Thursday, May 18, 2006

Always Reforming

New Book from Apollos, edited by Andrew McGowan

Although the Reformation took place in the sixteenth century, this was the beginning of something and not the end. The Reformed churches affirmed the need to be semper reformanda (‘always reforming’).

Unfortunately, this commitment to continuing reformation has not been faithfully and consistently maintained over the centuries. At one end of the theological spectrum, some have invoked semper reformanda in order to justify abandoning the core of Reformation theology and departing from received orthodoxy. At the other end, some have forgotten about semper reformanda in their progress towards a rigid confessionalism, giving the impression that the final codification of truth has already taken place, and that there is no further need for reformation.

Between these two extremes, there is a vital task to be performed by the church in every generation: ¬to subject its beliefs and practices to renewed scrutiny in the light of Scripture. In doing so, the church must re-state biblical truth in ways that faithfully communicate the gospel, advance the mission of the church, and address the issues which men, women and children face as they seek to follow Christ and witness to him.

This volume is an exercise in semper reformanda. Each contributor was asked to take a different theme, doctrine or subject area within the discipline of systematic theology, and to assess the current state of scholarship in that area, before indicating areas where further work, development, re-statement or clarification are required. Overall, this stimulating collection is intended to make a positive contribution to evangelical scholarship, by helping to identify problems, dangers and exciting new possibilities, and to set an agenda for future theological reflection.

The contributors are Henri Blocher, Gerald Bray, Richard Gaffin, Richard Gamble, A. T. B. McGowan, Robert Reymond, Derek Thomas, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelius Venema and Stephen Williams


A.T.B. McGowan is Principal and Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Highland Theological College, Dingwall, Scotland. He is Adjunct Professor of Theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary, USA and Visiting Professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, USA. Contributor to The God of Covenant (Apollos), author of The New Birth (Christian Focus) and The Federal Theology of Thomas Boston (Paternoster).


Jim said...

Thanks for mentioning this, Mike. I confess that I am not familiar with any of these chaps though. Do you think them a credible lot?

Michael F. Bird said...

Jim, well my boss is editor and he's okay. And anything by Vanhoozer, Blocher and Gaffin is usually worth reading. Look up the name Bird in the index and see the hammering that he cops in one footnote!

TheBlueRaja said...

Looks like a fabulous line-up! You get squashed in a footnote? What does it say?

Michael F. Bird said...

Sharad, not squashed or anathematzed but just take one on the chin! It was a criticism that I place union with Christ over and against imputation, which is not quite true (I tried to avoid that implication), but I do understand how someone could think that.

David Shedden said...

Michael, thanks for alerting me to this volume. Unfortunately, I am unlikely to be able to get my hands on it soon. Can I ask one question of you? Would this book encourage a reformulation of confessional statements, mainly the Westminster Confession as a subordinate standard? Looking at the list of writers, I suspect not. As such, what's the point in the exercise?

I recently read your 'Incorporated Righteousness' article - great article - but your conclusion was very frustrating. I read it as if you thought it was okay to retain systematic doctrines that had no foundation in the New Testament. You seemed to want to retain links with the Reformation in spite of current New Testament scholarship.

Thanks, David

Michael F. Bird said...

David, your remark is the exact opposite of most criticism I receive which are usually that I do not give sufficient weight to imputation. My thinking is that no single text can be used to prove or establish imputed righteousness. I do think that imputed righteousness is implicit in the representative nature of Adam and Christ. Also imputation is one way of holding together righteusness as a gift, the forensic nature of dikaioo, and union with Christ. So as a construct in systematic theology, I don't have a problem with imputation per se. What I have objected to (and what others have strenuously objected to me about) is that I bracket out imputation from exegetical study of Paul's letters.

TheBlueRaja said...

I see . . . I have to admit that I find it a strange critique in light of the purpose of your article, which is to provide some rapproachment among the polarities represented by the imputation debate. David's concern seems to call into question the entire enterprise of systematic theology, which is by its very nature is heavily speculative and inferential. Morevoer using only doctrines explicitly endorsed in the NT rules out constructive theology, and might make it difficult to account for the idea of theological development in general.

David Shedden said...

Mike, thanks for this post, I think it just confirms my ongoing concern about the tension between biblical studies and confessional or dogmatic theology - hence, my interest in the book.

You might have worked out that I am from an evangelical Presbyterian background - I'm worried about many of the current debates in that culture, both here and in America.

I am a CofS ministry candidate - just finished at Glasgow Uni, and about to spend a year at Princeton. But who knows what I am going to come back to!?

Is it too sensitive for you to answer my first question? I think evangelical presbyterians desperately need to reformulate their confessions - they as much as any liberal people need the various 'liberty of conscience' clauses.

With thanks for your blog...

L8R, Dave

byron said...

"...some have invoked semper reformanda in order to justify abandoning the core of Reformation theology..."

Surely the issue isn't so much losing Reformation orthodoxy, as biblical orthodoxy?

David Shedden said...

Michael, thanks for posting recently on itothehills. I'm not sure how site feeds work - I thought if I posted here not too many people would read my comment!

I've more or less finished reading Always Reforming (still to tackle Vanhoozer's huge chapter). I might review the volume, but, it will be difficult to do this in a balanced way. Very few of the chapters actually advance new thoughts, ideas, or 'solutions' to problems (apart from Reymond, who publishes his solutions to list of christological questions).

You were hard done by in that notorious footnote - Venema's article was one of the weakest in the collection, if only because his task was impossible.

I'll ponder the wisdom of posting a full review. My basic query with the volume remains the problem of defining bondaries within which Reformed theology can reform. The Derek Thomas chapter best illustrates the essential conservatism of most of the contributors.