Engaging the Culture - Book Review
Written by Douglas Wilson
Sunday, 30 September 2012
This is a superb little book, one that addresses a screaming need with clarity, while at the same time avoiding a simplistic 1,2,3 triteness.
The theme of the book, as the title suggests, is that provocative little phrase from the Westminister Confession which says this:
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" (WCF 1.6).
The subject can get complicated, so let's begin in the shallow end.
We can assert, for example, that God created the yellowhammer, even though the Bible never mentions the yellowhammer by name. God made all things (John 1:3), and this includes, by good and necessary consequence, all yellowhammers. God made all birds (Gen. 1:26), and this includes the yellowhammers also. By good and necessary consequence.
This is a simple example, and it is a simple point. But one of the reasons we must hang on to this simple point is that the serpent is more subtle than all the beasts of the metafields of discourse. Pomo relativism (and all its leprous spin-offs) hates the idea of this kind of certainty -- a certainty that McGraw points out, quoting Letham, necessitates systematic theology (p. 33). It is de rigeur of late to disparage systematic theology, opposing it (somehow?) to biblical theology. But without systematic theology, there is no biblical theology, and if we have biblical theology -- and good and necessary consequence -- we will have good and godly systematics.
So good and necessary consequence can be mishandled and abused. Sure. Name a good thing in this fallen world that can't be. Refusing to follow the arguments that proceed from scriptural premises has bad consequences also. Going right could have bad consequences, but so could going left, and so could standing right where you are.
McGraw sees and understands that this doctrine is necessary if we are to have any hope at all of finding "a key to understanding New Testament uses of the Old Testament" (p. xiii). Doctrines such as the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be found in any one passage of Scripture. In order to defend that doctrine, we have to go through all Scripture and assemble an argument (p. 1). He shows how Jesus assumes this principle in His handling of the text in His dispute with the Sadducees about the resurrection, and how He assumes that those He is speaking to needed to submit to that principle as well (pp. 11-12).
So for those who want to stick with a strict biblicism, the bad news is that a tight handling of the Scripture requires us to accept good and necessary consequence as a biblical way of proceeding. It is like those who reject human teachers because "all they need is the Bible." But the Bible gives them human teachers. They don't want just the Bible; they just want to disobey the Bible.
At the same time, McGraw does a great job in avoiding the idea that scriptural arguments are assembled, clunkity clunkity, out of two by fours. He is clear about his positions (which I share) but he doesn't write as a hack partisan at all. For example, he acknowledges that the medievals who used the quadriga were at least making an attempt to tie the Old and New Testaments together. "In part, the quadriga represented an attempt to harmonize such difficulties" (p. 22). Some have taken the phrase "good and necessary consequence" as somehow requiring us to treat the Bible as a logic textbook written by a committee of engineers. No, but the fact that it is literature does not alter any of these principles.
McGraw's tip of the hat to Fairbairn's Typology of Scripture as a sober and judicious treatment shows that he is not interested in a good and necessary consequence that results in a tidy chain of orthodox Ps and doctrinaire Qs. Good and necessary consequence thrives in literature and poetry and history. It is necessary in those genres. It is good and necessary in those genres.
At the same time, McGraw's approach is rigorous and tough-minded. "The rejection of good and necessary consequence has not been a hallmark of orthodoxy, but rather a hallmark of heresy" (p. 60). This book is just . . . balanced.
His treatment of the Westminster Assembly leans on Letham's wonderful treatment of the subject, and that is another good sign. This small book is the work of a well-educated and theologically-informed grown-up, and is a book that I believe that many pastors will find very helpful. I really enjoyed it -- and ordered myself a couple of very fine other books right out of his footnotes. That's another mark of a good book.