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September 15, 2008


I wasn’t clear on what I meant by Nevin’s ‘over-objectivism.’ I’m tentative about that phrase—it’s probably too heavy handed. What I mean is this. For New England revivalists that Nevin met, creeds/liturgy/communicant membership did not count at all. With Alexander and Hodge, they counted for something, but were not sufficient. There needed to be conversion experience, even of a mild and quiet variety. For Nevin they were sufficient. My point is that Old Princeton got a better balance than either Nevin or the New England revivalists.

Rev. Keller,

I would second what Mike Farley has said. Nevin did not hold that creeds and confessions are sufficient in themselves apart from a living faith. For him, Christianity is fundamentally the life of Christ communicated to believers by the Spirit. This communication of new life manifests itself outwardly in the form of belief, confession, and godly living. However, it grows organically through the means of grace, not through a one time "conversion experience." Mike has rightly noted that he was basically of one mind with Calvin in this regard (with his own twist of German Romanticism thrown in for good measure, of course).

If we are to look to anything for our assurance, in Nevin's view, we are to look to the promise of the Gospel made to us in our Baptism, in the proclamation of the Word, and at the Lord's Table. We are not to turn back in upon ourselves and look to an experience which we had at one point in time. It may be said that the real issue for him was one of Christian assurance and of the sufficiency of the Gospel.

As the editor of CGO and moderator of this Forum...

Note to the Nevin-ators,

I'd to thank you for your contribution thus far.

Secondly, I'd like to suggest that we migrate this discussion in a more focused way back to Greg Thompson's talk and to Tim Keller's response to Greg's talk.

Yes, I see how we got into this niched historical cul-de-sac, but you can make this discussion more profitable for non-specialists by departing the cul-de-sac.

So...please DO rejoin the main focus on Greg's talk and Tim's response.

Tim: if Hodge and Alexander kept experience and confession in better balance, then why has the word "conversion" taken on a different meaning for modern Presbyterians than it did for the originals? Conversion now means the beginning of the Christian life. Conversion used to mean a life-long process. I blame revivalism for this change of meaning and for obscuring an older idea of the Christian life as one of growing up like Isaac, as never having known otherwise than that a child is a child of God. You may want to blame something else. But whatever is to blame, the modern idea of conversion has changed the way Reformed Christians think about the Christian life. The model now is one of adult conversion rather than the covenant child. And we wonder why we lose our covenant children?

Dear Friends,

It seems that we have missed one of Greg's critical points. In his lecture and throughout the conference, Greg and the other four consistently made the point that they were indeed making a *theological* argument. They were not saying that the PCA’s theology is fine and we just require an attitude adjustment. They were saying that if our attitude needs adjusting, so does our theology. This was the point of Greg’s exposition of Matthew 7. Good theology produces good fruit. Bad theology produces bad fruit. As we all know, there is plenty of "bad fruit" in the PCA at the moment.

Understanding Greg’s argument on this issue is essential for understanding why he spent the rest of the lecture developing a corrective theology around the points of the Apostle's creed. He identified the problem as inadequate theology and then proceeded to lay out what he considered to be the corrective. Any interaction with Greg's lecture and the other four lectures must wrestle with the theological points contained therein. It is not sufficient to discuss the different "factions" in the PCA and label the five speakers as "transformationalists". This allows the intellectually lazy to dismiss them and suggest that they have Machiavellian agendas.

To honor and respect them as brothers in Christ, we cannot dismiss them as having some secret agenda or belonging to a subversive "faction" in the PCA, we must charitably engage with their theological arguments.

Peter Green

Mark Upton: if people want to be baptized for cultural reasons, then it's the duty of church officers to examine people before participating in the sacrament. But it's not as if revivalism or Billy Graham resolves this. People go forward at crusades for a variety of reasons, not all of them healthy (and in an age of "God Bless America" it's not at all clear that evangelicalism hasn't been hijacked for cultural reasons). Nevin saw that revivalism simply created a similar set of problems. Call it dead-conversionism.

I don't think that anyone will dispute that. There are literally millions of lost Southerners who presume upon God's grace and think they are saved even though they live unregenerate lives simply because they walked an aisle. But the point remains that even though Sessions should examine people before allowing them to participate in a sacrament many of them don't for cultural reasons. So we still need to attach assurance of salvation to something other than mere participation in the sacraments otherwise 1 Corinthians 11 wouldn't exist.

Clearly both Ishmael and Isaac were covenant children and received the sign of inclusion but only one was elect. Similarly Jacob and Esau both covenant children but only Jacob was elect, and, as I read the narrative, Jacob had a conversion experience later in life.

Now, Glenn has asked us to stop rabbit trailing here and get back to Greg's talk. I will do so on another thread. If you feel you need to respond to me I will allow you to have the last word, but will respectful of Glenn's request not respond back.

To see what I have to say about the overall discussion on Greg's talk so far you may look at the Doriani thread.

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