I was pleased to see that my old friend Peter Escalante (as gracious as he is bright) had joined Steven Wedgeworth (whom I’ve not yet have the privilege of meeting) in launching not simply a new web site, The Calvinist International, but also a new (or, rather, as will presently be seen, reviving a very old) theological school of thought. When my son Richard and I met Peter for a delightful lunch in Berkeley last week, Peter was putting his finishing touches on this web site, and it is has been well worth waiting for. It represents a serious foray into recent developments in American Reformed Christianity, and, despite its laudable commitment to irenics, is clearly in a reactionary mode against specific theological developments.
In his introductory post, Peter presents seven programmatic points that serve as distinctives for The Calvinist International. Each of them brought to mind a question or two I’d like to pose to get a better handle on what Peter and Steven are really up to:
- The bold affirmation of Biblical inerrancy is a Godsend in an era of tragically unreliable evangelicals like Pete Enns. But I suspect you’re interested in more than formal inerrancy. The fact that you (creditably) suggest that inerrancy implies its own hermeneutic might lead the reader to gloss over the diversity of hermeneutical methods that inerrantists espouse. Are you suggesting that most of them are wrong? I agree with you in “critiqu[ing] neo-allegoricism which seeks to find ‘meaning’ in the Bible apart from its historicity,” but what, in fact, is its historicity? The immediate historical context? The entire canon? The NT interpretation of the OT? And who are these erroneous expositors of “neo-allegoricism which seeks to find ‘meaning’ in the Bible apart from its historicity”?
- By “intellectual constipation and sectarian spirit (or sometimes, historical role-playing) of hyperconfessionalism” to whom or what schools do you refer? Westminster Seminary in California, for example? Is this language compatible with your professed commitment to “patient, charitable, intellectually responsible consideration of [competing theological] claims”?
- When in enlisting the philosophical tools derived from “the utility of the liberal arts” you “assert the harmony of what is true in philosophic knowledge with what is known from the Word,” to what specifically do you refer? Would “philosophic knowledge” include philosophy broadly conceived, as in what was once known as “natural philosophy,” or today simply as “science”? If so, and if a cornerstone of modern science is inherent tentativeness, how would it harmonize with your theology? Is the currently tentative (but doggedly dogmatic!) notion of the evolution of all species such philosophic knowledge? Or are you talking about philosophy more narrowing conceived, as in Thomist or Aristotelian or Kantian philosophy and such? How does your aversion to “irrationalistic ‘Hellenistic-Hebrew’ dichotomies” square with your commitment (point 7) to the Hebraic veritas, “given the early tainting of the Gentile churches by pagan practices and mentality”? Isn’t that “tainting” the very rationale for positing “‘Hellenistic-Hebrew’ dichotomies” by everyone from A. Harnack to C. Van Til? Or are you suggesting that the incontestably Hellenic aspects of patristic Christianity are unrelated to the “pagan practices and mentality” you criticize?
- In endorsing “[c]lassical theism and classical apologetics,” are you repudiating the apologetics of Van Til and, to a lesser degree, Kuyper, Bavinck and Dooyeweerd? Do you know of any recent theologians (excepting possibly Barth) who “claim that even natural knowledge, as such, depends upon regeneration”?
- Do you intend to follow in general Richard Muller’s historical theological method? Does your historical theology occupy a normative role in Biblical and systematic theology? If so, what is it?
- Is it possible that your terms “essentials and theologoumena,” “odium theologicum,” “Hebraica veritas” can themselves become “undefined theological buzzwords which are used all too often as substitutes for thought and argument, always muddy discussion, and smuggle irresponsible meanings into discourse under cover of unexamined prestige”? More uncomfortably, is it possible for “[c]areful attendance to the texts of old and recent masters,” many of whom are not greatly known and without whose intimate knowledge the (Reformed) church seems, at least, to have survived quite well, to become a “substitute fanatical gnosticism for Biblical Christianity”?
- Is your commitment to investigating “ancillary inquiries of Second Temple and intertestamental studies, and host conversations about the meaning and significance of these new lines of research” designed simply to throw light on grammatical-historical interpretation, or will you allow the actual theological suppositions of the contemporaries of the Second Temple and intertestamental eras to shape your own interpretation of Scripture? In any case, how does this commitment comport with your devotion to the “inerrant Word read as a unity according to the historico-grammatical method, [a] method which is definitive, [and] contains within itself all appropriate modes of literary analysis”?