Timothy George (a semi-Protestant)

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Timothy George

In my earliest days in the ministry I had the pleasure to attend the Founders National Conference in Birmingham. This excellent conference then met on the campus of Samford University, home to Beeson Divinity School. Initially the meetings were held in Samford’s lovely Reid Chapel. Our host – and the reason the conference had located at Samford – was Beeson’s dean Timothy George.

George was a part of the Calvinism fad before Calvinism was a fad. By that I mean that he recognized the vapidity of evangelical doctrine and espoused a more tenable theology built around a sovereign God, yet he clearly never embraced the heart of reformation theology. In no sense whatsoever can be called “Reformed,” nor even a “Reformed Baptist.” Continue reading

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Brothers, I Implore You: Confessional Subscription and Divine Impassibility, Part 4

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What This Week Felt Like

It’s Friday, and I have written for most of a week about the doctrine of divine impassibility. I’ve written about its confessional definition and the need to subscribe not only to the words of a confession, but the meaning those words were intended to convey. I’ve written about the history of this doctrine and how we arrived at the place we stand today. I’ve written about the nature of the discussion in Reformed Baptist circles and how distractions have risen to crowd out the critical doctrinal issues. This is, as far as I know right now, the last I will have to say on the subject for the time being. I want to address myself to Reformed Baptists, particularly those in ARBCA.

It is reasonable to expect, however, that some will ask why I am so passionate (sorry…I know) about this issue. I can only answer in this way: I am a Reformed Baptist by conviction. I am convinced that in a world of doctrinal decay, we need the anchor of a confessional standard, and that standard must be defended until such point as it is demonstrated to be contrary to the Word of God. I have to be a Reformed Baptist in the same way that a true, confessional Presbyterian has to be a Presbyterian and that a true, confessional Lutheran has to be a Lutheran. I am convinced of the biblical truth of my Confession, and I have no choice but to pastor my church according to its sound form of doctrine. Continue reading

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Your Honor, I Object: Confessional Subscription and Divine Impassibility, Part 3

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Yes, that Hanover, the one with the Pretzels!

During seminary I had lunch one day with a friend who was in law school. He told me a riotous story from his summer clerkship which I find apropos, so I share it with you today.

He found himself attending court to assist the lawyers who defended the town of Hanover, PA from a lawsuit stemming from the Hanover Race Riots. (I am not making this up; there was such a thing.) The plaintiff in the case claimed an injury during the course of the rioting and assigned blame to the town for failure to control the streets.

The case went poorly for the plaintiff, largely because no one actually seemed to believe that the city had done a poor job under the circumstances. The plaintiff’s attorney called an expert witness who had once worked for the state police, expecting him to testify that the local police had botched the crowd control that night. Now I have attended exactly zero hours of law-school lectures, but I was a devoted fan of “Law and Order,” so even I know that a lawyer should never ask a question in court without knowing exactly how the witness will respond. It turned out that the expert was entirely satisfied with the town’s conduct on the night in question. Continue reading

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Testimony of the Ages: Confessional Subscription and Divine Impassibility, Part 2

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Did Thomas Aquinas invent Divine Impassibility out of thin air?

In my post yesterday I spoke of the confessional doctrine of divine impassibility. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists all affirm this doctrine in exactly the same words: the only true God is “without body, parts, or passions.” In order to subscribe to the confessional documents containing those words, we must confess what they meant by those words; otherwise we do not subscribe.

But what is the origin of this doctrine? Many assertions have been made during the last year; among them that the words can be properly interpreted in a number of ways. Another assertion has been that the doctrine of divine impassibility was a novel doctrine of the scholastics, a philosophical group of late medieval teachers including Thomas Aquinas. Is this the origin of this doctrine? Continue reading

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Words and their Meaning: Confessional Subscription and Divine Impassibility, Part 1

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Pennepack Baptist Church of Philadelphia, one of the Earliest 1689 Churches in America

Confessions of faith are intended as tools of doctrinal unity within a church or an association of churches. To “subscribe” to a confession of faith is to claim it as a summary of your own theological convictions. Thus when many people subscribe together to the same confession, they profess that they believe the same things about those matters addressed in their confession. Such subscription is necessary at some level; otherwise we would be forced to cooperate with those who have defined Christ and the faith differently than ourselves.

Various approaches to subscription have been taken. Historically, churches that have attempted a generalized “system” subscription have demonstrated the error of such an approach: when subscription to a confession does not mean subscribing to its particular doctrines, then it means nothing. System subscription has proven to be a highway to apostasy. Some have followed a stricter approach, but allowed for various “exceptions.” In most cases there is an agreed-upon list of doctrines to which one may take exception, but defining “acceptable” exceptions may become a far messier process than many would imagine. Continue reading

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The Truth-Tellers

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Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named “Me.”

Back in the halcyon days of seminary, I too was an intern. No doubt many an intern can relate stories of the rough-and-tumble underbelly of church work, but my account should stack up well against most. It involved a slightly drunken man and a shotgun.

I’ll tell the story honestly and to the best of my recollection. I was sent along with some of the deacons (the more expendable ones, as one wag put it) to call on a man in rather difficult circumstances. We found him drinking whiskey and reading John Owen (who, I assure you Lee, was not a Baptist!). In the course of a generally painful visit there came a point at which the man let me know that he had a shotgun in the house. The way he did this was to pick up the shotgun out of one corner, glance at me, carry it to another corner, set it down, shake his head, and then carry it back to the original corner. Continue reading

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Spurgeon vs. Spurgeon

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I…don’t…understand.

Back when CRBC was setting up its web page, I was asked whether we should prominently feature the pictures of famous Particular Baptists from history. I was especially urged to include imagery of Charles Spurgeon in our website’s header. Calvinism of a certain sort was booming, Spurgeon’s face was recognizable, and other sites had driven web traffic by associating their message with his.

I have no real objection to that practice, but for our church site I said no. We are not, you see, a Spurgeonist church; we are a Reformed Baptist church. The point is not to separate ourselves from Spurgeon, nor even to suggest that he was not one of us. Instead, I wanted clarity that we took our identity as a church from Christ as He is revealed in Scripture and, secondarily, from our confession of faith. “Reformed Baptist” is a term with a brief history, but throughout that history it has referred to 1689 confessional churches.

To put it another way, we wanted to be identified by our confession, not by any one personality – even if that personality was Charles Spurgeon. Continue reading

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