With his permission, I’m posting an email from Gene Bridges.
Paul Owen has now decided to write about his views on exegesis:
I just have a few observations:
Quote: Whereas an individual has every right to call into question and even reject the truth or validity of any other individual’s attempt to restate the original intent of Scripture, no individual has the right to resist and reject the Creedal or Confessional judgments of the Church to which she is subject by virtue of membership (WCF 20.4; 31.3). End Quote
A) Notice where his authority lies, not in Scripture, but in creeds and confessions. One is permitted to resist and reject a person's exegesis of Scripture but not a creed or confession. In other words, we are not to resist a fallible creed or confession (and this includes presumably the interpretation of that confession or creed our church makes of it) but we are to resist infallible Scripture by resisting a person's exegesis of it. It's true, no exegete is infallible, but that's not the point, Scripture is infallible. Dr. Owen will elsewhere get around this by simply saying that Scripture is unclear, ironically on the very issues for which he has been taken to the woodshed by his critics in recent times. Uh-huh.
B) By the way, why cite the WCF to ground his assertion now, since he's no longer a Presbyterian? The APA uses the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. If he is not free to resist or reject the creedal or confessional judgments of the church to which he is subject, wouldn't it make more sense to cite the 39 Articles, or he secretly resisting them already?
C) I underlined "membership" here because in his defense of his move to the Anglican Communion he pointed out that he has always rejected Presbyterian church government, because no member is required to affirm a particular form of church government. However, the WCF very clearly contradicts him on his views of, say, penal substitution and justification (which Steve discussed here in November), so, while he was a member of said church (PCA) he did that for which he claims no individual has the right to do by virtue of membership.
D) Why is one free to resist the exegesis of Scripture but not a creed or confession? What makes the exegesis of a creed or confession immune from exegesis and interpretation? Why is Dr. Owen free to question or reject the truth or validity of any other individual's attempt to restate the original intent of Scripture but not free to resist or reject a creed or confession? Don't creeds and confessions have an original intent? How does Dr. Owen know what those creeds and confessions mean if not from their original intent and their interpretation? Do you see the double standard here? If his standard is whatever the church to which one is subject says they say, what if tomorrow they adopt the LCBF 1689 or the WCF or a completely new confession that looks like neither one of them? Will Dr. Owen not be free resist or reject the confessional standards of his church?
E) By the way, compare this to the way he speaks of Reformed Baptists like James White. He says on the one hand that one is free to reject the exegesis of Scripture, but he says that no individual is free to resist or reject their church's confessional standards. Why then does he take issue with Reformed Baptists like James White so often, if Dr. White has no right to resist or reject the confessional standards of the church to which he belongs. By standing up for what he believes and his church teaches in its common confession, Dr. White is simply conforming to the practice that Dr. Owen commends. Shouldn't he commend Dr. White for doing this?
F) How is it that Scripture is unclear on so many issues, yet Dr. Owen knows it is clear enough to appeal to Romans 14 to say, "Nor does any individual, no matter his office in the Church, have the right to assert the original intent of Scripture, whether human or Divine, in a manner which offends the conscience of another Christian (Rom. 14:1-4)?" For that matter does this portion of Romans 14 deal with the exegesis of Scripture with respect to doctrine or something else, like dealing with practices that Scripture does not truly address, like food sacrificed to idols?
G) Are these portions of the WCF discussing freedom to resist the exegesis of Scripture and the authority of confessions and creeds or something else? How do they really relate to the WCF on Scripture?
WCF 20: On Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience
I. The liberty which Christ has purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, and condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin;from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grace, and everlasting damnations also, in their free access to God,and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind.All which were common also to believers under the law.But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected;and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace,and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.
II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.
III. They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
IV. And because the powers which God has ordained, and the liberty which Christ has purchased are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity (whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ has established in the Church, they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of the Church. and by the power of the civil magistrate.
WCF 31 Of Synods and Councils
I. For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.
II. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion;so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ, of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies.
III. It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.
IV. All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.
IV. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.
WCF 1 Of the Holy Scriptures
I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
II. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these: Of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Of the New Testament: The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul's Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians I, Corinthians II, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians I , Thessalonians II , To Timothy I , To Timothy II, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation of John. All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.
III. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.
IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word:and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them,therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come,that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner;nd, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
From the follow up article (the 2nd one in the links):
Quote: I never cease to be astounded for instance at the dogmatism with which my fellow Calvinists insist on the biblical basis of their view of providence, free will and predestination. The fact of the matter is that a whole range of positions–occasionalism, compatibilism, Thomism, Molinism, open theism–can be defended on the basis of plausible readings of the biblical text. Sophisticated exegetes and theologians have maintained all of these views: Luther and Zwingli (occasionalism), Calvin and Edwards (compatibilism), Vermigli and LaGrange (Thomism), William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Molinism), and Clark Pinnock and Robert Chisholm (open theism). These are all men who were or are conversant with the whole of Scripture, committed to biblical authority, competent in the original languages, and familiar with the tools and methods of exegesis. Such realities force us to adopt one of two paths: 1) We can declare that all who reject the view (usually based on a few selected prooftexts) held by myself and my favorite theologian show thereby that they do not love the truth; or 2) We can admit that the Bible does not directly address the specifics of such questions, so we must hold to our own view with a spirit of humility, and respect for others who view the matter differently. End quote
A) And we all know where Owen now stands on the issue of, say, justification....so it seems that on the one hand no individual has the right to resist or reject creeds or confessions of the church to which s/he is subject by virtue of membership but he does have a right to resist and reject those creedal or confessional documents for many years and abide in that church, if his name is Paul Owen until you finally give up resisting within your church and enter the Anglican Communion.
B) Are all these views held by these men actually derived from Scripture or are some of these views imposed upon Scripture from outside? It does not follow from the fact that sophisticated exegetes maintain all the views he lists and sometimes defend them from Scripture that those exegetes actually hold them based upon the exegesis of Scripture. Ask William Lane Craig where he grounds his Molinism sometime. Will he answer "Scripture" or "philosophy?" Ask, say Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell where they derive their view of libertarian free will and reject compatibilism sometime, in fact, look in their own writing in Why I am Not a Calvinist, where they tell us in their own words “…Arminians rely on contested philosophical judgments at this point.” You'd think if they actually grounded libertarianism in Scripture, they would point to the exegesis of Scripture when telling us where they ground their libertarianism.
C) If all the readings are plausible, then we have a mess in Scripture, don't we, since some of these positions exclude others in whole or in part.
D) Notice the limited alternatives. Why can't we can strive to understand exactly what Scripture does teach and eliminate those views that do not make sense of the text? You see, Dr. Owen wants it both ways. He believes that these views are all from "plausible" readings of the text and thus we can't be certain enough about the meaning of the text in order to address these issues, but he is certain (being an academician and all that) that the text is unclear and all these readings are plausible. Then, to top it all off, he writes lengthy discussions contra men like Dr. White and Dr. Svendsen trying to tell us and them exactly why their views are implausible. Uh-huh.
Quote: Christian theology includes exegesis, but is not limited to it. Articulating the doctrine of the Trinity, or an understanding of the sacraments, or a theory of justification, or a view of providence and predestination, is not simply a matter of correctly “exegeting” the biblical text. The reason is simple: The Bible does not directly address questions like: the nature of human freedom; the mechanisms whereby the divine decrees are effected on the human plane; the precise details as to how the sacraments are effectual for salvation; how one divine nature can subsist in three acting subjects without a repetition or division of substance; the nature of time and God’s precise relation to it; the logic of atonement through sacrifice; where justification fits in the ordo salutis; the relation between imputed righteousness and union with Christ. These are all questions which have arisen in the history of Christian theology, which have been brought back to the sacred text in search of answers. End Quote
A) Note the content of the list carefully and consider his views on some of these issues. He's toyed with "present" and "future" justification and penal substitution and sounded remarkably Arminian in his writing lately. How is it that he can attempt to make exegetical arguments against the logic of penal substitution, for example, by offering his own "logical" view from Scripture, if it's really true that he believes the Bible does not directly address questions relating to the logic of atonement through sacrifice and think anybody will take him seriously?
B) Perhaps, then Dr. Owen would like to inform us how, let's say Athanasius came to his conclusions if not by exegesis? What did Athanasius himself say? Did he not specifically defend the use of terms like "homoousios" by saying that they best captured the sense of Scripture? Didn't he frame his ideas from the exegesis of Scripture? Were the framers of Nicea/Constantinople reporters of "tradition" or exegetes? Are not the WCF and the 39 Articles of the Christian Religion not said to be based on the exegesis of the Scriptures themselves? On what basis does their authority lie if the very issues which they address, some of which are listed by him, are conclusions that have been derived by the framers from the exegesis of Scripture? Dr. Owen sets himself against the views of very framers of the creeds and confessions he says no individual has a right to reject or resist by virtue of membership.
C) Apparently, the good Reformed Catholic will now set himself against the views of the Reformer John Calvin. "All who mingle their own inventions with the word of God, or who advance anything that does not belong to it, must be rejected, how honourable soever may be their rank." (John Calvin, Synoptic Gospels 2:284) What was Calvin's standard Dr. Owen? Scripture or creeds and confessions?