Sunday, May 07, 2006

The T4G Statement

The official version of the T4G statement is now online. The Tavern has been discussing the matter, and I recommend the points made by Joel and Phillip and Joel again about it. But I promised my two cents, and here they are...

Articles I-IV (Scripture & Truth)
Much of the content in these four articles is standard boilerplate (affirmations of inerrancy, repudiations of postmodernism and pragmatism, etc), but three issues in particular caught my attention.

Authority of Scripture – there appears to be a contradiction between Articles I and II regarding the role of Scripture as the Church’s authority. In Article I, the Bible is described as “the sole authority for the Church”, whereas in Article II it is “our final authority for all doctrine and practice”. There is a BIG difference between sole and final, as any Reformed person would gladly tell you (especially in regards to the great Solas of the Reformed tradition). I know that the majority of the drafters of this document fall into the Baptist end of the ecclesiological spectrum, where the idea that only the Bible should have any constitutional authority is widely accepted. But Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Lutherans (and even some Baptists), while acknowledging Scripture as final authority (at least in theory), regularly use creedal documents to organize their theology, church life, and liturgy. Are they in error to do so? Is Scripture the “last court of appeal” (the final authority), or is it really the only valid authority (the sole)? An editorial faux pas like this is quite astonishing.

Truth and Scripture –
the phrase where the signatories affirm “the ability of language to convey understandable truth in sentence form” caught my attention. I looked at the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy last fall, and one refrain that returned again and again in that document was the centrality of “propositional truth”. Is the use of the phrase “understandable truth in sentence form” a fall-back from hard propositionalism? After all, poems have sentences, do they not? And do they not convey meaning?

Expository preaching – The phase at the heart of Article IV is left undefined. What sort of “expository preaching” is vital? Word studies? Theological systematics? What is the role of “story” and redemptive history in preaching? Where does exposition about the Gospel depart from proclamation of the Gospel? (The two are NOT synonymous, unfortunately.)

Articles V-VII (The Godhead and the Incarnation)
Nothing in here caught my eye as being too far beyond the pale.

Articles VIII-XIII (Salvation and the Gospel)
Article VIII stood out in my eye (and to others) as a sore point. “(T)he Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God’s sovereign purpose to save sinners”. What exact “doctrines” are being discussed here? At this point, perhaps a working definition of “the Gospel” should have been given. We were told in Article VII that the life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Christ are essential parts of the Gospel. We are also told in Article XII that justification by faith alone is also an essential part of the Gospel. But are these parts the whole? They seem to be telling us about the Gospel without really telling us what the Gospel really is. This confusion seems common in some Reformed circles – the assumption that discussion of parts equals presentation of the whole. If the situation in the Church is really as bad as the preamble would seem to indicate, perhaps giving us some basic definitions of the terms they are defending might have been useful?

Articles XIV- (the life of the Church)
The Lord’s Supper – Article XIV states that “the Lord’s Supper can(not) faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of church discipline.” Again, a major definition is left hanging in mid-air. Just what is meant by “right church discipline”? Based on my knowledge of at least one of the participants, I suspect that the presupposition lurking behind this statement is that only intra-congregational communion is acceptable. IOW, if you are a member of our congregation, we can theoretically tell if you are not living in a way as to endanger your participation in the Supper - but if you are a visitor professing faith in Christ, how can we tell? The merits of “open vs. closed communion” can and should be debated, but it would be good to know what is really meant by this denial, so that second-guessing is unnecessary.

Gender roles – this one has generated the most “heat” in online discussions, and I leave that debate to others. I’ll only say that I am sure that the Church in America is doing many things that is “damaging its witness to the Gospel” – I’m not at all sure that the question of womens’ ordination is the most pressing of these things, however…

As I noted in the Tavern last week, a much more thorough, balanced, and ecumenical treatment of the Gospel was done seven years ago, called The Gospel of Jesus Christ: an Evangelical Celebration. I think it is by far the worthier and more weighty document, and deserves far greater attention that it has received up to this point.


Blogger pgepps said...

My main problem with both T4G and Celebration is just that they're sloppily edited, and especially in the case of T4G too defined against certain temporary phases and phrases.

Celebration rambles on *forever* without much appearance of either outlining or prose styling; the result is a scattershot of good points hardly memorable or easily compared, lacking in organization. T4G obviously mimics the Chicago Statement and other Sic et Non style papers, but the kind of error in verbal presentation you point out is too common for me to take it very seriously. The fad will pass, the statement will, too, and those of us who think they're all wet--or perhaps just a bit damp--will be teaching and thinking what we teach and think, blithely unconcerned with what these teachers--who none of us would ever hear of, except on the few blogs where they're trumpted--want us to believe we have to agree with 'em on, or not be Christians.

Such statements are meaningful outside the body of Christ, and the blogosphere has yet to be initiated into that body....


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Blogger pgepps said...





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