(2) The biblical defition of "religion" is theology put into practice. In other words, if you have the right theology, and put it into practice, then it is true religion. One example of this is taking care of the widows and orphans.

(3) The passage continues to say that true religion also includes keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

(4) 1:26 also says that true religion is to keep a tight reign on the tongue. The person who responded to my friend rudely did not keep a tight reign on his tongue. He didn't even respond to his argument!

(5) As my friend's wife pointed out, Angelina Joelee and Brad Pitt "take care of widows and orphans." So are we going to say, then, that Joelee and Pitt are "practicing the gospel"?!

WHERE IS REFORMED CHRISTIANITY GOING?

If this is the identity of SCCCS, I do not want to be a part of it. Guy Prentiss Waters has written a book critical of the New Perspective, as well as another one critical of the Auburn Avenue theology. Waters obtained his Ph.D. under one of the New Perspective writers, so he knows their theology well. He is well-qualified to critique these views. I would highly recommend those books for your library.

Where is Reformed Christianity going? True, Auburn Avenue and the New Perspective and Norman Shepherd and N.T. Wright do have some good things to say, but they have spiritually deadly things to say as well. The solution is not to revamp what the Reformers and Confessions brought us, but instead the solution is to pay closer attention to the Confessions and, most importantly, to Holy Scripture. Both the London Baptist and Westminster Confessions chose their words very carefully. It is scary to see that many getting involved in the NPP, Shepherdism, N.T. Wright, and the Auburn Avenue theology are literally becoming Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. I have seen it happen to some of my own friends.

May the Lord cause us to cling to Christ, and to be balanced in our theology and practice. Amen.

9 comments:

BJ said...

Josh,
Sorry to hear the bad news. I know you and I have discussed briefly the cause of these teachings, and I remember a speculative guess you made as to why you thought the New Perspective, Shepardism, Auburn Avenue had made its way into Orthodoxy. Some are blaming CVT for this mess, and also say that Bahnsen defended Shepard during the Westminster problem way back when. I am not sure what that is related to. I read this on the Puritanboard a while back. They accuse CVT of this because of his Apparent Paradox doctrine. Are not most of these guys VanTillians? However, most of the finger pointing is being done by Clarkians. What do you think?

Josh Brisby said...

BJ,

I think many people speculate about what caused all this. I used to speculate that it was infant baptism, and for a while I speculated that it was theonomy. But I don't think we can prove any of this. Much less do I think the Clarkians have a corner on it. Van Til did believe in paradox, but he also believed in logic. That's the point I think the Clarkians and many others of Van Til's critics miss: logic and mystery go together. Logic clarifies mystery. Van Til did rejected fideism in all its forms.

Also, although Bahnsen defended Shepherd in some of his views, Bahnsen would most certainly not agree with Shepherd's denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. He devotes several pages to it in his Theonomy In Christian Ethics. It is true, however, that Bahnsen denied the covenant of works, but I'm not sure as to why or what he put in its place.

Reid Curry said...

I would be interested to know why Bahnsen held to the active obedience of Christ being imputed if he did not beleive in the covenant of works?

Also, are those in the Norman Shepherd and Auburn Avenue movents considered to be Covenant Theologians? If so, I am curious what their thoughts on the Covenant of Works is as well. The active obedience appears in my opinion to hinge solely on the covenant of works.

I don't have Bahnsens Theonomy, but I'd like to read his arguments someday.

Was he Post-mil?

Congrats on the pregnancy too!

Miss you guys!

Paul Manata said...

Bahnsen was more Murrayite in his view of the CoW, certasinly we wouldn't want to say that Murray could not have held to the Imputation of Adam's Sin!

Josh Brisby said...

For those who read this, you can also read an excellent summary of the conference on Paul's blog at www.presstheantithesis.org/blog.

Reid,

Hey man! Good to hear from you. Hope all is well in Riverside.

I think something to consider is that Lutherans did not have a developed CoW/CoG schema, yet Luther held to the imputation of the active obedience. Also, as Paul Manata just brought up, denying the CoW does not mean that they would deny Adam's sin imputed. But we covenant theologians of the classical stripe see the CoW as interconnected with the imputation of Adam's sin, as well as the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Indeed, Christ is called our righteousness. Also, no matter how one takes Hosea 6:7, it seems to always come back to a covenantal view of the Adamic administration.

Yes, Shepherd and those guys consider themselves covenant theologians. They don't like the covenant of works because they don't believe we can "merit" God's favor. But we never said we could merit it without qualification. God condescends to us, as the confessions say, by way of covenant. It was God's condescension toward Adam that allowed Adam to "merit" eternal life--but he failed.

I think it also all comes down to our view of the OT Law. Did God expect us to keep it? Does God expect everyone to keep it? You bet he does. This is one reason why Paul can tell the Galatians that if they wish to become circumcised, then they must keep the whole Law. But Christ fulfilled the Law for us.

Brother Reid, would you like to e-mail dialogue about this? I think it would be good. I've been desiring to do so for a while. Would you like to?

In Christ,
Josh

Josh Brisby said...

P.S.,

Oh I forgot. Yes, Bahnsen was postmil.

Reid Curry said...

Yes, I'd like to email each other about this.

It will have to be at a snails pace though. The heavy season of my job is arriving and I need to ensure I balance work, family, etc. How does one email a week sound for now? And one point per email (so I don't get overwhelmed)?

If you don't mind I will start the volley, but my first email will only be asking what some terms mean, etc. I'll try to email you early this week.

Josh Brisby said...

Brother Reid,

Sounds good man!

Josh

ourdr.laura said...

Have you discussed your concerns with anyone from SCCCS? If you haven't, do you think you should have done that prior to posting publicly (Matt 18:15)?

I was at the conference. I heard the disclaimer that SCCCS believes in presenting provocative views to stimulate debate in the Reformed Christian community, and that none of the speakers were speaking on behalf of SCCCS. Did you miss that part?