Norman Shepherd vindicated?

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by discipulo, Apr 1, 2011.

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  1. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark - Re: the biblicist ethos at WTS. Would you say that Greg Bahnsen's MTS thesis, which became Theonomy in Christian Ethics, was also sustained primarily because of this ethos? I have often wondered why his exegesis of Matt 5:17 and 18 was not, apparently, challenged when a simple comparison of his arguments with BAGD and BDF opens major holes in his thesis.
  2. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Yes, I hadn't thought of that -- I read the published version but hadn't thought about the ThM version. That's interesting. I think that provides further evidence of the that there was an idea that "we're going to re-make Reformed theology." Dick Gaffin's first inaugural lecture, in which he proposed what seems to me to be quite radical method--one that would lead to the death of systematics--also supports this thesis.


    I wear two hats. As a pastor I've dealt for years with folk who have either no Christian background or no Reformed background. As a prof I have to try to explain the Reformed faith to students with no Reformed background (and often with a pentecostal/charismatic background). Anyone, in this country of 60 million evangelicals, of which the Reformed communions compose only a tiny fraction (about 500K in the NAPARC world) who spends time trying to explain Reformed Christianity will encounter this problem. I write about this in Always Reformed in an essay on Sister Aimee. Check it out.

    The question is whether biblicism is the best way to induce broad evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics to become Reformed. That was a strategy in the 60s and 70s. Did it work? The evidence is certainly not conclusive. I work with "young believers" on a daily basis and I do not find that biblicism is the most effective way at all to help them see the fulness of Scripture.

    Let me be clear, we have to make our case from Scripture. No question. If we don't do that we fail those whom we're trying to help and we fail to do our duty before God and to fulfill our vocation but we must also make our case in light of the way the church has read the Scriptures. We have to induce (lead) young believers not only to Scripture, to identify with the history of redemption, to read Scripture the way its meant to be read, but we must also lead them to become Christians, i.e., to identify with the great catholic Christian church and especially with the Reformed churches. If we don't then we do not help those to whom we seek to minister.

    This is why "biblicism" is inadequate. There's a chapter on this in RRC. Check it out. Indeed, "biblicism" isn't really even faithful to Scripture. The writers of Scripture did not read Scripture the way biblicists want us to read it. My great problem with biblicism is that, ultimately, it places the individual reader in a position of superiority and even autonomy over Scripture. It's not a ministerial approach to Scripture. It does not serve Scripture, it masters it, under the guise of serving it. Biblicism is deceptive and dangerous. Remember, the Arians were biblicists. That's why merely citing Scripture at the council of Nicea failed. They realized that the church had to say what Scripture means to teach and then they had array that truth against error.

    The great problem we face in helping broad evangelicals to become Reformed is that our BE friends operate from a quite different (Baptistic, individualistic, revivalistic, subjectivist) paradigm which needs to be fundamentally challenged and overthrown. Biblicism concedes the modernist assumptions of the BE paradigm. Biblicism has lost before it has begun.
  3. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    I have been reading this book all week and I need to rescind my earlier comments about perseverance. Shepherd never, ever denies perseverance, and also maintains steadfastly that the decree of election is inviolate.

    Now, Clowney carefully points out how his understanding of the covenant can lead to the impression that an elect person can fall away. It is certainly technical and even confusing ( or as Gaffin reportably said eventually, "vague"). But he never denies any of biblical/confessional truth about this.

    I was thinking this week about persons in my own life who have pointed out how the logical conclusion of my Calvinism is to deny moral responsibility and culpability, and I try to argue, and they have it all figured out about how the logical conclusion of Calvinism is to make God unjust and unfair.

    Then there was the discussion about how Amillenialism leads directly to Hitler via antisemitism and how evil the logical outworking of my eschatology is.

    So you know what? I apologize for jumping on the bandwagon about what "NS logically leads to." Maybe he does not, and maybe we need to accept that he is a brilliant guy who can put two things together that are hard to put together. It's like the trinity and "distinct but inseparable" ( justification and sanctification). The disussion is meticulous and intense, but in no way is Shepherd the heretic some claim him to be, or Arminian about U and P.

    The list of quotes from the accusers, and what they conveniently left out, is striking. So is the way Shepherd wrote up some unpublished discussion thoughts for the faculty ONLY to discuss, and this private unfinished work was sent all over the world. And so is the way he amended confusing phrasing from 1975 or so, and the accusers still pull that out instead of the corrected version. ( I'm glad nobody can quote me from 1975, ha). And I really liked all the quotes from the Reformers and confessions and Murray that help us understand how justifcation and sanctification are distinct but not inseparable.

    Having said that, I don't like his terminology of the covenant and God's view and our view and how he puts it. I understand what he means about the perspectives, and it is WONDERFUL the way he is trying to tackle and put together very hard verses about our works, with justification by faith. Students need to try and put that together; it is one of the first things savvy catholics hit you with, and there is FV out there too. But personally I think of Covenant in the New Covenant as only for the truly elect who can never fall away. And I see what Clowney means about how very confusing his Covenant terminology is, and how it could mislead, and I can see that perhaps he was not best fit for WTS (but that discussion is out of my league.)

    But he was exonerated on every charge of justification by works, and every other charge. He was vindicated time and time again, by Presybyteries and groups of men who should be respected for their decision.

    Lastly, I told hub that this is the best arguement for paedo baptism I ever read. Hub said that he steadfastly maintained (as a credobaptist) at WTS, that Shepherd had the best arguement for infant baptism he ever heard, no competition. Some of you might enjoy that part of the book.

    RSC quote: "The question is whether biblicism is the best way to induce broad evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics to become Reformed. That was a strategy in the 60s and 70s. Did it work? The evidence is certainly not conclusive. I work with "young believers" on a daily basis and I do not find that biblicism is the most effective way at all to help them see the fulness of Scripture."

    Dr Clark- I hear you, and I understand. Yeah, "me and my bible" has problems.

    I asked my husband about it and he said that when he was there 74-77 he does not think it was as bad as you say. Yes, they were training students to back up doctrine with scripture, and he found that VERY helpful as he was working with new believers at church who could care less- zero- about dead guys or confessions, all they wanted to know was what the bible said. But the introductory bible classes soon led to articles and books that slowly drew people into great theology ( worked for me... first Reformed thing I ever read was an article he gave me on Amil, and I thought it was amazing!! I mean, after the mideast war of 73 the rapture was just around the corner. And look at me now, ha, I love theology). And it is working in my church, they come in Arminian and start with the bible, then they get Ferguson's The Christian Life for basics, then they get some Grudem maybe, and they try out Piper bios packed full of doctrine, and next thing you know they actually WANT to read books and learn theology. Slow and steady and not always easy, but it works.

    So yes, your concern is valid, but maybe not the first day or even the first year ( in church I mean. At WTS they started in with heavy duty Reformed authors from day 1) . We have a friend who got saved and didn't even know where in the bible the part about Jesus was. And he started with basic bible teaching and now 20 years later he goes to Piper conferences. I had an old friend who was oneness, and Vern Poythress told me to start with bible verses about father and son, and skip the HS to start. It worked, she finally accepted two, and now 15 years later they are in a full blown Calvinist church and trinitarian. You have to start somewhere, and WTS was teaching them how to start with scripture. I think that is good. Secondary means like confessions might have to be secondary in chronological time, as well as authority. I think WTS always had your goal, even if the path looked different.
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