Tag Archives: BioLogos

Review: The New City Catechism Devotional

The New City Catechism Devotional, edited by Collin Hansen.  Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.  Hardcover, 238 pages.

I’m always on the lookout for new family worship resources.  When I spotted this volume at my local Christian bookstore, I thought I’d check it out and give it a test run at home.  So, for a couple of months recently, this devotional served as the catechetical instruction in our daily family worship.  We read each question and answer, read the Scripture text, and then the contemporary commentary.  There is also a brief commentary by a figure from history, but we skipped over that in the interests of time.

For those unaware, the New City Catechism is a teaching tool written by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas.  It appeared under 2014 under the auspices of The Gospel Coalition and Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  It seeks to condense and modernize Reformation catechisms — there are clear echoes throughout of both the Heidelberg and Westminster Shorter Catechisms.

I have several observations about this devotional and it seems best to divide them into two parts.  First, I’ll comment briefly on the commentary and then a little more at length on the New City Catechism itself.

Contemporary Commentary

Each question and answer of the NCC has commentary, both historic and contemporary.  Historic commentators include John Calvin and Augustine, but also less orthodox figures like John Wesley.  The contemporary commentators are men such as Tim Keller, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan.

Because there is such a variety of authors, the commentaries or devotional components are uneven.  That happens with any compilation.  Here too: some are short, some are long.  Some read easier than others.  Some have better illustrations or clearer teaching.  Some were really good, others okay, and some mediocre.

I’m going to make some remarks further down about the New City Catechism and its teaching on baptism.  But already here I want to note that from a confessionally Reformed (i.e. Three Forms of Unity) perspective, the teaching in the commentary on baptism is at best inadequate.  If you are intending to use this devotional to teach your covenant children about the meaning of their baptism, then this book is not going to cut the mustard.  There is certainly nothing here about baptism as a sign and seal of God’s covenant.  Baptists will appreciate it more than anyone.

The New City Catechism

There are some things to like about the NCC.  It generally tracks with Reformation theology.  The NCC speaks biblically about the unpopular doctrine of hell in QA 28.  It draws attention to the cosmic significance of Christ’s redemption in QA 26.  In QA 34, obedience to God’s commandments is motivated not only by thankfulness (as in the Heidelberg Catechism), but also by love for God.

However, there are also some significant weaknesses.  There is one question and answer dealing with the Lord’s Prayer.  There is one question and answer dealing with the Apostles’ Creed.  There is a little more with the Ten Commandments — all ten are covered in four questions and answers.  In trying to keep the NCC to fifty-two questions and answers, all these important elements of Christian catechesis have been given short-shrift.  I’ll gladly take my Heidelberger back, thank you very much.

Were I to write a contemporary catechism (not that I plan to), I would be sure to address contemporary concerns.  The Heidelberg Catechism did that — look at Lord’s Day 18 and its four questions and answers on the ascension.  That was all because of polemics with Lutheran theology at the time.  One of today’s major battles has to do with creation and evolution.  While the NCC has two questions and answers dealing with creation, there is nothing to address the threat of evolution.  It’s not in the commentary either.  Should we be surprised?  Since Timothy Keller is a well-known ally of BioLogos, an organization promoting theistic evolution, I suppose not.

As mentioned above, one of the greatest concerns I have about the NCC is its teaching on baptism.  It’s not only what it doesn’t say — i.e. that the children of believers ought to be baptized.  It’s also what it does say, namely that baptism not only “signifies and seals our adoption into Christ [and] our cleansing from sin” but also, “our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.”  Does baptism signify and seal “our commitment”?  Doesn’t the one being baptized already belong to the Lord and, if a covenant child, also to his church?  Again, our Baptist friends might be willing to sign on the dotted line for everything in the NCC, but count me out.

Summary

Our family went once through the NCC Devotional, but that’ll be the last time.  Sadly, it’s not a catechism resource I can recommend to Reformed parents.  Perhaps a married couple with children out of the home might use it discerningly with benefit, but it just isn’t solid enough for families.  My top alternative remains Starr Meade’s resource on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.

Readers can check out the NCC and devotional resources online here.


Rick Phillips: Is Evolution Biblically Acceptable?

addition-becomes-subtraction

It’s not often anymore that I post links to other blogs or websites here.  Most of the time I leave that for Facebook.  But today I’m going to make an exception.  In response to reports that BioLogos is going to be undertaking a major campaign, Rick Phillips has written the first in a series of articles on whether the Bible and evolution are compatible.  It’s very much worth a careful read.  Check it out here. 


Thoughts on John Walton’s Reading Genesis with Ancient Eyes

John Walton

I was recently asked to watch and provide some feedback on Dr. John Walton’s lecture, “Reading Genesis with Ancient Eyes.”  Walton was recently in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia giving this same lecture and I understand that several Canadian Reformed people were in attendance.  There is some interest in Walton’s approach to Genesis 1.  Some find his arguments compelling.  That being the case, and since the question of origins is being debated in our churches, I thought it worthwhile to watch the lecture and share some thoughts.  I’m not going to interact with everything he said, but simply touch on some key points of concern.

First of all, who is Dr. John Walton?  He is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.  He has taught at Wheaton since 2001.  He’s written many books and articles including The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.  Furthermore, he is on the Board of Advisors for BioLogos.  In case you’re unfamiliar with this organization, you can read their beliefs here.  BioLogos actively holds to and promotes theistic evolution:  “We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years…We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent.”

This lecture deals with Genesis 1.  At the very beginning, Walton said that he is not a scientist and would not be pushing any science.  His goal is simply to read the Bible well.  This is a commendable goal.   We all want to read the Bible well.  The question:  does Walton succeed in reading Genesis 1 well?  As I mentioned, what I’m offering here is not a point-by-point review of the lecture.  I will not rehearse everything here.  What I just want to do is isolate three major problems.

The first problem is a subtle one.  That has to do with the starting point.  Let me first state what our starting point ought to be when we deal with questions of how to read the Bible.  Simply put:  we have to start with the Bible.  We go to the Bible to learn how to read the Bible well.  There are some points related to this.  Because Scripture has God as its author, the Bible possesses an intrinsic unity.  Because the Bible has this unity, we can and must use the entire Bible to understand the Bible.  When it comes to interpreting the Bible, we should draw our principles of interpretation from the Bible itself.  Now when we do that, we are reminded that God is the primary author (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:21), but God did bring his word through human beings.  Yet we must insist that the divine stands over the human when it comes to the Bible.  To keep this from being overly long, I won’t expand on a biblical method of biblical interpretation any more than this.  Those want to pursue that further should begin with this summary of Dr. Seakle Greijdanus’ Scripture Principles for Scripture Interpretation.  For a book-length approach in English, I would recommend Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the approach of Walton.  His first slide in the lecture and the associated comments lead me to that conclusion.  One of the bullet points on the slide is “Authority is vested in the author.”  When I first saw that, I thought that this was an orthodox statement.  If God is the author of Scripture, then certainly authority is vested in the author.  But Walton said, “The authority of Scripture is vested in the human authors.”  Where does the Bible teach this about itself?  This is not a good place to start.  Throughout the rest of the lecture that follows, Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 is to essentially treat it as any other Ancient Near Eastern text.  He treats it as a human text that carries a divine message, rather than looking at as a text first of all inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired all of Scripture.  As a consequence, Walton gives no attention to the New Testament and its approach to Genesis 1.  Genesis 1 is mentioned by our Lord Jesus in Matthew 19:4 and also by Paul in 1 Timothy 2.  How is Genesis 1 regarded in those passages?  Should we not allow Scripture to interpret Scripture?  Instead, it seems to me that Walton takes a humanistic approach to the Bible.  Such an approach is dangerous and will inevitably lead to wrong conclusions.

My second point builds on the first.  Reformed theology teaches that Scripture possesses several properties.  One of these is its clarity.  Some have spoken of the perspicuity of Scripture.  Scripture is a lamp for our feet – it sheds light (Ps. 119:105,130).  The meaning of Scripture is accessible, even to those without a background in Ancient Near Eastern studies or the Hebrew language.  In referring to the Pentateuch, the apostle Paul wrote that the stories of Israel’s failings in the wilderness “were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).  Those Spirit-inspired words were written to the Corinthian Christians, some of whom may have been Jews, but many of whom were not.  Paul expected that the Word would be clear and he understood that the book of Exodus, though written hundreds of years before, was intended by God to speak clearly also to the Corinthian Christians.

Walton’s approach compromises the clarity of Scripture.  With this proposal, Christians today need a background in Ancient Near Eastern studies before they can properly understand the message of Genesis 1.  In fact, with Walton’s approach, the church has been in the dark for centuries until these ANE studies were conducted and brought to light what had previously been dark.  There is a simple and clear message in Genesis 1 and we should not allow academics to propose darkness where God has given light.  Yes, there are difficult passages in Scripture and the doctrine of perspicuity does not deny that given what Scripture itself says in 2 Peter 3:16.  However, historically, Genesis 1 was not regarded as a difficult passage.  Taken in the context of the entire Bible (letting Scripture interpret Scripture), what it is saying is so clear that a child can understand it.  It only became a difficult passage because of the challenges posed by unbelieving scientists.

My third point interacts more directly with Walton’s proposed reading of Genesis 1.  Walton thinks that Genesis 1 is speaking in terms of a functional ontology.  He argues that in the Ancient Near Eastern world, things comes into existence by reason of their function.  Genesis 1 is therefore not describing the creation of material, but the taking of that material and ordering it and putting it into use.

I respond by first of all noting the false dilemma Walton seems to present between material and functional.  Though I picked this up on my own, with some research I noticed that I’m not the first one to identify this as a problem.  Why can’t there be both in Genesis 1?  In fact, I think if we have to take the approach of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, this might be our conclusion.  I don’t see how recognizing the functionality of what’s described in Genesis 1 rules out its material nature or its historicity as an account of what really happened in those six days.  Interestingly, this “both…and” approach is what we find in article 12 of the Belgic Confession.  God created heaven and earth and all creatures out of nothing (non-material to material), and he also gave every creature not only its “being, shape, and form,” but also to each “its specific task and function to serve its Creator.”

Related to the foregoing false dilemma, Walton overstates his case in regard to the Hebrew verb bara’.  He argues that the verb is always used in Scripture to refer to things not material in nature.  He says, “Nothing material is going on with bara’.”  However, even on the slide discussing this verb, there were things material in nature.  For instance, people male and female.  People have a material nature and they were created out of material:  dust.  But readers do not have to take it on my authority.  This comes from one of the leading Old Testament dictionaries:

Though br’ does not appear with mention of material out of which something is created, it is regularly collocated with verbs that do (e.g. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7,19; Isa. 45:18; Amos 4:13).  More significantly, br’ is used of entities that come out of pre-existing material: e.g. a new generation of animals or humans, or a ‘pure heart.’ (Ps. 104:29-30; 102:18[19]; 51:10[12]; cf. 1 Cor. 4:6.).  (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 1.731).

In fact, NIDOTTE states that Walton’s view is “somewhat misleading.”

There is much more that I could say.  However, I think anything else I would say has probably been said by others and better.  Let me conclude by saying that Walton’s view falls along the same lines as the Framework Hypothesis approach to Genesis 1 and 2.  I recently reviewed ERQ pastor Paulin Bédard’s book In Six Days God Created (you can find my review here and order the book here).  He tackles a lot of these other issues that I haven’t touched on, though he doesn’t directly discuss Walton.  I highly recommend this book.  Unlike John Walton, Paulin Bédard takes the Bible seriously on its own terms — that’s how we read the Bible well.


Mohler: BioLogos and Theological Responsibility

Interesting blog post here this morning from Albert Mohler regarding the folks at BioLogos and their efforts to make evolutionary theory acceptable among conservative Christians.  This paragraph is especially noteworthy:

Virtually every form of theological liberalism arises from an attempt to rescue Christian theology from what is perceived to be an intellectual embarrassment – whether the virgin conception of Christ, the historicity of the miracles recorded in the Bible, or, in our immediate context, the inerrancy of Scripture and the Bible’s account of creation.

What is this aversion to intellectual embarrassment if not pride?  The desire for respectability is often another form of idolatry.