Monday, December 26, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: Lordship and Submission

Lordship and Submission

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For further reading, check out the following books:

[to be continued]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Egalitarianism, Subordinationism and the Trinity

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

The statement reads as follows:

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

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

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

...

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: The Obedience of Faith

The Obedience of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

As Charles Wesley wrote:

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

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

[to be continued]

Gospel, Ecclesiology and Kevin DeYoung's post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

YRR: Ostriches with heads in the sand

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

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

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

Anabaptism, Scripture and the Word of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pre-prolegomena: The first response of faith

[continued from here and here]

The first response of faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

[to be continued]

On Sex and Speaking about Sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: The Beginning

Part 1: Foundations

The beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[to be continued]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Announcement: Reformed Theology Made Simple

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pre-prolegomena: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With this, let us begin.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Paper: The Submission, Authority and Glory of the Son

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

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

Here's the introduction of the paper:

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

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

[more]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why being a biblicist is wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastors and seminary education

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pre-Prolegomena: Rationales

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

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

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

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

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