Monday, April 30, 2012

Pre-prolegemona: Conclusion

Conclusion

The Christian Life is a life that begins with Christ and His Gospel, and ends with Christ and His Gospel. We are saved from our sins by Christ, and saved from our sins to Christ. It is a life that is joyful, full of gratefulness and love for our Savior.

Nevertheless, Christians do get sidetracked. We lost sight of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. We get distracted by the glamorous things of Vanity Fair, the world. We tremble as we face trials. We are misled by false shepherds promoting another gospel. We turn to the glitter of carnal and false spirituality with gold dust and gold teeth and glory clouds. We grow sick of the foolishness of the Cross it seems.

There is only one way forward: Turn back to God and His Word. Find a true church that truly loves God and loves His Word, so that you can be fed by Christ's word (both through preaching and Sacrament). Do not compromise even when God seems far away. Read Psalms 88 when you feel down, for trials and tribulations are the norm for believers now.

The way of the Cross is foolishness not only to the world, but to large tracts of supposed evangelicalism. Do not think yourself wiser than God, as if your gimmicks are more likely to convert people rather than the Word of God preached. You, and every other person, are not the Holy Spirit! Whoever thinks he is wise, let him become a fool for Christ.

Turn back to Christ and the simplicity of the Cross. Turn back to the simple means of grace which God has called us to. Do not add to His Word, as if the multiplication of spiritual disciplines will make you more spiritual. Such are a stench to God, and those engage in them will face the judgment of God just like Nadab and Abihu had (Lev. 10:1-2).

Let us recover the simplicity of Christian living, according to His Word. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be us all. Amen.

Pre-prolegemona: Hope for the future

Hope for the Future

Having gone through the manner of the Christian life, we would now look into its goal. What is the hope of believers?

Many believers will mention that our hope is eternal life, to be with God forever. This is most certainly true (Jn. 3: 16; 1 Jn. 5:12). But what exactly does this mean?

First of all, the Gospel is not hell insurance. Professing faith in Christ is not a "Get out of hell free" card. Rather, the Gospel brings Christ to us in the here and now. We are united with Christ through true faith now.

All of the Christian life is therefore with an eye to the end times, which in theological terms is called eschatological. In Christ, we are no more to see things as we used to do so. Rather, everything has to be colored by the hope of Christ's second coming.

We believers are now pilgrims on this earth just like Abraham (Heb. 11: 8-10). This world is not our home. We are not to lose sight of this truth. Yes, as those who are younger grow up, find a career, get married and so on, it is easy to be distracted. It is easy to focus on the things of this world. That is another reason why of course you should be attending a true church of Christ.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Is. 55:1)

Come to the weekly gathering of God's people to be fed. Come to hear God speak through the preaching of His Word. Come to be fed through the Supper of our Lord, for it is the table of feasting and partaking of the body and blood of our Lord through faith.

Just like Abraham, we travel in this world. We have careers, spouses and so on. Yet we must always keep in mind that this world is not our home. Like Abraham, we look forward to the city whose designer and builder is God. Here we can have no lasting city, but our bodies age and even our names and reputations and legacies disappear in the sands of time.

The issue is one of faith. It is not about idealism or supposed maturity in realism. The key question is this: Where is your faith? It is not idealist to hold to our blessed hope and order our lives accordingly. To think of this view as being naive and out of touch with basic living in this world is a mark of unbelief. Jaded cynicism is a spiritual disease. Is God a god of your inner emotions only? Your "god" is too small. Is he only an old grandfather who has warm affections of love towards you? Your "god" is also too small. Is he a god who dies only to make sure you wouldn't face God's wrath and therefore go to heaven? Your "god" is too small.

The Christian God is the God of this whole universe. The nations are as nothing to him. He mocks at the bravado of those who deny Him ad ridicule His Name. He sees the scheming of the wicked and notes them in His record book, to pour out on them His wrath and judgment at the appointed time.

He who delivers the Jews from their oppressors is the same God who rules even now. O you of little faith, why do you doubt God? Why are you cynical? Trials and tribulations you may face now, and probably are facing now (Jas 1: 2). But why compromise instead of accepting hardship? Where is your light in this world?

Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:12-26)

Let us stand firm in our faith, seeing ourselves as pilgrims in this land, and put our hope and trust in Christ our savior.

Sermon: 2 Cor. 9:6-15

Pastor Zach Keele has given an excellent sermon on 2 Cor. 9:6-15 recently, which can be heard here. A key mark of pastor who loves the flock is to preach a text which deals with money without pressuring the congregation to give more, and I think my pastor has done that well.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How biblical-minded Christians and Theists reason differently about God

In a riposte to this post, we note here how "theists" supposedly argue. According to this post (which is an excerpt from his forthcoming book),

Regardless of the course taken by naturalists, most sophisticated Christian theists refrain from dependence on a god-of-the-gaps form of reasoning. Rather, Christian scholars tend to appeal to God as an inference to the best explanation. This form of logical reasoning resembles the way detectives, lawyers, historians, and scientists reason. For example, scientists sometimes postulate ideas that are unobservable in order to explain the data that is observed (consider for example dark matter and dark energy). This approach posits the biblical God as the best explanation for all the significant realities in life.

Besides suffering from the fallacy of induction, and affirming the consequence, can anyone imagine the Bible stating:

"I am the best explanation and approximation of the way, the truth and the life" - Jesus

"In the beginning the best explanation is there was the Word..."

The Scriptures do not endorse this type of illogical nonsense, for good reason. Samples has not managed to escape the charge of "god-of the gaps" argumentation, for the primary method is still the same. God and His Word is not taken as the foundation, but rather autonomous reason is taken as the foundation for Samples' reasoning.

Inference to the best explanation works in historical and judicial fields because these fields are not about proving true truth, but rather constructing a plausible case. That is why supposed established history can be questioned if new discoveries are made, and legal cases re-opened if new evidences are found. To drag the Christian faith down to that level is to reduce it to a mere hypothesis, and a hypothesis no matter how solid is still a hypothesis which may be wrong.

The "god of the gaps" argument begins with autonomous reason, thus whatever is not open to reason or the senses (empiricism) or whatever combination of the two, is disregarded a priori. In such a rationalistic mentality, any mention of "god" is placed within the rationalistic framework, and therefore "god" is seen either as a crutch to inhibit further understanding (thus "of the gaps"), or as the author behind everything, which is seen by atheists as a crutch still. After all, having conceded the foundation of autonomous reason, why stop there?

Biblically minded Christians therefore do not reason like "theists." We start with God and His Word, not Man and his mind(s). We do not reason to God, but reason from God.

Credo ut intelligam

[HT: Triablogue]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Psalm 109 and imprecations

Structure of Psalm 109

  • vv. 1-5: Trials of David
  • vv. 6-20: Call for judgment upon wicked men
  • vv. 21-26: Call to YHWH for help
  • vv. 27-29: Call to YHWH for salvation and vindication
  • vv. 30-31: I will praise YHWH for my salvation

יִֽהְיֽוּ־יָמָ֥יו מְעַטִּ֑ים פְּ֜קֻדָּת֗וֹ יִקַּ֥ח אַחֵֽר׃ (v. 8)

Let his days be few, and let another take his office

γενηθήτωσαν αἱ ἡμέραι αὐτοῦ ὀλίγαι καὶ τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ λάβοι ἕτερος (v. 8 LXX)

Let his days be few and may another take his office

τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ λαβέτω ἕτερος (Act 1:20ff)

let another take his office

Psalms 109 is an interesting psalm which I had the opportunity to teach this Lord's Day. It is a psalm of trials, call for justice, help and salvation, and ending with praise for the Lord's salvation. As a psalm, it gives us the manner to call unto God in times of trial for His help, salvation and vindication.

If as we believe that the psalms are the inspired songs of praise in the Bible, and thus we are to sing them, then Psalm 109 should be sung. The problem however comes when we approach verses 6-20. Should we sing these verses? Perhaps some people would sing it with gusto, but would you think it is proper to sing verses such as the following?

Let his sons be orphans, and his wife a widow (v. 6)

Let his posterity be cut-off, in another generation wipe out their name (v. 13)

Imprecations are found in other psalms as well, so the question before us is how to deal with them.

In Psalms 109, we can see how a redemptive historical reading of the psalm could shed light in the issue. Verse 8 of Ps. 109 is cited by Peter in Acts 1: 20 in choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot into the Apostolate. Peter applied the verse, and thus by synecdoche apply the entire section to Judas Iscariot as the cursed wicked man, a type of the one who oppress the godly (in his betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ).

Imprecations are therefore directed against the reprobates, not our personal enemies, of which Judas Iscariot is foremost (Jn. 17: 12). Redemptive historically, the wicked in David's psalm are the type of the reprobates in eternity.

In David's time, the wicked are dealt with by strict justice, thus the Church in the form of Israel yielded the sword against evildoers. In our time, the Gospel is being proclaimed and the execution of God's judgment is held back. Yet, such restrain will be removed in the last day when Christ comes again, and God's justice at the Eschaton will be meted out.

The imprecations for us therefore is eschatological in nature, as opposed to the present reality under the Mosaic economy. The singing of the imprecations is meant to proclaim God's justice in the eschatological judgment against the reprobates, those who manifest their wickedness in rejection of God and Christ.

It is therefore not surprising that the modern effeminate churches do not sing the imprecations, but that is for another day.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On publicity

First of all, then, I urge that ... we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

For quite some time, it seems that the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore has been periodically running up stories on the churches in Singapore. Singapore is a multi-religious society, and it is understandable that newspapers may decide to cover Christianity in the newspapers. Notably absent however is any coverage of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and other religious groups, a fact which I find strangely disquieting.

Regardless, the main issue that I would like to address is that of publicity. The most recent coverage featured some Reformed churches and as per the Press, the story has been spun to support their desired narrative.

Should Christians desire publicity? We should desire that the Gospel be known to all, and in that sense publicity by the world of the Gospel is fine. However, the world spins whatever we say. The power of mass media is such that reporters and editors can spin anything they are given to support their desired narrative. They are not necessarily lying or even trying to lie, but the fact that they have to synthesize a story from disparate sources means that spin is unavoidable even if the editor desired to be objective, which I am doubtful in this instance.

How should Christians deal with the issue of publicity? We should make the Gospel message public, but that does not mean we should desire publicity by others, lest of all those with an agenda. Those interviewed for this piece I have heard were disappointed, and I am not surprised.

Christians therefore should not court the media. Any publicity should be done by us for us. We are to desire to lead a peaceful and quiet life, not one that draw attention to ourselves. Draw attention to Christ and the Gospel, but not to ourselves. The last thing we want is for the media to come in and spin things for our detriment, and I wouldn't trust the media not to do that.

Pre-prolegomena: The Church

The Church

As we have mentioned earlier, we are saved into the community of believers, the Church, through baptism. Once foreigners to God and to God's people, we are now brought into communion with God and with the people of God.

This community of believers, the Church, certainly consists of all believers everywhere. It is therefore true that whoever believes the Gospel is already part of the church. However, this universal Church is expressed in physical assemblies of believers for the purpose of worshiping God and hearing the proclamation of God's Word.

Faith in Christ is expressed in joy, gratitude and desire to please God. Likewise, being now in communion with God and with God's people will be expressed in the desire to physically be a member in a local Church. Therefore, anyone who believes in God will naturally desire to join his new brothers and sisters to worship God, to hear His Word, and to support each other in their journey of faith.

Just as faith without works is shown to be dead or not a true faith (Jas. 2: 18-20), therefore anyone who has no desire to join a local Church is not part of the universal Church. The evidence of being part of the universal Church is shown in the desire and the act of joining a local Church and being a member in it. This is what we have interpreted the Church Father Cyprian to mean when he says, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." (Extra Ecclesium Nula Salus Est).

Since joining a church is necessary, we must find out which church to join. There are countless buildings and assemblies of people calling themselves churches, but does having the name "church" necessarily mean that these are true churches believers should join? Most certainly not!

Joining a church is supposed to be the expression of our membership in the universal Church. Therefore, all assemblies of people if they are to be true churches must be an expression of the universal Church. If any assembly of people do not exhibit the signs of a true church, they are not an expression of the universal Church and we should not join them.

The marks of a true church are: the proper proclamation of God's Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline. By the proper proclamation of God's Word, we mean that the preacher preaches God's Word and explain the text of Scripture to us. If the preacher goes up and uses the Word of God as a launchpad to lecture on something that interests him but is not taught in the text of Scripture, that is not a proper proclamation of God's Word.

The sacraments are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. If any assembly that calls itself a church does not do these sacraments and them only, they are not properly administering the sacraments. Therefore, both the Roman Catholic church (with its 7 sacraments) and the Salvation Army (which do not administer any sacrament) are not true churches.

The third sign is the right exercise of church discipline. Positively, church discipline is exercised in discipleship of believers in the faith. Negatively, church discipline is exercised in rebuke, censor and as a last resort, excommunication of any unrepentant member who commits grievous sin. Many churches are liable to be disqualified on the basis of this third sign as they do not discipline members who commit grievous sin.

God calls us into the Church, and therefore we should seek out a true church and join it. In the church, we are in a place to be cared for and nourished by the Word of God, for the glory of God.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

James White called T4G's position on the Bible inaccurate

I am not as sharp as I should be on this issue, plus of course I did not look at Together for the Gospel's Statement of Faith in detail. Dr. James White however has picked up on the language that the T4G Statement of Faith uses as describing the Bible as "the sole authority for the Church," as an expression of Solo Scriptura a la "me and my Bible alone in the woods." Dr. White's comments on this topic is certainly illuminating and can be read here.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Tim Keller and the problem with "Mere Christianity"

In a video interview, Tim Keller made the issue of orthodoxy and heresy a matter of affiliation to the Apostles' Creed, and vaguely implies acceptance of the Nicene Creed as well in the allusion to acceptance of the Ecumenical Councils (which for at least the Reformed mean the 4 councils of Nicea, Constantinople -1st, Ephesus and Chalcedon). This sort of "mere Christianity" comprise the essentials of the faith, and therefore Keller believes that Christianity should be a broad enough tent to accept theistic evolutionists of all sorts.

The problem of course is that nobody actually practices that kind of "mere Christianity." Even Tim Keller does not. The whole idea of having a "Gospel Coalition" implies that they are making something i.e. the Gospel, a matter of orthodoxy. Where exactly is the Gospel explicated in any of the ecumenical councils? The Gospel was assumed by the church fathers and kept to the basics of belief in Christ, but beyond that there was not much development on what the Gospel actually is and what belief in Christ means.

The doctrine of Justification by Faith alone is not mentioned by any of the ecumenical councils. In point of fact, the Late Medieval Franciscan Pactum of Gabriel Biel (Facientibus quod in se est Deus non denegat gratium) is a denial of Justification by Faith alone. If Keller was truly aiming for "mere Christianity," he should say that the entire idea of the Gospel Coalition is a charade and embrace not only the rest of professing Evangelicalism (including the National Association of Evangelicals) but also the liberals (National Council of Churches), the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. After all, all of them except perhaps a few radical liberals profess belief in the ecumenical councils of the Church.

So is Keller serious about his idea of "mere Christianity"? If he is serious, he should just stop the charade. Leave the Gospel Coalition, leave the PCA, and be an all out ecumenist! Be honest to your beliefs. Either fully embrace the idea of "mere Christianity," or man up and state clearly a position which one will live consistently by.

C.S. Lewis, for all his literary genius, is not an authority on the Christian faith. One can benefit from critically reading his works, but Lewis is not an authority on a lot of issues, the idea of "mere Christianity" being one of them.

To put it as simply and bluntly as possible, choose this day which one you will embrace: the Gospel (and all that comes with it), or "mere Christianity."

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Peter Enns and a different god

While waiting for inspiration to come for my papers, I decide to go back to my neglected blog. And it seems that Peter Enns has provided some material to comment on.

Enns has recently written a blog post with the title "You and I Have a Different God, I Think." I must say I concur with his statement, but for different reasons.

According to Enns,

The reason for the differences is not simply that people have different theological systems or different ways of reading the Bible. A more fundamental difference lies at the root of these (and other) differences.

I think we have a different God.

Christians are supposed to think about God they way Jesus showed us to think about him.

That God does not hesitate to participate in the human drama, to encounter humanity within the limits of the human experience. That means that biblical writers wrote about the God they encountered as they understood him within their cultural limitations.

True encounter with God, expressed in truly human, cultural, terms.

That’s why I have no problem reading the Adam story as a story of origins like other stories of the ancient world, or understanding Paul’s take on Adam as an outworking of his Jewish world (where biblical texts are molded to fit an argument), and calling this kind of writing “God’s word.”

The Gospel teaches me that this kind of Bible reflects the character of God. This kind of Bible is what I have come to expect.

The Gospel does not teach me that it is a problem for God to enter into the human experience and allow that human experience to shape–from beginning to end–how the Bible behaves. The Gospel teaches me exactly the opposite.

And the Gospel certainly does not teach me that God is up there, at a distance, guiding the production of a diverse and rich biblical canon that nevertheless contains a single finely-tuned system of theology that he expects his people to be obsessed with “getting right” (and lash out at those who don’t agree).

When it comes to things like Adam and I hear how people explain their position, the question I ask myself now is “what kind of God are you presenting to me here when you say X….?” Is it

an incarnating God–Immanuel, God with us, or

a Platonic god–where you have to peel off the obscuring “down here” hindrances to get to the untainted “up there” god, with the Bible as an encoded inerrant guidebook to get you there.

I don’t like the platonic god. I don’t think Jesus did either.

Enns caricatures those who reject his theistic evolution as those who believe in a Platonic "god" as opposed to the God who incarnates into the world. The question is not only whether this is fair, but what shall be said in response.

To be certain, no Christian will ever believe in a platonic "god." Christian Platonists are seriously in error in their philosophy, but none of them believe in a "god" where reality is all emmanations of some kind from his univocal and universal being. What Enns portray as Platonism has only surface similarity with true Platonism in the area of form, and even then the idea that the Bible is word-for-word dictation, a pure form of God's word, is a notion that only the most misinformed anti-intellectual Christian may hold, and more a caricature created by liberals than anything resembling true reality.

Right off therefore, Enns is pandering to the worse of liberal misrepresentation of the position taken by those he disagrees with. Maybe Enns have encountered them, but I really would love to meet this creature known as the dictation theorist. It seems that they are almost as visible as the emperor's new clothes, and almost as ubiquitous as true healing in a Benny Hinn's "crusade."

The problem with Enns is that his "god" does not control culture. Culture in his view is autonomous of God in some sense. Therefore, God cannot convey true truth because of the limitation of culture, but must convey truth in the form of myths. First of all, his "god" does not rule over the myths of ancient men. His "god" is apparently unable to stop the fabrication of creation myths like the Enuma Elish, the Gilgemash Epich and others like them as a total fabrication of what actually took place, which according to Enns is the evolution process. Instead, we have the sad spectator of a "god" who looks on in horror as the Sumerians and Babylonians and other ancient peoples created myths that speak of the creation of mankind when actually they have all evolved from monkeys.

Next, his "god" is apparently so tied to culture that he cannot portray reality to Israel but must rely on myths so that these ancient people continue to stay deluded together with all the other ancient peoples. Apparently, his "god" does not mind lying to the ancient Israelites, since the Hebrew language is perfectly capable of conveying evolution if that is what actually took place. (Whoever disbelieves them can go and find modern evolution textbooks written in Hebrew) Instead, incarnating in culture requires lying also. One wonders if when Jesus proclaimed that He is the way, the truth and life (Jn. 14:6), why is Jesus not using mythic language of his time to convey a deeper (read inclusivist) reality? After all, why stop at Genesis? Maybe all of Scripture is "mythic" language and an "analogy" of some deeper truth?

God certainly incarnates into the world, but the incarnation comes only in the form of the person of Jesus. Nowhere does the Bible teaches that God "incarnates" into language, but rather He rules over language and culture as Creator and through His Providence.

Enns' position is therefore the denial of God's lordship as Creator and His Providence. I would certainly think that denial of these two aspects/ works of God quality as believing in a different "god."