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The Current Justification Controversy

The Current Justification ControversyThis is not meant as an in-depth review, but really more of a commenting on the book “The Current Justification Controversy” by O. Palmer Robertson, edited by by John Robbins and published by the Trinity Foundation. The book is somewhat technical in nature and walks through the proceedings and circumstances of the discussion and events that surrounded Norman Shepherd’s controversial statements as he taught at Westminster Seminary during the late 70s and early 80s.

I picked up this book mainly because of the recent issues with Peter Leithart and the goings-on in the PCA and particularly within the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. I currently attend a church that’s a part of this Presbytery and heard a lot about the whole situation during the Leithart proceedings. There are obviously many parallels between these two cases.

What interests me most is that it seems like nothing is new. I don’t mean to gloss over the differences between the two men, but I do find it very interesting how the two situations had similar aspects:

  • The “experimental” style of re-describing or re-emphasizing traditional orthodox statements regarding core theological points
  • The mix of responses to this restatement which included both those that were vehemently opposed and those that thought that the approach was beneficial
  • The particular issue of whether the viewpoints (whether right or wrong from a Biblical standpoint) were in accordance with the Westminster Confession of Faith
  • The confusion over terminology and language which constantly seemed to mire discussion

I am no theologian. Nor am I that deeply involved in following either the Shepherd case or the Leithart case, but I do find the controversy of both to be discouraging for a number of reasons.

First, I realize that denominations such as the OPC and the PCA do hold the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their standard. I think it’s good to have standards and I think it’s helpful to reference and cite them. However, I find it very frustrating when a theological discussion is railroaded because of issues between a theological stance and a standard such as the WCF. The standard should merely be a reflection of revealed, Biblical truth. And now, for the part where I may lose some of my readers, I believe it is in error in at least some parts! If I were to become an officer in the PCA, I would need to indicate on which points I take exception. These aren’t huge differences, but they are important. My first main gripe with both the OPC and PCA is that some in the denomination appear to believe that holding any exceptions to the standards makes a pastor, or ruling elder, or other officer less of an officer. It does not matter if that officer can show strong Biblical support for their position.

I’m conservative by nature and I do tend to think that changes ought to be very carefully considered before adopted. But I find it simply presumptuous to assume that the Westminster Divines got it 100% right. Personally, I would hope that over time we as a denomination would have the wisdom to refine our standards. In particular, the standards tend to be reflective of the situation at the time of the writing of the WCF. This makes sense — the errors and heresies of the time were first and foremost in the minds of those who wrote the WCF. As new doctrines are developed, we should be willing to refine our standards to deal with those that are heretical and to embrace those that are both true and practical. I say practical here because I do not believe that all Biblical truth needs to be summarized in a standard such as the WCF in a perfectly exhaustive way. Rather, I think that the standards should illuminate the important parts and provide clarity to the interpretive framework by which Biblical truths are being explained.

Like it or not, the Bible tends to explain complex theological concepts using a variety of expression and terminology. It can be confusing to examine concepts like the Trinity, or free will vs. sovereignty, or a host of other similar concepts. When we write a standard, we tend to codify the expression of the complex Biblical passages into single statements. This is the purpose of a standard, no doubt, but I believe that it often makes for an incomplete or even worse, an inaccurate statement. When this happens, we ought to be able to back away from the standard enough to analyze whether the standard is in fact accurate instead of simply clinging to the standard. If the standard is deficient, let’s update the standard. If the standard is not clear, let’s make it clear.

Why is it that modern Protestant, Reformed churches can’t update standards?

Secondly, the petty and argumentative way that discussions ensue (on both sides) is very sad. Theologians are human too; instead of coming to blows over a football rivalry as their lay members might do, it honestly seems like certain contemporary opponents on these issues would gladly go at it in a round of fisticuffs (if not for the fact that they tend to isolate their vitriol and pronouncements on the Internet). Since it doesn’t seem practical to create an online “Last Theologian Standing” virtual boxing game that could result in some sort of catharsis, it seems like their ought to be accountability and even discipline within the ranks of the church for the sort of uncharitable outbursts that both sides engage in regularly. I don’t mean strongly stated theological opinions or even debates. I’m referring to the potshots, the insinuation, the ad hominem attacks, the public vilification that all seems to take place. It’s wrong and it ought to stop.

Third, it seems as if both sides ought to be more careful with their definitions. Words are important. The Bible sometimes uses the same words to mean different things. We all do this.We ought to be careful to define what we mean. In order to have a clear discussion about what we are talking about, it is important to realize that we are no all coming to the table with the same actual understanding of what each word means. When we start to disagree about theology, I think that often we are simply confused over what the other person is defining a word to mean. If we use the WCF (or another standard) as the only allowable dictionary for the expression of Biblical truth, I think we limit ourselves. To give an example of what I mean, I’d like you to consider what Paul, Peter, and James would have given as a definition of justification if we were somehow able to interview them. Would they respond with a canned line? Would they even necessarily repeat exactly what they had written in their letters? This is pure conjecture obviously, but I believe that not even the Apostles would give a perfectly unified response. I don’t mean that some would be right and others would be wrong, but rather that each would point out a facet of justification that may not reveal all aspects or all truth in a single statement. Perhaps I’m wrong, but given the letters in the New Testament and the actual theology that we do have taught in those letters, I don’t think so.


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An Exaltation of Larks

I was delighted to browse through this book recently. A fun read for anyone interested in language. It’s not a long or complex book, but really just a nugget about some interesting developments in English with plenty of historical anecdotes and references as well as an interesting list of collective nouns.

The at-first confusing title is simple an example of one of the collective nouns or “terms of venery” that come to us from Medieval hunting tradition. Other examples include a “Murder of Crows” and a “Gaggle of Geese”. These collective nouns were used by gentlemen at the time to refer to groups of animals. The terms themselves were somewhat a mix of an argot and an inside joke (as many of the terms are quite playful or imaginative).

The information is not particular practical or useful, but clued me into an aspect of Medieval life that I was previously unaware of.


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So I’m listening to a new Pandora station this morning (Thanks Robert for the suggestion — good stuff). The music of the particular track that I’m listening to at the moment reminds me so much of an old MS-DOS game called Privateer by Origin Systems. I remember distinctly getting the game from my Dad in 1993 and loading all 7 or so diskettes into our ancient beast of a computer. After some tweaking to fix some memory issues, we finally got it up and running. The basic gameplay is as a pilot of [initially] a small ship, flying between planets, space stations, asteroids, and other bases while choosing to play as a trader, a mercenary, or whatever you chose.

This game was amazing. The graphics of course look awful now as I review the site. But the game play was incredible. The joystick took some skill to use effectively whether you chose life as a merchant or a gun for hire. Interaction and AI wasn’t great, but for the time, it was pretty good. I spent many hours playing the game and really enjoyed it. The music was “futuristic” synthesized music, probably not the best quality, but it always felt so fitting for the game. The game created an incredibly immersive world that sucked you in despite the relative simplicity compared to modern games like EVE Online. It was a good balance. I was inspired, intrigued, and entertained but not to the point that I forgot about reality altogether. Newer games definitely provide more depth than this old-time game, but I can’t afford to spend an average of 2.5 hours per day (which apparently is average for EVE Online players).

I did also play Freelancer (made by the same designer after Origin was acquired by Electronic Arts) but it just didn’t feel the same.

Anyone out there know or or can recommend any games like this that can balance a high level of fascination with a certain restraint that still encourages reality?



TechEd 2008 Orlando

This is my second post to Illusory Follies, and I wanted to extend my thanks to Andrew for allowing me to post on his blog, Thank you Andrew.

This year TechEd was again in Orlando, FL. For the first time they split it up into two weeks; the first for developers and the second for IT Professionals. This was my third TechEd (I went to San Diego in 2004, and Boston in 2006. I guess I only hit even years).

The keynote was interesting. It was delivered by the man himself; Bill Gates, and was his last one as he retires July 1st. There was a funny video they put together called “Bill’s last day” that was rife with cameos of everyone from Jay-Z to George Clooney to Steven Spielberg and a workout session with Matthew McConaughey. The rest of the keynote talked about Internet Explorer 8 (due in August), Silverlight Beta 2 (releasing this week at TechEd), VS2008 extensions for SharePoint, to name a few. This link has video of the keynote if you want to watch it, and several other blogs have details of the keynote, so I won’t repeat them here.

One other new thing they did this TechEd was not to provide bottled water. Apparently Microsoft is going green and as a result of thousands of empty water bottles going into the landfills in previous TechEds they decided this year to give everyone a nice refillable bottle to carry around with them, and provided water dispensers throughout the convention center. There was no shortage of water available, and they still had soft drinks and juice. At first I was apprehensive as I love my bottled water, but after a few refills I adapted to the idea, and rather enjoyed being able to refill anytime I wanted. Green is a good thing after all.

Another thing I noticed was the lack of snacks. In past TechEds there were tables throughout filled with fruit, granola bars, chips, etc., things to boost your energy throughout the day. This year, not so much. Around 3 PM or so they started rolling out some popcorn and a few snacks, and some fresh baked cookies (they baked them right at the table in little easy bake ovens at around 6 at a time). Of course there were 200 people waiting in line for their shot at chocolate chippy goodness (I happened to walk by a table just as they put some out and snagged one, they were warm, chewy, and indeed delicious).

Breakfast and lunch were decent as they usually are. They had their selection of fresh items, cereal, yogurt, eggs, bacon, bagels, etc. For lunches they had salads, and the prerequisite starches, vegies, and meats. The convention center employees took their jobs way too seriously though. Their job was to usher the TechEdies around like cattle, and they did it well. They stood shoulder to shoulder in lines to make sure no stray geeks escape the herd, imaginary tasers in hand just hoping for the lone non-conformant to decide they want to get their food from “this” table instead of “all the way to the end”, as though they were told if anyone allowed a nerd to wander, they would be docked a day’s pay. On two occasions my colleague and I defied them and stood in a line we were walking by, they weren’t quite sure what to do, so they frantically yelled to everyone else, “All the way to the end!” in hopes others wouldn’t revolt as well. Most were compliant.

At the keynote Bill commented that the developer week was more successful than they had anticipated. They estimated around 3000-4000 would register, but instead it was more than 6000. Yet, without the additional IT people around, it seemed more like the last day of a traditional TechEd, where most people have jumped on their planes home, and the remaining stragglers are wandering around searching for scraps of techie treasures left behind. There just weren’t as many people as I am used to. Also, to me, it just seemed like there was not a lot of excitement this year (maybe it’s the missing IT people, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me), it just seemed like something was missing this year. Although, the last couple days did seem to pick up in the energy level a bit. I guess it makes sense though, as traditionally developers are more low key, and IT people are more intense.

The breakout sessions I have gone to were mostly full, as I obviously picked the same topics everyone else did, and every room I have been in was extremely warm. A couple of the sessions that were so full they were standing room only, however, the over zealous room monitors would not allow anyone to stand this year, as the fire marshal may pop in any time and shut down the convention as a fire hazard. I was tossed out of one room as there were no more seats available, and I wasn’t allowed to stand in the back. As a result, I spent a fair amount of time in the Hands On Labs this year, and happy I did, I learned a lot about Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation as a result. I must say, the HOL were my favorite part. Other than a fairly slow network (at one point it took 20 minutes to restore a saved session), the labs were done very well. And there were no shortage of helpers around to assist and train. Well done on the labs MS.

A couple years ago I tried my hand at Windows Presentation Foundation development using XAML, and while it was interesting, everything was manual (i.e. you had to edit the XAML files directly). In VS2008 however they have built a XAML designer, and it’s pretty nice (except you can’t sort properties yet). In addition, XAML has Intellisense! If that wasn’t enough, they have added Intellisense to Javascript for Silverlight 1.0. Also, they added Ruby to the .NET family, and it also has Intellisense (see here)

Silverlight 2.0 beta now has the ability to use the .NET code, so you can develop in C# or any other .NET language, which is pretty cool. I went to a couple sessions about Silverlight 2.0 and media, and it looks like it will be pretty easy to create very robust web sites with great controls and media capabilities.

Other areas of focus for many have been on the new Visual Studio 2008 extensions to SharePoint, Microsoft has created a web site here that gives details.

So, was it a good TechEd? I think it was actually. While it felt more empty without the IT people, it was a pleasant change not having to compete with so many people. I like the Orange County Convention Center (MS must too as they did it two years in a row here). It was laid out just right, easy to get around, Breakout Sessions were all grouped together (unlike San Diego in 2004, where everything was on opposite ends of the center from each other), and the ambiance was very nice. TechEd 2009 will be in Los Angeles.

Also, with the time I spent in the labs, I really have a new appreciation for Silverlight. I came in not really knowing much about it, and now am excited about creating a few Silverlight projects. Also, I met some great people this time as well. With all developers this week, there were more like minded people to interact with, and isn’t that what it’s all about, finding like minded people to connect to?




Well, I don’t normally function as an advertising agency, but I thought I’d mention to anyone using OS X that there’s a splendid new application out by Lighthead Software. It’s call Papaya and it’s purpose in life is to make sharing files easy and effortless.

Sharing can be such a pain because of problems between Windows and Mac or even just silly things like firewall rules, security, etc. It would be nice if there was a reasonable way to share files that was:

  1. Straightforward — don’t make me click around a lot
  2. Easy to share — let me IM or email something that people can easily reference in order to access the shared material
  3. Used standards that work regardless of your friend’s operating system

Papaya seems to be the answer.

Sharing files locally is automatic. Depending on your router/firewall, sharing files on the Internet may be just a tiny bit complicated but you only have to configure it once. For my own needs, this is beautiful. I can drag and drop files into Papaya, instantly get a link to share with friends and be on my way. No need to email large files, worry about acceptable formats or whatever else.

Papaya is priced at €20( $31 USD as of 5.26.08). If you have a Mac and need to share files, I definitely recommend this.

Also, Lighthead Software also makes the extremely handy Caffeine application that will keep your laptop from sleeping, having the screen dim, etc. It’s a free program and it’s operated with just one click on turn on, one to turn off. I use it often.

To Lighthead Software, thanks for some excellent programs!

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