Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dr. Richard Muller's talks at WSC

The last two days (Feb 28th and 29th 2012) saw Dr. Richard Muller gave lectures at Westminster Seminary California (WSC), which I was privileged to attend. The talks can now be heard in the resource center here:

  1. Was Calvin a Calvinist?
  2. Calvin and Beza on Practical Syllogism (Calvin on Assurance)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Was Luther a Barthian?

No.

To be brief, there are two kinds of clarity in Scripture ... : one external and pertaining to the ministry of the Word, the other located in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clarity, no man perceived one iota of what is in the Scriptures unless he has the Spirit of God ... If, on the other hand, you speak of the external clarity, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous, but everything there is in the Scripture has been brought out by the Word into the most definite light, and published to all the world.

— Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will, in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (ed. by E. Gordon Rupp and Philips S. Watson; Philadelphia: Westminster Press: 1969)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sacrifice and suffering

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Heb. 13:10-15)

I have watched the growing hostility to Christianity in Singapore. Slowly by slowly, more and more attacks have been made against Christians expressing their faith, and intolerance of the Christian religion is on the rise.

As someone who grew up in a genuinely tolerant country, I admit I have not been prepared for this. Disagreements and conflicts have been verbal, which is fine. But to think that one day I may have to answer for my faith in the same way as Christians in Iran and Syria has not been something I have not thought of.

We in Singapore have been too complacent. While most of the rest of the world's Christians suffer persecution from the hands of their countrymen, we have been tolerated for a long time. We are not prepared for persecution. We have no conception of paying for our convictions in institutional discrimination, nevermind in blood. What has been the cost of following Christ in Singapore before? Mocking? Ridicule?

The time of tolerance is coming to an end. Soon, the evil intent in the hearts of Man to suppress God's truth will work itself out. It may take 10 years, 20 years or more, but I fear for what is to come.

In Hebrews, we are called to go with Christ outside the camp, bearing His reproach. Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. As we come before God, increasingly persecuted for our beliefs, may we turn to Christ. See Him who bore reproach for dying cursed on the tree for us, He who was rejected by His own countrymen, who sentenced Him to death by crucifixion. Our Lord was rejected by His own people, those who were supposed to know the Scriptures. How much more we think that we should be accepted by our countrymen?

May God use this trial to purify His Church, which has grown complacent and fat. May God remove the chaff and strengthen His people. Let us repent of our complacency and compromise, and turn to Him for our all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Christian solidarity

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD's anointed.’” (2 Sam. 1:11-16)

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:26)

Christians are members of one another, members of one body. For those who are believers, we are one family and should support one another.

When one part of the body suffers, as 1 Cor. 12:26 says, all suffers together. When one part is honored, all rejoice. There is no rejoicing in the downfall or hardship of another.

In 2 Sam. 1:11-16, we see King David in some sense putting this principle at work. Saul was David's mortal enemy who always plotted to kill him. Yet he is part of the covenant community. Furthermore, as God's anointed, he represents the people of God. Whatever his wickedness towards David, his death means the defeat of the people of God at the hands of the uncircumcised Phillistines, the enemies of God. His death is a blow against God's Name and God's honor, even though on the one hand it was God who handed Saul over to be killed, it was nevertheless disgrace for Israel and God's Name.

The Amalekite slave lied to David. Saul had committed suicide with his own sword, and nobody was responsible for his death. Saul died pitifully, a person once chosen for the glory of God's earthly representative in the theocracy, but he incurred the covenant curse for sparing Agag the king of the Amalekite and his flock when he was commanded to devote them to utter destruction by cherem warfare (1 Sam. 15: 1-9). Here at Mount Giboa Saul died, his life as the delayed penalty for violation of God's command to devote the Amalekites to utter destruction, life for life.

The Amalekite slave should not have lied to David. Yet he did, trying to gain glory and approval and reward for getting rid of David's enemy. The problem however is that Saul was not truly David's enemy, though the other way around holds true.

For his deception, the Amalekite slave received the immediate death penalty, a poetic justice seeing that the Amalekites were supposed to be exterminated by Saul, which apparently he failed to do.

Without going further into the intricacies of the text, the key point that I want to note here is that David and all his men wept for Saul. In their minds, the glory of God and of Christ is pre-eminent. They knew the disgrace Israel had fallen into, they felt the pain of the suffering of the other members of the body, they wept at the plight of God's people. Nevermind that this will work out in David's favor. Nevermind that David does not have to flee from Saul anymore. All these are irrelevant, for God's glory is diminished. Ichabod! The glory has departed from Israel.

What does this has to do with Christian solidarity? We are the people of God. We are his peculiar people, a people for his own possession (1 Peter 2:9). As a family, we stand together, or not at all.

Readers will know my profound disagreements with Evangelicalism on various issues. And to some extent, I have disagreements with Campus Crusade too, which I do not want to spell out. But when push comes to shove, I will stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sometimes, it is not that what any group of Christians do that is perfectly right. Sometimes they have made errors in judgment. But when the world attacks these Christians, how can we join them in pointing the finger just because they are not like us? Don't we know that our growth in knowledge and godliness is because of God's free grace? Are we arrogantly sitting in judgment over our brother just because he may have made a blunder?

We are not speaking of the out and out heretics. I do not care one bit for them. But not all Christians are at the same level of doctrinal maturity. Surely we do critique them and oppose them when they are wrong, but such is done out of love, and therefore we support them and stand in solidarity when the world attacks them.

We must be like David, not the Amalekite. Weep for the plight of Zion, and beseech the Lord for strength and mercy. This should be our right response

NUS CCC asked to cease activities

The intolerance and bigotry of so-called "tolerance" has struck. National University of Singapore has ordered Campus Crusade of Christ to cease its activities because some people were offended about what Christianity teaches. In other countries, such activities will make the university liable to be sued for religious discrimination, but in Singapore, who cares?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Apologetics: Christian belief in a pluralistic world

It is customary among certain segments of society to think that Christians are arrogant and are flaunting their beliefs by the act of evangelism. How should we as Christians deal with the matter?

Many years ago, I got into a quarrel with my Junior College classmates. It started with one person who was basically sending homosexual promotion material through the group list. I was rather unhappy with that and replied, asking him to stop. One thing led to another and I withdrew from the group due to the hurt I had experienced from them. These people think that I am pushing my faith on them, while all the while being blinded of their hypocrisy in pushing their faiths on me. [Newsflash: Promoting homosexuality is not arrogant; asking people to respect my Christian beliefs is arrogant!]

This incident lies behind my apologetics sharing here. I have now more than enough time to think through the incident. While it caused some alienation between me and my JC friends, and still to some extent stand between them and me even now, I would not do anything substantially different now compared to then.

What is the apologetic manner of dealing with the secular humanists in places like Singapore? If we are to be effective in witnessing and outreach, the most basic task is to defang the objections of these people. In their minds, they think that Christians are disrespectful of other religions and arrogant in saying that we have the only way. What we have to do is to turn the tables on them. Expose their own hypocrisy and blindness. This may make them more infuriated, but it leaves them without an excuse.

Let's apply this to some examples. Let's say person X is an atheist. Well, who the heck does he think he is to arrogantly flaunt his belief in evolution? Let's say that I happened to be offended by such a disgusting unscientific metaphysical claim that not only is held by them but pushed by them upon all of society. According to his own standards, he is such an arrogant jerk who thinks he is right on evolution and that everyone must believe the same as him or be unenlightened.

Let's take the case of person Y, who is a Buddhist. Well, why is it proper for him to think that only those who practice the eight-fold path can achieve Nirvana? How arrogant! Why is Nirvana restricted to Buddhists and not any other person who follows what he thinks is the right way, including Hitler who truly thinks he is doing what is right?

You want to talk arrogance? You who attack Christianity, you are just as arrogant! How dare you judge Christianity by the same criteria that condemns you if applied to your own beliefs! Hypocrite!

Evangelism and Principled Religious Pluralism

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you. (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess. 4:10b-12)

How do Christians relate to a pluralistic society— one in which many religions are embraced? This is a question that had stopped being asked when Constantine co-opted the church, and one in which many Christians even nowadays do not reflect on much.

In dealing with this question, let it be said that I (and hopefully other Christians) are not interested in looking to the world to guide us in this area. We are dealing with the relation of truth to life, not spiritual experiences with daily living. Nobody goes around asking the opinions of Tom, Dick or Harry how Einstein's General Theory of Relativity works. No, they go to someone who has studied and worked on the theory. Similarly, and in fact more so, it is folly to go to unregenerate people who are haters of God how Christianity relates to the world. Their darkened minds are unable to give the correct answer to the question (1 Cor. 2:14-15).

So what are the biblical principles that govern our answer? They are:

1) Christianity is the only way of salvation for the world. Evangelism (and discipleship) is a command of God (Mt. 28:18-20)

2) We are called to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1), unless they ask us to disobey God. If push comes to shove, we are to obey God rather than Man (Acts 4:19)

3) We are called to live quiet dignified lives (1 Thess. 4:10b-12). As much as possible, live in peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18).

4) Salvation is through genuine faith in a person. Such faith cannot be forced or coerced. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is the One who ultimately saves people, not us.

From these principles, how are Christians to think of evangelism and religious pluralism?

I propose that Christianity is most in line with a principled religious pluralism. That means that religious pluralism is an accepted reality not a celebrated virtue. On this side of eternity, the Lord has called us to witness and evangelize for Him, yet we cannot force faith on anyone.

As much as possible therefore, we strive to remove unnecessary offences which are stumbling blocks to non-believers. We should strive to be at peace with them as much as it is possible. But at the same time, we cannot compromise the Gospel. If they are upset over the exclusivity of the faith, too bad!

In such a society, embrace of principled religious pluralism means that various religions can believe and practice their faiths. This means that society does not censor the religious faith of one group just because some are unhappy with what they say. Those who attack Christianity on its exclusivity seem to forget that most religions around the world are just as exclusive. Islam for example claims to be the only true religion. Buddhism claims to be the only true knowledge. Hinduism while it can accommodate belief in many different religions does not tolerate those who reject its fundamental tenets. Almost all religions are exclusive. Whether their adherents are interested in promoting their respective religions is another issue altogether of course, but it certainly speaks a lot about their love for fellow human beings (or rather hatred) if they think they hold the truth and do not share it with others who they think are wrong.

Principled religious pluralism therefore protects the act of believing and practicing one's religion, regardless of how offensive it may seem to someone else. After all, those who are offended can always not join the religion they dislike! It is the height of hypocrisy to claim that one is for religious harmony and religious pluralism when one decides that certain beliefs and practices are more deserving of protection (read theirs) than others. It is downright selfish and arrogant and outright bigotry to attempt to enforce one's idea of what religions can or cannot believe and practice. Who gave you the right to dictate what others' religious beliefs and practices should look like, Bigot?!

It is my conviction that Christianity has by far the best paradigm of true religious pluralism. Since faith cannot be forced, all religions are protected. In a secular humanistic system, what happens is that only secular humanism is protected and religions that do not conform to the secular humanist paradigm are censored. True religious freedom can only come when faith is considered a personal action that cannot be coerced, and therefore all religions are allowed to believe and practice whatever they please as long as they do not commit crimes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pre-prolegomena: Orthodoxy and Heresy

Orthodoxy and Heresy

If indeed growing in knowing doctrine is important, if indeed growing in the knowledge of God is growing in knowing doctrine, then wrong doctrine is very serious. Heresy and wrong doctrine basically is a distortion of the true knowledge of God. Instead of having our minds transformed by the renewing of our minds (c.f. Rom. 12:2), heresy and wrong doctrine distorts our perception of God and of the faith.

Now, the first thing we note is that in the Scriptures, there is present one deposit of truths about God. The most common objection normally to sound doctrine is the relativization of all interpretations of all Scripture, and thus making Scripture wholly subjective. In the minds of such people, you have "your interpretation" and I have "my interpretation" and who are you or anyone else to say who's right and who's wrong?

The problem with this objection is that it denies what Scripture teaches. Scripture is not clay to be molded into anything anyone wants. For example, does anyone want to claim that "Jesus did not die on the cross" is a valid interpretation of Scripture at all? I certainly hope not.

The Scriptures speak of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). It speaks of the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). It speaks of the tradition handed down by the apostles (2 Thess. 3:6). There is therefore such a thing as a body of fixed truths handed down to us, and these objective truths are for us to discover and understand and mine for. We are not to ignore them or relativize them.

Since there is such a thing as a fixed pattern of sound words, therefore, there is such a thing as orthodoxy (right teaching). Anything that contradicts this orthodoxy is either heresy or wrong teaching, depending on the nature of the truth that it contradicts.

What does all this have to do with us? If we call ourselves Christians therefore, we are to love God and His Word and the doctrines of Scripture. Therefore, we are to hate heresy and false teaching because they contradict God's truth. We are to hate it because heresy and false teaching destroys souls. It causes professing believers to fall away, and ruins their spiritual lives and witness for Christ.

If we detest rapists and murderers because they hurt or ruin others, why then do we not detest the spiritual rapists and murderers? Our priorities seemed to be way off when we regard the former as worse than the latter. The first can only destroy the body; the second destroy both the body and the soul. As Jesus said,

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mt. 10:28)

Let us therefore learn to hate heresy and wrong teaching at least just as much if not more than physical rapists and murderers. Let us treasure sound doctrine and hate false ones.

Book Review: Evangelism in the Early Church

In one of my recent course on Evangelism, I was asked to do a book review, and we were given a list of books to do so. I have chosen Michael Green's Evangelism in the Early Church, which was a fascinating read. Anyway, here is my review of Green's book.

The book by Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, is a book detailing how evangelism is done in the context of the early church, with a focus upon the post-apostolic pre-Nicene era. Chapter 1 starts off with the overall historical context of the era which facilitates the act of evangelism in the early church, namely: the Roman Peace, ubiquity of the Greek language and Greek thought, the quest for security, the need to deal with guilt, the desire to escape from the determinism of Fate, and the spread of Jews and Judaism within the Roman Empire.

[more]

Book Review: We are Called for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

A Tanzanian pastor has asked me to review his latest book, which is entitled We are Called for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I thought it would be something interesting to do, so anyway, here is my review of his book.

This book by Dr. Norman A.S. King, a Tanzanian pastor, is written with the intent to help Christians grow in Christ, which to him is through what he calls the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

[more]

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Rebuttal of "Calvinism Critiqued" by Steve Jones (part 2)

[continued from here]

Total Inability and the Gospel

Jones here fell into philosophical language. While there is nothing wrong with arguing philosophically, there is something wrong in trying to portray oneself as being above the fray of philosophizing, as he did previously in the chapter on original perfection, and then engage in philosophizing.

Jones basic argument here is that total inability contradicts human responsibility and the call to obey. That of course is an "unproven philosophical assumption," to use Jones' words in the previous section. Sure, it sounds natural to Man as a proper assumption to make, but an assumption it still is. Jones of course tries to prove this assumption, which we shall now look at.

In the first few cases involving Moses and Joshua, Jones is merely repeating the conclusion as premise, or begging the question. Assuming the conclusion as premise to prove the conclusion does not an valid argument make.

The only argument that does not beg the question is the citation of Is. 6: 9-10, and Jesus' proclamation in parables (Mt. 13: 10-15) citing the passage in Isaiah. Jones here claimed that Jesus' proclamation in parables meant that "had he [Jesus] preached the truth openly they would have turned and be forgiven." The problem however is that this is an invalid conclusion to make. Logically, just because "If p, then q" does not mean that "If not p, then not q." In other words, just because "If Jesus preached in parables, therefore they do not believe" does not necessitate that "If Jesus did not preach in parables, then they would believe." The argument is therefore one large logical fallacy. There is also a problem for Jones' argument: the person of Judas Iscariot. Judas heard the explanation of the parables (thus openly and plainly) and yet he did not believe. Jones' argument is therefore invalid and false.

The fact of the matter is that God uses means, which is why passages such as Is. 6:9-10 and Mt. 13:1-15 exist. Proclaiming in parables is God's way of veiling the truth to others in judgment, not that they would have believed if they only heard it openly.

Jones' argument against total inability therefore fails again.

The hardened heart

Here, Jones make a categorical confusion, as if hardness of heart does not have degrees to it. Just because Man is born dead in sin does not mean that he (and/or God) couldn't harden his heart further. One wonders just how much exposure Jones had to Calvinism before he rejected it.

With this, let us turn to the biblical passages.

Rom. 3:10-12

Jones here ignores how Paul uses the text of Scripture, but instead merely look at its Old Testament background. To be sure, David the poet is using it to describe the fool, and thus it is a "poetic exaggeration." Yet, Paul is utilizing these and other texts drawn from the Old Testament to make a point. The entire section from Rom. 3:10-18 is a collection of verse drawn from various parts of the Old Testament in differing contexts. With such a mishmash of verses, how can it be said that they even cohere together?

Paul is thus using these verses to draw out a deeper point from them which they individually do not seem to point to. In other words, Paul is interpreting these verses, not just merely citing them, to prove his point that "both Jews and Greeks are under sin" (Rom. 3:9). The verses cited is an interpretation by Paul of what these verses actually mean in the light of redemptive history — in the light of the Cross. Therefore, the deeper meaning of these verses are to show the symptom of what sin is for all people, not just for "the fool." Instead of limiting the description of moral inability to the mere "fool," Paul and Scripture is calling upon us to see all men as in some sense a "fool" because of their sin.

1 Cor. 2:14

Here Jones' main point is that the passage is not speaking of "men in his native state" but "that man who relates to life apart from a spiritual paradigm." That however does not solve the problem. In fact, Jones presupposes that man in his native state can have a life with a spiritual paradigm. While he accuses Calvinists of bringing in their presupposition, he is in fact bringing in his own presuppositions.

If we look at Scripture, the soulish Man (ψυχικος) is the person who is in Adam (1 Cor. 15: 44-47), which is to say "man in his native state." Jones ignores the teaching of Scripture here but smuggles in his presuppositions into the text.

Jn. 6:44

Here, Jones makes the error that just because God uses means therefore God's calling is not irresistible. This is however a misrepresentation of Calvinism, whereby God ordains both the ends and the means to those ends.

Eph. 2:1

Exegesis is certainly not part of Jones' skill set, most certainly not here. Jones quotes one person, Edward White, to say that being "dead" here is equivalent to "as good as dead." Citing many verses (apart from the immediate context), White denies that there is such a thing as spiritual death but rather that being "dead" in Eph. 2:1 basically means that all the unregenerate are "as good as dead," with a final destination of hell.

The problem comes when we look at the immediate context. We were "dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked." Where in the passage is the idea of being dead conceived of as a tense and not a state? Nowhere! It is an idea imported from other places of Scripture which deals with other issues. The immediate context contrasts the state of being dead with the state of being alive in Eph. 2:4. Are we to imagine that Paul had in mind a person who is alive but who is going to die in Eph. 2:1? So Eph. 2:4 must then read "But God... even when we are alive but going to die ... make us going to be be alive"? What does this nonsense even mean?

White's and Jones' interpretation of Eph. 2:1 is therefore eisegesis, not exegesis. It reads into the text what they want it to mean, rather than what it actually teaches in context.

Faulty Application?

Jones addresses a few verses here. He correctly states that the immediate context refers to Israel in her specific historical situation, yet fails to understand their relevance in the context of redemptive history where Paul for example interprets the Old Testament in passages like Rom. 3:10-18. As it can be seen, Jones rejected Calvinism for a philosophical assumption that God cannot be just for requiring an impossibility of justice from depraved humans, an assumption that assumes that God owes men the ability to be just, as if God owes men anything at all! To put it bluntly, Jones' "god" owes men what He commands men to do, the quintessential assumption made by Pelagius and all his theological progeny. This is the crux of the matter, and shows to all that the denial of Calvinism logically leads to Pelagianism (of which Socinianism is one such variety), not just to Arminianism which is inconsistent with itself.

With this main point done, let us look into Jones' view of the other 4 points of Calvinism.

Election

Jones here first depicts both the views of Calvinism and Classical Arminianism. He then rejects both of them and views election as a mystery. His citation of Eze. 18:23 shows his inability to distinguish between God's revealed will and His secret will. Furthermore, Eze. 18:23 is indiscriminate to all men (Universal collective), not an application that God does not reprobate certain men (Particular individual).

Jones' next mangles the text of Mt. 23:37. The text speaks of Jesus weeping over the children of Jerusalem because of the unwillingness of her leaders. Jesus is not weeping over the reprobation of the leaders of Jerusalem, but rather over the state of the children of Jerusalem whose leaders prevented them from coming to Jesus. The leaders were unwilling, not as Jones mis-state it, the children who were unwilling.

Jones' relegation of the doctrine of election to mystery is due to his unwillingness to embrace Calvinism out of his eisegesis of Scripture, and his clear perception of the error of Arminian election. Having rejected both, he does not know what to do with it and therefore relegates it to mystery.

Particular Redemption

Jones here does not take a position on the topic. Rather, he points to various texts which he thinks show that Particular Redemption has a problem with. The appeal to 2 Peter 2:1, 2 is in error because the word used is δεσποτην (accusative form), which is brought over to English in the word "despot." The master here therefore has the connotation of the idea of being owned by virtue of creation, not of being saved. The appeal to Rom. 14:15 is hypothetical, not that such a destruction is in mind by which a brother can lose his salvation.

Efficacious Grace

As Jones' main point of contention is the idea of Total Depravity, he does not interact much with the other points. His main disagreement here is that Scripture does not seem to reveal it. In fact, his disagreement here is the denial that regeneration is necessary for faith. However, this truth can be seen in passages like Eph. 2:1-10, where God made us alive in Christ even while we were still dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:4), not to mention of course Rom. 9.

Jones continues in this trajectory by saying that Man is not wholly active in conversion and other such endeavors. The problem is that nobody denies that. The issue before us is not conversion but regeneration. Conversion requires our faith to be sure, but regeneration as a gift of God is purely monergistic. In Eze. 37 in the prophecy of the valley of dry bones, the bring of life is purely a work of the Spirit, not of anything sinners do.

Perseverance

Jones here attempts to keep the tension and to some extent he succeeds.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Jones' article in unbiblical. He is logical however, and with the rejection of Calvinism reverts to some form of Pelagianism. He exhorts us to "adopt a Berean approach" and "honestly rethink [our] Calvinism," an exhortation which is certainly good by itself. Calvinism is grounded in the Scriptures, as we have proven above, and a Berean approach to it will show that to be the case. Jones' article has been examined in the light of Scripture, and found wanting.

May we therefore do examine everything with an open Bible, and reject articles like Jones' when they fall short. Amen.

A Rebuttal of "Calvinism Critiqued" by Steve Jones (part 1)

I was sent to a link by a friend who got it from a friend of his attempting to disprove Calvinism. The article is by a fellow named Steve Jones who attempts to critique Calvinism. In this post, I would like to write a rebuttal to it.

Before we start, I would like to mention that it is odd that there is no description of who this guy "Steve Jones" is. I am a proponent that someone who wants to dispute something should not be anonymous. In other words, take responsibility for what you are posting. A second issue I have is that it is hosted on the website of a guy, Ken Allen, who seems to be a universalist with his "True Grace Ministries." While this does not mean that the article is discredited, this poses a question as to the motive behind Steve Jones and what he currently holds to. In other words, I question the use of this article by an evangelical to attempt to discredit Calvinism. Why does Steve Jones decide to post his article on a site maintained by someone at least sympathetic to universalism? In fact, is Steve Jones a universalist himself, judging by his citation of the heretics Clark Pinnock and Faustus Socinus, both of whom had universalistic tendencies? Do evangelicals really want to utilize arguments by a probable universalist just to fight a common enemy, Calvinism, noting that Universalism is just as much an enemy to Evangelical Arminianism as it is to Calvinism?

The author's experience

The author Steve Jones claimed to a former Calvinist. While that seems to portray him as a more credible source as one coming from within the movement, the question to be asked is how much does he really understand of Calvinism? Was he formerly a Calvinist who truly understood the arguments behind Calvinism and then reject it when he was convinced by the Scriptures otherwise? Or was he a former Calvinist in the sense of mere identification of the movement without going deeply into it? I would submit the latter, since he does not deal with the major texts and arguments, as we shall see.

TULIP

According to the author, the main point of Calvinism lies in is embrace of Total Depravity (which he mistook for a related point Total Inability). Remove that point, and the rest of the other 4 points crashes. In his words, "to question his point [Total Inability] is to question all of it." This is a candid admission which shows the inconsistency of Evangelical Arminianism, which lives in a perpetual tension of being Evangelical and being Arminian.

The first issue here of course is with Jones' seemingly minor point of confusing Total Depravity with Total Inability. The former necessitates the latter, but they are nevertheless distinct. Total Depravity has to with the depravity of Man, while total inability pertains only to the will. If Jones wants to establish credibility, he has already lost it at the start.

Total Inability

Nevertheless, we will start with the first point raised by Jones: Total Inability. According to Jones, total inability teaches that

"Man has sunk so far through the Fall that he is no longer capable of believing the gospel. He can no more repent and believe than a dead man can rise up and walk. This is all the result of the sin of Adam, who communicated th is [sic this] absolute inability, this loss of free will, to all his posterity."

This however is not a true definition of Total Inability. Total Inability does not teach that Man is no longer capable of believing the Gospel, but that he is no longer capable of doing any spiritual good. It is not the Gospel that is even primarily in mind, but that of obeying God's Law. Of course, believing the Gospel is a spiritual good which Man cannot do, but the primary focus of total inability goes beyond that. That Jones later gives a proper understanding of it shows his carelessness and does not bode well for this article.

The Genesis Account

Jones starts by attacking the very nature of the Fall. In his words, "if this [total inability] is true, we would surely expect to find some mention of it in the Genesis account." Here we see the worst of the practice of proof-texting and extreme biblicism. This idea of how Scripture is written and truths are taught in Scripture is just horrendous, as if Scripture must teach everything explicitly right from the start! Instead, what we have to do is to read all of Scripture and interpret all of Scripture in the light of all of Scripture (tota Scriptura).

In this, Jones did not actually interact with the biblical texts or even Calvinists' interpretation of these texts. Jones just did a mere hand-waving and claimed that "two primary texts adduced to prove the doctrine of Original Sin (Rom 5; 1 Cor. 15) say nothing about Total Inability." Even if one disagrees with the exegesis of Calvinists proving Total Inability, one should interact with the exegesis and prove why it is wrong. Mere hand-waving is a cop-out altogether.

Rom. 5 for example is an excellent place that speaks about total depravity, in terms of death. But even before we go there, Jones just hand-waved through the Genesis account, as if mere hand-waving means he can discount the actual teaching of the text. For example, we read in Gen. 2:17 of God's prohibition for Adam (and Eve) to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for "in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת). Was God lying in Gen. 3 when Adam and Eve were not immediately struck dead on the spot? Or are we to take the "day" there as meaning one thousand years (and totally ignoring the context of 2 Peter 3:8 in the process) and claimed that Adam did die within that "day"? Rather, if we believe God, then it must be the case that some form of death did actually occur when Adam and Eve did partake of the fruit, which is spiritual death.

The narrative of subsequent chapter in Genesis has already clued us in to how this spiritual death is worked out in the experience of humanity. We have the first murder of Abel by Cain in Gen. 4, the multiplication of evil until Gen. 6:8 can say that "every intention of the thoughts of his [Man's] heart was only evil continually." Only someone deaf to the teachings of Scripture is unable to see that spiritual death is manifested in evil.

Rom. 5: 12-18 continues in a fuller manner the discussion of what sin does. According to the plain teaching of the text of Scripture, death is the product of sin (v. 12). Yes, it is written that death came about because all sinned, but this idea that "all sinned" speaks of federal headship because in verse 15 the "many died through one man's trespass" and that "death reigned through that one man" (v. 17).

The focus of the Genesis account, subsequent chapter and Rom. 5 focuses on the death motif. From this, we are then to continue to ask the question: What does this spiritual death mean for us?

In Eph. 2:1-3, we see the teaching of Scripture on the motif of spiritual death. According to the Scriptures, spiritual death is "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [i.e. Satan], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." Spiritual death therefore includes disobedience and a turning away from good.

So from Gen. 6:8, we see that spiritual death includes the will of men towards evil continually, not just once in a while. In Eph. 2:1-3, we see that it includes disobedience. Finally, we turn to Rom. 3:9-11 to see that being under sin means that no one seeks God.

Contrary to Jones therefore, the Scriptures do teach total inability. Such is found in the motif of spiritual death that is up front in the Genesis account. To claim that "there is not a trace of such teaching there" is to ignore the whole teaching of Scripture which informs us what being "spiritually dead" means. It ignores even the biblical theological progression in the book of Genesis itself with its progression from the Fall in Gen. 3 to the wickedness of Man in Gen. 6.

Original Perfection

The denial of Adam's original perfection here is another exercise in biblicism, as if just because Scriptures did not explicitly teach it therefore it is not true. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, we look at the motif of death and spiritual death in Scripture. We see in passages like Rom. 6:11 and 1 Peter 3:18 that spiritually alive means to be able to respond to God. Consequently, spiritual death is not being able to respond to God, a point explicitly stated in Rom. 3:9-11. In the Genesis narrative, we see that Adam before the Fall had communion with God. After the Fall however, God came in judgment upon Adam and Eve and pronounced the curses upon them. Adam and Eve were therefore spiritually alive before the Fall, and spiritually dead after.

If being made spiritually alive in Rom. 6:11 is to be dead to sin, therefore Adam and Eve prior to the Fall as spiritually alive were dead to sin and did not sin. If we define original perfection as sinlessness, then certainly Adam and Eve were originally perfect.

Contrary to Jones therefore, the Bible does teach this truth. The only problem is that Jones seems to be morally incapable of considering the truths of Scripture in this regard, and thinks that any truth not explicitly taught in the passage is not true at all. Through the motifs of spiritual life and spiritual death, we can see all these truths taught in Scripture, including the transmission of spiritual death to all of Adam's descendants (c.f. Rom. 5:12-18).

As we have mentioned before, it is illuminating to see Jones citing the heretic Faustus Socinus, and then the Racovian Catechism. Both of these sources are contrary to biblical Christianity historically. Do Arminians really want to quote sources that embrace some form of universalism in order to discredit Calvinism? Socinus denied the Trinity as well. Do Arminians really want to go down that road?

[to be continued]

Pre-prolegomena: Doctrine and the Word of God

Doctrine and the Word of God

The next application for us has to do with how we read the Word of God.

The Scriptures is revelation from God, of God, for us. The Scriptures is God's story of the world and of the Gospel to the world. It is not a story primarily about Man although Man is in the story. It begins with God in Gen. 1:1 when Man is not present. It is a story of God creating Man, Man's fell into sin (Gen. 3), God's providence and kindness in preserving Man on the earth despite the multiplication of sin (e.g. Gen. 6-9), and of God working out salvation for His people culminating in the sending of God's Son into the world to die for our sins (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and then the proclamation of that Gospel to the rest of mankind (Acts).

Since that is what Scripture is about, Scripture is not about us. It is not about our personal wants and desires, although it does answer our deepest needs. It is not an encyclopedia or dictionary for us to look up for answers to every question we might have including what to eat for breakfast. It is not a book of motivational quotes to cheer up our day, not a book of incantations to be said so as to change reality, and not a book of mantras to be said to make us more spiritual (i.e. lectio divina). The Scriptures is all about God and His Gospel message, not about our perceived needs on this earth.

To read and understand Scripture therefore is to know more about God and His Gospel. That is the center of God's revelation, and therefore is the center of our understanding of Scripture. To treat Scripture in any other way is to distort God and His Word. If one reads Scripture for inspirational quotes, for practical wisdom or any other side issue even for "Christian philosophy" apart from the center of who God is and what He has done through the Gospel, one has distorted the actual teachings of Scripture. It matters little how much you were motivated or inspired; what matters is whether whatever understanding you have gained is grounded on and gives you a deeper knowledge and love for Christ and His Gospel.

Doctrine properly defined is the teaching of Scripture in what it says. Therefore, understanding more of who God is and His Gospel is to grow in the knowledge of Christian biblical doctrine. True growth in the knowledge of God's Word therefore is growth in knowing doctrine. From this doctrine grows deeper love for God and a deeper understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. All of these helps us to love, honor and glorify God more and more in our lives (growth in affection), and helps us to obey the commands of God for us (doing) because of what He has already done for us (being).

Since this is what the Word of God is, therefore anyone who approaches the Word of God differently is in error. Those who denigrate doctrine have attacked the Word of God. Those who denigrate those who desire more doctrine likewise. Those who do not approach the Word of God to know more about God and His Gospel are in error. Those who approach the Scriptures apart from Christ are not living the Christian life. Those who treats the Scriptures as merely a simple devotional guide have missed the forest for the trees. Those who treat the Scriptures as a witness of God's working have denied the forest and the trees for the ideal of Nature.

Reading God's Word is to read with a view to understand and embrace what the Scripture teaches pertaining to God and His Gospel, i.e. doctrine. To do otherwise is sin and contrary to the authorial intent of the Holy Spirit in giving us the Scriptures.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Presbyterian Church of Pakistan rejects "contextualized" versions removing "Father" and "Son"

The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) has produced a statement denouncing the attempt by SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) or Wycliffe Bible Translators to produce a translation removing the words "Father" and "Son." As Rev. Dr. Altaf Khan, Acting Moderator of the PCP, wrote,

I, Rev. Dr. Altaf Khan, the Acting Moderator of Presbyterian Church of Pakistan [PCP] would like to bring into your attention the recent translation issues brought by Summer Institute of Linguistics [SIL] or Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The controversy arose when the idea of contextualization was first floated by SIL. In the name of contextualization, SIL intended to remove Father or Son from the future translated versions citing that some local Muslims can only see sexual connotations to these terms. PCP in its General Assembly held in November 2011 [around 200 Church leaders participated], executive meeting [around 30 Church leaders] and multiple gatherings in different cities where Christian leaders from all denominations participated, has publicly condemned such justifications for the sake of convenient translation.

[more]

As I have said many times before here, the root cause of such mis-translations is the erroneous translational philosophy of Dynamic-Equivalence/ Functional-Equivalence. If you embrace the D-E philosophy and methodology, since all translation is interpretation, therefore the translators gets to decide what they think is the meaning of the word/phrase/sentence. When there is conceived some form of abstract "meaning" that is not bound to the words themselves, then the translator is cut free from the idea of fidelity to the text. Instead of fidelity to the text, the fidelity is to the "meaning" of the text whatever that is conceived to be.

In this case, the translators of Wycliffe have evidently thought that the normal words "Father" and "Son" have a sexual connotation, and therefore it is not suitable. Since the idea is to translate the "essence" or "meaning" of the term "Father" and "Son," therefore any word which they perceive to communicate that meaning will do the job, even if they in fact do not communicate that meaning.

Absent fidelity to the text, fidelity to "meaning" means that the translators gets to interpret the text and translate the perceived meaning. D-E translations therefore are highly subjective interpretations of the biblical text, where the imagination can literally run wild as happened in "translations" such as the Voice. D-E advocating conservatives who object to the translation choices as not translating the meaning are merely pitting their interpretation against the interpretation of the translators, and why should one be held out as closer to the truth over the other? After all, the translators I would think genuinely think that their translation choice IS the one which best express the meaning of the word/phrase/sentence that they are translating! Absent connection to the text, no objective ground can be appealed to.

Let us look at the poisoned fruit of D-E philosophy and methodology, and reject it.

[HT: Apprising Ministries]

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pre-prolegomena: Implications - Life goals and purposes

Part 2: Implications

The basics of the Christian Life having been described, let us proceed onto various implications it has on specific topics of Christian living.

Life goals and purposes

If living the Christian Life is to submit to Christ as our Lord who has saved us, then it implies that everything in our life should be lived under Christ's lordship. This does not just translate into vague principles of professing that Jesus is Lord, but to practical realities of life.

A major implication this has is our life goals and purposes. A Christian is to order their lives according to the reality of their status as children of God. As Paul famously remarked in Gal. 2: 20, "I have been co-crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (own translation). Our lives are not our own, but are to be lived for Christ.

Does this mean that every Christian should be a missionary or serve full-time in church or a Christian organization? No. There is in fact no superiority of full-time service over so-called "secular" work. God is God of the world, and He does not need our service, so why do we think that one job is more spiritual than another?

The issue therefore is not about the type of things we do (assuming that it's not sinful), but the principles with which we approach it. Our life goals and purposes should reflect the change. Perhaps formerly we were only interested in being rich and enjoying life. But Christ came, and we see that our lives are not to be lived for ourselves but for Him. Therefore, we might now see that we should now earn money [fairly of course] so as to be able to give generously to the Lord's works. Perhaps previously we desire to climb up the social ladder and make a name for ourselves. Now however, we see that we should be making Christ's name and honor known, not ours. Therefore, we may still climb up the social ladder, but the goal is not to make a name for ourselves but to reach those in high society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [And contrary to some popular conceptions of the Gospel, the rich and famous NEED the Gospel too].

Our life goals and purposes must be shaped by the truths of Scripture. There is nothing wrong with earning money or achieving high social or political status, but all things must be done for the main purpose of witnessing for Christ. In this light, knowing the Scripture is vital so that we may shape our life goals and purposes according to what Scripture actually says, not what we think Scripture say.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Poster: The error of Local Church Centrism

One major error of the New Evangelical Calvinism, and New Evangelicalism also, is its zeitgeist that generally does not want to deal with false teachers. The center of such "discernment" should be the local church, it is maintained.

In light of recent events, I have decided that this phenomenon deserves its own poster, as above. Local Church centrism is the view that applies texts of Scripture on the Church only to the context of the Local Church. Therefore, like what Frank Turk says, the center of discernment should be the local church only. Believes are to join a local church and serve there, and not going around dealing with errors.

To some extent of course, Turk is right. But to make the biblical primacy of the Local Church into a focus on the Local Church ONLY is Turk's error. This error it seems manifest itself particularly in New Evangelicals who desire to be biblical in doctrine. Thus, we can better understand Carson's and Keller's response to the Elephant Room 2 in light of this fact.

The poster reads: "Local Church Centrism — Not my church, not my problem." This captures aptly the type of attitude that seem to underlie what is going on here. James MacDonald and Jakes are not one of the members of staff of either Carson's and Keller's respective churches, and therefore the entire ER2 fiasco is treated with kids' gloves. I can almost guarantee that if the members or staff of at least Carson's church behave like James MacDonald, things will be certainly more private (because it involves only that local church) but certainly unrepentance will result in church discipline, private and public censure, and even excommunication.

Now of course, it is impossible neither is it proper to search for heretics and heresies to denounce. The Christian life is not to be a heresy hunter so to speak. But when such issues do present themselves, they are to be addressed fully and biblically, not the type of kids' gloves antics Carson and Keller utilized.

Local Church Centrism is a distortion of the Gospel and a distortion of biblical ecclesiology. It has more in line with Cain, asking "Am I my brother's keeper?" As far as they are concerned, the Local Church is the Church, and other Christians are "others" not really part of the Church to whom we are to so regard them.

ADD: I should have added the corollary to give more punch to the poster. It is as follows:

Local Church Centrism — Not my church, not my problem; Not your church, shut up!

Review of Carson's and Keller's response to ER2

Carson and Keller, the representatives as it were of the Gospel Coalition (TGC), have published a response to the Elephant Room 2 fiasco. I would like to look at the response in this post.

As a response in general, it attempts to be irenic yet firm in its doctrinal stand. Point 1 addresses the issue of the Trinity, and here they did an excellent job in giving a brief summary of the doctrine of the Trinity. Point 2 deals with what they call "Biblicism One" and "Biblicism Two." It is an interesting point except the fact that the term "biblicism" normally refers to some form of "Biblicism One." Furthermore, Carson and Keller were too kind to Jakes, who as a public teacher is not to be engaged in the same way as a private Christian (c.f. Jas. 3:1; Titus 1:10, 11, 13).

Carson and Keller did a reasonable job in dealing with the aspect of race, though it must be said that the unhappiness of the African-American council members is their own fault - the fault of TGC, which selectively deals with error when it comes to someone from their own camp (i.e. MacDonald). If they have instead deal with error regardless of who promotes it, then they would have exposed Jakes in the same way as they have exposed [Rob] Bell, and not be quiet about the former because the person involved was James MacDonald, a former council member.

Issue 6 on private and public is reasonable, except that Carson and Keller has missed the boat altogether in dealing with the issue. No doubt if MacDonald thought that Jakes was orthodox he should have dealt with it in a private setting, which I concur with Carson and Keller. It is however Carson's and Keller's extrapolation to the blogsphere which is extremely questionable.

It can be seen so far that items 1, 2, 3, 5 and parts of 4 and 6 are generally commendable. I would now focus on the errors of this response to the ER2 fiasco.

Item number 4 deals with the issue of love and truth. Certainly both are needed, and it is to their credit that Carson and Keller admitted they may have erred in either or both of these aspects. The problem however is that they seem not to see the forest but the trees. The issue is not so much that TGC is silent and not speaking the truth, but that they did not rebuke MacDonald for his compromise. This article of theirs for example generally speaks the truth, but they did not admonish MacDonald, who as a public teacher ought to be rebuked publicly! Even in this piece, they did not criticize MacDonald's compromise of the Gospel but only imply that he was not right. Does the TGC thinks that Titus 1:13 is applicable in the Church? Or perhaps do they think Titus 1:13 is only applicable within the local church body?

It is one thing to say that we must be loving and kind. But kindness to wolves is cruelty to the sheep. "Loving and kind" should not be the default setting in dealing with those who are teaching wrong doctrine, at least not the type of "love" that is present in New Evangelicalism. The love for false teachers is the tough love that desires their repentance, not a "love" that allows them access to the sheep.

This ties in with point 6. By invoking John Calvin's practice of the Ordinary Censure which meets behind closed doors, Carson and Keller insinuates that charges of compromise etc should remain private and behind closed doors. This is however a false analogy. The Ordinary Censure does not deal with known heretics and false teachers. It most certainly was not invoked in the [open door] trial of the anti-Trinitarian heretic Michael Servetus! Public sins require public examination even trials and judgment! The analogy is terrible to say the least. It shows one of the major errors in New Evangelicalism with its disdain for being seen as polemical even if the situation demands it.

Carson and Keller therefore has written an interesting and generally orthodox response to ER2. They remain firm in their doctrinal stand on essential doctrines like the Trinity. Yet at the same time, they perpetuate the exact same blind spots as the New Evangelicalism that preceded them, unable to see that they have failed to obey the biblical injunctive to rebuke public errors and compromise publicly.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

9Marks with short reviews of T.D. Jakes' books

Greg Gilbert has given us short reviews of Sabellian T.D. Jakes' works on the 9Marks page here. In light of the "mainstreaming" of Jakes, this should be helpful so that most people do not have to contribute to his royalties.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

ER2 and "Ethnic Gnosticism"

Dr. James White recently did a Dividing Line show with Pastor Voddie Baucham on the playing of the race card in the Elephant Room 2 T.D. Jakes fiasco by black pastors like Bryan Loritts. Baucham calls this attitude "Ethnic Gnosticism" and indeed it is. The entire attitude that gives rise to the whole idea of "Black theology" and the "Black church" is basically a denial of the Gospel and is as damnable as the heresy of the Judaizers condemned by Paul as "another gospel" (Gal. 1:9)

We confess ONE HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH. There is only one Christ, one head, and thus one body, one church. There is no such thing as the "white church," the "black church" or the "yellow church"! Likewise, there is no such thing as "white theology," "black theology," or "yellow theology" and certainly no such thing as "Asian theology" much less "water buffalo theology"!

Racism is practical heresy. Reverse racism is no better. Theological racism or "Ethnic Gnosticism" is likewise heresy. The worst thing about it is that it hides behind the facade of being the victim of racism, as if two wrongs (real or perceived) necessarily make one right.

May we not make the same error, but unite around the Gospel message of which "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no male and female," but that we "are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Amen.