Foundations: No.82 Spring 2022


Test all things, hold fast what is good. (1 Thess 5:21, NKJV)

One of the roles that I hope Foundations can fulfil is to provide a forum for rigorous theological debate and interaction on areas where there will be disagreements among the broad constituency that Foundations serves. All articles must, of course, remain within the bounds of the doctrinal basis of Affinity.[1] But within that agreed perimeter this academic journal provides an outlet for discussion and refinement of views that will hopefully lead us together to that growth that we all desire “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). To that end, this issue features articles that continue past debates and present views which I find fundamentally unpersuasive. But presenting these things and facilitating further discussion can only be of benefit.

The first article in this edition looks at the meaning of the name Christian, against the background of cultural Christianity and trends in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue. Leonardo De Chirico urges us to consider first the biblical definition of Christian, and then with that in mind finds either cultural or inter-faith lenses of viewing Christianity severely wanting. Whilst cultural Christianity is retreating, there are still significant pockets of society where Christianity is thought of and defined culturally. And, more broadly, we cannot escape the fact that the public religious leaders of our age, more or less, are committed to inter-faith dialogue, with its associated emptying of the name of Christian of any real meaning. Given this, De Chirico’s call back to the biblical (and evangelical) understanding of Christian (and Christianity!) is helpful.

The second article speaks to a similar topic. How do we understand the name of God in evangelistic outreach to those of other faiths, in particular to those committed to Islam? A previous article in the Autumn 2019 edition of Foundations (with which I agree), entitled, “The Same God: Did Paul Claim the Athenians Worshipped Yahweh?” argued that we should not say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.[2] In this edition, Duncan Peters, a Free Church of Scotland minister, takes issue with this. Rev. Peters’ article is very clear in what he is not affirming:

I do not believe that anyone can be saved through Islam… People can only be saved through Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire and prayer for Muslims is that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and experience salvation through him… I do not believe that Muslim and Christian views of God are more or less the same, or that the differences are minor and unimportant… I use ‘worship’ in the sense of a human activity that is directed towards God. Not all worship is acceptable to God, as Isaiah 29:13 indicates… Indeed, as the Lord Jesus said, the only way to the Father is through him (John 14:6).

Nevertheless, Rev. Peters argues that it is important missiologically to build connections by not rejecting the “same God” language. He states, “We create an enormous barrier to communication if our starting point is, ‘You Muslims are worshipping a different god from the God we worship. We worship the true God; you are therefore worshipping an idol, or something that doesn’t exist.’” Instead, it is better to “to start with the truth Muslims already have about God and use this to build a bridge for communicating Biblical teaching about God, correcting wrong ideas, and developing and bringing to focus indistinct ideas.” Rev. Peters’ article argues this is the scriptural apologetic method. Whilst I find the arguments unpersuasive, Rev. Peters clearly speaks from within a robustly evangelical framework, and from years of practical ministry outreach to Muslims. His voice, therefore, is an important one to listen to, even if we end up disagreeing.

The third article relates to our present condition as a society. As we increasingly live in a society where traditional Christian morality, particularly relating to sexuality, is viewed not simply as outdated but harmful, one important question is, how did we get here? How did the transition in societal views occur? Was the change sudden, or is it a change that has been long in the making? One persuasive voice that has been seeking to provide answers is Professor Carl Trueman, currently of Grove City College. Dr Trueman has in print, and in lectures, outlined his understanding of how we have arrived where we have today. One important figure in Dr Trueman’s historiography is “the other Genevan”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A lecture focusing on the influence of Rousseau, delivered at Edinburgh Theological Seminary, has drawn a response from Stephen Clark, former Chairman of the Affinity Theological Study Conference and a retired pastor from Wales (now residing in sunnier climes!). Clark argues that the influence of Rousseau is overstated, that his thought is inimical to present day ideas in important respects, and that, above all, we need a more theological explanation of why society is as it is. I remain profoundly indebted to Trueman’s historical work, however, many of the points Clark makes are worthy of ongoing reflection.

The fourth article focuses on Herman Dooyerweerd and his “Christian philosophy”. With the recent revival of interest in neo-Calvinism, it is worth considering the broad spectrum of thinkers in this constituency. Steve Bishop is a sympathetic exponent of Dooyerweerd’s thought and presents well his perspectives and his idea of “Reformational philosophy”. With a renewed interest in our theological circles in reformed scholasticism and Thomism, the philosophical underpinnings of the thought of Dooyerweerd has come under criticism. It is therefore likely that many will not accept the position Bishop sets forth. Again, however, it is the role of Foundations to facilitate this kind of dialogue.

The articles in this edition conclude with a helpful exchange between Robert Letham and Stephen Clark. Professor Letham responds to a review of his Systematic Theology by Clark in an earlier edition of Foundations.[3] He focuses on the “respective priorities to be accorded to the individual and the corporate,” with Letham emphasising the corporate and Clark the individual. Letham helpfully outlines his position on theological method and the implications of that for his limited treatment of certain recent theological trends, the role of the corporate and the sacraments. Whilst, in the historical terms Letham concludes his review with, “I am more New Side than Old Side,” the emphases Letham wants to see re-accented are, I think, tremendously important. Stephen Clark replies in the spirit of an old friend, noting where he agrees, where he thinks further dialogue is required and where he still disagrees. This is exactly the kind of discussion I hope to see in Foundations!

The journal concludes with a number of important book reviews.

I trust and pray this edition will be of use to us as churches and cause us to examine the scriptures on these matters.

Dr Donald John MacLean
Editor of Foundations
Elder, Cambridge Presbyterian Church and Adjunct Professor of Historical Theology, Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Trustee, The Banner of Truth & Tyndale House, Cambridge

May 2022


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