Greg Bahnsen On James Jordan's "Interpretive Maximalism"

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Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Much has been attempted by both proponents of FV and those who are rightfully against FV to try to attach Greg Bahnsen to the FV theology. Both camps have their reasons for doing so, neither normally on the up and up.

Here is an excerpt from an interview done by "Calvinism Today" back in January of 1994 that touches on one of the undergirding principles of FV. Also in this interview is a rebuke of the "Tylerites".

CT. 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?

GLB. 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.

CT. Moving on to the church, many readers of Calvinism Today will have read various works, perhaps by James Jordan and others in the Tyler group as it is sometimes called. What do you see as being the effect of their emphasis on the sacraments and a high church theology for Reconstruction and for those who have got involved and followed in that direction?

GLB. Let me reply with a number of observations. I believe that the essence of theonomy and postmillennialism and so forth may be adopted by many people who go on in other areas to have distinctive views, in this case say a distinctive view about the liturgy of the church. It would be good if the opponents of Reconstruction would separate out those things which are essential from those things which happen to go along with certain individuals who believe those things. If it were the case that certain Calvinists came to charismatic views about the work of the Spirit in our day, it would not be fair for people therefore to criticize Calvinism or a predestinarian soteriology because they allege that charismatic views are tied in with that. It just so happens that some people who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology also hold to a view of the gifts of the spirit which is contrary to Calvin’s actually. You have to be careful here. Many times the critics of Reconstruction have not done that. I do not believe that views of worship, church government and so forth are really distinctive to what we have over the last two decades come to call “Reconstructionism.” It may be that a majority of Reconstructionists hold to this or that approach. This in itself doesn’t mean that being committed to the law of God or postmillennialism would logically commit you to a particular view of church government or liturgy. So let’s draw distinctions.

Secondly, my own opinion is that the people who have gone into what is called high church liturgical practices or a more “sacramental” theology are wrong theologically. I believe that works have been written previously, and there are people today who are willing to argue as well, that Scripture would not lead us to use vestments, would not lead us to place the sacraments in a more important role in worship than the preaching of the word of God. I do not believe that the view of church government that allows for monarchal bishops can be justified by the word of God. So I personally stand opposed to those things. I am a Presbyterian. I wouldn’t want the views of certain theonomists to come into our churches. But I would be willing to discuss that, I hope, in a gentle and firm way and appeal to Scripture and so forth. I wouldn’t want to just say “Well, you’ve got your team, and I’ve got mine” and then do cheerleading for our Presbyterian side of the Reconstructionist movement. I would like to see us discuss such things as a side issue.

Thirdly, (if I didn’t believe that these people were wrong in those points I wouldn’t be led to say this as well) we have to acknowledge that a great deal of the disruption within the Reconstructionist community has arisen from people who hold these views, who want to maintain that this is the way to go and everybody else is wrong. In a sense they have tried to ride the coat-tails of the distinctive convictions of Reconstructionism and tag church government and liturgy in with them. It’s not only that insistence which has created part of the disruption within the Reconstructionists community, but on top of that, much of what has given us a bad reputation is tied to the sacramental polemics of certain Reconstructionists. It seems to me many people are saying “I don’t want to move toward Reconstruction because I don’t like sacramentalism” and that sort of thing. At this point I would defend such Reconstructionists with my first comment, by telling people that such views are not essential to Reconstruction, so let’s discuss them in a different arena. But we do have to recognize that most people do not draw these distinctions in our day and age. So I believe those people pushing a more episcopalian form of government and a more sacramental theology are bringing disrepute to Reconstructionism.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks for this, Benjamin. I suspect that most people have a sneaking (and unfounded!) suspicion in the back of their minds that because some FV guys were theonomic at one time, that therefore theonomy supports the FV, a clear example of a genetic fallacy. Some of the most outspoken critics of the FV today are theonomy guys (witness Joe Morecraft, for instance). Of course, in Bahnsen's case, we have to deal with his own son's claim that Greg Bahnsen would have supported FV theology. It is very clear from this quote that Bahnsen would never have done so.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Very interesting, Ben! It's encouraging to see Bahnsen's repudiation of Jordan's interpretative methods. This is a very incisive remark:

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.
 
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