Archive for May, 2008

What Happens when we get our Doctrine of Scripture Wrong?

May 26, 2008

Echoes from Scotland\If you want to know then just look at the history of the Free Church of Scotland.  In a recent book Echoes From Scotland’s Heritage of Grace (Stoke-on Trent: Tentmaker, 2006) Hugh Ferrier outlines what happened when the Free Church abandoned its high view of Scripture.  The scene is set as follows:

“The post disruption [1843] years reveal the glories of the Free Church of Scotland’s past, and what a glorious past it was.  Of that period it can be said, ‘Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land’ (Songs 2:11.)  Today the situation is different and in the prophet’s words our lament is, ‘Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste’ (Is. 64:11).  We ask, what went wrong?  What caused the decline in the Free Church to diminish it in size and influence to what it is today?  The following pages will attempt an answer.” (p127).

One of the answers that Mr Ferrier provides, under the overall banner of abandoning Confessionalism, is the Free Church of Scotland’s capitulation to “Higher Criticism”.  This Higher Criticism was largely brought into the Free Church by Professor A.B. Davidson.  Davidson never held a pastoral charge, going straight from his own studies to teach others.  In the words of Ferrier, Davidson was “a talented and erudite man and an outstanding teacher of Hebrew” (p165).  No doubt because of his immense talents, “Professor Davidson exercised a unique influence upon the students who came under the spell of his genius” (p166).  As an aside it is worth noting that little weight should be placed in students’ assessments of their teachers’ doctrinal and theological abilities.  Very few students (I speak as one!) have the time, or to be frank the critical abilities, to truly judge the scholarship of their teachers.  By and large we study to learn, not to judge our teachers.  When students start accusing their Professors of ignorance and correcting them in their own fields it is time to pause, reflect and, having done this, stop.

A case in point – were these students correct in their assessment of Davidson?  Not in the opinion of Ferrier, who notes, “But that was the tragedy: for he passed on to his eager scholars the findings of Higher Criticism which were to have disastrous consequences and reap in the Church a bitter harvest” (p166).  One of these eager scholars was William Robertson Smith.  He was, in the words of Ferrier, “an outstanding student” who showed himself to be “brilliant in a marked degree” (p167).  Soon he himself was a Professor.

But what did Smith make of his Professorship?  Well, he outlined the course he would take in his inaugural lecture (1870): “We must let the Bible speak for itself.  Our notions of its origin, the purpose, the character of the Scripture books must be drawn, not from vain traditions, but from a historical study of the books themselves.  This process can be dangerous to faith only when it is begun without faith – when we forget that the Bible history is no profane history, but the story of God’s saving manifestation” (p167).  At first there might not seem much to alarm in this.  After all, who would not want to have their doctrine of Scripture shaped by Scripture?  But alarm bells ring when “vain traditions” are spoken of – is that confessional document he just pledged his allegiance to the “vain tradition” he is referring to?  And what does he mean by historical study?  Are the Scriptures not self-authenticating?  And are their teachings on inspiration not perspicuous?

Subsequent developments made the answers to these questions clear.  We know that Smith embraced all the radical conclusions of “Higher Criticism”, but at this early stage “he tried to reconcile his advanced views with orthodox belief and, to begin with, he genuinely believed that his Higher Critical views were not in conflict with the Westminster Confession” (p167).  Ah, Smith believed his views were confessional.  I’m stunned, er, or not.  How many in church history have volunteered that they were out of accord with the doctrinal standards of the day and resigned from their positions accordingly?  I could probably count them on the fingers of one foot (yes, that is intentional).

Robertson Smith made his views clearer in an article on “The Bible” in the Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed).  This article evidenced his “Higher Criticism” as, among other things, he opined that Deuteronomy was a “pious fraud” i.e. in no sense from the time of Moses.  Putting these opinions “out in the open” caused a bit of a storm – thankfully!  Two of his former Professors wrote to him.  One was A.B. Davidson, mentioned above.  He essentially urged Smith to pour oil on troubled waters – “I believe that all that is needful to allay the uneasiness that prevails is that you should in some suitable way say so much.  It would be a great gain to be able to devote ourselves to quiet study, without fearing the rising of a tempest which might rage for a lifetime” (p168).  I respect Smith’s openness more than I do Davidson’s counsel.

The other Professor who wrote was the outstanding Biblical theologian and Professor of New Testament Exegesis – George Smeaton.  His counsel was of an altogether different sort.  He urged Smith to “pause, to take counsel with your father and your seniors before committing yourself to positions from which you will find it every day more difficult to recede … I wish I could do something to rescue a gifted young mind and save it for the future usefulness which we all fondly anticipated.”  Moving on to Smith’s actual views Smeaton labeled them “without any basis of solid historical fact,” “mere conjecture,” “petty internal criticism leaping to arbitrary conclusions,” “castle building in the clouds.”  Smeaton concluded by arguing, “We, as professors, are not appointed by the Church to teach what tends to shake the faith of any, or to advocate a criticism which is not legitimate” (p169). 

In the end, Robertson Smith followed neither course of advice and continued to air his views publicly, without any noticeable change except advancement.  Smith was examined by his University which believed there was not sufficient evidence for a heresy trial although “the article does not adequately indicate that the Professor holds the doctrine of Divine Inspiration of the book whose history he investigates and describes.”  I’m sure this was the old defense – you know the article (or book) I wrote was presenting one side of the coin (humanity) and you know that the other was presupposed (divinity) although not explicitly affirmed, etc.

The position of Smith was not left to lie there and a charge against him eventually reached the General Assembly.  Amongst the specific charges were: “The Sacred writers took freedoms and committed errors like other authors.  They gave explanations that were unnecessary and incorrect, they put fictitious speeches into the mouths of their historical characters … they wrote under the influence of party spirit and for party purposes,” “Certain books of Scripture are of the nature of fiction [myth?],” “The New Testament citations of Old Testament books by the titles then current cannot be regarded as conclusive testimony as to their actual authorship” (p171).  These charges were refined and eventually Smith was cleared by a majority of seven votes – an indication of how the spiritual state of the Free Church had declined between 1845 and 1880 rather than an indication of Smith’s soundness.

No doubt part of the reason Smith was acquitted was his willingness to admit “he was greatly to blame for statements which had proved so incomplete that, at the end of three years, the opinion of the house had been  so divided upon them” (p172).  So, you know, he could have been clearer at points and that led to misunderstanding, since once he was understood there would be no trouble … but actually he was about to be clearer and that was going to lead to trouble!  No sooner was the 1880 Assembly over but there was another article by Smith in the Encyclopedia Britannica on “Hebrew Language and Literature”.  This was more forthright than his original article and got him before the 1881 Assembly where he was dismissed from his Professorial chair but remained a minister in good standing – an unsatisfactory state of affairs.  Life was not hard for the newly redundant Smith as he was soon filling the Chair of Arabic at Cambridge University.

Had this act of the Assembly rescued the Free Church of Scotland from low views of Scripture?  No.  It was too little too late.  Ferrier notes, “Robertson Smith’s views affected deeply the position of the Scottish Church in regard to Reformed Evangelical orthodoxy … ‘The man was got out of the way, but the opinions of which he was the advocate remained.  The leaven of Higher Criticism had not been purged out.  It was allowed to work, and it did work, till it leavened well nigh the whole lump'”  (p173).  Ferrier observes: “Robertson Smith’s case was only a symptom of the rot that had begun in the Free Church.  If the Church was to be unified and purified then others should have been disciplined too, such as his teacher Professor Davidson, and with him many of the younger men … the Free Church was now like a ‘place invaded by architects and builders who were partly demolishing it, wholly rearranging it and making it seem new and strange in every room'” (p174).

One of these architects was Marcus Dods.  He described the doctrine of verbal inspiration as a “theory of inspiration which has made the Bible an offence to many honest men, which is dishonouring to God, and which has turned inquirers into sceptics by the thousand” (p176).  Surprise, surprise, Dods still thought himself in line with the Westminster Confession: “I hold with the Confession, that all the writings of the Old and New Testaments are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life … But I do not hold that inspiration guarantees Scripture from inaccuracy in all its particular statements: neither do I find that the Confession either expresses or implies any such idea of inspiration” (p176).  So he agrees with the Confession – as long as he gets to define its meaning.  This kind of profession of agreement with the Confession is meaningless.  As an aside, his comments on what the WCoF’s doctrine of Scripture is can safely be classified as nonsense.

The Free Church in 1900 merged with another denomination apart from a small minority who opposed Higher Criticism  and other departures from the Westminster Confession.  This meant the Free Church had in just over 50 years gone from being a third of the Church of Scotland to a handful of ministers.  Meanwhile, a few years down the line, the United Free Church merged again and the congregations which embraced Robertson Smith’s views are now largely empty and lifeless.

Once again in evangelical churches it appears the doctrine of Scripture is being debated.  Let us learn from how things worked out in the 19th century:

  1. As has been observed elsewhere, if “the price of peace is eternal vigilance” then the price of doctrinal soundness is the same.
  2. Procrastination over church discipline can be disastrous.  Robertson Smith had been teaching students for the ministry his views on Scripture for 11 years by the time he was removed from his post.  Is it any wonder the rising generation of Free Church ministers had defective views of Scripture?  Any action taken after that length of time was bound to be too little too late.
  3. Disciplining one man is rarely, if ever, enough.  If that one man is worthy of discipline, then those who share similar views cannot be exempt from a similar process.  There is little point pulling out the weed if the roots are left to grow another plant.

The final word goes to Mr Ferrier:

“What we learn from this sad episode in Free Church history is that any undermining of the authority and veracity of God’s Word can only lead to spiritual barrenness and sinful unbelief” (p179).

As an aside, Mr Ferrier’s book is well worth purchasing.  It is not a scholarly volume – more of personal reminiscences of a life spent reading Scottish church history – but well worth a read.  It can be purchased here:

http://tentmaker.org.uk/content/?page_id=54&category=5&id=184

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An erring conscience?

May 24, 2008

One of Durham’s works that has not been republished is Heaven Upon Earth (Edinburgh: Andrew Anderson, 1685).  I guess this is understandable given the greater significance of his other works, but it would be good to see this collection of his sermons back in print one day.  In this work Durham gives a couple of interesting ‘signs’ that someones conscience is erring.  They are as follows.

… a deluded Conscience can never abide, or endure to be contradicted, or put to a trial, if any man shall say to such a person that he or she is deluded, they will be ready to hate him; thus it was with the Galatians to whom the Apostle is constrained to say, cap. 4. v 16. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They will readily cast out their greatest and best friends, and with the they were wont to love the most, when they gainsay them in their delusions, as Paul sayeth in the forecited place, I bear you record, that if it had been possible you would once have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me, am I now become your enemy because I tell you the truth? It’s an evil token, when a man now hateth another whom he loved before, and on no other ground, and for no other reason, but because he contradicteth him, in that particular wherein he is mistaken.
p61

How we take, or react to correction shows much about our spiritual state.  If we recognise that the wounds of a friend are faithful, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful then correction will be something we accept and value.  But if we are puffed up with pride then we will turn on those who seek to correct us to our own hurt.

… a deluded conscience … is much more concerned, and zealous in small and minute things than in those of far greater moment … [a deluded conscience] straineth at a gnat and swalloweth a camel; and is not so much taken up with the whole of Religion, as he is with that particular thing in which he is deluded. He hath more love unto, and sympathy with these that are of his judgement in that particular, that with all the rest of the Lord’s people that are sound and right…
p61

Where our priorities lie can also show much about or spiritual state.  There is a great danger of devoting too much time to things of less importance – we all have “hobby horses” but we should not spend all day every day riding them.  It is the main thing which should hold most of our spiritual attention – justification, scripture etc.  Durham makes the same point elsewhere:

We are afraid there is a fault among Christians, that most plain and substantial truths are not so heeded, but some things that may further folk in their light, or tickle their affections, or answer a case, are almost only sought after. Which things (it is true) are good; but if the plain and substantial truths of the gospel were more studied, and made use of, they have in them that which would answer all cases. It is a sore matter when folks are more taken up with notions and speculations, than with these soul saving truths, as, that Christ was born, that he was a true man, that he was, and is King, Priest, and Prophet of his church, etc, and that other things are heard with greediness.
p75

To be “mostly in the main things” is a noble aim.

Pride: “it spreadeth, marreth, and corrupteth all”

May 17, 2008

One of the greatest dangers of the Christian life, according to James Durham (and Scripture!), is pride.  One of his exhortations on the danger of pride particularly struck home with me:

What an evil thing pride is, especially when it entereth among Churchmen: Oh how evil a thing it is! it is the inlet of all confusion, it openeth a door to it and every evil work, and hath a special hand in overturning whatsoever is beautiful in a Church, James 3.14, 16 … The more eminent folks be in place or power, they are sooner kindled with the fire of pride; the higher men’s places be, they are the readier to grow proud … men of gifts sooner than others, they have fuel to the fire that others do want … they being eminently and highly planted, pride hath the more matter to work upon … it is a rare thing to be eminent and humble; to be great and in prosperity, and yet to be lowly: prosperity and gifts are a snare to many … Pride is especially incident to Church-men … It is a great plague and judgement, and bringeth great hurt to the Church: when this fire of pride and contention entereth and kindleth among the Officers of the Church it spreadeth, marreth, and corrupteth all … This should make us all respect unity and peace in the Church, and watch against pride and contention that marreth it.
A Commentary on Revelation, (rept. Old Paths, 2000), 544-5.

What is particularly significant in the above is Durham’s emphasis on the damage pride does, not only to individuals but also to the body of believers.  Where pride comes in “whatsoever is beautiful in a Church” is overturned and contention and disunity follow.  Durham himself had personal experience of this.  He lived to see the Church in Scotland tear itself apart in the Protester/Resolutioner controversy with men of the calibre of Samuel Rutherford and David Dickson alienated from one another.  This was a cause of immense grief to Durham, so much so that his dying hours were spent dictating a final plea for unity “The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland or, A treatise Concerning Scandal”.  From the above I think we can be sure Durham saw pride was at the root of the division.

Pride is a horrible thing, it has destroyed individual Christian testimonies, congregations and denominations.  It is surely the duty of every Christian to do everything in their power, looking to him who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, to put it to death in their hearts and esteem themselves “less than the least of all saints”.

Fairbairn on the Free Offer (He’s good here too!)

May 10, 2008

Patrick Fairbairn was probably the best exegete the Free Church of Scotland produced.  Sinclair Ferguson says that he “was one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of brilliant biblical theologians in nineteenth century Scotland.”  His works on The Interpretation of Prophecy, The Typology of Scripture, The Revelation of Law in Scripture and Opening Scripture: A Hermeneutical Manual Introducing the Exegetical Study of the New Testament are magisterial treatments of the subjects covered from a reformed perspective.  In addition to these works the application of Fairbairn’s exegetical principles can be see in his works on Ezekiel, The Pastoral Epistles and Jonah.  He also wrote a work on Pastoral Theology.

I might post some time on Fairbarin’s painstaking work on how the NT writers quoted the OT.  Roger Nicole comments “It is high time that in the midst of controversies in which all kinds of accusations are leveled against the use of the Old Testament by New Testament authors that the painstaking work of Patrick Fairbairn and his monumental scholarship be once again taken into consideration.  I am sure that those who read his volumes will find themselves amply rewarded.” (Standing Forth: Collected Writings of Roger Nicole, Mentor, 2002, 87).  Sadly, it is evident that Nicole’s plea has not been headed.

However, this week I’m posting on his views on the free offer as his works on the Pastoral Epistles and Ezekiel touch on two verses related to the free offer debate:

[God] who wills/desires all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
1 Tim 2:4

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
Ezek 18:23 & 33:11

Fairbairn understands these verses to speak of the desire of God for the salvation of all who hear the gospel.  On 1 Tim 2:4 Fairbairn comments, “And the whole character of the Gospel of Christ, with its universal Call to repent, its indiscriminate offers of pardon to the penitent, and urgent entreaties to lay hold of the hope set before them, is framed on the very purpose to give expression to that will;[1] for, surely, in pressing such things on men’s acceptance, yea, and holding them disobedient to His holy will, and liable to aggravated condemnation, if they should refuse to accept, God cannot intend to mock them with a mere show and appearance of some great reality being brought near to them.  No; there is the manifestation of a benevolent desire that they should not die in sin, but should come to inherit salvation (as at Ezek. xxxiii. 11) … This, necessarily, is implied; and it is the part of the church … to give practical effect to this message of goodwill from Heaven to men, and to do it in the spirit of tenderness and affection which itself breathes.” (The Pastoral Epistles, 114). 

[1] Fairbairn defines will here as revealed will i.e. not with any “implied purpose or intent”.

Now Fairbairn is aware that given God elects some to salvation and not others, and that God does not even send the gospel to some “grave questions are ready to arise as to whether  … God can be sincere in seeking through His church the salvation of all.”  In framing a response to this he notes that these things touch on “the deep things of God” and that “it is impossible for us, with the materials we now posses, to answer satisfactorily to the speculative reason.”  However, “Knowing who and what He is with whom in such things we have to do, we should rest assured that His procedure will be in truth and uprightness; and the mysteries which meanwhile appear to hang around it will be solved … when the proper time for doing so shall have arrived.” (Ibid, 115).  As I read him, he goes on to limit “all” in v6 to be speaking of “not the preserved of Israel alone, nor a few scattered members besides of other nations, but also the fullness of the Gentiles” (Ibid, 117) i.e. all refers to Jews + Gentiles not Jews only.

Given his reference to Ezekiel 33:11 above Fairbairn’s understanding of this text is clear but I’ll quote it for completeness: “You [unbelieving Israel] think of me as if I were a heartless being, indifferent to the calamities that befall my children [outward covenant people], and even delighting to inflict chastisement on them for sins they have not committed.  So far from this, I have no pleasure in the destruction of those who by their own transgressions have deserved it, but would rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Thus he presents himself as a God of holy love, – love yearning over the lost condition of wayward children, and earnestly desiring their return to peace and safety…” (Ezekiel, 207).

In these extracts Fairbairn is simply expressing standard Free Church of Scotland doctrine.  [I hope Fairbairn’s misguided (in my view) support for Moody & Sanky and union with the United Presbyterians will not devalue what he has to say on this subject.]

Now in offering Fairbairn’s understanding of 1 Tim 2:4 I am not asserting that it is the only viable reformed view of that text (or even necessarilly mine).  Whilst Charles Hodge and many others take the same view as Fairbairn, a large group who have held firmly to the free offer have understood “all men” in this text as limited in application to the elect.  There is no “consent of the Reformed fathers” on how texts like 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 and John 3:16 are to be understood. (Although there probably is on Ezek 18:32!)  Exegesis of these text as relates to the meaning of “world” or “all” is not a case of “reformed” or “not reformed” but, rather, is a debate between confessional reformed believers who all affirm the well meant offer.

How much accommodation is too much?

May 2, 2008

In certain evangelical (and now Reformed) circles there has been a sea change in the way Scripture is viewed.  No longer do stout defences of plenary verbal inspiration and inerrancy run off the presses.  Instead we are confronted with “the messiness of the Old Testament”, “the synoptic problem” and the need to “advance beyond the old liberal/orthodox impasse” etc.  In other words, the new doctrine of Scripture allows for the Bible to be shot through with historical errors and for certain portions to be “myth”.  Ultimately where this takes us is that, for example, the account of creation in Genesis has as much relevance to actual events asThe Silmarillion

This, you would think, would be an uncomfortable position to be in.  Apparently not.  For Scripture is still “the Word of God” and all this historical inaccuracy and “myth” is ok because that is how God wanted Scripture to be.  And, actually, Reformed doctrine has always pointed in this direction by speaking of the “accommodated” nature of revelation.  In Scripture, then, God has accommodated himself to man by revealing himself in ways that are “messy” i.e. incorporating human myths in the Bible.  To speak of errors in the Bible and myths is therefore standard Reformed doctrine – it is simply applying the doctrine of accommodated revelation faithfully.

The trouble for this new view is that Reformed theologians have reflected on the “accommodated” nature of revelation and defined tightly what this means and what it does not mean.  A classic example is the outstanding Scottish Biblical theologian Patrick Fairbairn (1805-74).  Fairbairn has a chapter in his Opening Scripture: A Hermeneutical Manual Introducing the Exegetical Study of the New Testament (Rept. Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005) entitled “Of False and True Accommodation; or the Influence that should be allowed to Prevailing Modes of Thought in fashioning the views and utterances of the Sacred Writers”.  I’d like to offer some reflections on his chapter to highlight how Reformed theology has understood the “accommodation” of Scripture.

A history lesson

Fairbairn begins by defining what he is seeking to discuss “In what relations did the sacred writers stand to the spirit of their age – to its prevailing modes of thought and popular beliefs.  Were they in any material respect modified by these?  Or did they pursue an altogether independent course – never bending in aught under the prevailing current, if this at all deviated from the exact and natural line of things?  Or, if they did to some extent accommodate themselves to this, how far might we expect accommodation to go?” (89).

Following from this we get a history lesson.  It is always encouraging to see exegetical theologians who are historically self aware.  Fairbairn discusses briefly the views of the early Church on “accommodation” before noting “It was reserved for modern times to apply the principle of accommodation to the teachings of Scripture in a full and proper sense, and to represent Christ himself and the apostles as pandering to mistaken views and narrow prejudices of their time.” (90).  Fairbairn highlights Wetstein’s work on New Testament interpretation (1724) as articulating a full doctrine of accommodation in arguing that the authors of Scripture should be read “as not always expressing their own opinion … but occasionally also expressing themselves according to the sentiment of others, or the sometimes ambiguous, sometimes erroneous, opinions of the multitude.” (90-1).  Thus some portions of Scripture are simply speaking ex vulgari opinione and not divine truth.  Fairbairn traces the historical outworking of this view of accommodation: “The door was thus fairly open for exegetical licence… By degrees everything was reduced to a subjective standard; and if in anything an interpreter found statements recorded, or doctrines taught, which did not accord with his notions of the truth of things, the explanation was at hand, that such things had found a place in Scripture merely on a principle of accommodation; the people were capable of appreciating nothing higher, or the writers themselves as yet understood no better.  And so … the proper teaching of the Gospel came to be reduced to the scanty form of a Sadducean creed.  The doctrines of the Trinity, of the Divine Sonship of Messiah, of the atonement, of the personality of the Spirit, of a corporeal resurrection and a final judgement, have all been swept away … as merely a mode of speech suited to the time of its appearance.” (91-2).

Steady on I wouldn’t go that far

Fairbairn then moves from what had been historically “the practical result of the accommodation theory” to consider those who stop short of totally evacuating revelation of any meaning.  So, for example, those who apply accommodation to “historical” and “chronological” errors in the Bible and also to “exegetical errors, or false interpretations of several passages of the Old Testament, which were erroneously supposed to contain what the words did not really indicate” which could be explained away by the New Testament authors accommodating themselves to a “Rabbinical style” (92-3).  Fairbairn rejects even this truncated view of accommodation, arguing “We hold it, therefore, to be contrary to any right views of the mission of Christ and his apostles, to suppose, that they in such a sense accommodated themselves to the modes of thought and contemplation around them, as to admit error into their instructions – whether in respect to the interpretation of Scripture, or in respect to forms of opinion and articles of belief.” (94).

But there is some room for accommodation

While rejecting any accommodation with respect to the “matter” of Scripture, Fairbairn is content to allow us to speak of accommodation as regards the “form” of Scripture.  Fairbairn defines this kind of accommodation as “falling in with prevalent modes of thought or forms of conception, so as, not to lend countenance to error, but to serve for the better apprehension of the truth.”

One example of this kind of accommodation is speaking of God having eyes and hands.  Such forms of speech are fitted to teach us truth but are accommodated to our weakness rather than expressive of a literal reality. (95-7).  Another example of accommodation is the expression and modes of speech Scripture uses which may not appear at first sight compatible with our usage.  Fairbairn gives an example of this in the genealogies where “X begot Y” does not necessarily indicate a father son relationship.  He also applies this principle to Stephen’s statements in Acts 7:15-6.  Realising that certain forms of expression were incorporated into Scripture in a manner consistent with their historical usage at the time can help us understand passages which might at first sight appear contradictory to us today.

But we must be careful for it is “to be borne in mind … that the accommodation has respect merely to the form and manner in which statements are made, not to the substance of the truth therein communicated; – its whole object is to render the truth mode distinctly comprehensible, or to give it greater force and prominence to the mind.” (102).

Summary

Accommodation in Reformed theology relates to the “form” of revelation only and not the “content”.  The “problems” and “messiness” of Scripture have themselves long ago received adequate answers e.g. many of the points that modern Evangelicals bring up as “problems” in the Bible receive discussion in Matthew Poole’s 17th C commentary on the Bible.  What is called for is a robust articulation of the old doctrine of infallibility and inerrency in modern and accessible ways and not recasting of old doctrine.