Saturday, October 27, 2007

Expository preaching conference: Reflection (part 1)

[continued from here]

Here's a photo of Dr. Don Carson. Due to the fact that I took this with my handphone camera while he was preaching (and I was seated) and from a rather far distance, it isn't of a very good quality, but should be good enough.

Anyway, let's continue with his talks.

The first topic which Dr. Carson preaches on is The Living & Enduring Word, which basically addresses basic issues on the doctrine of Sripture and how it relates to the Christian faith. Although I know most of what he teaches, it was still refreshing to hear solid truth preached on the topic, whereas most of my knowledge on this regard has almost exclusvely come from reading books such as Scripture Alone by Dr. James R. White and the 3-series volume Holy Scripture by Webster and King, nevermind the countless articles off the Internet on the subject.

In the talk he gave, Dr. Carson preaches on the authority, perspicuity, and finally on the sufficiency of Scripture. Under the section of the authority of Scripture, Carson makes the link between Truth, faith and authority, stating that these three are interlinked and that there isn't true faith and thus no authority where there is no truth. In this, he spoke out against the mystical idea of a faith and spirituality devoid of truth, while science becomes the sole vehicle of truth. The validity of faith is therefore dependent on the truthfulness of the object of faith. Without truth, any faith is invalid and I would add it is not faith but superstition indeed.

Carson then continued with the difference between an authoritative presentation and the authority of the presentation. These two are NOT equal. One could and should speak authoritatively, but without there being truth at the core of the presentation (more specifically God's truth), there is no power and therefore no authority within the message so proclaimed. Such an authority inherent in the message comes from truth which is inevitably tied to the person of Jesus in the Scripture. All truth leads to Christ, and magnify Him above all else. The authoritative proclaimation should therefore leads to an exaltation of the person (and works) of Christ through the exposition of Scripture.

Carson then discusses a bit about the postmodern mindset of relativism and its undermining of the authority of Scripture. He agrees with them that we humans are perspectivalists, or people with limited perspectives based on our various experiences. However, the only true non-perspectivalist ever is God Himself, because He is omniscient with perfect knowledge. And because of this, it is wrong to use such a truth about the limitation of human understanding to undermine the authority of Scripture. The authority of Scripture is tied to the role of Holy Spirit in inspiring Scripture cf 2 Tim. 3:16-17. Although not exactly stated, Dr. Carson made a short comment which seems to talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating and showing our minds with the Truth (capital T) in Scripture, which I think is definitely important in combating the postmodern arguments raised against the authority of Scripture.

Dr. Carson then raised the issue of ontology vs. phemenology with regards to the doctrine of Scripture. In other words, is our doctrine of Scripture to be derived from what Scripture says about itself (ontology) or how Scripture seems to treat other sections of Scripture (phemenology). Of course, ontology is the correct way to go about answering the question, while phemenology tends to go off the rails because it does not have a framework to adequately see the thread of unity and inspiration within the seeming chaos in how Scripture seem to relate to each other (My own wordings in paraphrase).

With regards to the subject of perspicuity, or the clarity of Scripture, or claritas scripturae, Dr. Carson made a couple of points on this topic which I didn't take down. This was due to the fact that I didn't hear anything I regard as substantial in this regard as this was a plain enough topic. But I do agree whole-heartedly 100% with Carson that the Scriptures are perspicuous. Not all Scriptures are as clear as each other, as what the apostle Peter wrote about some of the writings of Paul (2 Peter 3:16). However, they are not so obscure that we need a Magisterium or some mystical hermeneutic in order to interpret Scripture properly.

Lastly, the Scriptures are sufficient. Dr. Carson states that this is not exhaustive sufficiency, in the sense that the Scriptures are not sufficient for things they are not intended for, like how to make a car. Rather, they are sufficient for ALL manner of faith and Christian living, echoing 2 Tim 3:16-17 in this regard. Or, to phrase it as Carson did, sufficient 'for salvation and all that goes along with it'. Carson did not go in-depth into the concept of material and formal sufficiency, but I doubt he needs to since we are not doing apologetics against the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox religions. However, he did speak regarding something which is more prevalent among Christian Evangelical circles, and which is especially pertinent for Singapore where the Charismatic movement is very strong. Dr. Carson states that sufficiency means that ALL of our Christian living is to be centered on the Word of God. The Scripture are not meant to be for salvaton and then we 'switch' to the ways of the world, and of psychology, for our sanctification. Carson thus have a very dim view of extra-biblical techniques of sanctification. I have personally asked Dr. Carson regarding the practice of contempative or centering prayer and Lectio Divina, and although he disagreed with me on their relation to Christianity (he thinks they are patristic practices while I tend to think of it as having a veneer of Christianity), he did say that they are wrong.

The idea of the sufficiency of Scripture comes to a head during one of the Q&A sessions whereby a person asked for advice when professed Christians disparage Bible study because the Spirit supposedly 'leads them' and thus as long as they 'flow in the Spirit', they are fine. Dr. Carson answered in stark terms that this is absolutely nonsense. The Word is inspired by the Spirit of truth, and thus for anyone to say that they 'follow the Spirit', while rejecting the Scriptures, is a liar. Carson states that the apostle Paul had the most awesome experience of being caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2), but yet he insists that he be judged NOT by his experiences, but by His word and deed. In fact, writing to the Corinthian church, one which was extraodinarily gifted, he states that those who claim to be led by the Spirit and flowing in the gifts SHOULD ackowledge that the things he writes are a command of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). In other words, regardless of whether a person is a cessaionist or not, it is a plain truth of Scripture that those who claim to be spiritual and have the gift of prophecy must first and foremost acknowledge the Scriptures which were inspired by God. To do otherwise, like what lots of charismatics are doing, is to deny the sufficiency of Scripture, and this in fact shows that their gifts of prophecy etc. are NOT of God, if real.

Carson ventures into the nature of the inspiration of Scripture, using Heb. 1:1-2 as the text where it is stated that in the last days "He has spoke to us by His Son". The last phrase, if literally translated from the Greek, is rendered something akin to the 'Son-Revelation'. Therefore, Scripture revelation is final in Jesus Christ the Son of God (through the Holy Scriptures), and therefore all other contenders for final revelation like the Book of Mormon is false revelation.

Carson ended this topic by drawing some practical conclusions from the doctrine of Scripture. One of them was that knowing this would engender confidence in preparation and delivery of the sermon, as we know that we have authority of the Scripture to back us up, that the Scripture are clear enough for us to know what they are saying and for the congregation to understand, and sufficient for us to live the Christian life instead of hoping onto the next fad and technique that comes along independent of the Scripture.

All in all, an excellent take on the topic. A feast indeed!

In the next post, I would post my reflections on the third topic, since the second topic, the sermons on Nehemiah, is expository in nature and there is no way to summarize it (very packed). I would just say that it was very good and I would like to have such sermons on a weekly basis.

[to be continued]

7 comments:

Jenson said...

Daniel,

You mentioned the weighty books that you have read and now Carson's take on the subject of the doctrine of Scripture.

When the Lord said "If ye love me, keep my commandments..." (and so on, John 14), could there be anything clearer than that?

Now the can of worms - we have discussed the Sabbath issue, CCM, etc. How does that square up with all that information about Scripture that you have?

ddd said...

Jenson,

I do not see any contradiction between what I have read and learned and what I am practicing with regards to issues like the Sabbath, CCM etc. When you can take out your 16th-17th century Christendom glasses, then you may realize why.

Jenson said...

The reason why I am going on about this is - the modern evangelical movement (that is what I shall call it) has all its doctrinal ducks in a row, but last I heard - church leaders were playing golf/shopping/sightseeing on Sundays, students were skipping church during the exams, etc.

I find that disturbing. It is nothing to do with 16-17th century glasses! How does one "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy..."?

ddd said...

Jenson,

did I say that I advocate "playing golf/sightseeing on Sundays, students were skipping church during the exams"? Just because I disagree with your application of honoring the Sabbath does not mean that everything goes. FYI, I will not think highly of anyone who skips church 'because of exams', and more so if he/she does it consistently during every exam period. But I do so NOT because studying is wrong on Sundays, but because it shows where their heart and priority is. This is what seperates my position from yours.

I prefer the spirit of the Law than the letter of the Law, btw.

Jenson said...

Calm down, Daniel...

"I prefer the spirit of the Law than the letter of the Law, btw."

No one is saying that...

I would agree with everything you wrote. It was just that I was told that you skipped church during the exam period while you were in London.

I thought in our last discussion about this matter, you were saying that Sunday was not the Lord's Day and that was instituted by some Roman Emperor - or something novel to that effect.

Hey, if you have come away from all that - that is good...

ddd said...

Jenson,

where did you hear such rumours? I never once skipped church during exams, not when I was in London either. The only time I 'skipped' was when I was in Europe touring. During the exams, I sometimes came a bit late, that's all.

And no, I didn't say Sunday was instituted as the Lord's Day by any Roman Emperor. I said that we can observe the Lord's Day on other days if we are forced to do so.

Jenson said...

Well, they weren't rumours. It is between you and the Lord.

"And no, I didn't say Sunday was instituted as the Lord's Day by any Roman Emperor..."

I would not bother check where you made that statement. I have to take your word for that.

Thanks for clarifying.