Monday, August 24, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: " 'Fundamentalism' And The Word Of God" by J.I. Packer. Part II

I only had time to read chapter three of " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God" by noted theologian J.I. Packer. This chapter is entitled "Authority."

There are two different types of theological dispute within the Church. One such dispute is between those who accept the authority of Scripture for doctrine and conduct; the argument concerns just what Scripture says. Packer gives us an example of this: Arminianism v. Calvinism. The second dispute is between those who affirm the Bible's authority and those who challenge such authority. The issue of authority is really what the controversy over Fundamentalism is all about, according to Packer.

What choices do the people of God have when determining what shall be the final authority in matters of right and wrong and what is true concerning the Triune God? Packer lists three. Many rely on a combination of Scripture and tradition, or tradition alone. Others believe that human reason is the final arbiter of truth. The correct choice is to rely on Scripture. The reliance on Scripture, a practice that was recovered by the Reformation, has been the Church's practice since the first Christians. Packer does not forbid the use of tradition or reason, but points out that both must be evaluated by Scriptural standards. In the case of tradition, it is impossible not to pass on the faith to the next generation without using tradition as a vehicle for such transmission. Each individual Church has its own history of worship and Church practice that forms the opinions of those who grow up within that tradition. However much we like to cling to what we have been taught by the tradition we grew up in, we cannot let that tradition determine our beliefs and conduct when tradition is in direct violation of Scripture. Some would believe that John Wesley violated this rule because he had a four fold source of authority: Scripture, tradition (Church history up to the present time), reason( rational thinking and sensible interpretation) and experience (a Christians personal, communal experience with Christ). (Albert Outler dubbed this formulation the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.) Yet these four components of Wesley's formulation were not co-equal: Scripture for Wesley was the supreme authority; the other three were aids in interpretation of Scripture.

Packer affirms the practice of the historical Church in affirming the divine authority of the Old Testament. Jesus affirmed its authority as regards to His own doctrine and practice; He fashioned His entire ministry on Old Testament grounds and everything he did was in line with what the Old Testament said about Him. The Apostles preached the authority of Christ based on the Old Testament. The Decalogue, the Ten Commandments were written with God's own finger on the tablet of stone for Moses to deliver to the Israelites; yet all the other Old Testament books written through down physically by men are just as authoritative. Both the Old and New Testaments are organically one, each confirming the other's authority. Not only are the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament authoritative, but the Apostles writings are as well. This became inevitable as the Apostles' writings were used alongside the Old Testament and Christ's teaching in 1st Century Church worship. As the books of the New Testament were acquiring the status as canon, the church was not creating Orthodoxy, but affirming already existing Orthodoxy. Packer states the following:

"For the idea of a 'canon' (a set of authoritative Scriptures functioning as a rule of faith and life) was not a second century invention. It had existed in Christendom from the first, since the Church took over the canonical Jewish Scriptures. And the expectation of a New Testament canon to supplement and complete the Old emerged naturally--indeed inevitably--from the original Christian understanding of Christianity. Christ had bound His Church to live under the authority of the Old Testament, in conjunction with His own teaching and that of the Apostles (which was, after all, no more than His own teaching in its completed form). But if the New revelation was to become law for the Church alongside the old, it needed to be put into a permanent written form, as the Old had been. And if God has caused His earlier, preliminary revelation to be written, then no doubt He would cause His final, crowning revelation to be recorded in writing. If the New Covenant was the completion and fulfillment of the Old, then it was natural to expect from the God who inspired an authoritative account of the one an authoritative account of the other. When there was an Old Testament, recording the first and more obscure stages in saving revelation, it would have been strange indeed had there been no New Testament, proclaiming God's full and final revelation in Christ, to complete and elucidate it. The inner logic of Christianity thus required an apostolic New Testament as a God-given complement to the Old. The fact that the early Church felt this shows that it understood by what principle of authority it ought to live. We should not hesitate to ascribe the process by which it sought and found a New Testament to the providential guidance of the Holy Ghost, nor to receive that New Testament as from the hand of Christ, as God-breathed Scripture, inspired and, together with the Old Testament, authoritative for faith and life."

The key issue in analyzing Biblical authority, according to Packer, is our attitude towards Scripture as we interact with it. Those that reject the Bible's supreme authority in doctrine and practice subject the Bible to human methods and presuppositions. Literary Criticism has been applied to Scripture for a century; Literary Criticism presupposes that the Bible is not what it claims to be. In other words, proponents of Literary Criticism assume that Scripture errs. While Evangelicals must be up to date regarding current Biblical Scholarship, Packer reminds us that they must not forget that the Bible itself must fix and control the methods and presuppositions with which it is studied.

This Friday evening I will read chapter four of Packer's book entitled "Scripture."

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