13 March 2009

Question and Answer, Richard Phillips and Steven Lawson (PCRT 2009 Sacramento)

by Dan Phillips

Now for some Q&A at 2:30pm. They had a huge pile of questions to go through. I'll do the best I can with the fast-moving interchange. [I didn't get them all; the numbering isn't absolute.]

1. Since Augustine and Aquinas had so much right, why did it take so long for the Reformation to happen?

Richard Phillips said the Reformation was, in a real sense, Augustine versus Augustine. Strains of his writing very much anticipated Calvin; other strains did not. Much had to be worked out.

2. What are few of Calvin's misinterpretations and mistakes? What about Servetus?

lawson was expecting this question, and was "loaded for bear." He fired this off like a 50cal:

In 1553, the city fathers burned Servetus - Calvin did not. Calvin did not prosecute him, and had no powers of execution. Calvin wasn't even a citizen of Geneva at the time. Calvin was only an expert witness, and argued for a more humane death. The RCC had already condemned Servetus to death, and Servetus begged not to be sent back to their hands. Servetus was given the option to leave Geneva, and refused. Servetus was executed by civil authorities, not elders or pastors or teachers. The civil authorities were Calvin's enemies, not his supporters. They consulted other cities' leaders, and they agreed to put him to death. Servetus would have been executed, regardless. Servetus defiantly ignored a warning not to come to Geneva. He was the only heretic to be executed for blasphemy, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands martyred by Rome during the Inquisition.

(Lawson did not return to the first part of the question.)

3. What kind of husband was Calvin to his wife?

Phillips recommended a book Idelette, by Edna Gerstner, which is a delight. She was not at all interested in Calvin, but she was urged that he really needed a wife. Phillips says Calvin's letters of grief after Idelette dies are tender and human and touching. She married Calvin for the glory of God, was not in love with him at first. She grew to love him.

4. How should we apply all of Steve's messages about Calvin?

Minister the word of God if you're a pastor; do all you do to the glory of God, whoever you are. This universe is a theater to display the glory of God.

5. [Something about Calvin and reading Bible versus sitting under faithful preaching.]

Of course personal reading is crucial, but we've lost sight of the importance of corporate worship. Phillips made a big pitch for Sabbatarianism. Lawson made a big pitch for reading Spurgeon's sermons, said that they have instructed him on preaching.

6. If John Knox was so influential, why is he buried under a parking lot?

Lawson said it is representative of the times and spiritual condition. It is more a commentary on Scotland than on Knox.

Phillips said a great man for Christ will be greatly despised. It should not surprise us.

7. Would John Calvin fence me off from the table because I am a credo-Baptist?

Phillips said no, but the better question would be whether Calvin would be "fenced off" in Lawson's Baptist church? (He laughed.) Lawson said not only would Calvin not be fenced off, he'd be invited to serve the Lord's Supper. Phillips celebrated the reality that we are united in spite of that difference among us who affirm the doctrines of grace.

8. Is belief in the five sola's and the doctrines of grace sufficient condition to call oneself a Calvinist?

Phillips said "Reformed" will mean covenant theology; Calvinist soteriology will get one named a Calvinist. He is happy to accept people who holds sovereign-grace soteriology even if their covenant theology is weak. ACE draws the line at the sola's, he thinks that has primacy.

9. Did Calvin preach first, or serve communion first?

They didn't know. Host pastor Robert Briggs thought he preached first. Another attender referred to a liturgy that placed the Word first.

10. Did Luther criticize Calvin?

Not that Phillips or Lawson knew; quite the contrary. It was Melanchthon who headed more off towards Arminianism. Luther's sacramentalism is what messed up his soteriological presentation.

11. Do you think that Reformed theology leads to a certain style of preaching and church life - like grave versus joyous, etc.?

Lawson said theology shapes everything. Reformed ministry will be Word-centered.

I submitted three questions, but they didn't get to them. But I'm not bitter! Nope, not me.

Here are two of them:
  1. How would Calvin's approach compare to the call today to "find Christ in all of Scripture"? What I've read of his OT expositions is not particularly bee-line-to-Christ exposition. For instance, Calvin does not see Genesis 3:15 as a particular or specific prophecy of Christ. He wrote, "I interpret this simply to mean that there should always be the hostile strife between the human race and serpents, which is now apparent; for, by a secret feeling of nature, man abhors them."
  2. What distinguishes Calvin's approach to prophetic OT Scriptures from Rome's?
Dan Phillips's signature


Colin Maxwell said...

Interesting point re: Calvin and Servetus. I didn't know until recently that in 1903, a group of Calvinists erected a monument in Geneva effectively apologising for the treatment of Servetus. It certainly isn't something that you pick up in the anti Calvinist sites.



The Squirrel said...

Phillips said "Reformed" will mean covenant theology; Calvinist soteriology will get one named a Calvinist.

Ding ding ding ding - Guess I shouldn't call myself "Reformed" anymore, since I don't hold to CT.

Dan, do you think we can get "CalviDispieBaptoGelical" recognized as a formal school of theology proper?

Their take on the whole Servetus thing was, I think, a good point. Especially since so many of the critics of Calvin like to point at Servetus and say, "See! Calvin was a (insert favorite derogitory term here)!"

Thanks again for being our man-on-the-stree...er... pew!

The Squirrel

candy said...

Seeya tomorrow Dan.

Chris Brauns said...

Thanks for this. I profited from reading.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the blow-by-blow, Dan. I would've loved to have heard an answer to your question #1!

Stefan Ewing said...

Quoth Calvin:

"I interpret this simply to mean that there should always be the hostile strife between the human race and serpents, which is now apparent; for, by a secret feeling of nature, man abhors them."

Wow, he really wasn't one for allegory of any kind!

I try to use a small "r" when writing "reformed," so as not to arouse the wrath of some of the more doctrinaire among the "Truly [really, truly] Reformed."

And thanks for passing on Pastor Lawson's (?) explanation of the saga of Servetus. I didn't realize that Calvin was actually at odds with the civil authorities.

Anonymous said...

Number 5 deserves more elaboration. The question asked was which is more important, personal devotions or public preaching? Public preaching is more important (and in Reformed theology, is a means of grace!). Personal devotions are, more often than not, of low quality, and the idea of "just me and my Bible" is a dangerous one (side note: it's the Rationalism behind fundamentalism), since it easily leads into error. Public preaching, however, is done by a man of God who knows his Bible, who studies it, and can teach it to you.

A not unsurprising answer: Reformed theology places a heavy emphasis on the preached word of God over the read word of God.

Rick Phillips' point about "Reformed" versus "Calvinist" made me think of a remark from Dr. Horton last term -- being Reformed without covenant theology is like being a Roman Catholic without the Pope or like being a Lutheran without the Lord's Supper. It's at the very heart of our theology, which looks very, very different once you remove the covenantal structure.

Stefan Ewing said...

Re my last comment:

Not that I think Genesis 3:15 is merely allegorical, but y'all know what I mean.

By the way, if Knox was "the most influential Scotsman who ever lived," can we not say that Calvin was the most influential Frenchman who ever lived? And whatever happened to all those Calvinist churches in France? Truly, "a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household"!

Phil Johnson said...

Steve Lawson looks like he's doing "Carnac the Magnificent" in that one picture.

CR said...

With that picture you took with Lawson and those question cards, Lawson looked like "Carnac the Magnificent."

Interesting about Calvin and Servetus...