Friday, November 25, 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.

Sunday, November 20, 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.

Wednesday, November 16, 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.

Tuesday, November 15, 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.

...

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

Monday, November 14, 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.

Sunday, November 13, 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!

...

[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.

Saturday, November 12, 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.

Friday, November 11, 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.

Thursday, November 10, 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?"

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of my book review of Against Calvinism:

Chapter 2 — Whose Calvinism? Your guess is as good as mine

Olson attempts to delineate the terms "Calvinism" and "Reformed." Unfortunately, Olson starts by questioning the embrace of TULIP as being part of Calvinism as he looks at the older established historic Calvinist and Reformed denominations and ecumenical bodies. Specifically, Olson looks at the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) (p. 29). Olson's argument in this chapter basically boils down to this: some of these denominations, some theologians who call themselves Calvinist or Reformed, these world bodies who call themselves Reformed — all of them basically deny TULIP so therefore TULIP is extreme or "radical Reformed theology" (p. 28).

First of all, such is horrendous historical revisionism. "Calvinist" and "Reformed" historically mean something. If a theologian, church, denomination or ecumenical body denies any part of what has been historically held to be Calvinism or Reformed theology, that they are the ones departing from the tradition and therefore should not co-opt the term by redefining it. Just like the person who denies Christ cannot continue to call himself a Christian, so those who deny Calvinism cannot continue to call themselves Calvinists. This is basic use of nomenclature. As Dr. R Scott Clark says in another form, it is inherently narcissistic to think that whatever someone who calls themselves Reformed teaches must be Reformed also [2]. Olson's methodology here therefore fails. What Calvinism is or what Reformed theology is cannot be determined by what those who call themselves "Reformed" and "Calvinist" believe and teach, but rather what is historically and objectively taught by the Reformed churches in their confessions.

It must be noted here that for the WCRC one of the member churches in America is the PCUSA [3]. It is astonishing that Olson think that a liberal denomination that denies the authority of Scripture and the Gospel of justification by faith alone can even be considered as a legitimate representative of the Christian faith, nevermind Calvinism and Reformed theology. Conversely, one struggles to find confessional Reformed denominations such as the OPC, URCNA, RPCNA or even Kuyper's denomination in the list. Olson thus makes a categorical error even in trying to identify Calvinism and Reformed theology by reference to these mainline churches and theologians, in an effort to paint historic Calvinism and Reformed theology as being "radical." A truly more representative group who embrace Calvinism and Reformed theology is NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council), although of course it is our creeds and confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt, Westminster Standards) that define what Calvinism and Reformed theology is.

...

[2] R Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confessions: Our Theology, Piety and Practice (Phillipsberg, NJ: P&R, 2008), p. 18

[3] WCRC churches, http://www.wcrc.ch/node/164. Accessed Nov 7th 2011

Refuting Against Calvinism (Part 2)

This is the second part of my review of Roger Olson's book Against Calvinism:

Prolegomena

What is considerably worse however is Olson's attitude towards the whole issue which inform his exegesis of Scripture. Olson in his book claim to operate with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, where Scripture is the "primary source and norm of theology," tradition is the "normed norm," reason is the critical tool for interpreting Scripture and weeding out absolutely incredible theological claims that contradict each other," and experience is "the inevitable crucible in which theology is done" (p. 24). First of all, his professed method is rationalistic, since reason is NEVER meant to weed out incredible theological claims at the start, but rather to be utilized only AFTER revelation is premised. Reason reasons after truth, thinking God's thoughts after Him. Only after God has spoken can reason come in to systematize truths, not before (cf 1 Cor. 1:25; 2:6-7,14-15).

Olson's rationalistic attitude however goes even further. On page 85, Olson wrote:

One day, at the end of a class session on Calvinism's doctrine of God's sovereignty, a student asked me a question I had put off considering. He asked: "If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn't question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?" I knew the only possible answer without a moment's thought, even though I knew it would shock many people. I said no, that I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster.

Here, we see Olson's fundamental attitude towards Scripture and biblical truths. Olson is a thoroughgoing rationalist. A true Christian who truly loves God will not answer in this manner. If a Christians loves God, they will accept God regardless of who He actually is. No doubt of course God's being is co-terminus with His attributes [1], and therefore if a being does not possess certain divine attributes, that being cannot be God. But the question as phrased deals with our personal conception of God, not whether a being that calls Himself God does not possess certain divine attributes pertaining to God. If the true God is not who we conceive Him to be, the Christian response is to jettison our errant beliefs and worship God, not reject Him because He does not fit into our preconceived mold of what God must be like.

Olson betrays his basic rationalism with the shocking admission above. In Olson's rationalistic scheme, the attributes of "love" and "moral goodness" as understood by him and other synergists ARE the primary lens through which Scripture and God is to be interpreted. Instead of God defining for us who He is and what He is like, Olson insists that God must be what Olson thinks is the "ideal being" or He is not God at all — truly a theology from below.

Such an unbiblical view of God taints Olson's hermeneutics. As Olson remarked during the conversation held at Biola which this reviewer attended, the texts of Scripture that seem to teach Calvinism cannot mean what it means because they contradict [Olson's view of] who God is. In other words, the attribute of "love" and "moral goodness" as understood by Olson is THE hermeneutical lens through which the Bible is to be read. Verses must be interpreted in light of this a priori, or re-interpreted if their meaning is fundamentally at odds with the attributes of "love" and "moral goodness."

Looking at the exegesis of verses of Scripture therefore is almost a waste of time, for Olson deals very surfacely with the actual texts of Scripture in their context, some of which we will look at later. The actual meaning of these texts are after all not important for him, for his a priori commitment has already pre-determined what the verses cannot say. It is extremely disappointing for those who desire biblical exegesis and interaction at the text level, for Olson does not do anything more than a surface treatment of these texts in question.

...

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation (Ed. by John Bolt, Trans. by John Vriend; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), p. 173

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Book Reviews: For Calvinism & Against Calvinism

I have finally done the book reviews for the books For Calvinism, and the book Against Calvinism The book review of For Calvinism can be seen here, and the book review of Against Calvinism can be read here. I will re-post the book review of Roger Olson's book in parts on this blog over the next couple of days. Here is the introduction:

The book by Dr. Roger Olson is a companion volume to Michael Horton's book For Calvinism, and the two of them are published in order to forward the conversation between Calvinism and Arminianism.

As a book written to disprove Calvinism, Olson begins chapter one with the rationale for his book, stating that "someone needs ... to stand up and in love firmly say 'No!' to egregious statements about God's sovereignty often made by Calvinists" (p. 23). Chapter two deals with what Calvinism and Reformed theology refers to, chapter 3 with the "mere Calvinism" adopted by many of the New Calvinists in TULIP, which he then proceeds to critique in subsequent chapters — first Calvinism's teaching of God's sovereignty, then the U, the L and the I which he find objectionable in the TULIP acrostic. Olson then concludes with what he claims are Calvinism's conundrums that show the marked inconsistencies in the system.

As a book and attack on Calvinism, this reviewer finds it manifestly unconvincing. Credit is given however for Olson's correct portrayal of the general outline of what Calvinism teaches. However, Olson does not seem to go beyond accurately presenting the basic outlines of Calvinism and instead see logical implications where none exist, as we shall see later

To be continued...

James White's review of Olson's book Against Calvinism: Dividing Line part 2

Dr. James White has done part two of the Dividing Line review of Roger Olson's book Against Calvinism, which you can check out here.

Center-bounded sets and Boundary-bounded sets

Dr. D.G. Hart has posted and linked to an interesting piece by the Christian Curmudgeon on the issue of center-bonded set and boundary-bonded sets. As the Curmudgeon quotes from an article written in 1996:

The traditional paradigm is called “boundary-set thinking.” Boundary setters write creeds and confessions and use them to judge where people stand in relation to the truth. Those who affirm the creed or confession are inside the boundary. Others are outside.

The new paradigm is called “center-set thinking.” Center-set thinkers are concerned not with boundaries but with direction. Jesus Christ and the gospel are the center and the question about any person is not, “Is he inside the boundary?” but, “Is he moving in the right direction?”

But it is at this very point that the new paradigm has a problem. Who is the Jesus at the center? The Jesus of Arius or Athanasius? Which gospel are we moving toward? The gospel of Rome, Geneva, or the Crystal Cathedral?

This was in response to the damage control piece written by D. A Carson and Tim Keller in light of the MacDonald-Jakes controversy, where these sociological terms were used.

In this distinction between center-set and boundary-set thinking, we see the naive underpinnings of the New Calvinism and the Gospel Coalition. The entire dichotomy between the center bound set and boundary bound set is basically invalid. If there is no boundary, then the center is everywhere. One can imagine a circle (boundary) where the center is in a dot or tiny circle in the middle (since dots when magnified are actually tiny circles). Taking the same circle and magnifying it magnifies the initial dot as well to become a small circle. If however we erase the boundary line, then the center must necessarily expand infinitely and encompass everything.

We can see therefore that claiming to be center-set thinkers without the setting of any form of boundaries logically entails the denial of a real center since everything now is "the center." Carson and Keller and the entire New Calvinist movement are however not universalists and therefore they DO have a boundary to their set, the reality which is however amorphous and categorically denied. Whatever such a denial is, it is manifest deception since one claims to have no boundaries but actually does have boundaries. Unintentionally, Carson, Keller, the New Calvinist movement and anyone who identifies with this view of theirs are in violation of the 9th commandment, for they bear false witness against themselves and deceive others by claiming to have center-set thinking without defined boundaries.

Instead of deceiving people, it would be better for them to adopt confessionalism. Confess what you believe and make the boundaries known, instead of lying when one denies the presence of boundaries. When one states that there is a "robust definition at the center," that implies of course the demarcation of the boundaries within which such robustness lies put it at the center and not at the side. Try coloring a small yellow circle, and through drawing a larger circle around it, one could make the smaller yellow circle either at the center or at the side or even at the edge of the larger circle. To speak about "robustness at the center" without defined boundaries is mere shibboleth and means nothing at all.

Center-bounded set thinking therefore is impossible if boundaries are absent. Center-bounded sets imply boundary-bounded sets and vice versa. If the New Calvinists continue their naive thinking of sets, soon the center will disappear altogether but will become and encompass "all in all," heresies included.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Peter Enns' frank admission: Evolution is antithetical to a biblical worldview

Peter Enns recently gave a talk to a gathering of pastors from Tim Keller's presbytery, NY Metro Presbytery of the PCA, as he shared on his blog here. In his sharing, Peter Enns made a few revealing points.

Enns has rejected the historicity of the Genesis creation accounts and instead render a significant portion of the Bible "myth." In this light, Enns in his presentation to the Metro NY Presbytery lay out what he thinks are the available options for Christians who decide to affirm Evolution as being scientifically and factually true. Here are a few choice quotes from his blog post:

Evolution can either be accepted (in some form) or wholly rejected. If rejected, one has no problem with an historical Adam as first man, but then one has to find ways to neutralize the scientific data, which is attempted in various (but unconvincing) ways. (Google Al Mohler, Ken Ham, and Hugh Ross.)

No need to get into that here. This group of pastors was already (largely) aware that evolution cannot be dismissed, and so we proceded [sic] to other things.

If one accepts evolution, the first thing to note is that one has left the biblical worldview. I think this is an obvious point, but needs to be stated clearly. As soon as evolution is accepted, the invariably result is some clear movement away from what the Bible says about Adam.

Hence, if one wishes to bring Adam and evolution into conversation, one is left with the theological burden and responsibility of bringing them together somehow in a manner does justice to both.

...

If one wishes to retain a historical Adam, the two options I am aware of (if you know of others, please let us know) are:

(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;

(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).

In my opinion, these two options fail for the same two reasons:

(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.

(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.

This brings us to a non-historical Adam–meaning Adam in the Bible as parabolic, metaphorical, symbolic, or “supra-historical” (a term I learned from Richard Clifford, meaning a truth transcends history but told in historical terms, and therefore not meant to be taken literally).

Some notes:

1) Notice the admission by Enns that belief in evolution means one has left the biblical worldview

2) Notice that Enns believes that attempts to hold on to a historical Adam given the 'fact of evolution' is a mere grasping at straws.

3) One wonders how belief in evolution can be embraced by pastors who are supposed to hold on to the Westminster Confession of Faith

4) One wonders if the PCA in general has any issues with pastors in Metro NY Presbytery who think that evolution cannot be dismissed, which means that evolution for them is either a given or a strong possibility.

[HT: Johannes Weslianus]

Theonomy, Reconstructionism and Dominionism

What is the relation between Reconstructionism, Theonomy and Dominionism? It depends on who you ask. According to Marcus Pittman, Reconstructionism is not the same as what he calls "Seven Mountain Dominionism," which is basically the Dominionist position of the NAR.

I have not much interest in the entire Reconstructionist issue, except to say that one must accurately represent the other position and not conflate the two. The two positions are not the same although they are very similar in form.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Abba is not Daddy

One of Joseph Prince's sayings that promote irreverence towards God is stating that we can call God "Daddy" since that is what the term "Abba" means. We therefore hear expressions such as "Daddy God" and such expressions are given the rubber stamp of scriptural approval. However, is such a meaning really the case?

Some time back in 1988, the biblical scholar James Barr published an article in the Journal of Theological Studies arguing against Joachim Jeremias' interpretation that seem to imply that "Abba" is the same as "Daddy." Barr disputes that claim, stating in the process that the biblical writers could have used the Greek diminuitive form for "father" παπας instead of πατηρ to indicate such a connotation, much as τεκνιον ("dear child") is a diminuitive form of τεκνον (child). Doing some dichronic and synchronic study of the words related to father and "abba" in the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic and their uses in extra biblical literature, Barr showed that it is unlikely that "abba" has the same connotation as the word "daddy." As Barr concludes,

It is fair to say that 'abba in Jesus' time belonged to a familiar or colloquial register of language, as distinct from more formal and ceremonius usage, though it would be unwise, in view of the usage of the Targum, to press this too far. But in any case it was not a childish expression comparable with 'Daddy': it was more a solemn, responsible, adult address to a Father

— James Barr, 'Abbā isn't "daddy"', Journal of Theological Studies, ns 39 no 1 Apr 1988, pp 28-47

While certainly this does not give us a really good idea of what the term "abba" refers to, we can safely conclude that the term is NOT "Daddy" and therefore Prince is in error here.

In conclusion, God is not our pal, or the over-indulging parent of a spoilt brat. Although we can call God as Abba Father as a name of endearment, we should not ever think that God is just our pal down the street or someone whom we can just approach informally without reverence and fear.

Roger Olson, Calvinism and Worshipping God

One day, at the end of a class session on Calvinism's doctrine of God's sovereignty, a student asked me a question I had put off considering. He asked:"If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn't question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?" I knew the only possible answer without a moment's thought, even though I knew it would shock many people. I said no, that I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster.

— Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), p. 85

Thus says Roger Olson in his latest book published together with Mike Horton's companion For Calvinism. I am in the process of reading the book when this section was highlighted by Dr. James White on part 1 of his Dividing Line podcast reviewing Olson's book here. It was truly an illuminating moment.

As Dr. White noted, Olson is saying that he would not worship God if God reveals Himself to be someone who Olsen thinks is a monster. In other words, what is primary in Olson's mind is his idea of "love" and "moral goodness," not God.

The characteristic of someone who really loves God and treasures His Word is that he will worship God regardless of who God is. Certainly of course, God's attributes is co-extensive with His being, thus in that sense we cannot say that we worship God if He does not possess certain divine attributes because He would then not be God, but that is not what we are dealing with here.

What we are dealing with is whether we will worship God IF God turns out to different from what we subjectively think He is. That is the entire point of the question asked by the unnamed student in Olson's class. IF God reveals Himself to be something other than what we perceive Him to be, will we still worship God? The Christian who loves God will answer yes. For example, if God reveals Himself as not triune (just to use an extreme example), Christians ought to still worship Him. Of course, we orthodox Christians will say that that is impossible since it violates God's express revelation in His Word.

Therefore, an evangelical Arminian who loves God would not answer that question the way Olson does. If a convinced evangelical Arminian truly loves God, he would say yes, but then add the caveat that he thinks that such a revelation is not possible. This is the correct response for someone who truly loves God.

Olson's answer is sadly positively un-Christian. May we worship God not our ideas of what God must be like.