Volume 9, Issue 5: Sharpening Iron
Thanks for inviting us in, or thanks to that well-meaning friend who forced us upon you. As the title of this issue so subtly hints, we focus this time on topics medieval. Medievalism appears to be such a lost cause that we just had to defend. In fact, we have been so enchanted with the topic for so long that not only this issue but also the next two discuss different facets of medieval Protestantism. In another sense though, all our issues aim to exposit the richness of medieval Protestantism, since that vision has guided everything we've written since our beginning. It's not a view unique to us but one that is steadily growing among many evangelicals meditating on goodness, truth, and beauty. It's a vision that loves the medieval cast of Reformation truth, as well as the deep colors of a millennium of a triumphant, growing Christian culture. If this is thoroughly confusing, then we're keeping pace with our previous issues. To find out more, please keep turning the pages.
And please note, the back cover quote isn't us cussing.
LETTER OF THE MONTH
Please cancel my subscription. I would state my reasons if I thought it would do any good.
College Station, TX
CONFUSED BY DATING
I'm really confused. On the one hand, you state, "The modern dating system is bankrupt." On the other hand, however, you support early dating and advise against late dating. Am I to take this to mean that modern dating is synonymous with late dating? And what about postmodern dating?
FAR TOO MUCH CAFFEINE
Finally I've got proof! I transliterated "Douglas Wilson" into Sanskrit, rearranged the letters according to an ancient Babylonian chant for the dead, and wrote out the numerical value of the letters from the last to the first (it comes out different the other way around), and do you know what I got? No, not a sugar-rush. I got it to spell out "666, I am the boast." I'm sure there is a cosmic significance as to why it spells "boast" instead of "beast" but I haven't quite mastered Sanskrit yet. I am planning on comparing it with Ugaritic next week though, so you just watch out! The reason I did this? Because you chose to not include the bibliography for your verbatim section. I knew there was a devilish plot behind the whole thing, and now I've solved it! (insert wicked laugh in the background here).
Please ignore the previous paragraph, I'm schizophrenic and have an alternate "fundyistic-Bob-Jones-is-my-hero" personality. No I don't. Yes you do, shut up. Anyways, you were wondering how many folks would notice and be grieved at not having the quotation references? Well, I'll tell you how many: The funeral services are being held at 10:00 next Saturday. The spirit of reform in America is dead. Your lack of concern for proper documentation of your sources is all the evidence we need here. We've even hired professional mourners. No we haven't. Yes we have, now go away. (Sorry about that).
I just thought I would try (emphasis on the "try") to make you guys laugh for once, you've been doing it to me regularly for the past three years and I wanted to get back at you.
I've wanted to write one of those "I'm angry at you, take me off your mailing list" letters for a long time now (those are usually the most fun to read in the "Sharpening Iron" section), but I just can't seem to find anything to complain about (unless it was the shortness of the "Cave of Adullam"). Thank you again for the work that you are doing; unlike 97.4% of evangelicalism today, you are truly a force for good that is taking part in growing the kingdom of God.
Thank you especially for "McBaal's" this last issue. I laughed, I cried, I realized how realistic it was. As a pastor in the "Churchianity-belt" South I see this type of thing often. I am thankful for the Lord's blessing me with a sound congregation that does "mind what the Bible says" and for the Lord's blessing all of us with brothers like you (those who are willing to tell us what we don't want to hear). Keep fighting the good fight.
Cherokee Village, AR
Regarding "The Case Against Premillennialism." Jack Van Deventer needs to restructure his argument. He appears to believe that by exposing problems certain dispensationalists have in their arguments and/or theology, that somehow premillennialism is disproven and postmillennialism is vindicated. The issue has nothing to do with whether what those in the Dispensational Camp believe. The only issue that matters is what is biblically true. The nature of the "millennium" has nothing to do with the credibility of "dispensationalism" or any other system that attempts to deal with the subject.
The clear, plain teaching of Scripture is that the return of Jesus Christ is premillennial. Any other teaching is heresy.
Just a short note to say thanks [to Nancy Wilson]. It is not often that one gets to hear the message you bring in your Femina articles. I am a young woman and have been married for seven years now and it is wonderful to be able to learn from people such as you. Thank you so much for allowing God to speak through you.
BULLETIN BOARD OBSTETRICS
I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts concerning our failures to honor pregnant women ("Pregnant Honor" C/A 9:3). Might I suggest one additional way in which we unwittingly dishonor women 'great with child'? This is through what I call the 'amateur obstetrician syndrome': the readiness of many men (and women) to discuss ALL the physiological details of pregnancy with the one-upmanship of a gaggle of first-year medical students. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and my wife and I have rejoiced together in that fact while she was carrying our children. But do I really need to know the condition of a woman's cervix in order to pray for the safe, joyful delivery of her child? Are episiotomies appropriate fare for discussions among men or in mixed company? I have heard church officers discussing such matters at a meeting while a deacon's wife was in labor as if they were discussing the score of a basketball game in progress! I am not pining for a return to the sort of Victorian prudishness that would have spanked my father for saying the word 'pregnant,' but I do contend that preserving some of the privacy, dignity, and mystery of pregnancy through some hushing of our mouths will go a long way toward rendering the honor which pregnant women are due. Many thanks for your excellent journal.
BOTTICELLI'S PREGNANT BABES
Your "As Christ Loved the Church" issue was excellent as usual. I especially appreciated the article on "Pregnant Honor." Truly, children are a blessing from the Lord, and we should honor women who are carrying this blessing. The modern worldview is skewed, but it was not always this way. Have you noticed, for example, that in many of Botticelli's mythical paintings, the women appear to be about 20 weeks pregnant? Botticelli is known for painting allegorically, and I believe he was representing his ideas through the fullness and blessing of the pregnant female body.
Now that you have done a "Bridal issue," how about a "Parenting issue"?. . .
It is worse than ironic that Douglas Jones in the article exactly opposite to your Anvil column [PCA, R.I.P.] cautions Christians against condemning President Clinton without the Biblical case being established against him, specifically the presence of 2 or more witnesses to his guilt, yet you take it upon yourself to cast judgment upon the PCA as being dead without yet knowing it, buried under a "top-heavy" bureaucracy. You imply if not directly state that the denomination is like the church at Sardis desperately in need of shoring up the things that remain [Rev. 3:2]. All this without presenting any case for your concern.
You state that the PCA is top-heavy, specifically at a time when the two major committees [MTW, MNA] of the organization are specifically attempting to decentralize and move more of the church planting and missionary work out into the presbyteries. You infer that the organization has lost the ability to withstand "the infection" that "gradually works through the whole body" without stating any instance in which the jealous concern for Biblical orthodoxy, Ecclesiology, or other primary matters has been violated. The last General Assembly voted to sever fraternal relations with the CRC because that fellowship's position on women elders was a de facto admission of a liberalized hermeneutic that is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The PCA seems in these instances to be working well within the mainstream of the historic Reformed tradition. The denomination has many who would pull it one way or another away from this tradition and sometimes their voices are loud, yet the wisdom of the many has seeming kept it from major error. Is this not how God's church is supposed to work?. . .
John A. Van Devender
Pastor, Gambrills, MD
PCA SASSY BOY
Thank you for the warning about the PCA. It's kind of like when one of your friends pushes you out of the way of a truck and all you can do is wipe your brow and say, "Whew! That was close!"
I didn't find your previous article about the PCA but your admonition to all elders to ask themselves how the liberal Presbyterians ended up that way is good counsel. Personally, I'm not sure how the liberal Presbyterians got that way. With fine seminaries like Princeton, Union, and Southwest, it is a mystery to me how they went astray. Those were fine godly men training stalwart pastors. It is amazing to me how the PCA has held on so long with the apostate denominational college and seminary. Heretics like Calvin Beisner are filling young minds with liberalism. Covenant College and Covenant Seminary are bad enough, but I have heard of some PCA pastors graduating from (gasp!) Reformed Theological and Westminster. Scandalous.
The real problem with the PCA is that there are too many people. All successful denominations are quickly destined for liberalism. The only way to make sure a denomination stays biblical is to do things to make sure you don't have too many members. If your denomination is growing too fast, tighten up on the doctrinal requirements for new members. Better yet, leave your denomination. All those men to be accountable to are just extra baggage. Jesus' church had 12 men, why should ours be bigger?
Travis D. Hutchinson
Candidate and Intern
Tennessee Valley Presby., PCA
WILSON IN DRAG
Thanks for the sobering piece on the state of affairs in my denomination, the PCA. In the same way that a great denomination deeply rooted in the historic faith, the PCUSA, fell to the winds of societal change, the potential for disaster is there. I don't happen to believe it's as imminent as Mr. Wilson does (that's one reason I'm still here), but I see the same sort of doctrinal indifference quite often in my own congregation. I taught a class recently on Machen, and of the dozen or so present only three had ever heard of him! While I was teaching, some doggerel came to my mind:
(To be sung to the tune "Maria" from West Side Story)
Doug Wilson, I just read a piece by Doug Wilson,
He says the PCA's just ain't the church it used to be.
Doug Wilson, church bureaucrats don't share his vision,
"Like Machen, he's just makin' trou-ble for you and me!"
Doug Wilson--you're a chip off old Machen's block! See
how the UP forsook orthodoxy!
Doug Wilson . . . I pray PCAers will heed thee!
THESE ARE TIGHT LEVI'S?
Are your Levi's fitting a bit snuggly of late? By the tone of voice used in your last two issues, it seems you may be stretching your seams . . . getting too big for your britches, so it were.
By this we refer to your harsh, caustic and even arrogant attitudes so flippantly displayed in many of your articles. Before giving examples, we are not opposing mirth and/or witty sarcasm. As you've well pointed out before, Christ and the Apostles were "tops" at using barbed humor to get the Truth across at times. That too is a point to consider: "at times." Not always. Not "see if I can top your sardonic humor with mine," but as Paul says "in moderation." Also, being Reformed, we recognize the need for gentle sparring over various issues; if they are spoken in love and with Scriptural validity. This to be "edifying to one another." So said, we'll attempt to point out our concerns.
In Douglas Wilson's review of the book "Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism," he makes this remarkable statement: "Amillennial Calvinism, so long as it remains consistently both, . . . presents a constant temptation to slip into Arminian reconcilations." Really! Such a broad-sided, sweeping exclamation that holds only its own opinion and no other depth of support, thrown in to thrust a dagger into one's Reformed brethren "just for grins". No Scriptural support, none even from the godly men in church history. Just this arrogant blast from Wilson from on high. Totally out of bounds. Unloving. UnScriptural. Unsupportable. Where's your scholarship? Where is your 1 Cor. 13 love?
Again, Mr. Wilson's attitude requires a question mark, in his "Anvil" write-up. While I'm not a member of the PCA, and am aware of some of their shortcomings, Wilson's favorite tune of "The PCA is Dead" is an unnecessary, ungodly tirade. Yes, liberalism is deadly. Yes, there are liberals in the PCA (as in most/all other groups, too). Yes, we need to be aware. But! Can the trumpet calls be given to awaken, and not to deafen the hearer? Can the tone of blast be given that alerts, not kills? As surely as there are liberals in the camp, there are also the Pipas, the Adams, the Sprouls . . . must I make a list longer than the "Anvil" article itself? Must Wilson tear like a wolf at its prey? Could he not much more accurately convey the Truth in love? (Eph. 4 says he can and must!). . . .
Let's "speak the truth in love," folks. Then we won't have to unbutton that top button of our Levi's so we can breathe.
David and Tamra Lee
Douglas Wilson replies:
Every time I answer questions on the PCA thing it somehow never seems to make the situation any better. Nevertheless, here goes. We do commend the action of the General Assembly with regard to the CRC, and we acknowledge that the PCA is a true Christian church. Despite the many conservatives who positively want to ignore the warning signs, some of whom write letters to us, we also believe that the PCA contains thousands of good guys, laboring mightily in the vineyard of the Lord. However, the basic point we have been seeking to make, and would still want to make, is that the conservatives in the PCA have been strategically outmaneuvered. We wish we didn't think it, but we do.
FINALLY AT REST
The latest issue of Credenda Agenda arrived today and was outstanding as usual! I especially want to commend "Sleep-Blessing or Curse?" by John Grauke; it really hit home with me on the basis of personal experience.
In my middler year of seminary, I was called aside by the Dean. . . . It seems that numerous members of the faculty had noticed me falling asleep in classes, in Chapel, etc. and he wanted to express his concern. I proceeded to have a medical examination and a sleep study. . . . The Sleep Study recorded 126 apneas per hour; simply put, I being roused more than twice a minute every minute that I slept. . . . I was put on a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine and experienced dramatic results. It is hard to believe the difference that resting well each night can make.
Charles A. Collins, Jr.
PLEASED TO BE WRONG
Pass the popcorn. While it would be impossible for you to be right all of the time (like me) it would also be terribly boring. Which is probably why I enjoy your "literature ministry" so much.
In regards to the last "Anvil" about Christianity Today you are so right about beating up on those who want to be "engaged" in dialogue. What these people hate the most is not being taken seriously--even if their arguments are laughable. Mock them, give them the Bronx cheer. Or, better yet, tell the Doctor she must have a written note from her husband (my favorite).
Keep up the gadfly work.
Johnson City, TN
Glad that Ben Merkle reminded us of the Solas. . . . Coram Deo! is another Reformation principle that needs to be brought back out of the mothball room in reformed theology. Coram Deo--In the Presence of God--if my Latin translation is correct? . . .