Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The End of the PCUSA? Revisited

The End of the PCUSA? Revisited:
"I just became aware of a couple of major changes in exegesis exams of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I want to offer some comments on these changes. This may seem like a detour from my series on The End of the PCUSA? Revisited, but, in fact, it is not. The changes in the grading of the exegesis exam illustrate why the PC(USA) is struggling to stay alive."
This is part 15 of a lengthy series written by Mark Roberts, a Presbyterian minister currently serving in Texas. While he has many misgivings about the future of the PC(USA), he is certainly no rabble-rouser or demagogue. His opinions are expressed well and he documents his assertions.

In this piece, he notes a recent statement by the Presbyteries' Cooperative Committee on Examinations regarding a change in the way the exegesis exam will be evaluated. A pdf of these changes can be obtained here.

The upshot seems to be that (1) demonstrating a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is not a requirement to pass the examination (although students are given the opportunity to demonstrate such knowledge) and (2) students will be asked to offer a "faithful interpretation" of the passage rather than the "principal meaning".

This seems a little odd to me, especially given the Presbyterian Church's long emphasis on an educated clergy. Is there no longer a "principal meaning" to be had? I cannot read Hebrew or Greek, but I have grown to expect that Presbyterian ministers can and do read the original languages of Scripture. At the very least, they should be able check translations and offer some the nuances of how the original words expressed things. I don't expect every sermon to cover all the possible shades of meaning or to go into an arcane discussion of why a particular word was used instead of another, more common word. But I do find it useful to know that some of Jesus' illustrations involved clever word plays, or that Psalm 119 is written in the form of an acrostic.

I guess the bottom line is that as Reformed Christians, we are firmly anchored in the Word of God, and we believe that "The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duties God requires of man" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 3). This presupposes that Scripture has meaning, which for the most part, can be objectively understood. If we do away with objective exegesis, then we risk losing our ability to call ourselves Reformed, or worse, reformable.

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