Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Spurgeon and how to teach theology badly

The Spurgeonators over at Team Pyro have given us another cracker Spurgeon quote to be getting on with. Unfortunately, what Spurgeon criticizes here seems to be a besetting sin for some evangelical theological colleges and, in my observation, amongst some young evangelical theologians:

We remember the experiment of Daventry, under that eminently godly man, Dr. Doddridge, and we are not inclined to try the like under any circumstances. That worthy man did not dogmatize to "the dear young men" who came to his College, but adopted the plan of letting them hear the argument upon each side, that they might select for themselves. The result was as disastrous as if error had been taught, for nothing is worse than lukewarmness as to truth. Dissent became enervated with a faint-hearted liberalism, and we had a generation of Socinians, under whom Nonconformity almost expired. Both General and Particular Baptists have had enough of this evil leaven, and we are not inclined to put it again into the people's bread.

When I hear supposedly evangelical teachers quoting our theological opponents with approval and respect—men like Rowan Williams or NT Wright—I fear for their hearers and their congregations. It is a guaranteed formula for sowing confusion and for removing men's backbones in defence of the truth, and is not the way the Bible encourages us to produce fruit for the gospel.

Speaking of Spurgeon, I went to hear Mark Driscoll at the Ministry Training and Development conference at St Andrew's Cathedral yesterday. His exegesis of Acts 17 was seriously Spurgeonesque in its technique at a number of crucial points

for a somewhat contrasting view, I've posted on Acts 17 here, and here

by which I mean that the relationship between passage and conclusion seemed almost magical at times, and would take years of unlearning of Moore College exegesis lessons to be able to duplicate. Yet the conclusions at many key instances were irritatingly on the money, and stirred all of us up to de-institutionalize our thinking and get out there and speak the gospel to the non-Christian community with courage and conviction.

On balance, it was a great shot in the arm for hearers, and when I've had a bit more time to reflect, I'll post some more thoughts. There were other and good ways in which Mark Driscoll reminded me of Spurgeon, and I thank God for the way his gospel ministry has been used. It was good to hear Mark speak alongside Don Carson and Kent Hughes, and I'm looking forward to more today.


Mikey Lynch said...

thanks for all your thoughts here, Gordo. I know you know that there is the other danger of evangelicals not being able to learn from anyone who doesn't 100% agree with us, too. I take your point here, thanks.

Thanks also for getting the balance right in your reflections on Driscoll @ St A's. I felt I could hear your criticisms of his use of Acts 17 because I could also trust that you were hearing him generously and attentively. Glad it was an encouragement.

The Pook said...

Yeah like Mikey said, we need to beware of the generic fallacy. All truth is God's truth regardless of the source. I'll even quote Karl Marx if it's true. But yeah, that doesn't mean holding up heresy as a viable alternative without comment and leaving it up to consensus or personal opinion, like we might say "would you like chicken or beef?"

Spurgeon's situation was a very specific one, and easy to see he was right considering the kind of liberalism he was speaking of. The problem comes when evangelicals can't agree on where the boundaries are with regard to what is a matter of indifference upon which we may legitimately disagree and a matter than goes to the central tenets of the faith and challenges the authority of God's Word.

There is a tendency to elevate second order things to the first order, and first order things to the second order. People like Rowan Williams do the latter, treating things that are clearly against God's Word as though they were just minor squabbles over interpretation.

Lisa said...

Thought you might enjoy this http://tominthebox.blogspot.com/2008/09/anglican-communion-contemplating-infant.html

The Pook said...

Gordon, could you possibly expand in another post on Mr Driscoll's point number 12 on prophets, priests and kings? That was the part that I had the most disquiet with. It doesn't seem wise to me to use biblical categories as metaphors or analogies in ways the bible doesn't. That just causes confusion and possibly theological misunderstandings.