Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The nature of truth and dealing with doctrinal differences

As mentioned previously, Tim Challies had linked to his reflections on a paragraph from Josh Harris' latest book Humble Orthodoxy. While Harris is most certainly not wrong in what he says, in that we should not take pride in being more doctrinally correct and use doctrines in a Pharisaical manner, yet such a scenario already betrays an even greater problem than merely having an individual who is being a "Pharisee" with regards to doctrine.

As I have written before on the nature of truth, the New Calvinist model of truth is anthropocentric in its nature. The only thing that I would like to add here is that this is not just the nature of truth the New Calvinists work with, but it is basically the modern view of truth that comes forth from the Enlightenment. As we think about truth, we ask ourselves, why would someone take pride and lord it over others over being more doctrinally correct? Doesn't it arises from seeing truth as an intellectual achievement, and knowing as work? But who gets to define what is the nature of biblical truth? If we see it in the way the Enlightenment sees it, that truth is what we truly gain in perception of reality, then it is no surprise that taking pride in one's doctrinal precision is natural. But if one sees truth from God's viewpoint as His revelation to us, not on our gaining and increasing our perception of who God is, then one will conduct himself differently.

Perhaps, instead of learning doctrines as how we learn math and science, we need to re-orient our understanding of the learning process itself. And instead of seeing those who strongly promote right doctrine as Pharisees, perhaps we should see them as those desiring the glory of God in right belief and right practice.

Christianity, homosexuality, and the imperative to lurve

Derek Flood had posted an article on the Huffington Post on the issue of homosexuality, and only recently did I see it. I normally do not want to interact with such nonsense, except for the fact that there are professing believers who are taken in by such drivel.

Flood's essential case is that Jesus did not speak about homosexuality, but rather He stands on the side of the poor, the outcast and the rejected. Mentioning the problems self-identified homosexuals face in life, Flood calls us to empathize with them, and, with Jesus, defend and love them just as Jesus did the same with the woman caught in adultery as described in John 8:1-11. Christians therefore ought to change their priorities and "focus on the critical issue of communicating love and acceptance to people."

This article does make a good point in how we are to love people, homosexuals included. However, from there, everything quickly unravels.

The first point we want to note is that Jesus DID speak about homosexuality. In the supposed "red letters," Jesus is on record as saying that "from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female" (Mk. 10:6). The context is on the issue of marriage and divorce. What we want to see here is that Jesus grounded the whole idea of marriage, and thus the sexual relation, as being ordained by God in creation to be between a man (αρσεν) and a woman (θηλυ). If the sexual relation, which is to be consummated in marriage, is define as between a man and a woman, it necessarily implies that homosexuality is wrong, for homosexuality speaks about sex between two partners of the same gender, not between a man and a woman. But Jesus did not only speak in the "red letters" of the Bible. ALL of Scripture is Jesus' words, for Jesus is the Word made flesh, and this Word is inscripturated in the Scriptures, the God-breathed (θεοπνευστος) revelation for us in written words (cf 2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:16-21). Paul's words against homosexuality as against nature in Rom. 1 is just as much Jesus' words as the "red letters" represent.

Secondly, Flood has a false view of the Gospel. The Gospel is not Jesus coming to stand on the side of the poor, the outcast and so on. Such a reading of the Gospels wrestle the Gospel narratives out of their biblical canonical contexts! It makes Jesus a modern man, not a Jewish man living in the theocratic era. Jesus was no revolutionary, but someone who agrees with the general teaching of the Pharisees, while denouncing their hypocrisy in not practicing what they know the Scriptures teach (Mt. 23:2-3), and in some places not seeing what the Scriptures do teach (cf Jn. 3:10). That Jesus "sided" with the poor, and outcast etc was because they responded to the Gospel, while the self-proclaimed teachers of Israel did not.

Once we look at the Gospels in their proper redemptive contexts, and read them as first century documents in a Jewish setting, and NOT 20th or 21st century narratives, our views of what the Gospel accounts actually teach will be different. Jesus today would be seeking those persecuted by the world, and denouncing the liberal theological academy as the modern-day equivalent of the Pharisees. They are the ones who add law upon law and erase the Gospel message for one that leaves people in their sins. They proclaim a message that does not and can not save, while putting barriers before the true Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Flood appeals to the narrative of the woman caught in adultery as portrayed in John 8:1-11. First of all, this narrative does not have textual manuscript attestations that it was originally in the Gospel account, as any reputable version of the Bible will inform you. This does not mean necessarily that the narrative is not part of God's Word, but I would certainly be extremely cautious in putting all one's eggs in one basket.

The issue here of course is that Flood distorts the teaching of the narrative. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the narrative is authentic. What does it prove? Does it prove that Jesus was defending and loving the woman caught in adultery? Did Jesus defend her? Where in the text do we read that Jesus said, "Well, since no one is without sin, therefore your sin of adultery does not deserve death?" While one can say that such was a trap meant to snare Jesus, since capital punishment can only be executed by the Roman authorities, the issue is that Jesus did in fact tell them to execute the judgment of the Mosaic Law. In Lev. 20:10, the adulterers (both parties) are to be put to death. And in Deut. 17:6-7, the eyewitnesses are to be the first one to cast the first stone. So when Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees to cast the stone, he is calling for the right implementation of the Mosaic Law. When Jesus ask those without sin to cast the stone, he is not asking those who are sinless to cast the first stone, for otherwise the Mosaic sanctions could not be implemented against those who commit such sins. Rather, Jesus has in mind that whoever did not sin in this affair of bringing the adulteress to him, that they should cast the first stone as a sign of their innocence with regards to this affair. We must remember that Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5: 17). If Jesus said he would come to fulfill the Law, how can He go against the Law in this one case? Rather, in light of the scribes and Pharisees' desire to implement the Law, Jesus basically told them, "You want to implement the Mosaic Law? Fine. Do it properly in its fullness." Remember that in Deut. 17:6-7 the eyewitnesses were to throw the first stone. Conversely, if they did not throw the first stone, the death penalty could not be implemented. Such happened in the case of this woman who was caught in adultery. When Jesus asked her where are those who condemn her, he was not on her side. Rather, in the absence of eyewitnesses, the sin could not be punished. Does Jesus know that she was actually guilty of adultery? Of course he knew! But just because someone is guilty does not mean that he or she is to be punished until they have been proven guilty, and in this this woman was not found guilty in the eyes of the Law. It must be realized that Jesus did not tell her here that her sins are forgiven, but that he refused to condemn her, and then He exhorted her to sin no more.

As it can be seen, an a-historical, a-contextual reading of this text absent from its Old Testament background distorts the true teaching of the text. The text does not teach what Flood is making it out to mean.

Now, to the issue of the sufferings of homosexuals, we are certainly to empathize with them. However, we must also see that (1) the sufferings in bullying is not unique to homosexuals, and thus the question arises as to why bullying of homosexuals are elevated above all other types of bullying, and (2) sufferings are not necessarily wrong. If the homosexual feels suicidal because of his or her homosexuality, that could very well be his or her conscience working reminding him or her or his or her transgression of the natural law. Apart from Christ, the Law mediates death and condemnation. If the Law is working upon their hearts, the last thing Christians ought to do is to try to undo that by dressing up the wounds the Law inflict. Those who do such are like the false prophets of Israel who cry out "Peace, peace" when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14). The Christian response is not to "communicate love and acceptance to them." Such is dressing or healing the wound of people lightly (cf Is. 6:14). Rather, the true loving response is to affirm what their conscience is already saying, to allow the Law to do its work of condemnation, and then to show them the Gospel by which they can be saved.

To "stand alongside" LGBT people and affirm them in the manner prescribed by Flood, without doing the biblical thing (which they will label as a "hate crime") is to actually hate the LGBT people. LGBT people are sinners in the hands of an angry God, just as all sinners are. It is manifestly unloving to affirm them in their sins. To "communicate love and acceptance" to them apart from the proclamation of Law and Gospel is neither loving nor truly accepting. And such will not work ultimately to help them. The conscience of a sinner is not going to remain quiet if professing believers "communicate love and acceptance to them." The Law continues to condemn them in their conscience, and any affirmation they receive is just like a painkiller that temporarily dulls the pain, but the root problem remains untouched.

Should we love homosexuals? Yes, just as we should love all sinners. And just as all sinners have to repent of their sins, so likewise homosexuals have to repent of their sins. For those who have repented, they will be washed and cleansed from their unrighteousness, despite how depraved and wicked they formerly were.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

And

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:10-11)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Challies and his continuous attack on "discernment ministries"

The New Calvinist Tim Challies has done it again, in offering a new article attacking "discernment ministries" in general on his blog. This post it seems has been precipitated by some negative experiences with some people or a group of people who weren't exactly very kind to Challies. Regardless, the main issue is that Tim Challies has decided that the best way to take revenge against the person who wronged him, is to condemn "discernment ministries" without distinction or exception, and smear them with the same broad brush as being essentially Pharisees.

With Challies' actions, I am beginning to suspect there is more to his reaction than just a New Evangelical mindset, although certainly that is a contributing factor. While not wishing to psychoanalyze Challies, seeing that he sees Josh Harris' paragraph in his new book as a slap in the face, of him being one of "those who trust in the rightness of our doctrine and look down on others," is he possible that Challies is projecting his own proclivities and temptations onto others? Just because Challies struggle with doctrinal pride does not mean that everyone struggles in the same way that he does.

As creatures who are not God, it is not up to us to judge the secret things of the heart. I cannot judge the motives of those who engage in "discernment ministries," whatever that may be. I cannot claim they are Pharisees, and that they are treating evil as entertainment, or whatever titles Challies throws at these people. Do I know ALL "discernment bloggers"? Am I, or is Challies God, that he can see into their hearts?

The tendency to want to psychoanalyze a person and discern his hidden motives is always present. Christians however who realize our own sins and the wickedness of our own hearts should be the last to judge the heart motives of others, unless they have openly made them known. We should accept what others profess, and only question it if serious incongruity emerges between one's profession and one's actions.

The problem therefore with Challies' posts are not the discernment bloggers, but Challies himself. Instead of praying to God about the issues, and pray for these people, Challies decided demonizing such people is the way to go. Such is the way of the flesh, and we Christians should not go that way. Why not suffer wrong for the sake of Christ (1 Cor. 6:7)? Let us pray to God for Challies, that he will learn to suffer and forgive those who hurt him.

Brief thoughts on the Peter Leithart trial

The final court of the PCA, the SJC (Standing Judicial Committee) has recently ruled in favor of dismissing the suit against Peter Leithart concerning his Federal Vision views. That this is a sad day for orthodoxy is surely the case.

The fact of Peter Leithart being a Federal Visionist seems rather obvious, especially in his public affirmation of documents like the Joint FV Profession. The Profession itself states "This statement represents the views of those who drafted it, contributed to it, and signed it." Therefore, by the fact that Leithart is a signatory, and that the statement itself claims that every signatory holds to the views expressed in the statement, it is very obvious that Leithart is a Federal Visionist. If Leithart claims to be orthodox in his theology, except he uses infelicitous language, then the question should be put to him whether he rejects FV theology? If he has a change of mind since he signs the statement, surely he should be the first one to request for his signature to be withdrawn, and denounce the FV theology as heretical. Why should anyone give him the benefit of the doubt that the meaning behind his "infelicitous language" is orthodox and in line with the Westminster Standards, when there is explicit evidence that he himself proclaimed himself as a FVist? If he has truly changed his mind, let him produce the fruits in keeping with his repentance from it.

With the Kellerites and the Federal Visionists flourishing within the PCA, one wonder how much worse it could possibly get.

ADD: Here is a reflection by a teaching elder on this ruling.

Baptism and Eschatology: Musings

In an interesting exchange I have had, the case for credobaptism was presented in terms of the redemptive historical paradigm of progressive revelation. In one line of argumentation, there is "this age," and there is "the age to come." The New Covenant belongs to the eschatological age, and since it is eschatological, the New Covenant continues to eternity. Infant baptism in this view belongs to this age, and thus should not be done under the New Covenant, since it does not continue to eternity. The Reformed view, according to this view, must believe that the New Covenant discontinues when Christ comes back, for after all those who enter heaven are those who believe in Christ. However, is such an argument sound?

First of all, it must be said that there are many things done in the New Covenant that will not continue to eternity. The special offices of the church will not be present in heaven, for there all will know the Lord (Jer. 31:34). There will therefore be no preaching, and there will be no Lord's Supper in heaven either. Why will we want to partake of the sign when the reality signified is present? Instead of the Supper, we will partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb, which probably does not consist of a small wafer and a small cup of wine. Therefore, the credobatist faces the same problem. Unless one wants to follow the Quakers, one cannot claim to be "thoroughly eschatological."

Secondly, this argument confuses the substance of the New Covenant with its administration. The substance of the New Covenant is the fullness of the Covenant of Grace, the revelation of the mystery once concealed. All of the Old Testament pointed to Christ and His work (Lk. 24:27), as a shadow to the brightness of the sun. The New Covenant will continue as to its substance, but its form and administration is adapted to the in-between times, the already and the not yet, since we are after all still living in this sinful world. The Eschaton will not usher in an even newer covenant, but rather will consummate the Covenant of Grace in the full redemption of His people.

One cannot claim the "newness" of the New Covenant as the automatic proof for credobaptism. Nobody disputes that the New Covenant is new. The question however is, "What is new about the New Covenant?" Just because the Old Covenant has certain practices does not mean that the New Covenant must necessarily change the practices done.

This line of argumentation therefore is not sound. While I respect my credobaptist brothers, they have to do better than this if they wish to convince us of their position.