Richard Pratt on Acts and Reformed Theology at FoWS conferene 2012


These are my patchy notes from the first of Richard Pratt’s lectures at the Fellowship of Word and Spirit Conference 2012.These notes may not reflect exactly what was said but how I heard it and write it down.

Acts and Reformed Theology

Acts as an explanation of the distruption which existed in the early church and her suffering.
How may we look at the book of Acts from a Reformed point of view? Expand our horizons to the point of challenging things we have been taught!
Systematic theology

Biblical theology

Literary/Rhetorical theology

How have theologians looked at the book of Acts? What do we do with the book of Acts? We look at the book through the systematic lens of Reformed theology – sovereignty of God and paedobaptism e.g. 2:23 God’s set purpose, 13:48 appointed to eternal life, 17:26 set for them the exact places where they should live, 2:39 all the Lord will call, 2:39 promise for you and your children 16:33 he and his family were baptized.
We all have our favourite themes in the book of Acts.

Systematic theology needs the gad-fly of biblical theology to keep it active, or else it becomes petrified and dies.

Biblical theology and the Book of Acts
Recent emphases on redemptive history (Historia Salutis)
Looks at biblical narratives through the window of the history of God’s salvific acts. Redemptive background to Christian living, giving a background to what has happened, but against exemplary purposes. E.g. David and Goliath is about how God saved Israel then, but no more. And so we don’t address our needs and issues today from the passage, rather than challenging people to live for Christ the true Messiah, deal with Goliaths the way that David did, he is our role model as Israel’s Messiah.

Biblical theology of Acts – focus on redemptive history in Acts rather than, also, the ways in which the works of the Holy Spirit were a one-off historical event rather than exemplary. Common goods, miracles, pattern of the word of God spreading, speaking in tongues. Facile teaching of the original meaning will always lead to misapplication in the modern setting. We are different to them and we are in a different setting. Jerusalem is the geographical centre of the universe.

Good things about biblical theology – enlargement of eschatological historia salutis. The church calender is a good thing because the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are all marked in the rhythm of the year. Reformed churches do not enjoy this pattern of the liturgical year. And, the apostolic ministry is celebrated as Paul reaches Rome, taking the gospel to the Gentiles.

The drawback is that biblical theology distances us from the events in an unhelpful way because it has no relevance for us today.

Acts is written for the purpose of teaching people, in the light of what happened then, which is more than “isn’t it good that God did these things.” Redemptive history and other themes are written for communicative impact on people. This is explicit in Luke-Acts as Luke writes to Theophilus.

History is always written to have an impact. Biblical history is both inerrant and powerful. Luke records narrative events with the intention of impacting the church.

WCF 5.2 – sovereignty of God and human reactions, necessary, free and contingent. Humans are not like rocks. Rocks will only move when acted upon by an outside force. Humans can act because the have to, necessarily, they can act because they don’t think about the outcome, freely, or contingently, in response to threat or outside agent. If you do this then I will respond like this. The prophecies of God are given so that humans can react contingently.

Prophecy is not condemnation and promises, but are threats and offers. Promises are immutable. An offer is subject to contingency. e.g. Jonah to Nineveh, Joel 2:14, 2 Sam 12:22

surprising inauguration – the Jews did not all get gathered in, because of their contingent reaction to the work of Christ, so Paul and Luke go to the Gentile, and thousands and thousands of historical contingencies lead to the ongoing growth of the church.

Are there any hints in the NT that established nations and Christian leaders will ever have their finger on the nuclear button? We have not done very well with the power which comes through faith in Christ. True Christianity is losing its coercive power, thanks be to God. We don’t have a sword, so we can’t use it to convert people. We made a mess of coercive power, so God has removed power from us. What are the implications for the church today? Historical contingencies. What happens in the future. “Who knows?”

Charismatic gifts. Do miracles happen? Cessationists say “no” and shut out the Spirit. Continuists manufacture them. We just watch and see, who knows?

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