Ages Are Important for Timelines [or: How Old Was Terah When Abram Was Born?]

Constructing a chronology of biblical events is fairly simple—but not always easy. One of the most important aspects of developing a timeline is discovering the anchor dates, but this can be easily thwarted by failing to read the text carefully.

For example, most people assume (and teach) that Abram’s father, Terah, was 70 years old when he fathered Abram (based on a careless reading of Genesis 11:26). However, it’s best to understand Terah as at least 130 years old at the birth of Abram! That interpretation will offset all of the other dates, from the birth of Abram back to creation, by about 60 years.

We arrive at this conclusion for several reasons…

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More Than You Wanted on Social Justice

The recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel has sparked an abundance of articles both in praise and critique of the statement at various levels, and from various angles. Allow me to point you toward some of the notables for those who are following this conversation or would like to understand the issue in more depth.

First, Tom Ascol wrote (on the day the statement was released) some short reflections on his involvement with the conception of the document.

I must also begin by recommending the articles being put out by the SJ&G website itself. Primarily from the original team involved with the statement, there are some excellent articles on the site addressing different aspects of the social justice controversy in more detail. So far, they have published some good articles on things like the nature of division and unity in the church, the problem with being “woke,” and the sufficiency of Scripture. You can find all the articles here.

And don’t forget about John MacArthur’s recent series on the fallacies of social justice.

Toby Sumpter has given a simple, but thoughtful and very helpful defense of the statement in this post—correcting the detractors, but being careful not to make the statement more than it was meant to be.

There has, of course, been a tsunami of articles attacking the statement. I’m going to, for the purposes of this post, ignore the responses that have come from those who are precisely the ones the statement is addressing. I’ll also leave out those responses that are simply unreasonable. However, there have been a few articles that have reasonable and helpful critiques that are worth being aware of.

Here is the first article I saw, in which Steve Hays explains why he decided not to sign the statement.

T. Neil Daugherty gives some thoughts from a Christian Libertarian perspective here.

Michael Bird also offers some critiques of the statement here. As I’ve said before, Bird is one of my favorite theologians (of those with whom I often disagree). His critiques are worth reading, but again, he falls into some of the same traps as other “balanced” voices. For example, Bird notes that salvation includes good news for the marginalized and oppressed. Of course, the problem in this whole conversation is that most of the players seem to be running on established assumptions concerning the definition of “marginalized,” the identity of the “oppressed” groups, and the kind and severity of the oppression. That’s precisely what Aniol and others would like to challenge.

Bird also mishandles Luke 4:16-21, but it’s a common interpretation he goes with. There, and several other times in the article, Bird betrays a faulty hermeneutic that leans postmillennial. He also suggests that any attempt to pursue true justice necessarily entails the approach and philosophy of the social justice movement.

To quote James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). To do that kind of stuff requires a social justice approach!

Not quite. Again, Bird misunderstands the SJ&G Statement’s very point of contention—that a genuine pursuit of justice does not mandate the methodology and “approach” of the social justice craze, and that, in fact, we may radically differ on our definitions of what justice will even look like for various individuals and groups.

That being said, Bird then has some quite helpful criticisms of Union Seminary’s radical progressivist response to the SJ&G Statement. Even when I disagree with his stance, I’ve always appreciated Bird’s ability to honestly push against both sides and look for the balance.

In this post, the author addresses two of the more prominent negative responses to the Statement, and explains why she decided to sign it.

Along that vein, Doug Wilson has also responded to McDurmon’s critique with some helpful thoughts of his own here, here, and (a valuable and insightful addition to the discussion) here.

Josh Buice explains his involvement with the statement here, and writes on feminism, liberation theology, and the sufficiency of Scripture, here.

And I’ll end, for now, by directing you back to an article on the SJ&G website again.

Some find The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel unhelpful and behind the times. “It is not sensitive to the present moment” they say. “It is not strategic” is the word on the street. But our Lord did not tell us to go into all the world and “be strategic.” He told us to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all his commands. A rebellious world has always found that commission distasteful.

Can Christians be unnecessarily combative? Of course. But the fact that some have leveled that claim against the careful and measured statement on social justice and the gospel warrants what theologians in days gone by have called the hearty horse laugh. — Jared Longshore

I’m sure I’ll come back around to the topic a few more times. But what about you? Have you found any of the discussion surrounding social justice and the SJ&G Statement helpful? Frustrating? Enlightening? What are some other articles, authors, and pastors that you’ve found to offer valuable wisdom?

 


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How to Be Free From Bitterness

Jim Wilson, the father of Doug Wilson, has a superb little booklet on How to Be Free From Bitterness, and it is a jewel of a find. It was encouraging and challenging to me personally, but will also be a frequent and valuable resource to use in my own counseling and discipleship of others. You can find other PDFs of Jim Wilson’s, like this one on being a responsible man, on this page.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 1 — on the Scriptures]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. One of the major projects I began this summer was to draft a sample doctrinal statement that was detailed, precise, well-worded, and well-documented with verse references. The statement I ended with is almost certainly more detailed than most churches would like, and most likely contains a combination of doctrinal beliefs no one shares but myself. However, the goal of the exercise was to produce a detailed statement that was worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church. I’d like to share my statement, posting a section at a time, and at times make comments pointing out key features and specific wording that I found to be crucial for the precise articulation of the view and for the protection of the church from false doctrine.


Doctrinal Statement
What we Believe(1)

Section 1 — The Scriptures

We believe that the Bible (the 66 canonical books of the Old and New Testaments[2]) is, in the original manuscripts, the inerrant and infallible Word of God, inspired equally in all the words and all the parts. God graciously revealed Himself to mankind by directing men to record, utilizing their own individual personalities and writing styles, the very words of God to mankind, without any mixture of error. As the Word of God, the Bible is the absolute, sufficient, self-authenticating source, standard, and measure of truth, and the binding, inceptive[3], and final authority on all matters to which it speaks. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, moral, religious, or redemptive themes, but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.(4) The Bible is the center of true Christian unity, and the supreme standard by which all human life and conduct will be evaluated and judged. We affirm and hold to, in full, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. (5)

We believe that the Bible was designed for our practical instruction and is sufficient to equip and mature believers. It is to shape the Christian’s beliefs, morals, and affections (6). Being the defining authority for doctrine and discipleship, the Bible, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and the caring body of Christ, is entirely sufficient for every spiritual, relational, or emotional problem (7).

We believe that the Bible is an objective, propositional revelation (8), and is rightly interpreted by using the normative, plain-sense hermeneutic of grammatical-historical exegesis (8). The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself. We affirm and hold to, in full, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

(Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 4:4; 19:4; Mark 10:3; John 17:17; Romans 3:4; 15:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:19–21; Revelation 22:18–19)


Notes:

  1. “What we Believe:” There are varying opinions on the wisdom of this wording. Many hold that a church should only require members to “agree to be governed” by the doctrinal statement, rather than actually agree with it. I understand the pragmatics behind this approach. But the fact that it is usually for pragmatic purposes is what concerns me. It’s just easier to not try to have a group of people all agree on doctrinal issues (doctrine divides right?). But because I believe one of the main purposes of the doctrinal statement is to provide for unity among the church, I think we have to structure the doctrinal statement as what this church believes, and what thus unifies this church. Perhaps in a world where doctrine doesn’t really matter, I could be a fellow member of a church with someone who disagrees with me on the spiritual gifts, or on Calvinism, or the Millenium. But doctrine divides precisely because truth matters. And I understand the primacy of the gospel, but we are not called to stay merely contemplating the gospel; we are called to move on to maturity, and to dig into the Word and seek to understand it more fully. So I don’t see how a church that plans to do that can retain a full-throated functional unity, and at the same time not worry about agreeing on what the Bible teaches (even if you separate out the essentials and non-essentials, it still gets messy). I don’t know. It just seems like a church-split (based on groups who agree with each other!) waiting to happen.
  2. Defining “the Bible:” It’s important to define what we mean by “the Bible,” since we want to exclude other “holy” books, such as the book of Mormon, or the Apocrypha.
  3. “Inceptive:” I know this sentence is wordy, and I know no one uses the word “inceptive” anymore, but I think it conveys the intended idea well. Most doctrinal statements claim that the Bible is the “final authority.” While that is certainly a position I affirm, what often happens is that Christians seek knowledge and understanding from any other source, and then weigh it against Scripture at the end of the thought process. What we need to understand is that Scripture is not only the final authority, it must be our starting point — it’s our first authority, because knowledge comes from God. In fact, everything comes from God. We mustn’t look around for truth and then check it against what Scripture has to say; what makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. I could (and need to, and perhaps will soon) write an entire post explaining this better, but in short, in other words, I’m a rather committed presuppositionalist, and I think saying the Bible is our inceptive authority and the source of truth conveys it well. As Graeme Goldsworthy says, “By definition, a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting… Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts the Bible is God’s Word…” (for more on presuppositionalism, see especially here, here, here, here, and here)
  4. Authority in history and science?: This will be a controversial claim for sure, but is in fact the historic orthodox and standard evangelical view of inerrancy (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church), and this statement is taken almost verbatim from the Chicago Statement (the defining statement on inerrancy). The Chicago Statement also says, “We affirm that since God is the author of all truth…the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else” (Article XX). If the Bible is the Word of God, we can trust what it says no matter what it is talking about! (also see this article)
  5. Chicago Statement: You may have a succinct statement such as this in your doctrinal statement that references another document which goes into fuller detail on a given subject. In so doing, you can save a lot of space in your own statement, but the referenced document legally becomes equally binding on the church as well.
  6. This is a uniquely conservative distinctive. Most evangelical Christians will affirm that the Bible should shape our beliefs and morals (usually), but many have not even given thought to how the Bible ought to shape and cultivate rightly-ordered affections within us as well.
  7. A faithful theology of Scripture leads to a firm conviction of the absolute sufficiency of Scripture. To get started on understanding the biblical counseling ‘model’ and its view of the Bible’s sufficiency for discipleship, I urge you to watch these interesting and enjoyable videos of Nicolas Ellen.
  8. In other words, not merely a story, or metanarrative, or helpful lesson, that we just need to find our place in, or need to discover what it means for us.
  9. A consistent plain-sense hermeneutic is, I believe, the hermeneutic that Scripture itself establishes, and is the only hermeneutic that faithfully and simply takes God at His word, and understands Scripture in the way one normally interprets any other kind of literature. For more info, I’d highly recommend Dr. Henebury here, here, here, and here.