Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: Lordship and Submission

Lordship and Submission

The attitude of gratitude in a person's life will overflow into obedience. Such obedience is expressed in a submission to God and an acknowledgment that He is the lord of one's life.

What do we mean by "submission" and "lordship"? By "submission," we refer to the attitude that one brings oneself under the authority, correction and lordship of another. By "lordship," it means that the lord has the right to command certain things which are to be obeyed.

In the ancient context, this relationship is expressed very clearly in the relationship between a master and the slave. The slave has to submit to the master whether willingly or unwillingly. Whatever the master says is Law and has to be obeyed. It is this part of the relationship that is picked up by the New Testament writers in the use of the Greek word doulos (δουλος), often translated "bondservant" or simply "servant" (see for example Rom. 1:1).

The Bible is not telling us that we are slaves just like the slaves of old times and thus must be mistreated as well. We should not stretch the metaphor that far. Rather, the analogy is this: Just as a slave obeys the master in everything, so also Christians obey the Lord in everything. Just as the slave has no natural rights to claim, so also Christians have no rights to claim before God.

We are purchased by Jesus' death and the pouring of His blood on the Cross, and we are not our own (1 Peter 1:18-19). The Scriptures use the imagery of slavery to illustrate our former condition as being slaves of sin (Rom. 6:17a). The imagery that it calls forth is that of God coming to the slave-market and buying us from the slave owner who is called "Sin." The purchase having been made, we are now owned by Jesus Christ, a kind master however whose burden is light (Mt. 11: 28-30).

Christians are saved and therefore are now bondservants/slaves of God. Therefore, submission is the primary attitude of the obedience that comes with being grateful of our salvation, a submission in everything to the lordship of Christ.

[For further reading, check out the following books:

[to be continued]

Monday, December 26, 2011

Egalitarianism, Subordinationism and the Trinity

I have just stumbled upon an interesting article by the Christian Post on the Trinity here. It seems that there are some people who have read egalitarianism into the Trinity and insist that any mention of subordination is de facto subordinationism, and these proclaimed Evangelicals have come out with a statement "An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity" here. I would briefly interact with the popular statement here and deal with the academic statement later.

The statement reads as follows:

We believe that the sole living God who created and rules over all and who is described in the Bible is one Triune God in three co-eternal, co-equal Persons, each Person being presented as distinct yet equal, not as three separate gods, but one Godhead, sharing equally in honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank, such that no Person has eternal primacy over the others.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the most comprehensive statements of the early church on the doctrine of the Trinity. On the topic of the relations of the Trinity, it is stated thus:

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity

...

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate [uncreated]: the Son uncreate[uncreated]: and the Holy Ghost uncreate [uncreated]. The Father incomprehensible [unlimited]: the Son incomprehensible [unlimited]: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible [unlimited, or infinite]. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three incomprehensibles [infinites], but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible [infinite]. So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.

...

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another[there is nothing before, or after: nothing greater or less]. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.

As it can be seen, the statement in and of itself seems to teach the same thing as what the Athanasian Creed teaches. Indeed, within the Godhead all the persons are co-equal; distinct and yet one God. There is also no eternal primacy of one person over the others, if by that we mean that one person is superior to the other persons of the Trinity. Also, the Trinity does share equally in "honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank," if by that we mean that all persons of the Godhead receive them so that none receives them more than the others.

The problem however seems to lie in the details, as an analysis of the Academic Statement will reveal. Yes, the Trinity are equal, but does their equality means that there are no differences in how they interact with each other (i.e. functionally)? Does the equality mean that the receiving of "honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule and rank" are the same for all three persons?

We can see that there seems to be much misunderstanding of the position they seem to be responding to, ie. the position of people like Bruce Ware who wrote a book on the Trinity entitled Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). I have seen accusations of subordinationism hurled at the book and its writer. After reading the book personally myself, I think the accusations are baseless.

On the Trinity Statement website, the following endorsement by a certain Dr. Philip Carey, a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University, was placed on the front page. It is worded as follows:

In his new book, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan, 2006), Giles shows how a whole generation of conservative evangelicals has embraced a new-fangled version of the ancient Trinitarian heresy of subordinationism. They do not hide their motives. They are determined to see in God what they wish to see in humanity: a subordination of role or function that does not compromise (they insist) an essential equality of being. Therefore, they teach that just as woman is created equal to man but has a subordinate role at home and in church, so the Son of God is coequal with the Father in being or essence but has a subordinate role in the work of salvation and in all eternity. They even think—quite mistakenly, as Giles shows—that this is what the Bible and Christian orthodoxy have always taught.”

Assuming that the endorsement for Giles' book applies to this issue, we can see that, as it applies to the position of Bruce Ware, the accusations of subordinationism is false. It is true that the biblical manhood and womanhood movement is against the heresy of egalitarianism, and therefore they teach "a subordination of role or function that does not compromise... an essential equality of being." It is also true that we see a certain subordination in the work of salvation. I however have no idea what Carey means by "in all eternity." If by that it means that the subordination of the work of salvation continues throughout eternity, that is false because the work of salvation is completed by the time of the Final Judgment. If by that it means that it is eternally true that God the Son has submitted to the Father in His ministry for us, then that is true.

We will next look into the academic statement produced by this group.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: The Obedience of Faith

The Obedience of Faith

The person who is saved has been saved from the condemnation that he was in before. God did not have to do that; Jesus did not have to do what He did. What then should be the state of the new believer?

A person who truly understands this entire Gospel message and has responded to it in faith should be extremely joyful. He has faced the horror of his own sins. He has despaired of himself as he saw that all his efforts to do good were not perfect despite how good they may seem to be. He has seen the standard of perfection and knew there was no way he could achieve that. The work of the Law pierced his heart and drove him to despair of himself.

The Gospel message however shows him another way. To his amazement, God creates a way of salvation in which he does not have to do anything at all, but to believe in Christ who created that way. He clings to this message as that is the only way that could save him, like a drowning man clings to a lifeguard, and with great joy thank God for providing a way out of hopelessness.

With great joy comes gratitude and thanksgiving. The one saved is full of tears of thanksgiving to God who provides a way out. God did not have to do it. It would be perfectly just for God to leave all mankind to attempt to work for eternal life, an impossible task.

O my Lord, why did you save me? I deserve it not.
My sins so wicked and evil; Your Son so pure and good
You died the death I was supposed to; to merit for me new life
I live the life I deserved not; in hope and gratitude.

As Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, should die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

With thanks to God, the one saved desires to know more about Him and how to please Him. As such, they would seek to grow into what is called in Scripture "the obedience of faith" (cf Rom. 1:5).

[to be continued]

Gospel, Ecclesiology and Kevin DeYoung's post

In my previous post, I have posted some critical thoughts on Pastor DeYoung's post regarding the challenge to the YRR movement. In this post, I would like to elaborate further on the issue.

DeYoung focuses on the issue of ecclesiology as one of the challenges facing the YRR movement. He wrote:

Evangelicals have never been known for their robust theology of the church. Previous centuries could boast of many learned, almost comprehensive volumes, on the polity, powers, and purpose of the church. We could use more of that today ... The folks at 9Marks have done a lot to expound a practical, theological doctrine of the church. But some of our biggest disagreements have to do with the church: multisite, worship, governance, the place for denomination, the place for parachurch organizations, the place for trans-denominational entities, the role of the church in society, the relationship between the church and the kingdom, the nature of the offices, the role for ordinary means, and the list goes on. Underneath it all is the question of whether the Bible even speaks to most of our church questions. Maybe our ecclessiology is thin because the Bible is very flexible. Or maybe we have more work to do.

That by itself is of course an issue of concern, and I would certainly concede that. The New Evangelical Calvinists are still New Evangelicals at heart, and ecclesiology is oftentimes not even on their radar.

The issue I have is not that these are not legitimate concerns, but that these are secondary concerns compared to the primacy of the Gospel. Ecclesiology while important takes second place behind the Gospel. People are saved, then they join the Church. Even for infants born to believing parents, they are logically brought into the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace (by God) before they join the Church (which is another way to say that God accepts them therefore we baptize them, not the other way around). The Covenant of Grace is primary; the Church flows out of the Covenant of Grace which brings salvation to Man.

In the bid to get away from the radical individualism of modern day Evangelicalism, we must not swing to the extreme of some form of collectivism where ecclesiology becomes primary rather than the Gospel, as has happened in the Federal Vision. The biblical view starts with the individual responding to the Gospel (or the individual baby accepted as a member of the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace). They are then brought into the Church body. The individualists are right in speaking of the individual aspect of salvation, as nobody can believe on behalf of another. The collectivists are right in emphasizing that Christians are to be in a Church as one body.

DeYoung's blindness therefore stems from the refusal to see the rot of the Gospel message within the YRR itself. If the Gospel is lost, there is no need to speak of the rest of the challenges of ecclesiology, missiology and sanctification.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

YRR: Ostriches with heads in the sand

It seems that Pastor Kevin DeYoung has posted a reflection on the use of the term YRR (Young, Restless and Reformed). Noticeably absent from his article was any indication of the compromise TGC (The Gospel Coalition) members have indulged in.

It is indeed sad when one sees the myopia of YRR leaders. It's like the man who couldn't see the big elephant in front of him but focuses on the cat in the distance. Or to use a biblical imagery, it's like the man who see the speck in others' eyes but not the log in his own eye. While Rome burned, Nero frolicked around. The Gospel Coalition is in danger of losing the Gospel and these leaders are more interested in the (important to be sure) challenges to move the movement forward. What's the use of trying to focus on ecclesiology, missiology and sanctification when the Gospel itself disappears into a morass of different gospels promoted by TD Jakes, Steven Furtick and Rick Warren?

Pray for the eyes of the YRR leaders to be opened to the compromise of the Gospel within their midst. Otherwise, soon TGC will go the way of the NAE and before them the NCC.

Anabaptism, Scripture and the Word of God

But the Bible is to the natural man simply lifeless ink and paper until the Holy Spirit enters into his heart and quickens his understanding. Then and then only can he understand, according to Scharnschlager, the true meaning of the Scriptures.

— William R. Estep, The Anapbaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975, 1996), p. 194-5

I have been reading this work on the Anabaptists. However sympathetic it was written, I could discern the many errors of the Anabaptists, even the so-called "biblical Anabaptists, " with all of them so far being biblicists — embracing Solo Scriptura or Scipture only. In this quote, it seems that some Anabaptists have embraced the spiritualist error of dichotomizing between the Scriptures as written and the Word of God, a move which pre-dates Barth by a few centuries, showing us that there is nothing really new under the sun.

The main error of those who concoct this false dichotomy is the failure to reckon with God as Creator. God as Creator is the creator of language, and therefore the usage of words is suitable to express God's truth which He intends to give to us. The denial of the written word as the Word of God is the implicit denial of the doctrine of Creation; a denial that nature can be adequate to express the things of God.

It is true of course that the Holy Spirit is necessary to understand God's truth. But the Holy Spirit does not take what is lifeless and alters it to what is living. Rather the Holy Spirit takes what is objectively alive and applies it to make it to us subjectively alive. The Anabaptist (and Neo-Orthodox) version of the work of the Holy Spirit with respects to Scripture follows the Roman Catholic view of grace overcoming nature, whereas the biblical Reformed view is that of grace transforming nature. In this Anabaptist view, the Scripture (nature) is lifeless ink and paper. Grace in the Holy Spirit is necessary to come along to overcome nature and make it living. In the biblical view, the Scripture (nature) is ink and paper which is however the objective expression of God's truth also. Grace in the Holy Spirit transforms nature by taking the objective Word of God and making it come alive subjectively in us.

In this, the Anabaptists can be shown to move against the Reformation current, and is rather a return to a form of Medieval spirituality found in the ideas of the Spiritual Franciscans. Whatever Anabaptism is, while it interacts with the Reformation for sure, it is as far away from the Reformation as the pre-Tridentine Roman Catholicism of that era was.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pre-prolegomena: The first response of faith

[continued from here and here]

The first response of faith

We are sinners. God in Jesus Christ has given us a solution to our problem to fix it. What, then, should be our response?

This is the situation that all of us had faced or will face. Faced with how bad we actually are, there is no solution that we can see. But God has given us a way out in the Gospel, calling on us to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). This is what we are called to do in light of the Gospel message, in order to be saved.

First, we have to repent. In repentance, we admit that we are wrong and agree that what God says is correct. Therefore, we admit how bad we are. We agree with God that our good deeds are really wicked before God according to God's high standard. We agree with God's judgment that we deserve punishment in death and hell. We agree that we are helpless to save ourselves.

Next, we believe in Jesus, the opposite side of the coin of repentance. We agree with God of the truth of the Gospel message. We accept Jesus' life and death on the Cross as a fact. We accept Jesus as a person and all that He has ever said and did. We accept that He died to save sinners, of whom I am one of them. This act of belief is to put our trust in the person of Jesus, and in what He has done for us.

Secondly, the command is to be baptized. Baptism is the ceremony involving water whereby a person tells everyone by his or her participation that he or she is now a Christian and part of the community of Christians. Before baptism, a person can claim to be a believer but he is not officially considered as one. Baptism brings a person officially into the community of believers and thus the Church.

This then is the first response of faith, Through repentance and baptism, the person has indicated that he or she has believed in the truth of our sinfulness and the Gospel message. He has now started the journey of coming to know the God who has given His Son to save him from his sins (Mt. 1:21b).

[to be continued]

On Sex and Speaking about Sex

Mark Driscoll has come up with another book it seems, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship & Life Together. Tim Challies has posted a concern regarding one chapter whereby the Driscolls take a look at various sexual acts. (See also his part 2 and 3 on the issue). I think the main point however has not been well made yet.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.(Phil, 4:8)

This is the key verse that speaks of the Christian life. The Christian life is to be lived out by meditating on what is pure and lovely and honorable in everything. Sex is something ordained by God to be enjoyed by a properly married couple within the confines of marriage. In itself, it is a beautiful act of intimacy between husband and wife to be kept within the confidentiality of marriage. Within those bounds, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

The problem with Driscoll's message however is the titillating nature of all that he writes about on sex. Songs of Songs for example is certainly about the love between a man and his beloved, yet the love and emotion is expressed in a proper way such that it is a celebration of love and it elevates that love. Such a glorifying of love is lovely and honorable, with nothing banal about it.

Driscoll on the other hand takes what is lovely and debases it. It wasn't that long ago that I decided to hear one of Driscoll's sermon on the Song of Songs out of curiosity. My ears were red just listening to it. I most definitely wouldn't feel that way after reading the Song of Songs in my Bible! There is something pathologically wrong with such sexualized sermons. Just because the Song of Songs is a love poem does not make it erotic, neither is it speaking of sexual acts which I would never have known except through the scandal of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

There is nothing wrong with teaching about sex. In fact, I have just read some chapters in a book about Calvinism about marriage and family which deals with the issue. But such is done in a way which honors marriage and situates sex within that (and without any red ears).

The "based in Seattle" argument simply does not hold. Whoever uses it has no idea of the sexualized culture of the Greco-Roman world. In a time when homosexuality was promoted (especially by the Greeks) and temple prostitution as well as after dinner "pleasures" were common, the Apostle Paul did not resort to utilizing debased language to "contextualize" the Gospel message. In fact, nowhere is the word έρως (eros) ever used in the NT, which would be strange if we think Paul was overly eager to do "contextualization."

The Scriptures say that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Mt. 12:34) and that we can recognize people by their fruits (Mt. 7:20). Driscoll's persistent infatuation with all things sexual speaks volumes about his priorities and his thought life. We can forget about his rant against biblical cessationism for a moment, for this is an even worse sin. And yes, it is a sin! Ever since the pornocracy of the early medieval period, who would ever have thought that debased notions of sex should be the focus of the church?

It is not true that churches should not deal with this issue. Such issues are to be dealt with in private however. The law of conscience should already tell us that many of these sexual deviations are wrong, and many or these do not have to be discussed EVEN in pre-marital counseling. For unless one of the spouses has been confused by looking at pornography, they would not even HAVE any of these questions in mind and even raising it up stumbles them by leading their thoughts in a way that is not pure.

May we therefore revert to the biblical manner of speaking of such private issues, and not debase it by public discussion of ungodly material and thus sinning against the Lord.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: The Beginning

Part 1: Foundations

The beginning

We start up at the beginning. How does a person get saved? What do you mean by getting saved? Aren't we all in general doing fine?

The sad fact is that we are not. Most of us know we are not perfect, but certainly, don't we all agree that to err is human? All of us commit various wrongs in life. The key issue is that we learn from our mistakes and resolve to be better people next time. After all, don't the motives count? If we do wrong, we could just make up for it by doing more good works to balance out our evil works.

The truth of the matter is that we are not answerable to ourselves. Wrongdoing is wrong and deserves to be punished, while good works deserve to be rewarded. That is a truth. But why do we think our good works are truly good, and why do we think that our bad deeds are not very bad?

The Bible says that we are much more wicked than we ourselves think. It is not that God does not reward good works. On the contrary, God does give eternal life to those who are truly good (Rom. 2:6-7; Lev. 18:5) But what good works is agreeable to God? Why should God think that our good works are good enough? On the contrary, our righteous acts are as disgusting to God as menstrual rags (Is. 64:6). Whatever is not done according to the perfect standard of God is not acceptable to him (Jas. 2: 10) and this standard can be expressed in many ways, one of them being the 10 commandments (Ex. 20: 3-17)

Many times we think of God as being a nice old man in the sky, just wanting to help us. But reality is not for us to decide. The standard of God is fixed apart from the decisions of Man. Rather, the standard by which works are judged as good or bad are fixed by the God who transcends this entire creation. This same God created us and He sets the standard for His creation. We who are created by God have no right to dispute His authority, because we are created by Him.

Once we see ourselves using the proper objective standard, then we must admit that we are not as good as we make ourselves. In fact, we find that all of our good works are not good according to God's standards. For example, the standard for doing any good work is that it ought to be done not that we feel we have to make up for our bad works or for our good reputation, but for God's glory (Rom. 14: 23). On the one hand, even one of our bad deeds cancel out any good that we have done (Jas. 2:10). On the other hand, not one of our good deeds are truly good according to God's standard.

This is the problem all men naturally face. You can pour contempt on it, deny that such a God exists, or deny that God will ever set such a high standard. Regardless, you are like an ostrich putting its head into the sand. For your (and mine) affirmations and denials mean absolutely nothing. You can deny gravity all you want, but gravity will still work when you jump off a cliff. Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is that everyone is held to the perfect standard of justice, and everyone fails.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of Christianity. It is the message of the one way whereby any solution is possible. The reason why Christianity is the only truth is that no other way can solve the problem of our condemnation. It is not that Christianity excludes people from heaven. Rather, it is the only way whereby Man can go to heaven. Bring all your other religions and philosophies. If anyone can solve the problem of condemnation, they are surely welcome to be held to and embraced. Can anyone of them solve the problem of condemnation? Present your case. What solution do you as a follower of this religion or this philosophy present for this condemnation? How are you able to help Man to be right before God? Are you able to come up with a solution, any solution, at all?

Christianity presupposed the reality of the condemnation of Man. As it is summarized for us, "there is no one righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10b). The issue to be addressed is the reality of condemnation that is already present on all mankind.

The Gospel message is this: Jesus was born into this world 2000 years ago by the virgin Mary and her husband Joseph. He was born into a Jewish family in the town of Bethlehem in modern-day Israel. When he grew up, he was nailed to a cross by his enemies the leaders of the Jews and the Romans, who wanted to make the Jews happy and not revolt. This death on the cross was however the way by which we can be saved from the present condemnation.

How is that possible, you may ask. Jesus' death was actually part of the plan of God to save us sinners under condemnation. In God's plan, Jesus dies on the cross as a substitute. We were supposed to die because of our bad deeds. But instead, Jesus' death as a substitute means that for all who believe the Gospel message, their punishments were given to Christ instead and Christ's death satisfies justice. The eternal punishment that we should have faced is now no more for all who believed in the Gospel. Instead of facing punishment, Jesus has merited true righteousness and gives it to all who believe the Gospel.

The history of the death of Christ and the divine exchange it delivers is the substance of the Gospel message. It is this message that has to be believed in. For those who believe in it, they have received the deliverance from the state of condemnation all men and women are born in. This is how Jesus has came up with the solution, the only solution that works, for the state of condemnation everyone is in because of their bad deeds.

[to be continued]

Announcement: Reformed Theology Made Simple

I have just created a new blog, entitled Reformed Theology Simplified, that aims to expound Reformed theology in a simple manner. The current series which I have entitled pre-prolegomena will be cross-posted to that blog, but further posts to that effect will be posted on that blog only.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pre-prolegomena: Introduction

How is the Christian life to be lived? That is probably the most asked question for all Christians. Yet it seems that for many Evangelical Christians, the Christian life consists of data mining the Bible for principles to live by. Is that however the way Christians are to live?

It is my contention that such is not the biblical way to find out the way the Christian life is to be lived. In fact, I would even venture to say that it is probably the most un-Christian way of finding out what the Christian life is about. The method is just about as able to discern the biblical principles of Christian living as it is able to discern how to fry an egg from examining the molecular differences between a raw and a fried egg.

The data-mining approach to Christian living has resulted in the re-definition of Christianity as the religion of Moral Therapeutic Deism. Christianity has become it seems the religion of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Christianity is all about being moral and being good in this life, with an additional benefit of going to heaven after death. Jesus saves us from hell, so after we have our hell insurance, it's about time we brush up our lives in our growth in (moral) sanctification.

This however is a lie from the very pits of Hell itself.

This is about as far from true biblical spirituality as you can get.

This if taken to its logical conclusions damns the professional believer to an eternity without Christ.

We should see why this topic should interests us. And I intend to therefore cover the topic of Christian living. How are Christians to think of and behave, in a manner that is true to Scripture?

We will cover the topic in 2 main sections. Section 1 will be the basis of the Christian faith and life, while section 2 will focus on the implications it has for us.

As this is called pre-prolegomena, I would try to write this using simple vocabulary and simple concepts as much as it is possible for me to do so. I will try to write shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences to aid comprehension.

With this, let us begin.

[to be continued]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paper: The Submission, Authority and Glory of the Son

Just received back a paper. The paper is entitled The Submission, Authority and Glory of the Son. I would like to share the amended copy here with one caveat.

The caveat is this: My chosen pericope is John 5:19-30. The pericope is indeed large (and thus not a proper exegetical paper), but in my opinion to limit the size of the pericope is not an option, otherwise one would lose the structure of the passage. Sure, I could limit it to a few verses (e.g. vv. 19-25 - my original pericope), but what you would get is technical exposition of the passage without the flow of the passage. I guess biblical theologians could do it, but I personally can't conceive of writing a paper on a passage which I don't consider a full pericope.

Here's the introduction of the paper:

From the time of the early church, the relations between the members of the Trinity have been a topic of controversy. The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Neither is the word “consubstantial” and other such terms which are used in the Nicene creeds and other such symbols of orthodoxy like the Athanasian Creed found in it. The Church has to wrestle with the teachings of Scripture which do not directly and explicitly teach on the theological issues they were facing, and through logical discussions and controversies find a way to reconcile the truths of Scripture, navigating the minefield of myriad heresies.

The passage of John 5:19-30 is an important passage to consider as we dwell on such issues, especially as the high Christology in John was instrumental in shaping the Church’s doctrines. Avoiding as we must the inappropriate application of the Creator-creature distinction in denying the knowability of God—“a reluctance to recognize that God’s revelation in human history tells us anything about who he is eternally” —especially as seen in mysticism which denies that we can positively know anything about God’s essence, we must acknowledge that we can know God inasmuch as He reveals Himself in Scripture. What then does this passage contribute to our understanding of the relation between the Father and the Son?

[more]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why being a biblicist is wrong

"I don't care about labels. I am just following Jesus, and the Bible." Do such words sound familiar? If so, you may have stumbled upon a biblicist — that group of people whose fidelity to the Scriptures make them think that only a plain and "unbiased" reading of the biblical text will lead one to the truth.

On the surface, such a motto should sound appealing to every Christian. Who after all wants to add the philosophies of Man to the truths of Scripture? The problem however comes when we apply some thought to the issue. Do we interpreters of the Bible, any interpreter, really come to the Bible with a tabula rasa, a blank slate? Is there such a thing as absolute objectivity on the part of any man or woman on earth?

If there is anything where postmodernism has its plus side, it is to remind us that we ourselves are personally involved in the process of knowing and interpreting. We ourselves are situated in this present order, and our own upbringing and environment shapes how we think and to some extent even what we think. All people including myself are biased to some degree or another, and we approach issues not as a blank sheet of paper but as people with preconceived ideas and notions.

The biblicist view therefore is in error. There is no such thing as a "just the Bible" reading. That is why the Reformed churches have never just taken the Bible and read it "afresh" after removing all preconceived ideas from our brains. That is simply silly. What we have done is to take the Bible, read it and interact with others who read it, both our contemporaries and those who have gone before us. Only through interaction will we be able to correct our biases to a much greater extent, all done of course with the understanding that the Scriptures have the final say. We believe in Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), not Solo Scriptura (Scripture only).

Being a biblicist is not good. What is worse is being a biblicist who teaches the Word. We then have the specter of someone teaching his own opinions and affixing the label of divine authority on it, as if his environment and prior education did not influence his interpretation of Scripture at all. That is why James 3:1 is such a solemn verse for those of us who have or will be serving the Lord in some capacity or another as a pastor, teacher, scholar etc.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas. 3:1)

It is a fearful thing to be called to account for the souls of those whom Christ has and will put in our care. One wonders why anyone would want to a teacher of God's truth, unless one is indeed called to this task.

Pastors and seminary education

Over on the WSCal blog, Dr. R Scott Clark has posted a broken up article on why pastors need a seminary education. The article was first published in Evangelium, Vol. 5, Issue 3

Not only pastors should be seminary-trained, but in my opinion, all missionaries should be too, as are all full-time Christian workers in leading and teaching positions. Most certainly, we want trained people to have the skills to minister to people. More importantly in my opinion, the Church does not need people to misrepresent her Lord and harm others through their own incompetence.

People can point to the famous Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon, who was not seminary-trained. The early apostles of course weren't either. Spurgeon however trained himself rigorously and read more books than many people own in a lifetime. The apostles undergo intensive training for three years, and even after that they failed at the critical movement of Christ's arrest. Only after Pentecost did the Holy Spirit illuminate their previous training, bringing what Jesus said to mind. So, yes, seminary training is not absolutely essential, but the alternative is just as rigorous and even more demanding as few people are around to push, motivate and correct you, who are capable of doing so.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: Rationales

I have been busy with exams at the moment. As I take a rest, I have given some thought to various issues. One issue which I have given some thought to is the need to produce some form of document to outline the basics of the Reformed Christian faith as it translates to Christian living.

Part of the reason for this stems from the an apologetic need to defend my actions, of which I presupposed the Christian basics as a matter of fact. But more importantly, many people seem to have a totally unbiblical view of Christianity and what constitutes biblical action. For example, many people think that even naming heretics is unbiblical.

In light of the appalling lack of biblical literacy among supposed Christians nowadays, and the anti-intellectualism present in the churches, there is a crying need to translate the truths of the Scriptures to simpler language. On my blog, my tendency has been towards greater intellectual rigorosity and precision, as my blog is basically a platform of my thoughts. I do not in general spell out the rationales undergirding what I do. This has probably caused some consternation to new readers, and to friends who do not embrace what I have presupposed.

In light of this, I think it is best to produce such a document. My aim is not to necessarily confound my critics, as if that was even possible. But for those whose hearts are noble like the Bereans, I hope to communicate to them what a Christian life and worldview should be like in dealing with some of the issues that is everywhere around us, as simply as I can make it. The target audience is new evangelicals especially those in Singapore, and that is where the level of communication would aim for. I'm not trying to talk down to people, but sadly to say, some people cannot understand stuff which I consider simple, which is why I consider this PRE-prolegomena.

This series would start after my exams are over, which would be in less than a week's time.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What does Jesus (and Matthew) mean by the term "the poor"?

τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, καὶ νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται· (Mt. 11: 5)

The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the leprous are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached [to them] (Mt. 11:5. Own translation)

In the midst of writing papers, I decided to do some [assigned] reading notes on the Greek text. Matthew 11:5 was a very interesting verse in this regard when seen afresh in the Greek, and I would like to call attention to it.

In this verse in context, Jesus was responding to the disciples from John. John was imprisoned by the tyrant Herod for condemning Herod's illicit relation with his brother's wife (Mk. 6:18). Perhaps wondering if his ministry was in vain, as the coming of the kingdom of God seems not to be happening some time soon, John sent his disciples to question Jesus if he is indeed who John had thought he was. Jesus' answer is interesting in its own right, but we will focus primarily on what this verse teaches on our topic.

Verse 5 as it can be seen shows Jesus answering the various plights of the people. Those who are blind receive sight, and thus their blindness is cured. Those who are lame walk, and thus they are no more lame. In the last clause, the "poor" have the Gospel preach to them. If we follow the plight-healing motif of the rest of the clauses in the verse, then having the Gospel preached to them is the solution and healing for being poor. But what does this mean?

The verb εὐαγγελίζονται is a deponent verb. This means that it can take an active or passive function, and Greek does not have a separate passive form for the present tense (unlike the aorist tense) We can be confident however that the verb is supposed to be take as passive in nature, for the rest of the clauses speak about what happened to the ones who have the particular plights. Or we can say that the transitive verbs in the verses are found always in the passive form (καθαρίζονται - are cleansed; ἐγείρονται - are raised) whereas the intransitive verbs are in the active forms. εὐαγγελίζομαι is a transitive verb ("I preach the Gospel), so taking it as passive here is better.

If having the Gospel preached to them is a solution for the state of being poor, then there are two ways we can interpret it. Either we define the Gospel as being the solution for poverty (e.g. the "social Gospel"), or we define what being "poor" means in light of the Gospel. The latter is preferred as the Scriptures elsewhere are clear about what the Gospel is. Furthermore, Matthew in the Beatitudes in Mt. 5:3 seems to define being "poor" with being "poor in spirit" or "poor with respects to the spirit" ("spiritually poor"). If we take a robust view of the typological significance of material poverty in the Old Testament (a typology unique to theocratic Israel), then we realize that the social gospel is the wrong way to go. Rather, being poor in the message of Jesus and the Gospel according to Matthew means being bereft of hope and salvation. It refers to those who are alienated from God especially those are ceremonially and morally unclean (lepers and sinners). Having the Gospel of salvation by free grace preached to them therefore is indeed the solution to their spiritual poverty and alienation from God.

The idea of being poor therefore in Jesus' teaching is mainly the idea of spiritual poverty, not of material poverty. This is not to say that Jesus is not concerned about those who are materially less well-of, but that is to say that the Gospel message of Jesus has to do with spiritual salvation, just as what Paul teaches. Jesus is no social revolutionary (although he may seem to be one) but one whose kingdom is not of this world. His goal is the cross and salvation, not the creating of a better earthly kingdom.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Missional, Charismatic, and Reformed?

Over on Driscoll's The Resurgence website, pastor PJ Smyth has written a short write-up regarding the Driscollite unique blend of ministry distinctives. It seems that the inclination to combine the three ministry distinctives of "missional," "charismatic," and "reformed" continues. However, are these really biblical, and are they really compatible?

Missional?

Let us look at the first distinctive: missional. The term itself has various shades of meaning, but we will focus on its understanding and use in the Reformission movement. According to Smyth, "missional" begins with the understanding that "Jesus came to [the] earth as a missionary and he commissioned us to follow his example." Another synonym for this distinctive is the term "incarnational." What are we to make of this term? First of all, they are in error in claiming that Jesus came to earth as a missionary. Jesus' mission was to die on the cross, not to proclaim the Gospel everywhere. Jesus did call people to faith in Him, but more often than not, Jesus concealed the Gospel in parables (Mt. 13:13-15) and such a concealment is judgment upon a nation and people who do not respond in faith to His miracles. Jesus as an intrusion of the last days even proclaimed that certain people are reprobates and not His sheep (Jn. 10:26). Do these actions strike us as something a missionary should do?

Jesus came to inaugurate His Kingdom. As God and Savior, He is unique in this aspect. When Jesus spoke in parables, and when He for a moment revealed the secret decree of God that His opponents then are reprobates, He is functioning as the King of glory, with these actions being a foretaste of the Last Judgment when all will be laid bare. Missionaries are NOT kings or the King. They are not inaugurating the Kingdom of God but proclaiming it. They are not privy to the secret decree of God in exposing the reprobate status of reprobates. As such, missionaries are not to preach to people in parables. They are not to conceal the Gospel message as a judgment upon people.

Jesus was not a missionary but a King and a suffering servant. We are therefore not to be "missional" but "mission-minded." We witness the Gospel to the world, not like Jesus as Jesus did not do so, but as those sent out by the King we serve, like the Apostles and the early church.

Charismatic?

If there is one thing that truly irritates me, Smyth misrepresents Charismatism and non-Charismatism. It is reprehensible that Charismatics go around claiming that they believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, as if they are the only ones who do so. Similarly, spiritual warfare in the biblical sense is not peculiar only to Charismatics, neither is the link of sickness with the Fall nor that God heals.

The fact of the matter is that Charismatics add to the biblical teaching on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit an under-realized ecclesiology and an over-realized eschatology. By the former, we mean that the Charismatics have an immature view of the Church as if she is still in the same infancy stage of the apostolic Church. Ignoring the fact that the Gifts of the Spirit have a purpose ordained for them, they insist on the continuing gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, foreknowing prophecy, words of knowledge etc as the ordinary (as opposed as extra-ordinary) reality of the Church. They ignore the fact that the Church has matured with the closing of the Canon and thus the completion of the function of the sign gifts in general.

On the latter, we mean that the Charismatics believe that the blessings of the last days have already come to a great extent if not has come and is coming with the immanent millennial earthly kingdom. Thus, we have Charismatic healers who are more certain that God will heal people when they pray than God Himself. We have Charismatics who are so thirsty for the presence of God that they seek spiritual experiences outside of Scripture, not realizing that on this side of heaven, Christ is absent from the earth and His presence in this age is only mediated by the Holy Spirit through the Word written (Holy Scripture), the Word preached (exegetically sound sermon), and the Word performed (sacraments). Thus, we have Charismaniacs who see "visions" (of their own delusions) and see the "glory-cloud" of God, seeking by such experiences to drag Christ down from heaven to earth. Yes, more biblical Charismatics do denounce such antics, but one wonders upon what basis they can do so, since such flows logically from their over-realized eschatology.

Charismatism therefore is in error, and should not be embraced by the Church.

Reformed?

As a Reformed Christian, most definitely I think the Church should be Reformed. But what does the Reformission movement think of the word "Reformed"?

As we can see from the article, the word "Reformed" is defined as the "mainstream tradition of Christian theology that acknowledge the sovereignty of God in and over all things." One wonders then if Smyth and the others Driscollites think that Lutherans and Barthians and others should be included under the term "Reformed," since both of these groups also "acknowledge the sovereignty of God in and over all things," at least formally. I mean, Karl Barth not only claims to be Reformed, but he also denies infant baptism, which should be a plus point for the mainly baptistic Reformission guys!

Such a reductionistic definition of the word "Reformed" shows the utter ahistorical nature of the Reformission and the YRR movement(s). "Reformed" is defined by the Reformed Creeds and Confessions, not just an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God and the embrace of TULIP. It is then no surprise that Smyth can claim to be "Missional, Charismatic and Reformed," for his understanding of what "Reformed" means is indistinguishable from mere Augustinianism. To be truly Reformed however would sound the death knell to this synthesis, for being Reformed means that one embraced the whole of the teachings of the Reformed Creeds and Confessions which proscribe Charismatism (cf WCF I.1).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Reformission synthesis is unbiblical and ahistorical. We agree with Smyth's point that we should remain God-centered, and not only God-centered but Christ-centered, Spirit-led and Word-founded. But we disagree with Smyth's beliefs and synthesis as they are none of these.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Views on Justification?

The Valiant for Truth blog has an interesting write-up regarding the recently released book Five Views On Justification. An excerpt:

For example, one of the repeated mantras throughout the book by the other essayists is that justification is but one metaphor for redemption; there are other important metaphors (124, 133, 234-35). Justification, it is claimed, cannot take precedence over other metaphors, such as sanctification, adoption, or reconciliation. Metaphor? Really? If the antonym of justification is condemnation, are we to believe that condemnation is just a metaphor for not being saved? What of Jesus’ justification? Is that a metaphor too? What about standing in the presence of a holy God and being declared righteous is metaphorical?

As a group, New Testament scholars do not read historical theological texts and the entries from the NT scholars in this volume only confirm this statement. If you read these contributions you might be led to believe that the church began with Bultmann and Kaseman and throw in a light sprinkling of Calvin. For those claiming to being indebted to Reformed theology, there is little to no interaction with classic Reformation and post-Reformation texts. In a word, there is no historical depth (145, 146n 17, 150, 150n 29, 180, 200). For example, one of the repeated ideas is that union with Christ (120, 135, 211, 232, 241) is superior to the idea of the “straight jacket of the ordo salutis” (131, 152). Yet, no attention is given to the fact that countless theologians, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Arminian, have all embraced the doctrine of union with Christ. The doctrine did not arise with the NT guild in the nineteenth century. Arminius, for example, embraces the twofold grace of union with Christ, justification and sanctification. And everyone, whether they like it or not, has an ordo salutis. Who believes that election and glorification are identical? Does not the former come before the latter? And for Dunn, for example, who believes in an initial justification before a final justification, is not the former before the latter? And for those such as Bird, who argue that one must be incorporated into Christ in order to be saved, do not the believer’s good works come after incorporation into Christ, not before? However, there is a wholesale rejection of the ordo without any research given into how Reformed theologians actually use the doctrine. There is no Reformed theologian of which I am aware that uses the ordo to indicate a temporal or chronological sequence or parceling out of the benefits of redemption. There are numerous instances where classic Reformed texts indicate that the ordo is another way to express, surprise, surprise, union with Christ. For all of the claims to read the Scriptures communally and covenantally, too many NT scholars read the text isolated from the rest of the church. ...

This book would be an interesting read, when I have the time to do so.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 9 and Conclusion)

Here is the final installment of the series reviewing and refuting Roger Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Miscellaneous

Olson in his book trumpets the fact that God is love. Indeed, God is love, but what has that to do with us per se unless Scripture informs us so? For if we just take the fact that God is love, then God who is loving AND holy hates that which is unholy and therefore must hate us sinners. Olson here makes a categorical error in not differentiating between God's intra-trinitarian characteristic of being love, and God's love towards us. The former is necessary, the latter is not. Just repeating the fact that God is love does not help us one bit, for we as sinners are justly the objects of His wrath. It is only through the shadow of the Cross that we can be the subjects of God's love manifested towards us, a love that is freely given us in Christ. Apart from Christ, the love of God is only present as a generic kindness to creation which is not what we Christians normally call love. Olson's primary objection therefore fells flat. God's love must only be sought in the person of Jesus Christ as God's righteousness to us, not in some Platonic ideal of "love."

With this, let us finish off our review with a look at some of Olson's distortion of Bible verses. It must be stated that the best treatment of these contested verses can be seen in James White's book The Potter's Freedom [5], which Olson unfortunately did not interact with.

Distortion of Bible verses

The "All" passages

Olson made a big fuss over the places where the word "all" is found, and continually emphasize that "all" means "all. In his own words, "there is no way to get around the fact that 'all people' means every single person without exception" (p. 190). Olson however provides no exegetical argument for his position. Given the way the word "all" for example in Mt. 3:5 is used, one wonders if Olson think that Mt. 3:5 actually teaches that every single person without exception in Judea came to John the Baptist for baptism, and the Pharisees since they did not go to John were probably non-entities, non humans!

The fact is that the extent and usage of the word "all" is defined and circumscribed by the context of the text. Just mentioned the word "all," "all people" etc does not prove anything with regards to whether the "all" is extensive or intensive in nature; "all without distinction" or "all without exception."

Lk. 19:40-41

Olson misquotes this verse. As Dr. James White has pointed out in his book on the parallel passage in Mt. 23, Jesus desires to gather the children, but the Pharisees is the subject who "would not" allow the children to come to Christ. The one who would not come are NOT the ones whom Jesus desires to gather.

John 3:14

On page 52, Olson claims that Jn. 3:14 teaches that belief in Jesus will accomplish the necessity of being born again, therefore proving that "there is really no way to reconcile this passage with belief that regeneration precedes faith." Olson gives no exegesis as to why such should be the correct interpretation of the texts. The fact of the matter is that verse 14 does NOT teach that belief in Jesus will accomplish the act of being born again or regeneration. It merely says that the one who believes has eternal life, but eternal life is NOT regeneration. It is simply astonishing that Olson can read his idea of regeneration into the text in such an obvious distortion of it.

John 3:16

Olson states that the word "world" here means the "whole human race" (p. 134), and cites "AT Robertson as quoted by Jerry Vines" — a secondary source. This is sloppy interpretation since not only is the word and verse not exegeted from the original text, but a secondary source is used. One doubts that Olson has even checked the primary source to see if Vines has actually portrayed Robertson correctly. Be that as it may, Robertson is interpreting the text too, so Olson's authority is thrice removed from the context of Scripture. To say that is sloppy exegesis is an understatement, with Olson not even bothering to check the Greek BDAG lexicon.

John 6:44

Olson states that the "drawing" of John. 6:44 cannot be irresistible because the same word is used in Jn. 12:32 where Jesus draws all men to Himself. The problem with Olson's eisegesis, beside ignoring the immediate context of the verse, is that the phrase "all men" can means "all men without distinction" and thus the meaning of "draw" in the sense of irresistible drawing could be preserved without the embrace of Universalism. Olson here read his own idea of "all" into the text, which is very unfortunate.

1 Tim. 2:4

Olson claims that "the Greek of 1 Tim. 2:4 cannot be interpreted any other way than as referring to every person without limit" (p. 68). On pages 112-113, Olson continued discounting the Reformed interpretation by saying it "hardly fits the language of 1 Tim. 2:4." All these hardly counts as exegesis at all.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Olson's Arminianism is the emperor without any clothes. As we have seen, Olson's arguments are fallacious, his starting point and hermeneutics is contrary to the spirit and teaching of Scripture, and his exegeses of the relevant biblical texts are either shallow or absent. While Olson brilliantly portrays the standard Arminian arguments, the content (as like Arminianism) has no real biblical truth and substance to them. The book can therefore be read for study and understanding of one scholarly view of Arminianism, but it is not recommended for true understanding of the biblical text, remembering how Olson has imposed an a priori framework before even dealing with what the biblical texts teaches.

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[5] James R. White, The Potter's Freedom (Calvary Press, 2010)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 8)

Part 8 of the review of Olson's Against Calvinism:

Chapter 7 — Irresistible Grace/ Monergism

The main objection, which we have previewed in our analysis of the last chapter, is Olson's denial that Arminians desire to boast. As we have said, that is not part of any Calvinist argument against Arminianism. It is the rare Arminian who thinks that he can boasts because he chose Christ. The issue before us is whether Arminians have any ground for boasting at all, not actually whether they do so. Olson utilizes one of his analogies to try to prove his case — that of the kind professor who gives a poor student a check to tide him over the month's expenses. Olson rightly shows that it is ridiculous for the student to claim some credit for having accepted the check, but this is not the same as not taking any credit at all. Olson's analogy breaks down because the type of credit the student Olson made him claim for himself is so disproportionate to the kindness of the professor who gave him the check. Knowing that there are people just like him who reject the check, the type of credit the poor student could claim is that he is smart enough to accept the check compared to the others like him who reject it, and do so not in a overbearing manner but a modest manner befitting his little contribution to the acceptance of the check. The problem with Olson's analogy thus is not that the poor student has no grounds for boasting, but he does so in a disproportionate manner. So likewise, what Olson's analogy only proves is that contributing 0.1% towards one's salvation means that one can only boast in the tiny 0.1% of one's efforts and not 10% of the effort towards one's salvation since one only contributes that 0.1%.

If the ultimate ground of one's salvation is because I make use of my free will better than others just like me, then this decision is grounds for a little boasting, regardless of whether such boasting actually occurs. Olson thus fails to refute this argument but use another failed analogy here.

Finally, Olson attempts to tug at the heartstrings by asking us to imagine if someone were to behave like God in real life (p. 166). The problem with this thought experiment is that Man is not God and as such the thought experiment will not work. Even Arminians believe that God gives and takes life, and this cannot be translated into any sort of thought experiment for Man. The only thing the thought experiment can prove is that Man are monsters if they usurp God's authority, but nothing about God per se. God is sui generis, one of a kind, and Man cannot try to be God and usurp His prerogatives.

Dynamic Equivalence and its practice

Those who read my blog would know that I am against the practice of Dynamic Equivalence (D-E) or Functional Equivalence (F-E) in the practice of Bible translation. To prove my point that the entire translation philosophy is flawed, here is another mess which shows why F-E translations turn out to be neither functional nor equivalent.

"And a voice came,'You are my beloved Messiah; with you I am well pleased.'" This declaration is the familiar pronouncement of God's favor upon Jesus, at the time of his baptism.

Well, not quite. That verse is actually from the Injil Sharif.

The group in Bangladesh represents what is known in missions circles as an "Insider Movement." Advocates of these initiatives say their followers believe Jesus as Savior, yet remain inside their families, networks and communities, retaining the socio-religious identity of that group." The idea of encouraging believers to "remain" within Islam and "retain" their identity as a Muslim is one of the most controversial issues in missions today. Arguably the most contentious practice of some of these groups is to produce Bible translations that remove familial language for God, due to the offense Muslims have towards the idea that God is Father and Son. Thus, "Son" is removed from Mark 1:11 to read in the Bangladeshi translation, "You are my beloved Messiah."

...

When translators take it upon themselves to decide what the meaning of the text is apart from the words of a text, we will get only the interpretations of the translators about what THEY think the text mean, not what the text actually mean. From my experience however, the F-E proponents just cannot get this point, thinking that just because lexical interpretation is necessary therefore every form of interpretation is necessary in translation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 7)

Part 7 of review of Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Chapter 6 — Particular Redemption

Olson's first major argument is astonishing, saying that the atonement does not save anyone since one has to fulfil certain conditions like faith in order to be saved (p. 138). Olson here does not seem to understand the difference between God ordaining the ends, and God ordaining the means to be certain to achieve the ordained ends. For in Calvinism, salvation is organic and flows from one stage to the other as Man regenerated by the Spirit freely believes in Christ by the gift of faith given to him. That Olson does not understand secondary causation and the certainty of ordained means for the reaching of ordained ends is very plain here, but just because Olson does not understand them does not make them illogical. Given Olson's premise of libertarian free will, it is understandable that he will find it difficult to understand the wisdom of God in double agency. So once again, Olson's rationalism rears its ugly head.

The next error concerns the difference between the sufficiency and efficiency of the atonement. Christ's death is sufficient to save everyone, yet it is only made efficient for the elect. Olson here counter-accuses Calvinists of wasting some of Christ's blood since Christ's blood was more than enough to save yet was not applied to save all (p. 141). The issue is that Olson misunderstands the whole expression of "sufficient for all, efficient for some" as a quantitative expression, as if Christ's blood was divided into as many buckets as there are people who have lived on this world. In such a quantitative scheme, only some buckets of Christ's blood were utilized while the rest were not and thus wasted. However, this expression was never meant to be interpreted in a quantitative sense but qualitatively. The worth of Christ's atonement was sufficient to save all, but it was given only for the purchase of the salvation of the elect. No blood is wasted here since it is a qualitative not a quantitative scheme.

A major focus of Olson's attack on Calvinism concerns the doctrine of the Well-meant offer which is undermined by Calvinism, and therefore Calvinists cannot logically tell people that "Jesus died for you" (p. 142). The problem for Olson is neither does the Scripture ever show any evangelistic presentation where the apostles and evangelists told anyone that Christ died for them. As a consistent Calvinist, I contend that the Well-Meant Offer is unbiblical in nature since it imputes irrationality and unfulfilled emotions to God [4]. Rather, I hold to the Universal free offer of the Gospel, whereby we as Christians in evangelism proclaim the Gospel message as that "Christ died for sinners" and sinners who obey the command to repent and believe in Jesus Christ are saved. Olson can legitimately criticize the inconsistent Neo-Amyraldians for their embrace of the Well-Meant Offer, but it is untrue that denial of the Well-Meant Offer equates to denial of God's offer of salvation in any other sense. Olson continues in this thread with the question of why God would offer salvation to those who he intends to exclude (p. 151). That is a legitimate question to ask the inconsistent Calvinists, but certainly it is not something which troubles us, for God does not offer the reprobate qua reprobate salvation. In fact, you will never see God offering salvation to the reprobates qua reprobates. For example, we do not see God offering salvation to Esau or Ishmael in the Bible. God did not offer Agag the king of the Amalekites salvation but judgment! God's offer of salvation is stated as being given to the world. Surely an Arminian with his view of corporate election should understand when God deals with Man as a collective group here! God offers sinners, undifferentiated sinners, salvation. There is no tension between God's dealings with Man in the collective as opposed to as individuals, for they are two separate categories altogether. Here, I truly find it ironic that where Calvinism treats of election as individual, Olson and Arminians treat election as corporate, while conversely where Calvinism treats of the Gospel offer as corporate, Olson and the Arminians want to make it individual.

Olson's next argument deals with Owen's argument against universal atonement on the issue of the payment for sin. Since God cannot punish the same sins twice, Christ's atonement means that the sinner cannot still be punished for his own sins (p. 142). Olson dismisses this argument by saying that "the claim that objective atonement necessarily includes or entails subjective, personal salvation is faulty" (p. 149). First of all, Olson's sentence means that the atonement in the Arminian system only makes Man savable, not saved, contradicting the promise of God in Mt. 1:21. It is thus a surprising admission on Olson's part that in the Arminian system, Christ's atonement itself does not save sinners but merely makes them savable. This undermines Olson's professed belief in substitutionary atonement, since if Jesus did not actually save anyone in the atonement, then He did not die as anyone's substitute, but at most a potential substitute contingent upon the person exercising faith in Christ. While certainly Olson denies vehemently that boasting is allowed in the Arminian system (p. 158), the issue here is not whether Arminians will actually boast but whether they have grounds to boast, an issue which we shall look at in the analysis of the next chapter.

Olson further attempts to blunt John Owen's double payment dilemma by using a flawed analogy, of which they are many within the book. The analogy Olson used is that a person offering to pay a $1000 fine on behalf of his friend, and then his friend later insists on paying the fine himself. The problem with Olson's analogy is that it does not even work. If the fine was already paid to and accepted by the court, the court cannot take the friend's payment as a matter of judicial procedure. The fine has been paid, and that's legally settled. The friend can pay the fine himself if the person has not yet paid the fine, but once the fine is paid, it is paid. If the friend insist on paying the fine, he can go to find his friend the person who paid on his behalf and insists that he accepts the $1000. So likewise, the atonement has already paid for the punishment due to our sins, and that as a settled reality is totally objective not subjective. Just like the court does not care whether you feel the fine is paid as long as it is paid, so too the subjective element is totally irrelevant to the actual application of the atonement to men. The subjective element comes in only in light of the prior objective payment of the atonement, not as a completion of the objective element as if our subjective state actualize the potentiality of the atonement itself!

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[4] See an article, in interaction with the Neo-Amyraldian Tony Byrne, on the topic here (http://www.angelfire.com/ddd_chc82/falcon/theologyNeoAmyraldismRefutation1.pdf).

Video games and Sports

One common complaint by DeYoung and others has to do with the playing of video/computer games by men. In their thinking, such is a sign of immaturity. But is that really so?

What is the difference between playing video games, and watching college football? Has any of these events any ultimate value? Just look at the number of men keeping track of their favorite teams, watching Superbowl or whatever sports league is present. Watch how much money, emotional investment and time the diehard fans spend to support their team. Do any of these have any ultimate redemptive value?

The Puritans in the 17th century were outraged by the introduction of the Book of Sports. They were outraged that the King was mandating the playing of sports on the Sabbath and violating the Lord's Day. Of course, now not only is sports agreeable on the Sabbath, few people see any problems with it.

So back to the issue at hand, is video games a sign of immaturity? If both video games (e-sports) and sports do not have any redemptive value, then why the hypocrisy on condemning one while being silent on the other? One can argue about the time spent on video games, but doesn't this apply also to normal sports? Isn't that therefore a question about the priority of time, not about the activity of playing video games itself?

Until DeYoung and others start condemning the time Christians spend on sports, their attack on men playing video games is vacuous and hypocritical. The issue should not be whether men play video games, but about their priority in using the time they have. Those who focus on video games are mistaking the symptom for the problem, and are no different from the legalists of a former era who condemn dancing and drinking merely because the world abused them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 6)

Here is part 6 of the review of Roger Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Chapter 5 — Election and Double Predestination

Olson is correct that a belief in unconditional election implies double predestination. From there, Olson argues that since God's choice of election is unconditional, it must be arbitrary (p. 115). Such a conclusion however is in error, especially because it contradicts the express teaching of Scripture on this topic. Eph. 1:5 teaches that the basis for election is based upon the purpose of God's will, or God's good pleasure, the counsel of His will (cf Eph. 1:11). God is not arbitrary in his choice, for God is not subject to chance. What it is in His will that make Him choose one person over the other God does not reveal and it is therefore none of our business. What Scripture says is that God's choice is deliberate and made by Him alone based upon His good pleasure alone. It makes no difference if Olson cannot understand that God's will is not arbitrary, for chance is not the ruler of our destinies. On the contrary, chance plays a huge role in the Arminian system since God is not sovereign (as understood in the proper definition of what sovereignty means) and Man with his libertarian free has equal probability to choose one way or the other if no compulsion is present either way.

One person that Olson loves to quote is the theologian James Daane, who evidently calls himself Reformed yet he denies TULIP. As a hostile witness, he is indeed effective just as a spy is effective in warfare to work towards the defeat of the enemy from within. But as we have shown, the Reformed confessions define what Reformed is, and Daane as such is not Reformed or a Calvinist. Pages 124-125 show Daane promoting the idea of corporate election, which however contradicts the express teaching of Scripture. Eph. 1:4-11 is unmistakably speaking of individuals, as groups cannot be adopted or sealed with the Holy Spirit. Rom. 9 in context was written as Paul's defence of why the Jews as a whole have rejected Christ, with the argument being that not all who are of Israel are truly Israel (Rom. 9:6). Taking election corporately makes no sense, for how would saying that God elects a group and reprobates a group answer the charge that God's promises to Israel have failed? We note here that Paul was differentiating between those who are externally of Israel and internally of Israel in Rom. 9:6, and differentiating within a group must pertain to individuals! Daane and Olson are thus in error in thinking that Romans 9 actually teach corporate election.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Roger Olson, Calvinism and Vincent Cheung

It is not difficult to find Calvinists on the Internet (e.g., bloggers) who boldly state that Calvinism requires confession that God is the author of sin and evil. One such person is Vincent Cheung, who writes about Calvinist as a Calvinist ... Like many others one can easily find on the web, Cheung ridicules fellow Calvinists who say that God is not the author of sin . He then says that "when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be 'So what?' .. there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin." Cheung goes on to argue that the typical Calvinist account of God's absolute sovereignty necessarily leads to God as being the author of sin in any ordinary sense of "author."

— Roger Olson, Against Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), p. 59

I would like here to comment on one part of Olson's book which I did not cover in my review, because it deals with a proclaimed Calvinist and Internet figure Vincent Cheung.

As it can be seen, Olson is using Cheung as a case study to prop up his attack on Calvinism. The sad thing is that Cheung with his language is a ripe target for attack. Cheung in his publication The Author of Sin claims that the word "author" merely refers to someone who ultimately controls the action of sinning. This is supposed to be the normal definition of "author." But is this really the case? Olson of course couldn't really care less what the definition of "author" is, as long as he can taint Calvinism with evil. But what does Olson desire his readers to think? Olson wants his readers to think that in Calvinism, God directly creates sin and make people sin. If God is sovereign in the sense of controlling everything, then God must make people sin, which is intolerable and make God a "moral monster."

The problem with Vincent Cheung is that his provocative tone and language is stumbling people more than it helps to add light to the subject. By refusing to emphasize the distinction (if he even thinks it is important) between primary and secondary causation, his views tend towards making God responsible for the action of sinning itself. Merely claiming that whatever God does is good by definition does not solve the problem for such is a triumph of extreme Nominalism. Such an argument can be used but it cannot be used alone, for God does not work in a manner contrary to His attributes and therefore a more biblical argument must be given.

I realize of course that Olson will try to find any wacky person on the Internet if doing so would aid him in his emotional argument against Calvinism, and there are many such people including hyper-Calvinists of all stripes on the Internet, not necessarily Vincent Cheung. That said, many hyper-Calvinists are much easier to spot as they embrace such nonsense as Eternal Justification which is so far removed from the truths of Scripture that it only makes sense when one embraced that type of Rationalistic system. Cheung's bombastic rhetoric makes it harder for people to see his Rationalism as being distinct from the rational reasoning of confessional Calvinism, and makes it easy for Olson to either drive people away from Calvinism, or towards his version of it , both of which are not desirable.

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 5)

Part 5 of the review of Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Chapter 4 — God's Sovereignty and Divine Determinism

Olson calls some inconsistent Calvinists on the carpet for their denial that Calvinism implies Determinism. Fine, but then it is one thing to say that it implies some form of determinism; it is another thing to think that all forms of determinism is bad.

On page 75, Olson raises the objection that whatever is necessary cannot be gracious, and therefore Calvinism with its determinism makes the creation necessary thus undermining grace. This is however an argument that fails to take into account the difference between God's will ad intra and ad extra. What is necessary for God ad intra is what is necessary indeed. However, if God freely wills to do something like for example create the world, then God's willing it makes that action subsequently necessary, although it is God who freely wills it. Olson fails to distinguish between an absolute necessity and a subsequent necessity here.

In a similar note, Olson fails to distinguish God's glory ad intra and ad extra in his critique of the rationale of God doing everything for His glory, and thus accuses Calvinists of saying that God needs the world in order to manifest His glory (p. 93), thus undermining the aseity of God. According to Calvinism, God's glory is perfect, but His glory is perfection in Himself and is not revealed to the world. Therefore, God does not need the world to be inherently glorious, but the manifestation of His glory (ad extra) requires external beings to be present to behold the revelation of God's glory.

One thread which runs throughout Olson's argument is that moral responsibility implies human ability. This premise may sound right to many people, and is in fact true when dealing with human relations, but why should we accept that when it deals with our relation to God? What is the predication for responsibility, but that one is held accountable for his actions? Accountability not ability is the precondition for responsibility. Within humans, ability imply accountability because those who do not have the ability to for example not stop stealing are sick, and sickness is not one that the person is responsible for. However, God deals with humans under our federal head Adam. We fell in Adam and we are furthermore held responsible for all the subsequent sins we commit in our lives. Sinners are not sick but rebels actively choosing to sin. That we cannot not sin is irrelevant after all since Man in his natural state does not even desire to not sin.

Olson furthermore does not think through this objection of his, which is actually a double edged sword against Arminianism as well. If moral responsibility implies human ability, then Man cannot be held responsible for any sin which he commits since he is sinful from birth. Since Arminianism affirms original sin, then God cannot send Man to hell for sinning because Man cannot do otherwise. This goes to the issue of faith in Jesus Christ as well, as unbelief in a sin. How can Olson hold an unbeliever responsible for not believing in the Gospel, since his sinful nature means he is unable to do so? Olson could of course use the Arminian notion of prevenient grace, an idea without biblical proof at all, but given the fact that prevenient grace is meant to only make Man able to choose to believe the Gospel, where does this leave those unreached people who have never heard the Gospel message at all? If one believes, contrary to Scripture, that they are saved by obeying what light of nature they have, then perhaps it would be better NOT to preach the Gospel to them, since those who have obeyed what light of General Revelation they have might reject the Gospel when they hear it.

The main thrust of Olson's objection in this chapter is that having God ordain everyone means that God is a "moral monster." God in his view would be no different from the devil. The problem for everyone including Olson is that there is evidently evil in the world. If God does not ordain everything including evil, then evil serves no visible function; evil is pointless and purposeless. Olson's postulation of a consequent will to account for how God uses evil for His purposes, in a reactionary manner to evil, calls into question the doctrine of God's immutability and aseity. Does God change when faced with evil? If however, God's consequent will is moved into the realm of eternity through God's foreknowledge of evil, then another question arise: Is God's will determined by something that is temporal? Can the eternal be determined by what is temporal?

The philosophical problem related to the theory of simple foreknowledge comes into play here. As the open theists have realized, exhaustive foreknowledge of the future imply that creatures do not truly have libertarian free will. In light of this, Olson's Arminianism runs into the same problem that Calvinists have. According to Arminianism, God cannot not allow evil to happen. For if God foreknows that evil will happen, then why didn't He prevent it from happening, unless He cannot do so? On the issue of salvation, if God foreknows that a person Sam will not accept the Gospel, then why did God not create him instead of creating him to go to hell? For it is better not to be born than to burn in hell forever. Furthermore, can Sam chose to believe in the Gospel if God foresaw that Sam would not chose to believe? Instead of preaching to the elect (Olson's caricature of what Calvinism will lead to), evidently Olson to be true to his Arminianism with its theory of simple foreknowledge has to preach to those foreknown to believe. Perhaps some contemplative prayer will show Olson who are those whom God foreknows will believe and he can then preach to these only.

Therefore, unless one wants to drift into Open Theism, one needs to embrace a form of determinism. Far better to say with Scripture that God decrees evil in order to bring about a greater good (which as a rejoinder to Olson means that we do not necessarily know what is the greater good that God intends), than to think of evil as having no purpose and God reacting and thinking of how to make it all good in spite of evil. Furthermore, if evil is not decreed by God, then there is another force at work in the universe independent of God, be it chance or something else. Any admission of that leads to Manicheanism with its dualism between God and the forces of evil.

Concluding this section, we see that Olson's objections are double edged. What he accuses Calvinism of can be used likewise against Arminianism. The only way to escape the charge of determinism is to either embrace Open Theism and Process Theology (both beyond the pale of orthodoxy), but I doubt that Olson wants to go there, although his friendship with the late Open Theist Clark Pinnock may indicate to us more than meets the eye.

The essential difference between Vantillian and Clarkian epistemology

Epistemology is almost always a complicated subject. To complicate matters, [Cornelius] Van Til is not easy to understand, and both [Gordon] Clark and Van Til do not speak at the same level and use the same terms differently. So in an effort to simplify things, I offer this as my understanding of the issue. [Those who want some documentary proof check out my other posts on Clark or Van Til]

According to Van Til, the Trinity is the archetype for all knowledge. According to Clark, the Trinity is a vital part of revelation but not the archetype for knowledge. Rather, the Scriptures is the principium and basis for all knowledge.

In Vantillian epistemology, since the Trinity is the archetype for knowledge, therefore all knowledge is by definition analogical. This is because there is a qualitative difference between God and Man with no univocal point of contact, as the Creator is distinct from the creature. All of Man's knowledge is creaturely and therefore cannot be univocal. "Univocal knowledge" in the Vantillian system refer to knowledge that erases the Creator/creature distinction and make the knower knowing truth as God knows it. Such a univocal knower may not know everything that God knows, but the part of the truth that he knows, he knows it to the same comprehensive detail that God knows that truth.

In Clarkian epistemology, which I am convinced IS the biblical and Reformed epistemology, we definitely agree that the Trinity is basic for Christianity. But the Trinity is basic in terms of ontology, in terms of grounding the world and everything that exists in its being. God in the Trinity is the principium essendi (beginning of being), and therefore without God nothing exists least of all [the being of] knowledge.

On top of this however, we realize that the Trinity is revealed to us humans by the Scriptures. Apart from Special Revelation in the Scriptures, no one can know the Trinity. The Trinity is not something that even a Christian can know intuitively and mystically apart from reading the Scriptures and internalizing the biblical data and worldview. Since this is the case, the Trinity cannot be properly basic for epistemology, for the Scriptures is the source for our knowledge of the Trinity.

The Scriptures is God's ectypal revelation to us. Since it is already accommodated to us humans, knowledge is univocal between God's intended revelation (ectypal theology simpliciter dicta) and our grasped knowledge (in subiecto). We can only know what God reveals. Even the Trinity is known to us only inasmuch as Scripture reveals it to us, either overtly or by good and necessary consequence.

As it can be seen, the two systems start off from very different foundations, and the divergence shows up in confusion as the two sides often misunderstand the other. I offer this of course to aid in some small manner to clear the fog.

Why do I not hold to Van Til's epistemology? As mentioned, I do not believe that the Trinity can be known apart from Scripture. I believe in a two track system differentiating between ontology and epistemology, with the Triune God as the principium essendi (beginning of being) and Scriptures as the principium congnoscendi (beginning of knowledge), and the two do not collapse into each other. Van Til's epistemology is also very problematic in making room for speculation on the Trinity, although of course Vantillians do not necessary do so. But if we place the Trinity prior to Scriptures, then why should our theories about the Trinity be necessarily tied to Scripture, since the former after all determines the latter in the Vantillian system? What safeguard is therefore in the Vantillian epistemology to stop speculations concerning the internal essence of the Trinity for the promotion of theories such as Social Trinitarianism, or making the Trinity the archetype for whatever three-fold relations we have concocted?

Such is why I am a Clarkian not a Vantillian.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 4)

Here continues the review of Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Chapter 3 — Mere Calvinism

Olson decides to parade the varieties within the confessional Calvinist tradition here. The Amyraldians are put forward as an alternative, disregarding the fact that Amyraldism was censored by the Formula Consensus Helvetica. The supralapsarianism/ infralapsarianism issue was raised, but since both sides affirm TULIP, there is no issue here. The different slant on the minutiae of TULIP among various theologians is highlighted, but what this has to do with the topic at hand is puzzling. The issue of the well-meant offer is brought up on pages 60-61, an issue which we will look at later in more detail.

As a foretaste of the next section, Olson makes a statement about God's sovereignty that illumines for us the basis behind the Arminians' profession of belief in the sovereignty of God. Olson claims that alternate theologies of God's sovereignty and salvation believe that God sovereignly self-limits his own sovereignty (p. 66). Let us think over that statement for a moment. Is that even a valid statement to make? Analogously, can we say that God who is all-powerful powerfully cripples Himself so as to self-limits His own power? Or to put it in a simpler form, can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot carry? Such paradoxes are nonsensical, for they are not real paradoxes but contradictions!.God can never sovereignly self-limits His own sovereignty, in the same way that God cannot create a stone so heavy that He cannot carry. It is not a limit on God's part, for God cannot do what is illogical. God cannot make square circles, for the simple fact is that something that anything with edges cannot even resemble a circle (we are speaking of 2-D Euclidian geometry here). God cannot make Himself to not exist, neither could God make a non-burning fire nor a air-filled vacuum. All of these are irrational and invalid concepts, and God cannot do such nonsense.

Olson's idea of God's sovereignty therefore is manifestly irrational. The phrase God "sovereignly self-limits his own sovereignty," can either be taken in two different senses— to mean that He refuses to exercise sovereignty in choosing to do or not do something, or taken in the literal sense that He cannot therefore exercise sovereignty at all on such matters. If the latter where God is unable to exercise sovereignty, then He is not sovereign at all. If the former where God refuses to exercise sovereignty, then God is not self-limiting His sovereignty but exercising it in basically leaving the events and consequences to chance. God has abdicated His kingship so to speak. Is such a God worthy of worship, that in the nature of allowing us free will, He decides to look on while His creatures rebel against Him? If as Olson says, God is doing all He can to save us, then either He is not able and thus not sovereign, or He is unwilling and thus that statement is a lie and God is not doing all He can to save us. Whichever of the options chosen, the implications is most decidedly not friendly to the Arminian cause. Either God is not sovereign after all, or God is not doing all He can to save people. And to the Arminian who thinks that the latter is a good thing because God needs to respect our free will in order for Him to be good, one wonders if the Arminian really believes what he claims to believe. Analogously, what will one think of a person who knows that a certain fruit is poisonous yet allow person Y to eat it since person Y insists on eating it and he needed to respect his free will? Should not love compel him to use all possible means to prevent person Y from eating the fruit, up to and including physically overpowering and restraining person Y? Yet the synergists somehow think that God not doing all He can to save people is actually a good thing. To parrot their pet phase: "What love is this?"