Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, September 23, 2013

My foray into the world of scholars--The 2013 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

The subject up for consideration at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, that I attended last week, is "Has Cessationism Ceased? (or Do the Sign Gifts Continue?)."  I say "is," because the discussion is still ongoing.  In spite of the impression my rather cavalier decision making process (see last post) that led to my attendance at this event might have given the reader, the subject is one in which I am interested.  In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say for the record that I consider myself a cessationist.  To those of you who immediately have a negative reaction to that, I issue an invitation to stay tuned.  Here are two reasons for hanging in there with me:  I've been convinced for some time that cessationsits are a misunderstood breed.  Listening to my scholarly brethren, who read their papers at the conference, confirmed that.  Furthermore, as is often the case, many of the ideas put forth in the meetings are of value beyond the realm of the cessationist - continuation discussion.  Bottom line, these are people who think the Bible really has something to say.  They have devoted their lives to understanding what the Bible says, and helping others to do so.  That ain't bad.

You can look at the schedule to see who is involved in this current project.  As I mentioned in the last post, I know a couple of these men.  Rodney Decker and I together attended Baptist Bible College, and Osterhout Bible Church, where his dad was my pastor.  Bill Arp taught a class I took at BBC.  Mark Soto is a graduate of Appalachian Bible College, as am I; he and I took a couple of classes together at Liberty Seminary.  A couple of the institutions these men represent have influenced my life.  I spent two years at Baptist Bible College.  Though I didn't attend Dallas Theological Seminary, graduates of the school, 
through books they have written, classes they have taught, and movements they have championed, have had a major impact on me, .  Generically these guys take a high view of scripture.  In the sane sense of the word, they are Fundamentalists.  (For example King James Only-ism came up in discussion.  It didn't get a good press.)  They are Dispensationalists.  At least some of them describe themselves as "Classic Dispensationalists."   It is a narrow--I don't mean to say narrow-minded--group.  The names and topics that brought "cheers" and "jeers" (Offered in a gentlemanly sort of way) revealed the pedigree of the group.  As to the level of scholarship of the participants, I will refer you to my friend, Dr. Decker's credentials, here, & here.  

As I understand it, the procedure at the CDH meeting is similar to other scholarly gatherings.  Official delegates write papers.  (I got the idea that some of the topics were more or less assigned, at least the writer was urged to write on a particular aspect of the subject at hand.  It was obvious from the response of the rest of the council that some of the papers were rather a surprise.  At least one of the papers was one that had been written some time ago, but which was judged to be germane to the topic at hand.)  The author of a paper would "read" his paper at the assigned time.  There was a thirty minute time limit.  One of the papers was near a hundred pages, so the reading consisted mainly of the introduction and conclusion.  Most of the readers read a truncated version of their paper.  At least one choose to talk through his paper rather than read it.  The full text of all the papers was made available to all the council, and even to "observers" like me.  As is true about readers of bedtime stories, some readers were better than others.  If there is a revival of Ferris Beuller some of the presenters might be able to supplement their income.  Some, however, presented their papers in a very effective manner.

At the conclusion of the reading (in some cases readings were grouped together because they dealt with similar topics) there was time for questions and comments.  As is appropriate, council members were given priority.  The plan is for the presenters to consider the input of the council, as they prepare their papers for final publication on the council's website.   (Papers from past councils are posted on the site.)  This process is to be completed in thirty days.  I was surprised that the question and comment time was not more vigorous and cut-throat.  Maybe the heavy-duty criticism takes place behind the scenes.

Listening to, or reading, any one of the papers is a bit like looking at a part of an automobile.  Unless you are a real aficionado you probably don't have much interest in examining a transmission or a fuel-injection array.  You just want to get behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle.  These papers mostly correspond to components.  They have to be assembled before they have much practical value.  Since I am interested in the overall system--both Dispensationalism, and Cessationism--and I regard sound Bible interpretation as absolutely essential, I was interested in most of the papers.  I look forward to reading the revised version of several of them.

Before I exceed the thirty minute time limit, I need to bring this post to a close.   I am planning to share a couple more posts about the Council.  I hope to comment on:

  • I was looking for consensus on some broad themes.  At least in part, I observed that.
  • While there is no official doctrinal statement that one needs to sign in order to call one's self a "Cessationist," I am assuming at this point that this group is representative of the position, or maybe I should say they "represent the thinking wing of those who self-identify as believing that certain of the New Testament gifts were temporary in nature."  It is important to hear what they did not say.  In some cases they didn't say it rather loudly.
  • A couple of the papers clearly have implications beyond the discussion related to the continuation of sign-gifts.
Stay tuned.

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