Monday, December 27, 2010

Modern Arminians and historical revisionism

I stumbled onto a forum thread at CARM which referenced my article on Classical Arminianism.

As I have expected, modern Arminians like William Birch were attacking my article over on the forum, displaying the exact error I was mentioning around the time I wrote the article. As I have said back then,

It seems that there are a lot of modern Arminians who, like Roger Olsen, feel free to revise history in order to make the Classical Arminians into a respectable evangelical group, ignoring clear historical evidence to the contrary. Who do you think knows the Classical Arminians and their doctrines better: their contemporaries like the scholar John Owen, or modern Arminians who are ~400 years removed!

... it is extremely revealing that these revisionists insist that Classical Arminianism believes in Total Depravity. That must one of the most popular myths floating around it seems. The whole reason for the TULIP acronym was that 'T' represented Total Depravity over and against the Remonstrants' view of Partial Depravity! Classical Arminianism NEVER once believed in Total Depravity. They may use language that seem to suggest that, but then their doctrine of prevenient grace erase original depravity in toto, leaving behind only a "sinful nature".

Just because Birch and supporters do not agree with the view of the Classical Arminians as stated by Owen do not give them the right to call him a liar. Instead of thinking that Owen lied about the Arminians, why not see that Classical Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism are simply two different systems of thought altogether? Thus, Birch et al as Evangelical (hopefully) Arminians should see that Owen was addressing Classical Arminianism, of which they do not seem to believe in.

Birch's approach of discounting all Reformed, Calvinist evidence to the contrary is bad historiography. It commits the genetic fallacy and his reasoning is thus fallacious at the core. Is there a possibility that ALL Reformed and Calvinists for the last 400 years have misrepresented the Classical Arminians? Yes, but that has to be proved, not merely asserted. To say that no one in 400 years until you come along has understood the Classical Arminians is an astonishing claim that requires a lot of arguments and proofs to even make it a plausible hypothesis.

Again, conveniently discounting the case of Conrad Vorstius is not going to aid his case. Mere assertion that Vorstius is not a proper Arminian because he became a Socinian is called begging the question. Wasn't Vorstius appointed to "succeed" Arminius at the University of Leiden? Isn't it the case that the reason why he lost his prominence to Episcopius was because he was kicked out of Netherlands prior to the Synod of Dordt, and also that he became a Socinian later in life? I can understand why no respectable Arminian wants to acknowledge Vorstius, but to ignore the skeleton in the closet is not a good argument.

The historiography of the modern so-called "Classical Arminians" is seriously lacking. They can call themselves whatever they want, but clearly they are either classical or evangelical, and not both.

Wes White on blogging and the 9th Commandment

Wes White has recently posted an excellent write-up looking at the issue of blogging with regards to the charge of violating the 9th commandment, especially in the sphere of the PCA in which he is in. An excerpt:

For some reason, there are people who think that blogging is evil. They then complain that those who blog do not represent them fairly. Instead of getting a free blog from WordPress or Blogger in order to respond, they prefer to demonize those who blog. They are in a tough position. If they don’t blog, those who do will control what is said about them. If they do blog, they can no longer demonize those who do. Moreover, you will validate those who blog.

But there is another option, they can try and suppress blogging in some way. The only problem is that every attempt you make to suppress blogging is going to look like, well, suppression.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paper: The Apologetic Import of the Autopistia of Scripture

I have just received my other paper back. The paper is entitled The Apologetic Import of the Autopistia of Scripture. Barring formatting changes, the paper is presented as submitted, here.

An excerpt:

In apologetic endeavors, the question of authority or the ground of knowledge is an important one. How can one know what is the truth? For a Christian, not only do we ponder over the question of how we can know what the truth is, but the question of how truth and Scripture relate to each other is equally pertinent.

In this paper, I would like to defend the thesis that the doctrine of autopistia or the self-authenticating nature of Scripture substantiates the proper foundation or ground of knowledge which is the Scriptures themselves, and that this can be used profitably in the realm of apologetics. To this end, firstly, I will put forward the proposition that the foundation for the framework of all knowledge is the Scriptures themselves. Secondly, I would show how the doctrine of autopistia can be used to substantiate it. Thirdly, I would proceed from there to suggest a method to apply this fact in the realm of apologetics.

[cont]

These would be extremely pertinent I think:

There is therefore no shame and no need to hide the fact that the Christian epistemology is circular, for all epistemologies are likewise circular. ...

...

What is the import of this doctrine [of autopistia] in apologetics? Since all epistemologies are circular, the fact that the ultimate authority of the faith appeals to itself is actually self-consistent with its own claim to be the ultimate authority. Although it is most definitely not sufficient to prove the faith, as if apart from the work of the Spirit anyone can be argued into the kingdom, the coherency of the Christian system is a work of beauty indeed.

Along these lines, we have a platform to critique rival epistemologies. Empiricism can be critiqued because there is nothing in empiricism to validate empiricism as a valid epistemology. Rationalism can be similarly critiqued since formulae such as Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am) are not inherently found in reason but reasoned out in order to support rationalism. In other word, reason itself never claimed to be an ultimate authority in any sense. Rather, it is fallen men who cling on to reason as their ultimate authority since that is internally all they have, and they therefore make reason their ultimate authority by an irrational leap of faith.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Archetypal/ Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology

I have managed to finish my main intended project for this term break: an article interacting with parts of Dr. R. Scott Clark's article on the Well-Meant Offer in the book The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, a fetscrift for Dr. Bob Strimple edited by Dr. David VanDrunen. My article is entitled The Archetypal/Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology, and can be found here.

An excerpt:

The distinction between archetypal and ectypal knowledge as promoted by the 17th century Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius is vital in Reformed scholastic thought. In this short article, I would like to interact with it as it is presented in Willem J. Van Asselt’s article in the Westminster Theological Journal of 2002, and tie that in with Clarkian epistemology. It is my opinion that there is no necessary conflict between the two, contrary to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s opinion that the denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction is foundational to Clark’s epistemology and his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.

In this article therefore, I would first present the archetypal/ectypal distinction as presented by Van Asselt, and evaluate how that can tie in with Clarkian epistemology. Lastly, I would interact with some of Scott Clark’s criticism on the subject and show that it does not apply to Gordon Clark either in his epistemology or his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.

[cont]

[Note: An article is not a(n) [academic] paper. Unfortunately, almost all of my Gordon Clark books are back in Singapore so I can't reference them]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reviews and articles

I have finally managed to consolidate my recent book reviews and articles onto my website. Here they are:

Review of Esther Meek's Longing to Know

The (Non)-Problem of Evil

The Epistemic Priority of Logic

Ignorance, Scholarship, Authority and Autonomy

Do note that these consolidated articles are generally better than when they are on the blog, because I have relooked them and amended any weakness and errors in them. For example, I have previously thought Meek's book was pushing for some form of communitarian epistemology, but now I think it fits better with a Barthian idea of knowledge as relationship- still erroneous but at least a better representation of the error taught.

Paper: Preaching to the Three Fold Image of God

I have received one of my papers (for the course PT500 Ministry of the Word and Worship) back. Dr. Dennis Johnson is an English major and it shows as he picked up two spelling/formatting mistakes which I had overlooked. Barring these corrections and some small phraseological changes in the last page of my paper due to the feedback received, I would like to share the paper here.

The paper is entitled "Preaching to the Three-Fold Image of God" and it marks my reflections and thoughts on the issue of Christ-centered preaching.

Jim Renihan on New Covenant Theology

I have finally finished the papers and exams for my semester and took some time off. Between now and the start of the winter term, I would be going back to readings as usual.

Anyway, here's a good analysis and critique of the movement known as New Covenant Theology, which I am sure I have addressed before some time back, by Dr. James Renihan in a sermon here. [HT: AOMin]. Having addressed the issue one or two years back, I truly wonder what is the current developmental status of the NCT theologies as they have evolved till now, though I truly have no time to figure out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A short analysis of CT's article on Keller's new book

Christianity Astray Today (CT) has posted an interview by Kirsten Sharold with Tim Keller over his new book Generous Justice. Tim Keller being part of New Evangelicalism version 2.0 is immensely popular, and this CT article seems to confirm one of my fears regarding the New Evangelical Calvinist movement.

Having not read the book, I will stick with the interview itself. Now, it may be the case that the interview does not do justice to the book, and that CT has distorted Keller's message. If so, then the fault lies with CT and Keller should come out and repudiate the report of the interview as he did not actually say what they reported him to say. This is always a possibility, but barring that, we must take the interview to be accurately reporting Keller's words and position.

In this interview, Keller specified what he means by justice and equates that with helping the poor. In Keller's words: "All I know is, if I don't care about the poor, if my church doesn't care about the poor, that's evil." Strong words indeed. However, is Keller right? We will analyze the interview to see if that is so.

Helping the poor

When we look at Scripture, we do indeed see that God is concerned for the poor, and he expects us to be too. This theme is found throughout Scripture,for example in Lev. 25:35, Deut. 15:7-10; 24:14-15, Jas. 2:1-6 and others like them. The issue with Keller is not that we are to be compassionate to the poor, but how.

Ever since the advent of the "social gospel," Liberalism has always trumpeted the cause of helping the poor and downtrodden in society. The so-called benevolent empire in the 19th century, as is the modern so-called ONE campaign, desired to solve society's problems. With the fusion of liberalism and socialism, modern-day liberalism has been about solving poverty by redistributing the wealth through taxing the rich to give to the poor. Even in its "softer" form, the idea of helping the poor is linked to the idea of giving handouts and feeding the poor through soup kitchens and other similar measures.

However, is that what God means by helping the poor? Is helping the poor done only through such measures? Keller speaks of the great stuff Tony Campolo and Ron Sider have written, which shows what he thinks helping the poor is — social works. This betrays his capitulation to the liberal zeitgeist. Of course, there is nothing wrong with social works per se, but if helping the poor is conceived to be done only through social works, then we are not really helping the poor. How much does Keller really understand about economics? For example, if we remove all the entrepreneurs in society, the economy would stagnate, more people would be without jobs, and the number of poor would increase. Under communism (and socialism to some extent), there is little incentive to work since everyone receives the same pay anyway so likewise poverty increases.

The fact of the matter is that the call for social works is totally naive and shows Keller's ignorance of the causes of poverty, which is complex (it is not always the case that the poor are always victims for example). Pastors should be doing their job instead of commenting on fields such as economics which they know little of, which brings me to my next point.

Confusion of 2 Kingdoms - The Church is NOT a social club!

Liberalism at its inception was never about denying the Gospel message. It was about "contextualizing" the Gospel message to modern times. For example, since people are now enlightened and do not think they are sinful, then we jettison the teaching of sin (this does not necessarily mean that the preacher personally denied the existence of sin). The slogan "Deeds, not creeds" is as old as Liberalism itself. The goal of the Church was to solve the ills of society. In time however, the method becomes the message and the true biblical Gospel was denied.

Evangelicalism reacted against Liberalism's trend of "contextualization" followed by denial of the Gospel message by rightly seeing that the Church is a spiritual institution and organism of which Christ is her head. The Church is called out of the world for Christ. Unfortunately, Dispensationalism with its escapist view of reality sees no need for Christian to be participants in this world. The hyper-spirituality of Dispensationalism make them ever "rapture-ready" and perceive their involvement with the world as exclusively tied to evangelism. The pendulum continues to swing with the younger evangelicals moving towards the other extreme: either by forming the "religious right" or the "religious left".

All of these pendulum swings show a confusion of the two kingdoms which God governs. The Church is the Church, yet her members are in the world. In Liberalism, Christians are stated to be in the world and of the world, whereas Dispensationalism (which dominated Evangelicalism) are neither in the world nor of the world. Yet Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world (Jn. 17:11, 14).

In being not "of the world," the Church is a spiritual institution and speaks of spiritual things. The Church qua Church is the Church and is not part of the world! The Church has no obligations to the world except evangelism. This is what Liberalism denies and Evagelicalism affirms.

As opposed to Dispensationalism, Christians are in the world and we are to participate in the world. Christians as such are to help the poor and get involved with bringing God's light and truth to a fallen world.

The Church and Society (the World) are two different institutions, although both of them are ruled by God. This means that the Church qua Church must and only should be focused on the things of God. That means that the Church is NOT a social club! As stated, the Church has no obligations to feed the poor; that is the obligations of individual Christians not of the Church.

Keller in this interview confuses the two kingdoms. As a minister of the Gospel, his job and the Church's job is not to "care for the poor". It is not "evil" for the Church to ignore the poor, because that's not her job. Sure, if the diaconate desires to help the poor in the community, that's not wrong, but that should not be their primary focus. The Church's primary job is the proclamation of the Gospel and the truths of Scripture and the tending of her flock, not tending to the world's needs.

It is simply not sufficient to be, like Keller, placing "social justice" as an outworking of the"experience of grace". Of course, good works (not "social justice", which we will discuss below) like helping the poor are always an outworking of grace, but that is still about the individual Christian in the world and not the Church. The Church qua Church has no involvement with "good works", regardless of how they are framed.

This brings us to the last issue: the idea of "justice"

Biblical "Justice" and helping the poor?

Keller in this interview seems to equate the idea of justice with helping the poor. In his own words:

I used the term "generous justice" because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it's just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I'm not generous with my money, I'm offending God, which means it's not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor. It's biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.

It would be good to see what is the verse in Job Keller has in mind, because I truly doubt a proper exegesis of that verse supports his equation of justice to helping the poor. Nevertheless, this is a dangerous view to hold, which we shall see.

The idea of "Justice" has to do with the righting of wrongs. When justice is present, those who are wrong will be punished, and restitution will be made to those who are wronged. When justice is absent, the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer. This has always been the definition of justice.

If justice is equated to helping the poor, as Keller states, then there is a connotation that being poor is wrong. The existence of poverty is unjust. Yet this is most assuredly not the biblical view. Deut. 15:11 states that poverty is a normal scene in our fallen human society. It is God who makes a person rich or a person poor (1 Sam. 2:7). Just as riches come from God, so too does poverty. Yes, poverty is part of the Fall and thus not part of the original creation, but that is different from saying that poverty itself is unjust. Are the consequences of sin unjust? Is God unjust? To say that poverty is unjust is an attack on the justice of God who determines what the consequences of sin should be.

It is most assuredly the case that there is much oppression of the poor, but it is not true that all of the poor are always poor because of oppression. For example, if a person squanders all his money away in gambling and is reduced to poverty as a result, his poverty is the fruit of his wickedness. Some people are just lazy and refuse to work and that is why they become poor. The whole idea that poverty is unjust tends to paint halos on the heads of the poor, as if the poor are sinless victims who are poor merely because they are being oppressed, instead of the biblical teaching that all man both rich and poor are alike sinners before God. There are virtuous poor, and they are wicked poor too, just as there are virtuous and wicked rich people on society as well.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Keller's view on this issue commits the most egregious errors of the Liberal Left in their view of poverty and society. Keller further confuses the two kingdoms and makes those who listen to him susceptible to falling into the Social Gospel. As the maxim states, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." It is not sufficient to have good intentions, but the truth. May we reject Keller's views on this matter and obey what Scripture teaches on this matter. Amen.