Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A revolution based on what a verse doesn't say

Hearing Her Voice: A Biblical Invitation for Women to Preach by John Dickson

This book is all about one verse in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 2:12, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Dickson argues that the verse does not forbid women from giving sermons today. His argument is as follows (pp. 80-81): There are many different different forms of public speaking in the New Testament, such as "exhorting", "preaching", and "teaching". Only one of them is forbidden to women – "teaching", in 1 Tim. 2:12. According to Dickson, this actually refers to "preserving and laying down the traditions handed on by the apostles", and this is not what happens in most modern-day sermons. Hence, women are allowed to give sermons today.

This is a rather idiosyncratic, and certainly very narrow definition of "teaching", and Dickson is not convincing. But even if we were to grant his definition, he is still on very flimsy ground.

Dickson fails to demonstrate why women are allowed to "exhort". The New Testament seems to use that word in two different ways: both personal encouragement, and delivering a "word of exhortation". The latter is used in Hebrews 13:22, in reference to the entire book, and Hebrews does seem to be a sermon, or at least composed of sermonic material. Why can women give this sort of exhortation? Dickson seems to suggest that because that particular word is not used as a prohibited activity for women, it is allowed. In this way, Dickson stands firmly in the Anglican tradition of the normative principle of worship, holding that whatever is not forbidden is allowed, but as an adherent of the regulative principle, I must reject this. The onus is on Dickson to demonstrate that women are allowed to preach; the fact that they are "not forbidden" is not good enough.

Again, even if we accept Dickson's definition of teaching, it is much better to see it applying today as "telling people what the Bible says". In fact, there is another possible definition, which Dickson completely ignores: "teaching" is what teachers do. And the New Testament says a lot about "teachers". Unfortunately, Dickson fails to mention Ephesians 4:11 ("He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers"). Actually, he does allude to it on p. 78, and seems to suggest that the office of teacher has ceased. But this verse is talking about the pastor/teacher as a single office, and this office is restricted to men (1 Tim. 3:1-2). This is the office that Timothy held, and he was told to devote himself to "the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:13). This is describing the work that a (male) pastor does, and there is no indication in the New Testament that other people do this as well. Thus, there are good reasons why we would conclude from the New Testament that women are not allowed to "exhort", even if we grant Dickson's idea that modern-day sermons are essentially "exhortations" based on the text.

In short, Dickson is presenting an argument from silence. The book has a very feminist-sounding title, and my edition has quite an outrageous subtitle: "A Biblical Invitation for Women to Preach". (Other editions have "A Case for Women Giving Sermons"). Well, it's not a biblical invitation at all. It is based entirely on what Dickson argues one verse is not saying. We should not base doctrines on what single verses say, let alone on what they don't say.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tragic misapprehensions

Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn

This is the story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn's conversion to Roman Catholicism. They came out of evangelical Protestantism, and both studied at Grove City College and Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary.

It's an intriguing story, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Scott became a Catholic a few years before Kimberly, and they relate the struggles they had in a "mixed marriage". Secondly, one can detect in this book a trajectory from intellectual conviction (believing that the Roman Catholic Church is the True Church) to emotional connection (feeling at home in the Catholic Church).

However, both of these reasons are built on flimsy foundations. Firstly, the Hahns completely misunderstand key Protestant doctrines such as Sola Scriptura. Now, Rome Sweet Home is more than twenty years old, and it is quite likely that the Hahns have refined their understanding as they have engaged in Catholic apologetics, but they think that Sola Scriptura means the Bible is the "Christian's only authority" (p. 53). As Keith Mathison demonstrates in The Shape of Sola Scriptura, that is most emphatically what it does not mean. Rather, it means the Bible is the only ultimate authority. It is a shame that both these people could study at an evangelical seminary and not know this.

Secondly, their emotional connection to the Catholic Church is also a flimsy foundation for conversion. Kimberly says regarding the rosary, "I really felt the Lord was giving his approval and ministering to me through it" (p. 160). It is, of course, impossible to argue with such feelings. But it is significant that the Hahns need to retreat into such mysticism in order to justify their conversion.

The Hahns make much of 1 Timothy 3:15, where it says that that the Church is the "pillar and foundation of the truth". They rightly point out that this might go against the evangelical instinct of regarding the Bible as the pillar and foundation of the truth. But quite apart from the fact that both could be true, there is still no reason to believe that Paul is talking here about the Church of Rome.

This is therefore a rather sad book. The education that the Hahns received and the conversations they had with evangelical friends were not sufficient to keep them from converting to Rome. But they did so on the basis of some tragic misapprehensions concerning Protestant doctrine and spirituality.

Monday, September 08, 2014

An important theme, but mixed contributions

The Holy Spirit and Reformed Spirituality

The volume is a Festschrift of sorts. A Festschrift is a collection of essays written in honour of a particular academic, usually on a topic that is dear to that academic's heart. Well, The Holy Spirit and Reformed Spirituality honours Geoff Thomas, who is not an academic at all, but rather an ordinary pastor.

The theme of this book is an important one, for two reasons. Firstly, there seems to be a misconception that Reformed theology is weak on the Holy Spirit. Some would even suggest that while Reformed theology may be good on soteriology, when it comes to pneumatology we need to turn to Charismatic theology.

Now, it is true that there is no chapter in the original Westminster Confession of Faith specifically on the Holy Spirit, but many reformed theologians have written volumes on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit: George Smeaton, Abraham Kuyper, and James Buchanan in previous generations, and Sinclair Ferguson more recently.

The second reason why this topic is important is that there are some people who like reformed theology, but prefer other spiritualities. Catholic writers like Brendan Manning and Henri Nouwen are quite popular in some Reformed circles. But although Reformed spirituality is often neglected, it is inseparable from Reformed theology.

Unfortunately, the essays in this volume do not really match the importance of the theme. It is often the case that contributions to Festschriften vary in quality, but overall this book is somewhat disappointing. It was interesting to see no less than four chapters dealing with some aspect of John Owen's thought. Two of these (by Carl Trueman and Derek Thomas) were good, but the other two seemed to merely rehash what Owen had written. Similarly, there is another chapter that is merely rehashing Louis Berkhof.

Even more disappointing is Stephen Turner's contribution on the call to the ministry. Turner notes that Acts 13:2 describes the Holy Spirit calling men to ministry. He suggests that this was communicated through a prophet, and acknowledges that we no longer have prophets in that sense. But Turner still wants to hold to the idea that today the Holy Spirit calls men via an "inward" call. Yet that is simply not in the text – the passage is quite clearly describing an outward call.

On the other hand, Robert Oliver's piece on Edward Dering is very good. This book really is a mixed bag, and generally fails to live up to the promise of its title.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beowulf in Florida

Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson

N. D. Wilson's latest story is essentially a zombie novel, but don't let that turn you off. (In fact, he never even uses the word.) I was a little sceptical at first as to how plausible the supernatural elements were going to be, but they work, mainly because of the way that Wilson draws on the great Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf.

Wilson has a special interest in writing American stories. In this interview, concerning The Dragon's Tooth, he notes that growing up, he had the assumption that "you had to be in England if you wanted to have a magical adventure", and so he set out to make magical adventure possible in America. Boys of Blur is set in Florida's  Everglades region. It does for Florida what 100 Cupboards did for Kansas; incidentally, it also does for American football what 100 Cupboards did for baseball.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the novel is the way it brilliantly depicts what it means to face temptation. Usually this is a temptation to anger, resentment, or envy – e.g. "Just about every human on the planet was better off than Charlie at this moment" (p. 157) or "This stupid town and all its petty people deserved everything they were getting" (p. 169). But this is an optimistic novel – the main characters resist these tempting thoughts. Wilson also eschews any form of moral ambiguity – these thoughts are always depicted as being wrong.

This is a great story, that I can heartily recommend to young and old alike. Only one minor quibble: on p. 95 it says "the two tumbled off of Charlie". There's no excuse for that.

Finally, here is a very good review of the book: You’ve got your aforementioned zombies as well as a paean to small town football, an economy based on sugar cane harvesting, spousal abuse, and rabbit runs. It sounds like a dare, honestly. “I dare you to combine these seemingly disparate elements into a contemporary classic”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should be part of every theological curriculum

Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature by Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson

This is one of very few books on an interesting and significant subject, and I hope it becomes widely used.

This volume covers seventy books in which Christian ministers feature prominently. Twelve books are covered in depth, while the rest have enough information to help you evaluate whether you want to read the book.

In fact, I found this book made me want to read some of the novels it describes. I have read eleven of the books (The Canterbury Tales, The Diary of a Country Priest, Gilead, And the Shofar Blew, The Book of Bebb, Death in Holy Orders, the Father Brown stories, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and The Sunday Wife), while another six I hope to read this year (The Vicar of Wakefield, Witch Wood, The Mackerel Plaza, The Dean's Watch, The Warden, and Silence). My only quibble is that the book didn't include Madeleine L'Engle's A Live Coal in the Sea.

I would love to see this book used in seminaries and theological colleges, as a launching pad to reading some of the books covered. It would be so helpful to prospective pastors to meditate on and discuss these fictional portrayal of ministers. Even a reading course of four such books would be a big help in thinking through various pastoral and theological issues. Pastors in the Classics makes an important contribution to the Christian Church.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to be a writer on $10,000 a year

I have been been reading Boswell's Life of Johnson, and it's quite fascinating. I'm up to Johnson going to London to try to make a living as a writer. Boswell records a hypothetical budget that one of Johnson's friends had explained to him:
Thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds for clothes and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at eighteen-pence a week; few people would inquire where he lodged; and if they did, it was easy to say, "Sir, I am to be found at such a place." By spending three-pence in a coffeehouse, he might be for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for six-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without supper.
Samuel Johnson in 1772
Let's break that down:

Per day
Per week
Per year

4 s.
£ 10

18 d.
£ 4
7 d.
4 s.
£ 10
3 d.
18 d.
£ 4

Now, this website tells me that £1 in 1750 would be the equivalent of £190 today, and this in turn equates to A$350. This gives us an annual budget of $10,000:

Per day
Per week
Per year



For a writer in Melbourne, the coffee works out about right. The food budget would be roughly equivalent – $2 a day will give you bread and milk for breakfast, while $8 will fill you up in Chinatown. Unfortunately, one would be hard pressed to find accommodation at even the most dingiest dive for $30 a week. The clothes budget, both then and now, is wildly disproportionate.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books Kara read in 2013

 With our new little boy, Zephaniah.

Total read: 36

Fewer than in 2012, but I had other fun things to do, like growing a baby and living with an energetic toddler!

So here they are, with occasional comments. I've only linked to reviews, this time.

The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton

Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer

The Lord our Shepherd by J. Douglas MacMillan

They Found a Cave by Nan Chauncy

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark A. Noll (my review here)

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce (John's review here)
Maddeningly unreferenced and anecdotal. Misunderstands her subject on key points, particularly missing the point of Christian self-sacrificial living.

Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson (John's review here)

The Puritan Experiment in the New World (1976 Westminster Conference papers)

My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
I liked it until the last couple of chapters. Not recommended.

Talking About Dragons by William Chad Newsom
Nothing much new here.

Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic
Excellent, gospel-centred mothering book. I like her sense of humour and imaginative illustrations.

Standing on the Promises by Douglas Wilson
Best parenting book I've read.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Ride Like an Indian by Henry V. Larom
Children's book that reads like it was written by a health and safety committee. What kid sterilizes his knife before becoming blood brothers with his best friend?

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James Gaines.
Fascinating double biography of J.S. Bach and Frederick the Great.

Asterix the Gladiator

Asterix and the Actress

Family-Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham (John's review here)

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

The Four by Peter Leithart

The Light Princess by George MacDonald

Classical Education and the Homeschool by Wes Callihan, Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson
Short, helpful introduction to the subject.

Monet by Jude Welton (Eyewitness Art series)

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton

Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge
I fear she didn't believe in the resurrection.

Aunt's Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
Charlotte Mason isn't God. Sometimes Andreola sounds like she thinks differently.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson (John's review here)
This series keeps getting better. Fascinating incorporation of theology into story.

The Last Judgement by Iain Pears

Death By Living by N.D. Wilson
If you read Empire of Bones, you need to read this too.

The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

The Lord's Service by Jeff Meyers
Not uniformly convincing, but still very helpful in thinking through liturgical matters.