Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Common grace and ultimate ends

One of the polemical arguments by the PRCA crowd against the doctrine of Common Grace is that, since all things work together for the damnation of the reprobate since they wickedly abuse without thanksgiving the gifts of God in this world, therefore whatever good things given to them will result in their damnation. Therefore, if the ultimate end is damnation, how can we say that whatever God gives is indeed gracious, since damnation is certainly not gracious?

The problem with this argument is that it confuses ultimate ends with penultimate goals. What do I mean by this? Let's take the issue of evil for example. The Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over evil. All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28). That means evil in the ultimate scheme of things is "good," in the sense that it results in the good of God's people. But do we therefore say that evil is good simpliciter? NO! Evil is evil. When someone does a wicked deed, that deed is indeed evil. God meant it ultimately for good for the elect, true, but that doesn't diminish its wickedness. So here we see that evil is penultimately evil, even though God intends it ultimately for our good.

Likewise in the issue of common grace, what the orthodox version of the doctrine of common grace (there might be other versions of "common grace" that I think are unbiblical) states is that God's kindness is indeed genuine, in the same way as evil is indeed evil even when God meant it for good. God's kindness is genuine even though ultimately the abuse of God's gifts will result in greater damnation. It is a genuine kindness, in the penultimate this-worldly sense. It is God's universal benevolence from His status as the Creator, and manifests His goodness to all He has made.

The myopia surrounding the PRCA's discussions concerning "covenant"

Forward by Pastor Andrew Lanning

In the following article, Prof. Hanko explains the doctrine of the covenant. The truth of the covenant is one of the most precious doctrines to learn, because it describes the relationship of fellowship between God and His chosen people in Jesus Christ. Even our earthly relationships are precious to us; how much more precious is the covenant relationship we have with God! Therefore, an article explaining the truth of the covenant is a welcome sight in this special report by the Salt Shakers.

However, not everyone is agreed on what the covenant is. There has been controversy for many years over important covenant issues. For example, who actually belongs to the covenant and enjoys fellowship with God? Only adult believers, or also infants of believers? All baptized church members, or only those chosen by God eternally in election? Or, for another example, how does the covenant relationship between God and man function? Does God sovereignly establish and maintain the relationship so that it depends on God alone, or must man cooperate with God in order to continue receiving the blessings of the covenant?

Different answers to these questions have produced two distinct camps. On the one hand, there are those churches that teach a conditional covenant. On the other hand, there are those that teach an unconditional covenant. The difference between these two camps is as vast as the difference between Arminianism and the Reformed.

In this essay, Prof. Hanko ably defends the Reformed doctrine of the unconditional covenant. He traces the history of the development of the doctrine, and then critiques the unbiblical doctrine of a conditional covenant.

An article such as this is timely for the church today. In our day, a gross covenant heresy called Federal Vision is sweeping Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The Federal Vision uses the conditional covenant as its platform for denying all of the major tenets of the Reformed faith. Eternal election, justification by faith alone, and Christ’s meritorious good works on our behalf all fall prey to the Federal Vision’s conditional covenant teaching. Reformed churches today that hold a conditional covenant, or those churches that wonder whether the doctrine of the covenant is all that important, do well to read this article and see where the teaching of a conditional covenant necessarily leads.

By God’s grace, may the Salt Shakers, as well as CERC and the Protestant Reformed Churches, continue to teach an unconditional covenant of grace. Our prayer is that God will use this article to establish his church in the truth of his sovereign, covenant grace.

[Andrew Lanning, "Foreword," in Herman Hanko, "The History of Reformed Covenant Theology — Conditional or Unconditional?" Salt Shakers: Special Report II (Nov 2014): 3-4]

Salt Shakers is the magazine (also an E-zine) produced by the youth of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC) in Singapore. Throughout the years, CERC has been growing progressively closer to the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America), and it has now called a PRC minister in the person of Pastor Andrew Lanning. The PRCA of course exports her hobby horses wherever they go, and her redefinition of the word "covenant" is exported around the globe.

In this foreword to a succinct article written by Herman Hanko, Lanning puts forward the typical framework the PRCA works with with regards to the concept of "covenant." Either one must hold to a "conditional covenant," or one holds to an "unconditional covenant." The "conditional covenant" is linked with Justification by faith plus works, Arminianism and such "heretical" doctrines like "common grace" and is the error behind the Federal Vision. The "unconditional covenant" of course is THE truth, at least according to PRCA polemicists.

The problem here is that the PRCA is myopic in its discussion of the concept of covenant. Traditional Reformed Covenant Theology is bi-covenantal in structure, believing in a Covenant of Works AND a Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Works IS conditional ("Do this and you shall live" c.f. Lev. 18:5, Gal. 3:12), while the Covenant of Grace is unconditional ("The righteous shall live by faith" c.f. Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). The Covenant of Works- Covenant of Grace schema mirrors the Lutheran distinction (note: NOT separation) between Law and Gospel. Therefore through this bi-covenantal structure, both conditionality and unconditionality are encompassed. Conditions (excepting instrumental ones) are linked to the Covenant of Works or Law, while the free (unconditioned) promises are linked to the Covenant of Grace or Gospel.

The myopia of the PRCA lies in its refusal to deal with the traditional Presbyterian and Reformed understanding on its own terms. It refuses to understand what bicovenantalism actually means or entails, while it continues in its naivete in its sub-conscious defaulting to mono-covenantalism. As I have stated before, and will continue to state this, the difference between the PRCA and Federal Vision is that the former is Monocovenantal Antinomianism ("Unconditional covenant") and the latter is Monocovenantal Legalism ("Conditional covenant"). In my honest opinion, both sides deserve the other; they are opposite sides of the same coin. Both sides deny the Covenant of Works, the former by making it gracious, the latter by seeing works and putting it into the supposed gracious Adamic administration.

The issue is easy to discern: Hosea 6:7 speaks of the covenant God made with Adam, and that Adam broke the covenant. If Adam broke the covenant, does it mean that the covenant is conditional? The FV says yes, and thus the covenant of grace (which was already in the Garden) is breakable and conditional. The PRCA denies that the covenant is really broken, even though the text clearly says the covenant IS broken. This she does by making the covenant made only with the elect and no person visibly. But this raises a whole host of problems, for none of us know who the elect are. The main problem however is that one cannot break a covenant one is not a party to, and so logically the PRCA must state that there are no such persons as covenant breakers. Those who break covenant only seem to be doing so, but since they have not actually been part of the covenant, they did not break any covenant when they left the faith. Whereas for those in the [One] Covenant, nothing they do will ever remove them from the Covenant, thus the Antinomian slant.

In contrast, traditional Reformed Covenant Theology with its bicovenantalism speak of covenants as both breakable and unbreakable. Adam transgressed the Covenant of Works, and likewise in the arena of Duty-Faith, people can externally transgressed the Covenant of Grace. There is a real breaking of the Covenant of Grace, externally. Yet internally, the Covenant of Grace is unbreakable, being conditioned on the full satisfaction of Christ alone. True believers therefore can never break the Covenant of Grace. But note here the difference: In the PRCA view, covenant breakers do not actually exist (or at least logically should not exist). In the traditional Reformed view, covenant breakers do exist as partaking only of the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace, and thus they fell away from that. There is a real sense in which someone in the Church can fall away if they are not substantially partaking of the Covenant of Grace, while that is not possible in the PRCA scheme.

Another pet peeve of the PRCA is to attack the idea of "covenant" as being an agreement, with a swipe at the Latin translation of foedus. Perhaps the PRCA want to deal with the Greek diatheke instead? Instead of attacking the concept of covenant as contract because of the Latin word, perhaps they wish to actually deal with how the word diatheke was used by the Greeks, and also the ANE background behind Genesis 15. One does exegesis before theology, or rather one ought to do exegesis before theology. To do theology and then to insist that covenant is not agreement because of its supposed theological implications is to be put the cart before the horse.

Perhaps one day the PRCA will stop beating a dead horse and actually interact with what others are saying, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

The technical view of "myth"

But many forms of narrative (including some that claim simply to recount what actually happened) are in fact governed by symbolic modes of organization. As Herbert Richardson says of myth, a significant form of narrative for our purposes, "mythical discourse rises at the level of the total story, the most complex level of linguistic utterance. The linguistic unit appropriate to myth is not the single word nor even the sentence, but the story." Thus, the truth of a narrative in this sense does not arise from the "correspondence" of its words or sentences to "reality," but from the coherence of the story as a whole. Just as a poem cannot be paraphrased conceptually without irreparable loss, neither can such narrative be. [Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 32-3]

When it comes to telling big stories about the order of existence, then, even if they are scientific stories, they will have religious implications. It is better to face this fact head on than try to deny it. ...

... myth is not science. Myth can be true, but it is a different kind of truth from the truth of science and must be judged by different criteria, ... . I would argue that the myths told by the ancient Israelite prophets, by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, by Confucius and Mencius, and by the Buddha, just to stay within the purview of this book, are all true myths. ... they are all worthy of belief, and I find it possible to believe in all of them in rather deep but not exclusive ways. (Ibid., 47)

Myth is a profoundly ambiguous word, so it would be well to be clear what Donald means by it:

Mythical thought, in our terms, might be regarded as a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors. The mind has expanded its reach beyond the episodic perception of events, beyond the mimetic reconstruction of episdes, to a comprehensive modeling of the entire human universe. Causal explanation, prediction, control—myth constitute an attempt at all three, and every aspect of life is permeated by myth.

(Ibid., 134)

In the evolutionary view, which I might add informs ANE (Ancient Near-East) studies, the mythic stage is where stories are created for the purpose of understanding the world. These stories are existential in purpose, where the goal is that the person can feel some manner of coherence in the world. As stories, they have no actual correspondence to reality, and do not need to have any. As long as a story can fulfill its existential function, it is successful. In this light, "true myth" merely means that the story is coherent, but it does not need to have any correspondence with reality, because "myth is not science."

In colloquial terms, "myth" signifies that something is fictional and thus false. In the technical discipline of the history and philosophy of religion, "myth" is stated to be "a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors," which when boiled down still means that it is false in the colloquial sense of the term, in the sense that there is a true correspondence to reality. It is in this sense that Christianity can never be said to be a "myth" or even a "true myth," for Christianity proclaims historical, philosophical and scientific correspondence with reality. Christianity is first and foremost truth, before it deals with the existential problems of Man.

It is here that I think Christians need to be careful about the unspoken premises in ANE studies. ANE studies, while most definitely not fully wrong, are not neutral with regards to their presuppositions. The turn to the narrative might sound nice and "warm" for those rejecting Modernity, but it comes with baggage that is antithetical to Christianity. Plus, unless you are a Charismatic, one shouldn't decide on a theory based upon how one feels, but upon what is true according to Scripture, even if one feels no warmth in the truth.

Language, Mimesis and Myth

In trying to describe such an evolutionary order, I have found Merlin Donald's scheme of the evaluation of culture particularly convincing. Donald shows how, in the coevolution of biology and culture, three stage of human culture—mimetic, mythic, and theoretic—developed over the last 1 or 2 millions years. The evolutionary process starts from the baseline of episodic culture, which we share with other higher mammals—that is, the capacity to recognize what episode the individual is in and what happened before in similar episodes that might give us a clue as to how to act now even though lacking what is called autobiographical memory in which the episodes are strung together in a larger story. We then proceed to mimetic culture, possibly as long as 2 millions years ago with such species as Homo erectus, in which we use our bodies to enact past and future events as well as gesture for communication. Mimetic culture, though primarily gestural, was by no means silent, and in all likelihood involved music as well as some beginning of linguistic capacity, though very simple ones. Dance may be one of the earliest forms of such mimetic culture, and dance is basic to ritual in almost all tribal societies, so, thought we can only imagine what it was like, some kind of religion may well begin in those early days. What is important to remember about Donald's scheme is that though he speaks of stages, earlier stages are not lost, but only reorganized under new conditions. Thus even in our highly verbal, and, to a degree, abstract culture, gestural communication remains basic, not only, obviously, in intimate life but in public, in our grand spectacles of sport or politics.

Sometime between 250,000 and 100,000 years ago full grammatical language developed, making complex narratives possible. Perhaps fully developed autobiographical memory depends on grammatical language and narrative and so emerged only then, or perhaps it was already foreshadowed in the mimetic stage. Donald calls the new stage mythic. Myth greatly extends the capacities of mimetic ritual in terms of what it can enact, but it does not replace it. All cultures that we know of have narrative culture intertwined with mimetic culture. I have tried to illustrate religions that are primarily mimetic and mythic under the rubric of tribal religion, being fully aware of how treacherous the word "tribe" is. But even when religions move to include a theoretic dimension, mimetic and mythic culture in reformulated ways continue to be more central; humans cannot function without them [Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), xviii-xix]

But it appears that what provided solidarity before the appearance of modern language was also more than language. Donald uses the metaphor of "language piggybacking on culture" to suggest that the appearance of language required the prior development of a complex culture in terms of which the move to language would make sense. It is the development of mimetic culture over a long period of time that in Donald's view provided greatly increased cognitive resources including the solidarity that grooming no longer, and language has not yet, provided.

...

Donald describes mimesis as an increase in conscious control over action that involves four uniquely human abilities: mime, imitation, skill, and gesture. Mime, he says, is the imaginative enactment of an event. Although apes have a rudimentary ability to mimic, mime involves acting out a sequence of events as in the pretend pay of children, a form of action that breaks with the here-and-now concreteness of episodic action. ... (Ibid., 124-5)

"... Modern humans developed language in response to pressure to improve their conceptual apparatus, not vice versa." Myth is a profoundly ambiguous word, so it would be well to be clear what Donald means by it:

Mythical though, in our terms, might be regarded as a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors. The mind has expanded its reach beyond he episodic perception of events, beyond he mimetic reconstruction of episodes, to a comprehensive modeling of the entire human universe. Causal explanation, prediction, control— myth constitute an attempt at all three, and every aspect of life is permeated by myth.

(Ibid., 134)

Religious reality is a realm of experience, to be sure, but it is also a realm of representation. In fact, experience and representation belong inexorably together. George Lindbeck has described the current major alternative theories of religion in ways that will be helpful to our exposition. The first theory of religion he describes is what he calls propositional. It sees religion as consisting of a series of propositional truth claims, stated conceptually. ... I believe that Lindbeck is right in arguing that the propositional theory of religion is inadequate as a major approach to religion and largely abandoned by scholars today. To identify religion with a set of propositions whose truth can be argued would be to make it into what more accurately should be called philosophy. ...

Lindbeck's second theory of religion is the widely influential experiential-expressive approach. This view assume that there is a general human capacity for religious experience that is actualized differently in different religious traditions. The experiential-expressive view in its modern form Lindbeck traces to Friedrich Schleiermacher, and in recent times it was widely propagated by Paul Tillich. The emphasis on B-cognition and the felt-whole in the discussion so far largely belong in the category of the experiential-expressive theory of religion. In one understanding the deep structure of religious experience exists generically in the human psyche. Particular religions are the surface manifestations of this deep panhuman experiential potentiality.

Lindbeck, however, opts for a third theory as most promising, what he calls the cultural-linguistic theory. The cultural-linguistic theory, which derives from cultural anthropology, particularly from Clifford Geertz, takes symbolic forms as primary, seeing them not so much as expressions of underlying religious emotions, but as themselves shaping religious experiences and emotions. I would agree that the cultural-linguistic approach is a valuable corrective to the experiential-expressive approach, but I don't think we have to choose between them. It seems to me that we can view them as coordinate approaches and that we need to move back and forth between them to understand the phenomenon of religion. Thus when I characterize widely different expressions as examples of Being cognition, I am not arguing that there is a subsistent reality of Being experience that simply comes out in different forms on different occasions. Rather, I am recognizing that there are some common human experiential potentialities that have recognizable similarities, but are inchoate until given shape by symbolic form. Once so shaped, their similarities are always qualified: the difference may be crucial. I am also in full agreement with Lindbeck that cultural traditions not only shape, they even call forth, emotional experiences. In short, we can see them as equally essential, like the Aristotelian notions of matter and form, and do not have to choose one approach as primary. (Ibid., 11-12)

Using evolution as the grand narrative, language, culture and religion have to evolve into existence, for apes do not really have either of these (and no, communicating via grunts while it might be basic communication is not language). According to Bellah, language follows after culture, and religion and culture flow from ritual, which comes from the mimetic stage of human development. Language is therefore a human element invented for the purpose of grasping the reality perceived. Flowing from mimesis and mythos, language consists of symbols invented by Man to attempt to grasp a perception of the world. Language is thus sensate from its beginning, and abstract thought arose only later in an attempt to go behind the already existing symbols.

It is therefore unsurprising that Bellah, when discussing Lindbeck's taxonomy of theories of religion, rejects the propositional approach and chooses and combines the theories of religion being experiential-expressivist and of it being cultural-linguistic. After all, in the evolutionary framework, religion is purely a human development stemming from ritual. It is a questing for meaning in the dark, a totally subjective search for a story to make sense of the world (i.e. myth). While religion is somewhat "denigrated," philosophy (as theoretic thought (p. 240)) fares slightly better, since of course philosophy is the precursor of all sciences to some extent. Yet even philosophy is merely a human effect to grasp at reality, a reality that has no relation whatsoever with words. Rather, we create a relation through symbolism, such that words symbolize what we perceive reality to be.

Religion therefore is not concerned with reality per se, but rather reality as symbolized in story. Philosophy is concerned with reality, yet it does so through the use of symbolic language. Both can never achieve the truth, because of the limitations of language, although it can be argued that philosophy, or rather science, is seen to approximate reality well enough for most secularists.

From a Christian point of view, there are of course a lot of problems with this evolutionary picture. Christianity claims to be an objective revelation from the God outside creation, outside of our creaturely points of view (extra nos). If the foundation of Christian knowledge is revelation, then the evolutionary picture painted here by Bellah cannot apply to Christianity. Either Christianity is false and Bellah right, or Bellah is wrong and Christianity right, on the matter of Christianity. Concerning other religions, the Christian faith have always viewed them as idolatry so it is relatively irrelevant whether they stem from ritual or not.

Principially, if Christianity is true, then revelation is true. If revelation is true, then language cannot be mere symbolics, a "piggyback[ing]" on culture (p. 131). In the beginning, God speaks. Language comes from the God who speaks, and therefore language is composed by God to be an adequate vessel of describing reality, not just signifying it. The God who composed language(s) and gave it to Man is the God who creates all things and thus the Creator and the Composer of language are one and the same Being. Language actually corresponds to reality, and abstract language do correspond to abstract objects. Does this mean that language is infallible? No, because sin distorts our use of language as well. But distortion is not destruction, and therefore language while not infallible is nonetheless still adequate. Does this mean that language connects us to God? Language is ectypal not archetypal and therefore, while perfectly suited for us, does not establish an ontic continuity between Man and God.

We see that the Christian view of language totally contradicts the evolutionary view of language. Christianity is a top-down religion, with God as the revealer from the top, while in evolution Man is the discoverer from the bottom. Naturally, a discoverer is always limited to approximation since he does not have full knowledge, whereas a revealer knows all things and therefore there is true correspondence. Humans of course do not know all things, but we are using the tool by the God who knows all things, and thus we "discover" knowing that the tool given is not a mere approximation.

Perhaps an analogy here would help. The evolutionist would have humanity like a man trapped in a huge maze without maps or tools. Such a person would blunder along trying to figure out the workings of the maze. Man under His creator however is like a man in the maze with a device that, because it has been programed with the maze layout, can show the man the way out, yet it shows only the direction not the entire map. So while the man in the evolutionary scenario can only approximate a way out (until he finds a way out i.e. gains complete knowledge), the man under His Creator knows the way out, yet He does so step by step (i.e. without complete knowledge). The competency of language therefore is not because of Man, but because of God who composes it.

Going back to Lindbeck's theories of religion, it is evident that the rejected first option must be the Christian option, though certainly it is not in line with the supposed "established" theory of evolution. Christianity is propositional, though not merely made of propositions (a common straw-man). Language, culture and true religion did not arise from play or ritual, but rather are all given by God to Adam and Eve in their created state in the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Religious evolution and progress

There is one more point that, though I touched on it earlier, I need to emphasize in concluding: religious evolution does not mean a progression from worse to better. We have not gone from "primitive religion" that tribal peoples have had to "higher religions" that people like us have. [Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), xxii-xxiii]

... There are three great defects with most attempts at this genre, coming, as they largely do, from Europe and America.

  1. There is a strong tendency, even in Kant, the most universalistic of early modern philosophers, to deal with humanity in terms of a radical dichotomy: us (Europe, later Europe plus America) versus them, and divided not only culturally, but alas, even by Kant, racially. The white race is taken to be superior, even biologically superior, to all the others, though the other races can sometimes be seen as capable of learning to be more like Westerners. Even when the distinction between human groups is seen culturally rather than racially, dichotomy is still the primary way of categorizing: civilization versus barbarism. When distinctions between the less civilized were made, the distinctions between them was still minimal; "Orientals" may be superior to primitives, but they are still categorized as sharing a single, static, and in particular, despotic culture: thus Oriental despotism. One needs look no further than Edward Said's Orientalism to see how recently such a dichotomy has dominated Western though.

  2. This basic dichotomy can be put into time, sometimes evolutionary time, as a distinction between earlier and later, with the later, namely us, distinguishing ourselves from the others by a higher degree of progress. All existing societies can be arranged in terms of stages of progress, with Europe or Euro-America at the apex. Imperialism was justified as educational, bringing the possibilities of liberty, after a suitable (long) period of tutelage, to those without is. Again we are disappointed to find John Stuart Mill, who most of his adult life worked for the East India Company, as did his father, James, giving eloquent expression to such views, and in his great essay On Liberty, no less. Freedom, we find, is "meant to apply to human beings in the maturity of their faculties," whereas "despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement and the means justified by actually effecting their end." British rule in India is, in Mill's words, "good despotism." After all, "the greater part of the world has, properly speaking, no history, because the despotism of custom is complete. This is the case over the whole East."

  3. Past or present horrors can be justified as necessary preconditions for a better (democratic? socialist?) future. McCarthy notes that Walter Benjamin was particularly eloquent in finding unbearable "the thought of history's countless victims being nothing more than stepping stones along the path of development." McCarthy notes that both Kant and Mill said repeatedly that no act that infringes on the dignity, much less the existence, of another human being is ever morally justified. Yet each of them, and countless others less schooled in moral philosophy, found ways of justifying the unjustifiable. This part of our (Western) heritage, in McCarthy's view, calls not only for apology, but for reparation for those who are still suffering from the results of what we have done.

(Ibid., 597-9)

If evolution is true, then not only do human biologically evolve from proto-apes, but all other features of human society must be explained as the product of evolution. Language, culture and religion — the things that mark us as human, must be explained as to how they have came into being. Why and how would a bunch of animals develop such complicated apparatus, while other creatures generally do not do so?

But before we look at the issue, I find it interesting that the author of this work on religious evolution is actively disavowing the notion of progress, a term we normally associate with evolution in general. Bellah prefers to see it as a change from simple to complex, but simple could be better than complex according to him. In the concluding chapter, Bellah briefly traces the superiority complex that has marked previous discourses concerning religious (and cultural) evolution, and deplores them as being imperialist at best and racist at worst.

Bellah's move is certainly in line with the times. Yet, I do wonder how effective such sentiments are in light of the fundamental assumption of evolution Bellah is working with. Bellah is of course correct that complex does not necessary mean better, for the simple bacteria is much more resilient than complex animals in regards to survival. But this caveat does not really help his case for opposing cultural and racial superiority. Survivability is after all not necessarily the most lauded attribute. It is indeed true that evolution's notion of survival of the fittest does laud survivability, yet if conditions allow for a variety of lifeforms for example to survive, complex adapted organisms are generally taken to be superior. Regardless of the fact that viruses can kill off entire populations, we have yet to see anyone saying that viruses are the pinnacle of evolution. Rather, the notion of evolution lauds the growth in complexity of species into their various fitness peaks. Complexity is thus lauded as being good, even though complex creatures are generally less adaptable compared to their simpler progenitors (e.g. the dinosaurs in the mainstream evolutionary narrative).

It is nice and well for the times that Bellah disavows imperialism and racism. Social Darwinism after all has garnered quite a lot of bad rep due to the actions of people like Adolf Hitler. But how can anyone escape the charge of imperialism while holding on to the evolutionary narrative? Presumably, Bellah (and all historians of religion) intends to persuade everyone else of their new view of cultural relativity. Yes, they gave voice to non-Western cultures, but they do so by depicting their developments as development from simpler to complex socio-religious structures. In other words, the Axial age is still superior to the earlier ages (Neolithic, Tribal Archaic) regardless of the culture. Bellah surely does not think that having a mindset that is seen as belonging to the earlier ages is valid in today's world. And even the whole notion of an Axial Age is a western concept. So instead of the previous imperialistic concept whereby non-Western cultures are seen as regressive, the current notion that Bellah supports is that aspects of non-Western cultures (i.e. its Axial forms which are determined by the West) is superior to the regressive forms of non-Western cultures (i.e. all non-Axial forms). How is that not imperialism being somehow smuggled through the backdoor?

Interestingly enough, the Axial forms of culture and religion in the first few millennia of human history covered by Bellah are oftentimes strong in their claims of exclusivity. So presumably, the 21st century must belong to a somewhat different age from the Axial age, since Bellah is most certainly against taking any of their claims of exclusivity seriously. If one sees the notion that one must be inclusive or relativist with regards to cultural and religious claims, then by definition, there IS progress from the Axial age to whatever age we in the 21st century are in. There is a certain sense in which claims of exclusivity (proper in the "Axial Age") are to be regarded as improper in the 21st century, and thus those claims are to be regarded as regressive.

So whichever way one looks at the matter, it does not seem that Bellah, and historians of religion, can ever escape the problems related to progress. Evolution teaches progress and development and those more evolved are (for that time) the inheritors of the earth. When the environment changes, an organism best fitted for the old environment might be ill-adapted to the new environment and thus perish in favor of a previously less fit species. Likewise, in religious evolution, the most Bellah and others can say is that the current superiority is bounded to the current environment, yet progress and superiority must be admitted to be there. It helps no one to claim to fully disavow any notion of imperialism and racism, while ignoring the fact that one's very commitment to evolution as a narrative necessitates holding to superiority and progress, despite those concepts being time-relative.

Lastly, we must say that the embrace of evolution implies that Bellah's premise concerning the evolution of religion relativizes his advocacy of interfaith tolerance. There are no actual omega points in evolution, so Bellah cannot in principle rule out that this very notion of interfaith tolerance and cultural and religious relativity (in the early 21st century) cannot be superseded by claims of religious exclusivity sometime in the future. If he were to claim it as devolution, upon what basis can he say that? Evolution is blind, and perhaps a version of cultural and religious exclusivism might be the next progression in the evolutionary stage.

In conclusion, as we have seen, Bellah's disavowal of progress does not hold. Rejection of past applications of theories concerning religious evolution, due to moral revulsion at the hubris of 20th century Social Darwainism, only tells us that 21st century historians of religion find those implementations morally repugnant, but it does not address the question whether 20th century implementations necessarily follow from the concept of evolution the 20th century Social Darwinists held to. Unfortunately for Bellah and other historians of religion, I do not see how they can avoid the problems associated with progress other than to emote abhorrence at 20th century implementations of evolutionary theory, but emoting does not a logical argument make.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The wrong way to insert faith in education

Bethany Jenkins is the "Director of The Gospel Coalition's Every Square Inch" program. She is also the one who wrote this article on supplementing a student's education. In it, she claimed that she found what she learned in organic chemistry irrelevant to normal life. The whole article was basically on how we can tie the secular subjects we learn into everyday life.

Now, that God created all the elements of the Periodic Table is indeed true. However, I remain puzzled why Jenkins think that inorganic chemistry was "irrelevant" before supplementation by faith. Must something be seen and touched in "everyday life" to be considered relevant? Doesn't truth and knowledge has its own inherent virtue, without the need to be shown to be "relevant"? In fact, relevance is what we make of what we know. If something does not seem to be relevant, perhaps it is because you the knower does not know enough of the topic to see its relevance.

Be that as it may, my main contention is that the "relevance" of God and the Christian faith is not something that we try to find; it comes with the claims of the Christian faith itself. Jenkins seem to operate in some sense on the notion of a dichotomy between faith and fact, and then posit a way to overcome the distance so that one's faith becomes relevant to life (fact). But if we follow the Bible's cosmology and cosmogony, then Christianity is already relevant for all of life. One does not have to invent artificially contrived ways to try to make the faith relevant, for God, being the Creator who in real history makes the world as the Scriptures portray His acts to be, is true and real and relevant. Of course, if one in some way undermine or deny the cosmology or cosmogony of Scripture, then one is left with a faith without roots. If God is not the God of history and reality, actually creating the matter we see all around us, then of course the gap between faith and fact will be hard to bridge.

Jenkins came up with 3 practical suggestions. May I suggest instead that one stops trying to put faith everywhere but rather to receive everything, including "secular things," as the general common grace gifts from God? Away with all this hyper-spirituality, and just enjoy what God has given, thanking God for these good gifts without feeling the need to "Christianize" them. Creation is just fine; it does not need supplementation with redemption.

Interstellar, or why TGC should not be doing film reviews

Part of my concern with Kuyperianism in any form is that, in an attempt to Christianize everything, what we actually accomplish is a shoddy piece of work, especially if we know next to nothing in that field. Here on my blog, I keep to the stuff I know. I for one do not see any mandate to take "every square inch" and comment on every single issue here, as if there MUST be a Christian view of everything that is just waiting for my input.

TGC, with its idea of "every square inch," has posted a review of the movie Interstellar. In the review, there is a critique of the supposed utilitarian view of love and a lack of meaning of the events in the film. The problem is that I do not see at all any indication that this is what the film is trying to convey. Must a movie drag out emotional scenes in order to not promote a utilitarian form of love? Why must we analyze and over-analyze a movie, instead of just enjoying the narrative? If there is anything to take away, it is the portrayal of the real-time effects of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity with its concept of relative time on humans and human interaction and society. The film is focused on science, and adds some drama of course in order to create a narrative, a narrative by the way which is not unique in film (e.g. saving a person who then betrays you and jeopardizes the mission).

The main issue that Christians can comment about is the idea insinuated that future humans are the ones who created the Tessarect and sent it back in time, because it shows the secularist view of autosoterism, or self-salvation. That at least has some merit for discussion. But instead, that is mentioned once in passing and then we shift to those issues which are not even the point of the movie. The author mentioned about "meaning," but true secularists do not need a transcendent meaning; they create their own meaning for their lives. The naturalist scientific narrative focuses on solving problems not on creating meaning, and there is why the reviewer misses the boat in his review. Plus, since the film is supposed to be mostly scientific, why not focus on the scientific aspect of the movie, instead of picking on minor details which even Christopher Nolan probably is not concerned about?

Sometimes, such movie reviews ruin the movie more than they contribute to it. I rather have my mind trying to comprehend the idea of a person communicating through gravity waves in the Tessarect, then read a shoddy review of the movie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Orthodoxy, Creationism and its detractors

Part of the claims of Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) is that it alone is the orthodox interpretation consistent with the Scriptures. In other words, YEC claims to be the truth, not just an approximation to the truth or the most plausible interpretation of Scripture. Now, of course, those who claim to hold to YEC may or may not take that stance, thus there is a difference between those who hold to YEC as a plausible hypothesis, and those who treat its claims seriously.

For those who are YEC by conviction, they hold that YEC is the only orthodox position. Now all Christians do recognize a difference between orthodoxy and salvation. There is a correlation of course between orthodoxy and salvation, for one cannot be a heretic and be saved. Yet, we recognize that a person is not saved by right doctrine. At the same time, we recognize that false doctrine may indicate a reprobate spirit and heart, for the Holy Spirit which indwells a believer is the Spirit of truth. While in this world, believers may sinfully hold to error, yet not willfully. A person who willfully embraces error knowing it is error is in grievous sin. Most errors held by believers should fall into the category of "errors held to be true doctrine." In other words, they are held because the proponents of these theories think they actually are what Scripture teach.

In this light, YECs do recognize that those holding on to different views of creation within Evangelicalism are believers, if they believe the true Gospel. At the same time, it is unavoidable that we see their views as being errant, some even grievously so. We believe that YEC is orthodoxy, and others not, for that is the conclusion if YEC is indeed truth, not just a best approximation of the truth. We also recognize that some who hold to differing views of creation may view their theories likewise. So we agree to disagree, which actually means we STILL disagree, not that we all join hands and sing kum-ba-ya.

Doctrinal disagreements are therefore present. Christians can strongly voice their support of what they believe, and critique the other views. That is part of the exchange of ideas, as iron sharpens iron. All of this is well and good in academic discussion, and is so within the church (within limits) if the denomination rules certain views tolerable.

The problem however comes when some in the opposing camps throw low brow shots at the opposition. This is seen in statements implying that the science done by YEC scientists is not real science (as if any of these theologians have the authority or even knowledge to make that judgment!) Other statements to that effect are statements attacking YECs as being schismatics (or that their views as shibboleths) for saying that YEC should be the only orthodox option. Note that saying YEC is (or should be) the only orthodox option does not mean that one must embrace YEC in order to be saved. Orthodoxy and salvation are not the same thing, although as I have said there is some correlation between them.

All of these statements by critics of YEC are very unfortunate, because instead of dealing with the substance of YEC, they use underhanded tactics of mockery, ridicule, ad-hominem arguments and the like to dismiss YEC without even engaging with it. Now, of course, I do not deny that some who proclaim themselves YEC may make outrageous and inaccurate statements attacking other views. The problem however is that only the fringe Fundamentalists are committing sins against those holding to differing views of creation, while the mainstream YECs are respectful even while we disagree. However, among its critics, prominent historians like Mark Noll misrepresents YEC. Among Framework proponents, while Dr. W. Robert Godfrey is generally a kind and solidly Reformed person, yet he slandered YEC by condemning it as pseudoscience, even though he does not have any scientific expertise or authority to make that judgment [W. Robert Godfrey, God's Pattern for Creation: A Covenantal Reading of Genesis 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 91]. Dr. Godfrey is not some fringe element, so we see that mockery and slander of the YEC position is mainstream among non-YECs. So while those mocking and ridiculing Framework, Progressive Creationist and other views are in the fringe of YEC, those mocking YEC are mainstream among adherents of other views.

If you claim to want dialogue, to agree to disagree, then shouldn't you respect those you disagree with and represent their views correctly? Then why is it that those who are against YEC almost never seem to not misrepresent, mock, ridicule and plaster YECs with ad-hominem arguments? Why does one side try to represent the other correctly, while the other side does not even bother to understand its opponent? Do for example Framework proponents have the right to routinely mock and misrepresent the YEC position? If not, then why are we asked to tolerate this kind of unscholarly and uncivilized behavior?

For there to be a conversation, there must be two sides talking to each other, not one side intent on shouting down or dismissing the other side. Unfortunately, unless there is a change in the manner the views of creation are discussed, there will be only more heat and no light.

Dr. Godfrey's unwarranted judgment of YEC

Dr. Godfrey is generally kind and solidly orthodox, however he is not without faults. Here in his book, he slanders YEC as follows:

As Christians we must not tie our faith to a psuedoscience of human invention, whether by a fad of secular science or so-called creation science [W. Robert Godfrey, God's Pattern for Creation: A Covenantal Reading of Genesis 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 91]

My question is: what qualifications does Dr. Godfrey has for claiming creation science is "pseudoscience." What are his evidences for such a claim? Can he substantiate such a serious judgment? Is he willing to substantiate his judgment in debate with creation scientists like Dr. Jonathan Sarfati?

This is just one example of why I do not highly regard critics of YEC, because I have not seen they know what they are talking about in their lofty judgments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Theonomy and response to a response to critics

Therefore, it is mean, illogical, and inexcusable propaanda for some theonomic critics to dismiss it as allegedly: (1) Judaizing the New Testament, (2) making the law our dynamic of sanctification, (3) denying any distinction between moral and judicial laws, (4) taking the civil use of God's law as the way of bringing in His kingdom, (5) wising to impose the kingdom by the sword, (6) asking the state to enforce all the Mosaic laws and curb all outward evil, (7) shifting emphasis from personal piety, evangelism, and the church so as to stress instead the cultural mandate, politics, and capital punishment, (8) demanding postmillennial eschatology, or (9) viewing America as God's chosen nation. [Greg L. Bahnsen, "Preface to the Second Edition," in Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. xxx]

Theonomy, unsurprisingly, has quite a few critics. From his book, critiques 1, 2, 4, 7, 8 and 9 do not seem to represent Theonomy as advocated by Greg Bahnsen. But the rest I think do stick in some measure or another.

Take accusation 3. Now, if the accusation is that Bahnsen does not recognize any distinction at all, then of course the accusation is false. But the issue is not whether Bahnsen recognizes a distinction, but whether the distinction he recognizes translate into how he conceives of God's law, and obviously it did not. The "judicial law" for Bahnsen remains the moral law, not a separate category called "civil law," and thus the accusation sticks.

Accusations 5 is somewhat ambiguous, because it is true that Bahnsen is not thinking of using the sword for evangelism, i.e. convert or die. The issue however is what the penal sanctions will do in a populace whereby everyone has to outwardly conform to the Mosaic law code. If we think of the kingdom not just as those who are saved but those are externally in the Church, it seems that there is in some sense an imposition of the kingdom in its external aspect. Since the Sabbath command has penal sanctions attached to it, everyone including non-believers would be compelled to attend church on Sunday or be killed, so how is this not an imposition of the kingdom by the sword? This ties in with accusation number 6. If Bahnsen says that ".. we must conclude that it is the moral responsibility of all magistrates to obey and enforce the law of God as recorded in the Older Testament (including its penal prescriptions for crime)" (p. 439), then what else can it mean except that the Mosaic laws (all of the non-ceremonial ones in "exhaustive detail) including its "penal prescriptions for crime" is to be enforced by the Magistrate?

If Theonomy wants to have the OT Mosaic laws in exhaustive detail, then they must own all of the laws in exhaustive detail. Bite the bullet and admit that all who violate the Sabbath should be put to death, and all who use the phrase "OMG" are to be put to death too. That is the Mosaic precedent and example, so they need to be consistent and own their position, warts and all.

Theonomy, the Two Swords and Penal sanctions of the law

The victory of the kingdom is won by deed of truth and love, by the heralding of the gospel, by obedience to God and His law. The employment of political and physical weapons to advance the kingdom of Christ is suicidal, for "all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:52)—as the history of Christendom has borne out, Christ's truth is not defended by violence; by taking up the sword, the Christian will not establish the faith but will simply perish with the sword [Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, pp. 403-4]

Knowing that God's standard of righteousness (which includes temporal, social relations) is as immutable as the character of God Himself, we should conclude that crimes which warrant capital punishment in the Older Testament continue to deserve the death penalty today. (Ibid., pp. 427-8)

With increased revelation concerning God, His righteous character, and His demand for holiness, these crimes acquire (if anything) greater culpability and appear even more dreadful. The gravity of sin is magnified by the light of progressed revelation. The atrocity of capital crimes is, therefore, intensified in the New Testament age. God's standards for public and civil justice have not changed, for God is immutable (as is His law, Matt. 5:17-18). Thus the death penalty for certain crimes is not simply a suggestion from God but a formal command. (Ibid., pp. 432-3)

... we must conclude that it is the moral responsibility of all magistrates to obey and enforce the law of God as recorded in the Older Testament (including its penal prescriptions for crime). (Ibid., p. 439)

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Num. 15:32-36)

Now an Israelite woman's son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman's son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, and the Israelite woman's son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be clear to them. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (Lev. 24:10-16)

It is in its practical applications that Theonomy would make people shudder. In the OT theocracy, the one who breaks the Sabbath and the one who blasphemes is to be stoned to death, regardless of whether the person is an Israelite or a sojourner. As long as the person lived in Israel, he is subject to these public civil laws. Yet here Bahnsen, if he is to be consistent with his position of maintaining not just the law in exhaustive detail but also its penal sanctions, must say that the magistrate ought to enforce these laws. And laws are laws. There is no mercy in the law. Sleep in one Sunday, and you'll be put on death roll. Use a single "OMG," and you're toast. The nature of the law is that justice is served, and thus there will be no mercy. All the repentance for sleeping in on a Sunday or mouthing one "OMG" is not going to save you from death. Needless to say, if such laws are actually implemented, more than 50% of society at the very least will be on death roll in just one week!

We have already shown the distortion of God's law by Bahnsen in his denial of the civil law, his misinterpretation of Matthew 5:17-20, and his redefinition of the ceremonial law. Here we want to just focus on the societal implications. Let's just say that having more than half the people in society on death roll has no chance at all of happening. But what is sad is how Bahnsen thinks that the Gospel of grace can coexist with this imposition of the civil law in exhaustive detail. Using the two swords doctrine in a unique manner, Bahnsen claims that the Church is still gracious because it does not actually wields the sword. Yet in Theonomy, the Church is the one that urges the State to wield the sword, on civil affairs. How is the Church gracious if she is calling for someone's death even though she is not the one doing the killing? Even in the era of Christendom, the killing of heretics was not grace to heretics, but judgment upon the church's enemies.

The Church's message of the Gospel is that our sins deserve death, but Christ's sacrifice saves us from death, for all who put their trust in Him. The Church is not to request capital punishment, or any punishment for that matter, on religious crimes, for the civil code is applicable only in the time of conquest, at Christ's second coming. Only then will the OT civil code be considered valid in a renewed civil theocracy. Now is the time of grace, the time of salvation not judgment. Civil crimes now are civil crimes, crimes against the State, not directly crimes against God's rule as in Israel in the OT.

Part of Bahnsen's apologetic for Theonomy is that it gives the modern church something to speak before those in authority as well as a biblical Christian ethic (pp. 10-11). However, sometimes not saying anything is better than saying something in error. Islamic Sharia law, which in many respects is a cut and paste of the Mosaic civil code, is impractical even in Islamic countries. So why would we think that Theonomy would function any better, especially if the Law is actually applied consistently and impersonally? Perhaps instead of having everything so cut up black and white, it might be better to actually leave things to godly wisdom, as the Bible extols.

Theonomy and the lack of the "civil law"

In Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:6-13, Christ strongly rebukes the Pharisees for failing to follow the law of God. He authoritatively quotes from two sections of the law: one from the Decalogue, and one outside the Decalogue. It was not simply the fifth commandment that Christ cites as binding, but even the penal sanction specifying capital punishment for incorrigible children is held forth by our Lord as an obligation. Christ made no artificial distinction between "moral" laws and their "civil" punishments. Whereas the Pharisees nullified God's law by their traditions, Christ upholds its integrity and validity in exhaustive detail. Whereas the Pharisees wold easily let a son be released form his obligation to support his parents, Christ endorses the severity and strictness of God's law. The antinomian traditions of men cannot be used to "break" Scripture apart. Christ does not explain away His citation of the prescription of capital punishment for incorrigible children; in fact, He gives absolutely no indication that He feels it needs any argument at all. .... [Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomgy in Christian Ethics, p. 254]

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mk. 7:6-13)

We have said that Bahnsen needs to prove that God's law is a simple category. For most of the book, Bahnsen simple assumes that God's law is a simple category. He largely ignores the distinction between moral and civil law, and explains ceremonial law in such a way that it functions in some sense like the moral law (in its "restorative" function). But since the general Reformed tradition does recognize the distinction between the moral, civil and ceremonial law, Bahnsen cannot just assume that the law is a simple category, and claim that since the moral law is still valid, therefore all the law is still valid.

Here in page 254 is probably the major place where Bahnsen actually tries to deal with his denial of the legitimacy of the "civil law" concept, by subsuming everything into the "moral law." According to Bahnsen, Jesus cites Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:6-13, which includes the penal sentence of death for incorrigible children, and he approves of it. Therefore there is no such thing as "civil law" per se, since all "civil law" is moral. Here however is where Bahnsen misreads the Gospel narratives. We must look at what Jesus is trying to drive at when he cites from the OT, not just assume that everything in the verses Jesus cites is binding today. The purpose of Jesus' citing those passage is to impress and contrast the differences the OT laws have concerning obedience to parents with the way the Pharisees have distorted the law. The gravity of the 5th commandment is that those who rebel against parents are to be put to death, while the Pharisees allowed for rebellion by spurious dedication to God. That is the contrast Jesus is trying to portray. In other words, the penal sanction of the 5th commandment is there to impress upon us the gravity of the sin as opposed to how flippantly the Pharisees treated it. It says nothing whatsoever whether Jesus approves of the penal sanctions of the 5th commandments. Elsewhere Bahnsen warns against arguing from silence, so likewise he should have kept to his principle here and not argue that Jesus approves of the penal sanctions of the 5th commandment.

The main problem with the theonomic denial of the category of "civil law" is it does not reckon with the eschatological focus of Jesus' coming. Jesus' first coming is His coming in grace; His second coming is a coming in judgment. Now is the time of pilgrimage of God's people, not the time of conquest. Just as Abraham lived among a foreign people with their rules, so likewise believers live among unbelievers with their rules. Therefore, while God's moral law is ubiquitous for all peoples everywhere, being written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15), God's civil law is meant for a time of conquest, not a time of pilgrimage. The civil code is meant when God is the ruler of the civil realm as well, and thus is not suited for the inter-advent period. When the Old Testament prophets called the other nations to account (e.g. Amos), it was to their violations of moral principles that these nations were condemned (Amos 1:3-2:3), not because for example they failed to execute their rebellious children, or the specific rejection of the Mosaic law (Amos 2:4) which they did not receive.

It is not "autonomy" to claim that life in this world is more grey than it is black and white. God's law remains true, and His moral law is still normative, and we are to promote that moral law in society since it is still applicable for all. But to promote the civil aspect of the law is to confuse Christ's rule at His second coming with Christ's rule now in grace. Does this mean that those who commit grievous moral sins like murder are exempt from the death penalty? Not necessary! What it does say is that one cannot argue for a one-to-one correlation between the civil law and how Christians ought to call the magistrate to enforce the moral law.

Bahnesen is in error in his interpretation of the episode in Matthew 15:3-9 and Mark 7:6-13. In line with that, Theonomy's denial of the category of "civil law" is therefore in error because it confuses the nature of Christ's kingdom now. Just because the magistrate is obligated to uphold God's moral law is does not mean that it is obligated to uphold the civil law as well, and that is the main practical error of Theonomy.

Interaction: YEC and the problem of double-standards

In the debate over the issue of origins, it has been really illuminating how twisted the debate has become. It has become such that those who seek to impose YEC as orthodoxy are considered to be using it as a shibboleth and are attacked, while evidently those who seek to denigrate YEC as anti-intellectual foolishness (a la Mark Noll) are lauded. The same action, but the difference in target makes all the difference between an "acceptable" and "unacceptable" action.

This just came in my twitter feed:

For a few, a ~7000 year old earth extrapolated from a literalistic interpretation of the creation narrative is their party's shibboleth.

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 10, 2014

We see here a blatant attack on YEC and those who insisted on the orthodoxy of YEC. According to Aaron, evolution is fact, therefore while he tolerates YEC, he thinks of them as anti-intellectual simpletons. That is made clear in his attack on YEC as being a "literalistic interpretation" of the "creation narrative." He then states categorically that those who insist on YEC as definitive of Christian orthodoxy are using it as a shibboleth. In other words, YECs can be tolerated according to him, although *everyone* knows they are wrong due to "science." But then when those "anti-intellectual fools" have the audacity to impose their views as definitive of Christian orthodoxy, then they must be resisted as using their view as a "shibboleth" against others who do not hold to YEC.

Now I am not just picking on Aaron, as this attitude is endemic on much of what calls itself "Evangelicalism" as well. My twitter exchange with Aaron shows his blindness to what he is doing, as he claims blamelessness and being "dumbfounded," as follows:

@puritanreformed I'm literally siting here laughing. I am completely dumbfounded. Please someone read this convo and tell me I'm not insane!

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 11, 2014

This state of affairs is sadly endemic in much of visible Christianity, so let's break it down easily to see the hypocrisy of such an approach. This is what the non-YECs are saying:

(1) Evolution, Old Earth, and/or Non-literal interpretation of the creation account is FACT
(2) The opposite view is holding to a "literalistic" (and thus wrong) interpretation of the creation narrative.
(3) Those who try to claim that YEC is the orthodox view are trying to impose shibboleths on the church.

Or to put it another way, you're wrong, we're always saying that you are wrong, and we WILL make sure that our views are tolerated in the church, and oh, by the way, if you dare try to oppose us, you're imposing shibboleths. Or even clearer:

  • You impose toleration of non-literal views of the creation account and promote its superiority and intellectual vigor = A good thing.
  • YECs impose orthodoxy of plain view of the creation account = shibboleth.

Now, I don't have any problems intellectually with people claiming their views are superior. We can then have a debate over the issue as to who is right and who is wrong. But what I detest is when people engage in deceptive tactics to posture their position as the only reasonable position one should take, which Aaron is doing, and not just him only. The duplicity in claiming that one side is imposing shibboleths while the other side is not even when it does the SAME THING is un-Christian. It is in my opinion a sin that needs to be repented of. Yes, I admit YECs wants to impose the traditional view as the orthodox view, but just stop the deception and just admit that the other side is trying to do the same in imposing the non-traditonal views as the view people should embrace. Man up and admit the obvious! It is fine for you to push your view of the creation account, but to push it while denying it and attacking the opposing side for pushing their views is the tactic used by all deceptive groups like the LGBTQIA agenda.

As someone who accepts the OPC Creation report, I am to expect that there are a variety of views that ministers might hold to. Holding to a contrary view is fine in this sense, but if one tries to impose one's views, one does not have the moral stance to oppose another who does the same. Attack YEC as wrong if you wish, but don't you dare say that they are imposing Shibboleths when you do the very same thing!

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. (Rom. 2:1)

PS: This sums up the issue:

A person with strong YEC convictions believes that YEC is the only orthodox option. Similarly, strong Framework proponents like Lee Irons and MG Kline believe that Framework is the orthodox option, with YEC being in error. So to claim that those promoting YEC as the only orthodox option is to make it into a shibboleth is an insult to all who strongly hold to YEC, in the same way as to state that those who promote Framework as the orthodox position are promoting Shibboleths is an insult to them. Not to mention, has anyone attacked Lee Irons ad MG Kline for strongly promoting Framework? I don't see any, and there shouldn't be any. Whatever our differences, I respect that they are consistent with their positions and are willing to defend them. So tell me: why is attacking YECs always acceptable? The problem was never about the issue of origins per se, but the double-standards held up to with regards to YECs, and others. YECs cannot promote their views because "that is to make it shibboleths," but those promoting Framework, Analogical etc, they are not promoting Shibboleths? And then, when their double-standards are called out, to be mocked? Really, so I guess one side can call the other side's actions as error while allowing their side to do the same thing. But no, we cannot expect both sides to play by the same rules? Do you see me mocking those who promote Framework? No, I believe they are wrong, and I will prove them wrong, but they are not trying to "promote Shibboleths." But it seems YEC is always in season for mockery.

PPS: Aaron just twitted about "not feeding the trolls." I guess there goes biblical accountability. One can say ANYTHING one likes online, but one doesn't have to answer for the words one speaks, or should I say tweet.

PPPS:

@puritanreformed @starnmyuniverse grow up. I haven't read your blog. I'm not bothering to defend or reply to anything. Finished with this BS

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 14, 2014

Sadly, Aaron decided that the way to go is to resort to ad-hominem. It is sad that he has descended to such a level, especially for someone naming the name of Christ. May the Holy Spirit grant him repentance for his attacks on YEC and mockery of the issues.

The "Ceremonial Restorative Law"

However, the meaning and intention of these laws is equally valid under the Older and New Covenants, even though the former manner of observation is now "out of gear." The restorative law of the Older Testament declared that there is no remission of sin apart from the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The truth of this law, its axiomatic content, could not be set aside, even though the way in which it is observed could. The meaning was secure. "Therefore, it was necessary" that the Older Testament copies be cleansed with blood because they anticipated the cleansing of the heavenly things by Christ's sacrifice (Heb. 9:23-24). Christ did not cancel the requirement of the restorative ceremonies; He once and for all kept them so that we might observe them in Him. He is our sacrificed passover (1 Cor. 5:7), our redemptive lamb (1 Pet. 1:19), etc. It is "impossible" to be saved now by any other sacrifice (Heb. 10:4). [Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 210]

One rather strange view advocated by Greg Bahnsen is his take on the ceremonial law. Now, no one can deny the distinction between the ceremonial laws in the Old Testament and the other laws, since the book of Hebrew especially made it clear that Jesus did away with the sacrifices since He is the mediator of a better covenant (Heb. 8-9). The ceremonial laws have been done away with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. So if we are told of the "abiding validity of the Law in exhaustive detail," then what are we to make of the ceremonial law, since it seems rather obvious from passages like Hebrews 8:5-7 that the ceremonial law is likened to a shadow that is passing away?

Bahnsen has a rather ingenius way around this conundrum. The ceremonial law(s) according to him are "restorative law," because they function in order to restore Man to God. That was after all what for example the sin offering does. Since the ceremonial law is restorative in nature, Christians still observe it, in Christ. Christ fulfills the restorative law and thus when we depend on Christ and his intercession, we are obeying the restorative ceremonial law.

Now all of this sound nice, but it suffers from a big problem: ceremonial law is not restorative law. The whole idea of OT ceremonies is to function as pictures of salvation. That is why Hebrews 8:5 speak about the tent and tabernacle as being a shadow of the heavenly realities. This is not to say there is an actual physical tabernacle in heaven, but that the building on earth mirrors the functional realities in heaven. As Hebrews utilizes the analogy, Christ has entered into the Holy Place (Heb. 9:12), analogous to how the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies once per year on the Day of Atonement. The function of the earthly High Priest is to enter God's presence to offer up a sweet aroma and atonement for the sins of the people. Likewise, Jesus in this functional analogue comes into God's presence and show ("offer") the atoning work ("sweet aroma of atonement") to the Father. This Jesus did once for all in contrast to the repeated sacrifices of the earthly High Priest (Heb. 9:25).

The ceremonies of the OT therefore do not actually do anything before God, as if God is appeased with the blood of goats and lambs (Heb. 10:4). Rather, they are a picture of the only sacrifice that can accomplish anything, that is Christ's. As pictures, they do not restore anyone to God, but rather they "restore" only because of what they point towards; they have nothing besides what God has designed them to point towards. In other words, Christ is the only reality; the ceremonies are shadows and pictures. Here, we do not start with the "restorative ceremonies," but rather we start with the reality; Bahnsen's reasoning is the wrong way round, reasoning from the reality to the shadows!

Bahnsen is driven to his unnatural way of interpreting the ceremonial law because of his a priori commitment to his central thesis of the "abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail." However, here is where we see the value in interpreting Matthew 5:17-20 eschatologically. Interpreting the Matthean passage correctly in its context and applying it to this issue, we see how the ceremonial law is being fulfilled by Christ eschatologically, showing us the reality behind the types and shadows. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law because He IS the reality behind the sacrifices. All of the ceremonial laws are pictures of Christ's work for us. We do not have to come up with some strange interpretation of how we are still to observe the "ceremonial restorative law," but rather we let Scripture tell us that we do not have to do any of them because Christ has did it all, Him being the culmination all the ceremonies were prefiguring.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Theonomy and Matthew 5:17-18

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Mt. 5:17-18)

Μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον καταλῦσαι τὸν νόμον ἢ τοὺς προφήτας· οὐκ ἦλθον καταλῦσαι ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι. ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν· ἕως ἂν παρέλθῃ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ, ἰῶτα ἓν ἢ μία κεραία οὐ μὴ παρέλθῃ ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου, ἕως ἂν πάντα γένηται. (Mt. 5:17-18)

There is reason to hold that the phrase "law or prophets" is best taken as focusing on the ethical stipulations contained in the canon of the entire Older Testament. The context of Matthew 5:17 clearly demonstrates that both "the law" and "the prophets" refer to divine demand and not prophecy or promise. Verse 16 preceding deals with "good works"; indeed, throughout the entire sermon Jesus speaks as the Messiah who promulgates God's will (cf. Matt. 7:28ff). Verses 21-48 correct misinterpretations of the divine demands. Matthew 7:12 (cf. Matt. 22:40) uses "the law and prophets" exclusively of moral demands. And most telling is the fact that verses 18 and 19 following, which explain and apply verse 17 of Matthew 5, mention only the law. The entire passage is concerned primarily with Christ's doctrine, not His life. ... The concern of Matthew 5:17 is Christ's doctrine as it bears upon theonomy (God's law). While "law or prophets" broadly denotes the Older Testament Scriptures, Jesus' stress is upon the ethical contents, the commandments, of the Older Testament. [Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (25th Anniversary Multimedia Edition; Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 2002), 53]

In his book, Bahnsen spent a significant section discussing the interpretation of Matthew 5:17-20. In it, Bahnsen tries to prove that Matthew 5:17-20 teach the "abiding nature of God's law in exhaustive detail." Note that there are four things Bahnsen has to prove: (1) "God's law" is a simple category, (2) a continuity of "God's law" from the Old to the New Testament, (3) total continuity (4) in "exhaustive detail." It is not sufficient to prove continuity, and then throw the Dispensational slur on those who disagree on what you think "continuity" is. Much of Bahnsen's arguments in his 500+ page work amount to proving what Covenant Theologians have always agreed upon: the establishment of one Covenant of Grace that spans both the Old and New Testaments, the continuity of God's moral law from the Old and the New, the gracious attitude of God in giving His law and covenant to Israel, the validity of the Decalogue as regulatory law for the Christian life, and that Jesus did not do away with the moral law in His earthly ministry. As such, we can easily interact with His work on the vital points where I would say he is in error.

Bahnsen claims that the context of Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, is all about imperatives, commands, and ethics. Now that makes sense, but is that what it only is? Is the context only on ethics? I would suggest not!

It is widely noted that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount parallels Moses and the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus is portraying Himself as the new Moses as it were, proclaiming God's law to the people. In this sense, it is true that Jesus is the new Moses, the new lawgiver. But we note here the eschatological portrayal of this kingdom of which Jesus is proclaiming its law. It is a kingdom not of this world, as we can see in the Beatitudes. It is the law of Christ in the spiritual kingdom, whereby those who are persecuted and reviled are the inheritors of the Kingdom. This eschatological focus therefore should color our interpretation of Jesus as the new lawgiver, for surely it would be astonishing and impractical for policies of national defense to be founded on the policy of "turning the other cheek" (cf. Mt. 5:39)! Now, Bahnsen recognizes this and makes the distinction between private and public responses, which is true, but such only makes sense when it is not just seen as a mere private response but a response fitting to the new eschatological kingdom that Christ is inaugurating. One would not find this command of turning the other cheek in the Old Testament, which even allowed for personal vengeance on those who killed others, thus the need for cities of refuge and rulings concerning manslaughter (Num. 35:9-34). We note here that the avenger who kills outside the city of refuge the one who unintentionally killed another is exonerated of wrongdoing (Num. 35:26-7), even though the judge might have previously acquitted the killer as killing him unintentionally.

This eschatological flavor should help us interpret Matthew 5:17-20. The focus is indeed on imperatives in the Law and the Prophets, the two being one shorthand for the Old Testament (the Torah and the Neviim). But it is on imperatives as they are fulfilled in Christ's person and ministry, not mere ethics. It is on Christ fulfilling the imperatives through His active obedience. Bahnsen claims the context is that of Jesus as a teacher (p. 63), which is true, but the context is actually that of Jesus not just as a teacher, but as the eschatological teacher, AND Messiah, the fulfiller of righteousness and prophecy. Yes, it is not prophecy per se (p. 52), but rather imperatives fulfilled in Christ. This is the eschatological slant, and it is here that an examination of the Greek words help.

The word for "to fulfill" is the aorist infinitive πληρῶσαι, which is contrasted with the infinitive καταλῦσαι. Now certainly is is true that the two infinitives are set up as antonyms, and thus πληρῶσαι whatever its meaning must be the opposite of καταλῦσαι, which is "to destroy or make void." Bahnsen of course sees this and says that πληρῶσαι must mean "confirm," it being the antonym of "annul." But here we note that there is more than one antonym for "destroy/ annul / make void." If we read the text in its eschatological context, then the antonym for "annul" is merely "to fulfill," "to bring to completion/ fruition." Thus, Matthew 5:17 is Jesus saying that He is not making void the Old Testament with its laws and statues, but rather He is bringing them all to completion and fruition in Him, in His person and work, and only in this eschatological light is the imperatives relevant to us secondarily.

The closest Bahnsen deals with something analogous to this interpretation is his attempt to refute a sense of πληρῶσαι as "finish, or end" by stating that "it always appears in a context where the thought of advancement or moving on, as well as a temporal element, are explicit" (p. 57). Now that is not what we mean by "bringing to fruition," for we do admit that the imperatives do not just disappear because Christ fulfills them. Rather, we are saying that Christ "transmutates" them; all imperatives are now to be seen Christocentrically! There is a definitive shift form the Old to the New economy of things, while the substance do remain the same. Evidences of such a shift have already been mentioned earlier in the Beatitudes and the forgiving nature of the commands as it deal with issues like personal vengeance. Just because the substance remains the same from the Old to the New Covenants does not mean that there is absolute continuity between the two economies of salvation. In this light, it is illuminating here that Bahnsen, in reacting against the "New Torah" interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, claims that such would be contrary to the principle of continuity between the Old and New economies (p. 49), evidently confusing continuity with absolute continuity, as if one equals the other.

In Greek of course, there is a word suitable for what Bahnsen wants to argue for: ἵστημι ("to establish/ appoint"). Bahnsen dismisses the word as being "simpler and less expressive" or "pithy" compares to the supposedly stronger word πληρόω (p. 74). While it is true that we should not critique the choice of Greek words as favoring one interpretation over another, it should give us pause as to the supposed explanation Bahnsen gave for why Matthew uses the word πληρόω instead of ἵστημι. It should also open the possibility to us that Matthew wanted to convey a meaning different from the word ἵστημι, and point us in the direction of eschatological fulfillment.

Moving on, Bahsen attempts to use the phrase "not one iota or dot" to argue for continuity in exhaustive detail (pp. 75-6). If one takes Bahnsen's view of the Sermon on the Mount being mainly ethical in nature, then of course that would seem to be the natural manner of interpreting the text. However, from the eschatological point of view, that only points out that Jesus will not fail to bring any of the imperatives to fruition through His person and work, and it does not speak anything about the nature of imperatives from the Old to the New Testament. In fact, Jesus' commands about divorce IS stricter than the Mosaic code (c.f Lev. 20:10, Deut. 24:1-4, Mt. 5:31-2), and thus we see that there is a shifting that has occurred. All of the imperatives are relevant for us, but only as seen in Christ.

In conclusion, we have seen that Bahnsen, and Theonomy, needs to prove four premises in order for theonomy to be a valid biblical position. Premise 2 is held as true by all, yet we have pointed out some problems with the type of continuity called for in Theonomy and thus call into question premise 3. From at least one example concerning divorce, we can question premise 4 as well, as the phrase "not one iota or dot" have to do with the law as they appear, not as to the law as applicable in Christ.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Matthew 5, divorce and adultery, and the "abiding validity of the Law in exhaustive detail"

Theonomy is the belief that God's Law (which includes the Mosaic Civil Law) has an "abiding validity" in "exhaustive detail." With the impression given of a total reenactment of the Mosaic law-code in today's society, it is not surprising that there is a lot of resistance to the idea, conjuring up images of the Inquisition for example. Now, whether theonomy actually leads to the notion of holy wars is an interesting discussion to have, but for now I would like to look at an argument its foremost proponent, Greg Bahnsen, offered against a critique of theonomy.

In his book Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Bahnsen attempts to put forward his case for theonomy. In dealing with the Sermon on the Mount, Bahnsen notes the argument is offered (against theonomy) that Jesus did away with the punishment of adultery as "prescribed in the Old Testament" (p. 111), thus theonomy, which states that the Mosaic Civil Law continues on in "exhaustive detail," is false. In response, Bahnsen replied that Matthew 5:32 deals with "divorce and its proper ground, not adultery and its proper punishment" (p. 111. Emhasis original). In other word, Bahnsen asserts that nothing is said here in Matthew 5:32 about the punishment for adultery, and therefore one cannot claim hat Jesus did not hold to the death penalty prescribed for adultery in the OT.

Now, on the surface this sounds true. Surely Jesus was focusing on the sin of divorce, and the part about adultery, or rather the broader category of sexual immorality, is the exception clause to his main point. Yet, if we put more thought into it, the argument doesn't seem to hold up.

The OT punishment for adultery is death, with the exception of consensual sleeping with a virgin which then leads to forced marriage (Ex. 22:16). Once the adulterer is stoned to death, the remaining spouse by definition becomes a widow/ widower, and is thus able to remarry. Therefore, if Jesus held to the "abiding validity of the Law in exhaustive detail," then the exception clause becomes just another way to describe the normative situation when the adulterer is dead. How is that an exception clause at all, since everyone acknowledges that remarriage after one's spouse is dead is permissible?

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 deals with divorce because a man found "some indecency" in his wife. Whatever the "indecency" refers to, it cannot be adultery since adulterers are to be stoned, not just divorced. Putting the Deuteronomy passage besides Jesus' teaching on divorce suggest dissimilarities between them. The most that can be suggested is that the "indecent thing" (עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר ; LXX ἄσχημον) is a broader category of which sexual immorality (πορνεια) is a subset, for the one divorced in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not an adulterer. The Mosaic code therefore suggests that divorce is permissible for other things than adultery, which is clearly not what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:31-2. Regardless of how one reads the exception clause, one thing that we can agree is that the exception clause gives at most one basis for divorce, that of adultery or sexual immorality. Finding an "indecent thing" does not seem to be an acceptable reason for divorce according to Jesus, whereby it was under the Mosaic code.

So yes, Bahnsen is right that the text deals with "divorce and its proper grounds," not "adultery and its proper punishment." Yet, we have shown that (1) the Mosaic grounds is broader than Jesus' grounds, and (2) the exception clause makes no sense if we assume the penal sanctions of the Mosaic code. A text does not have the topic of importance as its main theme in order to say something about the topic, and we have seen how Jesus' words actually shows dissimilarity with the Mosaic code on the issues of divorce and adultery.

Bahnsen's main thesis is that God's Law, as seen especially in the Mosaic code, has abiding validity in exhaustive detail." It is however seen here that at least on this topic, the details do not have abiding validity, and therefore theonomy is wrong at least with respects to this particular topic.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Reformation and the Singapore culture

Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secumdum verbum Dei
(The Church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God)

Over at the TGC website, there is a single article by Don Doriani entitled "Reformation Then and Now, Here and There," which I guess is supposed to coincide with Reformation Day. In it, a reference is made to my home country Singapore, complete with a picture of the city skyline. While I guess the post is meant to show the relevance of the Reformation in a non-Western context, the article does not in my opinion do justice to the situation in Singapore and the Singapore Church, not to mention its rather lame attempts at relevance to the culture.

Now, the question asked of course is a valid one. Singapore does not have a similar history to the West. Yet what was the Reformation all about? The Reformation has two main principles: the material principle of Justification by Faith alone apart from works (Sola Gratia sola fide), and the formal principle of the authority of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Now, certainly there are other matters of importance including the reformation of worship and the reformation of church governance, but these flow out of these two main principles. The crux of the Reformation is the right way of salvation and the right authority for the faith. Notice here that the issue of Sola Scripture is about the supreme authority of Scripture, not the mangled version of "me and my Bible in the woods" idea prevalent throughout Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, sometimes known as Solo Scriptura.

If we actually look at the Reformation this way, then the Reformation has relevance regardless of culture. Churches everywhere always need to be reminded of the Gospel of Justification by Faith alone. Churches everywhere need to be reminded of the supreme authority of Scripture. It matters not the cultural context, for it is in the nature of Man to add works to one's justification, and to subconsciously or consciously reject the authority of Scripture by paying heed to the "insights" from other authorities that are not in line with Scripture, normally masked as the introduction of something complementary as an additional aid to Scripture.

Doriani's piece in my opinion does not do us a favor in the way it portrays other religions. Now of course in multi-religous Singapore, religion is a sensitive issue, and for sure Doriani would have gotten in a lot of trouble if he were living in Singapore. But besides that, the whole comparison of Buddhist practices with the sale of indulgences is rather inappropriate because it is false. Now, I am no expert in Buddhism, or even the syncretistic mix called Chinese Buddhism, but I doubt Buddhists buy "garden deities" to get their ancestors out of hell or reduce the years in purgatory, or the Chinese hell. As a Christian, I do think it is necessary to say that Christianity is the only true religion, but is making this flawed analogy the best way to try to portray the relevance of the Reformation, by stretching analogies to attempt to link the times of Luther to the Singapore cultural context? How exactly is God glorified when the truth is stretched in not representing the beliefs of other religions correctly? Doriani should be relieved he is not in Singapore or writing primarily to a Singapore audience, otherwise the secularists will begin their witch hunt immediately.

Doriani wants to show the relevance of the Reformation to non-Western places like Singapore. Why not stop perpetuating condescending views concerning the host culture and stop trying to be "relevant" when it only betrays ignorance? Notice also that the Reformation is first and foremost a Reformation of the Church, not for example on dealing with the enemy Turks in the 16th century. You want relevance of the Reformation to Singapore? How about going for the problems within the Singapore churches? For indulgence, go for the prosperity gospel hucksters in the persons of Joseph Prince, Kong Hee, and the Rhema Bible Institute in Singapore. For the denigration of Sola Scriptura, go after the promotion of Contemplative Prayer and the "Spiritual Disciplines" of Richard Foster, or the growing popularity of prayer labyrinths, charismatic visions and trances, or the promotion of Taize in Trinity Theological College. With regards to the Gospel, go after the moralism preached in the Singapore churches where pastors preach law and ethics almost every Sunday without giving rest in the glorious truths of the Gospel. Then go after the antinomianism of Joseph Prince and his gnostic Word-Faith idea of "confessing your righteousness not your sins." Is that enough relevance for anyone, for Doriani?

It is so very easy to speak about the "relevance of the Reformation" and talk about other religions. But judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). I am sure Doriani has good intentions, but this kind of "relevance" is a stumbling block to the world, and smacks of hypocrisy. The Church needs to reform itself and sorts out its mess first, instead of pointing fingers at the world. Physician, heal thyself! Yes, the Singapore Church needs reformation, but it does not help anyone when the answer is framed with a finger pointing outside while the Church suffers from internal rot. The Singapore Church is sick with all matter of false teachings, chief of which is apathy for sound doctrine. We do not NEED lectures for Reformation per se, but for people to actually ask themselves what they need to reform, for "faith without works is dead," and listening about reformation without reforming oneself only adds condemnation for knowing the truth but not doing it.