01 August 2003

bh conference

This year's Biblical Horizons conference was as good as ever, especially the chance to see and talk with people with whom I mostly interact only online.

Jim Jordan, who is completing a commentary on Daniel, spoke on the last part of that book, chapters 10-12, attempting to consider the text in light of its literary structure and typological repetitions of earlier biblical patterns. His reading strategy was to try to discern what an early reader of Daniel--say, from the time of Ezra--would have been able to understand of the prophecies in light of the wider biblical context, though still living prior to their fulfillment.

Jordan reads the end of Daniel as prophetically interpreting events up to the time of Christ and the early church, the "resurrection" in chapter 12 being parallel to Ezekiel's valley of the dry bones: both images of Israel's restoration and only secondarily pointing to eschatological, bodily restoration.

Jeff Meyers (pastor of Providence Reformed PCA in St Louis, Missouri) gave a helpful talk on the Trinity, particularly attempting to undo ways of speaking about the Trinity that remain implicitly subordinationist in their positing the Father as some sort of "origin" within the intra-trinitarian relations. After all, one might suggest, if the Father is only "Father" in relation to the Son, then the sonship of the Son constitutes the fatherhood of the Father as much as the other way around.

But the highlight of his talk was an attempt to set forth an account of creation from a trinitarian perspective in which the creation is a gift from each Person of the Trinity for the Others. Thus the Father and the Spirit prepare creation as a bride for the Son, embodied particularly in the church. The Son and the Spirit prepare creation as sons for the Father, summed up in humanity. The Father and Son prepare creation as a temple for the Spirit, especially by his indwelling the people of God.

Richard Bledsoe (pastor of Tree of Life PCA in Boulder, Colorado) gave two talks that are difficult to summarize. Part of Rich's focus was to talk about ministry in a progressive, liberal city like Boulder and the kind of work that the evangelical pastors of Boulder have been able to accomplish over the years, particularly by uniting together across denominational boundaries as a city-wide church at prayer.

In the process of his talks, Rich gave some helpful reflections on the Gerasene demoniac, the beheading of John the Baptizer and his relationship with Herod, and the dynamics at work in the temptation of Adam and Eve. He spoke of how demonic powers have be vanquished in Christ, but how that takes form in our ministry to other people, particularly those in positions of power in society as well as in our own home and families--especially in an age of sexual confusion, shame, and paranoia. Rich filled out his talks with several encouraging stories of what God has been doing powerfully in Boulder.

John Barach (pastor of Covenant URC in Grande Prairie, Alberta) gave a talk on "liturgical preaching" trying to distinguish and orient the nature of preaching in the context of the liturgy and sacraments as means by which God renews covenant with us. He distinguished the biblical role of liturgical preaching from views, particularly those of some Puritans, that place almost the entire burden of instruction upon the sermon in a context where the sermon in seen in doctrinal terms, as the climax of worship, addressing the intellect as the focal organ for receiving grace, and which discriminates among the baptized between those who are truly teachable and believe and those who, in various ways, fall short of a true faith and regeneration.

Liturgical preaching, on the other hand, John suggested, addresses the baptized as the forgiven people of God in route to his Table, communicating God's own word for them as a means by which he humbly serves his people, holding out his promises to them, building and maintaining his relationship with them. This in contrast with other kinds of preaching, whether doctrinal or experiential, and various kinds of preaching shape various ways of being the church.

Bill DeJong (pastor of a URC church in Kansas City, Missouri) spoke on the covenant controversy in the Reformed churches of the Netherlands back in the 1930s-40s, particularly focusing upon Klaas Schilder. The Kuyperians, with their doctrines of eternal justification and presumptive regeneration, wanted to distinguish between the elect and non-elect with regard to the covenant and sacraments in such a way that baptism for the non-elect is merely a pseudo-baptism, a baptism falsely so-called. They baptize because they presume our children to be elect and regenerate. Schilder and his followers emphasized the objectivity of the covenant, basing baptism on the command and promise of God so that every baptism is a true and full baptism in which God extends the promise of the Gospel sincerely. Thus baptism calls upon us to receive God's promise in faith.

Peter Leithart (professor at New St Andrews in Moscow, Idaho and currently involved in pastoring a church plant there) gave three lectures on the doctrine of justification, attempting to place it in the larger context of the bible, particularly the Old Testament. He began by looking at recent developments in both our understanding of Reformation history and first century Judaism, presenting some of the more recent Luther scholarship as well as criticizing the so-called "New Perspective" for failing to take sufficient account of the Old Testament context of the justification.

In terms of Old Testament background, Peter looked particularly at the stories of Noah and Abraham, drawing some conclusions about the meaning of their righteous standing before God in terms of distinction from the world, entering rest, deliverance, and prophetic standing. He went on to look at the langauge of "vindication" and "justification" in the Psalms and Isaiah as irreducably forensic, but also inextricably tied with deliverance and restoration. After all, the ancient world did not distinguish as we do betwen the judicial, executive, and legislative powers of government. Peter concluded by examining the category of rib--the prophetic lawsuit--both in terms of God's suit against Israel and her condemnation and vindication as well as Habakkuk's suit against Yahweh, calling upon him to stand by his promises to vindication his people. Paul's letter to the Romans, with its focus upon vindicating God's own righteousness, was placed in this context.

I lectured on postmodernism and will probably have more to say about that at a later point. The conference also included some great times of worship, particularly at evening vespers and the viewing and discussion of two films, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solyaris (though we only viewed the latter). It was also great to be able to eat meal with and other dialogue with people, on a couple occasions fairly late into the evening.

For tapes of the conference, contact James B. Jordan at Biblical Horizons either by phone (800-648-0802), email (jbjordan4@cox.net), or snail mail (P.O. Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588).