Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Transformationalism and the Agora Forum

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (Jn. 18:36)

Over in Singapore, the Reformed faith does not exactly have an illustrious past, in fact almost no past at all. Mainstream churches turned liberal with the import of Modernism early on in the early part of the 20th century and evangelicalism came in with the parachurch organizations (Campus Crusade, Navigators, YFC etc) and the Billy Graham crusades. Yet, the Reformed faith slowly entered this part of the world from literature and a few pastors from the West with the start up of several churches (of which my Singapore church is one of them) in the 80s and 90s, and that influence is still growing and continuing into the 21st century mainly via books and the Internet.

Another such Reformed influence comes from the ministry of Indonesian evangelist Stephen Tong, founder of STEMI (Stephen Tong Evangelistic Ministries International) and the "Reformed Evangelical Movement". A couple of years back sometime after I embraced the Doctrines of Grace and was moving towards Reformed confessionalism, around the year 2006, I came to hear about this group that calls itself the Agora, which have a main (Malaysian) blog here and a Singapore one here. Still struggling to come to grips with the implications my transition from Evangelical Third-wave Charismatic to Reformed theology demands of me, I wasn't that enamored of what seemed to me to at that time to be some form of social justice cause. I was contacted at that time by one of the people in the group to join it. Providentially, one of the contributors by the name of Joshua Woo wrote something on the AgoraSG blog related to the Danish existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, a post which seemed to have been removed later. Being Reformed and reforming, reading that article however drew my suspicion and I naturally declined to have anything to do with the group.

Since then, I have came to know somewhat some of the people in the group and some of the stuff that has happened in at least the Singapore branch. Dave Chong is the prominent voice in Malaysia and it seems the person behind the entire idea of the Agora. In its relation to the churches, it seems that the Agora has some form of relation to STEMI but is not part of it neither is it held accountable by it. Rather, the Agora is a amorphous "conversation" whereby Christians and non-Christians are welcomed to come together to discuss various issues, and which does not exactly have much of a statement of faith but just a vision statement (with the exception of the Singapore one which was forced by certain unhappy circumstances which I am not going to disclose). The people involved may be from different churches but are not under any formal ecclesiastical oversight of any sort, with the exception of perhaps Agora KL which seems to be under Dave Chong who is serving in CDPC (City Discipleship Presbyterian Church) located near KL in Malaysia.

Now, I am not going to quibble over the idea of "conversations" here because I do believe it can be done in a right manner. Rather, Agora would serve as the example of what I have come to see as the error of a set of teaching called Transformationalism. Since 2006, this issue has been at the back of my mind and, while I do not focus much energies thinking about the particular subject matter, the subject has always been there (along with many other topics as you can see in the topics I post about) awaiting the time for further contemplation and reflection according to the Scriptures.

So what exactly is "transformationalism"? Briefly stated, it is any set of teachings which states that Christians have as at least one of their goals to somehow directly transform society. There are at least three types of transformationalisms present today: Kuyperian, Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism, and these three are not necessarily non-overlapping. Transformationalists of all sorts typically make much of the so-called "Cultural Mandate", seeing it as something that is required for Christians and the Church. Under the frramework of "Common Grace", Christians are supposed to bring all of life in all their various "spheres" under the Lordship of Christ (whatever and however that is supposed to mean), knowing that as they do, the idea of "common grace" would mean that unbelievers would agree with and even participate in such transformation.

In what follows, I would do a brief critique of the transformationalism as it seems to be practiced in the Agora movement.

The topsy-turvy world of Transformationalism

In traditional Reformed, Protestant and Evangelical theology, the doctrine of salvation is at the center. When Luther discovered the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, that doctrine became the material principle of the entire Reformation. Since then, the doctrine of salvation has always remained as the center of the Christian message. Following the outline of Scripture in its teachings and emphases, theologians formulate the various doctrines of Scripture from a Gospel-centered perspective. From the basics of the Gospel come soteriology, covenant theology, ecclesiology and others. From the fact that we as individuals are justified individually before God, we are then saved into the corporate body of the Church, which then functions in the midst of society. The Reformational focus following Scripture thus has always been from the individual first, to the covenant family (if any) next, then to the church as a corporate body, and then to the society at large.

Reformational Christians should therefore follow the emphases of Scripture and direct their lives accordingly. We should focus a lot on the individual, a substantial amount on the family and on the church, and much less on society. This is especially so when it comes to society. When Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world, we must understand that Christ's mission has nothing to do with society in general. This does not mean that Scripture has nothing to say about society, but that it is of less importance in Scripture.

The Transformationalist however lives in a topsy-turvy world. While Reformed varieties supposedly do focus on the individual and the doctrine of salvation, yet the focus for them is society. The triangle has for all purposes been inverted. Such topsy-turviness leads to something even more deadly: Compromise

Compromise and ecumenism

The topsy-turvy view of Christianity has led to some very interesting phenomena. The specter of compromise comes in when one has a under-developed view of basic doctrine, and an over-developed view of how to transform society. The various doctrines of Christianity are minimalized and critical differences papered over. One finds in Agora for example a trivializing of the dangers of doctrinal error, as we have seen in the non-chalance some of them displayed in 2006 towards my concerns on the posting of the Kierkegaard piece by Joshua Woo. The general absence of any statement of faith indicates the general indifference to the things which Scripture treats as important. If we as Reformational Christians are convinced for example that believing in Justification by Faith Alone is the very heart of the Gospel and thus whoever denies that is lost, then we would not think that someone who denies Justification by Faith Alone as being "a Christian who just happens not to believe in some doctrines". Ditto for all the major doctrines of Scripture.

Such doctrinal minimalization comes together with ecumenism. Since they are after all to be co-belligerants to work for the transformation of society, it would be counter-productive to offend their co-workers whom they are supposedly working with them towards transformation. While they probably would not jettison the Gospel entirely, such need to form a working coalition would tend towards broad ecumenism whereby doctrinal differences are tolerated to a certain limit, which depends largely on the individual. For some it may be inerrancy, and for others the Nicene Creed. Regardless of which line is chosen, the line chosen seemed to have more in common with personal or historical preferences rather than the line drawn by Scripture itself.

While obviously not everyone is called to specifically address biblical errors, all of us are called to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). It is simply unbelievable that transformationalists are more interested in presenting a "holistic" vision for the Church while they are indifferent to the fact that their co-belligerants are on the wide road to perdition. But such is the skewed vision that Transformationalism gives its adherents.

Transforming into obsolescence

The Church that is married to the Spirit of the Age will be a widow in the next. (Dean Inge 1860 - 1954)

Being engaged in so-called "transformation" involves some rather dubious activities on the part of such people. In the rush to be relevant to society, transformationists tend to become the religious equivalent of news commentators, offering an alternate Christian view of contemporary issues. No doubt Christians need to apply the truths of Scripture to various issues concerning the world, but transformationists tend to major on such contemporary societal concerns, oftentimes due to the topsy-turvy worldview being left without a solid biblical basis for the commentaries they offer.

Agora in this light has provided an excellent example of reckless Transformationists biting off more than they can chew. On the Agora blog from 2007, we have an interesting blog post helping us interact with ... Global Warming! Nevermind that the proof for such is almost non-existent, as even recently an IPCC insider and prominent climate scientist Mike Hulme states. Instead, the transformationalists must jump onto the green agenda since it is even now still a hot button issue. Does Dave even question the basis for all the green hysteria? After all, if the transformationalists are supposed to really give an informed biblical perspective on issues, shouldn't they be able to address the issues from a biblical perspective in questioning the faulty presuppositions of climate science? Instead, we see Christians trying to marry the Spirit of this age, and they would be widowed in the next after the so-called global warming scare has dissipated.

In a more recent paper, Dave Chong addresses the issue of "creation care". The paper he posted sounds like a green paper with scriptural references peppered over it. Nowhere are the faulty presuppositions about the green movement even exposed and examined. Instead, faulty and fallacious science is made the determinator of what the problem is. Now, are we to care for the environment? Sure. Are we to waste resources? No. And that is why such position papers are actually so insidious. They have just enough truth to trap the unwary and enough falsehood to poison them. After all, if it is claimed that creation care means "zero carbon emission", such must be achieved even if millions of people starve to death because of it - all collateral damage for the cause of saving Gaia.

Whichever position one takes on the climate change issue, it must be admitted that Dave Chong has bitten off more than he can chew. When transformationists attempt to be too broad, they may transform themselves into obsolescence. As Dean Inge said, the Church that is married to the Spirit of the Age will be a widow in the next. Ditto for individuals too. Just as the Theistic Evolutionists are obsolete even as they speak, the global warming fear-mongers would be obsolete when the warming they prophesy fail to come to pass.

Neglecting the weightier things of the faith

This topsy-turvy view of Christianity comes down into a neglect of the important things of the faith. Most certainly, Reformed Christianity does not advocate a reductionistic view of being focused on soul-saving to the exclusion of almost every other thing. Extreme existential spiritualizing as if Christianity is all about feelings and relationships is a terrible distortion of true biblical doctrine. Yet it is just as wrong to swing to the other extreme of which Transformationalism is one such example. Rather, one must go back to Scripture and follow its teachings. Wanting to transform society yet neglecting the clearer commands of Scripture is truly neglecting the weightier things of the faith and focusing on the things which actually matter less to God.

We have previously said that the Scriptures move from the individual to the family to the church and then to society. If we seek to be biblical, then we must do likewise. What then is the biblical way of truly impacting society?

The biblical model

Christians are first called to the work of souls. If the Gospel is to be the center of Christianity, then the individual and his state before God is the most important thing for us. We are not here to think of the issue reductionistically as if only evangelism is in mind. Rather, what this refers to is that our focus must first and foremost be for the service and good of individuals (which includes evangelism, apologetics, discipleship etc). In this light, the transformationalists are in error when they rather sacrifice the soul of the individual for their "worldview analyses" and "societal changes". Nothing irks them more than other concerned Christians who question them about their co-belligerency and start refuting the errant and heretical views held by some of the so-called Christians friends. While it is likely they will try to change the errors of their co-belligerents, they will do so in a "positive" manner which has more to do with Santa Claus than Jesus Christ.

The next step is that of the family. The so-called "Cultural Mandate" which is found in Gen. 1:28 (which is of the Created order) has as its beginning "Be fruitful and multiply". The Old Testament talks about the blessing of having children (Ps. 127:3-5) and the New Testament talks about rearing up children for the Lord (1 Tim. 2:15, Eph. 6:4). While children have a diminished role as compared to their importance in the Old Testament, yet unless God says otherwise, the natural thing to do is to have children and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord.

Yet it is at this point that the Transformationalists in the Asian context disregard. It is somewhat disingenuous to claim to follow the "Cultural Mandate" when one choose to follow the latter clause while ignoring the former clause. Having and nurturing children in the ways of the Lord is both a creation and redemptive mandate. This is especially so in Reformed Covenant Theology thought, where we believe that God promises to save His people in the line of generations and thus we practice Infant Baptism. In this light, do not bother about the doomsday scenario of the "population experts". If they really want to stop population growth, they should start with themselves so that there would be less fools on the planet.

The next stage would be that of the church. The Church is the Body of Christ and His bride. Christians come to church to attend to the means of grace in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments (certainly NOT dramas, skits and social services).

When Christians interact with society, we must move through the other stages first. Only then can we work for change in society. For after all, the real and lasting change in society comes when people in that society turn to God, not when laws of biblical morality are imposed on people. As such, while we are indeed called to be salt and light in this world, we do not have to plot and scheme for the transformation of this world according to the Transformationalists' paradigms. Rather, we attend to the means of grace that God has ordained in His Word, and who knows if God in His mercy would grant repentance and faith to the nations.

Monday, June 21, 2010

BioLogos and the downgrade of Evangelicalism

Over at the Pyromaniacs blog, Phil Johnson has turned our attention to the group that calls itself "BioLogos", best known for its "role" in Bruce Waltke's ouster from RTS. This group supposedly is set up to show how "science" and Evangelicalism can coexist, and thus it tends to promote some form of theistic evolution.

It seems that BioLogos in its bid to become "scientifically respectable" has decided to throw out the doctrine of inerrancy, as we can see in their latest posts here, here and here. The first two posts repeat the same liberal nonsense of contradictions in the Bible, and conveniently make the author's (Kenton Sparks) reasoning the final arbiter of what seems credible. The third post in its focus on historical theology can very much be challenged historically, as we shall do so now with Sparks' terrible misquotation and misrepresentation of the actual teachings of John Calvin.

In the first post, Sparks claimed:

As the great Christian exegete John Calvin said long ago, “it seems impossible and opposed to common sense that there are waters above the heavens.” Calvin admitted, nevertheless, that this is what the text says. He further concluded that this was not correct and probably reflected how ancient, uneducated Israelites understood the structure of the cosmos.

This is repeated again in the third post where Sparks claims:

I have mentioned already that he [John Calvin] understood the Genesis cosmology, with its heavenly waters, as an ancient and errant cosmology. In this case God and Moses merely “accommodated” their writings to the confused viewpoints of the ancient audience.

Let us however look at the original source. What exactly did Calvin teach about the passage cited by Sparks? On the CCEL resource page, we find the whole teaching of Calvin in context:

6 Let there be a firmament. In the next verse he changes the word to “expansio”. “Fecit expansionem.” — “He made an expanse.” The work of the second day is to provide an empty space around the circumference of the earth, that heaven and earth may not be mixed together. For since the proverb, ‘to mingle heaven and earth,’ denotes the extreme of disorder, this distinction ought to be regarded as of great importance. Moreover, the word רקיע (rakia) comprehends not only the whole region of the air, but whatever is open above us: as the word heaven is sometimes understood by the Latins. Thus the arrangement, as well of the heavens as of the lower atmosphere, is called רקיע (rakia) without discrimination between them, but sometimes the word signifies both together sometimes one part only, as will appear more plainly in our progress. I know not why the Greeks have chosen to render the word ςτερέωμα, which the Latins have imitated in the term, firmamentum; for literally it means expanse. And to this David alludes when he says that ‘the heavens are stretched out by God like a curtain,’ (Psalm 104:2.) If any one should inquire whether this vacuity did not previously exist, I answer, however true it may be that all parts of the earth were not overflowed by the waters; yet now, for the first time, a separation was ordained, whereas a confused admixture had previously existed. Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. The assertion of some, that they embrace by faith what they have read concerning the waters above the heavens, notwithstanding their ignorance respecting them, is not in accordance with the design of Moses. And truly a longer inquiry into a matter open and manifest is superfluous. We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe. They who deny that this is effected by the wonderful providence of God, are vainly inflated with the folly of their own minds. We know, indeed that the rain is naturally produced; but the deluge sufficiently shows how speedily we might be overwhelmed by the bursting of the clouds, unless the cataracts of heaven were closed by the hand of God. Nor does David rashly recount this among His miracles, that God layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, (Psalm 104:3;) and he elsewhere calls upon the celestial waters to praise God, (Psalm 148:4.) Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding, air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters.’ Yet Moses has not affixed to the work of this day the note that God saw that it was good: perhaps because there was no advantage from it till the terrestrial waters were gathered into their proper place, which was done on the next day, and therefore it is there twice repeated.

The quoted part can be shown in a briefer form as follows:

6 Let there be a firmament. ... Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. ... We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe. They who deny that this is effected by the wonderful providence of God, are vainly inflated with the folly of their own minds. We know, indeed that the rain is naturally produced; but the deluge sufficiently shows how speedily we might be overwhelmed by the bursting of the clouds, unless the cataracts of heaven were closed by the hand of God. Nor does David rashly recount this among His miracles, that God layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, (Psalm 104:3;) and he elsewhere calls upon the celestial waters to praise God, (Psalm 148:4.) Since, therefore, God has created the clouds, and assigned them a region above us, it ought not to be forgotten that they are restrained by the power of God, lest, gushing forth with sudden violence, they should swallow us up: and especially since no other barrier is opposed to them than the liquid and yielding, air, which would easily give way unless this word prevailed, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters.’ Yet Moses has not affixed to the work of this day the note that God saw that it was good: perhaps because there was no advantage from it till the terrestrial waters were gathered into their proper place, which was done on the next day, and therefore it is there twice repeated. (Bold added to highlight phrase quoted by Sparks)

In his exposition of verse 6, Calvin tells us that having a water expense seemed opposed to common sense. He then tells us because it seemed stupid, therefore some people resort to allegorizing to explain it away. He then says that yet to his mind (as opposed to those who engage in allegorizing), he thinks that the teaching of the water expense is "but the visible form of the world", which is to say there really is a physical water expense. We can see this in the rain especially as it came in the Flood of Moses' time (the Deluge). Calvin furthermore quoted Ps. 104:3 and Ps. 148:4 as evidence of the water placed in the heavens.

From this look at the exposition of John Calvin on Gen. 1:6 in context, we can see that Sparks' interpretation turns Calvin's teaching on its head. The phrase highlighted by Sparks is the position that Cain is setting up to demolish. Furthermore, when Calvin states that the book of Creation is the "book of the unlearned" written so that the "rude and unlearned may perceive", he wrote that not in a derogatory manner to say with Sparks that the teaching of the watery expense "was not correct and probably reflected how ancient, uneducated Israelites understood the structure of the cosmos". Rather, Calvin mentioned that in a complimentary manner in saying how this book of creation was written as "the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception", such that even the "rude and unlearned" may truly learn from this book. Instead of denigrating the Israelites as stupid "stone age" folks, Calvin was actually teaching about God's condescension in revealing truth to even simple folks.

Sparks in this case contradicts the teaching of John Calvin. In fact reading Calvin's commentary on Gen. 1 would show that Calvin held to a six-day creation. If this is the best that Theistic Evolution scholarship can come up with, they are clutching at straws.

What I would like to focus on however is not so much on the terrible scholarship that Sparks has come up with in these three posts of his, but rather the downgrade of Evangelicalism that BioLogos represents. While slippery slope arguments are normally hard to establish, things start to get really fishy when we see so-called Evangelicals reject inerrancy after their embrace of evolution. Haven't we learn by now that embracing evolution has always put one on the road to apostasy? For the New Evangelicals both traditional and YRR-type, how much apostasy needs to occur from within the camp before you start to question the ministry philosophy that allows heresy to go unchallenged and not anathemized but merely disagreed on? It truly is sad to see history repeating itself over and over again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lane Keister: How to get along with TRs

Lane Keister over at the Green Baggins has an interesting piece addressing this issue here. Interesting principles indeed.

Principle 1. Never, ever, ever ask a TR either explicitly or implicitly to abandon his principles. This is probably the single most unloving thing that anyone can do to a TR. The principles he holds are what he believes the Bible to be saying. Furthermore, asking a TR to do that will only make him that much more royally upset. Any attempt to force a TR to abandon his principles will make the TR think that the other person has abandoned truth.

Principle 2. Stop accusing the TR of being unloving. People do not know what is in someone else’s heart. It might be fair to say that a particular action seems unloving to you. That can be debated, certainly. But blanket statements about someone else’s motivations are never very helpful, and they are almost always inaccurate.

Principle 3. Focus attention on the issue when you disagree with a TR. Nothing irritates a TR more than having personalities dragged into it. The TR doesn’t want to dwell on these things. He is thinking about whether something is logical or not, whether something is biblical or not (and this is not to say that non-TR folk are not concerned about this)

I especially agree with principles 2 and 3.

Ray Ortlund and the self-serving attack on "TRs"

I have been comparing the New Calvinists with the New Evangelicals, and the same sort of rotten attitude is common in these two movements. Nowhere is this more evident than this attack piece by Ray Ortlund at the Gospel Coalition blog space here. Darrel Hart has responded quite well here at his blog, and I am not going to re-invent the wheel. Rather, let's analyze the entire article to see the flaws in it.

I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian – or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. - Ortlund

The problem here is that Ortlund does not even define who and what makes a Christian. Of course it is true that there is a problem "when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians", but who are these Christians? Can we regard those who deny the Deity of Christ for example "Christians"? How about those who deny the Trinity like T.D. Jakes? Doctrinal arminians and practical Semi-Palagians like Rick Warren? Certainly, there is latitude in so-called secondary doctrines upon which Christians may legitimately differ, but to say that "theological distinctives" itself make us aloof is itself a theological/philosophical distinctive that makes Ortlund aloof from the so-called TRs. Ortlund needs to heeds his own advice instead of attacking the brethren.

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. - Ortlund

The problem with the Judaizers were that they distorted the Gospel. Is Ortlund saying that getting the Gospel right (which is what the TRs are trying to do) is an addition to the Gospel? So a right Gospel is an addition to the Gospel? Go figure.

But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness - Ortlund

Which "Jesus"? Can one define Jesus apart from what the Scriptures claim He is? As Prof R. Scott Clark mused, "one wonders whether Ortlund is telling us to be conformed to the Christ we confess or another confession of Christ".

But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. ... By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them - Ortlund

Ortlund has yet to define "Gospel" and "Christian". We can perhaps more truthfully rephrase Ortlund's phrase as follows:

By emphasizing their Gospel distinctive, Christians want non-Christians to feel excluded so that you will conform to the Gospel.

I really do not see any problem with that.

But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself. -Ortlund

Of course. But ONLY the true Gospel did that, not the "gospel" of the Judaizers for instance.

In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. - Ortlund

Of course what happens when the distinctive is the Gospel? Remember, Ortlund has yet to define "Gospel" and "Christian".

They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: &c - Ortlund

Funny how Ortlund can be so sure of the psychological state of the TRs. One wonders why these New Calvinists always like to psycho-analyze others and judge them (cf Mt. 7:1).

Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians! - Ortlund

Most certainly. The question however is: which "Jesus"? Can the Jesus of the Jehovah Witnesses for example qualify? If not, then aren't you positing at least one "theological distinctive" here?

This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts. - Ortlund

Of course since few people (except the hyper-Calvinists) claim that only Reformed people are Christians, why is Ortlund creating straw-men here? We evaluate people according to the Gospel, which has lots of theological distinctives of its own. Classical Arminianism for example is contrary to the Gospel, as the Synod of Dordt ruled.

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love. - Ortlund

Certainly what unifies the church is the Gospel, and what defines the Gospel is the Bible. But what is it exactly? That is the core problem with the so-called Gospel-centered movement! Show me one evangelical heresy which does not claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel! The Oneness Pentecostal who deny the Trinity claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel. The Rick Warrens, the Joel Osteens, even the blasphemous TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network) and the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) all claim to be true to Scripture and the Gospel. These two sentences are thus tautologies and have zero cognitive value at all. Ortlund might as well say that "Gospel-believing Christians believe the Gospel" which is by definition always true and perfectly useless.

The last part where Ortlund claims that we should not wish that other Christians "become like us" is very vague. If by that, he means that we should not wish that other Christians embrace doctrines and practices which are more in line with Scripture, then the contention is certainly wrong.

Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? - Ortlund

Unqualified learning is wrong. You do not learn error from those in error, only what is true if there is any. It is an assumption that others always have something for us to learn. They very well may, but they may not have anything for us to learn of also.

Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people - Ortlund

Apparently, Reformed people will be so transformed by their doctrine that everyone would find us fun to be around. I seriously wonder: When was a fun personality included in the list of the fruits of the spirit?

In conclusion, we can see the problems in the doctrinal latitudinarianism advocated in this piece by Ray Ortlund. It is manifestly self-contradictory at places, and the slogan "Jesus alone" while true is used as a self-serving club to whack all other Christians who do not embrace their version of what Christianity and Christian conduct actually is. The irrationalism and implicit myscticsm/existentialism present in Ortlund's piece should be evident to all, as if one can actually know the right "Christ" and the right "Gospel" without so-called theological distinctives. It certainly sounds very pious to shout "Jesus alone", except that we are not so sure whether they are actually promoting "Jesus alone" or "the Arminian Jesus who doesn't actually save, alone", or "the Jesus who is Michael the Archangel, alone", or "the Jesus who is also the same one person as the Father and the Spirit, alone".

Lord, please save your church from such Latitudinarianism.

Tim Keller and the New Calvinist idea of "Gospel Eco-Systems"

Over at the Heidelblog, Prof R. Scott Clark has posted a written transcript of Tim Keller's talk at Renew South Florida about creating "Gospel eco-systems". The idea according to Keller is that we should create environments conducive for the Gospel message and churches to thrive, as follows:

OK, the subject is, creating gospel eco systems, what is that? ... So an ecosystem is a dynamic balanced set of forces and energies that grow each other. Now the question I want to talk to you about today, is how do you start a gospel movement in your city, or how can you see a gospel movement develop in your city? I’m not talking about how you and your church and your network can become a movement, only, that would be a different talk, and maybe if you want to ask me, I could at least give you, if you want this, I have a little list of things that I would say, here are these five, six, seven things are necessary if your own church is to become a moment, so it grows, and it develops, and it just keeps on growing and expanding. I’m actually thinking beyond that.

A gospel movement is this: a gospel movement happens in a city when across churches, across multiple denominations and networks, and beyond any one key leader or any one command center, or any one denomination, you actually have the body of Christ in the city geometrically growing, not just reconfiguring. The vast majority of what we consider, you know, “good things happening in that city,” is a reconfiguration of the body of Christ, not an actual growth of the body of Christ against the overall population. When the body of Christ is growing from 1% to 5% to 10% of the population, because its growing faster than the population, its actually growing. Usually what happens in most cities, when something that happens is reconfiguration. A new church grows, or a new network of churches grow, and what they do is, largely, pull Christians out of less effective ministries into their ministry. And that can be a very good thing, if they are utilizing them better, training them better. So very often what happens, you get a really dynamic, big church growing, and they start churches, and they start churches, and they say “great things are happening,” what’s really happening, mainly, is 90% of the growth of that network is the reconfiguration, its just pulling Christians from other places, now deploying them better, and certainly people are becoming Christians. But overall, the body is not growing, its reconfiguring. That’s not a movement.

What does it take for that to happen? What does it take to have a gospel movement, in the city? And I think the answer is: the, an eco-system has to be put into place. An eco-system is a set of forces, a set of energies that interact with each other, and therefore create this growth that is beyond, its beyond any one program, its beyond any one leader, its beyond any one church.

...

Keller dedicated the rest of his talk to detailing how such "Gospel eco-systems" should be made.

When one reads through the transcript of Keller's talk, one gets a rather disoriented feeling. Been there, done that, and the worse for it. The whole talk reeks with the methodology of men and businesses, instead of the counsel of the Word of God; more like Rick Warren and C. Peter Wagner than John Calvin.

Consider the entire talk. Where in the entire talk is mention even made of the Word of God? For a supposed conservative Presbyterian, not one verse of Scripture is even quoted in defense of the methodologies being brought to bear. Worse still, the concepts in it are not found in Scripture. Church is all about Word and Sacrament. Where in Scripture is the Church (as opposed to individual Christians) supposed to do "justice and mercy ministries"?

Assuming as one commenter states that the talk was about mechanics - being a "practical, technical" and "methodological" talk, this talk shows that Keller practically denies the sufficiency of Scripture for ALL of life and practice. Methodology is NOT neutral. Methodology has to be derived from Scripture especially since the topic is most certainly a biblical one (i.e. Gospel movements). When measures are proposed in which results are virtually guaranteed, one ends up more with business models that implicitly assume some form of Pelagianism as the error of Revivalism rears its ugly head. Where in Scripture are we told that if we just implement the right measures, more and more people will come to Christ and the Church will gain influence in society?

The social-gospel lite in the idea of "justice and mercy ministries" advocated by Keller is another horror in and of itself. So how does the Church share the Gospel to unbelievers when she is trying to get them involved in co-belligerent social causes? Keller cites the case of the so-called "Benevolent Empire" at the height of Evangelicalism's cultural power in the 1830s. One of course does not hear about how the spiritual condition of society at that time continues to decline until the churches and these societies themselves were taken over by the Liberals. When the Church neglects her prophetic role and thinks of herself as social activism hubs, her inevitable end in apostasy is just around the corner.

The most important missing piece in Keller's presentation however is this: that the Gospel is not present. The New Calvinists have claimed that "Gospel-centeredness" do not actually lead to "Gospel-Onlyness", but it sadly seems this is the way it will turn out. Is the Gospel definitional of what being a Christian means? If so, then shouldn't one of the "measures" that Keller proposed is to evangelize those in false churches such as the Roman church? Yet, instead of contending for the faith (Jude 1:3), Keller waxes lyrical about ecumenical ministry outside the local church, and does not talk about instructing the people inside the local church in sound doctrine. Whatever one thinks about the incident involving Redeemer Pres and Susan Castillo's course entitled The Way of the Monk, it must be admitted by all Protestants and especially Reformed folks that Contemplative Spirituality is heresy. Even in the best case scenario whereby Keller is not involved whatsoever with Castillo and her course, shouldn't he instruct the congregation in sound doctrine and the rejection of mysticism? How can one build a "Gospel movement" when doctrinal error is tolerated if not approved of within the Church?

Keller's message in this talk of his is wrong on many counts. Far from creating a Gospel eco-system, it is feared that adopting his measures would create "Church-ianity" without Christ and His Gospel at the center, which incidentally sounds a lot like what the "New Apostolic Reformation"/ Dominionism seeks to do. We are not here to create warm-bodies who profess Christ; we are here to call true disciples of Christ - the elect of God. What does it gain the Church to win the whole world, yet to lose her own calling and the souls within her? People are not saved by joining the Church, by being involved in ministry or anything of that sort. People are saved through knowing and believing in sound doctrine that depicts God as He truly is. This is achieved by regeneration by the Holy Spirit as the Gospel is being proclaimed, NOT as social services are being done by the Church.

In closing, it would be instrumental to compare and contrast Keller's message to Paul Washer's sermon entitled A Biblical Vision and Strategy for Missions here. It is sad to see that someone who leans more towards the Radical Anabaptists is more Reformed than a PCA pastor. Speaks volumes about the state of the New Calvinist movement, and does not reflect very well on the PCA either.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Break

I would be away on a holiday for some time during which all comments would be moderated.

In the meantime, do check out Dr. Bob Godfrey's excellent article entitled Real Calvinism: A Head and Heart Religion.