Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Kong Hee incident: How should we respond

With Kong Hee and associates charged with financial misconduct, how should Christians respond? I have mentioned that we should first of all recognize that Kong Hee's teachings are false and contrary to biblical truth. Secondly, we should stand on the side of truth not blindly defending Christian pastors and leaders. Thirdly, we should recognize our complicity in tolerating this false prophet in our midst with our mistaken notions of "love" and "don't judge." Fourthly, we should pray for justice to be done, and for Kong Hee's repentance for his sins.

We should be grieved in our hearts over the matter. True, Kong Hee is a false teacher, but we should not gloat over his misfortunes. We should on the one hand be happy that the Lord in His providence has (at least temporarily) removed him from the scene through this scandal. Yet, we are not to gloat over his fall, no matter how well deserved it is (and he deserves far worse for his promotion of heresy in the churches). We are not like the unregenerate, beloved, or the Purpose Driven visionaries who throw people under the "Church bus." No, our goal is not the destruction of heretics but their repentance. God will judge those who persist in their heresies to the end.

So yes, in one sense, we can be relieved that God has temporarily removed Kong Hee from the scene. Yet, let us pray that this episode will be the catalyst for Kong Hee's repentance from his wicked deeds. Heresy leads to the murder of souls, and Kong Hee is responsible for the systematic murder of thousands and tens of thousands of souls. Just as God saved Saul on the road to Damascus, and saved wicked King Manasseh after bringing the Babylonians against him (2 Chron. 33:12-13), let us pray that God will bring Kong Hee to repentance from his wickedness into true faith.

James White versus Ed Young Jr

Dr. James R. White has recently did a Radio Free Geneva program demolishing Ed Young Jr's rant against Calvinism, which can be heard here. Ed Young believes that Calvinism is a different gospel from his, and I agree. Ed Young's "gospel" is indeed another gospel, the gospel of Sexpirement in which he and his wife manages to make Absalom's misdeed with his father's concubines glamorous (2 Sam. 16:21-22).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Word-faith "preacher" Kong Hee and others arrested

Word-faith prosperity preacher Kong Hee of the hyper-Charismatic City Harvest Church in Singapore has been arrested on charges of financial misconduct. How are bible-believing Christians to deal with this issue?

First of all, we must recognize the damage Kong Hee has already done to the Church at large. His promotion of Word-faith prosperity heresy and Dominionism has done untold damage to the cause of Christ. To put it nicely, Kong Hee is not a true shepherd of Christ.

Secondly, we must be on the side of truth. Christianity is not a party religion, where we side with our pastors and leaders even when they are wrong. Such behavior is more like that of a cult than of believers in Christ. Whereas the Campus Crusade incident occurred because of the malicious intent of non-Christians, this incident if true is purely Kong Hee's fault. Kong Hee was not hauled up for charges of preaching the Gospel or evangelizing people, but for financial misconduct. That charge alone if true should be enough to disqualify him from being a leader in the church, even if we disregard the other charges.

In the growing anti-Christian climate in Singapore, incidents like these give non-believers a chance to gloat, as if the failure of professing Christians mean that they are fine after all. The main problem however is this: Where are the Christian leaders who ought to have condemn Kong Hee for his doctrinal error even before other problems surface? Oh, of course we know where more of them are — keeping silent in the face of sin! The idea of "let's not be judgmental" and "what will unbelievers think when they see Christians fighting" etc ad infinitum ad nauseum. Well, if Christians do not judge sin within the church, the world will judge the Church when she commits major sins that even the unregenerate know are wrong. So Christian leaders and pastors, you want to be nice and be "loving" and not rock the boat? Well, I have bad news for you: God will use the world as His instrument of judgment. You think Christian critics (like me) are "haters"? Wait till you see how vicious the world can be!

In this time, let us pray. Let us first of all repent of our complicity in the sin, by keeping silent when we ought to have spoken up. Judgment after all begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Let us pray for justice to be done in this matter. Let us pray for Kong Hee's repentance of his many sins and heresies, especially his catering to his wife's rebellion in pursuing a career in Hollywood especially with her sensual China Wine MTV video [Warning: Very sensual]. May the Lord use this episode for cleansing His Church

Monday, June 25, 2012

Verbal Plenary Inspiration and the charge of worshiping the Bible

The charge against a biblical view of the verbal plenary inspiration (VPI) of the Scriptures has been that such makes the Bible a "paper pope," and therefore those who hold to that position worship a book. Against this charge, Gordon Clark has excellently refuted it as follows:

This caricature [by the VPI-denying liberals] stems from their materialistic turn of mind; a naturalism that may not be apparent in other discussions, but that which comes to the surface when they direct their fire against fundamentalism. They think of the Bible as a material book, with paper contents, and a leather binding. That the contents are the thoughts of God, expressed in God's own words, is a position to which they are so invincibly antagonistic that they canot even admit it to be the position of a fundamentalist [i.e. Bible-believing Christian].

[Gordon H. Clark, "The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark," in The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark Vol. 7 (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2009), 60]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Presupositionalism and Sense Experience

The Vantillian attack against Clarkian epistemology has so far seem to be based upon blatant misrepresentation and failure of logical thinking. One direction of attack which Vantillians such as Greg Bahnsen has advocated is the objection of sense experience.

According to Greg Bahnsen:

ARGUMENT I — Clark contends:

P1. Any position that leads to skepticism is false

P2. Empiricism leads to skepticism.

C1.: Empiricism is false.

ARGUMENT II — Furthermore, Clark argues:

P3. Man cannot know anything through his senses (from C1).

P4. Human knowledge is limited to the contents of divine revelation (The Bible).

P5. But man cannot know the content of the Bible save through his senses.

C2. Therefore, man cannot know the truths God has revealed in the Bible.

ARGUMENT III

P6. The only knowledge available to man is contained in the Bible (from P4).

P7. But, for Clark, man cannot attain this knowledge (from C2).

C3. It follows that Clark's view reduces to skepticism.

C4. It follows further that Clark's view is false (from P1).

[Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (ed. Joel McDurmon; Powder Springs, GA: American Vision & Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media, 2008, 2011), 194]

The issue arises from premise 5. If Bahnsen has accurately represented the problem, then of course he is right in his argument.

Leaving aside discussion of premise 4 for now and granting its truth for the sake of argument, the main problem with premise 5 comes about through the confusion between senses functioning as the instruments and as the grounds. Bahnsen's error is that he does not differentiate between the two. For example, in justification the grounds of justification is Christ's merit, and the instrument of justification is faith. To confuse the two would be fatal, for making faith the ground would imply that our faith is meritorious towards our salvation.

Likewise, if we claim that the senses are instruments for knowing and not the grounds for knowing, that implies that knowledge is not dependent upon the use of the senses; only our process of knowing is dependent upon the senses. Therefore, both Bahnsen's premise 5 and conclusion 2 are amphibolies.

To clarify Clark's argument, we should amend the argument as follows:

ARGUMENT II

P3*. Man cannot know anything based upon his senses (from C1).

P4. Human knowledge is limited to the contents of divine revelation (The Bible).

P5*. Man cannot know the content of the Bible save through the instrument of his senses.

C2*. Therefore, man cannot come to know the truths God has revealed in the Bible without his senses. But man can know the truths of the Bible without grounding it in his senses.

With this amended argument, we can see that Bahnsen's criticism is invalidated.

The Vantillian critique should lead us to ask of Vantillian presuppositionalism some questions. Do the Vantillians mean to say that sense experience can help us to know the truth? If sense experience in some sense functions as part of the ground for knowledge, then Vantillianism does not have Scripture as its ultimate authority epistemologically.

To be sure, Vantillianism and Greg Bahnsen in particular claim that one must presuppose God and Scripture in everything. How this works out however is an ontological presupposition not an epistemic presupposition. In other words, all manner of knowing (e.g. sense experience, science etc) are legitimate tools to gain true knowledge. What Vantillianism teaches however is that these grounds must be ontologically corrected by a Christian worldview. In other words, a "Christian worldview" as an ontic entity, for the knowledge that comes from treating Scripture as the principium cognoscendi, norms all knowledge (viewed ontologically). But epistemologically, how one knows something is pretty much irrelevant.

Clarkian thought is true and proper presuppositionalism. Vantillian thought is presuppositional only in its ontological view of knowledge. In its epistemic grounds however, it is not truly based upon Scripture but regards all grounds and methods as legitimate as long as they are normed by a Christian worldview and thus presupposed God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Christianity, Verification and Falsifiability

[Greg Bahsen in criticizing Gordon Clark's alleged rationalism] The regulative demands of logic provide an atmosphere that envelops both Creator and creature. Hence if God should wish to speak to man, His revelation should be testable by the fourth book of Aristotle's metaphysics. He should be able to pass the test honorably. As Clark sees it, the sinner is not furthering his hostility against God and His Word by calling His revelation into question and subjecting it to the criterion of logic, but rather has the right and obligation to scrutinize any claim to revelation. (p. 151)

The very notion of proving God's existence is inherently misguided; God alone is adequate to witness to Himself. All of man's interpretive and discursive reasoning must be self-consciously subordinated to God and the authoritative direction of His Word. If the truth of God's Word were Clark's absolute presupposition, he would not consider it needing verification, or God's existence needing proof. (p. 154)

We are led to believe that Christianity would be undermine if certain proofs could be verifiably formulated. However, Clark should have maintained that Christianity salvages logic, not vice versa. (p. 150)

[Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (ed. Joel McDurmon; Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2008, 2011)]

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:12-19)

In Greg Bahnsen's posthumously published book, Bahnsen attempts to critique Gordon Clark's epistemology. In the process, Bahnsen showed an appalling ignorance of logic, misrepresentation of Clark's epistemology, and a misunderstanding of how Scripture argues.

One main critique Bahnsen has is that Clark promotes the fact that one can verify the claims of Christianity. According to Bahnsen, by making Christianity verifiable by logic, Clark places logic above revelation and thus is a rationalist. Scripture is no more the ultimate authority in Clark's system but reason is. But has Bahnsen even begin to understand Clark's epistemology, and even the basic concepts of logic?

The problem that Bahnsen has is that he fails to differentiate between verification and falsification. Verification means that one proves that something is right. If done via deduction, the form of the argument is some form of modus ponens. Applied to Christianity, verification would give an argument of such a form:

If X, then Christianity is true

X

Therefore, Christianity is true

Falsification however follows the form of modus tollen. Applied to Christianity, falsification would give an argument of the form:

If Christianity is true, then X

~X (?)

Therefore Christianity is false

The process of verification would make Christianity dependent upon truths discovered via either the empirical or rational methods or both. In other words, the process of verification would certainly make Scripture not the final authority. If Clark was indeed promoting verification, then certainly Bahnsen's critique would be valid.

The problem comes when we see that Clark is actually promoting falsification not verification. We can see this even from a quote used by Bahnsen to argue to the contrary. Clark is quoted as saying:

If the Biblical doctrine are self-consistent, they have actually met the only legitimate test of reason. This test of logic is precisely the requirement that a set of propositions be meaningful, whether spoken by God or man.

[Gordon Clark," Special Divine Revelation as Rational," Revelation and the Bible (1959, 37). As cited in Bahnsen, 151)]

We note here that Clark is arguing for the logical coherency within a system. Clark's argument can be described as follows:

P1: If [belief system A] were true, then propositions X, Y, and Z

P2: If X were true, then ~Z

IC1: Therefore, if [belief system A] were true, then propositions ~Z

[Consequentia Mirabilis!]

C: Belief system A is false

In form, such a reductio ad absurdum follows the similar form of modus tollens. In other words, even from the quote cited by Bahnsen, we can see that Clark is actually advocating for falsification and not verification.

In falsification, one can make Scripture one's final authority. In fact, unless Scripture is totally disconnected with the real world, Scripture must be falsifiable. Scripture in fact gives us a perfectly clear falsifiable criterion for Christianity in 1 Cor. 15: 12-19. The complex argument there can be boiled down to the argument that if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then Christianity is false and so on. The logical argument of this passage of Scripture therefore is as follows:

If Christianity is true, then Jesus rose from the dead

[Jesus did not raise from the dead]?

Therefore, if [Jesus did not raise from the dead], Christianity is false

The problem with evidentialism is that they argue based upon verification principles. Thus, they argue as follows:

If Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is true

Jesus rose from the dead

Christianity is true

Such an argument makes something other than God's revelation the ultimate authority, and is in fact false since the first premise is not necessarily true.

Christianity therefore must be a falsifiable religion. Clark is perfectly consistent in stating that Scripture is the final authority and also claiming that Scripture could be tested for its consistency.

Bahnsen's critique simultaneously reveals the problem with the Van Tillian approach. If one claims that one must subordinate logic to revelation epistemology (as opposed to ontologically), then one is saying that Christianity is non-falsifiable. For revelation to be primary epistemologically means that Scripture is beyond all means of testing. In other words, Van Tillians such as Bahnsen are logically committed to saying that even if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is still true, since after all we cannot elevate "facts" above Scripture. This sort of fideism makes Christianity no different from all other mystery religions that are disconnected from this world. Of course, Van Tillians are not consistent with their professed epistemology, and still believe the teaching of 1 Cor. 15:12-19.

Bahnsen's critique of Clark at this main point is totally without any basis at all. Bahnsen misrepresents Clark, ignores the arguments of Scripture in 1 Cor. 15:12-19, and fails his logic. Christianity is a rational (not rationalistic) religion, and it can be be subject to tests for disproval but never proved.

Mark Driscoll: A Pile of Dead Bodies behind the Mars Hill Bus

Chris Rosebrough in his latest radio podcast has exposed *Pope* Mark Driscoll's tactic of "blessed subtraction." One wonders why anyone think that Driscoll is even called a pastor since his conduct here is more like a hired hand.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christianity as Objective Truth

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:17-19)

...If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32b)

A large segment of modern Evangelicalism is not only pietistic, but hyper-pietistic. Believes are not only interested in issues of practical living, and how to be "better Christians," but also engage in seeking after experiences from God. Christianity is reduced to feelings and morality and spiritual experiences, and the one over-arching value has become not truth but "love," whatever that means.

Recently, I was emailed by an Evangelical who was into the teachings of Emergent House Church mystic Frank Viola, on how to be "nicer" and "more graceful" in my interactions with others. Now, I would be the first to admit that I am not perfect; I sin daily. But the issue is not so much about my sin, but this well-meaning Evangelical has bought into the contemporary Zeitgeist and in the process distorts the meaning of "love." True to the pietistic streak, he refuses to interact with what Scripture teaches and instead views everything through the lens of what he thinks "love" is.

It is extremely frustrating interacting with such people. In fact, after this particular interaction, I am moving towards the opinion that contemporary Evangelicalism with its hyper-Pietistic streak has mutated into a form of religion that is antithetical to true Christianity. How can one claim to be a Christian and yet refuses to deal with the teachings of Scripture is totally beyond me.

In 1 Cor. 15, we see how Paul argues for the resurrection of the dead. In the process, Paul states the available options starkly. Christianity is an objective religion based upon truth. Christianity is not a mystical subjective religion. Christianity occupies the same realm of truth-orientation as all theories of ultimate reality do, and competes with these theories (scientism, materialism etc) as their superior. Christianity is a total system, not something that one adopts for its practical benefits. In fact, if Christianity is not truth (e,g,. if Christ is not raised), then we have hope for this life only (e.g. Christianity as being helpful for you in this life), and therefore we are of all peoples to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19)

If Christianity is a mere subjective religion, then there is no reason to be a Christian. Let us eat, drink and merry, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:23b cf Is. 22:13). If Christianity is the type of religion which one adopts because it is spiritual, because it aids morality, because it allows one to meet more friends and get a life partner, or for any other reason, then why be a Christian? Karl Marx called Christianity the "opiate of the masses,"and there is no reason why he is wrong if Christianity is that type of subjective amorphous thing that contemporary Evangelicals make it out to be.

A friend of mine claimed that she only believes in what she sees. And if Christianity is merely subjective, she is right. Christianity demands faith and calls for a response only because it is objectively true. If Christianity is not objectively true, it is not worth believing in.

Miscellaneous responses to Roman conversion stories

Here are some articles dealing with the recent conversion stories to Rome:

CTC conversion stories — AOMin blog contributor James Swan interacted with the conversion story of Joshua Lim

Dr. Michael Horton addresses the issue of conversion to Rome:

Part 1: Rome Sweet Home?;
Part 2: Which Church would the Reformers Join Today? Avoiding a False Choice;
Part 3: Who's in Charge Here? The Illusions of Church Infallibility

.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Follow up to Joshua Lim

Here is my follow up to Joshua Lim:


Dear Joshua,

I would prefer to interact directly with you. A setting such as the “Called to Communion” site is not as conducive for the type of discussion I prefer to have. Nevertheless, I will interact with what is written in the com box as it pertains to what I have written.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

You claimed that they are very similar, but ultimately it was the “Petrine office that did it for [you].” The problem is you have only Rome’s word that Peter was even in Rome, Rome’s word that apostolic succession even exists, and Rome’s word that the Holy Spirit intended successors to the apostles to be infallible when they proclaim doctrine ex cathedra. You also have only Rome’s word that the Petrine office is limited to one location. In other words, you presuppose Rome to choose Rome. That is hardly a good argument for why one would choose Roman Catholicism over Eastern Orthodoxy.

Submission to authority

You claim that Roman Catholics submit to an external authority as established by Christ. But how do you know that such an external authority has been established by Christ? Again, you presuppose Rome to choose Rome. Eastern Orthodoxy will dispute that Roman Catholicism is established by Christ because they have fallen away from the patriarchs.

Next, you misrepresent the Reformed and Protestant notion of authority. We do not submit to “his/her own interpretation of Scripture.” I am surprised and sad that you did not even get the Protestant view of authority correct. How can you claim to be competent in rejecting Protestantism when you cannot even represent it correctly?The Holy Spirit is the one who brings people into the one true interpretation of Scripture. Your view denies the Holy Spirit and prefers a material authority over a spiritual authority. You cannot claim that such is totally subjective since Roman Catholicism claims to believe in the person and work of the Holy Spirit also. Similarly, you cannot use empirical evidence to attack Protestantism since the same empirical evidence of diversity works against the myriad views within Roman Catholicism.

The question is: Did the Holy Spirit promise to guide believers into the truth? Indeed, He has (Jn. 16:13). Therefore, your preference for Rome has absolutely no biblical authority at all, but rather you presuppose Rome to choose Rome.

You claim that “the moment a [Roman] Catholic disagrees with the Church, he goes against Christ’s own authority.” It sounds nice, but the problem is that you have yet to define who “the Church” is. Is the Church referring only to the present occupant of the Vatican? Or is the Church referring to the Vatican at the time of the Council of Florence? What happens when popes contradict each other, which is what we see with Pope Honorious who was anathemized by later popes? Or as I have mentioned: the contradiction between the inclusivism of Vatican II with the ecclesiastical exclusivism of Florence? Who is right? Vatican II disagrees with Florence, so regardless of what position is taken, all Roman Catholics disagrees with “the Church.” You either disagree with Florence, or disagree with Vatican II. Or will you settle for chronological snobbery in saying that the Vatican at the present time is right by definition?

The Nature of the Church

You claimed:

I joined the Catholic Church because I became convinced that if Christianity is true, then there must be a way to know and submit to its truth in a more than intellectual manner. In other words, there must be a historical and visible Church that is in substantial continuity with the Church from her inception at Pentecost, through the Early Church Fathers, through the Medieval and Reformation era, until today. Christ, after all, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.

The problem is upon what basis is this true? Why must there be a “historical and visible Church” &c if Christianity is true? You have further stated that Jesus has prayed for a visible unity, but why must a visible unity be an institutional one? I am united with my Baptist friends, even Charismatic friends in the Gospel, and such a unity can be seen in my fellowship with them. Why must I be in the same church to show forth unity?

Concluding remarks

You have consistently presuppose Rome to choose Rome. That is totally illegitimate argumentation. You have no real reason to prefer Rome over Constantinople. You don’t even have any real reason for not following Mel Gibson in his sedevacantism. Your whole argument is viciously circular, and the circle begins and ends in Rome, which has NOT remained the same throughout the ages.

Once again, I call upon you to repent of your apostasy from Rome. The Holy Spirit is available to all believers, and He is the only one who reveals the objective truth of Scripture to those who are His. You are sadly rejecting the Holy Spirit and rejecting Christ in choosing a material faith rather than one grounded in the Holy Spirit. For the sake of your soul, I implore you to turn from your present path towards perdition. It is not too late to repent now.


Ultimate, this is a spiritual issue, not a intellectual issue. Do pray for Josh Lim (and Jason Stellman) that the Holy Spirit will turn their hearts back to Him.

An Open Letter to recent WSC grad Joshua Lim

When I entered WSC, I came to know that one of the TAs (Teaching Assistants) for Greek was a more senior student by the name of Joshua Lim. It happens that I did not require extra help with my Greek and so I did not attend any of the extra sessions conducted by the TAs, and thus I did not really speak with Joshua Lim. Fast forward to today, and Josh Lim has apostatized from the Christian faith, publicly defecting from the Gospel at the "Called to Communion Confusion" website.

Here then is my open letter to Josh Lim:


Dear Joshua,

I have read your recent “conversion” testimony on the Called to Communion blog. As a current MDiv student at WSC, I am saddened by your public denunciation of the Faith and your entry to Rome. While I do not much know you while you were in seminary, I hope you will reconsider this action of yours and turn to Christ alone for your salvation.

Epistemology and Authority

The main issue that you have raised up has been epistemology and authority. You have found Reformed confessionalism highly dissatisfying, and think that you have found epistemic certainty and authority in Rome. According to you, Reformed churches stand as a “via media” and you find that the idea that the confessions having “’ministerial’ authority does not solve anything at all.” In your search for certitude, you have struggled through reading the writings of Protestant scholastics and Roman authors and even Karl Barth, and have finally decided on Rome.

I want to challenge you on the very idea of certitude that you are seeking in the first place, which you think you have found in Rome. Humans are not God. The Scripture has made it very clear that faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Absolute certainty cannot be found this side of heaven. One can have certainty, but only a certainty that is grounded on faith in the Word of God and the person of Christ.

You have searched long for certainty, yet you have searched in all the wrong places. Ultimately, Christianity is a religion dependent upon the Holy Spirit and His illumination of the truths of God’s Word (2 Peter 1:19), the Word which is the final revelation to us (Heb. 1:1-2). Christianity in this sense is a pneumatic religion. The Reformed Confessions are NOT the basis for the Christian faith, but rather they are what we think are the teachings of Scriptures codified in a format addressing various loci of theology. When we say that the Confessions have a ministerial authority, we mean that they have authority which is derived from the absolute authority of Scripture. Inasmuch as what they teach is biblical, and we certainly do believe that what they teach is biblical, their teaching is true and authoritative.

Hermeneutics

You mentioned that one cannot have a “pure theology” and you are right. But if you have taken the Modern Mind class, you should have known that. All humans are situated. We are all time-bound and place-bound and culturally-bound. The question however is not whether we have a “pure theology” but whether our philosophies are derived from the Scriptures or they are not. Interpreting Scripture is like a spiral, wherein one’s philosophy informs one interpretation of Scripture, which then corrects one’s philosophy. That is why Scripture commands us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2) which is effected by the reading and meditating on Scripture (Ps. 19:7-9; 119, 2 Tim. 3:15-17). Note that we are told to meditate on Scripture. Scripture is its own interpreter. Scripture is not an encyclopedia which one reads for mere information. Scripture is not a philosophy textbook either. To read Scripture is to immerse oneself not only in the words of Scripture, but the cultures mentioned in Scripture. The context of Scripture is not transcendental philosophical categories of thought, they are rather historical cultures — time-situated and particular. By filling our minds with Scripture through meditating on it, the Holy Spirit transforms our minds so that we know God’s truth, the truth of God which in seeming weakness is wiser than the philosophies of Man (1 Cor. 1: 18-24).

You have misconstrued the attacks against Biblicism if you think they are against the possibility of interpreting Scripture apart from the Reformed Confessions. The problem with Biblicism is NOT that they are trying to interpret the Scriptures. The problem is that everyone has a worldview which he brings to the task of reading and interpreting the Scriptures. The problem with Biblicism is that biblicists think they are merely interpreting the Bible when they are interpreting the Bible uncritically in accordance with their unspoken and unreflective presuppositions. Paraphrasing Dr. James White, the problem with biblicists is that those who think they have no traditions often have the most traditions, and their traditions color their interpretations. I myself have seen many people like that who claim to be only “interpreting the Bible.” The critique against Biblicism does not mean that the Scriptures are unclear if not interpreted apart from the Reformed Confessions. In fact, if one can find a truly unbiased, objective and sinless person and he goes off into the woods and read the Scriptures by himself, I would venture to say that person could derive the true truths of Scripture on his own. The problem is that there are no such persons around. That is why we read Scripture, and read Scripture in interaction with other theologians and the confessions, because the problem is not with Scripture, but the problem is with us the readers. Others help us to see our blind spots in our interpretations of Scripture, but they do not interpret Scripture for us.

You mentioned that you were given the impression that “what the Anabaptists allegedly lacked was the tradition that Calvin and Luther as well as many other Protestant scholastics had never intended to let go.” I’m sorry if this is the only thing you have gotten out of classes. The problem with the Anabaptists is that as biblicists, they were interpreting Scripture with their own colored lenses and thus not truly interpreting Scripture as Scripture ought to be interpreted. By abandoning interaction with the other theologians throughout church history, they ended up interpreting Scripture according to their own preconceived ideas which is certainly not what Scripture teaches. The radical impulse has always created such errant interpretations of Scripture, not because they were wrong as they did not have tradition, but because in rejecting interaction with tradition, they ended up distorting Scripture by unreflectively utilizing the most [contemporary] traditions in their interpretation.

In your process of conversion, you claim that you “tried to understand how other traditions understood Scripture,” and that you “often found these competing interpretations to be, in their own right, very compelling.” While certainly understanding the other points of views are necessary to understand them, yet you have failed to question if the questions and answers that these other traditions bring to the text are themselves derived from the text of Scripture. As it was said, Scripture determines the context for our questions, and our questions and our answers. Scripture is not a philosopher’s handbook or an encyclopedia. Scripture answers the questions Scripture asks. It is absolutely irrelevant whether one can find an answer from Scripture for a question one has which is not asked by Scripture itself in any fashion. Likewise, you should NOT have read the Bible in such a manner, as if Scripture is an answer book for philosophical and theological questions.

I find it disturbing that your change in the way you read Scripture comes about by reading Karl Barth. To put it bluntly, Karl Barth is a heretic and certainly not Reformed, regardless of what he calls himself. First of all, our primary allegiance should not be to the “Reformed tradition” but rather to Scripture. Even if a Reformed minister or church should preach another gospel other than the one proclaimed by Paul (and Jesus), let him/ it be anathema (Gal. 1:8-9)! You should not be buying any argument by any Tom, Dick or Harry that calls himself Reformed in the first place. Regardless of whether Barth is Reformed, and certainly there is more than enough evidence to show that he is not, Barth’s writings should be first examined on the basis of whether his teachings conform to Scripture, and they don’t.[1]

Historical issues

You have accused the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone as being something that proceeds from nominalism. First of all, you have to prove that nominalism is necessarily bad. Secondly, you have to prove that a “nominalist” interpretation of Paul’s writing on Romans and Galatians is false exegetically, not merely philosophically. You have also claimed that Protestantism is untenable as to its authority claims, as the “Here I stand” mantra could be repeated over and over again, leading to the multitudes of denominations.

Here I would challenge you as to your settling on Rome. You claim that Sola Scriptura leads to a plurality of denominations. How is that any different from the mess in Rome? Is institutional unity despite wide divergence in doctrine preferable from an honest acknowledgment of differences and a parting of ways? I’m sure you have heard of the Old Catholics and the Sedevacantists, who respectively rejected Vatican I and Vatican II. Within the Roman communion, you yourself acknowledge the wide divergence present within it. Why then do you have one standard for Protestantism and another for Rome? Why do you give Rome a pass on the multitudes of beliefs within her while you critiqued Protestantism about her multitudes of Protestant denominations, many of which are not even Protestant?

I will continue along this line. Why Rome and not the Eastern Orthodox churches? Rome is only one see. Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally has 4 sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria). Eastern Orthodoxy boasts “apostolic continuity” and even use the New Testament in Greek, unlike Rome which uses the translated Vulgate. Why did you “come home” to Rome, which split from the Eastern Orthodox churches in the Great Schism?

You claimed comfort in Rome as the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” But how can Rome even claim any of these adjectives? Rome is not one, unless you redefine “one” as being institutional, and even then you have to argue from Rome as the true church in discounting the Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics and Sedevacantists. In other words, you are arguing in a circle. How is your choice of Rome not arbitrary? Rome is not holy, with all the scandals involving pedophile priests and now financial scandal in the Vatican itself. I don’t think I need to speak of the pornocracy around the 9th to 10th century, of popes having children out of wedlock. How is Rome “catholic” unless you begin with the definition that Rome is the true church? Why are those who separate from Rome considered schismatic and not the other way around? Eastern Orthodox considers Rome schismatic, and if we want to count real estate and bishoprics, certainly Eastern Orthodox wins hands down. Eastern Orthodox even has the holy city Jerusalem, while Rome has the pagan city of Rome. How can Rome be considered “catholic” when it defines itself by fidelity to a particular see and not the universal Christ? At least Eastern Orthodox has a better case for catholicity than Rome, so upon what basis do you choose Rome?

Church and Gospel

The Church is defined by the Gospel, not the other way around (Mt. 16:18). Churches which compromise the Gospel message will have Christ warring against them (Rev. 2:14-15, 19-23). Visible churches do apostatize from the faith, with Rome asserting that of the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants. Therefore, there is no true “objectivity of the Church” apart from the presence of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is where the Gospel is present. In your testimony, you claimed that Luther felt that it was necessary to separate from the Catholic Church, Zwingli from Luther, the Anabaptists from the Magisterial Reformed, the Calvinists from Arminians, and on and on–all on the conviction that I have the correct interpretation of Scripture.

But is the mere act of separation shows a church to be subjective? The Roman Church separated from the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Great Schism. How does that not disqualify the Roman church as being subjective? Does a mere assertion of objectivity or continuity qualifies a certain church as being objective? Rome is not even consistent with herself. Read for yourself the differences between the strict ecclesiastical exclusivism taught in the Council of Florence with the inclusivism promoted in Vatican II. How does such an inconsistency help buttress the romantic view of having one church that has always remained the same (semper eadem) throughout the ages?

Given that individual churches can apostatize, why is Rome exempt from the possibility of apostasy? Unless one argues a priori from the infallibility of Rome, petitio principii, there is no way one can show that Rome is objectively the Church.

Your quest for certainty sought the wrong thing. Christ has never promised that any particular church will not fall away. Christ only promised that the Church as a whole will not fall altogether (Mt. 16:18), and this Church is defined by the Gospel. Your quest for certainty should be to seek the true Gospel of Christ, not the external forms of religious unanimity. Where the Gospel is rightly believed and preached, there is the true Church where Christ is. The Gospel is transcendentally true, not based upon one’s own interpretations. Paul was not speaking of a subjective Gospel when he pronounced anathemas against the Judaizers and all who would pervert the Gospel (Gal. 1:8-9), for a subjective Gospel that has as many interpretations as there are people can never be perverted!

And here we come to the crux of the issue: your eternal state. The fact of the matter is that Rome’s gospel is a false gospel, and whoever knowingly submits to Rome partakes in her evil beliefs and deeds. Rome denies the Gospel in the sixth session of the Council of Trent, pronouncing her anathemas against biblical Christianity, as it was pronounced:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Canon IX, 6th Session of Council of Trent)

Or another one:

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema (Canon XII, 6th Session of Council of Trent)

It matters little whether you think that there is any “signal of that pride stemming from work-righteousness.” What matters is what the Scriptures say about the matter. Paul is very explicit in his epistle:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith (Gal. 3:1-5)

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:3-4)

Regardless of the psychology of practicing Roman Catholics, the Scriptures are very clear that adding works to Christ’s work is an abomination to God and a repudiation of the Gospel, and earns one an eternity in hell, cut off from God and from salvation, devoted to destruction (which is what the term ἀνάθεμα, from the Septuagint usage of the Hebrew חרם means). It matters little whether Roman Catholics feel pride (or not feel pride) in their working towards their justification. Scripture is clear that Rome’s curse upon the Gospel means that Rome is accursed by God as preaching another gospel.

Ultimately, your quest for certainty is a failure. As many critiques you have of Protestantism is just as applicable or even more applicable to Rome. By not starting out with Scripture and to renew your mind according to Scripture, you are basing your knowledge and ultimately your salvation upon the philosophies of Man.

Josh, I hereby call upon you to return to Scripture for your knowledge, and to return to the Gospel for your salvation. It is not too late to return to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). As it is written,

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. …

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

(Heb. 4:1-2, 6-7)

Repent, Josh, and turn to Christ alone for your salvation. Repent of your illegitimate quest for absolute certainty, and for institutional oneness, and turn to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Respectfully,

Daniel H. Chew, M.Div student at WSC


References:

[1] On Barth, see for example Gordon H. Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method (Unicoi, TN: 1963, 1997) and Cornelius Van Till, Christianity and Barthianism (Phillisburg, NJ: P&R, 2004). Barth denies Sola Scriptura and redefines many Reformed doctrines like election, reprobation etc, so it is astonishing that Barth could be even considered as being Reformed

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ecclesiology and the Gospel

This past week we have seen the sad specter of the apostasy of Jason Stellman. While I have been working on something similar, Stellman's latest blog post interacting with Carl Trueman's article deserves in my opinion a brief rebuttal.

In his blog post, Stellman addresses the relation of the Church to the Gospel. In Stellman's new understanding, "closely identifying ecclesiology with soteriology" has "everything to do with Pauline theology." Stellman briefly gives two reasons why he comes to the conclusion he does. The first reason Stellman gives is that identifying a true church by the preaching of the Gospel makes the church a mere confirmatory agent of the Gospel that a believer already knows, instead of the church being the teacher of the Gospel. Stellman's second reason is that the mystery of the Gospel in Ephesians 3 is the collection of the Gentiles into the church, and thus the Gospel is the church and vice versa.

In response to Stellman's first point, we note two major errors he has made. Firstly, Stellman has confused the essence of the Gospel with the fullness of Scripture. Christians can discern the truth of the Gospel because of the Holy Spirit within them. But discerning the truth of the Gospel does not mean that believers know the fullness of what Scripture teaches. Herman Witsius had realized this difference and wrote thus in his book The Economy of the Covenants:

... it must be confessed, that in the present dark state of our minds, even the most illuminated are ignorant of a great many things; and that many things are believed with an implicit [tacit] faith, especially by young beginners and babes in Christ, so far as they admit, in general, the whole scriptures to be the infallible standard of what is to be believed; in which are contained many things which they do not understand, and in as far as they embrace the leading doctrines of Christianity, in which many other truths concenter, which are thence deduced by evident consequence, and which they believe in their foundation or principle, as John writes concerning believers, that they knew all things, 1 John ii. 20. ...

[Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man – Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity. (trans. William Crookshank; Original printed 1822; Reprinted Kingsburg, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990; Distributed Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), III.7.9. - Vol. 1, 376]

Witsius' idea of "implicit faith" or rather what I prefer to call tacit faith solves Stellman's problem totally. Believers know the essence of the faith and of the Gospel, but they know it vaguely. They need to be taught by Christ, the Church and her ministers in order to grow into the fuller understanding of the whole Christian faith. Therefore, believes can identify a true church, and yet still continue to need to be taught from God's Word.

Secondly, preaching and teaching God's Word and God's truth is not merely done to inform the uneducated. The Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), not merely a conveyor belt of cognitive information. The proclamation of the Word of God as a speech-act accomplishes what God has decreed for it to do (Is. 55:10-11). Such proclamation and teaching is of use to those who already know its truth, for believers need to be continually reminded of God's truth and continually need its encouragement, its reprove, and all its work in our lives. Therefore, even IF believers already know everything there is to cognitively know about the faith, they still require the Church to preach and teach them God's truth. Stellman's first point is therefore in error.

Stellman's second point confuses Gospel and Covenant. It confuses the Pauline Gospel with the goal of the Gospel. Just because the Gospel is intended by God to bring in the Church does not mean that the Gospel IS the bringing in of the Gentiles into the Church. Ontology is not teleology! The Gospel is not its purpose or effect. Stellman's second point is thus in error.

Stellman ends his post by saying that "After all, we're not evangelicals." But such is a strawman and betrays his ignorance of why Reformed are not Evangelicals. Reformed are not Evangelicals not because we disagree on the Gospel. The problem with Evangelicals is that they are not truly Gospel-centered enough! Their "Gospel-centeredness" as we have seen in Elephant Room 2 degenerates into a "Gospel-nomism" where merely mouthing the words "Gospel-centered" gives anyone a free pass to compromise the Gospel. The problem with Evangelicals is not that they are too individualistic, but that they are not at the same time ecclesiocentric. The Gospel is both individualistic AND corporate. The Gospel comes to each of us individually and then builds individual believers corporately into a church. Evangelicals gets the first part but not the second. We should not react to the errors of Evangelicalism by throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

Yes, we are not Evangelicals, but Evangelicals are not our enemy. We are not their exact anti-thesis! Are we so adverse to the term "evangelical" (which basically refers to the Gospel) that we want to disassociate ourselves from anything that sounds like Evangelicalism? Reformed is not Evangelical, but Reformed is NOT anti-Evangelical. Rather, Reformed is Evangelicalism come into its doctrinal purity and fullness. Reformed is to Evangelical what pure gold is to gold paint.

While Stellman wrote this post in response to Trueman's post, it can be seen that Trueman's analysis is not so wrong after all. Stellman's apostasy seems to stem from his deficient view of the Gospel and a deficient view of the Church. A "high ecclesiology" which does not come from a proper relation between the Gospel and the Church is a defective ecclesiology nonetheless, no matter how "high" it is. There is nothing meritorious about "high ecclesiology" if it does not actually stems from the Gospel and the teachings of Scripture.

Paper: The Prophetic Portrayal of Judgment against King Jeroboam

Here is another paper which I have wrote, this time on 1 Kings 13:11-34. An excerpt:

In this paper, we would like to look at the narrative passage of 1 Kings 13:11-34. While certainly within the larger framework, 1 Kgs 12: 30-13:34 is one large pericope, with 1 Kgs 12:30-33 and 13:33-34 forming the two ends of an inclusio, yet within this larger pericope we can discern two parts: 12:30-13:10 and 13:11-34. The second part has been termed the disobedience of the Man of God and its consequences by Werner E. Lemke, and we shall look into it in greater detail

[more]

Monday, June 04, 2012

The declaration of the 27th General Assembly on the issue of Creation

Before the PCA Creation study report was released, the 27th General Assembly (GA) of the PCA adopted an amended resolution by TE Joseph Pipa on certain issues concerning the doctrine of Creation. While not being dogmatic over how one ought to interpret the creation days, it shows that the PCA at that time did not intend that allowing for diverse interpretation of the creation days meant that views such as theistic evolution are to be accepted. It is one thing to disagree over the creation days, it is another thing to disagree over creation.

In light of misunderstanding by some that the PCA Creation Report allows for such diversity in views of creation, besides reading the Creation Report itself, perhaps looking at the resolutions adopted at the 27th GA would be similarly helpful, which can be found on pages 179-180 of the Minutes of the 27th GA.

  1. That Genesis 1 and 2 is an historic, self -consistent, and true account of God's creation of the universe and of mankind in six days;
  2. That Genesis 1 and 2 do not represent a mythical account of creation without reality in space and time;
  3. that Genesis 1 and 2 represent one unified account of creation and not two accounts that are inconsistent with each other.
  4. Concurring with our fathers, that God made all things directly by His command "That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.
  5. That the eight fiat acts of Genesis 1 were discrete, supernatural acts, and describe the creation of all kinds."
  6. That those things created by these acts were brought into existence instantaneously and perfectly.
  7. That God made Adam immediately from the dust of the ground and not from a lower animal form and that God's in-breathing constituted man a living soul, in the image of God.
  8. That God made Eve directly from Adam.
  9. That the entire human race, with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ, descended from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation.
  10. That each of the kinds resulted from separate creative acts, and that any genetic development is only within these kinds, thus denying macroevolution.

[HT: Johannes Weslianus]

Wes White on the PCA and the current evolution controversy

TE Wes White of the PCA has done an interesting podcast with Greenville Presbyterian Seminary on the issue of Creation, Biologos and the PCA. You can hear the podcast here.

[HT: Johannes Weslianus]

Sunday, June 03, 2012

2 Cor. 5:21 and the imputation of Christ's righteousness

... This passage [2 Cor. 5:21] teaches that Christ's participation in human sin enables humans to participate in the righteousness of God through union with Christ. The word ginomai ("become") is not a synonym for logizomai ("count"). So Paul does not say that "God imputed our sin to the sinless one, and imputed God's righteousness to us." We can say what the text says, no more and no less: Christ was made sin probably in the sense of carrying, bearing and taking sins upon himself, and those are in Christ share in the "righteousness of God."

[Michael F. Bird, "Progressive Reformed View," in James K. Beiby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds., Justification: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 149]

-

τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ. (2 Cor. 5:21)

He made the one who knew not sin to be sin for our sake, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21 Own translation)

The attack against the very idea of Christ's active righteousness continues. The so-called "Progressive Reformed" view (certainly "progressive" but not Reformed) joins with the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision in denying the very idea that Christ has an active righteousness which is imputed to believers. Rather, "Progressive Reformed" proponent Micheal F. Bird proposes that our faith is counted as righteousness before God, with 'righteousness' being understood as a status before God not a property transferred from Christ to believers (pp. 147-8).

In reducing all things to relational categories, Bird likewise does the same in his interpretation of 2 Cor. 5:21. For Bird, 2 Cor. 5:21 shows Christ to be "carrying, bearing and taking sins upon himself" and we "share in the 'righteousness of God.'" However, is that a viable interpretation of the text?

We note there in 2 Cor. 5:21, the two clauses are parallel to each other. Therefore, however one wants to interpret the action of "making sin," the exact same interpretation is to be applied to the action of us "becoming." Bird's semantic argument is discounted as nobody is saying that λογιζομαι is the same as γινομαι. The issue has always been the interpretation of this verse, not merely the form of this verse.

The traditional interpretation has been that Christ was imputed our sins, and therefore in the same manner Christ's righteousness was imputed to us, thus preserving the parallelism. If we adopt Bird's proposed alternate interpretation, then the question is asked, "In what sense does Christ carry and bear our sins?" If Christ actually became our sin, then that would mean that Christ was actually sinful on the cross, which is a heretical notion. If Christ merely died to pay the penalty for sin but did not actually carry sin, just its penalty, then to preserve the parallelism, we must also say that believers do not actually become the righteousness of God, but merely enjoy the rewards of righteousness. To throw the word 'union' around is vacuous, for what kind of 'union' are we talking about? If we partake of the 'righteousness of God' via 'union,' then does that therefore make Christ sinful as He partake of our sins via 'union'?

This type of sloppy exegesis by Bird is sad. If speaks of a failure to think through the logical conclusions of one's interpretation. Was Christ actually sinful at the Cross when He bore the sins of the world? How does Bird's language of "Christ's participation in human sin" and his interpretation of 2 Cor. 5:21 not leave him open to the charge of denying that Christ has always been sinless?

2 Cor. 5:21 has always been one of the key verses used to prove the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. It is so not because λογιζομαι or any of its cognates is found in the verse, but rather that such is the best interpretation of the verse in light of its grammatical form and coherence with other aspects of Systematic Theology.