Sunday, April 17, 2011

Exclusive Psalmody, Ipsissima Verba and singing the name of Jesus

Lane Keister has rounded up his discussion on the subject of worship here, after interacting with Dr. R Scott Clark on this topic. In the comment section of his concluding post, a link was placed to an article on whether Exclusive Psalmody allows for singing the name of Jesus. Not surprisingly, the answer given by the author was yes. However, is that really the case?

The main thrust of this article is that the title "Messiah/ Anointed" (which is translated as Christ in Greek) is fond in the Psalms. Also, the cognate word for "salvation" is the meaning of the name Jesus — Yeshuah. For example, in Ps. 3:8 (Ps. 3:9 in the LXX and the MT), the cognate noun הַיְשׁוּעָ֑ה (hayeshu'ah) is used to denote salvation. Therefore, the author of this article contends that we can indeed sing of Jesus Christ in the Psalms.

The argument looks good on the surface, until we realize that no Jew living before the time of Christ, even King David while he was on earth, while singing the Psalms are going to think of Jesus Christ. In fact, when Jesus did come on to the scene of history, the majority of Jews rejected him. Reading the Psalms according to its historical context therefore does not give us the name or person of Jesus Christ, just a promise of a Messiah who saves.

Biblical revelation is organic and progressive in nature. No saved Jew before Jesus (not Abraham, not Moses, and not David, Daniel, or Isaiah) could have known that the second person of the Trinity would come down from heaven, incarnate himself as a human baby, grow up as an ordinary human being, and die on a Roman cross by the shameful death of crucifixion. Would they recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah if they see him? Were they looking forward to the coming of Jesus Christ? Of course. After all, "Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8: 56). Yet,

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" (1 Peter 1:10-11).

The patriarchs and prophets knew only in part, not the full revelation which we now have in the completed revelation of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2, Col. 1:19).

It is in this light that the article fails if one wishes to defend some form of Exclusive Psalmody. Since the historical context does not allow for seeing Christ in the Psalms, reading the title of Christ and the name of Jesus in the Psalms is an interpretation of the Psalms not a mere ipssisima verba (the very words) of the Psalms. Now, do the Psalms speak of Christ? Of course they do. They speak of Christ however not according to the historical context it was written, but by looking at them in the redemptive canonical context of Scripture and its redemptive history. To say that the Psalms speak of Christ in this manner is to concede that interpretation and therefore some paraphrase of the Psalms is required in order for the full truth of God's word (in this case the name of Jesus Christ) to be expressed and sung.

Ironically, this reasoning by the Exclusive Psalmodists makes the point that interpretation and paraphrasing/ systematizing of biblical truths for singing is acceptable for public worship. The Scripture-only position, being open to singing all of Scripture, is not susceptible to this particular line of argument. Since interpretation and paraphrasing is acceptable for songs for public worship, the Exclusive Psalmodists through this argument has already contradicted and conceded their position on the topic, and therefore we should reject Exclusive Psalmody as being contrary to the spirit of the Scriptures.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: The Covenant of Life/ Works

[continued from here]

The Covenant of Life

We affirm that Adam was in a covenant of life with the triune God in the Garden of Eden, in which arrangement Adam was required to obey God completely, from the heart. We hold further that all such obedience, had it occurred, would have been rendered from a heart of faith alone, in a spirit of loving trust. Adam was created to progress from immature glory to mature glory, but that glorification too would have been a gift of grace, received by faith alone.

We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered. Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam's moral exertions or achievements. In line with this, we affirm that until the expulsion from the Garden, Adam was free to eat from the tree of life. We deny that Adam had to earn or merit righteousness, life, glorification, or anything else.

Having a flattened 1-dimensional ecclesiology, the FV bring this same hermeneutic over to the realm of covenant and salvation. Together with ecclesiology, they form the basis for the FV unique and heretical teaching on justification.

The hermeneutical failure to differentiate between the different senses of being in the covenant likewise results in a failure to read salvation history properly. As the people of God are indeed one between the Old and the New Covenants, so the continuity between the two according to this 1-dimensional hermeneutic means that the differences between the two periods of salvation history are minimized. This is most evidently manifested in the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction, but for now we will stick to the flattening in the covenants which we can see here.

The FV denies the Reformed teaching of the Covenant of Works. It is perhaps illustrative to contrast this statement here with the description from the Westminster Confession of Faith on this issue.

I. The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

(Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII: Of God's Covenant with Man)

Besides blatantly contradicting the Confession at this point, the main issue to be noted here is their appeal to what they think grace is and what king of agreement is appropriate for God. First of all, grace is not unmerited favor Rather, it is demerited favor. Grace is always what God gives to creatures who deserve His wrath, not to creatures like the the sun, the moon, or the stars for example. To say that grace is mere unmerited favor is to trivialize grace as a mere relational state with creatures, whereas grace always has a sin motif to it.

Since grace is demerited favor, Adam was not under grace before the Fall. Adam was under God's unmerited favor, but he in his sinlessness in the Garden before the Fall have not yet done anything against God. So while gracious (in the non-technical sense), Adam was not under grace. As for faith, one wonders what use is faith when Adam saw God (theophanically) in the Garden. Faith exist when sight does not (cf 2 Cor. 5:7) and vice versa.

If one defines merit as making God a debtor to us, then of course there is no such thing as "merit". I have tackled the issue of merit elsewhere. Suffice it is to say here that if God has decided to reward Adam based upon the doing of a certain work, even though He did not have to, that work can be considered meritorious since doing it would fulfil the condition(s) set by God for His rewarding of obedience.

The Joint FV profession erred in this area, and it is here that one of their *distinctives* are clearly visible, even though it is not the main problem with their system. First of all, Adam could not have a "heart of faith" nevermind rendering obedience from such a heart. There was no grace in the Garden too, so glorification would not be by grace, neither to be received by faith.

Ironically of course, the effort to be make it all of faith ends up making it all of law and works, a fact which we shall see in the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction. In the FV system, since God does not owe anyone, He could not condition reward upon obedience, and therefore the gift of glorification is not by obedience but by faith. Therefore, if the gift of glorification is by faith, then the failure of Adam in the Fall to acheive the gift must be because he ceased having faith. From this, the entire salvation heresy of faith as faithfulness flows, which we shall look at another time.

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Decrees and Covenant

The Divine Decrees

We affirm that the triune God is exhaustively sovereign over all things, working out all things according to the counsel of His will. Because this necessarily includes our redemption in Christ, God alone receives all the glory for our salvation. Before all worlds, God the Father chose a great host of those who would be saved, and the number of those so chosen cannot be increased or diminished. In due time, Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, and in that sacrifice He secured the salvation of all those chosen for salvation by the Father. And at some time in the earthly life of each person so chosen, the Holy Spirit brings that person to life, and enables him to persevere in holiness to the end. Those covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense enjoy the common operations of the Spirit in varying degrees, but not in the same way that those who are elect do.

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant. We further deny this covenantal usage is "pretend" language, even where the language and terminology sometimes overlap with the language of the decrees. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may keep the words of this law. We affirm the reality of the decrees, but deny that the decrees "trump" the covenant. We do not set them against each other, but expect them to harmonize perfectly as God works out all things in accordance with His will.

[The Joint FV Profession]

The divine decrees is an integral part of Reformed theology. The idea of the redemptive Covenantal structure of all of Scripture along the lines of the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace distinction is almost the "central dogma" of Reformed thought, although of course Reformed theology is more than the covenants. Nevertheless, it is in this important doctrine that the Federal Visionists are seriously in error.

Being debtors to the Reformed tradition, the FVists work within the vocabulary and framework of Reformed theology. Thus, the doctrine of covenant and election is very much a reality in FV circles. Yet while the form remain similar, the content is radically transformed.

We can start to see the alteration of Reformed doctrines in the statement above. The statement makes the claim that there are indeed "covenant members who are not elect in the decretal sense". Now what does this mean?

The phrase can be taken to mean what Reformed theology has traditionally taken it to mean, which is that there are those who are externally in the covenant who partake of the benefits of being among God's people, yet who are not truly elect and does not have true faith in Christ. As the Belgic Confession states:

... the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there (Belgic Confession, Article 29: The Marks of the True Church)

However, as have seen of the FV doctrine of the church, such language must be interpreted according to how the FV uses them. The flattening of the church into one "objective" church means that the decretal sense is truly invisible to all. Rather, those who are elect in the decretal sense are merely believers who will persevere and have their "final justification" manifested on the last day.

Therefore all covenant members are in this life to be considered truly objectively saved. Those who are not elect in the decretal sense are basically believers who will be seen to fall away later, and therefore are truly elect now.

As if to underscore the "objective" nature of the covenant, the statement continues to deny that this covenantal usage is "pretend language". Therefore, we cannot have any idea of a two-fold sense of being in the covenant, because how can a person who is in the church be considered not in the covenant community? Isn't calling a church member who actually is not a true believer a believer "pretend language"? So goes the reasoning.

The statement here finished this section with the denial that the decrees "trump" the covenant. Instead, both will eventually harmonize perfectly. The language here suggest that the FVists see a present discrepancy between the decrees and the covenant. Indeed giving their idea of the elect being made up of those who will persevere and those who will fall away, this is not surprising. Instead of seeing the covenants as the outworking of God's decrees in time, the covenants are presently in tension with the decrees as not all who are in the covenant are the "elect in the decretal sense".

The FV list of error continue to grow, as we shall see later.

Christianity and Metanarratives

[Jean-Francois Lyotard's] problem with metannaratives has nothing to do with the scope of their claims — that they are "large-scale" stories of "universal scope" — but the nature of their legitimation. (p. 126)

As such, modern [as oppose to postmodern] legitimation has recourse to a universal criterion: Reason. It is this mover that generates what Lyotard famously describes as "metanarratives": appeals to criteria of legitimation that are understood as standing outside any particular language game and thus guarantee "universal" truth (p. 130)

... the biblical narrative and Christian faith do not claim to be legitimated by an appeal to a universal, autonomous Reason, but rather by an appeal to faith (or, to translate, "myth" or "narrative"). (p. 131)

— James K.A, Smith, A Little Story about Metanarratives. In Myron B. Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Grand Rapid, MI: BrazosPress, 2005)

Also:

...in philosophical discourse, "meta" signifies a difference of level and not primarily of size. A metanarrative is a metadiscourse in the sense of being a second-level discourse designed to legitimize one or more first-order discourses (p. 148)

— Merold Westphal, Onto-theology, Metanarrative, Perspectivism, and the Gospel. In Idem.

Is Christianity a metanarrative? Theologians like Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Horton would suggest not. Rather, Christianity is a "meganarrative" as the the Bible is a grand narrative depicting the historical progression of God and His workings in the world.

The postmodernist Jean-Francois Lyotard famously declared that "I declare postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives". But what are metanarratives as decried by Lyotard, and is Christianity a legitimate target for incredulity?

In the essay by Smith, metanarratives are distinguished by the fact that they appeal to a "universal criterion of Reason". According to Smith's interpretation of Lyotard, metanarratives are not defined by the scope of their claims but rather the grounds of their legitimacy or authority. Therefore, Christianity according to Smith is not a metanarrative because it is based upon "faith".

In response, one wonders what Smith means by stating that Christianity is based upon "faith". Certainly, if by "universal criterion of Reason" one means a Platonic and Cartesian view of rationality, then Christianity is most definitely not grounded on "Reason". But it is one thing to deny Cartesianism, it is another thing to deny rationality; one does not imply the other.

What exactly is "faith"? Is it a Kierkegaardian existential idea of the "leap of faith"? The problem with throwing around the word "faith" is that one appears pious without actually defining what one means by the term, for after all which Christian is against faith?

In the second quoted statement, Smith seems to equate "faith" with "myth" or "narrative". This is troubling. It brings to mind some of the use of the phrase "mythopoetic language" as it relates to the teachings of Scripture, especially when used by non-literalists to interpret Genesis 1. How does this "faith" or "myth" or "narrative" relate to truth and reality? Is the Christian story intending to set forward universal claims which however is wholly subjective and isolated from reality? Of course, one can embrace a constructivist view of reality, but if so is God then a constructed reality for the needs of Man? It does not help to adopt Merold Westphal's method of inviting others to see and enter into the Christian story (p.234) if Christianity itself is a narrative linguistic construct. What we instead have is the reduction of Christianity to a myth on par with other myths like the Gilgamash Epic. If Christianity is not transcendentally real, the "meganarrative" is mere subjectivism.

It can be argued that the ground of legitimacy is in the evidences for the empty tomb and others like them, in other words Evidentialist Apologetics. By itself however, this does not seem to be protected from Smith's interpretation of Lyotard's criterion of what constitutes "metanarratives". While certainly history is the domain of God's working in the world, empirical data are not self-interpreting. Furthermore, are we to think that the same criterion that Lyotard used against Rationalism is benign against Empiricism, seeing that Lyotard has in mind the entire Modernist enterprise?

If Smith's interpretation of Lyotard in his attack on Modernism is correct, and we mean by "universal criterion" the idea of universal self-evident truths known to Man, then Christianity is not a "metanarrative", but not because it is based upon "faith" (contra Smith). Rather, Christianity is based upon the universally true but externally revealed criterion of revelation, especially in the particularly rationally revealed Word of God. It is not "universally known" but it comes to us extra nos, from outside us. It is also not based upon the naked empirical data of history but the interpretation of the data that comes through God's [General] Revelation described by His Special Revelation.

Smith's interpretative definition of Lyotard's term "metanarrative" seems not to be unanimously held to. Merold Westphal primarily defines "metanarrative" from the sum of its parts, and hence metanarrative is a second level discourse on narratives. Therefore we have metaphysics (discourse on being). metaethics (discourse on being and knowing of ethics), and of course metanarratives, which in his view is discourse to legitimize one or more narratives. According to this modified definition, Christianity must indeed be consider a "metanarrative". To deny that Christianity is not a "metanarrative" in this sense suggest that Christianity is made up of mere stories of which the truth values are irrelevant. So while Christianity as "kerymatic" deals with what it teaches and speaks to the first-level discourse on matters pertaining to church practice and Christian living (p. 239), it has nothing to say about reality. One wonders how Eschatology functions in such a system, since how can Christ be said to come again in the last judgment which is universal and real in scope? Christian eschatology in this system can only function as literary and poetical devices, not as something that will happen again. Ditto for creation too, since both events impinge upon second-level discourses. In fact, the idea of redemptive history is itself a second level discourse, and true fidelity to only usage of first level discourse should logically result in biblical atomism.

So according to Westphal's definition, Christianity is a "metanarrative", notwithstanding his argument against it. To appeal to faith is simplistic for the same reason why Smith is wrong. In fact, the idea that Heilgeschichte (lit. "holy history") is kerygmatic not apologetic is itself a second level discourse statement on the Christian faith (p. 150). That by itself is enough to discount Westphal's attempted synthesis of postmodernism and Christianity.

So in conclusion, is Christianity a metanarrative? Yes and no. In the strict definition of the term, it is indeed one. However, if we adopt Smith's interpretation of Lyotard's definition, then no. Christianity while universal is not universally known but particularly revealed. For our purposes therefore, in apologetics, it would help to know what particular individuals mean by the term "metanarratives" before answering if Christianity is indeed one.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Worship and the RPW?

Dr. R Scott Clark is a proponent of Scripture-only worship, which is very similar but still distinct from Exclusive Psalmody. In this two posts here and here, he briefly argues for his position of Scripture-only worship, a position which he expounded in some detail in his book Recovering the Reformed Confessions. Lane Keister has posted two responses, with the former being replied to by Dr. Clark.

I have previously responded to a pamphlet promoting Exclusive Psalmody here, and I do not think my position has changed much since. In this light, I think that Lane Keister's second response bring up some of the points I would have brought up if I were in his shoes.

First of my objections to Clark's position is the translation problem. All Bibles in English and any language except Hebrew (OT) or Greek (NT) are translations, and all translations are interpretations. While the so-called Functional Equivalence (F-E) crowd used that to advocate for pure meaning translation, as if meaning can exist apart from words, the Formal Equivalence model is simplistic, as if languages function like codes. All Bible translations therefore have lexical interpretations in them, and the good translations attempt to have only lexical interpretations and not "meaning" interpretations found in those translations following the F-E model.

Within the good translations and not-so good translations of the Bible we have a variety. The relevance this has for both Exclusive Psalmody (EP) and Scripture-only (S) positions is that there already is some form of interpretation or paraphrase depending on the version of Scripture that is followed. For example, for Psalters, are we going to have a ESV-Psalter versus the NAS-Psalter versus the KJV-Psalter? If these are all acceptable, then we are essentially saying that interpretation/ paraphrase is acceptable as long as the words convey the meaning of the Psalms. The only thing that the EP/ S crowd is fighting for is limiting the quantity of interpretation/ paraphrase to the bare minimum. After all, no Reformed Christian holds that we are to sing non-Scriptural  hymns and songs to God. The controversy is thus the amount of interpretation/ paraphrase acceptable.

Secondly, since Reformed worship limits itself to what is biblical, the difference I would have with Dr. Clark is that he denies that rearrangement and systematization of biblical truths and our biblical responses to these truths cannot be sung. But surely, are we saying that we can confess biblical truths like the Trinity but not sing them? If the concern is about imposing them on the congregations, the same could be said of the creeds and confessions. For most certainly, these are to be confessed by the entire congregation, yet none of the Church's creeds and confessions are directly lifted from Scripture as a single unit. For example, you would not find the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed in Scripture. You will find the contents, but not the form. Similarly, when we sing biblical truths of which the form is not found in Scripture, but the contents are, are we not doing the same?

Lastly, I would be very interested to know if Dr. Clark approves this song/ Psalm(?) by Deb Fung entitled For You Created, based ad-verbatim on almost the whole Psalm 139 as found in the NIV, and the reason why or why not:

Saturday, April 09, 2011

ETS Far West Region Annual Meeting: Parallel Sessions

[continued from here]

After the plenary address, we broke up into parallel sessions. For the first parallel session, I chose to go for Dr. Steven Hallam's "Will There be Surfing in Heaven? Redemption of Creation Theology and the Destruction of the Sea in Revelation 21:1c". For the second session, I decided to go for Dr. Jason McMartin's talk on "The Imago Dei as the Capacity for Relationship: Unifying Relational and Ontological Theories". For the last parallel session, I decided to go for Dr. Adam Co's "Revitilizing the Doctrine of the Believer's Mystical Union with Christ: A Key to Repelling the Present Neo-Paganism Fascination". It must be noted in passing that Lee Irons was concurrently giving a talk for the third session entitled "Δικαισύνη θεοῦ: A Cipher for 'God's Covenant Faithfulness'?". That presentation was quite well attended (I guess because of the New Perspective controversy), but I didn't go for it.

I will go through these presentations briefly. They are all paper presentations and as such, I do have either the paper or an outline with me, which I am however sure are copyrighted by the respective authors. Being a paper presentation, it was rather amusing to me when at least one of them literally read through the entire paper (which we were given a copy each) while we were around, with eyes mostly looking down too. 

The first paper I surmised to be on creation and re-creation theology. The paper was indeed good, but it wasn't what I was expecting. It most definitely deals with creation and re-creation themes with regards to the sea. More specifically, the stated destruction of the sea in Rev. 21:1c seems to suggest that the sea as a physical entity will be no more in the new heavens and the new earth. The crux of the paper is that the language of this and the subsequent chapter has a certain literary structure, and therefore the destruction of the sea is metaphorical, in line with the apocalyptic genre of Revelations. The conclusion is that there will probably be seas in the new earth (and thus surfing), and the destruction of the sea in Rev. 21:1c is alluding to figures of speech in the Bible depicting the sea as the enemy and the depiction of chaos, citing Gen. 1:2 for the latter.

The second paper was on the topic of the Imago Dei or Image of God motif. McMartin's proposal is that the image is the capacity for relationship, thus unifying relational and ontological theories in his proposal. It was an interesting presentation to be sure, but I am not so sure his proposal is logically coherent and biblical.

The third paper attempts to use the Union with Christ motif to address and repel the fascination with Neo-Paganism. Co calls attention to the subjective, mystical component for the believer's existential needs, and the objective emphasis for the forensic basis of the truth of our union with Christ. I agree that the Union with Christ doctrine can play such a part. However, the language of "mystical" in my opinion needs to be removed. I guess the language may have came over as a legacy from Medieval mysticism, and should be jettisoned in this age as being misleading.

In conclusion, the ETS Far West Region Annual Meeting was indeed interesting, especially since faculty from other seminaries and universities took part.

ETS Far West Region Annual Meeting: Confronting Neo-Paganism in the Culture and the Church

Yesterday Friday Apr 8th was the ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) annual meeting, which was held on the premises of WSC. I volunteered to serve for the banquet and thus had a "free" registration for the meeting.

The meeting started in the afternoon and ended with the banquet. Afternoon started with the welcome by Dr. Joe Hellerman followed by a short devotion by WSC president Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, the plenary address by Dr. Peter Jones and two responses to his address. This is then followed by 3 parallel sessions which concluded with the banquet cum business meeting.

In this and a subsequent post, I would like to share a short summary of the plenary address by Dr. Peter Jones, and then brief thoughts on the 3 parallel sessions I have chosen to attend.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wes White on the Institutional Church

Wes White has written an excellent short piece on why there is nothing wrong with the Church as an Institution per se. The Anarchist "House Church movement" by [Frank] Viola et al is just another "Restorationist" anti-institutional institution in its own right. Christ however instituted order in the Church, and this excludes the anarchist attitude of the so-called "House church movement". As it has been said, we are not opposed to having church in homes; what we are objecting is the sheer naivete that "Institution" is necessarily bad and that a house church is not an institution- that a house church is an "organism" not an "organization". As Pastor White says:
To bring this to a close, the institutional church is highly necessary if our goal is for Christians to come together. If people are going to come together, they must have an organization of some sort. An institution is really just an organization plus time. Institutions are inevitable in human society. If Christians are called to love one another, then they will inevitably form institutions. If they take the Bible seriously, they will set up boundaries of fellowship.
So, why not simply form your own organization based on what you think the Scripture says? At times, like during the Reformation, this may be necessary. However, even in the Reformation, the Reformers sought to look to the best of the past in order to learn how to put together their institutions. Theoretically, you may be able to build a better institution, but knowing you (whoever you are), probably not. The likelihood is that if you start from scratch, you will still build an institution. It will just be a very bad one.

Song: Once Again

I have just looked through my own prepared worship music scores, and I have found a translation I did of the song Once Again by Matt Redman more than 5 years ago. I wonder if anyone else has ever translated the song into Chinese, but anyway just thought I will share it here — English first then Chinese.