Four Views on the Sabbath

Andy Naselli —  May 11, 2011 — 6 Comments

This book came out last month:

Christopher John Donato, ed. Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2011. 420 pp.

The book is superb. It’s an excellent example of how different views use different hermeneutical approaches and theological methods (i.e., the relationship between exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology).

And the debate format allows the authors to have the last word: an author writes an essay, the other three contributors respond, and then the author responds to those responses.

Here’s the table of contents:

Here’s a sampling:

Craig Blomberg recounts,

My seminary studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School introduced me to the perspective on the Sabbath I have fleshed out in this chapter. Even before his marvelous edited volume, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day , to which we have frequently referred in the footnotes, was released in printed form in 1982, D. A. Carson was teaching the NT’s understanding of the Sabbath as fulfilled in Christ in his classes. (p. 356)

Blomberg quotes Everett Ferguson as “a fitting summary of my position in this chapter”:

The view that the Sabbath is binding on Christians rests on no explicit text in the NT or early Christian literature. It is surpassingly strange that a supposedly central Christian religious duty depends on the interpretation of an OT text. Rather than seeing a continuing validity of the Sabbath, which was changed from Saturday to Sunday, whether legitimately by the apostles in the first century or illegitimately by the church in the second (or by Constantine in the fourth), it is better to see the Sabbath command as a part of the superseded Mosaic institution and the Lord’s day as a different type of day, a day of assembly and worship. (pp. 351–52, quoting Everett F. Ferguson, “Sabbath: Saturday or Sunday? A Review Article,” ResQ 23 [1980]: 181)

Here’s how Joseph Pipa concludes his response to Blomberg:

Furthermore, at the end of the day, Dr. Blomberg has so spiritualized the Sabbath commandment that he leaves no biblical warrant for weekly worship and basically is antinomian when it comes to the regulation of public worship or its requirement for the saints of God. (p. 387)

Blomberg responds,

Pipa’s concluding paragraph is inaccurate, unnecessary, offensive, and inappropriately polemical. I explicitly refer in my essay to prescriptive warrant for regular Christian gatherings for worship (Heb 10:25; see p. 353), and I could have added many other prescriptive and descriptive but exemplary texts. I find warrant for regular worship simply in different texts than those that explicitly mention the Sabbath. Thus, for Pipa to allege that I leave no biblical warrant for weekly worship and am basically antinomian with respect to the practice flatly misrepresents my position. (p. 408)

Blomberg concludes,

One way in which MacCarty, Pipa, and Arand differ from me, if I have read them correctly, is that each of them expounds the Scriptures out of a definable theological and hermeneutical tradition with venerable pedigree. At the risk of oversimplifying,

  1. MacCarty starts with the “functional nonnegotiable” that the Ten Commandments are absolute moral laws for all time and that nothing in Scripture is more central than they are. Therefore, no matter what text anywhere may seem to teach something different, it cannot. We must therefore keep wrestling with the text until we come up with the next most likely interpretation that preserves the “big ten” inviolable.
  2. Pipa, on the other hand, starts with the teaching of Calvin and the Westminster divines as embodying the most inviolable theological and hermeneutical principles and therefore is quite happy, indeed, even insists on transferring Sabbath theology to Sunday without remainder. Any arguments, even biblical ones, which suggest otherwise, must be resisted and their proponents vilified. Sadly, in my experience, of all the different theological subdivisions of evangelicalism, it seems that Reformed theologians more than anyone else (for some reason) feel the need for heightened polemics in their rhetoric. I refer readers to my discussion above about the grave dangers inherent in such polemics (p. 408).
  3. Arand, too, sees his task as expounding a preexisting system, that is, a Lutheran approach to the Bible, even if with more latitude for creativity and nuance of that position than MacCarty and Pipa insert into theirs.

Of course, most all theological traditions within evangelical Christianity arose and have been preserved because at least some and often many of their tenets best reflect what Scripture actually teaches. But, as the centuries go by, the danger is always that followers of a given theological tradition may not rethink the biblical data for themselves, or rethink it as rigorously as its founders did, or even feel they have the freedom to rethink it as rigorously. What once were seemingly radical ideas diverging from the mainstream and returning to Scripture then become the encrusted dogmatism of that tradition from which adherents may diverge only at their peril.

As a professional biblical scholar, I always try hard to resist falling into such “ruts,” though I am much aware of my fallibility in this respect. My goal, at least, is always to let scriptural exegesis more than presuppositions, “functional nonnegotiables,” or theological traditions determine my conclusions. And if that leaves me with a disparate conglomeration of beliefs on a variety of topics that don’t easily fit one well-known and existing label or branch of historical theology, then so be it. Indeed, I almost feel reassured when that happens that I was able to preserve some measure of objectivity. When I subsequently discover that others have created a similar synthesis, and perhaps even given it a label, my reassurance grows. That is largely how my views of biblical teaching on the Sabbath have developed. Whether that makes my case more persuasive than any other must of course be for readers to judge. (pp. 409–11, numbering added)

6 responses to Four Views on the Sabbath

  1. Thanks for sharing these excerpts. I appreciate Blomberg’s warning against the danger of not rethinking the biblical data for ourselves. This is excellent!

  2. Thanks, Andy, I too really enjoyed this book. Though, for whatever it’s worth, I was actually put off by Blomberg’s tone throughout. It seems he has an axe to grind toward Pipa, in particular (as evidenced also in his summary in #2, above).

    I actually felt Blomberg’s responses to Pipa’s was “unnecessary, offensive, and inappropriately polemical,” to use his own words. Earlier in his chapter he accused Pipa (and the Puritan / Reformed camp) of being Pharisees “with a vengeance,” amid other comments. I do not know about other readers, but if that is not “polemical,” what is? Personally, I prefer avoiding references to “being offended, that is just not the same as actually dealing with the point nor does it mean the reproof or accusation is without warrant.

    Blomberg’s statements that you cite above also seemed to head concerning directions. For example, no one does scriptural exegesis without presuppositions (especially not “a professional biblical scholar,” a field with entire guilds devoted to presuppositions!). But perhaps most concerning was his equating “objectivity” with not fitting into a “branch of historical theology.” Can objective exegesis not lead one to a conclusion historically affirmed by the Church (which Blomberg seems to imply in his responses to Pipa)? And if it cannot, where does that leave us? Reinventing the faith with every update to NICOT/NICNT? Should independence from historic conclusions really be a mark of whether something is “biblical”? That appears to me as a very scary place to be.

  3. Thanks, Steve. FWIW, I don’t think you’ve read Blomberg with sufficient charity. E.g., of course he doesn’t think that exegesis can’t “lead one to a conclusion historically affirmed by the Church.”

    If you’d like to read more on Blomberg’s exegetical method (including how he arrives at theology), see his recent book A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis.

  4. That’s totally appropriate, Andy, since that’s exactly what I believe Blomberg failed to do in regard to Pipa (Gal 6:1!). I was interested in Blomberg’s view, but left disconcerted with his own polemics, which seemed even more prominent with the amount of attention he gave to Pipa’s.

    Thanks, again. I may look into his handbook.

  5. Andy, I found the link to your review on Chris Donato’s blog. Thanks so much for posting these excerpts!

    I actually pre-ordered two copies of “Perspectives on the Sabbath” because as a former Seventh-day Adventist, this book was of great interest to me. (My husband and I have MacCarty’s “In Granite or Ingrained?”).

    New Covenant Theology (along with the Holy Spirit) is what opened the eyes of my husband and myself three years ago and helped us understand we could leave the SDA Church after a lifetime studying and working in the denomination’s schools. Reading former SDA pastor Dale Ratzlaff’s Sabbath in Christ (which D. A. Carson referred to as a laymen’s version of “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day”) was the turning point for me.

    Anyway, if anyone is ever interested in reading more from the New Covenant perspective (on the Sabbath, in particular), we have a website which addresses this and other doctrinal issues relevant to Adventism. Click on “The Sabbath” in the menu bar at the left of the homepage to read articles by Dr. Thomas Schreiner, Dale Ratzlaff, John Reisinger, Blake White, and others. http://www.sabbatismos.com

    In Christ,

    Jennifer

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