Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gospel proclamation and the question of fairness

Here is where the question of fairness appropriately comes to the fore. Is it fair that God punishes the guilty in hell? Yes, of course. Is it fair that millions will never hear the gospel? No, it is not.

— Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, "Answers to Notable Questions," in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 242

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Rom. 9: 14-16)

And they [Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:6-7)

In the question over whether those who have not heard the Gospel are condemned to hell, inclusivism states that those who respond positively to whatever light they have will be saved by Christ even though they may not have heard the Gospel. Particularists (or Exclusivists) state the biblical teaching that only by having faith in Christ can a person be saved.

The book edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson addresses the issue of inclusivism. One of the objections to particularism is the charge of unfairness, for how can God condemn a person to hell if they have not even heard the Gospel? It is correctly pointed out in this book that people are condemned not because they reject the Gospel, but because they are sinners (Morgan & Peterson, 241). Morgan and Peterson correctly state that God is fair in sending the guilty to hell. However, they continue by asking another question: Is it fair that millions will never hear the Gospel? Their answer to this question is no. I will contend here however that the proper biblical answer is yes.

It has been established that salvation is an act of God's grace and God's mercy (e.g. Eph. 2:8-9). It is a pure gift of God, and God does not owe anyone salvation, for if God owes anyone anything, that is credited to him as wages not as a gift (Rom. 4:4). Now if no one deserves salvation, and God is perfectly just if he left the whole world to rot into perdition, then the entire apparatus of salvation is one fully of grace and mercy, and no one deserves any of it.

Since such is the case, the proclamation of the Gospel (as part of the apparatus of salvation) is one given by God freely to sinners who do not deserve it. If such is the case, how can it be said that God is not fair if millions do not hear the Gospel?

All mankind is under the broken Covenant of Works. The condition for the Covenant of Works is absolute perfect obedience. The works principle is reflected in verses such as Rom. 2:6-10 and Gal. 3:11b-12. Having broken this Covenant, God is under no obligation to grant mankind another way to earn eternal life. That God chose to do so through Jesus Christ is His free will in grace and mercy to do so.

The proclamation of the Gospel therefore has nothing to do with God's fairness. In fact, as we see in the account of one of Paul's missionary journey, the Holy Spirit is the One who ultimately decides who gets to hear the preaching of the Gospel. That the Gospel took root in Europe in the first few centuries of the Church is the choice and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has decided in counsel with the Godhead that Europe would embrace the Gospel in the first few centuries of the Church. There is no unfairness with God, for God has mercy on whomever He will have mercy and He has compassion on whomever He has compassion (Rom. 9: 14-16). God for example has decided that my distant ancestors in China don't get to hear the Gospel and that is perfectly fair to Him. The question is not: Why were my ancestors not giving the privilege of hearing the Gospel? The question is: The Gospel has come to you now, so will you repent and believe the Gospel while it is still today (Heb. 4: 6-7)?

God is sovereign. There is no injustice and no unfairness with God. The Spirit blows wherever He pleases. God is not answerable even to His people and His Church. We have no right to question why God has given certain areas and certain peoples more Gospel light while He shuts some off in darkness for a longer period of time.

It is fair that millions may never hear the Gospel. The impetus of evangelism is not fairness, but gratitude and obedience. We share the Gospel not because it is not fair that others did not hear the Gospel. We share the Gospel because we are grateful to God for saving us who are no different from them. We share the Gospel out of love, not out of perceived injustice and unfairness. We share the Gospel because God calls us to do so as a witness for Him.

On God's side, the removal of Gospel witness may even be an act of judicial punishment upon a wicked society (Hosea 4: 4-6). To one who rejects God, God may even cause a dearth of Gospel witness in the land. When a society rejects God, God may decide to confirm it further in its path to destruction by removing even the means to be saved.

Morgan and Peterson think that there is "a problem of fairness that concerns the extent of God's mercy" (Morgan and Peterson, 242). Scripture however knows of no such problem. As long as Evangelicals think in such anthropocentric terms, the tendency towards inclusivism will sadly remain.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The problem with "Marketplace ministry"

[This is an improved revised version]

On the Singapore edition of the Christian Post, a news piece has been put up which attempts to showcase one particular "marketplace ministry." The idea of marketplace ministry stems from the basic premise that every church member is to be salt and light in their particular workplace, in reaching out to friends and colleagues and others for the Gospel. This particular "marketplace ministry" has it seems manage to tie in the idea of work together with the idea of "ministry." As a financial planning agency, the director of this agency trains staff "to be 'pastors' to their clients." Financial planners are to treat their clients as sheep, to care for them and aid them in their struggles. In this business endeavor, business and ministry fuses together, and these financial planners have the satisfaction of earning money and at the same time doing "ministry."

As Christians, we are definitely to be the salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:14). We are to witness for Christ and share the Gospel with everyone (Mt. 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15). But does Christ's mandate to witness mean that such a "marketplace ministry" is biblically warranted? I would suggest not.

The three main errors that such a "marketplace ministry" engage in are confusing vocation and ministry, supplanting the Church, and giving grounds for the accusation of using religion for profit.

Confusing vocation and ministry

The director Doris Ng is very clear that she sees the job scope of her agency as being a ministry in its own right. She sees her ministry as an integration of faith and work, of how Christians could "see their work as their calling." According to her, Christians do not "integrate faith and work" for a few reasons.

Firstly, many people are too busy and engrossed in their own work. As a result, many view integrating faith and work as an ‘extra’. They feel that it is enough for them to attend church on weekends.

Secondly, they are not prepared to pay the price for being Christians in the marketplace. They do not want to face mocking by others for organising Christian activities in the workplace.

Thirdly, there is insufficient emphasis on marketplace ministry in preaching.

Should Christians view their work as a calling, as something they do for Christ? Certainly. But the question comes as to why the idea of vocation must be a ministry of any sort. God calls various peoples to various callings in life. We see John the Baptist for example endorsing the vocations of being a tax collector and a soldier (Lk. 3:10-13). We note here that they were not called to join John the Baptist in his ministry, or help him out in one form or the other. Rather, they were called to do justice in their respective vocations. In other words, they were called to, as Paul later commanded, live a "peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). They were called, as Christians are called, to live a life of good works in shining for Christ (Mt. 5: 16).

Christians witness for Christ in word and deed. In word, believers shares the Gospel of Christ. In deed, believers glorify God in their deeds and works. God is the God of creation, and a carpenter putting his effort into making good wooden furniture can do so for God's glory. Practicing justice, integrity and honesty in one's dealings for a believer glorifies Christ.

There is therefore no need to "engage in ministry" if one desires to "integrate faith and work." The integration comes in standing for Christ in word and deed wherever one is at. One does not need to be in "ministry" in order to integrate faith and work!

The impetus for "engaging in ministry" therefore must lie elsewhere. It lies in the confusion of vocation and ministry. It stems from a total erasure of any sort between the common and the sacred, an idea that there is no essential difference between officers in the Church and "laypeople." In such a democratized and egalitarian society, such a confusion is sadly common, but it is a confusion that comes from the culture rather than from the Scriptures.

It does not need to be proven that there is a distinction between the common and the sacred in the Old Testament. The argument for democratizing egalitarianism normally stems from the supposed egalitarian passages of the New Testament in erasing all such demarcations. Passages such as Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 supposedly prove the essential equality of all believers in Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 teaches the priesthood of believers in calling all believers a royal priesthood. Pastors and elders and deacons therefore are merely functional officers, of which mature believers are chosen to fill these officers to serve the churches.

The egalitarian impulse however fails to account for the specific context of these passages as well as the broader teachings of the New Testament. First of all, passages such as Ga. 3:28 and Col. 3:11 are passages dealing with salvation — that salvation is given to all in the same manner. At the foot of the Cross, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave, free or any class. But such passages do not teach whether there are other ways in which they differ. For example, there is no male or female in salvation, but nobody is going to deny that therefore we should erase all differences between men and women and just have unisex washrooms (and by that I am not referring to those with an occupancy of one, and yes, I know some places have experimented with such practices)!

Similarly, 1 Peter 2:9 cannot be interpreted as promoting equality in all respects. The context shows that the priestly office of believers is that of offering spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:5). It alludes to concepts such as that seen in Rom. 12:1 and denotes the idea of presenting one's life before God and praying to God without an earthly intermediary, something which was not available under the Mosaic economy where there were priests which one has to go to who will offer prayers to God on one's behalf.

In the broader context of the New Testament, we see that the concept of special offices have not been eradicated. The Apostles appointed deacons with the "laying on of hands" (Acts 6:6). The issue of "laying of hands" shows forth the setting apart for special office, as we can see from Acts 6:6 and from its Old Testament background in Num. 27: 18-19 and Deut. 34: 9. Timothy was similar ordained as mentioned in 1 Tim. 4:14 and he was in turn instructed not to be hasty in the laying of hands (1 Tim. 5:22).

The laying of hands therefore is the biblical and apostolic procedure for ordination to the special offices of elders and deacons. Elders and deacons have been given the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19, 18:18) and thus they are set apart by God in their ordination. By virtue of their office, they are in order (τάξις) different from other Christians.

Ministry in its strictest and most particularist sense has to do with the Church. Therefore, while all Christians are called to witness, not all Christians are called to Ministry. One can loosely term the service one does as "ministry" in a loose form, but that is not the same as the Ministry of the Church

The idea of marketplace ministry therefore is in error by confusing vocation and ministry. Reaching out to others, sharing with them the Gospel, standing up for Christ are all good things, but they are not technically speaking Ministry, which brings us to the second point.

Supplanting the Church

The Church is where the officers of Christ's church do ministry. Officers of the Church are set apart and called by God to their sacred tasks.

"Marketplace ministries" supplant the ministry of the Church by acting as a surrogate church. Such a blatant usurpation can be seen in Doris Ng's statement that her agents are to be "'pastors' to their clients." It matters little whether Doris and her agents have pastoral oversight or their "ministry" is approved by their pastors. It matters little also whether the clients have their own pastors. The problem is that none of the agents possess special office and are ordained, and the financial planning agency is not a church. None of them have any authority from God to do what they are doing. By all means if they desire to love and help their clients, they are certainly free, indeed encouraged to do so. But such is not "shepherding" or being "'pastors' to their clients."

Here we see the hyper-spirituality in "marketplace ministries." What is wrong with simply helping people and loving people without the need to spiritualize everything as a "ministry"? Is God more sanctified merely because one thinks one is doing "real Christian work"? There is nothing wrong with merely living the Christian life in this world without dreams of grandeur or "doing ministry," as if not "doing ministry" is a lesser form of Christian living, whereas it isn't. In fact, such a hyper-spiritualization has Gnostic tendencies in its denigration of the mere material realm, as if doing creational good is an inferior work compared to seeing everything as being "spiritual"; more like the Anabaptist idea of 'Grace overcoming nature' rather than the Protestant notion of 'Grace renewing nature.'

As a side note, it must be said that seeing this as a Ministry makes it in blatant violation of Scripture in 1 Tim. 2:11-15, where Paul specifically prohibits women from exercising authority over Man in spiritual matters and leadership. Doris therefore is in clear violation of Scripture in what she is doing.

Giving grounds for the accusation of using religion for profit

The last major concern has to do with the synthesis of business and religion in Doris' financial planning agency. While certainly Doris appears sincere and has the best of motives, yet such is not sufficient to allay the charge.

1 Tim. 6: 5 warns against those who imagine that godliness is a means to gain. In the history of the Church, there have been many charlatans who used religion to enrich themselves. Perhaps the most notorious in Church history is Johann Tetzel, the Dominican seller of indulgences whom Martin Luther railed against. The issue of using religion especially for financial gain has one that dogged the Church anytime it has gotten involved with financial issues.

By synthesizing business and religion so closely, the question comes as to how Doris' financial planning agency can exonerate itself from using religion to further one's financial interests. After all, it is almost a truism that people who feel loved and cared for will be better customers and more inclined to invest with you. Conversely, the opposite question comes as to how this "marketplace ministry" can exonerate itself from the charge of taking advantage of people's weaknesses to push one's religion, noting that agents "bring spiritual solace to clients in their time of crisis." It is one thing to be a friend who does that, and it is another thing when one has a business relationship in which one's livelihood depends on clients' investment in investment products.

Conclusion

The idea of "marketplace ministry" is fraught with problems. While being engaged in outreach to others in one's workplace is certainly commendable, it is another thing altogether to make one's job one's "ministry." Such "marketplace ministries" usurp the authority of the Church and violates God's rule and order for His people. They are not the way Christians should go about "integrating faith and work," but rather is a backward step towards the old Constantinian order of the Medieval period.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Alvin Plantinga on Science and Religion (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Broader Analysis

Evolution and Naturalism

We continue with an analysis of Plantinga's portrayal of the main argument of the Evolutionary Atheists. As mentioned, Plantinga takes their main argument to be as follows:

1) We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

Therefore,

2) All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes

The form of premise 1 is known as the chance-of-the-gaps argument. To the extant that it is held by evolutionists, Plantinga's argument is certainly valid against them. However, is that what most of them are actually arguing for? I would suggest not. Rather, I would suggest that a better form of their argument against theism is more like the following:

P1) The "God hypothesis" is contrary to the scientific method
P2) Origins can be explained by the scientific method

Therefore,

IC1) Origins does not need God, and whatever God is out there has nothing to do with origins
P3) If there is a God, He must be involved in origins.

Therefore,

C) There is no God.

Premises P1 and P3 are not contended. Nobody does science expecting God to miraculously create ex nihilo something or act in some event to alter one's experiment, although God could do so. Certainly, a God who is not involved in origins is a lesser "god" not worthy of worship, and evolutionists by definition accept premise P2. Thus, it seems that evolutionists should embrace atheism, not necessarily of "god" in general, but certainly of the God of the Bible who is very much involved in origins.

While I have no wish to defend Richard Dawkins, whom Plantinga is arguing against, it is my opinion that Plantinga misses Dawkins' argument altogether. Dawkins is not arguing that evolution must be unguided because he couldn't see any reason why it is guided. Rather, Dawkins is arguing that various natural features of organisms could be produced by naturalistic evolutionary processes. Whether Dawkins is convincing or correct is not the issue here. Dawkins is proceeding on the same naturalistic processes that underlines evolution in an attempt to solve what he sees as a scientific problem. Plantinga's portrayal of Dawkins' argument therefore is not fair to him or any of the evolutionary atheists.

The main issue of the evolutionary process being guided or unguided in an evolutionary framework can only be discussed through positing that there is another layer of working in evolution, of God tinkering behind the scenes as it were so that everything would happen as He desires to, yet while being purely naturalistic in the process. Thus, it is a modification of premise P2 to the following:

P2') Origins can be explained by the scientific method, but not exhaustively.

Plantinga however is trying to beat the evolutionist atheists in their own game, and it is not possible. In light of a more realistic argument for atheism from evolutionary theory, Plantinga's prima facie argument against naturalism falls short. In fact, I must say that it is disappointing that Plantinga did not deal with the scientific method. The scientific method(s) by its very nature exclude God from consideration. Such a methodological naturalism is not necessarily bad; imagine if we are to expect different miracles to happen in every experiment! Christian scientists do not do science assuming God is directly acting on their experiments, but rather God acts through providence in science. By failing to differentiate between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, Plantinga fails to see why evolution tends towards naturalism.

The only way to embrace evolution and not be a philosophical naturalist is to embrace a two-tier view of explaining origins, one by science and one by God - the hallmark of theistic evolution. Failure to embrace a two-tiered explanation means that one must necessarily be committed to naturalism as a philosophy.

Plantinga's main argument that the conflict is not between science and religion, but rather between naturalism and science, is therefore in error. Whereas in the previous section we look at the "religion" side, here when we look into the "science" side Plantinga is also in error. Certainly Plantinga is right in stating that naturalism with evolution is self-defeating, but proving that evolutionary naturalism is fundamentally illogical does not prove that naturalism is fundamentally at odds with evolution. It just proves that one or the other or both are wrong.

Science and Evolution

Lastly, we move forward to Plantinga's view of science and evolution. It is extremely regrettable that Plantinga equates the two fundamentally without even stating why he does so. That many people regard evolution as sure scientific fact is true. Whether evolution and science are equatable however is not up for majority vote, but rather is to be determined by proper enquiry into the subject matter. Given that there are scientists who self-consciously do science in opposition to evolution, it displays Plantinga's ignorance of the issue, or more possibly it shows his blind acceptance of the dogmatic pronouncements of the evolutionist majority that scientists who deny evolution are not true scientists.

The issue of origins deals with what is termed as origins science, in which many unknowns are present and can only be assumed. For example, whereas in operation science we can personally see and/or control the processes, origins science merely accept uniformitarianism, which is impossible to be proven given that the processes are not laboratory controlled processes. For example, how does one prove that the erosion rate of rivers are on average the same now as they were hundreds of years ago?

Origins science deals with history, and history by definition is not repeatable. One can re-enact and hypothesize what one thinks had happened, but one has no means of knowing what actually was the case by means of pure scientific processes.

Plantinga's equation of science and evolution is therefore in error. One can very well embrace science while rejecting evolution as being unscientific. All theories of origins are unverifiable, though to some extant falsifiable.

Conclusion

Plantinga's argument is that contemporary evolutionary theory is not incompatible with theistic belief, but rather naturalism is incompatible with evolution. I have analyzed Plantinga's arguments and show that they fall short of what they promise. Evolutionary theory with its methodological naturalism tends towards philosophical naturalism because of the nature of the subject matter of origins. Evolutionary theory cannot be fitted in with biblical Christianity and we should repudiate the entire idea of "mere Christianity." Plantinga has only proved that naturalism is irrational, but not that evolutionary theory does not lead towards naturalism no matter how irrational naturalism may be. So do science and religion clash? No, they don't. But evolution and Christianity do clash, and Plantinga fails in his case to prove that they don't

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alvin Plantinga on Science and Religion (Part 1)

May 20th 2012 saw Dr. Alvin Plantinga give a talk on the relation between Science and Religion in San Diego. Being reasonably close by, I drove down to hear his talk.

Plantinga's presentation

Plantinga's presentation basically deals with the perceived conflict between Science and Religion, especially on the topic of Evolution. His thesis is that there is no conflict between evolution as a science eviscerated from its materialistic philosophy, and "mere Christianity." Plantinga defines "mere Christianity" along the lines of C.S. Lewis and locates it in the Apostles' Creed, probably having some version of the Vincentian Canon in mind (ubique, semper, omnibus).

The first section of his talk was aimed to prove that contemporary evolutionary theory is compatible with theistic belief. He argues against the idea of evolution necessarily being a blind and unguided process. Using the writings of evolutionist atheists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins, Plantinga posits that the form of their main argument is as follows:

1) We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

Therefore,

2) All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes

Plantinga then states that such an argument is logically absurd. Therefore, making arguments based upon perceived blindness and unguidedness of the evolutionary process, and the randomness of mutations, to conclude that there is no God is "not part of or a consequence of the scientific theory of evolution as such, but a metaphysical or theological add-on."

In the accompanying notes, Plantinga has a second section which deals with broader antitheistic arguments from evolution, of which an interesting one which he skirted is the one on theodicy. He also gave an argument using Occam's Razor where he claims that there is "no additional Ockhamistic cost" for a theist "in the hypothesis of guided evolution."

After his first section, Plantinga decided to skip to his third section in his talk due to time constraint. The third section is entitled "Naturalism vs. Evolution," in which Plantinga through a logical syllogism proves that the proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable cannot be accepted if Naturalism and Evolution are both taken to be true. Plantinga's conclusion is that holding on to naturalism with evolution is illogical and wrong; it cannot be rationally accepted.

Through his entire presentation, Plantinga desires to establish that there is no conflict between "science" and "religion," or rather evolution and "mere Christianity." Therefore embracing evolution does not make atheism and naturalism certain. A Christian therefore can embrace evolution without giving up his faith, and a scientist does not have to give up his "science" in order to be a Christian.

Main Analysis

After Plantinga's talk, there was a Q&A section in which I went up and asked him two questions, on two weaknesses I perceive in his argument. I will reproduce and expound on them further.

Plantinga is certainly right in his third point. Many people have correctly pointed out that naturalistic materialism cannot account for the reliability of cognitive faculties of any sort. The problem for Plantinga's argument however comes from other points of view than philosophical materialism, a worldview which is waning.

The first problem with Plantinga's argument is stated by other forms of theisms. Plantinga's argument is defensive in form in stating how evolution is compatible with "mere Christianity." But such an argument presupposes that the only two options are "mere Christianity" and naturalism. One however soon realizes that his argument is impotent in dealing with pantheism, panentheism and Process Theology. In pantheism for example, something which Richard Dawkins is not against by the way, evolution can be guided and our rational faculties can be reliable since nature equals "god," and yet in this system Christian theism is not only not accepted but actively rejected. In Process Theology, the evolutionary process towards the Omega state is certainly guided and has a telos in mind!

Plantinga rightfully disavows pantheism, panentheism and Process Theology. The question however is upon what basis can he do so? One can argue from the Scriptures of course, but that undercuts the entire argument made by Plantinga. After all, Plantinga' argument is for the superiority of Christian theism over naturalist atheism in its compatibility with "science" (evolution). If however it can be argued that Christian theism is no more superior than pantheism, panentheism and Process Theology in its compatibility with "science" (evolution), then Plantinga's argument collapses entirely. If anyone comes to the issue relatively unbiased, why should he think on the basis of Plantinga's argument that Christian theism is better than the other theisms available?

On a side note, Process Theology is a movement which can be slotted into "Mere Christianity" since it has never been condemned by any general council of the Church, indeed it is impossible for it to be condemned as such since it is hundreds of years late for the councils. Since Plantinga wants to stake Christianity on the ideal of "mere Christianity," upon what basis can he reject a belief in Process Theology as being part of "mere Christianity"? If one wants to go back to C.S. Lewis, perhaps one should consider whether Lewis or the Bible holds the definition for what Christianity is and is not.

The second problem with Plantinga's argument is to what extent his version of "mere Christianity," which is compatible with evolution, accepts or rejects the historical Adam and Eve and a historical Genesis. Does Plantinga holds Peter Enns' view of Genesis being a poetic myth recapitulating the experience of Israel?[1] It seems that Plantinga holds a view rather similar to what C. John Collins holds to, what is called a "mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism."[2] Plantinga states that he believes in a historical Adam and Even, but such is probably a couple from a founding population of hominids to whom God breathed their souls into them. (Presumably, they and other hominids were souless animals before that).

The problem with Plantinga's argument here however is that the compatibility question can only be answered in the affirmative only if one takes a certain view of "mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism," namely a view that presupposes an old earth, and standard evolutionary time frame etc. In other words, the compatibility question is in the ultimate sense vacuous. It is basically asking whether a theism that has modified its views to line up with evolution is compatible with evolution. Of course it is! I would be surprised if it isn't! If "mere Christianity" is enlarged to fit in evolutionary theories, then that "mere Christianity" is compatible with evolution is a foregone conclusion.

The problem with "mere Christianity" is that it is ultimately vacuous. If one can redefine the foundation of the Gospel and yet remain part of "mere Christianity," then we should know that "mere Christianity" is a mere front for any shenanigans to be done to the Christian faith. Confessing the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins means nothing if we can't agree on what "sin" is, what "death" is and so on. Since our salvation is based upon the fact that Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works on our behalf, fulfilling what Adam should have done, denial of Adam being the first man is a denial of the Adam-Christ typology and thus of the Gospel itself.

Collins' proposal on the founding population, while ingenious, does not work. Adam has to be created out of the dust for the typology to be valid (cf 1 Cor. 15: 47), not from a pre-existing hominid. The typology of Christ who gives life, to Adam who became alive, in 1 Cor. 15:45 is destroyed by the hypothesis that Adam was a souless hominid (which of course has horrific consequences since these "souless hominids" behave very much like humans in terms of religions etc.).

Plantinga's argument so far fails in two ways. It fails to prove that Christian theism is superior in compatibility with the world in light of evolution. More fundamentally, it fails to prove that "mere Christianity" is even a legitimate actor in the question since including views modified in light of evolution is to argue in a circle.

References:

[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, Brazos Press, 2012), 56

[2] C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 13

[to be continued]

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Paper: Evaluating Kazoh Kitamori's Doctrine of the Atonement

My last paper to be handed in for this semester happened to be the first one back. Without further ado, here is my paper for the Doctrine of Christ course, entitled Evaluating Kazoh Kitamori's Doctrine of the Atonement. [Just FYI, there is always Google translate for the non-English words.] An excerpt:

The visible growth of Christianity in the non-Western world has been phenomenal. Alongside this growth has been the call for indigenized theologies to arise to re-contextualize theology for non-Western, non-Greco-Roman cultures, with a view towards giving meaning to “ancient traditions” which were denigrated by Westerners.

In this light, Japanese theologian Kazoh Kitamori (北森.嘉蔵) has been hailed in the West for coming up with the first indigenous Japanese theology, although Japanese theologians are not as excited about Kitamori’s theology as the West seems to be. Kitamori claimed to be recontextualizing Luther’s theology, especially Luther’s dichotomy between the theologia crucis and theologia gloriae, and between the Deus revelatus and Deus absconditus, and Luther’s idea of the communicatio idiomatum, to come up with his own theology of pain (theologia doloris)

[more]

Bob Godfrey on worship: Contrasting the Reformed from Evangelical

In the Aquila Report, Dr. W Robert Godfrey has written an opinion piece contrasting the Reformed view of worship with the Evangelical view on two aspects: (1) The presence of God in worship, and (2) The Ministerial Office in Worship. An excerpt:

But are we Reformed really evangelical?

One area in which the differences between evangelical and Reformed can be examined is the matter of worship. At first glance, we may see more similarities than differences. The orders of worship in Reformed and evangelical churches can be almost identical. Certainly, both kinds of churches sing songs, read Scripture, pray, preach, and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But do these similarities reflect only formal agreement, or do they represent a common understanding of the meaning and function of these liturgical acts in worship?

If we look closely, I believe that we will see the substantive differences between evangelicals and Reformed on worship. That difference is clear on two central issues: first, the understanding of the presence of God in the service; and second, the understanding of the ministerial office in worship.

[more]

Mark Driscoll the Schwärmer

It seems that Mark Driscoll has preached a sermon attacking the "Cessationists" who do not have a need for the Holy Spirit. Eric Davis from the Cripplegate has responded to this video excellently here.

The whole dichotomization of sound doctrine from the Holy Spirit is sadly a systemic problem within Charismatic circles. While there are certainly Charismatics who try to be biblical, the problem is that such a dichotomization of doctrine from the Holy Spirit is foundational to the very essence of Charismatism. The idea of a distinct separate second baptism of the Spirit that happens after one's conversion means that it is possible for one to believe in sound doctrine but not to be "baptized in the Spirit." It is hard to see what kind of Charismatism would be left if one rejects the second baptism of the Spirit doctrine, for if one rejects it, then there is no necessity to pray for people to be filled with the Spirit. Either these people are saved and thus filled with the Spirit already, or they are unregenerate and need to be converted. To deny holding to a second baptism of the Spirit while continuing to pray for filling in the Spirit with new gifts (with a particular emphasis on the gift of tongues) is to deny the doctrine in theory and affirm it in practice.

Driscoll's speech against sound doctrine is hardly new. Before him, the Zwickau prophets and the Anabaptists were proclaiming "the Spirit" and stating that to pay attention to sound doctrine is to be a minister of the dead letter, referring of course back to 2 Cor. 3:6. Getting new revelations from "God," Jan of Leyden instituted polygamy, imposed a totalitarian autocratic state with him at the head and initiated a reign of terror in his "New Jerusalem" in 16th century Münster. Truly there is nothing new under the Sun.

Historically, Driscoll is the spiritual descendant of the mystics and the Anabaptists. He is what Luther would call a Schwärmer or fanatic, one who believes that they can know God through direct immediate revelation, instead of knowing God through Scripture. Driscoll holds to the theology of glory (theologia gloriae) and seeks God not through His ordained means of the Word but through his vain imagination.

Biblically and theologically, such a false dichotomization between sound doctrine and the Holy Spirit pits God's attributes against God's person. It therefore is a practical denial of the doctrine of the simplicity of God. Given that Driscoll wrote some sort of systematic theology, I wonder if Driscoll actually knows what he is doing? Did Driscoll teach or deny the doctrine of God's simplicity in his book Doctrine? If he indeed holds on to the orthodoxy doctrine of God's simplicity, why does he not practice it here?

Those who denigrate sound doctrine denigrate God's attributes, and thus denigrate God Himself. Saying that one listens to the Spirit while denigrating sound doctrine indicates that one is actually listening to oneself and the voices of others, even unclean spirits, and thinking that one is actually listening to God. God does not reveal Himself in audible voices today, and whoever thinks he is listening to God through such immediate revelation is self-deceived or deceived by demonic powers instead.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Marketplace ministry as a sin against the Church

I have been generally ambivalent towards the idea of marketplace ministries. I can see the need to be light and salt where one is at, and there is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to meet fellow believers and share one's faith. As such, I have been generally supportive, ... until now.

Today through Facebook feed, I saw this article on the Singapore Christian Post, where an insurance company has decided that its agents should take the place of pastors towards their clients. Reading it makes me wonder whether the people involved have even thought through the issues, and the whole thing is wrong on so many levels it is not funny.

First of all, who gave the director the authority to operate what is essentially a pseudo-church? Secondly, upon what basis have they decided that Mammon and God should mix, such that one flows easily into the other? What does it say about the whole idea of salvation being free if such "ministry" comes with the package deal of business dealings and contacts? And since such "shepherding" would make the person feel cared for, and thus more likely to pour more money and invest in insurances and investment products, how can one exonerate oneself from the charge that this type of "ministry" is using godliness for financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5)?

Who has ordained these insurance agents to be ministers of the Gospel, to be able to offer to "conduct a funeral service"? The director of this agency is a woman too. While I have nothing against women being directors of a secular company, they have no business being in spiritual leadership over men (cf 1 Tim. 2:11-15), nevermind being the de facto pastrix of her agents/"pastors."

This entire ministry is a violation of God's commands and rules regarding His Church. It matters little whether the pastor of the director agrees with what she is doing. Her entire "ministry" is a violation of God's Law, and with its confusion between the sacred and the secular, ministry and profit, brings the Gospel into disrepute.

Apostasy of a pentecostal church

A Pentecostal church in Singapore, World Revival Prayer Fellowship, had conducted contemplative prayer services this year. I am personally not surprised that churches in Singapore have started to apostatized even from shallow evangelicalism, even as their counterparts in America has been doing, but it is saddening.

The Gospel message is a message about God outside of us (extra nos). It is a Gospel of God for us (pro nobis). The Gospel message is all about Christ doing His work and imputing to us His merit unto justification. Over and against the medieval piety of imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ), the Reformation recovered the truth that we are righteous because God imputes us to be righteous, not because Christ make us just through infusing His life into us. Our righteousness is an alien righteousness (iustitia aliena). We are not actually righteous but Christ died for and justifies the ungodly, not the righteous (Rom. 4:5).

Christians therefore have fellowship with God through our union with Christ, which we have subjectively when Christ imputes to us His righteousness through faith. Our union with Christ is simple and mediated by His Word alone (Heb. 1:1-2), as the Holy Spirit breathes out the very Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16), and mediates to us Christ's presence through that Word; the ensarkos logos (en-fleshed Word- Jesus Christ) expressed in the enscripturated logos.

Reversion to contemplative spirituality (which is a Neo-Platonic movement within eastern Christianity starting especially with the Desert Fathers, and not an apostolic practice) is unbiblical on so many fronts. First of all, it undermines the sufficiency of Scripture, which is supposed to make us competent (ἄρτιος ) unto every good work. Secondly, by re-directing people from the Word into mystical experiences, it redirects people away from Christ as Christ has ordained Himself to be revealed only through His Word. Thirdly, by using practices that are not commanded in Scripture, it violates the Regulative Principle of Worship and it is will-worship (c.f. Lev. 10:1-2) that God rejects. Fourthly, by drawing on the elements of sight and sound (or silence), it is a movement towards the type of worship that is seen in the Mosaic Covenant, and it is just as obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Lastly, contemplative mysticism as a Neo-Platonic exercise is all about increasing one's being, of climbing the ladder towards God who has the most being. It violates the Creator-creature distinction, and as an introspective exercise causes one to look into one's soul instead of looking externally to Christ in His Word.

The apostasy of the churches continue. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The failure of conservatism in apostate denominations

In a conference I attended some time ago, there were some conservative PC(USA) people, who may have been from Fuller Seminary, present. For some reason I was present in a conversation where remarks were made about the denomination. It seems that while the leadership of the denomination is extremely liberal, the assertion is made that they could not offend the conservatives in the denomination who it seems pastor growing congregations, while churches pastored by the liberals are small and dying.

This came to my mind as I read this post by Rachel Miller. Following the link provided, we can see what this Fellowship of Presbyterians is about. It is interesting to note their stance on ministry, where they state:

Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.

It is highly likely that these "conservatives" are Barthians, especially as they omit inerrancy from their values. The key point to make is that these people are hardly conservatives. They are "conservatives" only when compared to the loony left wing of the apostate PC(USA).

A little leaven leavens the whole loaf. By continuing to stay unequally yoked in the PC(USA), these "conservatives" have paid a high price. Their witness for Christ is sullied; by their identification with false teachers, they have dragged the Name of Christ through the mud. They have confused their congregations at worst about what is truth and what is mere difference in opinion, and at best have installed in their congregations a latitudinarian attitude towards sound doctrine (if it wasn't present there already).

Lastly, false doctrine have infiltrated these compromising churches, with their embrace of egalitarianism and Barthianism. So much for standing firm for Christ it seems.

By choosing to implement some form of separation now due to the immorality of promoting homosexuality at the highest level, while not doing so due to the entrance of false doctrine, shows their inverted notion of biblical priority, which places theology above praxis although both are important. It's straining a gnat and swallowing a camel. Having compromised biblical teaching, they are hypocritical for trying to take a stand on biblical ethics.

We may be tempted to rejoice that more people are separating from the liberals. But what's the point if they continue to harbor false doctrine? What's the point of affirming morality while denigrating theology? Hell is full of moral people after all!

We should continue to call these "conservatives" to full repentance, not affirm them only when they merely reject one shibboleth. There is more hope for a person who believes the truth and struggles with homosexuality, than for a person who believes error and is a properly functioning human. The break of these "conservatives" with the liberals smack of self-righteous moralism more than any real stand for the Bible, and I wouldn't be surprised if the liberals think of them that way (obviously for other reasons than me). If they really want to stand for the faith, let them stand for ALL of Scripture, not just the ones they like.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The reality of the offence of the Gospel

In a previous thread, I have been having a interesting exchange with the author of the article I was critiquing, Steve Jones, an exchange which is very much worth reading. I would like to draw attention to (at the writing of this post, recent) comment he made:

OK, you've mitigated the guilt of religious killers. You've deemed all humans, even the most decent and loving, evil as Hitler. You've presented a theology in which people are responsible for doing what they're incapable of doing -- then punished horribly for not doing it. You've set forth an end-time scenario in which God burns people with fire, strips them down to the most depraved level possible, then hurls them into a place of endless toruture [sic].

Tell me, is that faith beautiful and appealing to you?

The question goes right to the crux of the issue. Can one see Christianity beautiful and appealing to us? Are we ashamed of sin, of hell, of the damnation of those who did not receive (not merely reject) Jesus Christ, and final judgment?

The offence of the Gospel shines through here. As it is written:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)

The Gospel message is death to the ears of those who are perishing. It is foolishness to them, morally repugnant and revulsive to their senses. Their very persons feel ill at the understanding of the Gospel message. It is a fragrance of death unto death for them.

Yet the Gospel message is life to those who believe. We see ourselves as creatures under a Creator. We see our wickedness. We see how wretched and blind we are. We know that God does not owe us anything, not even our lives. We grasp unto Christ, the Wisdom of God, for He is our only hope.

All Christians should be able to say yes, such a faith is beautiful and appealing to us. Not because we are sadists who love to see people in hell, but we see here the mercy of God towards us who justly deserve the same punishment. That all men are originally destined for hell due to sin is a reality, and that God is still just and loving if He wants to send everyone there. There is no injustice in God. Yet God has mercy on those whom he saves, freely of grace.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:1-5)

Amen.

Phil Johnson 2012 Standpoint Conference Session 1

Phil Johnson has given an interesting talk for the 2012 Standpoint Conference:

[HT: SharperIron]

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Contextual theologies and the bankruptcy of Liberalism

I have been reading up on third-world theologies recently. One thing that I soon perceived is that third-world theologies are the illegitimate offsprings of liberal theology. The cry for "contextual theologies" often comes from those who find that so-called "traditional" Western theologies are meaningless to the inhabitants of the Third World, and thus the desire to recontextualize the Christian message for their respective cultures.

It is not surprising that people in the Third World find so-called "traditional" Western theologies meaningless for them. Liberalism in all its forms (traditional liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy etc) are basically Western philosophies that are not grounded in the truth of God's Word. It is not surprising that Third World cultures do not find Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, von Harneck, Ritschl, Barth, Bultmann and others like them relevant.

Sadly, these Third World theologians have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Having abandoned Liberalism, the "theologies" they advocate have the appearance of relevance while being just as spiritually helpful as the liberalisms they have rejected. A more "holistic" theology that uses concepts meaningful to native folk religions and worldviews can seem more relevant, yet it is just as helpful for the people as Western liberalism has been for Europeans, who have been leaving the faith in droves (as seen in the dying churches of Europe).

Only the Gospel (which has been rejected by mainstream Western theologies since the Enlightenment) is totally relevant for ALL cultures. Only the Gospel is universally relevant. In their rejection of the bankrupt liberalisms, the Third World theologians are only continuing version 2 of the Liberal project. Such theologies are as nourishing as stones to the people, and ultimately cannot save them from the wrath of the Holy God who has revealed His universal message of salvation in the Scriptures.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The problem of contextualization: A Critique of Keller's idea of contextualization

In my reading into the writing of a non-Western theologian, Kazoh Kitamori, the issue of inculturation and localized theologies do come up. The whole idea of an "Asian theology" or "Japanese theology" of course is just plain nonsense and is heresy against the catholic, apostolic faith as it is not catholic (universal) and not apostolic. Regardless, there is a softer version of this in the idea of contextualization. In fact, both of them flow out of the same font.

Tim Keller has produced a paper which from the looks of it was done for Covenant Seminary. The paper is entitled Contextualization: Wisdom or Compromise?. Last I checked, the paper is not available to the public, and I only have my copy because of a course I took in my winter term.

As the paper is probably not available anytime soon, I would summarize Keller's paper and then interact with the main issue at hand.

Keller's case

In this paper, Keller is putting forward a case for contextualization. According to him, contextualization is

... adapting gospel ministry from one culture into another culture by 1) changing those aspects of ministry that are culturally conditioned, and 2) maintaining those aspects of ministry that are unchanging and Biblically required. "Contextualization" 'incarnates' the Christian faith in a particular culture. (p. 1)

Keller argues that cultures may be good and bad, and that there is "no universal, de-contextualized form or expression of Christianity" (p. 1) Using the analogy of a stone and multiple colored globes, Keller opines that the Christian faith is analogous to the stone and the colored globes represent the various cultures of the world. The stone will always be in a globe, just like the Christian faith will always be inculturated. His point therefore is this: Christians (probably with Western Christians in mind) have their faith (stone) as understood within their culture (eg. a blue colored globe). When attempting to communicate the Gospel and the Christian message to those from another culture, one should take out the stone from one's culture and placed it into the new differently colored globe. So for example if a Western white PCA Christian were to attempt to communicate the Christian message to urban cosmopolitan New Yorkers, one has to take out the stone from one's blue globe and put it in let's say a yellow globe. The stone would thus look different when it is in the yellow than when it is in the blue globe.

Keller makes pain to state that he is against over-contextualization (and under contextualization too). He insists that the Gospel message cannot be compromised. What is essential must be kept, but what is not essential if it offends people must be removed.

The rest of the paper revolves around practice and the idea of showing how the Gospel fulfills the narratives of opposing worldviews, which we will not cover here.

Analysis and critique

Keller is right in saying that there is "no universal, de-contextualized form or expression of Christianity." Certainly, we should not make our culture the determining form of how Christianity is to be practiced. But does this mean that Keller's idea of contextualization is therefore proved?

The problem with Keller's view of contextualization is that it is based upon a Platonic, Idealist view of Christianity. Christianity in Keller's view is this abstract faith out there, which is incarnated into the cultures of their time. Thus the abstract Christian message is like the stone which in the beginning is already placed in a colored globe. Since the world has changed, cultures have changed, and therefore we should not continue to keep the Christian message (stone) within the old culture (e.g blue globe). Rather, we are to "contextualize" the Christian message (stone) by transferring it into the appropriate culture of the receptors (the yellow globe) so that the Christian message will continue to be heard as it ought to be.

One can see the similarity between Keller's version of contextualization and the liberals' version of localized theologies. Like Keller, they acknowledge the "cultural captivity" of the Gospel. In order to interact with other cultures, the Gospel (stone) has to be taken out of its western context and situated in its new context, be it Korean, Japanese or African. The only difference between Keller and the liberals is what each would categorize as essential and non-essential. Keller would, I hope, keep the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone to be essential, whereas the liberals have "moved" beyond that.

The problem with Keller's view is that the Gospel and the Christian message is not a Platonic ideal. The Gospel and the Christian message is revealed through history and in history. There is certainly an ideal archetypal message, but that is not what is revealed to us. What is revealed to us is the Gospel message as ectypically revealed through the prism of the cultures of that time. The Gospel message is therefore revealed through these cultural lenses, and cannot be separated from them.

Thus, Keller's (and the liberals') idea of the Gospel is not available to anyone. It is part of archetypal theology. There is no such "stone" therefore available to anyone but God. Only God knows the Christian message unmediated, not us. Therefore, it is impossible to abstract the Gospel message absent of its historical circumstances, and then re-contextualize it into a new globe.

When anyone therefore faces the Gospel message, it is an altogether alien thing, unless of course one lives during the time of the writing of the Scriptures. The Christian message uses the cultural forms of an age long ago. Thus, biblical exegesis and meditation on the worldview portrayed by Scripture is necessary to grow in understanding the Christian faith. Ad fontes! All cultures are brought back to understanding biblical truths as revealed in the cultural contexts of their time, and then reapplying them to ours. Such application is necessary regardless of whether one is white or black, German or Japanese.

We do not attempt to somehow decipher the core Platonic essentials of the faith and re-contextualize them. Rather, we bring the whole of Scripture together with its various cultural forms to bear on every culture. Every culture has to come to terms with the foreignness of the Christian faith before seeing the pertinence it has for all peoples in every culture.

Keller's view of contextualization is therefore unbiblical. By trying to bifurcate between essentials and non-essentials in his manner, it has more similarity with Adolf Von Harneck's kerygmatic theory than biblical Christianity.