Saturday, September 25, 2010

Basic Logic 1001.1

It is sad that many people today do not know what logic is, and do not even realize that they are using logic even when they are not aware of it. With this in mind, I would like to go through the fundamental laws of logic which everybody presupposes from the time they learn how to think and speak. They are 1) the Law of Identity, 2) the Law of Non-Contradiction, and 3) the Law of the Excluded Middle.

The Law of Identity simply states that a thing "A" = "A". In other words, if I say "God", I mean "God" and not "Man", not "Animal" and not anything else. Here of course, we are talking about the concept "God", so synonyms and translations are still considered "A" even though their forms are different. So the fact that "Deity" is a synonym for "God", and that "神" in both Chinese and Japanese is also "God" does not contradict this rule.

In any form of knowledge or conversation, this rule is always obeyed. When I say "this ball", I am referring to a particular ball I am pointing to, not a flower in the garden. Even in knowledge and discourse of God, when I say "God", I am referring to (since I am a Christian) the Christian God, shortening the phrase "Christian God" to "God" since Christians only recognize one God as true.

The Law of Non Contradiction simple states that a thing is not "A" and "non-A" at the same time in the same manner. This is again a very basic law which everyone utilizes, except for Hegelians after they have learned Hegelian thought (and even then inconsistently — they do not utilize it on their bank accounts for example). If I say I have a ball, it does not therefore mean that I both have and do not have the ball at the same time in the same manner. If I have $1000 in my bank account, it does not mean that I have $1000 and also do not have $1000 in my bank account at the same time in the same manner.

In theological discourse, this again is always kept. If a Van Tillian says that Man's knowledge is analogous to God's knowledge, he does not mean that Man's knowledge is both analogous and not analogous to God's knowledge. If God is God, it does not mean that God is God and also not God.

The third law, the Law of the Excluded Middle, simple states that a thing is either "A" or "not-A", and not neither (in the middle). Here, we say that God is either God or He is not God; He is not neither "God" or "not-God". It must be seen here that we are dealing with total opposites ("not-A"), not antagonists ("A" versus "B"). Therefore, fire and water are (generally) antagonists, such that either one or the other can exist, yet they are not opposites. The opposite of "fire" is "not-fire", and the opposite of water is "not-water". The opposite of God is not Satan, but the absence of God ("not-God"). The opposite of "Man" is not "Animal" or "Inanimate thing", but simply "not-man".

These three most fundamental laws of logic are instrumental to any form of thinking or discourse. It is therefore not possible to even think anything apart from them, much less communicate to others without presupposing them. This is therefore why I say that epistemologically logic precedes God, for the very term "God" is nonsensical unless we assume all three laws.

If we say "God", we must obey the Law of Identity otherwise the word can mean anything anyone wishes it to mean. Whoever denies that this law is properly basic and does not precede the knowledge of God, to be consistent, must prove that the word "God" means "God" apart from appeal to that law (or any of the other two laws). Similarly, if one denies the Law of Non-Contradiction, then anyone can say that a person who says "God" is also saying "not-God" and that a sentence like "God is" also means "God is not". Lastly, whoever denies the Law of the Excluded Middle has no grounds for complaining when a person looks at a sentence "God is not Man" and says that the sentence can mean "God neither is God nor Man".

In conclusion, we have gone through these three basic laws of logic. When we understand these basic laws, we can see that it is totally impossible for anyone to think apart from assuming them as true. Communication would be impossible without presupposing them, and therefore epistemologically, logic must always precede God.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An exercise in denying the epistemic priority of logic

[continued]

While ontologically, God and Man are on different planes such that Man's knowledge is never univocal with God's knowledge, on the epistemic plane such distinctions do not and cannot exist. The proposition "God is God" means "God is God" for both God and Man for example. To make ontology normative for epistemology gave us the specter of Norman Shepherd in the fiasco over at Westminster Philadelphia in the 80s, where Cornelius Van Till defended the heretic Norman Shepherd despite Shepherd denying the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. [See O. Palmer Robertson, The Current Justification Controversy (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2003)]

In this light, in his book The Two Wills of God (New Lenox, IL, USA: Puritan Publications, 2005) on page 24, Dr. C. Matthew McMahon gave us an excellent quote regarding the relation of Scripture and Logic as follows:

Ontologically, God precedes Logic. Epistemologically Logic precedes God.

It must be noted here that no one is saying that God is subservient or temporally subsequent to logic. If some Clarkians can be accused of subsuming ontology under epistemology, then surely some Van Tillians can be accused of subsuming epistemology under ontology. Both approaches are wrong, for ontology is not epistemology and epistemology is not ontology. Ontology has to do with being, while epistemology has to do with cognition. There is of course the being of any particular knowledge (ontology of epistemology) , and the knowledge of any particular being (epistemology proper), yet the two disciplines remain distinct.

When therefore we state that "epistemologically logic precedes God", we are merely saying that in the order of knowing from our side, we start not with God but with reason, for the very thought of God is itself THOUGHT which is rational. In order not to start with reason, thinking, sentence construction, speaking etc cannot be used.

In order to illustrate this most basic elemental principle, let us for the sake of argument (reductio ad absurdum) concede that epistemologically God precedes logic, and see how far we can go. We will illustrate that with a simple dialogue session between person A (who is persuaded of the epistemic priority of God) and person B (the enquirer who will act consistently with what A proclaims.

A: I say that epistemologically God precedes logic. Without God, logic cannot be known.

B: I disagree. How do you know that your sentence "without God, logic cannot be known" means what is means without presupposing logic?

A: Without God, logic does not exist and is nonsensical.

B: We are talking about epistemology here, not ontology.

A: Yes, without God, logic cannot be known and is nonsensical.

B: OK then. So how about this, why don''t you try to prove to me that God exists if such were the case?

A: Well, we don't prove God, God just IS. We start with God.

B: [consistent] I heard you say that the flowers are green. Was that what you said?

A: What flowers? I said God just IS.

B: Oh, the sky is blue?

A: You are being facetious!

B: So I am perfectly fine. Thanks.

A: Look, I'm not going to play word games with you. You jolly well know what I am talking about!

B: [changing back] Well, didn't you say that God precedes logic?

A: YES.

B: So if God precedes logic, then I cannot use logic until I know God. In which case, you have to prove to me that God exists first apart from the use of logic.

A: I didn't use logic. I presupposed God.

B: No, you didn't. You just said one sentence after another. Apart from logic, all sentences are equivocal and mean anything I want them to mean.

A: Now I see the reality of Rom. 1:18-23 in your faulty reasoning.

B: [switching back] So you are saying that my house is beautiful? Thanks.

A: :@ :@ [storms off]

[THE END]

I'm sure the truth behind the epistemic priority of logic can be ably seen in this short dialogue.

The Epistemic Priority of Logic (Repost!)

[Reposted. Original here]

Log-ic (noun):

  • 1) the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference
  • 3) the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study

(Dictionary.com)

In my defence of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works (certainly a controversial topic among people today), a certain minister disagreed with my position. One interesting tidbit of our interaction was his denigration of logic. (I was looking forward to a discussion of the interpretation of Rom. 2:6-10 but was sorely disappointed in this regard.) In this post therefore, we would look at the topic of logic and its relation to Scripture. How exactly does logic relate to Scripture?

As it can be seen, logic is defined as "the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference" or "the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any field of knowledge or study". The first definition looks at logic as an academic discipline of its own, while the second is the description of logic in its outworking in cognitive fields.

To put it as simple as possible, logic is the way we normally think. Everytime we do so much as think, read, write, daydream whatever, some form of reasoning takes place, and most of it logical. Logic as an academic discipline is simply the formalization of our thinking processes into laws which we all generally observe and rules which we all generally follow even if tacitly. Logical deduction is the process by which we reason out a conclusion based upon other propositions which we have accepted already as true, such that the information in the conclusion is found in the premises. Logical inferences are the processes by which we make conclusions based upon normalizing the information of the premises such that the conclusion is possibly true depending on the legitimacy of our normalization.

During my undergraduate days, I was privileged to take a module in Logic in which the lecturer spent about 1/4 of the course on the foundation. Instead of jumping immediately to truth tables and logical notations or even Venn diagrams (Aristotelian logic), the lecturer insisted on starting with nearly 3 lectures and 3 tutorials on the topic of Informal logic, thus forcing us to think for ourselves without mere rote memory of truth tables and mathematical formulae. I did all the homework provided, which helped me tremendously honed my skill in breaking down complex sentences into propositions and seek out implicit premises. In fact, in order to make us evaluate the arguments found in the examples given in our worksheets, we were forced to write down every single implied premises found in the arguments, even those as obvious as "Socrates is a man" or "All women are humans" or "3 is greater than 1" and some even more obvious than that!

Such a focus on informal logic would aid me to see logical reasoning everywhere. In fact, any (non-poetic) sentence can be converted to propositions, and every argument meant to persuade someone can be broken down into its logical form.

For most people, logic is often used without much thought about it. Who for example does not apply logic to their bank accounts, and ensure that their balances tally? (Maths is a special form of logic). Besides those who have difficulty understanding/counting, those who can understand mathematical logic are not illogical with their money. Nobody for example thinks it is right for them to have for example $1000 left in their bank account after they have withdrawn $500 from their balance of $2000.

Similarly, logical reasoning is almost always used without question in normal discourse and interaction. On the road in traffic, nobody in their right mind when seeing a "No speeding" sign thinks that the sign does not apply to him, or that the "No speeding" sign actually means "Please speed". The reasoning process that takes the indefinite imperative of "No speeding" and applies it to himself that "I am told not to speed" is itself a logical argument.

Logical reasoning extends even to Scripture and the application of biblical truth. As an example, we can look at a simple proposition in 1 Jn. 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This verse is a conditional (If... then) statement. Most Christians do not bat an eyelid when they apply it to themselves in the following manner (even though Scripture never once mentioned that it applies to them — whoever wants to disagree please go and find your name in 1 Jn. 1:9):

P1: If we confess our sins, ...

P2: I confess my sin

C: God is faithful and just and has forgiven my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness

Logic therefore is the method or way in which we reason, and the way in which all communication can occur. Without logic, there can be no such thing as verbal or written communication at all. Even now, this paragraph of mine is an argument based upon the rules of logic, and this entire article too.

To be illogical therefore is to be irrational and thus unable to communicate and be communicated with. Since logic is the rules of thinking and discourse, discarding them makes thinking and discourse impossible. Irrationality in philosophy (i.e. Postmodernism) needs to utilize logic in order to argue against logic — a self-defeating notion as it is. Even the Kantian metaphysical category of das Ding an Sich (the thing in itself - the noumenal), while supposedly totally non describable and unknowable, has to be described and known as such (non describable and unknowable) using logic and reasoning. Truly, there are irrationalist philosophies, but no philosopher (that I know) has ever endeavored to write their books illogically and irrationally. Well, I guess it is possible if you put a monkey on your keyboard...

So how does Logic relate to Scripture? They don't with regards to authority, except in the fact that logic is epistemologically prior to anything. That minister in one of his comments states that we should "submit our "method" (logic) to Scripture". The problem with such pious nonsense is that it is precisely that: nonsense. How, may I ask, do you submit logic to Scripture? In order to do so, you need to outline a process by which such can be done and you cannot outline the process without using logic. It must be noted that I have not even yet mentioned the most fundamental law in logic: the Law of non-contradiction. If we have to submit logic to Scripture, then this law cannot even be assumed to be true and must be "submitted to Scripture". But if this law cannot be assumed to be true, then perhaps the phrase "submitted to Scripture" actually means "submitted to the Devil" or "Obama is a socialist". Who knows?

Logic by virtue of its definition thus assumes epistemic priority even over Scripture, for there is simply no way to begin talking about Scripture or anything in Scripture (and anything else) without an a priori acceptance of logic. Without logic, the demand to "submit logic to Scripture" cannot even be understood cognitively, much less acted upon. It is no wonder that the Apostle John used the Greek word logos to describe God

In the beginning was the Logic (logos), and the Logic was with God, and GOD, the Logic was (Jn. 1:1 - alternate translation)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The [non-] problem of evil

The so-called problem of evil is a big issue in the world. According to the description, this problem exists because, given a good and all powerful God, evil should not exist.

Coming from a Calvinist perspective however, this problem is a non-issue. It is precisely because God is good that evil does in fact exist in this world, for we are evil.

Many people lament the fact of evil, and scream at God as to why evil must exist in this world. Strangely, I have never met anyone who wonders why there is still so much good in this world. Why is it that for example there are only 2 murders per month as compared to 2 murders per week? Why only one tsunami in 2004 instead of tsunamis every other month? Do people thank God for the fact that they have food on the table the next day, and that they were not struck by lightning today?

The fact of the matter is that none of us deserve anything good from God. Our wickedness caused the entire creation to be cursed (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:19-21), thus giving us natural disasters, and all wickedness in this world is caused by us. Upon what basis can wicked rebels expect God to continue to give them good things? We are not only wicked but ungrateful. When was the last time you, anyone, thanked God for the good things He has given to you this day?

The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23a). All of us sinners deserve death even while we live. God who is good must hate that which is evil and we are evil, so why should we rebel sinners think that the existence of evil is a problem for God? We deserve the evil fruit of our wickedness and should we blame God for our own wickedness? So is God supposed to restrain wickedness in this world and stop the murderers, rapists and thieves? Weren't you the ones who shout the most loudly about "free will" and how God cannot "force" anyone to do anything? Then when God leave us to our wicked "free will" designs, we ungrateful wretches complain!

Evil is not a problem for God; it is a problem for us. The presence of evil shouts how sinful and depraved we are. The attribution of the problem of evil to God is one more evidence of our wickedness before God.

So why does evil exist? It exists because of us. We are the problem, not God. The problem is not "How can God exists if there is evil in this world?"; it is "How can good exists if we humans are in this world?".

God-cented apologetics versus Man-centered apologetics

Dr. Jams White has posted an interesting post on this topic, showing us the contrast between God-centered apologetics and Man-centered apologetics. Indeed, the man-centered methodology is more interested in "building bridges" than in proclaiming God's truths and demolishing the ungodly arguments of those who do not believe.

As Dr. White says,

... The impact of a sub-biblical theology, a sub-biblical view of the gospel, and a sub-biblical view of man, is seen in [William Lane] Craig's phraseology. Rebel sinners who reject God's truth are merely unbelievers. Their rejection of the Gospel is not a sinful act of rebellion; no, they merely remain "unconvinced." What is presented is "our case," rather than God's Kingly rights. And what has not "failed" is "our apologetic," when in fact, the real issue is whether the Holy Spirit of God will cause God's truth to come alive in the heart of that rebel sinner, bring the miracle of regeneration, and glorify the triune God through the salvation of another undeserving sinner!

Unbelievers are not neutral judges to be persuaded of the truths of God's Word, but rather they are rebels against the King who must be called to repentance. The Gospel message if proclaimed faithfully will be an offence to unbelievers, and apologetics is merely the elucidation of truths to destroy the smokescreens unbelievers attempt to use to escape from the claims of God that they very well know to be true in their innermost being (Rom. 1:18-23).

If one wonders why modern apologetics is so impotent, perhaps it is because we are not doing apologetics the way it is supposed to be done. True God-centered apologetics is a mere extension of Gospel proclamation, and will have the same effect — of drawing the elect and repelling those who will not believe in Christ. There will be no neutrality under such apologetics, for either one will repent or they will be outraged at the Gospel message.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Revealing statements by FVist James Jordon

Wes White has posted interesting yet amazing and clear statements from Federal Visionist James Jordon on how the Federal Vision squares with Reformed and Presbyterian doctrine — it doesn't. As stated by Jordon:

Oh, it’s true enough: We depart from the whole Reformation tradition at certain pretty basic points. It’s no good pretending otherwise. ... The PCA suffers us within itself, but we are poison to traditional presbyterianism. We are new wine, and the PCA is an old skin.

[more]

One wonders what John Piper and the other Piperites will say to this after defending Piper's decision to give Federal Vision proponent Douglas Wilson a platform at the Desiring God conference 2009. "Gospel-centered" indeed!....

If this is what "Gospel-centered" means, then I am by no means "Gospel-centered"!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Contra "Asian Theology" - We confess ONE holy and katholikos faith (Part 2)

[continued from here]

The truth behind the evangelism of the West

Implicit in Pagolu's article is the idea that "the West" as defined by those following in the Greco-Roman tradition was its culture of rationalistic and analytical philosophy. The West somehow was never truly "spiritual" in the sense that the East or Asia is "spiritual". Pointing to the fact that "there is the practice of the offering of joss sticks, meat and other kinds of food to ancestral and other spirits at home and at the workplace" in Asian culture, Pagolu had the idea that the West was never liked that at all. So the West is identified with rationalism and analytical philosophy, while the East is identified with spirituality.

The problem with such a dichotomy is that one wouldn't recognize it in pre-Christian Western culture. While Greco-Roman philosophy is indeed somewhat rationalistic and has some unique features, one can get similar philosophies in China (i.e. Confucious, Mencius etc) or India with her many philosophers. The Franks and Goths were animists, the Greeks were pantheists or polytheists, the Egyptians were also polytheists. Before Christ, are there really any features in the East that cannot be found in the West? Joss sticks? Incense are offered in almost every religion. Union with the divine? You can even find that in Eastern Orthodoxy in their doctrine of theosis. Offering food to idols? That is even addressed clearly in the Bible!

There is thus no real substantial difference between what the early church faced and what we see now in Asia. Yet we see the apostolic method remained the same. Paul preached the Gospel in Jerusalem among the Jews, he preached the Gospel to the Syrians in Damascus, he preached the same Gospel in Athens, he preached the same Gospel ... everywhere he went. Do we see Paul coming up with an "Asia Minor" theology, a "Roman" theology, a "Grecian" theology, or even a "Spanish" theology (assuming he really did go to Spain as he had desired to do so - Rom. 15:24)? Are we so ethnocentric and arrogant that we think we need a special "Gospel" for Asia, as the "old Gospel" is somehow insufficient for the task God has send it out for?

Although the secularists can deny it all they want, the fact is that Christianity or rather the Christian world-view is the mother of Western civilization. It is Christianity that turns the West from what it was to what it now is. Apart from Christ and His Gospel, the West would be no different from the East in terms of its worldviews and cultures.

The eternal Gospel is altogether sufficient for the task at hand

If we do not need a new theology for any and ever culture back then, we do not need any new theologies for our modern times either. The method of preaching of the Gospel is foolishness to many (1 Cor. 1:18-25), and it seems to Dr Pagolu too, as he insists on the need to "demonstrate the power of God in daily living". However, what exactly in Scripture is the power of God? It is to be found in the "foolishness of preaching" (της μωριας του κηρυγματος) (1 Cor. 1:21), which is for those who are called both power and wisdom of God.

It is the Scriptures that show us the way of engaging the culture, indeed any culture. It is not so much how much "the faith" was able or unable "to influence places". We are not to influence places period! The Gospel is to be proclaimed although it is regarded as the most foolish thing to do! It is God who will save His elect through the preached Word, not for us to attempt new methods to being in the goats. God's sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:4); they will come to faith through the instrument of His preached Word without the blasphemous actions of tampering with both the message and the means God has ordained through the creation of such "disciplines" as "Asian theology".

Dr. Pagolu states that "even if Christians succeed in winning the argument, intellectual efforts alone are incapable of persuading people to embrace the faith". That is most evidently true, but what exactly is the Gospel method in the first place? What is conversion and what is evangelism? If we truly believe in the Scriptures which claim divine sovereignty over every new birth (Jn. 3:8), then we know that evangelism is never about converting souls. Only God can covert souls; we can't. Evangelism is always about proclaiming the Gospel and showing people their sins before a holy God, the wrath of God upon their sins, and their need to flee to Christ for their salvation. The revivalism (a Western American phenomenon by the way) and Arminianism present in Dr. Pagolu's sentence is striking and gives us a hint why the Church is not making much progress in Asia. How can progress be made when we have bad theology permeating the churches? Is God honored by falsehoods about Him?

One holy, catholic faith

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

The third day he rose again from the dead:

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

I believe in the Holy Ghost:

I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

The forgiveness of sins:

The resurrection of the body:

And the life everlasting. Amen

(The Apostles' Creed)

The last nail in the coffin for "Asian theology" is the fact that Christ is one and His Church is one. We believe in one holy and katholic (καθολικος, -η, -ο) or universal church, and therefore one holy and universal faith. The Faith is one, not many. The last thing we want is to balkanize the church into competing theologies, one for every people group.

The same Gospel that is preached to the Jews is the same Gospel that is preached to the Greeks, the same Gospel that s preached to the Brits, to the Chinese, Japanese, Tibetans, Uighurs etc. There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism (Eph. 4:5), NOT many faiths, many baptisms and one Lord. This catholicity goes through time as well, and it is incredible how much is being embraced by the Asian churches that has neither basis in Scripture nor tradition.

An Alternate Proposal: Sound Doctrine is Critical to Christianity's Expansion

While anecdotal evidence is always fallacious, they can serve as good illustrations of the truth. The early church turned the world upside down with one Gospel, NOT many theologies. The Reformation destroyed the grip of the papacy over entire countries and was on its way to conquering France if not for the severe persecutions by the Romanists starting with the St. Bartholomew Day's massacre on to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes among other factors. This same Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation will never fail in its task (Is. 55: 10-11, Rom. 10:17, Heb. 4:12) and it does not need our embellishing and "contextualization" at all. We do not need more "signs and wonders" and more "relational evangelism" (as if wordless evangelism ever existed). We need more Christians to understand the Gospel, to understand the whole counsel of God, and to live out these truths. Therefore, we need sound doctrine in the churches, not the mush that passes for instruction especially in Singapore churches. As God's people in the past perish for lack of knowing God's Word (Hosea 4:6), knowing God's Word will be critical for Christianity's very existence, nevermind growth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this article is manifestly in error. There is no need for any "Asian theology" or "contextualization", both of which are manifestly unbiblical and ahistorical. Rather, the problem with Asia is that the churches are weak. Many are in the state described in Hosea 4:6 and have embraced many errors. False teachers and teachings permeate the churches. For how can we expect God's blessings on us when we tolerate [the equivalent of] Jezebels and Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:12-29) in our midst?

May God grant us a revival of His Word and of sound doctrines in the churches. Amen.

[THE END]

ADD: The response can now be found as one article here.

Contra "Asian Theology" - We confess ONE holy and katholikos faith (Part 1)

It has come to my attention that an article has been posted on the "Christian Post" on the topic of so-called "Asian Theology" here. In this post, I would like to analyze the article according to Scripture.

In this article, Dr. Augustine Pagolu's main thesis is that the only way that Christian mission is to make way in Asia is for more "contextualization" to be done in which Christianity is to jettison its "Greco-Roman" framework that is evidently prevalent today in westernized circles. Instead, just as Christianity contextualized its message to the Greco-Roman world then, Christianity is to be contextualized now for the Asian context, thus giving us the idea of "Asian Theology". Dr. Pagolu then suggests various ways such contextualization should be done in the so-called Asian context.

If it were not for the fact that friends read this article, I would not want to address this issue. So poorly is the case argued for any so-called Asian theology that I very much prefer to go back to my seminary readings of which I have quite a lot to read. After all, going to one of the best seminaries in the world means that the intellectual rigors of education would be very tough.

The Greco-Roman framework?

Dr. Pagolu's main argument rest on various assumptions which are unbiblical and unhistorical. The first major error can be seen in his historical revisionism of the Greco-Roman world. Pagolu claims that the Greco-Roman framework is "primarily rationalistic and analytical". This betrays an ignorance of the Greco-Roman culture. The Greco-Roman culture was very much "spiritual" with many gods who behave worse than humans sometimes. Paul at Athens was provoked within his spirit with the many idols in the city (Acts 17:16). Greco-Roman philosophy was more rationalistic and analytical, yet there is no such thing as a uniform theme of Greco-Roman philosophy as being rationalistic and analytical either. Gnosticism for instance was a very much spiritual yet philosophical religion. The idea of gnosis or secret knowledge was not an end in itself, but rather "passwords" which enable the soul to proceed towards the direction of absolute being[1]. Such gnosis was not propositional knowledge, but rather esoteric empirical knowledge towards union in the divine.

As I have written in my review of the late Pinnock's et al book The Opennes of God, the whole idea of Greco-Roman framework is nonsensical. Refuting Sanders, I wrote[2]:

One major problem with Sanders' thesis is that to postulate that the concept (not just the language) of immutability and impassibility as applied to God as being Greek concepts and not Christian concepts, it must be the case that in Greek thought there must be only one concept of God in these aspects. In other words, there cannot exist in Greek thought concurrently the concept of God being immutable and that of being mutable, or being passable and impassable. If that were to be the case, then either way Christianity can be said to imbibe on Greek thought either way, since both logically contradictory positions are covered by Greek thought. And this is what we will see to the case in Greek culture. The gods present in the popular Greek religion are mutable and passable, whereas the philosopher's Ideal or idea of God is immutable and impassable. Since this is the case, how then can Sanders prove his position? We could say that the Open Theists view is actually the Christianization of Greek popular religion, and that would be even more accurate, since the worldviews of both the modern age and during the times of the Greeks are very similar.

Similarly, the whole idea of the Greco-Roman framework is nonsense. No such common framework exists. There is the Platonic framework, the Stoic framework, the Greek popular religion framework etc, but no Greco-Roman framework. Much less is there a so-called unified theme of rationalism and of being analytical in the pluralities in the Greco-Roman frameworks. After all, Gnosticism is anything BUT analytical. Platonism and Neo-Platonism is analytical and rationalistic but it is also spiritual in nature.

Contextualization of the "Greco-Roman framework"?

The next error is the contention that the church contextualized her message towards the so-called Greco-Roman framework. We will address this by looking at (1) the Apostolic church, (2) the early church.

(i) Contextualization in the Apostolic church?

The prime example of such contextulization in the Apostolic church is normally taken to be Acts 17. Paul supposedly approved of the religiosity of the Athenians in his speech in the Aeropagus, and approvingly quoted from two of their religious poets in order to create "common ground" with them.

Such however is a misrepresentation of what actually happened in the Aeropagus.In Act 17:22, Paul mentioned that he looked at or perceived (θεορω; Lexical form θεορεω) the Athenians as being "κατα παντα ώς δεισιδαιμονεστερους". The adjective δεισιδαιμονεστερους seems to be a hapaxlegomena, yet according to the lexicon is based upon two words of which the second word is δαιμονιον or demon. This gives credence to the view that what Paul was actually describing was not being religious in a virtuous sense, but rather superstitious in a a weak negative sense — "Men of Athens, I see that [in] according to all things [you are being] superstitious" (literally translated).

In his book Presuppositional Confrontations[3], apologist Vincent Cheung addresses the exegesis of this clause. Instead of being a positive commendation of how much they seek after God,

Rather, the point is that they did not know the true God at all. They may realize that there may be a divine existence beyond and other than what they were worshiping, and so constructed altars to these "unknown gods" just as a safety measure. One cannot conclude from this that they were already worshiping the God of Christianity. In fact, the point is that they were not worshiping the God of Christianity. Their altars to "unknown gods" merely constitute a confession of ignorance, and Paul's statement intends to exploit this confession without conceding anything positive about their present way of worship.[4]

While it may not be a direct insult, Paul was negative about their religiosity and contrasts their admitted ignorance with the truths of Christ he positively knows and will proclaim to the Athenians. The only "common ground" seen here is to use their cultural artefacts to show forth their ignorance of God in order to launch forth the proclamation of the Gospel.

What about the two quotations of the pagan poets by Paul? Here however Paul gives no grounds to the Athenians. Rather, his quoting of the pagan poets was appropriated for the Gospel message, not an accommodating to the poets at all, in the same way as John used the word logos and turned the concept upside down from the Greek point of view.

The first quotation "‘In him we live and move and have our being" is stated to be from Epimenides of Crete[5]. In its original context it is talking about Zeus. However, we can see in context that Paul uses the phrase to refer to the fact that we can come to know God; that "God is not far from each one of us". Paul is thus using the words of the pagan poet as an unconscious reflection of the truths of General Revelation which they consciously reject. Although the Athenians rejected God and are thoroughly pagan, yet remnants of General Revelation still remain (cf Rom. 1:18-23). The Greeks knew that God can be known, yet they twist that into a pantheistic idea of God permeating the creation. Paul eviscerate the quote (if it is one which I do think it is) of its original meaning to show the General Revelation that the Greeks have rejected in their sinfulness.

Such a reading can also be applied to the second explicit quotation in the later part of verse 28. The original intent was to say that the Greeks especially were Zeus' offspring. Instead, Paul took the same saying and showed that the Greeks had an idea of being created by God, although they twisted it into making an immanent finite deity Zeus their creator.

The whole sermon by Paul at the Aeropagus therefore was not in any way "contextualized". As much of the Gospel was preached by Paul before the Greeks could not stand it any longer. Even before arriving at the Gospel proper, the Greeks were offended by Paul's teaching of such ideas as [the highest] God [of spirit] being the Creator [of matter], the idea of bodily resurrection, of final judgment, of them not being special above other nations etc. The Gospel cuts and offends those who are perishing, while bringing salvation to those who repent and believe, and this two-fold response can be seen in verses 32-34.

Paul's sermon at the Aeropagus has nothing to do with contextualization with the Greco-Roman framework. His message was a thoroughly Jewish Messianic one which is indeed foolishness to Greeks

(ii) Contextualization in the early church?

As we move away from the apostolic era, error of course starts to creep in, thus the various controversies in the churches. The Gnostic error of Docetism came in early, of which it is likely that the epistles of John were written to combat it. The Gnostic heresies are the epitome of any capitulation to Greco-Roman religions and philosophies, and the church did not accede to it at any time, kicking out Marcion and the Valentinians from the church[6].

Of course, it cannot be doubted that some form of syncretism happened especially in the person and teachings of Origen[7]. However, even then there was controversy as some churches reject Origen's teachings. At the Reformation, the battle cry of ad fontes expunged as much as possible pagan teachings that has infiltrated the church between the apostolic age and then, and seeks as much as possible to obey Scripture alone.

So while there is some contextualization in the ancient churches, by and large the compromise was slow and not uncontested. Since the Reformation removed as much of pagan infiltration into the churches as possible, it is not true that there is a capitulation to any kind of so-called Greco-Roman framework within the Christian church in general.

[to be continued]


References:

[1] Class notes taken by me for ST501: Christian Mind, by Dr. Michael S. Horton

[2] Daniel H. Chew, Book Review: The Openness of God. (accessed Sept 16th 2010; Online http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/ddd_chc82/articles/openness_god.html)

[3] Vincent Cheung, Presuppositional Confrontations (Boston, MA: Reformation Ministries International, 2003). I do not necessaily endorse everything by Cheung but on this issue there is large agreement.

[4] Ibid., 35

[5] See Ibid., 56-57 for discussion regarding whether it really is a citation.

[6] Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London, England, UK: Penguin, 1967, 1993), 33-41

[7] Ibid., 100-114, 180-181

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Office Hours: What does it mean to be valiant for truth?

The latest Office Hours podcast by Dr. R. Scott Clark, Dr. Bob Godfrey and Dr. Mike Horton on the topic of being valiant for Truth is an excellent one, conversing about various practical issues the Church would face if we truly want to be biblical and obey the command of Jude 3.

Here, Dr. Godfrey's definition of heresy is a good definition which would really be helpful. Heresy is used "primarily to describe theological errors so serious that those holding such errors cannot be saved". This is indeed an helpful definition which is based upon the Scriptures. Instead of the tradition-based definition of heresy as defined as those teachings that are condemned by the ecumenical creeds, this definition honors Scripture above tradition and seeks to let Scripture itself define the boundaries of the term "heresy".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Flaws in Anselm's Ontological argument

For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. ...

Hence, even the fools is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

- Anselm, St. Anselm: Basic Writings. Translated by S.N. Deane (Second edition; Open Court Publishing, 1962). As quoted in Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted (eds), Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Louisville, Kentucky: WJKP, 1992)

Anselm's ontological argument is one of the classical proofs for the existence of God. It can be summarized as saying that God is the thing of which nothing great can be conceived. Since everyone can conceive of God as being the being of which there is nothing greater than, therefore God exists.

There are however a few problems with Anselm's ontological argument that I can see. One problem with Anselm's ontological argument lies in its assumption of reality being ontologically superior than mere thought. Upon what basis can a real greatest conceivable being be considered as superior over a virtual greatest conceivable being? For it is not agreed among philosophers or society in general that reality is superior, and in what way superior such that reality is preferred over that which is solely conceptual.

The second great hole in Anselm's argument is that it assumes that everyone is agreed as to the existence of qualities comparing the greatness of things conceived. However, why must such "grading on a scale" exist? How do we compare apples and oranges? Is an apple more of a fruit than an orange?

Here the problem lies not so much in subjectivity or relativism but rather in Anselm's assumption that there is a checklist of qualities which denote what is great. However, among two "conceivable" objects there may have different qualities which are just different, and good in their way. Just as a car is not better than a toothbrush since there have different functions and purposes and thus are evaluated differently, so two conceivable objects may have different qualities which are not comparable to each other.

Multiplying this across all conceivable objects, coming up with the greatest conceivable being is just not possible. And if it is not possible, then how can the Ontological argument work?

In his case, what Anselm had done was "cheating" — in taking Christian or Platonic qualities and assume them for the ontological argument, yet the choice of such qualities are not questioned at all.

In conclusion, based upon these two fallacies, Anselm's ontological argument is not valid. It presupposes either a Platonic or Christian-type worldview and will fall apart from it.

A short paragraph on modesty

Wow – this one [Modesty] is a big one. We often think that men will like us better if we show more skin? Hmmm….let me think through this. Two guys in my life have spoken this to me in the past ten years: “Kim, I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about what you wear. Thank you for protecting me.” “Kim, I know guys who don’t attend ____________ in the summer at church because the women don’t know how to dress and they don’t want to go there and struggle with lust, so they just do not go.” This last one breaks my heart. That women don’t care enough about their brothers in Christ to wear modest clothing. Lord – may we seek your heart on this matter, not legalism. Legalism and hem lines will never win this battle. Our heart must seek you in everything we wear. 1 Timothy says “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” - Kim Davidson

It is written that "out of the abundence of the heart his mouth speak" (Lk. 6:45). Similarly, out of the abudence of the heart modesty is either practiced or not practiced. If a woman doesn't dress modestly, chances are she is most definitely not someone who is godly.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hebrew Alphabet Rap

It was shared with me here an interesting rap going through the Hebrew Alphabet, or rather Abjad. Hilarious!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Sabbath (part 4)

[continued from here, here, here and here]

The Second Law — Deut 5

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:

...

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deut. 5: 1-5, 12-15)

Moses was dying soon. In preparation for his death, he penned the book of Deuteronomy, which literally means "second law". In this book, Moses recounts the various episodes in Israel's journey over the 40 years in the wilderness, and asked the Israelites to remember God and His covenant which He has graciously made with them.

It is in this context that Moses' recounting of the giving of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai or Horeb is situated. While in Ex. 20 Moses was narrating the giving of the Decalogue, Deut. 5 was a recollection and a remainder to the Israelites of the Decalogue which they are to follow. As such, it is different from the narrative event in Ex. 20, being recalled for the purpose at hand. In verses 1-5, Moses emphasized to Israel the covenant nature of the Decalogue, and how gracious God is in giving them this covenant so that they can be His people.

What follows from verse 6 onwards is the restatement of the 10 commandments in covenantal terms for Israel. This is especially made clear in the apparent discrepancy which we will look at now.

Comparison between the two versions of the 10 commandments would show that there seems to be a discrepancy in the 4th commandment. Whereas Ex. 20 states that the basis for observing the Sabbath was the creation pattern of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest, the Deuteronomic account seems to locate the basis of the Sabbath command in the redemption of Israel from slavery. This difference has been capitalized on by NCT theologians who are anti-sabbatarians, believing that the Sabbath has been abrogated because it has not been repeated in the New Testament (while the other 9 commandments apparently are repeated). However, is that really the case?

We have previously seen the creational and ceremonial motifs in the issue of the Sabbath. While this passage may cast a doubt on the exact basis for the Sabbath command, it is my contention that this introduces a third motif of redemption into the Sabbath theme. Unless we deny the inerrancy and coherency of Scripture, both of these basis must be true.

Support for such a view comes from other parts of Scripture with regards to the relation between creation and redemption. Perhaps no other verse expresses this linkage better than 2 Cor. 5:17. Those who are saved—who are in Christ—are a new creation. In this verse, the idea of redemption and creation is closely linked. Redemption is analogous to creation in the sense that it is a miraculous work of God creating something (spiritual life) out of nothing (ex nihilo). Gal. 6:15 likewise calls redemption as being a "new creation". Rom. 6:4 shows us also that redemption includes a new beginning, as in regeneration we are raised in union with Christ in newness of life.

Instead of pitting the Deuteronomic recounting of the Decalogue against the Exodus account of the Decalogue, we must see both as a continuous whole. In Deuteronomy, Moses desired to focus Israel's thoughts on the goodness of God in redemption, of which the Sabbath points towards. The introduction of the redemptive motif in Deuteronomy thus points us towards the true meaning of the Sabbath as it was given. While Israel may not have noticed it, the shift should show them that the true meaning of the Sabbath is not only to commemorate the creation of the world, not only to act as a covenant ceremony, but also to celebrate their salvation.

[to be continued]

Bill Jonhson and his another gospel

I am sure Mr. Johnson missed the book of Job and these verses too:

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) (1 Tim. 5:23)

Indeed he [Epaphroditus] was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (Phil. 2:27)

Of course, as he is some form of Dispensationalist, quoting OT Scriptures will be sortof hard, but this only shows the unbiblical nature of [classical] Dispensationalism, a movement of which Marcion would be proud of.

[HT: Christian Research Net]

Contra Tim Keller's paper advocating a compromise paper promoting theistic evolution

The New Calvinist leader Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) has recently authored a paper entitled Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople which can be found here. Over at Creation Ministries International, Lita Cosner has written a good rebuttal of Keller's paper and expose his astonishing ignorance of creationist arguments and literature, repeating arguments that have been refuted many times over. I mean, even if you were to take Keller's position, shouldn't academic integrity suggest that you at least address what has already been published instead of repeating old refuted arguments?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Some books to begin (for modern evangelicals and young believers)

I have been busy with term starting here at Westminster. Anyway, I have managed to compile (for a friend) a very short list of books for Christians who do not really know much about the faith, whether young or just because of their environment in shallow Evangelicalism. Here is the short list of simpler (note: not necessarily simple) books (besides the Bible) that should be read for such believers to build a foundation for true biblical knowledge.

Books:

Gospel

  • John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Jesus
  • John MacArthur, Hard to Believe
  • John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel
  • Terry L. Johnson, Traditional Protestantism: The Solas of the Reformation
  • James R. White, The God Who Justifies

Basic Christian doctrine

  • James R. White, Scripture Alone
  • J.I. Packer, Knowing God
  • David Wells, No Place for Truth, or Whatever happened to Evangelical Theology

Christian living

  • Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
  • Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace
  • Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

Hope this would be helpful. I'm sure there are other good books out there, but these are the ones that I currently own which I think are good and easy to read books for less doctrinal knowledgeable Christians.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Second Helvitic Confession on the topic of Free-Will

While reading through some of the major Reformed Confessions, I have found an interesting and clear statement regarding the issue of "free will", from the Second Helvitic Confession of 1566.

The Second Helvitic Confession (1566)

Chapter IX Of Free-Will, and so of Man's Power and Ability

1. We teach in this matter, which at all times has been the cause of many conflicts in the Church, that there is a triple condition or estate of man to be considered. First, what man was before his fall — to wit, upright and free, who might both continue in goodness and decline to evil; but he declined to evil, and has wrapped both himself and all mankind in sin and death, as has been shown before.

2. Secondly, we are to consider what man was after his fall. His understanding, indeed, was not taken from him, neither was he deprived of his will, and altogether changed into a stone or stock. Nevertheless, these things are so altered in man that they are not able to do that now which they could do before his fall. For his understanding is darkened, and his will, which before was free, is now become a servile will; for it serveth sin, not nilling, but willing — for it is called a will, and not a nill. Therefore, as touching evil or sin, man does evil, not compelled either by God or the devil, but of his own accord; and in this regard he has a most free will. But whereas we see that oftentimes the most evil deeds and counsels of man are hindered by God, that they can not attain their end, this does not take from man liberty in evil, but God by his power does prevent that which man otherwise purposed freely: as Joseph's brethren did freely purpose to slay Joseph; but that they were not able to do it, because it seemed otherwise good to God in His secret counsel.

3. But as touching goodness and virtues, man's understanding does not of itself judge aright of heavenly things. For the evangelical and apostolical Scripture requires regeneration of every one of us that will be saved. Wherefore our first birth by Adam does nothing profit us to salvation. Paul says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit." etc (1 Cor. 2:14). The same Paul elsewhere denies that we are "sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves" (2 Cor. 3:5).

4. Now, it is evident that the mind or understanding is the guide of the will; and, seeing the guide is blind, it is easy to be seen how far the will can reach. Therefore man, not as yet regenerate, has no free will to good, no strength to perform that which is good. The Lord says in the gospel, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin" (John 8:34). And Paul the apostle says, "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7)

5. Furthermore, there is some understanding of earthly things remaining in man after his fall. For God has of mercy left him wit, though much differing from that which was in him before his fall. God commands us to garnish our wit, and therewithal He gives gifts and also the increase thereof. And it is a clear case that we can profit very little in all arts without the blessing of God. The Scripture, no doubt, refers all arts to God; yea, and the Gentiles also ascribe the beginnings of arts to the gods, as the authors thereof.

6. Lastly, we are to consider whether the regenerate have free will, and how far they have it. In regeneration the understanding is illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that it may understand both the mysteries and will of God. And the will itself is not only changed by the Spirit, but it is also endued with faculties, that, of its own accord, it may both will and do good (Rom. 8:4)

Unless we grant this, we shall deny Christian liberty, and bring in the bondage of the law. Besides, the prophet brings in God speaking thus: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27). The Lord also says in the gospel, "If the Son... make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). Paul also to the Philippians, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29). And again, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (ver. 6). Also, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure " (Phil. 2:13).

7. Where, nevertheless, we teach that there are two things to be observed — first, that the regenerate, in the choice and working of that which is good, do not only work passively, but actively; for they are moved of God that themselves may do that which they do. And Augustine does truly allege that saying that "God is said to be our helper, but no man can be helped but he that does somewhat." The Mannichaeans did bereave man of all action, and made him like a stone and a block.

8. Secondly, that in the regenerate there remains infirmity. For, seeing that sin dwells in us, and that the flesh in the regenerate strives against the Spirit, even to our lives' end, they do not readily perform in every point that which they had purposed. These things are confirmed by the apostle (Rom. 7:13-26; Gal. 6:17).

9. Therefore, all free will is weak by reason of the relics of the old Adam remaining in us so long as we live, and of the human corruption which so nearly cleaves to us. In the meanwhile, because the strength of the flesh and the relics of the old man are not of such great force that they can wholly quench the work of the Spirit, therefore the faithful are called free, yet so that they do acknowledge their infirmity, and glory to whit at all of their free will. For that which St. Augustine does repeat so often out of the apostle ought always to be kept in mind by the faithful: "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Hitherto may be added that that comes not straightaway to pass which we have purposed, for the events of things are in the hand of God. For which cause Paul besought the Lord that He would prosper his journey (Rom. 1:10). Wherefore, in this respect also, free will is very weak.

10. But in outward things no man denies but that both the regenerate and the unregenerate have their free will; for man hath this constitution common with other creatures (to whom he is not inferior) to will some things and to nill other things. So he may speak or keep silent, go out of his house or abide within. Although herein also God's power is evermore to be marked, which brought to pass that Balaam could not go so far as he would (Numb. 24:13), and that Zecharias, coming out of the temple, could not speak as he would have done (Luke 1:22).

11. In this matter we condemn the Mannichaeans, who deny that the beginning of evil unto man, being good, came from his free will. We condemn, also, the Pelagians, who affirm that an evil man has free will sufficiently to perform a good precept. Both these are confuted by the Scripture, which says to the former. "God hath made man upright" (Eccl. 7:29); and to the latter, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)

— Joel R. Beeke (ed.) & Sinclair B. Ferguson (ed.), Reformed Confessions Harmonized (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), pp. 56-59

While later Reformed orthodoxy tends to more scholastic, this statement from the earlier Second Helvitic Confession should be easier to grasp and understand for the normal person.