Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick Fill-A, Political activism and 2-Kingdoms

Homosexual activists have been up in arms over the spin of Chic-Fill-A president's remarks re-posted on the Baptist Press. The personal remarks of its president has now created a firestorm of criticism from the LGBT and their allies, with threats of boycotts, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations from conservatives.

Politically, this whole issue is none of my concern. The focus of those ministering the Word is the Scriptures, not politics. I have no desire to take part in the "culture wars." There is the City of God, and there is the City of Man, and the two are not to be conjoined.

That said, it is naive therefore to think that those in the ministry can just play the 2-Kingdoms card to try to appear non-partisan. True, we are to be non-partisan politically, but let us remember that homosexuality is a MORAL issue first and foremost. Wanting to distance oneself from political activism from the "Christian right" does not give one the right to throw stones at them in the process. And trying to appear neutral over a moral issue is not biblical.

The question here is not whether one thinks that one should be politically involved in opposing the gay agenda. The question is not whether one desires to join in the latest skirmish of the "culture wars." The question is: Does one take a stand on the right to express biblical truths?

It is noted that in the interview, Chick-Fill-A's president did not even mention homosexuality, although it certainly is implied. The reactions of the homosexuals have once again given proof of the fascist nature of the movement. The homofascists are all about silencing opposing opinions. They are manifestly intolerant of all other opinions and desire to control the thoughts of everyone. In their twisted and warped worldview, anyone who does not celebrate homosexuality is guilty of "hate crimes."

Those who try to play the 2-Kingdom card need to really think this through. Does having a desire to be non-partisan mean that we therefore do not take a stand on a moral issue, which due to its nature has been very much politicized? If we do not take a stand on this issue, what happens when the homofascists attacked Christian pastors for saying homosexuality is wrong? Oh wait, it probably has happened already. Now, is that a political issue, or a moral issue?

Do our desires to appear non-partisan become so overwhelming that we therefore have almost nothing to say about homosexuality, since homosexuality has become so politicized? When asked about homosexuality, are we going to hedge so much and qualify ourselves so much, to the point of dying the death of a thousand qualifications, in order to try to appear "non-partisan"? Has the desire to be "non-partisan" becomes an idol in and of itself, with the pendulum swinging from idolatry to "Christian right activism" to idolatry in "non-partisanship"?

Taking a stand on homosexuality, and opposition to homosexual bigotry, is the biblical thing to do, regardless of whether it seems partisan. To be focused on the Scriptures and not be entangled in politics means one must be trans-partisan, not non-partisan. In other words, we expressed moral truths regardless of where they stand in the political realm. We should not try to express moral truths to appear non-partisan, and thus try to win over both sides by showing how neutral we are, perpetually sitting on the fence on such issues.

Morally, the homofascists are in the wrong. It is morally right to call out their bigotry and hate speech, and thus a moral imperative for Christians to do so if they have the ability to. This has nothing to do with being of the "Christian right." This is a moral issue, not a political issue.

That said, that is the limit to the Christian's moral response. After that is all politics. I am indifferent to the "Chick-Fill-A Day" campaign. I may or may not eat at Chick-Fill-A on Aug 1st. Being trans-partisan means that as far as I'm concerned, Chick-Fill-A is just another fast food joint which offers nice chicken. If I go, I go there for the food, not because they are for or against homosexuality. In this light, to boycott Chick-Fill-A because one is so fed up with the culture wars as opposition to the "Religious Right" just shows that one is not truly following 2-Kingdoms principles. Such a one is still reactionary to partisanship, and has not the ability to transcend it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stellman and the failure to distinguish terms

I have come to understand the gospel in terms of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father - Jason Stellman [Source]

Stellman's apostasy from the Faith has been saddening. In this quote, one sees the failure to properly distinguish terms and the different stages of redemption.

The Holy Spirit does give us the "New Covenant gift of the Spirit" and so on. But the fruits of the Gospel is not the same as the Gospel itself. Stellman does not seem to be properly distinguishing terms and concepts, but just mix everything into one big blur.

Terms are important in theological discussions. For example, Christians have always believed in salvation by works — Christ's work, not ours. Our Spirit-wrought works are a posteriori evidence of faith, and therefore it can be said that it is a posteriori necessary for salvation, while for Romanists Spirit-wrought works are co-terminus with grace unto salvation. The usage of terms and the order of the stages of salvation make all the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

It is not enough for Stellman to say that the Gospel includes all these spiritual things which he mentioned. Stellman has to show that this constitute the crux of the Gospel and not the fruit of the Gospel. If Stellman merely shows that the Gospel message includes all these in the text of Scripture, it would only go to show that he continues to fail to properly distinguish terms.

A response to the Called to Confusion's criticism of Sola Scriptura

One criticism leveled at Protestants by the new Roman apoologists is that there is no essential difference between Solo Scriptura (Scripture Only) and Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). This allegedly one of the reasons behind Stellman's apostasy, and likely behind Joshua Lim's and countless others' too. The sad thing is that the whole argument is rationalistic to the core and flawed throughout. As such, it shouldn't be given any credence by those who claim to believe in the power and presence of God and the Holy Spirit.

The neo-Romanist argument (Part 1)

According to these neo-Roman apologists, the difference between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura is that in the former, the individual is directly "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority." In the latter, the individual does so indirectly, by submitting "to others only when one agrees with them."

As opposed to these, the Romanist claimed that he submits to an "objective" church which is marked by apostolic succession. Such a definition of the church is supposedly "objective" without the subjective looking for the "marks of a true church" which Protestants use. The argument presented to prove his case is as follows:

1. According to solo scriptura, Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. [def]

2. If solo scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [1]

3. According to sola scriptura, Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority. [def]

4. If sola scriptura entails that each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential, then in this respect there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

5. If apostolic succession is false, then no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s.

6. If no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential.

7. If apostolic succession is false, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(5),(6)]

8. The doctrine of apostolic succession is false. [A]

9. If sola scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(7),(8)]

10. There is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. [(4),(9)]

First response

Before we go on further, what are we to make of this argument? First, we note that God and the Holy Spirit is noticeably absent throughout the entire argument. The whole argument is naturalistic to the core.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

To the new Roman apologists, the decision of choosing a true church and the true Gospel is an autonomous decision. Since it is an autonomous decision, final authority ultimately rests upon the individual. But Protestantism has never claimed that the decision of choosing a true church and the truth Gospel is an autonomous decision. Rather, it is something that is done by the Holy Spirit working within a person. It is not a choice so much as an acknowledgment of what is already there.

We believe that the true church and the true Gospel is extra nos. We do not get to choose it. It is objective and spiritual, and thus spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). The person of the Holy Spirit works within an individual's heart to recognize (not create) the true church and the true Gospel.

Thus, in the Romanist constructed syllogism, premise 4 is wrong. Sola Scriptura does not entail that each individual is his own final interpretive authority. The Holy Spirit is the only final interpretive authority. Yes, on the surface it seems that one person (e.g. Martin Luther) is the final interpretive authority. But that only shows that the Romanists are materialists in this regard. Just because the Spirit's work is invisible does not mean that it is not real. That the blind do not see does not make what those with eyes see wrong.

In the same light, premise 7 is wrong. In fact, it so blatantly contradicts Scripture in Jn. 16:13 that it is not funny. The whole argument for apostolic succession is circular to the extreme. Where in Scripture after all is the notion of apostolic succession taught? A dubious interpretation of Mt. 16:18 does not count!

This brings us to our counter-charge. It is the Romanists who are actually indirectly making themselves the final authority. The only difference is that their leap of faith is supposedly a final leap. Thus, as opposed to those who practice Solo Scriptura, the decision to make Rome the final authority is supposed to stop after they have made the plunge into the Tiber.

The Romanists claim that they submit to the church which objectively has apostolic succession. The problem is that the very notion of a physical apostolic succession is disputed outside Roman (and Eastern Orthodox and Anglican) circles. Therefore, one will only think that apostolic succession is objective only if one is in either of these three groups. Aside from that, upon what basis should anyone accept that apostolic succession actually exists and is unbroken (think of the problems posed by the Avignon Papacy)?

True, Romanism does not practice an individual choosing the church "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority," directly. However, it does involve an individual choosing to accept the claims of apostolic succession through "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority." In other words, the choice to think that there is such a thing as physical apostolic succession is a leap of faith to make, not an objective fact that can be proven.

Solo Scriptura and Romanism therefore are actually two sides of the same coin of rationalism. Both sides (the Anabaptist and the Romanist) refuse to deal with the person and power of the Holy Spirit. The Pietist decides based upon "a burning in the bosom," while the Romanist decides based upon alleged "apostolic succession." The biblical Christian however decides base upon the Spirit working through the Word. To use R. Scott Clark's categories, the Pietist errs with QIRE (Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience) while the Romanist errs with QIRC (Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty).

The neo-Romanist argument (Part 2)

The Romanists continue by claiming that Sola Scriptura is contradictory. Citing Matthison, they see a contradiction in saying that "all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture" (contra Solo Scriptura) and "Scripture is the final authority." It is then claimed:

But, if all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then it follows necessarily that either someone’s interpretation of Scripture is the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice, or Scripture itself cannot be the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice.

Second response

The problem with this argument is that it flattens the issues and thus present a false dichotomy. All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretation in the sense that there is no such thing as an uninterpreted naked text of Scripture. This is mere recognition that there is no such thing as a naked fact or naked text. But this is not to suggest that since there are no uninterpreted texts means that all interpretations of texts are equally valid, which is the postmodern position. Rather, by stating that Scripture is the final authority, we are saying as a synedeche that the Holy Spirit who breathed out the Scriptures is the final authority, and the Holy Spirit works through Scripture (Rom. 10:17, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Romanists think that putting forth this dichotomy would mean that one should chose for the insufficiency of Scripture. But the same argument can be used against Rome. Look at Rome's decrees and how many different ways they have been interpreted. Does Vatican II implies that people may be saved by earnestly seeking God without professing Christ? Do the many interpretations of Rome's decrees mean that Rome is not the "final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice"? Let's say Rome issued a decree to clarify what she meant, the process is then repeated over and over again.

In the Roman church, it is ironic that one gets to say that other fellow Romanists (espeically liberal RC clergy) are wrong. Why should one think that one's interpretation of Vatican II on salvation of those who haven't heard of Christ is to be preferred over the interpretation of liberal RC bishops? The dichotomy applies even more to Romanists, since it cannot be denied that there are many interpretations of Rome's decrees.

Final remarks

In reply to the tu quoque objection on the nature of authority, the Romanist claims that the difference between Romanism and Protestantism with regards to authority is that Protestants do not find a Magisterium and thus they retain ultimate final authority. That is a truly astonishing claim, because it is false. Reformed Protestants do have a "Magisterium" to bind the conscience. This "Magisterium" is the Holy Spirit. Protestants are not free to believe whatever they want to, which is the problem with Solo Scriptura adherents. And this is what makes Rome such an abomination — the Roman Magisterium usurps the office of the Holy Spirit in binding the consciences of Man.

The next objection of an infinite regress in interpretive authority states that one needs an interpretive authority to interpret another interpretative authority and on it goes. The reply by the Romanists is that such is true for a book but not for a person, since one can put a person in the dock but not a book. First, this does not work as an argument against Sola Scriptura, since the Holy Spirit is a person! Second, this still works against Rome because the Magisterium is made up of fallible human beings, whereas the Holy Spirit is infallible. Putting together a bunch of fallible human beings does not an infallible institution make. The way to solve a leaking bucket is not to put 10 leaking buckets together one inside another and then think that the composite bucket does not leak!

In conclusion, the new Romanist apologetic has been tried and found wanting. It is utterly rationalistic and materialist, making Rome a usurper of the person of the Holy Spirit in binding the conscience with her "infallible" interpretation, instead of the Holy Spirit's infallible interpretation.

I would rather choose the Holy Spirit as my "Magisterium." At least He is infallible always, sinless, loving, and true. These cannot be said of any human magisterium no matter how learned they may be.

Jason Stellman has officially apostatized to Rome

It has been in the making, but finally former PCA pastor Jason Stellman has announced his apostasy to Roman Catholicism. Stellman has fought the lure of Rome, and the Devil has won. The Church did not win because Roman Catholicism is a false church with a false Christ and a false gospel. May God be merciful to his lost soul.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The issue of hell and eternal punishment

Over at the Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson reviews the impact of Rob Bell's heretical book Love Wins, one year on. Johnson makes some interesting points. What I would like to focus on here, however, is his claims on the issue of hell as follows:

If sound and biblical thinkers could be persuaded out of believing in hell, they would abandon the doctrine. Most people who hold to the doctrine do so not because they want to, but they have simply been overwhelmed by the biblical evidence. For me at least, this is how my thoughts go: “I don’t want to believe in hell, and I can’t imagine the horrors of it, and I can’t imagine how and why it would endure forever and ever, but the Bible is so clear that this is the case, and I am bound to believe what the Scripture teaches.”

Johnson's reasoning is true as far as it goes. However, I would like us to consider one very much omitted aspect to the entire doctrine.

Most of the time, discussion on hell hovers around the aspect of God's love and the necessity of the fulfillment of divine justice. But should we not consider another aspect, the wickedness of Man deserving justice?

God's justice is no mere abstract principle. Damnation is God's rightful and just response to wickedness. God is not merely someone who reluctantly just *has* to send people to hell because they have *unfortunately* broken God's law and thus justice must be served. No, Man fully deserve damnation. Wickedness is absolutely abhorrent to God, and wicked men are an abomination to God.

We shudder at the thought of eternal punishment, and to some extent we should. But do we likewise shudder at the wickedness of sin? Do we recognize how abominable wickedness is to God and thus God relishes to get rid of the sinners who are in their sins? Just as those in pain relish to remove the source of their pain, so likewise God relishes to remove sinners in their sins from His presence. Do we recognize how disgusting all mankind is, apart from Christ, to God?

If we cannot grasp this essential aspect of the faith, we will always struggle to make sense of hell. And without it, we do not understand why God seem to be so "cruel," and our foundation for a belief in hell will always be shaky.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Message Study Bible?!

It has been said that Eugene Peterson's The Message is a paraphrase, and thus it has no say in the discussion over translational methodology. Well, somebody should inform the guys over at NavPress then. Introducing ... The Message Study Bible which is described as a "best-selling contemporary translation" of the Bible, not a paraphrase.

I content that The Message, and others like them, are the logical consequent of the Dynamic-Equivalence methodology. Since only the meaning is important, D-E proponents can only object to the Message by disputing that the meaning has actually been properly translated and conveyed. But upon what basis are we to prefer their interpretation of the meaning over the interpretation of Eugene Peterson's? Peterson after all is not a mere layman and had taught at Regent College! Are we going to stay at the level of word games?

Only when we repudiate this flawed philosophy and realize that meanings are not Platonic forms which exist apart from words (and is derived from them) can we properly repudiate the Message as a distortion of the Scriptures. Words and forms are important, even though we do not translate them woodenly. If we disregard them as accidental to the meaning, as the D-E translational methodology does, we have severed the link between language and meaning, and end up with neither.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Is the Incarnation of Christ a paradox unresolvable by human reason?

In the Incarnation, Jesus who is God became Man. Jesus Christ became and is now fully God and fully Man, united in one person forever. Is this an antinomy (a contradiction) or a paradox (a seeming contradiction) unresolvable by human reason?

The reason why the Incarnation seems to be a problem is because we are claiming that Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. Jesus is not 50% God and 50% Man. Jesus' nature is not a combination of divine and human elements. Rather, Jesus has a human nature, and a divine nature, and both are full natures, not partial natures. According to normal reasoning, shouldn't the addition of 1+1 = 2, and therefore 1 over 2 is 0.5 or 50%? But it seems that in the Incarnation, we are saying that 1+1 = 2 but 1 over 2 is still 1!

The problem why this conundrum exists is because we have a faulty view of who God is. If God is truly a se, which is to say He is who He is, totally other from us ontologically, then there is no equation of quality between God and Man. God and Man are not two different types of being, where on a continuum God has the most being, and Man less being. The difference between God and Man is infinitely qualitative, not infinitely quantitative.

If God is other, then there is no comparison with us ontologically. Just as an x axis has nothing to do with the y axis, so likewise the divine nature has nothing to do with the human nature. God and Man (and the Creation) are not opposites in a spectrum, but opposites in kind. So when Christ is fully God and fully Man, it is analogous to saying that x + y = (x + y). (x + y) is fully x and fully y, not half of each.

The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is therefore neither an antinomy nor a paradox unresolvable by human reason. It is only unresolvable when we we continue to think of God along Platonic categories of being, but when we alter our paradigm, the conundrum is easily resolved.

The pastoral implications of translational choice and philosophy

In preparing sermons, the preacher's goal is to exegete the meaning of the text in the original languages, communicate the sense to the congregation, and apply the text for the edification of the congregation. The choice of the Bible translation to use is thus very important for the task of preaching.

Since the goal is to exegete and expound the text, using a good translation of the Bible in the vernacular is very important. Practically speaking, does anyone wants to read the Bible text in, let's say English, and then correct it later in his sermon by saying, "Actually, a better translation would be ....," and then change the English text? Such would erode the confidence the people in the pew have over their Bibles. The impression given is that the Bibles they use do not actually convey the true sense of God's Word since the pastor is frequently correcting it. Therefore, what the Bible actually says is not available to them since most lay people don't know Greek and Hebrew.

But must the preacher change the English text? Since we are to proclaim God's Word, how can we not do so when something that the Bible teaches cannot be seen if one uses a non-literal translation of the Bible? Must we then omit teaching a truth of the Bible if it cannot be seen in a translation of the Bible that the people happen to be using? I hope not.

An alternative method promoted by the proponents of the Dynamic-Equivalent translation methodology is to use many versions and commentaries. Such would allow a person to get a much fuller sense of what a certain verse actually teaches. To this we ask: Is this even feasible in the context of preaching a sermon? Is doing a Rick Warren, in using multiple "translations" of the Bible, actually a good thing?

Utilizing many translations of the Bible in a sermon sound great initially. When one wants to teach a certain truth, one just finds the Bible translation that best teaches that truth. One therefore will not be seen to be correcting the Bible in order to expound the teaching of the biblical text.

Such reasoning however is flawed. First of all, not all Bible "translations" actually states what God's Word says. How can one know whether the pastor is choosing a particular translation because it happens to teach what he wants to say, which is not actually found in the Scriptures? Rick Warren uses "translations" such as the Message to give his teaching legitimacy, although the Bible does not actually teach what the Message claims it teaches. So how can the normal lay person in the pew actually discern if the pastor is using a particular version because that version actually expresses the sense of Scripture, or if the pastor is using that version because that version actually says what the pastor wants to teach regardless of whether the Scriptures actually teach it? To be able to discern, the lay person needs to know the original languages, and so we are back to ground zero.

The second flaw in such reasoning is this: How can one know which translation for which verse expresses the sense that is most accurate to that in the original text? Perhaps for one verse the NASB expresses the sense best, while for the next verse the NLT best expresses the sense, but how can the average layperson decide? In a sermon, presumably one can trust the pastor's choice of translation for a passage or verse. But not having any knowledge of the original languages, how can a normal person discern when he studies the Bible for himself? Use a commentary? So which commentary is the lay person supposed to treat as his personal magisterium to tell him what the Scripture teaches?

The fact of the matter is that the translational philosophy and methodology of Dynamic or "Functional" Equivalence actually erodes the confidence believers have in Scripture. It practically destroys the idea that Scripture is perspicuous, and creates new magisteria for the individual believer. Of course, the choice of a good translation utilizes the wisdom of scholars and theologians. But the role of scholars and theologians is to be an instrument to hand the lay people the Word of God so they can read it on their own for their own understanding. It is not the role of scholars and theologians to hand the lay people many "translations" and then tell them they have to return to them in order to understand what the Word of God actually teaches, since these "translations" are sometimes very diverse in what they claim the Word of God teaches. Scholars and theologians mediate the Word of God by preparing the Word of God in the language of the common people, and then the Word of God is to do its work! They are not to usurp the authority of the Spirit of God in making themselves the magisteria and the ones who will guide you through the maze of translations they have themselves created.

That is why it is very important to choose a good literal translation. The whole objection by the progressive "Functional Equivalence" promoters that all translation is interpretation totally misses the point! It misses the difference between lexical interpretation, which seeks to preserve as much of the original words as possible, and no-holds-barred interpretation, where whole phrases are interpreted according to what one *thinks* the Bible is actually teaching. It is the difference between holding that the Scriptures are above us and we should not presume to fully understand all the Scripture is saying, therefore preserving the text as much as possible, and between thinking that one has already fully comprehended the words of the text and thus is able to alter the words to make the meaning explicit. The former understands that our manner of knowing of God's truth is analogical. The latter thinks that our manner of knowing God's truth (not the content of God's truth itself) is univocal.

If we desire to expound God's truth while keeping the confidence of lay people in the Bible translation that they have, we should use an accurate translation of the Bible so that we do not have to change the wording every so often. True, some nuances cannot be seen because of the nature of translation, but it is one thing to explicate a nuance, and another thing to change the wording of a translation altogether.

Such therefore is the crux of the difference in translational philosophy and methodology. It is for the love of Christ's church that I stand for essential literal translations such as the ESV. We do not want any magisterium of scholars to stand between God's people and God's Word. True, God's people need guidance to understand God's Word, but guidance (through Bible study, tradition and their pastor) is not the same as being the foundation! We guide them by showing them how Scripture teaches what it teaches, and through the instrument of guidance the Spirit of God reveals the truths taught by the Word of God. Instrument is not grounds. Scholars, theologians, pastors are all instruments for the communicating of God's truth, not the grounds for its communication.

The Church must therefore seriously consider the Bible translation they are to use. Seriously consider the issue, so that scholars, theologians and pastors continue to be instruments for communicating the truth of God's Word, and God's people continue to be confident in their ability to read and understand the Scriptures.