Monday, September 29, 2014

Tribute to Pastor Ken Silva (d. 2014)

Pastor Ken Silva has recently passed away. Pastor Ken was the head of Apprising Ministries and was a key person in the development of the modern discernment ministries, specifically as he had taken over Christian Research Network (CRN) It was probably in the years 2006 to 2007 that discernment ministries were all the rage on the Internet. Pastor Ken was right in the thick of it, even earning a threat of legal action from Richard Abanes against his at-that-time IP server for his article on him.

It was during that time that I was struggling through issues relating to Rick Warren, Evangelicalism, and what had happened in the church I grew up in. CRN became the news I was reading concerning things in the Christian world. It was rather a tumultuous time for me spiritually and emotionally, and in the midst of the fog, I found CRN (and before that its predecessor Ingrid Schlueter's blog A Slice of Laodicea) to be a beacon for these uncertain times. For growth in the knowledge of God's Word, I have books like Robert Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, while I was helped in the apologetic front by people like Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and his Dividing Line podcast, and regarding philosophical issues I was introduced to the works of Gordon H. Clark. Nevertheless, ministries like Pastor Ken's Apprising Ministries sounded the clarion call, which I must say was not present before. I liaised with Pastor Ken primarily via email and it was a fruitful discussion. Later on, he invited me on as a contributor to CRN and I (cross)-posted some articles there.

Naturally, some people claim the discernment label who used it as a way to be mean and nasty. Nonetheless, the way I see it, the core centered on CRN are fine. Being on the frontline in some sense does invite controversy, and I am not without guilt in the way I might have sometimes conveyed my thoughts. I get to know various people, some of whom have become my friends.

Naturally, I wouldn't say that discernment ministries like CRN have not at times sin. We are all sinners saved by grace yet struggling everyday to mortify the old man. Pastor Ken has been a great mentor during the early times. As time passes, he began to suffer from an illness, presumably the same one that took his life, and slowly retire from the scene. As for me, I was drifting away from the discernment circles. Don't get me wrong. I have benefited from the clarion call they have sounded, which is refreshing compared to the mess of PC-correctness and little conviction, if any, found in Evangelicalism (because perhaps they probably do not believe what they claim to believe). But discernment ministries in general tend towards Fundamentalism, complete with Dispensationalism and a low view of the Church. It was about the time of my last post when I realized that my interests were diverging from that held to especially by the then-editor Erin Benzinger. A submitted article was denied publishing, as although it was still about the problems in the church, I had critiqued the issue from the viewpoint of the doctrine of the church. I am fine with that disagreement, yet it cemented my drift away from the mainstream of discernment ministries.

Pastor Ken and I traded emails rather infrequently, and I must say that I am sorry that I have not met him in person; flying to New Hampshire does require time and money. While many people, especially those in mainstream Evangelicalism, do not treasure him, I am sure he has been a great help to many. Pastor Ken is now in the presence of Christ our Lord, and may he enjoy his reward free from pain and illness, and that God will get the glory through Pastor Ken's life work and testimony.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

MoS: Bully Pulpit and Patriarchy

The recent Mortification of Spin (MoS) podcast has an interesting discussion on the issue of patriarchy, as least as contemporarily interpreted by those who are (over)-reacting to feminism. You can hear it here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Charismatic lovebombing and Reformed hospitality(?)

In Charismatic circles, and also large segments of Evangelicalism, there is a sense in which a culture that is seen to be congruous with Christian love is cultivated. It has been my experience that in the typical evangelical small group setting especially the ones I have visited in Singapore, there is a culture of love and acceptance. Within the small groups, people get to know one another and pray for one another. The more intimate setting of course contributes to the cultivation of such a culture of love and relative safety. The hothouse-type social setting is not necessarily bad, just that it is the social setting (analogous to family) that such intimacy can be cultivated.

Now while small groups have a somewhat checkered history within the church, whether one should now have small groups or not is another question altogether. The main issue I want to look at here is the related problem of what I would call "lovebombing."

There is nothing wrong with loving fellow believers. However, we are all still sinners and extremely selfish by nature. We look to our own first, and oftentimes not even others second. Small group settings however create a somewhat artificial setting; artificial in the sense that the default norm is one of care and concern. Thus, it is possible to create a place whereby love for the brethren is something done because of the conducive social setting, not because it is a fruit of the Spirit. One receives love and support from the group, and one reciprocates in kind.

The reason why it is called "lovebombing" is because a love that comes because of its social setting and not out of the Spirit functions almost like the real thing yet its nature is revealed particularly in Charismatic circles. There, the member is loved and accepted, unless and until he or she violates certain unspoken or spoken norms. This comes about especially when one questions the pastor's teaching as found wanting according to the standards of God's Word, which is not unusual in Charismatic circles. Suddenly, the love and acceptance began to disappear. The questioner is slowly but surely shunned. To have that second (or for some almost primary) "family" disappear is rather traumatic for the one shunned, which creates a huge pressure to conform to the group in order to "win back" their acceptance. The "love" that was once offered so "unconditionally" turned out to be conditional. Church members it seems can tolerate lots of moral weaknesses pre-conversion, but post-conversion, professing believers are placed into a covenant of works whereby grace and love is conditioned upon not committing serious sins especially those concerning doctrine and church leadership. Needless to say, "lovebombing" is not true biblical love at all, regardless of its superficial resemblance.

At the (rather) opposite end is what I have generally seen in Reformed setting, generally. In all my time in Reformed circles, I have yet to seen anything resembling the small group intimacy in Evangelical and Charismatic circles. I must say that Reformed people don't have any idea what to do with single males in general, except for real stupid advice like this by Kevin DeYoung (because you know, if you're single, it's your bloody fault that the poor lady over there is single. Man up, loser!). More and more, I am starting not to like family-based churches, not because families are bad, but none of them it seems have absolutely any clue what to do with singles! One of my impressions in a Reformed church (which I shall not name), was a meeting held by an elder for the singles, which includes me as the only guy and about 7 ladies all of whom I vaguely knew their names. Needless to say, I wasn't interested in any further meetings.

I consider myself as someone who focuses on doctrine more than whether I feel welcome in a church. But it has been very disappointing that hospitality in Reformed circles is generally lacking. While I think telling the congregation to welcome people in the beginning or end of a service might seem forced, perhaps it might really help to get people to greet each other. Families are generally welcomed, but the singles, not much so. We are the second-class members of churches that are preoccupied with families and children. Nobody knows what to do with us. And if you think about seeking the ministry, well, I guess we can forget that.

I do not agree with Charismatic and Evangelical lovebombing. But after nearly 8 years in Reformed circles, I don't know if the alternative is any better. Sometimes I wonder what exactly are we to do.

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

On the surface, Colossians 3:16 seem to militate against exclusive psalmody, and its variants. Yet the exclusive psalmodists have a way around this. They interpret this phrase "psalms, hymns and spirituals songs" as essentially meaning "psalms, psalms and psalms." Of course the whole thing sounds ridiculous, yet there is evidence that make this interpretation plausible.

Now, on the one hand, the contemporary notion that "psalms" refer to the 150 Psalms, "hymns" refer to older worship songs composed by songwriters like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby, and "spiritual songs" refer to contemporary Christian music (CCM) is anachronistic and misguided. Yet, on the other hand, the idea that Paul would waste ink to write 3 terms for one concept sounds stupid. Of course, we have to wrestle with how the words are used in the LXX. But even if the terms are sometimes used synonymously, does that necessarily imply that one is the same as the other? Does an overlap in semantic range imply total equation of meaning? I would suggest not!

Just because some psalms are hymns, some hymns are psalms, does not mean that all hymns are psalms; that is basic set theory. That is the problem with the traditionalist interpretation of the phrase as "psalms, psalms and psalms." What is needed is not a mere proof that some hymns are psalms, some psalms are spiritual songs, or whatever uses these terms have in the 150 Psalms. What is needed to prove their case is that the Scripture teaches that there are no hymns which are not psalms, or something to that effect. Otherwise, if all that can be proven is that some psalms are hymns, it just means that the categories of "psalms," "hymns" and "spiritual songs" are not distinct categories set in stone. One could very well be singing a hymn which is a psalm (of which there are quite a couple in the Trinity Hymnal). One could claim that we are singing a new "psalm," not one of the 150 Psalms, or a "hymn" or a "spiritual song" when we sing a contemporary song with lyrics derived from Scripture.

Work has to be done on the precise manner the three phrases have been used in the Greek, but the main point here is that it is unlikely the Greeks came up with the word hymnos to make it equivalent to psalmos or ode, words which predate the LXX I might add. Colossians 3:16, whatever it is precisely referring to, should certainly include the 150 Psalms, but it is not limited to them, unlike what the Traditionalists believe.

The RPW as ontological, or teleological

As I began to put more thought into the issue, it seems to me that the two competing interpretations of the RPW as to its application mark the difference between the traditionalist understanding, and my proposed understanding of the principle. The traditionalist understanding of the RPW deals with things (i.e. "instruments," "psalms," "timing," etc), and thus could be properly termed ontological. The focus of the traditionalist understanding of the RPW has the adherent looking for things. Is the thing "X" commanded in Scripture? If it is, then yes, we can use it in worship. If not, then it shouldn't be used in worship. This is how the traditionalist tries to justify archaic positions such as "no instruments" and exclusive psalmody. They argue that instruments are not mentioned in the New Testament (simplified argument here), and thus they shouldn't be used in the worship of the church. Inasmuch as the principle is applied to things, their arguments seem plausible.

However, if we look at Scripture, the focus seems to be on principles rather than on things. One would be hard pressed to prove that God is concerned with things in and of themselves as much as He is concerned with principles regarding the usage of things, even in the Old Testament. When God prohibited the strange fire in Leviticus 10:1-3, God wasn't saying there was something ontologically evil with the strange fire. The problem lay in a violation of the principle of coming before God in a way He has not authorized, not that there is anything ontologically evil in incense, fire, censors and anything else. In another example, even the holy bread that was "desecrated," as it were, in 1 Samuel: 21:6 proves that the bread in itself was not inherently holy. It was their proper usage that is necessitated, which in that particular exigency it became proper for David and his men to partake of it. Thus, we see that holiness is not ontological, and thus worships is not about ontology, but principles.

If principles are what Scripture is concerned about, then the RPW should be teleological and not ontological. The whole traditionalist application of the RPW is thus misguided at its very core. They are preoccupied with the wrong things (pun intended), and read things into Scripture that are not there. Take the issue of instruments and note how little the Scriptures actually speak about them in comparison. The absence of instruments in the NT is taken to be a sign that instruments are prohibited under the New Covenant, but that is an argument from silence. Perhaps the absence could be that instruments are seen as indifferent (i.e. adiaphora), as opposed to their role in theocratic Israel? Now, a mountain is made out of a molehill and so much ink is spilled on so little biblical data.

We note one major proof-text for the "no instruments" position in 2 Chron. 29:25-30, which I had refuted in the past. As I had said back then, to claim that there were no instruments in the second part is an argument from silence. Furthermore, the whole narrative is descriptive, so it's ludicrous to even think that this text has any implications at all on the issue at hand. The whole argument that instruments are linked with sacrifices only proves that instruments were used when sacrifices were offered. But since sacrifices are offered during the "worship services," why link instruments to the sacrifices instead of to the worship? In other words, are the instruments there because of worship, or there because of sacrifices? To link it necessarily with the ceremonial law is an exercise in spurious association (otherwise known as "Guilt by Association"). Worship in the Old Covenant is also correlated with sacrifices, yet no one has ever suggested that worship is linked to the ceremonial law and done away with, as they have done with instruments.

A natural way of reading the Bible therefore suggests that God is focused on principles rather than things. Therefore, the RPW must be applied teleologically not ontologically. That of course means that worship is not an eternalist activity, but it actually changes with the cultures and the times, an altogether present truth that traditionalist minimize by calling any changes they'll accept "accidents."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Worship, RPW, Time and Culture

For some reason, Dr. Clark has been repeatedly promoting his "Scripture-only" position of worship on his blog the past couple of days. If Dr. Clark or any congregation wishes to worship with Scripture-only or even exclusive psalmody, that is their prerogative. They can burn the organ, piano or guitar in a bonfire if they so wish. But the problem comes when they want to universalize it for all churches and all Christians, such that not worshiping as they supposed worship ought to be done is a sin. Such a position of course has always been the position of many within the history of the Church; no doubt about that. But that does not make it necessarily right.

Christianity consists of two main parts: belief (doctrine) and praxis (life), or just life and doctrine. One believes what Scripture teaches, and then implements it in life. When it comes to worship, there is also the doctrine of worship found in Scripture, which is the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). Then one has to apply this doctrine to the actual practice of worship. The issue when we come to the issue of instruments and the songs used for worship is that these are all applicational questions. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the commandment, "Thou shalt sing only the 150 psalms of David." No, such is a deduction exclusive psalmodists claim to be the conclusion of the RPW. Whether that is a valid deduction from the RPW however is what those of us who reject exclusive psalmody dispute. As we can see therefore, one cannot just claim "RPW" as if the RPW itself necessitates either exclusive psalmody (EP) or "Scripture-only."

A major factor ignored in much of the discussion over the issue is the failure to see one's historical situatedness and cultural standing in such debates. We have already established that the RPW is not the issue, but its supposed application by traditionalists. While I disavow the idea of a "non-white theology," it is true that those who are not from a European culture and coming from a non-Reformed background could see things that those within it might have missed. In such debates, why it is assumed for example that the metric is the way to sing the Psalms? Since the RPW in the hands of the Scripture-only and EP guys, everything that is not found in Scripture, every "element" which somehow includes instruments as an element, must be thrown out, why shouldn't we throw out the metrical rhythms, and the metrical tunes? Let's go back to Hebrew cantical notations (i.e. the "Selah" you see in the psalms) instead, since these are most certainly found in Scripture. Concerning instruments, why even use a tuner to establish the first note of the song? Those are instruments too, since they produce one or a few musical notes. Speaking of which, I sure hope those promoting EP and Scripture only are promoting singing in unison, not in 4-part harmony, since I am sure the Psalms in Hebrew do not consist of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass parts!

One might object that one has to somehow sing, and thus the metrical tunes are necessary. But why not just chant the Psalms? No metric needed here! We can eliminate another "element" from worship, the variations of metrical tunes that are "not expressively commanded in Scripture."

The problem with the traditionalist argument here is that, in its desire to be specific in opposing something that others want to utilize for worship, the RPW has been used as a catch all concept to justify the prohibition of using whatever it is (other) people are utilizing, while at the same time the stuff Reformed people currently use (i..e metrical tunes, tuning fork, pipes etc) are blindspots exempted from the "rigorous application" of the RPW. If those using the RPW in this manner were to be actually consistent, they should just stop the usage of tunes of any kind. Go back to chanting, and by that I do NOT mean Gregorian chants (which is still music). I mean the type of chant where there is little inflection of voice besides what is necessary to mouth the words, monotonal (any variations of tone would make it musical of sorts), and basically as far away from musical tunes as possible, since we are not given any biblically inspired tunes for the Psalms except for Hebrew cantical notation which we don't exactly know how to interpret and utilize.

If that strike you as being rather ridiculous, I'm just stating what the logical implications of holding to such a "rigorous traditionalist application" of the RPW are. If one doesn't want to bite that bullet, one has to reject the EP and Scripture-only positions. I for one are not going to bite that bullet, not because of aesthetics but because I don't even think the manner of applying the RPW has been properly framed. So yes, I am going on record as saying I disagree with the traditionalist manner of framing the argument with respects to worship, even if that means going against most of church history.

The problem with the traditionalist arguments is that the wrong questions are asked, so therefore one gets all the wrong answers. The questions are not: Which elements Scripture approves of? Is that an element or a circumstance (accidence)? Those are necessary to be asked, but such should not be the starting point of the debate. The question Scripture poses is: What principles God calls for in His worship? Is X congruous or incongruous to the maintenance of any and all the principles taught in God's Word concerning acceptable worship?

Our first attempt is not to use Aristotelian categories and ask the question, "Is this an element or an accidence?" God is NOT an Aristotelian. Last I know, there is no Book of Aristotle in the Bible. This does not mean that Aristotelian categories are not useful, but that is not where we go to first. Within each principle taught in Scripture concerning worship (i.e. the dialogical principle, reverence, God's speech of forgiveness or absolution etc), one can then pose the question as to what is a matter of indifference with regards to the maintenance of the principle (i.e. accidence) and what will affect the maintenance of the principle (i.e. element). Note here how the Aristotelian categories are re-tooled in a proper way. No more do we begin with Aristotle and ask a blanket question of what is element and what is accidence. Instead, we start with Scripture and let Scripture determine how we are to use philosophy to clarify how what the Scriptures says about worship are to be implemented.

Matters of application are always culturally and time-conditioned. That is just the way the world works. Head coverings in the first century AD were certainly not nice ladies' hats worn in the Victorian era, just to mention how the principle of head coverings has changed in its implementations. Similarly, the RWP does not have to be tied to 16th/ 17th century European worship, or even European worship in general. Like it or not, times change. Yes, people are still sinners. Yes, sin and wickedness do not change. But cultures do change, and the change in culture between 16th/17th century Europe and North America to the modern 21st century world is many orders of magnitude greater than the change in culture between 16th century Europe and the Ancient Near-East. To attempt to go back to 16th/ 17th century or even 1st century culture is naive. It only reinforces the cultural insensitivity of the church, and give people the portrayal of total irrelevance. Going to a church practicing these almost seems like a trip back in time, a reconstruction of the past almost. Now, if I want to see history, I go to a museum. Why do I have to go to church to worship the living God who still IS in the 21st century, by trying to go back in time to the 16th century? Do I not have museums to go back into time?

I hold on to the RPW. However, that does not mean I hold on to the traditionalist application of the RPW. Time is unidirectional, and while there is nothing wrong with people worshiping God like He only desires 17th century forms of worship, such is certainly not mandated by Scripture, much less do I think it wise.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Darbyite "ecclesiology"

The body of Christ, moreover, is more than just the sum total of believers on earth. While it contains all believers, it does not exist merely because there is a body of believers, but it is a separate entity into which believers are brought — a spiritual union accomplished by the Holy Spirit who creates the believer in Christ, hence as a part of His body. This union is a heavenly existence. The church is not earthly, but heavenly, since its existence is in Christ. The church would exist even if there were no believers, since the church is in Christ, and believers are baptized into a relation to Christ.

...

Darby does not refer to the assembly as a formal organization. Neither a body of professors nor an external corporation can occupy a relation of identity to Christ. Between Christ and the church as a society there is no organic connection such as exists between the members of a tree and the tree itself. Only individual believers are in Christ, as the branch is in the vine.

There is, in reality, no such thing as Christ dwelling in the church, if the church be viewed as something distinct from the individuals which compose it. If societies may be said to have Christ as their head, it is not by direct union, but mediately; that is, it is because the individuals of which they are composed as in union with Him. The societies may be churches of Christ, but is the individuals who compose them who are members of Christ's body. Only as the assembly is viewed as identical with the actual union of believers can it be said to be the body of Christ. [Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism: Its Historical Genesis and Ecclesiastical Implications (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), 112-3]

I had said that Dispensationalism doesn't really have an ecclesiology. I would have to qualify that further: Dispensationalism does have an ecclesiology, but an ecclesiology without an actual doctrine of the visible church.

According to John Nelson Darby, the founder of Dispensationalism, there is only one church, which is heavenly and objective. This we can see to be roughly equivalent to the 'invisible church.' Believers join this 'invisible church' through faith and purity of life and doctrine, which in Darby's view means joining the assemblies he is in charge of (and no other). There is no real corporate dimension in Darby's ecclesiology with respects to the visible church (only the invisible church), as each individual joins the invisible church as he or she is in relation to Christ. The outward assembly is not considered a "church" per se, except through the mediation of individuals who are members in the invisible church. In other words, there is no actual 'visible church' (according to the Reformed definition of that phrase) in Darby's system. There is only the one invisible church, and individual believers join local assemblies, which partake of the ecclesial status only insofar as their members are all pure in life and doctrine.

Darby of course emphasizes the "local church" or rather the local assembly of believers. He does see that to be essential to the expression of the invisible church. Here is where things get really strange, because it would otherwise seem incomprehensible how one can have such an emphasis on the "local church" yet one does not seem to esteem the visible church. In Reformed ecclesiology at least, the local church IS one particular visible church, and churches coming together in presbyteries and general assemblies constitute the expression of the visible church. Not so in Darby's system, where the two terms, which most people might naturally associate together, are divided. This is why I had initially thought Dispensationalism, at least the classical kind, has no actual ecclesiology, because the whole idea makes no sense to anyone coming at the topic from a Reformed viewpoint, i.e. it is marginally incoherent.

In Reformed ecclesiology, the visible church is expressed in particular local churches. Each congregation comes together to worship God and hear His word, and each of them are indeed churches. This is the visible church. They also are local churches. Thus, at the local level, the two terms "local church" and "visible church" coincide. They refer to institutions God has ordained for His people. To say that there are no direct relations between Christ and a body of believers (as Darby has done) is to deny the very idea of the 'visible church' as the Reformed have defined the term. Darby thus deny the doctrine of the visible church. His idea of the church is truly invisible, "heavenly."

Darby's promotion of local assemblies of believers however might confuse those who read his attack on the assembly of believers having no direct relation to Christ as being a denigration of the visible church. Since in especially Reformed circles, to promote the assembling of believers is to promote the local church which is a visible church, Darby seems to be both affirming and denying the visible church. However, if we look more deeply, we see that Darby dichotomizes between the "local" and the "visible." The "local church" for Darby is a collection of individuals, each of whom should have a relation with Christ. The "visible church" in Reformed theology however denotes the institution consisting of individual members (not a mere collection of individuals), with the institution having a corporate relation with Christ, not just a summary collection of her members' personal relations with Christ. Darby thus denies the "visible church", while affirming the "local church" in his unique sense of the term.

The extreme separatism associated with Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism does not arise because of a desire for doctrinal purity, as it is commonly thought. It arose out of Darby's unique ecclesiology affirming the "local church" while denying the "visible church." Because Darby denies the concept of the visible church, therefore the purity of the invisible church in heaven is brought into consideration at the local church level. Whereas in Reformed ecclesiology, purity is not the goal on this earth just faith and confessional fidelity, in Darby's thought purity is essential in the church. The Eschaton has in a sense dawned among the Plymouth Brethren. This quest for purity drives much of the controversies among the Plymouth Brethren, a quest in futility since Christians will never be perfect this side of heaven, not even in doctrine (although we should strive towards greater godliness in life and doctrine).

So yes, Darby has an ecclesiology, an utterly eccentric one at that. Reading this, now the whole focus on "local church" while denigrating the church in general makes sense, as well as how the doctrine of separation can be taken to the third and fourth degrees.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Philosophy of History: Redemptive-history versus evolution

Modernists, [Shailer] Mathews explained, "ask and propose to exercise the same liberty in the choice of patterns in their day as Clement of Alexandria and the members of the council of Nicea exercised in theirs." Modernism could best be defined, therefore, as a determination to use "scientific, historical, social method in understanding and applying evangelical Christianity to the needs of living persons." The idea that such a process accords normative status to science or secular culture instead of to the teaching of Christ was a serious misunderstanding, Mathews insisted, since the real starting point is "the inherited orthodoxy ... Modernists as a class are evangelical Christians. That is, they accept Jesus Christ as the revelation of a Savior God." Loyalty to Jesus, he declared, is at the heart of the Christian movement; "the Modernist knows no other center for his faith.

Since Christianity has always adapted its forms and language to particular cultural situations, the modernists in any given age have simply been those who were most candid and most creative in doing this. The forward movement of Christianity throughout its history has been guided by those who have discerned and responded to the social mind of a given era. [William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 278]

"Liberals," in the eyes of many Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, functions as a bogey man. It refers to some guy in a liberal university sprouting blatant heresies like denying the deity of Christ and the real authorship of the Gospel accounts. It refers to the crazy Harvard educated "clergy" lady who sprouts nonsense about worshiping the goddess and approving homosexuality. While that might be true in some cases, the stereotyping stops us from actually learning from the phenomenon of Liberalism, as if Liberalism always refers to something OUT THERE, and never or seldom arising from within.

Liberalism, while it is indeed heretical and a different religion altogether, is not some dimwitted philosophy or worldview. It is not the result of some anti-Christian conspiracy by evil men trying to destroy the faith. If one were to actually read the Liberals, as opposed to allowing them to remain as stereotypes and caricatures, one would discover that these men and women were actually trying to be Christian. That they fail does not make their motives any less pure. As it has been said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Liberal Christianity, of the Modernist kind, comes from within Evangelicalism; — that is the historical fact. Modernism for the most part does not come from within Socinianism or Unitarianism, or fringe sects like the Quakers. Unitarianism after Ralph Waldo Emerson does not even bother to be Christian, while Liberal Modernism claims to be Christian. Thus, however much Liberalism is heretical, it cannot be denied that the project was meant to be a Christian project from its beginning.

At the heart of the modernist project is its understanding of "progress" — its understanding of the movement of history. Call it the Whig theory of history if you wish, but it is perhaps better to see it as an evolutionary or Hegelian view of history. According to this theory, peoples and cultures are evolving towards perfection. The texts of Christianity, written as they are in the past, are necessarily outdated and thus the faith needs updating. What is important is not Scripture per se, but rather the "spirit" of the Scripture. Paying attention to formal doctrines of the faith is to be "legalistic," following the letter of the law not the spirit of the law.

Now of course one can decry the captivity of the liberal faith to the zeitgeist or the spirit of the age. One can denounce that it is importing philosophy into Scripture. But that doesn't go to the heart of the issue. Why would the liberals embrace such a view of history and "progress"? I would suggest that there are two main reasons: One is the rapid changes in real life and the seeming progress in scientific knowledge, and the second is a unitary view of knowledge. On the first reason, it is undeniable that scientific knowledge is increasing, and always will be increasing. Society does change, sometimes for the better. The feeling of "progress" is thus understandable and thus an evolutionary model towards better and better states seem obvious. On the second reason, knowledge has been held as being a holistic enterprise from ancient times. Thus, when the new sciences began to discover new facts about the universe, or alleged facts about the universe, using some sort of "ideologically neutral" method (as it seemed at that time), there is an impulse to explain how these and existing biblical truths cohere. Theology then must be seen as being "scientific," since the method of "science" is *evidently* unbiased and neutral (as they thought), and thus the door is open towards alteration of Christian truths.

As it can be seen, the modernist impulse depends on a particular view of history and a particular view of knowledge, both of which are taken to be self-evidently true, and the second reason feeds into the first. The presupposition of unitary knowledge implies that the progression in a certain field must imply progression in relations to other fields. But why must these two be held to be true? Knowledge could be multiform and multiple, while progression could be horizontal instead of vertical, quantitative betterment instead of ontological qualitative betterment of Man and society.

It cannot be denied that society changes. It also cannot be denied that our doctrinal formulations are culturally conditioned. But that does not imply that just because truth is culturally conditioned in our expression means that it is culturally and historically relative. That is because our ectypal truth, when true, is always a true reflection of the absolute objective archetypal truth of God. For those naive enough to think they can just go back to some form of "primitive Christianity," the varieties of "restorationist" and "primitivist" movements throughout church history, each claiming to go back to the primitive church yet strangely resembling the culture they come from, should give us pause. No one can escape their cultures. One can only minimize cultural naivete through recognition of one's cultural bias and historical situatedness. So yes, we are all cultural and historical creatures, and our apprehension of truth is cultural. But it is still nonetheless true and not relative just because we are in a different historical and cultural setting.

The framework of Scripture is that of redemptive history. There is always movement in redemptive history. One does not see a Platonic ideal in Scripture, and thus the restoratinist ideal is a mirage. The movement of redemptive history is a horizontal movement, not a vertical one, and this shows us how we should understand history.

If we look at redemptive history, we should be able to have a right view of history. History is indeed progressing, but it is never an upward progression, but a horizontal, eschatological progression. As opposed to Restorationism, there is real progress in history. As opposed to Modernism, the progress is not upward and neither is it a Gnostic idea of pitting spirit versus matter. Historical truths remain true despite their historical situatedness, and the only form of "contextualization" that should be involved is linguistic, not an alteration of it by appeal to some nefarious "spirit" behind the doctrines being spiritualized.

So yes, we believe in progress, or rather we should believe in progress. But we should not believe in evolution and evolutionary progress. Of course, this idea of progress has been shot full of holes after World War I and II, thus we have seen the ascendency of Neo-Orthodoxy and all the various "post-" movements (Postliberalism, postconservatism etc). Our understanding of redemptive history should show us the right view of history, and therefore we should reject both the nihilism of postmodernity as well as the Hegelianism of Modernism.

UnChristian?

The greatest danger [to the Church and the Christian faith] lay in a [movement] that insisted on defining professing Christians out of Christianity. ... [Name withheld said,] In the midst of a world situation that "smells to heaven," in the presence of "colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ's name and for Christ's sake, [a certain group of professing Christians] propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their [doctrine]. What immeasurable folly!"

Quick quiz, is this statement referring to

  1. watchbloggers,
  2. "haters"
  3. all how disagree with John Frame over "evangelical reunion"
  4. none of the above
  5. all of the above

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Answer: 4 (none of the above).

The full citation goes like this:

The greatest danger [to the Church and the Christian faith -DHC] lay in a fundamentalism that insisted on defining professing Christians out of Christianity. "Just now," Forsdick said, "the Fundamentalists are giving us one of the worst exhibitions of intolerance that the churches of this country have ever seen." In the midst of a world situation that "smells to heaven," in the presence of "colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ's name and for Christ's sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!" [William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 275]

Defining "professing Christians" as being non-Christians is not a new thing. It is in fact the traditional practice of both Reformed and Evangelical Christianity. Reformed Christianity defined heretics out of the Church, no matter how outwardly pious they might seem to be. Evangelicals with their revivalism define all without a "born-again" experience as being practically unregenerate, or at least that was what they traditionally did. This idea of defining professing believers as being non-Christians is clearly practiced by the early 20th century Fundamentalists, and this sort of "intolerance" is what the Liberal Harry Emerson Forsdick saw as "intolerance." Forsdick's view of course is not atypical. It was also the view of the 18th century mainstream Anglicans towards John Wesley, George Whitefield, and the Methodists.

Of course, without the context, the answer to my quiz could very well be 5 (all of the above). In fact, if you have actually thought through the quote without scrolling down for the answer, you might actually have thought 4 is the answer. This only goes to show how unbiblical 21st century [Neo-] Evangelicalism has become. The "unpardonable sin" among many Christians nowadays it seems is the sin of stating that such and such a person is NOT a Christian because of what He believes (or disbelieves). But of course, we have seen that this attitude of judging is integral to the Reformation and integral to the founding of Evangelicalism. So what exactly has changed since then? Who exactly is the one who's unChristian: the one who claims that those who do not believe in cardinal doctrines are non-believers, or the one who attacks those who do so? From a historical point of view, I think the answer is self-evident.

Next time anyone utilizes this same critique of "intolerance," inform them they are in the same camp as Christ-denying Liberals like Harry Emerson Forsdick

Thursday, September 04, 2014

On the history of creation science

The modern premillennial views that have flourished in America since the nineteenth century have often been based on exact interpretations of the numbers in biblical prophecies. The Bible, such millenarians assume, is susceptible to exact scientific analysis, on the basis of which at least some aspects of the future can be predicted with some exactitude. Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the influential dispensational premillennialists among fundamentalists all treat the prophetic numbers in this way. ... It is not surprising, therefore, that such groups who derive some of their key doctrines from exact interpretations of prophecy should be most adamant in interpreting Genesis 1 as describing an exact order of creation in six twenty-four-hour days. Fundamentalists, often with dispensationalist ties, have been among the most ardent supporters of the recent "creation-science" movement that insists on a young earth, and hence on an entirely antievolutionary view of creation. [George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 158-9]

Not all creation-scientists are millenarians, however. Another more formidable tradition in American Protestantism that often has supported interpretations of Genesis 1 and has influenced both American fundamentalism and popular American conceptions of Scripture is Protestant scholasticism. This tradition has been articulated most prominently by the Princeton theologians, such as Benjamin Warfield, who popularized the concept of the "inerrancy" of Scripture. ... Belief in the inerrancy of Scripture did not entail that it always be interpreted as literally as possible, as demonstrated by the allowance for long "days" of creation by most Princetonians and the allowance for limited biological evolution by Warfield himself. Nonetheless, for some who adopted the Princetonian formulations on Scripture the emphasis on scientific exactness of scriptural statements was conducive to views of those who insisted that Genesis 1 referred to literal twenty-four days. (Ibid., 160)

As opposed to Ron Numbers and Mark Noll, it is refreshing to read the better historiography of George Marsden. It is certainly incontrovertible that historically, the modern creation science has been greatly facilitated by Seventh-Day Adventism and the writings of amateur George McGready-Price. But the millennialism that gave impetus to the rise of the modern creation science movement, while it might be significant, is not the only stream that has contributed towards the resurgence of interest in origins and the belief in 6-24 creation. An altogether separate stream came about from the vestiges of Reformed Scholasticism, which Marsden here linked from the Old Princetonian tradition to the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. If this book were to be written later, he probably could reference the RCUS creation report as another example of the legacy of Reformed Scholasticism.

A good history would look seriously at the claims of others and avoid false generalizations, instead of writing a book merely for reasons of propaganda to legitimize one's embarrassment of one's former tradition, as Mark Noll did in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I must say that Marsden's history of the rise of the modern creation science movement is much better. Of course, the name of George McGready-Price and Seventh-Day Adventism will be mentioned in any history of the modern creation science movement, but a recognition that this is not all to the movement is a step in the right direction. While not exactly linked to the rise of "creation science," it would certainly be helpful for historians of creationism to look at the beliefs of fringe denominations like the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA), which holds to 6-24 creation, and perhaps look at the smaller isolated nonconformist churches in Britain and inquire as to their views on origins (I'm not saying that they will all hold to 6-24, but it would be interesting research nonetheless).

The issue of origins is more complicated than simplistic histories of creationism have made it out to be. If one really wants to know why people embrace 6-24, it would be better for them to ask those who hold to 6-24 why they hold to that view, instead of just lumping them all with kooks like George McGrady-Price and discounting them as intellectual Neanderthals.