An Open Letter to David Norman: What Do You Believe about Jesus Christ and other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith?

 

Dear Readers of ARPTalk,

Below is an “Open Letter” to President David Norman of Erskine College & Seminary, entitled, “An Open Letter to David Norman: What Do You Believe about Jesus Christ and other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith?” The author is Mr. Scott Cook, an Erskine College alum who graduated in 2010. Presently Mr. Cook is a “candidate for the ministry,” “under care” of Second Presbytery, and a student of theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Mr. Cook’s “Open Letter” is in response to an article that first appeared in Reformation21 and then in the Aquila Report.


An Open Letter to David Norman:

What Do You Believe about Jesus Christ

and other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith?

Dr. Norman,

I read with interest a recent Reformation21 article, “2012 ARP General Synod Faces Tough Decisions.” As the title suggests, the article outlines some of the main issues facing Synod this year. However, I was surprised to read about your anthropology: namely, your commitment to anthropological monism. An inspectional reading of your published doctoral dissertation confirms that your position has not been misrepresented. Your stated position, in writing, is that you think the classic Christian view of man—that God created man as a physical body and a spiritual, non-corporeal soul—is misguided, and that human consciousness is possible only as a part of physical existence.

Dr. Norman, a rejection of the biblical understanding of man’s twofold nature goes to the heart of the faith, and affects many cardinal doctrines. Our view of man’s nature determines our view of man’s life after death and before the resurrection (“the intermediate state”). It affects our doctrine of man and creation. If affects our doctrine of the church, and our eschatology. Perhaps most important of all, our anthropology necessarily influences our Christology. We confess that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man by taking to Himself “a true body and reasonable soul” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 21 and 22). But Dr. Norman, how can you affirm that statement? It appears that you cannot; and if you deny that short statement, a host of exegetical, theological, and practical questions appear.

Given the public status of your anthropological view and your position as the head of both Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary, I request that you publicly clarify your beliefs for those of us who are concerned about the theological and pastoral implications of your view of man.

1) If there is no soul that can exist apart from the body, what is your view of the intermediate state?

2) If there is no soul that can exist apart from the body, what did our Lord mean when he said to the dying thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)?

3) If there is no soul or spirit that can exist apart from the body, what was Christ saying when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46)?

4) When Christ died, what happened to Christ in the three days leading up to His resurrection? Did He cease to be both God and man in death?

5) Does your view of man require you to reject the Definition of Chalcedon? It states:

“So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity…”

6) If your Christology is in agreement with the Chalcedonian Definition, how can you reconcile your anthropology and your Christology?

7) As to the doctrine of the church, do you affirm that there is presently a “church triumphant” made up of those believers who have departed this life to be with Christ?

8) Do you affirm the doctrine of the communion of saints in glory, “which members of the invisible Church have with Christ, is in this life, immediately after death, and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment (Westminster Larger Catechism Question 82)?

9) Do you affirm the biblical doctrine of creation as reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to which, “After God made all other creatures he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls . . .” (Westminster Confession of Faith, IV.2)?

10) Imagine a young seminary student catches you on campus as you are leaving your office. A friend of the family (who was a Christian) has just died, and this young man has been asked to officiate the funeral and needs your advice. What would you tell him to say to the family members when they ask what has become of their loved one? What happens until the resurrection? Can your anthropological position offer them any comfort?

Eagerly awaiting your reply,

Scott Cook

 

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  1. Ken Huff says:

    Chuck:

    Thanks for allowing this open little to be seen. Mr. Cook brings out some very important questions over Dr. Norman’s theological views. I hope Dr. Norman will respond, but I won’t hold my breath. If the ARP were to continue a relationship with Erskine, this is a great example of why a new Board is needed. Did anyone on the EBOT bother to look at Dr. Norman’s published doctoral dissertation to inspect his theological views on man, sin, his views on Christology et?. Afterall, Dr. Norman does lead the Seminary too. Although, I get the impression that the EBOT cares very little about the Seminary in comparison to the College. (Maybe if the EBOT cared more about the Seminary with distinct focus, the Seminary would not be suffering financially.) The EBOT should be theologically minded enough to ask the questions that Mr.Cook has asked in his open letter. However, two years into his presidency is too late to ask the questions. Was the vetting process for Dr. Norman’s theological views another matter of the conservative minority of the EBOT being marginalized for their views prior to the vote on Dr. Norman? Given the current climate of the EBOT, seems like a fair question. One can hope that Dr. Norman will answer Mr. Cook’s questions. Dr. Norman the ball is in your court.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Ken Huff

     
    • Dear Mr. Ken Huff,

      You ask interesting questions. However, since the “Open Letter” was written by Mr. Cook, I will wait on his response.

      I think most of what you ask is rhetorical. Of course!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  2. Scott cook says:

    Mr. Huff,

    It sounds as though the two of us are thinking on the same wavelength. I wonder if we will have an opportunity to know exactly how thorough dr. Norman’s theological positions were analyzed by the search committee and the board. It seems strange to me that someone who–on the face of it–can not subscribe to the chalcedonian definition was installed as the president of a Presbyterian seminary. How thoroughly was he vetted?

    As a student who helped with the SAFE movement a few years ago, it was clear in those days that the Erskine system was broken and badly in need of systemic overhaull. Perhaps this is further proof of that? Maybe not? Dr. Norman’s reply will tell the story.

    Well, hopefully a honest public discussion of these issues will add clarity to this most serious situation.

    Scott cook

     
  3. James Curtis says:

    Scott,

    Dr. Norman graciously came in to our Metaphysics class and spoke on this very issue. I took notes, but I won’t presume to answer your questions for him. If I may, however, defend him ever-so slightly, I’d like to.

    I’d like to start out by saying that Dr. Norman’s position (at least the one he spoke on in class) in no way diverts him from Evangelicalism. Chuck and others have argued he may not be because of other reasons, but I assure you that his view of anthropological monism does not hinder his commitment to the Gospel. There are, according to Dr. Evans in BR325 if you’ll recall, indeed evangelicals who hold to the monist position. Surely, it is a wee bit odd in our context, as not many do. However, Dr. Norman’s position is, in my judgment, not contrary to the Gospel. I think his answers, should he choose to answer your questions, will do more than satisfy your objections- but maybe not do enough to convince either you or me.

    All in all, I think Dr. Norman has given this much more thought than many think. He’s worked hard on figuring out what he believes, and making sure it is in line with Scripture. Again, while I disagree (and even dislike) his position, I don’t think it compromises his faith in Christ, nor his commitment to the Gospel. Honestly, I’d be asking me more questions concerning my view that time doesn’t exist than I would about Dr. Norman’s compatibility to Chalcedon, much less the Gospel.

    Also, there’s a response to you on the Aquila that I imagine you’ve seen (I’ve been travelling from the US to Scotland the past two days, so I’m attempting to catch up). I find it unfortunate that it isn’t Dr. Norman. I also don’t think Dr. Norman’s position is necessarily within the Westminster Confession. That is, I think he’d take exception to XXXII.1:

    “The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption. but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.”

    This might be a nasty oversight by Dr. Baise. If not nasty, an unfortunate one, still.

    Anyway, sorry to be vague. I’d love to correspond with you in private about some of the questions I have about it. Feel free to email me at jcurtis@erskine.edu (I don’t know when I’ll be able to check ARPtalk again, being in Scotland). I would feel much more comfortable giving you specific thoughts on my notes there.

    Hope you and the wife are well, my friend! I’d love to get with you and talk about Seminary when I get back!

    Jim

     
    • Dear Mr. Jim Curtis,

      FYI, I sent President Norman and Chairman Joe Patrick invitations asking them to comment on ARPTalk. I also informed Dr. Norman that if he would like to write a response to Mr. Cook’s questions, I would publish it as an article. Dr. Norman’s response was, “Thank you.”

      I wish Dr. Norman would respond. Clear responses will make this go away.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  4. Scott Cook says:

    Jim,

    Good to hear from you. Glad to hear that you made it to Scotland safe and sound. I will send you a private email, but I would like to address a few things publicly.

    Is this a Gospel issue? Well, that is a tricky question, and it depends on what you mean by “a Gospel issue.” I would say that even if it is not a Gospel issue that Norman’s anthropology could still disqualify him from being head of the ARP Seminary. We require much more than mere Christianity or mere Gospel Orthodoxy when men are seeking the Gospel ministry. Moreover, it would seem appropriate that we expect the same high standards of orthodoxy from one who is the head of an institution that trains minsters of the Gospel. Even if Norman has foundational orthodoxy concerning the Gospel, he still might not be theologically qualified to lead a seminary.

    Second, I think there is much more at stake here than just WCF XXXII.1. This is an issue of Christology as much as it is anthropology. As I read Norman’s dissertation, I think he would have trouble affirming the Chalcedonian Definition–a doctrinal anchor for Catholic Christology. Let’s not forget that the Chalcedonian Definition is a Catholic document: Christians from all three branches of Christendom can sign it.

    Third, I think the pastoral import of the situation is great. Norman’s response will show whether or not his position can have anything to off those who are bereaved of their believing loved ones. I have recently had to conduct a funeral service. In it, I was able to say that those who die are not unconscious or non existent. If they belonged to Christ, their souls have been made perfect and are beholding the beatific vision of God that man so desperately needs. Before the church throws out this kind of pastoral witness–that is so clearly seen in Scripture–I want to make sure we have open and honest dialogue about it first.

    Is this a Gospel issue? I think so. I think these Christological and exegetical issues go so deep that it is a Gospel issue. Does that mean that I do not think Norman is not a Christian? NO! Does that mean that I think Norman cannot go to heaven if he cannot give satisfactory answers? NO! This is an issue of maintaining a level of orthodoxy required to be a high-ranking servant of the Church of Jesus Christ, not a personal attack on Norman or his soteriological status. That has not been in my though process for a moment. But I still think these issues go to the heart of the Gospel, the heart of the Scriptures, and the heart of the system of doctrine of the Reformed faith.

    These are my thoughts; they are not inerrant. I am willing to be corrected and shown that I am wrong. That is why I sent this open letter to Dr. Norman. I’m not the only one asking these questions, and I think he needs to respond and give clear answers for the sake of the peace, purity, and prosperity of the Church,

    Scott

     
  5. Daniel Stephens says:

    The philosophy nerd in me really enjoys these types of discussions, but I’m going to be a bit of a spoil sport here. If the basic point of the ARPtalk articles of the past month are correct, then delving into this issue is a waste of the church’s time. If the ARP church is an undue external influence, then even if Norman’s view were unacceptable (I’m not saying whether it is or is not), the church could do nothing about it. Sure, they could try and get the board to do something, but the board would call SACS and the lawyers, and this time the church really wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

    The response to the minority report declared “the Board of Trustees is an autonomous body” and “Erskine… was not founded as and cannot, consistent with its Charter and Bylaws, be operated as an owned ‘agency’ of the ARPC” http://www.arptalk.org/2012/05/25/attack-dogs-sic-em/

    If the above this is true, then I don’t see how this issue relates to the church. Individuals may take interest, but that is where it ends.

     
    • Dear Mr. Daniel Stephens,

      You are correct! It doesn’t matter what Dr. Norman believes or doesn’t believe. He could believe that when you die that your soul goes up on the roof of the house and you can’t get it down, and it is not the concern of the ARP Church. As they say in Due West, Erskine is INDEPENDENT, and the ARP Church is an EXTERNAL influence. The only thing that the General Synod has that Erskine wants is MONEY.

      Now, when the EC Foundation and the BOIs of the alums have control, Dr. Norman can kill chickens under the oaks of sacrifice in front of the twin Erskine Towers of infamy that reach into the clouds of idolatry and whose foundation is hell, and it won’t be a problem. The problem then arises if Norman affirms the Inerrancy of the Scriptures or a little matter like Jesus is the only Savior.

      Silly people these ARPs! Concerned about something that is none of our business. I say that the General Synod should divert funding from our “true” agencies and give Erskine 2.2 million dollars. Perhaps, then, our true agencies will learn that the way to get money from the ARP Church is to declare independence.

      Freedom for Erskine! Freedom!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  6. Jay West says:

    I am fascinated to see that SAFE is back in existence. Mr. Cook and his comrades have done more to damage Erskine and the ARP church than anyone in history. Now, they are setting the stage to slay Dr. Norman. Cook exclaims proudly, “As a student who helped with the SAFE movement a few years ago, it was clear in those days that the Erskine system was broken and badly in need of systemic overhaull.”

    It is interesting that an 18 to 22 year old has the ability and/or experience to analyze educational structure. Please! I am not quite sure about the “clarity” perceived by Cook, but I can promise it was not based on anything other than the sick and divisive schemes of the Turbevilles, Evans, and Wilsons of the world. Now that cook has admitted his involvement, Second Presbytery should discipline him.

    I often wonder if Norman knows of their plan to use him to execute all of their dirty, unchristian schemes, only to replace him with Basie in the end. Basie slips in clean and without any blood stain or spatter on his hands. Remember, he is John Carson’s son-in-law.

    Chuck Wilson exclaims, “As they say in Due West, Erskine is INDEPENDENT, and the ARP Church is an EXTERNAL influence. The only thing that the General Synod has that Erskine wants is MONEY.”

    We don’t want the money or the external, undue influence of the the ARP church. I agree. Let’s divorce and move on to independent paths.

     
    • Dear Mr. Jay West,

      I’m fascinated that you’re back on ARPTalk. Did you get banned from the “private” Facebook site? As I remember, your buddies on the “open” Facebook site banned you – forever!

      Do you speak for the BOIs? I sure hope so! It is good to know that you don’t want the ARP Church’s money. Does that mean you are now ready to give that 1.4 million you once promised? Tell us, Jay!

      What damage was done by Mr. Cook? He had taken “critical thinking” from Crenshaw. Eon’t you remember? BTW, no one could ever equal your level of incompetence and the resulting damage to Erskine!

      Jay, how is it that you are NOW so concerned for David Norman? What hypocrisy! Go re-read what you wrote about Norman on Facebook. You called him everything but a saint.

      Well, I digress. Jay thanks for agreeing with me. Freedom for Erskine! May this be Independence week for Erskine!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
    • Ken Huff says:

      Mr. West:

      I admit that we have not met but I have to take issue with your comments on Mr. Cook’s inability to analyze the Erskine broken system. Truth is Truth! What of the 18 to 20 year olds that sat in the Erskine committee now three years ago and clearly articulated how Erskine was not an environment where their faith could thrive? I heard it for myself. In any context those students where sounding the alarm that things were broken, things broken so much that I then and there determined that my daughter would not attend Erskine for fear of her faith being undermined. I marvel at your lack of spiritual discernment (or unwillingness) to see that things are broken at Erskine. ICABOD – the glory has departed!

      Ken Huff

       
    • James Curtis says:

      Dr. West,

      You have yet to answer my questions here: http://www.arptalk.org/2012/04/04/sincerity/#comments

      I hope that some of your answers to my questions (should they come) could shed some light on your analysis of Church structure. Perhaps it’s as precise as your analysis of educational structure? I find that your self proclaimed expertise is extraordinarily intriguing; perhaps slightly hypocritical, but expertise nonetheless, eh?

      Hope to hear from you soon!

      James Curtis

       
  7. Jay West says:

    “What damage was done by Mr. Cook? He had taken “critical thinking” from Crenshaw. Eon’t you remember? BTW, no one could ever equal your level of incompetence and the resulting damage to Erskine!”
    Let’s see! Participating in a group which based their purpose on lies and deceit. Seeking to destroy or assassinate the character of people who committed their life to Erskine. Deceiving the Second Presbytery, General Synod, and the EC Board. And, that is just the beginning.
    “Jay, how is it that you are NOW so concerned for David Norman? What hypocrisy! Go re-read what you wrote about Norman on Facebook. You called him everything but a saint.”
    Oh! Make no mistake. I feel he is grossly under qualified and the past two years have provided the evidence. I am only concerned about “doing the right thing.” If I believe Norman is wrong, I will share my opinion with him. He is wrong about firing Herring.
    Well, I digress. Jay thanks for agreeing with me. Freedom for Erskine! May this be Independence week for Erskine!
    Agreed. The ARP Synod gets to keep their contribution and the EC Alumni get to provide the education they have provided for decades without external undue influence. Win-Win!

     
  8. Jay West says:

    James,

    There is not a tab to respond on the link you listed above. So, I will answer you here.

    Think through my original response to your question. Where is exactly was the “girls” point of confussion? Why do you assume it was through the academic rigor of EC?

    You write, “Furthermore, how many clergy do I, a Bible major, see at Erskine College? Well, my professor, Dr. Evans, I see on a fairly regular basis. I see the minister of the church I attend on a regular basis. I might see Dr. Gore or another of the Seminary profs once a month. A girl who might not have been a Bible major would see the clergy at Erskine much less than I would, I assure you.”

    I FIND IT VERY TELLING THAT YOU DO NOT CITE PAUL PATRICK, THE CHAPLIAN!

     
  9. James Curtis says:

    Dr. West,

    Considering the context was ministers within a church, and not a campus ministry, I find it odd that I would list Paul Patrick. If you’re insinuating I don’t know him, I find that laughable. This furthers your ignorance of what truly is going on in Due West, especially with regards to students.

    I did not assume it was via academic vigor, Dr. West. I’m merely pointing out the discrepancy between you and those you side with claiming it’s the fault of the parents for not teaching the girl, yet at Erskine you promote teachers who tell us not to blindly accept what our parents tell us. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Dr. West.

    Also, I believe you meant “Chaplain” and “confusion.” If I am wrong, please let me know.

    James Curtis

     

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