Friday, April 2, 2010

Greg L. Bahnsen versus James Jordan and the Federal Vision

There are those who speculate that Greg L. Bahnsen would have been part of the Federal Vision had he been alive today.

However, while the Federal Vision wasn't an official movement while Bahnsen was alive, Bahnsen did openly oppose the Federal Vision in its premlimary stages.  This can be seen in an interview Bahnsen had with "Calvinism Today" in October 1993, not too long before his death in 1995.

Here Bahnsen expresses serious concern with the logical outcome of  James Jordan's method of interpreting the Bible.  (Jordan is viewed by some as the godfather of the Federal Vision.)

A couple consequences Bahnsen warns about regarding Jordan's interpretative scheme is sacramentalism and unbiblical forms of worship, which have in fact become foundational heresies of the Federal Vision.[1]

Here are some interview excerpts:
Calvinism Today: "One of the proponents of this sacramental theology has been James Jordan.  At the same time he’s developed a method of interpreting the Bible or hermeneutics which I know you’re not happy with.  Is there a connection between the two?" 
Greg L. Bahnsen: First of all, let me remind everybody that James Jordan has publicly said he is not a Reconstructionist any longer.  I’m glad he has done that because it saves us a lot of time in having to tell people his views are not Reconstructionist convictions.  Jordan has been good and honest enough to confess that, – that he is not within the circle of Reconstructionism.
Secondly, you’re right that I believe the “interpretive maximalism” that he promotes – to the degree you can get any clear sense from him as to what that objectively entails – is extremely dangerous.  I believe that it is one of the most dangerous things in the theological world today that might entice otherwise evangelical and Reformed people.  Obviously, denying the deity of Christ and the virgin birth are much worse.

But of those things that evangelicals might look at and be drawn aside by, this is one of the most dangerous things available.  My academic specialty is philosophy, and particularly methodology – epistemology: the theory of knowledge, logic and so forth.  One must always be concerned when a certain method is so ambiguous as to allow for conflicting conclusions or arbitrary conclusions to be drawn from it.
I have maintained for quite a long time that Jordan’s approach to the Bible is a matter of rhetorical and creative flourish on his part and does not reduce to principles of interpretation which are public or objective and predictable, and for that reason you can go just about anywhere once you try to interpret the Bible in the manner observed in his publications.  It’s just a matter of whose creativity you are going to follow this week.  That really concerns me as a theologian.
And then thirdly, to get to the answer to your question, once you have a method of biblical interpretation which, as long as you’re creative enough, permits you to go just about anywhere you wish, then yes I do think that his interpretive maximalism is tied to his rather bizarre views that have been tagged “sacramental” and “high church and so forth.
Calvinism Today, Vol. IV:1 (January 1994).  Cited in Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938.  [Disclaimer: Ironically, Covenant Media today promotes the Federal Vision heresy, although Bahnsen himself would have rejected it.]

Later in the interview, Bahnsen goes on to say: 

"Moreover, evangelicals (if I can generalize) have a very poor hermeneutic.  A moment ago I was criticizing someone who was once a Reconstructionist and who has gone off (I think) the deep end hermeneutically."


[1] On Jordan's method of interpretation, Brian Schwertley observes, 
"James Jordan and his followers have a historical pattern of finding some grandiose, overarching principle from a very creative-speculative interpretation of Scripture and then using that principle as a springboard for new ways of defining worship and theology."
Brian Schwertley, A Refutation of the Auburn Avenue Theology's Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone (Haslett, MI: Brian Schwertley, 2004).

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