Theology Matters, Jan/Feb - Nov/Dec 2015
The theme of this issue is apologetics. William Dembski and Jay Richards affirm the necessity of giving a reasoned account of our faith. Steven Smith gives an example of apologetics in practice.
Is God Irrelevant? by Steven D. Smith
University of San Diego law professor Smith answers skeptics who claim we do not need God to live a moral life. Engaging the arguments of the late philosopher Ronald Dworkin in his book Religion Without God, Smith shows the failings of Dworkin’s and others’ attempts to build a morality without God. Neither a strictly subjective morality, based upon perceived individual self-interest, nor a purported objective morality apart from God will have sufficient authority and credibility. Smith finds a firmer foundation for morality in the God of the Bible—a God who created humankind, and who has a supremely good plan and purpose for his creatures.
Reclaiming Theological Education, by William A. Dembski and Jay W. Richards
Scholars Dembski and Richards note how “throughout Scripture, Christians are enjoined to defend the faith through rational argument.” They lament the decline of apologetics in mainline seminary education, under the influence of regnant 20th century liberalism. Dembski and Richards propose to reclaim this lost ground with a revival of apologetics in classrooms and congregations. The new apologetics, they say, must engage false ideas and inoculate believers against them—rather than ignoring the false ideas and trying to quarantine believers away from them. Using the example of their own activities at Princeton Seminary, the two authors urge evangelical seminary students to “puncture the myth of [liberal] invincibility.”
This issue consists in edited excerpts from a series of sermons preached by the Rev. Dr. Randall Otto on the “Historic Principles of Church Order.” Those principles, preserved in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order, date back to the first General Assembly in 1788. They are the common heritage of all who bear the name Presbyterian, and they were a formative influence as the 13 former British colonies were devising a new form of government for the United States. They still have much to say today.
The historic principles include: that “God alone is Lord of the conscience”; that every church has the right to set its own standards of membership and choose its own officers; that officers have a duty to exercise church discipline, which is to be “purely moral or spiritual in its object”; that “there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty”; that Christians should show “mutual forbearance” in matters where “men of good characters and principles may differ”; and that all church power is “only ministerial and declarative,” deriving its authority from “the revealed will of God” as found in the Scriptures.
Otto applies these principles to the contemporary church. Here are two samples:
“The church is not ours to alter as we wish. The church is the Lord’s, who bought it with his own blood. The church must not conform itself to the principles of the world, but to the teaching of the Word of God. Where there is no clear teaching, there is freedom within the bounds of Scripture; where there is clear teaching, such as in regard to sexual ethics and marriage, there is the freedom of obedience to God’s clear command. The goal in both instances is that we might live in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives. Let us, then, exercise care in the use of the ‘right of judgment,’ knowing that the final judgment is the Lord’s, before whom we must all one day give an account….”
“It is lives based on Scripture, taught, corrected, and trained in the righteousness of God that will make the church powerful for good in our society. Denominational advocacy of that which stands counter to the clear teaching of Scripture has no such effect, but rather serves to make the church look uneasy with itself, its foundations, even its God. The church exists to change society by calling people to repentance, to change of heart and mind, so their lives may conform more and more to the gospel of Christ and to the freedom to follow his commands found in the work of the Spirit in our lives. Let us, then, be once more a people of the Book, with consciences captive to the Word.”
The Rev. Dr. Randall Otto is Pastor of Green Hill Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, and President of Theology Matters.