Saturday, May 5, 2007

Too Narrow?

Just a note for discussion.

There has been talk around campus about the difficulty of hiring professors for the Theology Department. Seems many cannot in good conscience sign the doctoral statement. Article 19 and 20 limit the pool to pre-trib, pre-mil theologians. Anybody for getting some Reformed people for variety? Is the pre-trib, pre-mil position really that essential? What is stopping DTS from changing or amending it?


M. Jay Bennett said...

I'm all for it.

I remember Dr. Lawson asking this question in CE 102, History and Philosophy of CE (keep in mind it was being recorded for the web): "If you could, what would you change about DTS?" I raised my hand and answered: "I would amend the doctrinal statement so that it was no longer dispensational." I think my proposal was fairly well received by many of my classmates, but Lawson seemed to be unable to comment beyond saying thanks for the input.

Dispensationalism is a system centered around one particular eschatological theory: pretrib or midtrib, premil. You cannot be dispensational without holding to that particular eschatological scheme. But since the specifics of eschatology (timing of events, etc.) have been debated points throughout history, I don't think it is wise to make one particular eschatological theory the centerpiece of one's hermeneutic.

Why not make the Gospel, the Cross of Christ, the centerpiece? Shouldn't the centerpiece be soteriology (i.e. the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God in salvation, the trinitarian work of redemption, penal substitutionary atonement) rather than a specific theory of eschatology?

It would be very very difficult for DTS to go this route, but in the end I think it would be for the best.

GUNNY said...

"Seems many cannot in good conscience sign the doctoral statement."

Just for clarification, it's the "doctrinal" statement that is the hurdle, right?

; )

Well, I'm biased here as one who used to be an adjunct professor. Holding the adjuncts to the same standard as the regular folks rendered me unacceptable.

Though not in the theology department (PM), I had to note any divergence from the doctrinal statement, which I did in the form of (a) things I'm certainly not able to agree with and (b) things about which I'm uncertain.

I know for me those categories encompassed issues regarding the eschatology and Reformed theology (in the notion that regeneration precedes faith, instead of how the statement has regeneration for those who believe).

I'm happy to share my slooge with any interested party, but it was a sad time for me on some level to no longer be able to teach.

I think doctrinal standards are huge, but there are probably a lot of good folks we can never get at DTS because of it's specificity in certain areas.

Changing the doctrinal statement would be a HUGE ordeal, but I'd like to see it. As it is now, an open theist could sign the statement without difficulity, but an orthodox historic premillenialist could not.

That being said, I wouldn't be against the idea of keeping the doctrinal statement, but still allowing some variety on the faculty, with the provisio that professors will not undermine the statement or seek to teach contrary thereunto.

So, if a guy is asked about eschatology and he's not towing the party line, he/she should make it clear that his views are not normative of the school and that he's not necessarily out to subvert the doctrinal standard.

That may be hard on some level, but churches do it and other seminaries do it as well.

Jay, you could probably attest that in the PCA you are allowed a certain amount of divergence from the WCF, but I would imagine you're not allowed to sabotage the thing.

Good question, Jared.

Svigel said...

Let me give a little input here.
First, it's not accurate to pit "Reformed" against "Dispensational." Many early dispensationalists were Calvinist Presbyterians and Congregationalists. The domain of dispensationalism tends to be as Bennett said, eschatology (though in also includes ecclesiology, too). Generally, the things that concern Reformed theology have to do with anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology, basically, Calvinism. So, one can be Reformed in soteriology (and sanctification), but dispensational in eschatology. Some have even alleged that Covenant theology can fit with certain types of dispensatonalism, though I find this more difficult to hold with much internal consistency.

I consider myself a Reformed dispensationalist---Calvinist in my soteriology and sanctification, but dispensational in my premillennial eschatology. I find nothing at all inconsistent with this. In fact, I can't imagine holding to dispensationalism's historical metanarrative without being a Calvinist.

With regard to the doctrinal statement's position on regeneration, we must read this in its context. The article in question is "THE EXTENT OF SALVATION," and the point of the first sentence is to declare essentially that when a person is saved there is a complete and total change in the person's position before God. Thus, I interpret the language as primarily phenomenological, not definitional. This is not a definition of regeneration, nor an exposition on the Ordo Salutis. The statement says "We believe that when an unregenerate person exercises that faith in Christ which is illustrated and described as such in the New Testament . . ." Well, as a Calvinist I believe that an unregenerate person exercises faith simultaneous to regeneration. The qualifier to "faith in Christ" is "which is illustrated and described as such in the New Testament" grants me the right to explore the New Testament and determine what faith, exactly, it is that is exercised by the unregenerate (i.e., unsaved) person. In my understanding of the NT, the faith described in the New Testament is the faith that comes as an immediate result of the Spirit's work of regeneration. So, theologically and logically, regeneraiton precedes faith, practically and chronologically, they are simultaneous, and phenomenologically, a "regenerate" (i.e., unsaved) person exercises saving faith. Technically, a regenerate person does not exercise saving faith there thereby become a new creature. Once a person is regenerate, he is by definition a new creature. So, we have no choice really but to read this as phenomenological language. In other words, I believe the original drafters of this statement intended to use a term to describe unsaved prior to conversion, not take an official technical position on the Ordo Salutis. Had this been the case, it would have been in a completely different section and been more explicit.

M. Jay Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Jay Bennett said...

Sorry, typos in the first try.


I have never thought of the statement with those categories in mind. Thanks for the input!

I did ask a prof once why the statement was worded so sloppily at points. He said he attributed it to the fact that it was written by untrained men who were in the trenches slugging it out over dispenationalism rather than by trained theologians in an established tradition. Their main concern was to distance themselves from "modernism" (as it was called then) and vitally connect themselves to dispensationalism. Their soteriology was basic and unrefined.

Also, I agree that one can be soteriologically Calvinistic (i.e. hold to the five points of Calvinsim)and dispensational. In that sense one could be Reformed and dispensational. I think a good doctrinal statment of Reformed theology in this sense is the Cambridge Declaration. Dr. John Hannah was one of the drafters of that declaration.

I don't think anyone could be both covenantal and dispensational, unless of course he could bend the space-time continuum and break the law of non-contradiction. I think the big difference between covenantalism and dispensationalism is hermeneutics and gets worked out practically in ecclesiology. Dispensationalism fundamentally assumes biblical discontinuity. Covenantalism fundamentally assumes continuity. Much more could be said, but this isn't the space.

Again, thanks for the input!

BTW, Where do you teach theology?

Svigel said...


Great points. I agree with the covenant/dispensational dichotomy. But I've met people who claim to hold both simultaneously. Of course, in those cases, it's quite a "pick and choose" approach and they really hold merely propositions from each. I suppose in a broad sense one can hold to the soteriological covenants of "works" and "grace" (pre-fall and post-fall) while holding a dispensational approach to the progress of revelation, but beyond that, any details tend to cancel each other out. I suppose all dispensationalists who say salvation has always been by grace through faith are consistent with the post-fall soteriological covenant of grace. Yet the emphasis on continuity (Covenant theology) versus the emphasis on discontinuity (Dispensational theology) forces a break-down in any kind of synthesis between these two systems. Oh well.

Your question about where I teach theology is a fair one. I'm not quite in a position to answer it yet. I'll answer tomorrow in my blog.

GUNNY said...

Svigel, thanks for commenting and it's good to have you aboard.

Svigel wrote: The statement says "We believe that when an unregenerate person exercises that faith in Christ which is illustrated and described as such in the New Testament . . ." Well, as a Calvinist I believe that an unregenerate person exercises faith simultaneous to regeneration.

Yeah, I'm not feeling you across the board here. If the intent was as you say then one would just write "when a person exercises that faith in Christ..."

Adding unregenerate brings the Ordo Salutis into the equation. You also seemed to equate being unregenerate with being unsaved: "exercised by the unregenerate (i.e., unsaved) person."

If you mean unjustified, then sure there are none who are unregenerate who are saved, but justification comes by grace through faith and as a Calvinist that faith comes as a result of regeneration. Thus, the unregenerate (as you note) cannot exercise that faith, but only a regenerate person can (or ever will).

You noted later that the regenerate person is justified, having been unjustified or "unsaved," with which I do concur, however.

To say they're simultaneous may seem to help, but one is necessary to the other. Being born again is necessary to faith being exercised in Christ, at least from a Reformed perspective. But the reverse is not true. So, just because they may happen in very close temporal proximity does not mean there is no cause & effect relationship.

But, that aside, there are other instances where this issue comes up in the statement.

From Article VII Salvation Only Through Christ …
The statement reads: “We believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ ...” However, my understanding of total depravity and the Spirit’s work leads me to the conclusion that regeneration precedes faith instead as God makes the dead alive. However, I do believe that the justification of the believer comes only through faith in Christ.

From Article XI Assurance
The statement reads: “We believe it is the privilege, not only of some, but of all who are born again by the Spirit through faith in Christ …” Again, I would say they are born again unto faith, not through faith.

These were the responses as my disagreements with the doctrinal statement.

With regard to the first mentioned ...

From Article VIII The Extent of Salvation …
The statement reads: “We believe that when an unregenerate person exercises that faith in Christ …” Again, I don’t believe that an unregenerate person has the spiritual ability to believe in Christ because in he/she in an unregenerate state loves the darkness and hates the light. Like wise, a person cannot even see the kingdom unless born again, let alone see, desire, and choose the kingdom or its King.

All I know is, these were the only three disagreements I had with the doctrinal statement (though I listed other areas were I was undecided).

In other words, if regeneration preceding faith was not a problem and not in conflict with the doctrinal statement, then my gut tells me I would have taught a preaching class there this spring semester. I would have heard, "Oh, no, your Reformed Ordo Salutis is not in conflict with the statmement."

Instead, I got a call telling me that my doctrinal disagreements eliminated me from the adjunct faculty teaching pool.

Jared Nelson said...

Interesting gunny,

I think some of that debate is semantics. I asked my old dispensationalist pastor once how you could believe that God must draw you and the Holy Spirit must work on your heart before you are converted and not believe regeneration precedes faith. He said something precedes faith, but he doesn't call it regeneration...OK, so if I do call it regeneration I'm wrong?

Svigel said...

I think problems arise here when we try to assign technical theological meanings to words being used as vehicles for phenomenological or simply nominal purposes. When the drafters of the doctrinal statement wrote "We believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ," I'm not sure we can conclude that they intended "new birth" to mean anything other than conversion. I doubt that they had in mind "new birth" and "regeneration" as technical categories of Reformed theology. When you say "unregenerate" automatically brings the question of the Ordo Salutis into the mix, I'm not sure I agree. It would only do so if this statement was intended to address the question of the Ordo Salutis. Rather, I think the pattern of the DTS doctrinal statement is using many of these terms less technically (or at least not within the context of an ongoing technical theological discussion of the relationship between regeneration, justification, faith, etc.). Nevertheless, the statement does qualify the kind of faith that a so-called "unregenerate" person exercises: "that faith in Christ which is illustrated and described as such in the New Testament." As one who holds that the grace of regeneration precedes faith logically and theologically (your "cause" vs. "effect"), this qualifier allows me to go to the New Testament and demonstrate (at least in my own understanding) that the faith "illustrated and described as such" is the faith that comes as a result of God's gracious act of regeneration (e.g., Eph 2:5-9; Col 2:12-14; Tit 3:5-7; etc.), which is simultaneous with justification, forgiveness, and faith (see how "through faith" is linked with these especailly in Col 2:12-14 and Eph 2:5-9. So, in a certain sense an "unregenerate" person does exercsie faith at the moment of regeneration, forgiveness, justification, salvation. I do not say a regenerated person will later or subsequently (in time, I mean) exercise saving faith, then be justified. We have to see these things as various aspects of one simultaneous gracious sovereign act of God, through His Word, by the Spirit, who regenerates the unregenerate by grace through faith, while forgiving and justifying.

So, this is why I understand "unregenerate" here not as a technical but as a nominal and phenomenological use (that is, a more colloquial term). However, if somebody else reads the New Testament and decides that "that faith" which is "illustrated and described" is not the effect of regenerating grace, but the cause of it, then their Ordo Salutis would be different than mine. Yet I still don't think a person could read into "unregenerate" all the technical nuances and historical theological baggage that associates itself with this word in the context of specific Ordo Salutis discussions.

Nevertheless, because of the biblical revelation regarding the complex relationships between grace, faith, justification, regeneration, forgiveness, etc., regardless of how we assign causality from the theological and logical perspective (God is the cause), any attempt to be more specific than "apparent simultaneity" in the chronological, temporal sense always seems to leave out a verse or two that don't fit the order.

A lot of this does sound like semantics, so perhaps the DTS doctrinal statement is not as clear in its intention as some might wish or think.

Svigel said...

By the way, Gunny, moving away from the Ordo Salutis issue, on what issues were you (or are you currently) undecided? If you don't mind saying . . .