Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Steep Ascent

By Tom Petter
Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Last week was pretty busy here on campus. Several hundred people gathered for the conference “Renewing the Evangelical Mission” in honor of David F. Wells who recently retired from teaching at the seminary. Few would question the profound impact Dr. Wells has had upon the Evangelical movement in recent years. This could certainly be seen by the distinguished list of speakers, a literal Who’s Who is current Evangelical Protestant thinking: Mark Noll, Bruce McCormack, Cornelius Plantiga, among others. For me, one particularly gratifying aspect was to note among the conference attendants several of my former fellow Gordon-Conwell students of the 1990’s (I’m sure there were plenty of alums from before my time as well). They are now pastors, professors and/or occupying various positions of leadership in the Body of Christ. Yet, they chose to carve time away from family and busy schedules to come back to Gordon-Conwell to see their teacher and friend. This reminded me that Dr. Wells’ influence has been felt not only in print but also in (and out) of the classroom. Well done good and faithful servant.
A highlight of the conference for me was Dr. Bruce McCormack’s presentation on the atonement. In his own words, he took us on a “steep ascent” into the mysteries of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the atoning death of Christ. I will look forward to digesting some of the specifics of his arguments when the paper comes out in an edited volume. For a more immediate reaction, McCormack’s (professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary) characterization of Protestant identity framed by both the authority of Scripture and forensic justification (the so-called formal and material principles) seems particularly a propos. In the current climate where the Protestant doctrine of justification is being questioned and/or revised (see Jack Davis’s blog on NT Wright’s new book on justification), McCormack’s (and David Wells’) clarion call is a timely reminder for us to rise up and defend that which defines us at the core. My sense is that, we too are on a “steep ascent” of sort as we try to articulate and contextualize these traditional core beliefs for our generation.

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