Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Vision (10.31.13): What makes a "Reformed" Baptist Church distinct from a Calvinistic Evangelical Church?

Note:  On this day that some have dubbed "Reformation Day" (but more call Halloween), I thought it might be helpful to use my weekly Vision article to reflect on what makes our church "Reformed" rather than merely Calvinistic.
In recent years Calvinism has become cool again in many evangelical circles.  Popular evangelical preachers and authors like John Piper and John MacArthur have fueled interest in “the doctrines of grace” or “five point Calvinism.”  Many mainstream evangelical churches now claim to some degree or another to be “Reformed” or to promote “Reformed” theology.  I cannot help but think, however, that there is often no small degree of what might be called false advertising in that claim.  I say this knowing that many of my Reformed Presbyterian friends might well say the same thing about “Reformed” Baptists altogether, since we do not embrace some things that they hold as essential to the Reformed faith, like infant baptism or highly structured connectionalism among churches.  That might be a good topic for a future essay.  For now, however, allow me to suggest five ways in which a “Reformed” Baptist Church will differ from an evangelical church which, for the moment at least, has embraced some measure of a Calvinistic view of salvation.

A Reformed Baptist Church will be:

1.  Confessional:  It will unequivocally affirm the historic Reformed Baptist Confession:  The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.  This Puritan Baptist Confession is meaty, Biblical, and thorough.  It does not try to split the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.  It provides clear boundaries for the church’s beliefs and practices.

2.  Covenantal:  It will be covenantal in its theology.  It will not only reject classical, pre-millennial dispensationalism with all its extra-biblical charts and end times speculations, but also so-called “progressive” dispensationalism, as well as recent “New Covenant” attempts to meld dispensationalism with Calvinism (see the recent book Kingdom Through Covenant [Crossway, 2012]).

3.  Cessationist:   A Reformed Baptist Church will not retreat from the interpretation of Scripture given in article one of the Confession which declares that God’s former ways of having revealed himself have now ceased.  It will point its people not toward the seeking of extra-ordinary experiences but to the sufficiency of Scripture and the ordinary means of grace (prayer, meditation, preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper).

4.  Regulative in Worship:  It will be serious in seeking to conduct corporate worship according to the commandments of God and not the preferences of men.

5.  Sabbath-keeping:  It will hold to the abiding validity of the moral law, including the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  It will, of course, seek to do so not in a burdensome, legalistic, Pharisaical manner, adding the “doctrines of men” to the “doctrines of God,” but in a joyful, obedient, and faithful manner.

The five descriptions above might well be formed into five questions a person seeking a church might ask of that congregation and its ministry:

1.  Does your church hold to the Second London Baptist Confession?  If not, why not?  Where are you not in agreement with the confession?

2.  Does this church read and preach the Bible through the lens of dispensational theology or covenant theology?

3.  Does this church clearly believe that the extra-ordinary gifts and miracles of the apostolic times have now ceased or does it hold to an “open but cautious” view?  What does this say about their views on the full sufficiency of Scripture?

4.  What regulates or controls decisions made in this church about the worship of God?  Is it driven more by searching for what God requires or searching for what men desire?

5.  Does this church hold that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath?  Does it believe in the ongoing validity of the fourth commandment and urge obedience to it?  Or, is Sunday merely another day that just happens to be the day on which we meet for worship?

These are but five marks. There are no doubt others.  At first blush there might not appear to be much difference between what a Calvinistic evangelical church holds and preaches and what a Reformed church holds and preaches. The five questions posed above should help with clarifying those differences.  The end result may not be visible for years to come as it is played out in the life and faith of both the individual believers and the corporate churches.  Sadly, most fads come and go.  Without confessional roots the popularity of Calvinism will likely fade with time.  A pragmatic argument will be made that the tent needs to be big enough even to include folk who do not agree.  In time the distinctions will fade and new fads will arise to supplant the old.

May the Lord help us in contradistinction to this trend to hold fast to Biblical Christianity.  That is what we really mean by Reformed faith.  We do not mean a Reformation and Puritan historical society.  We mean a faith that is wholly regulated, shaped, formed, and reformed again by the Holy Scriptures.

I am thankful to be part of a “Reformed” Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two major issues with baptism: subject and mode

When it comes to the issue of the sacrament or ordinance of baptism there are two major questions:  (1)  Who are the proper subjects of baptism?  Should only professing believers be baptized or should we also baptize the infants of believers?  (2) How should we perform the baptism?  This is the question of mode.  Should we pour water upon, sprinkle water upon, or immerse the person in water?

 There seem to be at least three options that have been proposed (that is among those who hold that baptism with water as a sacrament or ordinance should be practiced--Quakers and some ultra-dispensationalists would argue against the practice altogether):

A. Roman Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican/Presbyterian:

Proper subject:  A professing believer or the infants of believers.

Proper mode:  pouring, sprinkling, or immersion.  Note:  Some would insist on only the mode of pouring and sprinkling, while other would allow immersion for professing believers.

B.  Eastern Orthodox:

Proper subject:  A professing believer or the infants of believers.

Proper mode:  immersion only.

C.  Baptist:

Proper subject:  A professing believer only.

Proper mode:  immersion only.


As a Baptist, I obviously hold that the third of these options is most faithful to Scripture.  For a further exposition of the Baptistic view on the proper subject and mode of baptism, see Spurgeon's Baptist Catechism (with Scriptural proofs) Questions 75-78.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reformed Baptist Paradise

As I go through my life with its toil and pain
I look in God’s word and realize it was ordained
All is predestined for a Baptist like me
As John Calvin taught in his theology
Last week I wrecked my car and I broke my arm
My kitty cat drank antifreeze and bought the farm
But since it’s all loving providence to me
I can hardly wait for the next catastrophe
Yes, I look to the book; I’m into Puritans
I can even quote from Owen’s work on indewelling sin
When I finish my devotions and you finish thine
Then we’ll do a study on the 1689
Been spending most our lives in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
We read Spurgeon day and night in Reformed Baptist Paradise 
The best authors all have died in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
Scofield Bibles are despised in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
The preacher called me gluttonous and fat today
He told me to repent and choose the narrow way
I really don’t mind; in fact I’m very glad
‘cuz the sermons no good unless it makes me feel bad
I don’t flog myself even when I deserve it
A Baptist doing penance? You know that’s unheard of
We homeschool our children ‘cuz the public school stinks
Then the kids go to college and their moms to the shrink, bro’
If you come to church, you won’t believe your ears
We’re singing hymns that no-one’s heard in 300 years.
There’s no rock-and-roll, but please don’t think we’re queer
We’re just full of reverence and fear
No drama, choirs, no puppet shows,
not a single special song
Just expository preaching
two or three hours long 
We’ve been spending most our lives in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
The pope would have to get baptized in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
To speak in tongues would be unwise in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
Janet Jackson would be shy in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
Courted me a wife; she soon became a mother
Baby born on Monday; 9 months we’ll have another
You think you’re really wicked? You got an evil heart?
Well I know I’m a million times as wretched as thou art
I’m the family leader and the children best obey
While my wife slaves away so we can rest on the Sabbath day
So don’t be crude, and don’t be rotten
‘cuz Pastor Martin says I’ll have to show my love upon your bottom
Been spending most our lives in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
The nursery is super-sized in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
[inaudible] are nice in a Reformed Baptist Paradise
Backsliders think it bites in a Reformed Baptist Paradise

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Vision (10.24.13): Thomas Vincent on the Lawful Preservation of One's Life

Note:  Last Sunday afternoon we returned to our occasional series through Spurgeon’s Baptist Catechism, examining the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  The catechism teaches that this commandment “forbids the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tends thereunto.”  On this point, I borrowed from the Puritan Thomas Vincent who suggested the following lawful means that one should employ to preserve his life and thus keep the sixth commandment:

1.  Defense of ourselves with arms and weapons, against the violence of thieves and cutthroats that seek to murder us.

2.  Defense of ourselves with clothes, and in houses, against the violence of the weather and cold.

3.  The nourishing and refreshing of our bodies in a sober and moderate use of meat, drink, and sleep.

4.  The exercise of bodies with labour and moderate recreations.

5.  The use of physic [medicine] for the removal of sickness and the recovery of health.

6.  “Patience, peacableness, contentment, cheerfulness, and the moderate exhilarating our spirits with God’s gifts … using all good means to get and keep our minds and hearts in a good temper….”  This is a Puritan call to good mental and emotional health.  He cites Proverbs 17:22:  “A merry heart doth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

May the Lord lead us to honor his moral law including the preservation of our own lives as dictated by the sixth commandment.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rosaria Butterfield: Interview and Testimony

I did a review last year of Rosaria Butterfield's powerful biography The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant, 2012).  The videos below offer an interview with Butterfield done at Patrick Henry College and a presentation of her testimony at a seminary:


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Text Note: Luke 14:5

There are at least two significant textual variations:

First:  Should the participle “answering [apokritheis]” be included in the text along with the verb “he said [eipen]”?

The traditional text includes the participle and the modern critical text excludes it.  This is reflected in modern translations (emphasis added):

KJV [traditional text] Luke 14:5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

Note on KJV:  Interestingly, the translators make the participle the finite verb and the finite verb the participle.  A literal rendering of the Greek would be:  “And answering, he said….”

NASB [modern critical text] Luke 14:5 And He said to them, "Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?"

External evidence:  The inclusion of the participle has peculiarly strong external support, including the original hand and the second corrector of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Theta, Psi, family 13, and the vast majority of manuscripts.

The omission of the participle, on the other hand, is supported by p 45, p 75, the first corrector of Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and family 1, among others.

This is another place where Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are not clearly on the same side.

Internal evidence:  Metzger apparently sees this difference minor enough as not to warrant analysis in his Textual Commentary.  An obvious reason why some might have omitted the verse is the fact that in context Jesus has not been asked anything.  Quite the contrary, it is Jesus who is asking a question.  Why then would Luke say that Jesus was answering?  On the other hand, this makes the inclusion of the participle the more difficult reading.  Luke assumes a context of back and forth conversation over the sabbath meal at the Pharisee’s house, though he does not include all the dialogue.

Conclusion:  The inclusion of the participle apokritheis has ancient and widespread manuscript support.  It provides a more difficult reading.  We can understand why some might have wanted to remove it, but it is less easy to understand why it would have been inserted if not originally there.  The traditional reading, therefore, should be upheld.

Second, and most significant (and much more complicated), is whether or not the text should read “ass [onos]” or “son [huios].”

The Textus Receptus reads “ass” and the modern critical text reads “son.”  Interestingly, the Byzantine text also reads “son.”  This difference is reflected in modern translations (emphasis added):

KJV [traditional text] Luke 14:5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?

NASB [modern critical text] Luke 14:5 And He said to them, "Which one of you shall have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?"

External evidence:  The reading of the Textus Receptus is supported by Sinaiticus, K, L, Psi, family 1, family 13, and others.  The reading of the Majority Text, in this case followed by the modern critical text, is supported by p 45, p 75, Vaticanus, W, and the vast majority of Byzantine manuscripts.  Codex D reads probaton, “sheep.”

This is another example of lack of agreement between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.

Internal evidence:  Metzger says, “The oldest reading preserved in the manuscripts seems to be huios e bous” (Textual Commentary, p. 164).   He adds that because “the collocation of the two words appeared to be incongruous” copyists altered either the word “son” (harmonizing with Luke 13:15) or “sheep” (harmonizing with Matt 12:11).  He notes that several witnesses (Theta, 2174, and syr c) conflate all three words (“son, ass, sheep”).  The alleged harmonization with Matthew 12:11, however, seems somewhat overblown since only one cited manuscript D, reads probaton.

One might easily see how confusion could emerge between the words onos and huios which both end with the typical second declension masculine nominative singular ending  os.  They key question is which reading makes most sense within context.  Jesus is castigating the Pharisees who forbade healing on the sabbath as a form of medical work.  If the reading is “ass” he would then be drawing a contrast between care for animals and care for human beings.  In this manner he draws an analogy from the lesser to the greater.  If one cares for animals on the sabbath is it not much more needful to care for human beings on the sabbath?  The same type of argument is, indeed, made in Luke 13:15-17.  If the reading “son” is accepted then the sophisticated “lesser to greater” argument is disrupted.  It appears that the TR reading of Luke 14:5 is less a verbal harmonization with Luke 13:15 than it is a consistent use of a similar rhetorical argument.

Analysis:  The reading of the TR has ancient and widespread support, though it is not the reading of the Byzantine Majority.  Most importantly, the TR reading seems to fit best the context and is crucial to sustain the consistency of the argument that is being presented by Jesus to justify healing on the sabbath.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Vision (10.17.13): The Lamentation of Jesus

Note:  The devotion below is drawn from last Sunday’sexposition of Luke 13:31-35.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34).

In v. 34 Jesus offers a lamentation over the city of Jerusalem.  Matthew records that Jesus uttered a very similar lamentation just after his final triumphal entry into that holy city (Matthew 23:37-39).  There is no need to doubt that this was a lamentation Jesus made more than once during his ministry.

Jesus laments that Jerusalem, the city of David, which should have gladly received God’s messengers, instead has killed and stoned those sent (apostello) to them.

Jesus then uses a most unusual metaphor: “how often,” he says, “would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings….”  It is interesting on at least three levels:

First, it draws an animal analogy from the lesser to the greater.  As a hen would gather her chicks, so Jesus would have gathered the inhabitants of that great city.

Second, it is a rare maternal image for the work of God.

Third, and most striking, it parallels several passages in the Psalms which describes God as taking Israel under his “wings.”  See especially Psalm 91:2, 4:

Psalm 91:2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

Do you see how Jesus is applying what was said of the LORD in this Psalm to himself?  He is taking upon himself the prerogatives of God.

Just as unregenerate Israel of old rejected God, so too the unregenerate of Jesus’ day rejected him.  To know Jesus is to know God; to reject Jesus is to reject God.

Notice the stunning last line of v. 34:  “and ye would not!”  The verb here is thelo, meaning to will or to wish or to want.  Oddly enough this verse (and its parallel in Matthew 23) is often cited by Arminians to refute the doctrines of grace.  “See,” they say, “Jesus said he wanted to save them but they would not (or they exercised their free will in rejecting Jesus).”  This kind of argument completely misunderstands the Calvinistic (Biblical) view of man’s will.  Yes, we agree, man had a free will in Adam, but then Adam fell, and we have now inherited a corrupted will.  As the Puritan primer put it, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”  Martin Luther’s most famous theological work was titled “The Bondage of the Will.”  Man’s will is a slave to sin.  As Paul puts it in Romans 3:11:  “there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”  What Jesus is describing here, nonetheless, is the compassion of God toward an unregenerate people who are hardened in their sin and rejection of him.  How often would I have sheltered you but you would not (or, you were not willing)!

Every time there is a natural disaster or fire or such, it seems there are stories of folk who were warned to leave but who refused, often to their peril and even death.  The rescuers are there, but they turn them away.  That is what unregenerate men do to Christ.  And Jesus laments their rejection of him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

One more quote from Dabney's "Spurious Religious Excitements"

Note:   Here’s a final excerpt from toward the end of Dabney’s 1887 “Spurious Religious Excitements” (Discussions, Vol. 3:  pp. 456-475).  Here Dabney lays part of the blame for revivalistic excess at the feet of egalitarianism (cf. his essay “Lay Preaching” in Discussions, Vol. 2:  pp. 76-95):

One corollary from this discussion is:  How perilous is it to entrust the care of souls to an ignorant zeal!  None but an educated ministry can be expected, humanly speaking, to resist the seduction of “revival measures,” or to guard themselves from the plausible blunders  we have analyzed above.  And the church which entrusts the care of souls to lay-evangelists, self-appointed and irresponsible to the ecclesiastical government appointed by Christ, betrays its charge and duty (p. 474).

"O Light that Knew No Dawn"

I was contemplating including the hymn "O Light that Knew No Dawn" (No. 23 in the Trinity Hymnal) this Sunday at CRBC and ran across this adaptation from Christ Church, East Bay, in California (a "granddaughter" church of Tim Keller's Redeemer Church in NYC). Though I have some RP qualms about the corporate worship setting, I did like this arrangement of the ancient hymn text originally written by esteemed Trinitarian theologian Gregory Nazianzen (c. 325-390 AD):

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Even more from Dabney's "Spurious Religious Excitements"

Image:  R. L. Dabney (1820-1898)
Yet another excerpt from R. L. Dabney’s 1887 article “Spurious Religious Excitements” (Discussions, Vol. 3):

“In fact, spurious revivals we honestly regard as the chief bane of our Protestantism.  We believe that they are the chief cause, under the prime source, original sin, which has deteriorated the average standing of holy living, principles, and morality, and the church discipline of our religion, until it has nearly lost its practical power over the public conscience.  Striking the average of the whole nominal membership of the Protestant churches, the outside world does not credit us for any higher standard than we are in the habit of ascribing to the Synagogue and to American Popery.  How far is the world wrong in its estimate?  That denomination which shall sternly use its ecclesiastical authority, under Christ’s law, to inhibit these human methods and to compel teachers back to the scriptural and only real means, will earn the credit of being the defender of an endangered gospel” (p. 474).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Vision (10.10.13): Meditation on Psalm 49

Note:  Last Sunday afternoon’s message was a meditation on Psalm 49 as a “wisdom psalm.”  Below are some of my notes:

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave:  for he shall receive me.  Selah.” (Psalm 49:15)

The message of Psalm 49 is that death is coming to all men.  It may seem for the short term that the wicked prosper, giving no heed to God and the things of God, but this is not to discourage the saints who are to press on, continuing to live righteous and godly lives, knowing that they have a hope that extends beyond this life, even eternal life with Christ.

Spurgeon summarized Psalm 49 in his “Treasury of David” as follows:  “The poet musician sings, to the accompaniment of his harp, of the despicable character of those who trust in their wealth, and so he consoles the oppressed believer.”

Here are three words of wisdom in Psalm 49:

1.  It is foolish to trust in wealth (vv. 5-9).

There are some things that money cannot purchase.  It cannot purchase salvation.  It cannot be used to redeem one’s own soul or the soul of one you love.  In v. 7 we read:  “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.”  I think of the Rich Man in Luke 16 who had a burden for his lost brothers, yet all his earthly wealth and influence did him no spiritual good in the grave.

2.  Death will one day separate us from every material thing that we possess (vv. 10-12; 16-20).

Notice in v. 11 the mention of those who name their dwelling places after themselves:  “they call their lands after their own names.”  We see much of that in our area.  But one day those signs proudly placed at the entrances of grand farms will crumble and that land will pass to others.

Notice in v. 17 the psalmist’s warning that in death man will carry nothing away:  “For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away.”    Compare:

 Job 1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 

1 Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

 Most of those we consider the best known of our day will one day be largely forgotten.  The most athletic and beautiful of our generation will eventually be brought low in death.  “Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish” (v. 20).

3.  For the believer, however, there is hope (vv. 14-15).

 The Psalmist pictures death as like a shepherd leading all to the grave (v. 14).  But for the believer there is hope:  “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave:  for he shall receive me.  Selah” (v. 15).  What a word of comfort this might be for the believer when he lies on his death bed.  What a good funeral text this would be for a believer.

It is often debated what the Old Testament teaches about the afterlife.  We might add this verse to the constellation of passages (including Job 19:25-26 and Daniel 12:2-3) which suggest that the Old Testament saints also knew the resurrection hope.  What lies in the shadows in the Old Testament, however, is brought fully into the light in the New Testament as Jesus taught:  “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).

 What does it mean to live a wise life?  It means to understand:

(1) that it is foolish to trust in wealth (including to envy those who have what we do not);

(2) that we will one day part from every dear and prized possession;

and (3) that for those who trust in Christ, there is a glorious hope.

 Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

More Dabney on "Spurious Religious Excitements"

Here’s another snippet from Dabney:

Thus a synergistic theology fosters these “revival measures,” as they, in turn, incline toward a synergistic creed.  Doubtless, many ministers are unconsciously swayed by the natural love of excitement.  This is the same instinct which leads school-boys and clowns to run to witness a dog fight, Spaniards to the cock-fight and the bull-fight, sporting men to the pugilist’s ring, and theatre-goers to the comedy.  This natural instinct prompts many an evangelist, without his being distinctly aware of it, to prefer the stirring scenes of the spurious revival to the sober, quiet, laborious work of religious teaching.  But it is obvious that this motive is as unworthy as it is natural (Discussions, Vol. 3, p. 471).

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

New Word Magazine: Review: Dan Wallace on Preservation.Part 5

I uploaded a new WordMagazine today.  This episode is the fifth and final in a series of reviews of Dan Wallace’s article, Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism.

Here are a few sources I cited in the review:

First, Wallace argued that “the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church,” noting that it was not articulated until the Westminster Confession.

In response I cited Richard A. Muller’s observation in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2:  “The church fathers devoted virtually all their theological energies to the exposition of the central issues in that body of doctrine—Trinity, Christology,  soteriology.  Whereas a high view of Scripture is implied in al their efforts, the development of an explicit doctrine of Scripture was, like the problem of theological prolegomena, left to later ages, specifically to the high scholastic era of the Middle Ages and to the Reformation and post-Reformation eras” (p. 6).  The point is that the fact that the doctrine of preservation was not explicitly articulated until the Westminster Confession, does not mean it was not a view held by early Christians and by the Church Fathers.

Second, I spent the final part of this episode noting four points.  These are drawn from David C. Parker, perhaps the leading academic NT scholar in the world today,  in his recent book Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012) based on the 2011 Lyell Lectures at Oxford:

1.  Modern academic text criticism has abandoned the quest for the original autograph:

“…the modern concept of a single authoritative ‘original’ text was a hopeless anachronism, foisting on early Christianity something that can only exist as a result of modern concepts of textual production” (p. 24).

“The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover an original text, not only because we cannot at present know on philological grounds what the original text might have been, nor even because there may have been several forms to the tradition, but because philology is not able to make pronouncements as to whether or not there was such an authorial text” (pp. 26-27).

2.  The Westcott-Hort Theory is outdated and inadequate:

On the conclusion that the “Neutral” text is superior to the Byzantine based on thirteen examples:  “… this is a totally inadequate amount of evidence, even if we grant their examples are only intended to be exemplary.  They did not have the evidential base to substantiate their claim that there is not one contrary example of the conflation found in the Byzantine text” (p. 82).

On the winsome presentation of the Westcott-Hort theory which based its critical text on the superiority of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus:  “It is confident and convincing.  It has been accepted by most people for a long time.  And yet we are left—or should be left—with the feeling that the theory does not deserve the reverence which has been accorded it” (p. 83).

He adds:  “Nevertheless, the time has come to abandon it [the Westcott-Hort proposal] completely, not because it was wrong, but because we can do better” (p. 83).

3.  The “geographical argument” should be rejected as a test for superiority:

“The geographical range of a reading may show its age or its popularity, but it will not demonstrate its superiority” (p. 80).

Note:  This quote applies in particular to Wallace’s argument that the traditional text is suspect because it was not dominant in Egypt.

4.  The application of text type theories from the Gospels to the rest of the NT is inappropriate:

“It is quite strange that NT philology drew up a concept of text types based upon the Gospels, and then assumed that it applied to the entire corpus of writings, even though it has always been widely acknowledged that the text types of the Gospels could not be shown to exist in other parts of the NT.  Thus we have worked with a very incomplete and unproven system, and in effect tried to reconstruct the oldest recoverable form of the writings without having a sound methodology for doing so” (pp. 161-162, n. 31).

Note:  This quote contradicts Wallace’s claim in the article that there is no majority text for the Pauline letters until the ninth century.  Wallace does precisely what Parker challenges:  He applies text types drawn from the Gospels to the rest of the NT (namely, the Pauline corpus).

Unsolicited ministry email appeals

Below is an email that came to our church account this morning:

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ,

My name is Pastor M.  I am serving a small congregation started one year ago.  We are ministering house to house ministry we have not gone far in spiritual and I my hands I am taking care of 15 orphans who’s how had problem of food, clothes, shelter, and school fees.

It is my humbly request to join us for this orphans with any merciful support God can touch your hearts I will be happy to hear your kind response on that.  We are inviting you to come here in Kenya and share with us.

Yours Pastor M.

I get at least one or two emails like this nearly every week.  Perhaps they glean the email from our church website or from  I read a news report this morning noting that 40% of the world’s population is now online.  There are several possibilities with this email.  First, it could legitimately be from a Pastor in Kenya who is seeking help in his ministry and for the care of orphans.  On the other hand, it could be a complete farce.

I do not have the time to investigate such unsolicited requests for help, and it would be poor stewardship of my time to do so.  I have absolutely no idea where this email is coming from.  It could be coming from Kenya, the Ukraine, or from someone down the street.

Even if this really came from a person in Kenya, I have absolutely no way to know anything about this man.  He could be a charlatan seeking to get funds from na├»ve, "wealthy" Americans by tugging on their heart strings about orphans.  On the other hand, he could really be a Pastor in Kenya trying to take care of orphans.  Even then, I know nothing of this man’s theology. He could be part of a cult with heterodox views.  He could be raising these children to believe false doctrine.  He could be mistreating them.

The point is that I know nothing about the person who sent this email or to verify and investigate its content.  Even if legitimate, I cannot go to Kenya.  I cannot observe this man’s life and ministry on a day to day basis.  I know no one in Kenya who could give me a reliable report of his character and ministry.  Even if I knew something of him both I and my church have already made decisions about the stewardship of funds for missions and mercy ministries, and we give to legitimate ministries that we can confidently support.  Therefore, I cannot respond to this email and can offer no help.

I state all this (which is probably already obvious to most others who also receive these kinds of emails) to provide some warning and counsel to others (who may be less familiar with these kinds of appeals).  Apparently some well meaning folk do respond to such emails, and this is what keeps them coming.


Monday, October 07, 2013

Dabney on "Spurious Religious Excitements"

The only book I allowed myself to buy at the Keach Conference was Dabney’s Discussions Volume III:  Philosophical.  The first article I read (worth the price of the volume alone) is one titled “Spurious Religious Excitements” (from The Presbyterian Quarterly, October, 1887, pp. 456-475).  You can listen to a reading of the article here.

In the article Dabney warns against “religious excitements” which he defines as “temporary movements of the emotions devoid of any saving operation of the Truth on the reason and conscience” (p. 456).    The article is aimed at the emotionalism of revivalism and what we might call today “easy-believism.”  In Dabney’s day the “third wave” of so-called charismatic renewal had yet to appear.  Still, his article has a contemporary ring to it. Here Dabney describes how emotions might be manipulated to stir up false religious experience:

These plain fact and principles condemn nearly every feature of the modern new measure “revival.”  The preaching and other religious instructions are shaped with a main view to excite the carnal emotions and instinctive sympathies, while no due care is taken to present saving, didactic truth to the understanding thus stimulated.  As soon as some persons, professed Christians, Or awakened “mourners,” are infected with any lively passion, let it be however carnal and fleeting, a spectacular display is made of it, with confident laudations of it as unquestionably precious and saving, with the design of exciting the remainder of the crowd with sympathetic contagion.  Every adjunct of fiery declamation, animated singing, groans, tears, exclamations, noisy prayers, is added so as to shake the nerves and add the tumult of a hysterical animal excitement to the sympathetic wave.  Every youth or impressible girl who is seen to tremble, or grow pale, or shed tears, is assured that he or she is under the workings of the Holy Spirit, and is driven by threats of vexing that awful and essential Agent of salvation to join the spectacular show, and add himself to the exciting pantomime.  Meanwhile, most probably, their minds are blank of every intelligent or conscientious view of the truth; they had been tittering or whispering a little while before, during the pretended didactic part of the exercises; they could give no intelligent account of their own sudden excitement, and, in fact, it is no more akin to any spiritual, rational, or sanctifying cause, than the quiver of the nostrils of a horse at the sound of the bugle and the fox-hounds.  But they join the mourners, and the manipulation proceeds…. (p. 466).

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Vision (10.3.13): One Life at a Time

Note:  The devotion below is drawn from last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 13:11-21.

“And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?” (Luke 13:20).

Luke tells us that just after Jesus heals the woman who had been bowed down with a “spirit of infirmity” (v. 11) for eighteen years, he begins to teach, using parables to describe the kingdom of God (vv. 18-21).

He uses two analogies.  First in v. 19 he says that the kingdom is like a mustard seed (sinapis nigra).  This seed is as small as dust in one’s hand.  But Jesus says that in spite of its small and insignificant size it produces a great tree (or bush, which they say could grow to 10-12 feet in height) in whose branches the fowl of the air might come to nest.  Most commentators note that the image of birds nesting in branches is drawn from the Old Testament (cf. Ezekiel 17:22-23; 31:6; Daniel 4:12, 21).

So, the kingdom from small and seemingly insignificant beginnings eventually flourishes into a great instrument of blessing for all the nations.

In v. 20 Jesus draws a second analogy, that of leaven (v. 21).  Leaven is of course that element added to bread that makes the whole to rise.  Leaven often has a negative symbolism in Christ’s teaching.  He urges his disciples to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1:  “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy”).  Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 5:6 that a little leaven of self-glorifying can leaven the whole lump.  Here, however, Jesus uses the figure positively.  He describes a woman who mixes a little leaven into three measures of meal till the whole is leavened.  The point is that a very little can have an impact out of all proportion to its size and seeming lack of significance.

It has sometimes been pointed out that for the leaven to have its influence it must be worked into the whole mass. It cannot do its work from outside, but it must be mixed within.  So, believers cannot escape to the monastery or cloister or compound but must be in the world but not of it.

Do you see how the kingdom works?  It comes in small ways like a mustard seed and like leaven, but it has an influence out of all proportion to its relative small size and significance.  This should spur us on and encourage us not to be discouraged.  Zechariah 4:10:  “For who hath despised the day of small things?”

 What do we learn if we meditate on these parables coming just after the healing of this woman?  God had worked supernaturally in gloriously liberating one woman from spiritual darkness.  What is one person in the vast sea of all humanity?  One bent over woman is as small as a seed, as insignificant to the eye as leaven. But this is how the kingdom is built.  The Christian movement (the kingdom of God) does not grow by the sword, by mass conversions of whole populaces.  It comes through one broken life being mended at a time.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

New Word Magazine: Interview with Richard Barcellos on Preaching and Hermeneutics (10.2.13)

Image:  Inside Christian's Pizza Downtown Mall
I uploaded another edition of Word Magazine today.  It features an interview I did with Richard Barcellos (along with Steve Clevenger) on the topic of preaching and hermeneutics.  The interview was done over lunch on Friday, September 27 at Christian's Pizza on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.  In the interview I make reference to the sermon God's Editors:  Modern Protestant Hermeneutical Attacks on the Bible Alone by Tim Kaufman.