Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reformation Day musing

Reformation Monument

Today is Reformation Day. On this day 492 years ago, on Oct 31st 1517, a non-discreet German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest especially of the Roman church's sanction of the selling of indulgences by the infamous marketeer Johann Tetzel. This act was the flash point which started the great Protestant Reformation, and forced the professing Church to take a stand on whether it desired Reformation according to the Word of God, or whether it desired power and the philosophy of Man more than the things of God. As it is in the time of the Pharisees, it is the unlearned "Northerners" who embraced the Scriptures, while the learned scholars and humanists in the "South" [Europe] rejected the Gospel for their own profits and philosophies.

492 years later, and the Church is in a worse shape than ever before. All manner of heresies which Tridentine Catholicism did not even descend to flourish within the walls of the professing churches, reformed, evangelical or otherwise. Ancient heresies denounced by various church councils, like for example the Christological heresy of Sabellianism, flourishes in so-called Evangelical circles (ie T.D. Jakes). Although Tridentine Catholicism by its denial of the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone is heresy, even its proponents would be horrified by what is being promoted in what calls itself the Roman Catholic Church today. Inclusivism, Embrace of Evolutionary theory, not to mention ecumenical endaevors with the "Protestant heretics" and worse still, the Eastern [Orthodox] schismatics and Muslims, would make the Tridentine delegates spin in their grave.

The need to reform the church is getting more and more desperate by the day. The issues to speak out against and the supplantation of error by the truth of Scripture are too many to be counted. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Mt. 9:37-38). Far from being near to completing the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), we are nowhere near it, and moving further from it by the moment.

Yet despite this, we can take heart in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. We are not to despair of the situation, but to do all we can because God has already gone on ahead of us. While reflecting on the needs of the Church, the following lyrics from a hymn came to mind.

Tho’ with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up – “How long?”
But soon the night of weeping, shall be the morn of song

or in Chinese:

教会历尽了苦难,世人讥笑毁谤,
内争分裂她身体,异端叛道中伤,
圣徒儆醒争相问,黑夜到底多长?
哭泣将变为歌唱,转眼即见晨光

As it is stated in Scripture,

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

(Rom. 9:27-29)

The Church exists and perseveres in this world only by the power of God. It is God alone who substains her such that we are not destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. In context, the whole of Romans 9 is on the doctrine of election — God's sovereign election of those who would be saved and those who would be passed-over and damned. The Church being made up of the elect are therefore also preserved and substained by the power of God alone. Without God, the Church would be similar to the case of National Israel, rejected by God and as void of life as Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is this understanding of the electing and preserving power of God that gives us hope for the Church, because God is the one who saves His people, who keeps them (Jn. 6:39) and who promises that the Church will never fall (Mt. 16:18b). When we look at the devastation in the churches therefore, let us look with the eyes of faith to see how God is at work even in the midst of great apostasy. As in the days of Elijah, there are 'yet 7000 people who have not bowed the knee to Baal' (1 Ki. 19:18; Rom. 11:4). As it is written:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom. 11:1-5)

God has not rejected His people, and neither has He abandoned His Church. The true Church of God is the remnant chosen by grace, and as such we can hope. God will always have His people even in the darkest times and places.

Let us therefore look with the eyes of faith and thus not be disheartened at the circumstances around us. Continue to press on in faith, knowing that in the end God will triumph through us. And "soon the night of weeping, shall be the morn of song"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dealing with the enemy - In praise for AT

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good ... (Gen. 50:20a)

Nope, I am not praising "Antithesis", and I am not out of my mind. However, I would like to take the opportunity to thank God for this thorn in the flesh.

In our struggle against the flesh and the world, nothing ever comes close to practically surfacing the sinful desires of the flesh than trials and tribulations, especially when others wrong us and slander us without cause and without truth. What shall we do then? We can attempt to fight fire with fire, and attack those who attack us even more harshly and vociferously. After all, don't we all have a right to protect ourselves and defend our reputations? Since the truth is on our side, victory is all but assured and we can thus steamroll all opposition, can't we?

To tackle this question, we must look at what the Scripture teaches about the topic. The problem with the above approach is that it is not biblical. Rather, it is written:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 1:14-21)

The biblical approach to dealing with our enemies is to bless them, and help them even. We are to overcome evil with good, and not be overcome by it.

Now, of course all of this can be easily seen, but how can we work this out in our own lives in *real* situations? Scriptures tell us that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and this should satisfy our desire for justice. Those who wrong us God will judge and pay back in time, for God as the supreme judge will ensure that justice will be done either now or in the judgment to come. Our role in this regard is rather to bless our enemies not merely because Scripture commands us to, or even as a sort of perverse way to get back at them (since it is promised that our good deeds will pour burning coals on their head) but rather to do it for Christ's sake. Christ died for the ungodly, so why can't we at least bless our enemies?

This is not to suggest that we must all be doormats who can be pushed around. Enemies who we are to bless and aid are still in the class of enemies. Nowhere is it suggested that we should treat them as friends or give them what they want. Rather, Scripture informs us of the attitude we should have towards them, while not eradicating the emnity that still exists.

It is in this regard that I strive to have a desire for AT's good. He as a Neo-Orthodox heretic is not saved. Yet, to desire for his good means to desire for his salvation from his vain way of life. Seen in this light, I pity him. His emptiness has generated only hatred in him which he spews at people like me who proclaim the truth. He has nothing to offer; no Gospel to save him from his sins and he is on the road to perdition. What he needs more than anything else is salvation.

In another light, it is written:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:7-11)

God is sovereign over all of Creation. If He so desires to, AT would be dead now. Yet, God in His providence has allowed AT to continue his maniac attacks and rants.

As Gen. 50:20 states, what men planned for evil, God planned it for good. It is for this reason that God ought to be praised. Through AT, whatever things that can be used against me has been dug out somehow, thus showing me my weak spots. Although all of AT's commentaries are outright lies, yet because he is by nature an enemy, he would endeavor to collect as much dirt as possible to smear my reputation. In this regard, I am thankful for how little he can actually find, thus requiring the manufacture of entire sets of lies in order to malign my character. From the little he found, plus the hypocritical attacks on my "judging" others (like he is not judging me), it has helped me to see my blind spots so as to correct them. Of course, I do not visit that place much as it is dedicated to slandering me on all fronts possible. Yet, for the good that God has intended, I am thankful.

As for reputations, let God do the fighting on our behalf. I do not even need to do anything in this regard, since the overwhelming response from those not in AT and his gang has been negative, with nobody changing sides so to speak. But whatever happens, the main thing we should remember is that faithfulness to God and His Word counts more than our reputations. Jeremiah's reputation wasn't very great in his entire life time, and he was imprisoned many times for the truth. We should care less about our own reputations and more about the honor of God's name. Rather that we be despised by the world than for God to be dishonored.

In conclusion, in our dealings with the enemy, let us seek their ultimate good and not their destruction. Justice will be meted out in the end, but our role is not to judge but to show mercy. God will judge in the end, and His judgment will be perfectly just according to the sins committed. May we learn therefore how to desire the ultimate good for our enemies. Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An exposè of "Antithesis"

This would be my last word on the cyber-terrorist, liar and anti-Christian watchblogger anonymously called "Antithesis". This is an unfortunately logical necessity, which is certainly not edifying for those who know nothing about the issue. However, for those who know of this controversy, this would hopefully be of help in this regard. The paper exposing "Antithesis" (AT) for the perpetual liar that he is can be found here.

It must be stated that AT and gang has been lying almost all the time (almost 100% of the accusations on that blog is false) that he justly can call himself the Son of the Devil. Anything that is said by them must be suspected for spin. Back last year, AT has the audacity to complain to the pastor and elders of my church. However, as I have stated in my exposè:

The first order of the day of course was to attempt to use my church and my pastor, Rev. Paul Goh, against me. Needless to say, my pastor was not at all impressed with the juvenile and unfounded untruthful lies made about me. It seems that AT is particularly vicious and complained to the session (of elders) in my church, who met to discuss the issue. After examination, they dismissed all charges as being false, noting that AT does not even has the courage to reveal himself and therefore does not even deserve any response whatsoever. All of this was conveyed to me by my pastor, of which I am thankful.

This is not to boast, but the fact of the matter is that my church has examined all of AT's accusations on me and have found them all to be false, exonerating me of the charges. It is of course granted that it was not as serious as a church trial, for the simple reason that they do not take the accusations of cowards who take pot shots of other from behind the anonymity of their keyboards seriously. But even then, the accusations were serious allegations and they conducted their investigation seriously at least on my side in questioning me on my beliefs and stands.

AT through his deplorable actions has manifested an attitude that is consonant with being a reprobate. He and his gang-members are wicked and depraved, irrational and haters of God and of men. May God have mercy upon their souls.

Is the Church earthly?

Over at the CREDO500 blog, Jason Loh's paper on "Calvin's View on the Cultural Mandate" has been published. While many many things can be said about the paper, the focus on this post will be with regards to the strange assertion that the Church "is a creation order" and that it has "an earthly institution[al]" aspect to it. Certainly, this is the first time I have seen such a strange position, which seems to run contrary to (and is contrary to) the teachings of Scripture.

In Loh's paper, the teaching that the Church has an earthly institutional aspect is based upon the fact that:

  1. The creation of Adam and Eve instituted the Church
  2. Adam and Eve worshipped God so therefore there is a Church there (Source)

It can be immediately seen that, even conceding the above two points, the idea of an earthly institutional aspect of the Church is not proved. It could instead be the Church has only a spiritual aspect that is formed at the creation of Adam and then Eve, with the physical aspect being the institution of the Family. The syllogism is therefore invalid. Nevertheless, let us assume for the sake of argument that the syllogism is valid. Are the premises true? In order to evaluate the question before us, we mus first define: What is the Church?

The word translated Church in Greek - ekklesia (εκκλησια) is made up of the parts ek-kaleo (εκ-καλεω) and means called-out [ones]. The Church by definition therefore is a spiritual body of people who are called out of the world unto God. Since they are "called out", therefore they must be called out of something. Throughout the Bible, the idea of calling always refer to being called out of the world and its idolatry to God, as seen in the examples of Noah, Abraham, Jacob and the Patriarchs, the entire nation of Israel, and finally the New Testament Church. Always, the focus is on the concept of redemption — that God calls men out unto salvation, be it physical salvation (as a type) like Noah and his family [1], or spiritual salvation which is explicitly seen in the New Testament Church.

The concept of the Church therefore is predicated upon the redemptive motif of Scripture. Redemption is what defines the Church, not worship, service, evangelism or anything else. With regards to worship, the angels in heaven worship God forever, yet they are most decidedly not part of the church, because the Church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:32) and they the angles are not the bride of Christ but servants (Heb. 1:14). Worship therefore does not define the Church, and thus the second line of argument utilized by Loh is invalid and the premise false.

Developing this truth further, since the Church is defined by redemption, therefore pre-Fall Adam and Eve cannot be part of the church either. Being sinless, they do not need redemption before the Fall, for redemption is for sinners only. It is only after they sin that they require redemption, and thus the Church was instituted then after the Fall.

As it can be seen, the most fundamental problem with the entire idea of an earthly institutional church is that there is absolutely no Scriptural proof for the entire concept. Both lexically and redemptive-historically, the concept of the Church militates against the very idea of an "earthly institutional aspect" of the Church. The Church is and always will be one defined by redemption — the Gospel, and not Creation.


References:

[1] This is not to say that Noah is only saved physically and not spiritually, but that the main concern of the Flood is physical salvation of the human race through Noah and family. Later, Ham and his son Canaan seemed to be a reprobate according to his despicable action (Gen. 9:21, 25), although we can not know for sure his eternal destiny.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Michael Horton versus Richard Foster on Contemplative Spirituality

In his book The Gospel-Driven Life, Horton addresses how the Gospel in its fullness is materially sufficient for all of life. After addressing the Purpose Driven life paradigm, Horton continues to briefly address the issue of contemplative spirituality, especially as promoted by the Quaker mystic Richard Foster.

Horton starts off by mentioning Foster's disclosure of his "spiritual formation agenda" in "a recent Christianity Today article". In that article, Foster is quoted as lamenting the lack of growth in Christians because "having saved by grace, these people have become paralyzed by it" (p. 146). The suggested solution to such spiritual apathy accordingly is to

... "do all we can to develop the ecclesiola in ecclesia — 'the little church within the church,' " referring to the examples of Lutheran pietism's collegia pietatis, John Wesley's "holy clubs," and the "inner mission" of the Norwegian pietists. As Foster observes, these Protestants movements have their roots in the heritage of Catholic spirituality, identified especially with Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thomas à Kempis. (cited in p. 146)

Horton states however that he is not going to "tackle the question of spiritual discipline [per se]" here in this book. "Rather, it is to interact with the paradigm of sanctification (the Christian life) as chiefly the imitation of Christ" (p. 147).

Horton starts off by commending Foster's worry about the Antinomianism present in the church and the eclipse of the holiness of God therein. Also,

... Foster is right that there is also a kind of "cheap grace" that fulfils the fond dreams of the antinomian who comforts himself with the syllogism: "God likes to forgive, I like to sin: what a great relationship!" Even if we eschew antinomianism, there is a kind of laziness that does not revel equally in the "already" of new life in Christ and the "not yet" of its consummation. (p. 147)

That having being said, Horton tackles the fundamental errors of the "spiritual formation agenda" in its view of the Christian life: namely confusing works and grace, and justification and sanctification (thus committing the same error as Rome).

But I'm [Horton] not sure how directing people to greater concentration on themselves is going to overcome the narcissistic captivity of our times. As Thomas Finer has documented in A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, the Anabaptists — whose leaders were trained by the Brethren of the Common Life [of which Thomas à Kempis was formative in its development] — were no more interested in the justification of the ungodly than Rome. The whole emphasis was on discipleship, defined as the imitation of Christ.

The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are of a similar orientation. Ignatius founded the Jesuit order for the express purpose of opposing the Reformation. Through not without occasional praise, Luther saw his experience with the Brethren of the Common Life as encouraging a theology of glory: ascending to God through works and mysticism. Calvin looked upon his schooling at the ascetic Collège de Montaigu as "servile labor" under the burden of severe regulations and no gospel, while Ignatius recalled fondly his time there as a student. (pp. 147-148)

We can notice the contrast that is already in the process of forming. The "spiritual formation agenda" has its roots in Catholic pietistic mysticism with its emphasis on "discipleship" so-called, and is a "theology of glory" being focused with trying to bring themselves up to Christ and God by their own works of piety, instead of the Reformational emphasis on Justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works.

Horton continues to differentiate the counterfeit "spiritual disciplines" from the biblical "means of grace" as follows:

It is striking ... that Luther, Calvin, and other reformers — many of whom (like Luther himself) were former monks — did not throw out the baby out with the bathwater. Sharply critical of using monastic rituals to ascend a ladder to God, they nevertheless held private as well as public prayer in the highest possible estimation. Luther thought that the busier he was in a given day, the more he needed to prepare for it through earnest prayer and reading of Scripture. The Puritans not only wrote sermons and doctrinal treatises, but devotional guides, meditations, and books of prayers. ...

The issue is not whether we engage in personal disciplines or habits of meditative prayer and reading of Scripture, but whether we do so in a gospel-driven manner. Is it a technique for personal transformation or is it a saving and sanctifying encounter with the Triune God who has met us in his incarnate Son? Are we working toward our justification or from it? Are we being drawn to look outside of ourselves, to Christ, or are we feeding our natural tendency to focus on ourselves and our inner life? Obviously, if the significance of Jesus Christ lies principally in his offering a moral example, faith in Christ is not absolutely necessary. ... We do not need an incarnate, righteousness fulfilling, curse-bearing, resurrected Savior if salvation comes by imitation. (pp. 148-149. Bold added)

The difference between the sanctification paradigm of Foster and those who promote Contemplative Spirituality (CS) on the one side, and the Reformation paradigm on the other, is that between life and death; light and darkness; Salvation and Damnation. The CS paradigm brings one back under the Law in working for one's salvation, and thus denies the true biblical Gospel which alone saved. Contemplative Spirituality therefore is soul-damning and potentially brings its adherents (and most definitely its recalcitrant proponents) under the anathema of God (Gal. 1:8-9)!

Continuing on:

... Augustinians recognized that defining salvation or the Christian life as the imitation of Christ (imitatio Christi) presupposes a woefully inadequate doctrine of sin and therefore of God's saving grace in Christ.

... the reformers recognized that grace is first and foremost God's favor toward sinners on account of Christ. This "justice" or "righteousness" by which we stand accepted in God's presence is imputed, not infused; declared immediately, not progressively recognized. At the same time, they just as strongly affirmed that God's Word does what it says. Everyone whom God declares to be righteous is also progressively sanctified. (p. 149)

... Nowhere in this lodestar passage [Rom. 7] for the Christian life does Paul direct our attention to the imitation of Christ. He has already painted too dark (realistic) a picture of human depravity to imagine that the devil, the world, and our sinful hearts could meet their match in our deeper commitment to follow Christ's example. ... He calls us not simply to imitate Christ but to be crucified, buried, and raised with him. ... But before he speaks an imperative, he announces the indicative of the gospel: Christ's saving work has accomplished far more than we imagined. (p. 150)

The CS paradigm is based upon a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian view of Man which trivializes the doctrine of the sinfulness of Man, while the biblical paradigm acknowledges the Total Depravity and Sinfulness of Man.

The "imitation of Christ" paradigm of spirituality makes Christ's self-sacrifice and humility an analogy for our discipleship. The "union with Christ" paradigm makes our love and service an analogy of Christ's inimitable accomplishment. Being in Christ is the perpetual source of our becoming like Christ, not vice versa (p. 152)

Apart from the imputation of righteousness, sanctification is simply another religious self-improvement program determined by the powers of this age (the flesh) rather than of the age to come (the Spirit). (p. 153)

The CS paradigm reverses the order of the indicative and the imperative, and therefore is purely of Man, therefore it is repugnant to God.

In conclusion, the entire thrust of Contemplative Spirituality is one of works righteousness. It attempts by its own strength to climb up to God, and thus it is contrary to the Gospel. Contemplative Spirituality is anti-Reformation and anti-God, and thus not to be practised by Christians.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Frame's review of Horton's book

The Reformed blogosphere is (or was) abuzzed it seems with Prof. John Frame's review of Prof. Michael Horton's book Christless Christianity. Frame's review has been answered by Darryl G. Hart, Kim Riddlebarger, R. Scott Clark, and the staff of the White Horse Inn. My friend Stephen Macasil has entered the fray also with his latest blog post, which attempts to go deeper and interact with the topics raised.

When I was first directed to Frame's review through the article on Gospel-centered Legalism (ie a totally different topic), I was rather stunned by the review. Having owned and read Horton's book Christless Christianity, Frame's review was the worst misrepresentation of a single book I have ever seen. The most ludicrous part was when Frame semi-defended Joel Osteen (?!) against Horton's charges. Osteen is a Word-faith heretic, and Frame who is supposed to be Reformed defends a wolf against Horton? Amazing!

The state of the Church in general was another point where I just have to shake my head in amazement. Which planet is Prof. Frame living on? The "Ivory Tower" planet? It most definitely is not earth! America is awash with heresy as the Emerging Church movement, the Word-faith cult, and the Contemplative Spirituality nonsense is destroying the faith of many, yet according to him, the Church is still doing fine and "There is a greater interest in sanctification (not just justification), on Christianity as a world view, on believers’ obligations to one another, on love within the body of Christ, and in the implications of Scripture for social justice"? Even discounting America (which has a really bad habit of thinking they are the center of the world), the rest of the world is in really bad shape. But let us go back to America. What about the heresy of Federal Vision and Neolegalism wrecking havoc in Reformed and Presbyterian circles? Oh wait, Frame defended the heretic Norman Shepherd while he was still in WTS.

In their response to Frame, the White Horse Inn staff Eric Landry has picked the 10 points with which Frame accuses Horton of teaching, and refutes them all. I think it would be instrumental to just let Landry speak in this regard here (Dark Red Italics refer to Frame's points).

1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to Christ.

No, it can detract from Christ. But it does not necessarily detract from Christ. When it comes to the gospel, “we preach not ourselves, but Christ,” because the gospel is not about us at all. Confusion over this matter does detract from Christ. However, the good news about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection has implications on the way we live, and so we must give some attention to ourselves as we let the light of the gospel shine in every dark corner, which challenges us to rethink our actions, self-centeredness, etc.

2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearers.

Relevance and context are clearly different than pragmatism. To which has the evangelical church at large given itself?

3. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are a zero-sum game. The idea that man must do something compromises the absolute sovereignty of God.

This is an outright misrepresentation and we’re disappointed that Professor Frame should characterize Horton’s theology in this way. He is not a hyper-Calvinist and nothing in Christless Christianity or anything else that he has written bears this out.

4. God’s work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us. (Here he backtracks some.)

This is another caricature. Horton’s argument is that the gospel is completely objective and external to us: it’s the Good News about Christ’s person and work. However, Horton clearly says that God’s work of salvation includes regeneration and sanctification. The Spirit applies the redemption that the gospel announces.

5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation.

Horton’s critique is that we are trying to use God to attain our best life now, rather than to see God as the object of our faith and worship, for “every blessing in heavenly realms in Christ” (Eph 1:3-4). Lost in exaggeration, Frame’s caricature of this argument misses the point.

6. Law and gospel should be utterly separate. There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.

This is a longstanding complaint by Frame. Not only does he consistently misrepresent the Lutheran view on this point; he seems to be unaware of the consensus of Reformed theologians that the confusion of law and gospel is the heart of theological errors. This point has been made not only by Calvin, but by Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Owen, and Spurgeon all the way to Louis Berkhof and John Murray. In Christless Christianity (and elsewhere), Horton very clearly affirms that law and gospel are to be distinguished but never separated. The one thing that Professor Frame accurately says about the book on this point is that “There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.” That’s why the law reveals our sin and misery (as the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism confess), and the gospel reveals God’s saving grace toward us in Jesus Christ. One should be far less bothered that Professor Frame is confused about Christless Christianity than that he seems confused about the difference between commands (imperatives) and declarations of God’s promises (indicatives).

7. Preaching of the gospel must never use biblical characters as moral or spiritual examples. Nor must it address practical ethical issues in the Christian life.

Of course there are moral examples in Scripture, and Horton affirms this in his book; the point is that the Bible is to be read as an unfolding story of redemption, with Christ as the hero. All we ask is that if you use a character as a moral or spiritual example, be sure to include not just the exemplary things that he or she did but also the tragic sins that made it necessary for even a “friend of God” or a “man after God’s own heart” to look forward to a Redeemer. Don’t stop with the example, look to where the example actually points: to Jesus Christ. And ground your practical ethical issues in the new creation, just as the New Testament writers do. For more on the relationship between doctrine and ethics, see Horton’s People and Place.

8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.

This is baffling. Is Frame intentionally misrepresenting the book or is he unable to read the book without even a modicum of Christian charity? Stunning.

9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.

Read Horton’s A Better Way for a substative rebuttal. That Frame and Horton have differences of opinion on what happens or should happen in a worship service is an understatement, but point 9 does not reflect either the points made in Christless Christianity or A Better Way. Horton has consistently argued that worship is dialogical; the congregation is a participant with God in the worship service. God serves us in Word and Sacrament, and we respond in songs of praise, prayer, confession, and attention.

10. Analysts of the church must compare the Church’s focus on Christ with its focus on other things, rather than considering that many of these other things are in fact applications of Christ’s own person and work.

If churches actually saw their focus on other things as extensions and applications of Christ’s ministry, we wouldn’t have an issue. But the facts (as cited in the works of both unbelievers and believers in many different traditions) just don’t bear out Frame’s optimism about mainstream evangelicalism here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gospel-centered Legalism?

Pastor Bill Streger, a pastor in the Acts29 network, has posted an interesting post (with which I do not necessarily agree on everything), Gospel-centered Legalism, asking the question: Is it possible to be legalistic about "Gospel-centeredness"? As he later clarifies in a comment:

...

My worry is not that we would be to centered on the gospel, but that rather than actually being centered on the gospel itself we would become enamored with “Gospel-Centered” as a catchphrase that includes all of our own theological distinctives and excludes those who don’t share them.

My fear is that we will create insider language and jargon that becomes the qualifiers for whether or not we judge someone to be orthodox, rather than what they actually believe.

My fear is that “gospel-centered” would become “the next big thing” in Christian marketing and countless pastors will use it as a badge of honor to wear (much like “missional” has become over the past decade) rather than a true state of our hearts.

My fear is that instead of actually being gospel-centered we would settle for simply talking about it.

[Bold added]

From my personal interaction with the New Calvinist crowd, I am similarly worried regarding such a scenario. As I have rhetorically asked in my initial paper on the New Evangelical Calvinism [probably going to be withdrawn soon], and repeated in my CREDO500 paper,

Will we aim for rational and lifestyle consistency even in our profession of the Gospel, or will we settle merely for outward compliance to the Gospel and perhaps agreements on the major flashpoints of the culture wars like homosexuality, complementarianism, racism and missions? What makes these flashpoints more worthy of contending for as compared to the other doctrines and practices of Scripture?

On the surface, my contention with the New Calvinists has to do with the issue of "tone" and of the necessity of discernment and calling out heretics. This Neo-Evangelical "mood" permeates at least the New Calvinist crowd over in Singapore and Tim Challies in Canada. However, despite whatever heat may be generated by such issues, these are not the fundamental issue of contention. The fundamental issue of contention boils down to the issue of Sola Scriptura. As I have written in my paper on this topic:

During the Reformation, the material principle was the principle of Justification by Faith alone, while the formal principle was Scripture Alone or Sola Scriptura. In an interaction on a blog ..., there has been the insistence that Gospel-centeredness is enough, for Gospel-centeredness will necessarily preclude what I call Gospel-Onlyness — the view that everything is decided with respects to its impact on and consequence of the Gospel. Does embrace of the material principle therefore necessarily implies the embrace of the formal principle? Why then does the Reformation consists of two principles instead of merely one, and the insistence on the supreme authority of the Scripture for all of life as much as the Gospel itself was the issue of contention?

The formal principle of Sola Scriptura deals with the epistemological foundation of the faith within which the Gospel will thrive. Without the foundation, there are no set boundaries on what the Gospel actually is limited to. This does not mean of course that the Gospel does not have implications on various sundry issues, but the fact of the matters is without an epistemological foundation, upon what authority can agreement on the major issues be made, and what basis can defence be made against sophisticated denials of the Gospel which professes to be Gospel-centered like for example New Perspectivism, or as we have discussed previously in the case of Douglas Wilson, Federal Vision? ... While it is true that emphasizing belief in Sola Scriptura does not necessarily preclude anyone from denying it in word or action, at least Scripture can function as a safeguard within which all matters of life and doctrine can be settled, instead of a vague, general appeal to the Gospel without its corresponding epistemic foundation.

In the controversy us Reformed folks have with the YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) New Calvinists over the New Evangelicalism, the key point actually lies not with the doctrine of separation, important though it may be, or other points of doctrinal differences . The issue is with the supreme authority of Scripture over all of life INCLUDING our praxis. As Streger points out, the phrase “Gospel-Centered” can degenerate into a mere "catchphrase that includes all of our own theological distinctives and excludes those who don’t share them", especially uniting these New Calvinists around the various "flashpoints" which they love to champion (ie homosexuality, complementarianism, racism, missions). The term "Gospel" and "Gospel-centered" thus functions in the New Calvinism as a dividing line by which they differentiate between those who are "in" and those who are "out" based upon their theological perspectives instead of the Word of God.

That is why the correct emphases must be placed on Sola Scriptura as well as Sola Fide and Sola Gratia. The Gospel IS NOT the determining factor of what constitutes orthodoxy. As the material principle, it is the subject of orthodoxy but never the arbiter of it. The arbiter of orthodoxy must always remain the Scriptures alone. When the material principle is made to bear the full weight of orthodoxy when it was never designed by God for that purpose, distortion of the Gospel inevitably happens sooner or later.

Just like the monocovenantalist who attempts to collapse the two covenants into one, the mono-emphasis on the Gospel in being "Gospel-centered" will create the type of as-of-now hypothetical scenario Stretger rightly fears and decries. In point of fact, as monocovenantalism can degenerate into its legalistic and antinomian branches (conditional covenant versus unconditional gracious covenant), the mono-emphasis on the Gospel can degenerate into Gospel-centered Legalism and Gospel-centered Antinomianism (whereby all are believed as orthodox as long as they preach the "Gospel" - as long as it somehow sounds like the Gospel), which seems to be practiced by John Piper in the case of Douglas Wilson.

The only corrective for the New Calvinism is to recover the proper emphasis on Sola Scriptura. It is not enough to simply have Sola Scriptura as a truth to be believed in, but it must be a truth to be embraced with just as much passion as the Gospel. Instead of calling themselves "Gospel-centered" people, perhaps they should be "Gospel-and-Word-centered" people, putting both principles in their proper places.

It is only in this light that progress can be possibly made on any issues and doctrines. It is feared that currently, any discussion of "tone" etc will be based upon whether such is "Gospel-centered" or not. The New Calvinist may very well be, probably unintentionally, bringing their unbiblical view on this matter to the topic, and disguising it based upon his agreement with the Gospel message proper. Using the epistemic standard of Sola Scripture however forces all involved to deal with the actual teachings of Scripture on this subject, instead of leaving room for errant views of ministry etc to hide in the darkness. It is only then that we can work for resolution of our doctrinal differences. May God grant us a renewed focus on the absolute authority of His Word alongside a renewed zeal for the Gospel. Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Emergent Shane Hipps teaches that all religions are valid

This does not need any commentary. From a transcript (with added commentary) done by Apprising Ministries:

John is the ultimate unifier and integrator of two religious systems that have nothing in common; the Jews and the Greeks…nothing in common…nothing at all in common…didn’t even use the same language most of the time. So here John comes along and says, “Hey (to the Jews) you know that thing you talk about…that wisdom…that beautiful wisdom that you talk about? Yeah, that…right. You know that?” And to the Greeks he says, “Hey, you know that logos…that mysterious, beautiful thing with life and fire and light? That, yeah right?” Both of those things, wisdom and logos…they are actually one thing. And they found full and complete expression in the person of Jesus. (pause)

So here’s what’s so stunning: at a time when it was unthinkable to try and unify religions, John is basically saying your religion totally valid…I love it…I’m even using your language…and your religion…I love it…it’s beautiful, totally valid…I’m even using your language, but I just want you both to know that there’s something bigger than what you’ve got.

There’s something that transcends what you have; it doesn’t nullify what you have, it doesn’t get rid of what you have. It just moves beyond it. So John does this unbelievably beautiful thing of basically saying, “I want to get past the religious divisions among us in our world. I don’t want to get past it…Jesus comes to bring us past it.” Jesus is the ultimate unifier of these various diverse ways of looking at the world…

So these…these external things…religion is about making these distinctions…and guess what? That isn’t a bad thing. Having a distinct religious identity marked by some boundaries, knowing how you’re different from other religions isn’t a problem. John isn’t trying to get rid of that, he’s trying to point beyond it. Keep it, but move beyond it.

To lose your religious identity is like losing a sail at sea. The sail is like religion, the wind is the Spirit. You need a sail to catch the wind…to harness the wind, but you gotta’ realize that that sail isn’t the wind. The sail is actually dependent on the wind. See, here’s the crazy thing, the Spirit (the wind), doesn’t need sails in order for it to move about the world. The sails need the wind. So the Spirit in order for it to move and operate in the world has no need of religion, but we (those of us made the way we are) for some reason need sails in order to catch the wind. We need religious structures, external things we can touch and see and traditions and lineages that teach us so that we can better catch the wind.

Now some sails are built better than other sails; some sails are bigger than other sails, some sails are a different shape than those other sails, and those differences matter. And sometimes, one sail is better than another sail in the same way that some religions are better equipped to catch the Spirit of God. Some religions are not as well equipped to fully capture and be compelled by the Spirit. So it matters what religion you choose. It matters why that religion…why you choose it. It matters what it looks like…how it’s shaped, but don’t ever confuse the sail with the Spirit…the sail with the wind.

Here’s what’s so confusing about this…John comes along and says, “Hey both of you guys you’ve got great sails…they look awesome.” I just want you to know it’s the wind that I’m interested in. He says Jesus became the fullness of that wind. And so along comes us and we create a sail around that person. We go, “Now we’ve got it!” Wooo! It’s just another sail. Just because we claim Jesus as the center of our religion does not make us one and the same with the wind of God. It just means we have another sail. I happen to think it’s a better sail than most other sails. I happen to think it’s a more effective sail than other sails (that’s why I chose this particular sail), but it ain’t the wind. (pause)

This is what John is doing and it’s extremely innovative and it’s very unsettling that he’s inviting us beneath and beyond the things that make distinctions between us. He’s pointing beyond the sail to the wind and he desperately wants us to experience the wind…the logos…that animating, creative life force that gives you breath right now in this very moment. That’s what John’ll be pointing us to, so as we go through this series, that’s what we’re going to be experiencing and exploring is this whole thing of the logos becoming flesh, and the difference between our…how we operate in the world and how God animates everything that is in the world.

And that’s why it says, “It was the life and light of all people.” It didn’t say the light and life of the people who believe in Jesus. This logos affects everybody including Osama bin Laden, as long as he’s got breath, in him, is a spark of the divine.

Michael Horton on the Purpose Driven paradigm (part 2)

In his book The Gospel Driven Life, Horton dismisses the Purpose Driven life paradigm, instead asking us to live by the promises of God. In a later chapter dealing with the church, Horton strikes again at the PD paradigm, this time on the issue of the church.

Under chapter 8 "How the Good News Creates a Cross-Cultural Community", under the section "The Promise-Driven Church", Horton addresses a couple of issue including the idea of the inclusion of children in the covenant, which is an interesting topic altogether but I digress. Horton undermines the entire PD enterprise, and finally attacks the marketing strategy both the Seeker Sensitive and the PD paradigm uses.

On the issue of being ambassadors for Christ:

... it is a promise that the church is called to deliver on God's behalf and in Christ's name. Ambassadors do not send themselves, write up their own job description, and then formulate their own policies. God already has his plans figured out. He has already elected the citizens-to-be of his kingdom, sent his Son to redeem them, and poured his Spirit out on them and within them, so that they come joyfully to his feast. (p. 205)

In other words, the Church and Christians have no right whatsoever to change God's message or "do ministry" in whatever way they think is right. This extends also to individual Christians, who are to conform their lives and witness to the precepts of Scripture. In the Christian walk, God is not a pragmatist; working for a commendable goal (ie a desire to see men repent and believe the Gospel) with pure motives even does not allow one to cut corners and practice whatever methodology one thinks is best to achieve that commendable goal.

Regarding the focus on friends and socializing in church, especially as focused on the young (the "Youth Ministry" - Purpose Driven Youth Ministry?):

... fellowship often takes the form of the niche marketing ... We may still call it fellowship, but it may be closer to socializing. There is nothing wrong with socializing. Clubs are fine. There is a time and place for hanging out with people with similar tastes, interests, and hobbies. However, Christian homes and churches are the only institutes in which our children will learn to find themselves in God's story. When they are united more by the trends of pop culture than by the faith and practice of the whole church in all times and places, our youth become victims of our sloth. We should not be surprised that over half of those reared in evangelical homes and churches today do not join or even attend a church regularly when they go off to college. If we are going to see our children grow up into Christ instead of abandoning the church, our spiritual life at home and in the church must incorporate them into the teaching and fellowship of the apostolic faith. They can find "ministry opportunities" through United Way, the Peace Corps, or Habitat for Humanity. They can find friends at the fraternity or sorority. They can find intellectual stimulation in class. And they can find a sense of meaning and purpose in their vacations. If their home churches exchanged the ministry of preaching and teaching the apostles' doctrine for a variety of ministries and activities that they could find legitimate versions in the world, then it is difficult to come up with a reasonable answer when they ask, "Why do I need the church?" (pp. 207-208)

On the goodness of diversity in the church:

I [Horton] tend to pray for the same things over and over again and these requests sound a lot like those of other Christians in my same age-group and demographic profile. Throw in some prayers from older and younger saints, from people who are richer and poorer, black, Latino, Asian, and European, and now my prayers become part of the prayers of the church. Once again, my narrow horizon of self-enclosed existence is opened up to a cross-centered and cross-cultural communion. (p. 208)

And finally, the case against the marketing that makes up the most part of Seeker-sensitive, Purpose Driven "outreach" methodology:

There are perfectly good reasons to target a particular niche-demographic for a marketing campaign. It all depends on what one is trying to do. A quick return on an investment, with the recognition that the product will become obsolete and therefore lack long-term profits, is one way of doing business. In that case, you'll want to make the product as attractive as possible not only to a narrow slice of consumers, but to a narrow slice of consumers who will soon move on to other fashions. The covenant of grace, on the other hand, is passed on "from generation to generation". Selling a product to the hot prospects is different from receiving a heritage from a previous generation and passing it down to the next. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, the Scriptures remind us, and only the kingdom that God is building will remain (Heb. 12:27-28). The churches that become slaves of the market are made of hay, wood, and stubble, while those built on the apostolic foundation of gold, silver, and costly stones will remain (1 Cor. 3:5-17) (p. 209)

Amen. Which is why niche-marketing the church does not work, even if one were to overlook the doctrine of total depravity in the first place.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Revisiting British Neo-Evangelicalism: The split of Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones with Dr. J.I. Packer

Over at the Heidelblog, Dr. R. Scott Clark has posted an interesting post regarding J.I. Packer and his compromise in the ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together). It is agreed that Dr. Packer's compromise did not "just happen". The spirit of compromise started with Packer's involvement in the British New Evangelical movement (partly due to his Anglican via media convictions) as stated by Martin Downes and Carl Trueman (via video), resulting in a break with "Old" Evangelicalism in the split with Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones in 1970.

In 1959, Packer gave an address that later become the book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In this post by Downes, we can see that there was already some form of a "young, restless, reformed" generation back then. Yet, it was not long before Packer's compromise led to the tapering off of that movement. Lloyd-Jones died without a true successor, and the entire Reformed (English non-conformist) movement in the UK, while still present, is left leader-less, as Trueman states.

This has implications for the modern New Calvinist movement. History has shown over and over that compromise ultimately destroys a movement, even if the initial results seem multiplied many-fold. Yet, few it seems want to learn from history. The biggest growth of the Church comes in times of contention and strict denunciation of errors, as seen in the early Church and the Reformation era. Compromise (and worldliness, which is a form of compromise) severely harms the Church. In the Second Great Awakening, the toleration of the Pelagian heretic Charles G. Finney resulted in whole sections of New England being referred to as the "burnt over district" (cf Iain H. Murray's book Revival and Revivalism) as many professing Christians from Finney's "revivals" apostatized. New Evangelicalism as an experiment is not yet over, but the results can be already seen in the multitudes of churches jettisoning the Gospel in all manner of ways (for example the Emergent Church Movement), and the toleration of heresies enabling them to leaven the churches and destroy souls.

With the toleration of the Federal Vision heresy by no less than Dr. John Piper in the recent Desiring God conference 2009, the need of the hour is for the proper exercise of biblical separation (not separationism) and the rejection of the New Evangelical paradigm, in order for this Calvinist resurgence to continue strong. Otherwise, history will repeat itself again, with different people involved. (Try substituting the name of J.I. Packer with John Piper), and that will be a sad thing indeed.

Add: Martin has posted extracts from Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones' address on evangelical unity here. Notice that Lloyd-Jones linked Evangelical Unity with the necessity of separating from false churches and thus the doctrine of separation, unlike the New Calvinists.

The church, surely, is not a paper definition. I am sorry, I cannot accept the view that the church consists of articles or of a confession of faith. A church does not consist of the Thirty-Nine Articles. A church does not consist of the Westminster Confession of Faith...A church consists of living people.

You and I are evangelicals. We are agreed about these essentials of the faith, and yet we are divided from one another. We meet like this, I know, in an occasional conference, but we spend most of our time apart from one another, and joined to and united with people who deny and are opposed to these essential matters of salvation. We spend our time with them. We have visible unity with them. Now, I say, that is sinful.

Let me therefore make an appeal to you evangelical people here present this evening. What reasons have we for not coming together? I think we ought to be able to give an answer to that question.

Let me put it positively. Do we not feel the call to come together, not occasionally, but always? It is a grief to me that I spend so little of my time with some of my brethren. I want to spend the whole of my time with them. I am a believer in ecumenicity, evangelical ecumenicity. To me, the tragedy is that we are divided. Is it right that those of us who are agreed about these fundamental things should only meet occasionally and spend, as I say, most of our time when we are among others fighting negative battles, showing how wrong our own leaders are, and so on? Now you and I have been called to a positive task.

[Bold added]

Let's see if the Gospel Coalition would embrace the same form of Evangelical Unity that Lloyd-Jones advocated, or the type of ecumenical unity that Packer and [John] Stott advocated.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michael Horton on the Purpose Driven paradigm (part 1)

Prof. Michael Horton has came out with a new book, The Gospel-Driven Life, which is supposed to be the sequel to his previous book Christless Christianity, another excellent book. In this very new book of his, Horton attempts to show us the solution to the problems infecting the American Church, and many churches around the world.

Due to my schedule, I do not currently have the time and focus to write a review at one go. However, I would post certain excellent excerpts of the book here which addresses certain topics pertinent to the Church.

The topic for this post, as it can be seen from the title, is the Purpose Driven (PD) life paradigm. Right from the onset, the title looks eerily familiar. In the book itself, chapter 6 is entitled The Promise-Driven Life, and it is in there where the PD life paradigm is either overtly attacked or undermined.

In mentioning, and lightly undermining the PD life paradigm, Horton states:

As evidenced by Rick Warren's phenomenal bestseller, The Purpose -Driven Life, the passion for meaning and purpose has not been extinguished by the daily grind or by the unrelenting buzz of our consumer culture. While affirming the importance of having clear goals and worthy focus in life, I am urging us to put purpose in their place, as servants of promise. No longer under the law's condemnation, the justified are free now to respond to God's commands out of thanksgiving for the God whose character it displays and out of love for our neighbors. The gospel saves us, giving us a reason to walk through the wilderness to the promised land, and the law guides us, giving us directions for that journey. Christians are driven by God's promises, and directed by God's purposes. (p. 133)

It can be seen that we are NOT to driven by God's purposes. If purpose is analogous to Law, while promise is analogous to Gospel, then by implication, a life driven by purpose is driven by Law, in other words, Legalism.

Horton further remarks on this contrast between law/purpose and gospel/promise:

The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce to those who transgress it what they have not done; consequently, it brings despair in its wake. The promise, by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life. (p. 139)

And finally, attacking the PD life paradigm:

When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. (p. 141)

The purpose-driven life is a life of works-righteousness. Only Christ can live the purpose-driven life, fulfilling all righteousness for His people. The world tries to be purpose-driven, and in so doing heaps up wrath upon itself since all men's righteousness are as filthy rags before God. The PD paradigm therefore is of the world and operates on the same principle of works that is antithetical to grace and true biblical faith.

In the next installment, we would look at the second part of the PD paradigm: the PD Church.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Charismatics and Pentecostal jumping onto the NPP bandwagen?

It seems that certain Charismatic and Pentecostal theologians want to jump onto the NPP (New Perspective on Paul) bandwagan. As stated:

Amos Yong, a charismatic theologian at Regent University, in his book review of Don Garlington's, In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Reviews (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005), comments on Assembly of God scholar Frank Macchia's new book:

What I have observed is not that Renewal (by which I mean pentecostal-and-charismatic, broadly speaking) biblical scholarship has engaged the NPP--they might well have, but I am not as up-to-date in this area — but that pentecostal theologians and, especially, systematicians have made some recent proposals at least consistent with, if not presuming of, some of the basic NPP proposals as defended by Garlington. For instance, one of the main points in Frank D. Macchia's Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Zondervan, 2006) concerns the interconnectedness between the doctrines of justification and sanctification. For Macchia, the pentecostal theological emphasis on the Spirit means that justification can never be merely a forensic imputation of alien righteousness, but must also be a pneumatological impartation of the righteousness of Christ resulting in a transformed life. As an extension of this idea (although actually preceding Macchia's book by two years), pentecostal systematician Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen — although he prefers to call himself an ecumenical theologian — has argued in his One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification (Liturgical, 2004) that justification is intimately tied in not only with sanctification but also with full salvation understood as glorification. [Bold in original post]

[more]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

James White responding to Obama's anti-Christian bigotry

Dr. James White has responded to radical leftist Barack Obama's "dream for a secular, non-Christian nation". Actually, that is a misnomer. It is actually Obama's vision for a homofascist, bigoted, anti-Christian nation, one in which bigoted hate crimes are sanctioned by the State as long as the opponent believes the Bible and practices it.

"If you honor that which sent Christ to the Cross, you are not a Christian" - Dr. James R. White (32 mins into the show)

Simon Murphy on the Gospel and your money

My friend Simon has preached a very good sermon etitled The Gospel and Your Money, which can be heard here. If you are sick about hearing sermonettes about money that sound like a fund-raising speech, this is a sermon you would not want to miss.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Genesis 1: Plenty of room on the slippery slope

Justin Taylor over at his new Between Two Worlds blog over at The Gospel Coalition has highlighted the fact that Dr. Tremper Longman, a "professor of OT at Westmont College, author of numerous commentaries, and co-author of the acclaimed An Introduction to the Old Testament", "explains in the following video that for him it’s an open question as to whether or not Adam was a literal, historical figure, and that to “insist” that Gen 1-2 conveys this is dependent on a “very highly literalistic” reading."

Rick Philips over at the Reformation21 blog has commented on this issue as follows:

When I was in seminary, I learned from my professors that even though Moses believed the days of creation were normal week days (as evidenced by his application of Genesis 1's chronology in the fourth commandment, Ex. 20:11), God was just using Moses' primitive cosmology to teach us something different from what the text said. I was not surprised, therefore, when one of these professors recently appeared on the internet insisting that we need not maintain a historical Adam and Eve. The slippery slope is broad enough for us all, my friends, not just for known "liberals".

I wholly concur. The fight for 6-day creationism is the fight for the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Concede it, and one might as well be a liberal/neo-orthodox. As Justin Taylor mentioned in one of his comment:

  1. Jesus and Paul both believed in a literal, historical individual named Adam.
  2. Jesus and Paul based arguments on this belief and intended to convey this belief in teaching the implications of it (for covenant headship, marital headship, the marriage ideal, common humanity, etc.).
  3. If there was no [sic] literal, historical individual named Adam, then Jesus and Paul were not only mistaken in a belief, but taught an incorrect belief.
  4. If so, Jesus and Paul were in error on this, and so is the Bible.

See also Was Adam a real historical individual?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

R. Scott Clark: What is the Federal Vision?

Dr. R. Scott Clark had written an article introducing the Federal Vision some time back. In light of John Piper's compromise in his recent DG conference 2009 with Federal Visionist Douglas Wilson, this article would help us know more about the pernicious error of the Federal Vision. An excerpt:

The FV is 33-year old movement that originated, at least in this episode, with the Rev Mr Norman Shepherd who was then teaching systematic theology at WTS/P. In 1974 he defined faith, in the act of justification, to be "faith and works." It wasn't that, in justification, faith is "receiving and resting" and works are evidence and thus a sort of vindicatory justification of the claim that one believes. Nothing so nuanced or Reformed. Rather, he flatly claimed that there are two parts to faith in justification. When that created a predictable uproar, he modified his language to "faithfulness." At the same time he, and others, was about revising covenant theology. In baptism, he wrote, we are all united to Christ and receive the benefits of Christ temporarily and conditionally. What is the condition of retaining them? Faithfulness!

...

In baptism every baptized person receives all the benefits of Christ (election, union with Christ, justification, adoption) so that one is in "the covenant" by grace but one retains these benefits and either remains or becomes (they've said both) elect, united to Christ, and justified by cooperating with grace through trusting and obeying. This was their scheme to combat evangelical antinomianism. Of course it's an old brew called moralism and it's been on tap forever. At the same time, the FV movement also re-defines covenant theology to say that there is but one covenant. Historic Reformed theology had affirmed three covenants:

  • a pre-temporal covenant between the Father and the Son (and implicitly the Holy Spirit) to accomplish the redemption of the elect and to apply it to them;
  • a covenant of works before the fall;
  • a covenant of grace after the fall.

The FV affirms only one covenant: a gracious conditional covenant before the fall and a conditional gracious covenant after the fall. The FV generally rejects the pre-temporal covenant. This version of covenant theology has also had support among certain Dutch Reformed theologians in the 20th century (which served a a background to the current controversy). This re-construction of covenant theology served the FV movement well as it allows them to emphasize grace -- who can criticize grace? -- and it allowed them to insinuate conditions into the covenant of grace which supported their doctrine of justification through faithfulness (trust, Spirit-wrought sanctity, and cooperation with it in good works).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Edward Sim's review of my CREDO500 article on New Evangelical Calvinism, and my response

In just a few minutes time, the official publication of my modified paper on the New Evangelical Calvinism would be done. Edward Sim, a good brother in Christ, has reviewed my paper and the review has been published as well here. In response to Sim's review, I have written a response to it as follows:

I am grateful for Edward Sim’s review of my article on the New Evangelical Calvinism. Though I would most definitely not be in agreement with him on some of the issues he raised, I appreciate his frankness and his desire for the truth. In a culture which desires peace at all costs, those who are willing to disagree and do it in a Christian manner as based upon the authority of Scripture are indeed rare, and it is in this sense that I appreciate Sim’s review (cf Prov. 28:23).

It must first be reiterated that this paper was initially written in response to the attack of Tim Challies on “watchbloggers” on his blog. This paper was not therefore intended to be a full-scale analysis of the current Calvinist Resurgence, and thus of the positives and negatives found in it. Also, being a movement, it is definitely the case that the movement is not monolithic and thus not everything stated would apply to everyone. The article therefore was meant to be a clarion call towards the New Calvinists of the concerns with regards to possible deficiencies in the movement itself, which of course may or may not apply to them as individuals. It must be said that I am sympathetic to the movement, being able to identify with them on certain issues like the need for having a dynamic and passionate faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, after all having experienced the transformation that comes with embracing the Doctrines of Grace later in the Christian life.

[more]

Monday, October 05, 2009

Tim Keller compromising the Gospel

It seems that Tim Keller, a poster child of the Calvinist Resurgence, has came back from a conference held at Willow Creek, and blogged about how he appreciates "The 'Kingly' Willow Creek Conference". Using John Frame's "tri-perspectivalism", Keller states that Willow Creek has a "kingly" emphasis, Reformed churches have a "prophetic" emphasis, while Emerging churches have a "priestly" emphasis.

In response, Rick Phillips has responded to Keller's post in an irenic tone on the Reformation21 site here. Phillips asked the pertinent question:

Did one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition (of which I, like many of us at Ref 21, am a member) really just suggest that gospel clarity is non-essential to a church? (Bold added)

I would like to offer some additional thoughts on the matter; readers can read Phillips excellent response to Keller at the Reformation21 blog post.

In response to Keller's ecumenical post, the question we should ask ourselves is: What defines a true church? According to the Reformed tradition [It can be shown in Calvin's Institutes also but I do not feel like searching for the reference], a biblical church is defined by three essential marks: The pure preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. Before being mushy about the greatness of different "churches" and their different emphasis, do these churches first qualify as true churches?

With regards to sound doctrine, let us be as maganimous as possible. I can grant for the sake of argument that pure preaching refers to getting the Gospel correct, and that only. After all, since the whole idea is about being Gospel-centered, shouldn't this be the main emphasis? So how would the churches mentioned grade based merely on this one criteria?

The Emerging churches, and most definitely the Emergent churches will automatically fail the test. There are many examples of Emergents denying the Gospel outright, with the most recent case being that of Rob Bell. Instead of the biblical Gospel which proclaims the wrath of God against sinners, and the necessity of repentance from sin and belief in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, the Gospel is painted as social justice and ushering in "a new creation", or whatever liberal nonsense that can be recycled by the latest guru in the Emerging Movement.

Willow Creek church unfortunately fails the grade as well. A Gospel message without the depravity and wickedness of Man, the wrath of God against sinners, the necessity for sinners to repent and turn from their life of sin, the command to be holy as God is holy etc etc is NOT a biblical Gospel. Instead of preaching the biblical Gospel, Willow Creek through their seeker-sensitivity are only interested in reaching "unchurched Harry and Mary" through meeting their felt-needs. If a gospel, it is the "Gospel of Pelagius"; even Rome does not officially sink to that level.

So therefore, based upon the New [Evangelical] Calvinist idea of Gospel-centeredness, the churches mentioned by Keller (besides the Reformed churches), have all failed the test of being a true church. Such being the case, what kind of "kingly" and "priestly" ministry can false churches have?

Dr. Phillips has called Keller to task for implying that Gospel clarity is non-essential to a church. This is in fact the best reading of Keller's endorsement not only of Willow Creek (which is bad enough), but Emerging churches. I will go further to say that Keller's endorsement of such "churches" as being legitimate churches implies that the Gospel itself is non essential to a church. Is this what the "Calvinist Resurgence" is all about; that the Gospel is not essential to a church!?

[HT: BiblicalThought]

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Phil Johnson on the heresy of Rob Bell

Phil Johnson has posted an excellent article here exposing the heresy of Emergent Rob Bell as seen in his interview with the Boston Globe. I honestly do not thnk there is any way anyone can spin this sort of nonsense and pass it as historic Evangelicalism.

Q: OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A: I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That's a beautiful sort of thing.

Q: Is religion a part of that?

A: At the heart of the Christian story is resurrection, the belief that this world [sic] is good, and that, as a follower of Jesus, a belief that God hasn’t abandoned the world, but is actively at work in the world. Even in the midst of what can look like despair and destruction there is a new creation present.

Nothing about the Gospel there. The world is good? Oh well, Rom. 3 it seems does not exist in Bell's 'bible'.