Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dr James White on RAAN again, and Marxism among the "Reformed" camp

Dr. James White has recently in his Dividing Line podcast spoke concerning Jemar Tisby and RAAN (Reformed African-American Network), the network he co-founded, in light of comments Tisby made after the US election victory of Donald J Trump. Now, the victory of the race-baiting Donald Trump is not a good thing, but neither was the potential victory of the radical liberal Hilary Clinton. Still, Trump won legitimately and he will be the next president of the United States. Tisby's comments are disturbing but not out of character from what I had expected from anyone associated with RAAN, much less its co-founder.

To be sure, I can grant that Tisby's comments were made out of pain, with legitimate personal history backing them up. So I am not inclined to pile on Tisby. Yet, what he has said has revealed once again the problems with RAAN I had stated before. RAAN embraces a false anti-Christian racial narrative, and then cobbles it with a spiritual veneer of "Reformed theology." That is not what being Reformed means however. We can't just take the theoretical aspects of Reformed theology and fix it to a practical secularism (or Marxism)! To be Reformed is to be Reformed both in thought and life, and it is sad that RAAN cannot seem to get that. And dangerous when it claims to speak for all "people of color" (what does that mean anyway?!), or even for all "Reformed African-Americans"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On the Nevius method

According to [John L.] Nevius' method, foreign missionaries should devote themselves to just a few activities, focusing on itinerant evangelism, biblical literacy, and leadership training. Foreig missionaries were to leave most of the other tasks of ministry to local converts and train new believers to take over even these few missionary tasks as quickly practical. [Bruce P. Bagus and Sung -Il Steve Park, "A Brief History of the Korean Presbyterian Mission to China," in Bruce P. Bagus, ed., China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2014]

The spread of the Christian faith demands indigenization. The kind of ingenization Ahava Theology advocates does not resort to ethnic and political markers to set is boundaries or employ slogans such as "self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting," which are used to isolate Chinese churches from European and American churches. (Paul Wang, "The Indigenization and Contextualization of the Reformed Faith in China," in Ibid., 289)

The Nevius' method, coined after the American Presyterian missionary John L. Nevius, seems to be held up as a great method by certain Western and Presbyterian missionaries. John Nevius was a missionary from the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA), back when the PCUSA was actually in some sense biblical, before the Modernist controversy and the disgraceful defrocking of J. Gresham Machen. The method named after him is adopted in a modified form by what became the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state controlled church of China. The method aims to create an indigenous church in a mission context that would be able to grow independent of foreign missionaries by being "self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting." This is in contrast with the real situation in many mission churches in the late 19th/ early 20th century that have congregations perpetually dependent on the foreign mission agencies for ministers and leadership.

The perpetual dependency of the mission churches in the late 19th/ early 20th century is most definitely a problem. But is Nevius' method the solution? Coming from a country that was the beneficiary of foreign missions in the late 19th/ early 20th century, I would suggest not. Even in the book itself, Chinese-American pastor Paul Wang does not sound too happy about that idea. While the goals of being self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting sounds nice in theory, what is seen in practice doesn't look that great. Let us look at the best examples of the Nevius' method in action, in the Prebyterian churches in Korea. How many of them are sound, orthodox and truly Reformed? I have no idea, but with so many Presbyterian denominations, one wonders what kind of Presbyterianism is being taught and passed on there. Also, one wonders why Korean Presbyterianism tolerates and does not denounce heretics like David (Paul) Yonggi Cho, a Word-faith heretic of the "largest church in the world." My suspicions are that Korean Presbyterianism has not been pure Presbyterianism since its inception, and that is partly because of Nevius' methods.

Nevius' method for sure helps churches to be started fast in the mission field. But the goal should not be just to start churches but to start biblical churches. Telling the Gospel to non-Christians, seeing them repent and believe in Jesus Christ, training them in basic Bible doctrine and then sending them out to do church is not the biblical method. In the biblical method, proper training of ministers is necessary. The opposite of keeping foreigners dependent on Western missions is not to give them the minimal training required and then take a hands-off approach to the mission churches! Untrained Christians are sheep wondering around awaiting the arrival of the wolves for their daily lamb chops! The disaster of the perpetual dependency model is that of baby Christians suddenly forced to do ministry and thus inventing theology and practice on the fly. The disaster of the Nevius model is that of baby Christians already doing ministry and already inventing theology and practice on the fly. In my opinion, neither is better than the other. Just look at the fruits of these models in the mission field. Why is it that after so many years, decades, centuries even, of missions, the solid Reformed and Presbyterian churches are still situated in America? Where are the great Reformed ministers from Asia, the great theologians, the great exegetes? They are nowhere to be found!

While Western missionaries might think highly of the Nevius method, I do not. It is in my opinion reactionary to the perpetual dependency model of 19th century Christian missionaries. Paul Wang charged the method of isolating "Chinese churches from European and American churches." I would say that it partakes of the same mentality that treats "the heathen" as a special class different from Westerners, and thus it partakes of latent racism. I am not RAAN calling for white to "check their privilege," and I am not asking for superior rights over whites. But we wish to be treated equally, not as inferiors or as superiors (pace RAAN). Stop patronizing us! Let us join you as equals. We do not want to be treated under the Nevius method, but similar to home missions with the exception of culture.

The goal of true biblical missions is the formation of biblical churches. The modern (19th/ 20th) mission movement has in general failed at that task. Let us reject both the perpetual dependency model and the Nevius model, and strive towards a new model for producing true biblical Reformed churches, that God may be glorified.

Monday, November 07, 2016

19th Century America: "Calvinistic Fatalism," New England Revivalism and Charles Finney

Reacting against a kind of fatalism in his own denomination, [Charles] Finney deplored the notion that sinners should continue under conviction of sin until God should deign to grant them repentance: rather he felt that they should by an act of the will surrender to God. It was this emphasis upon immediate decision and his preaching of "whosever [sic] will" which had made a powerful effect. [J Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations: Evangelical Renewal and Advance in the Nineteenth Century (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1965), 60]

The Evangelical myth concerning Charles Finney and the 19th century Second Great Awakening, propagated by Evangelical church historians, is that Finney revived true evangelism against a petrified sterile "dead orthodoxy." In much of contemporary Evangelicalism, this myth has permeated the churches such that anyone who speaks out against modern evangelistic practices are believed to be against evangelism. Evangelistic rallies, altar calls, the Gospel message as being that of "God loves you" — all of these and more stemmed directly and indirectly from the middle stages of the Second Great Awakening temporally, from the "New Measures" adopted by Charles Finney in practice, and from Finney's Pelagianism in theory.

The religious environment in which Finney came into the scene was not that dead orthodoxy, contrary to Evangelical hagiographies. But it would be similarly an error to assume the fault lies wholly with Finney, as if the church just decided to lose its mind for no reason whatsoever and adopt Finney's New Measures. Finney was a product of his age, and there are legitimate problems in the religious scene when he began his revivals.

The older view of revivals, stemming from the First Great Awakening, was that revivals are acts of God. The preacher is to present the wrath of God and then call people to turn to Christ, who offers us the way of salvation. In the life of the church in 17th century Puritan New England, Congregationalism had came up with an emphasis on conversion experiences as being part of the experience of salvation. Believers ought to have a genuine feeling of horror over their sins, followed by an experience of joy and gladness over God's grace over them. Only those with such conversion experiences were to be regarded as being saved. [In other words, even if a person professes faith in Jesus Christ, is orthodox in his beliefs and strives to live a godly life, that person is not a Christian as long as he does not possess the required "conversion experience."] The Halfway covenant advocated by some Congregationalist pastors like Solomon Stoddard (Jonathan Edwards' grandfather) became necessary only because many covenant children did not have such conversion experiences and thus were not regarded as church members despite their faith in Christ and adherence to orthodoxy, and thus the question was raised as to whether their own children (2nd generation) should be baptized as infants since the 1st generation children were not members of the churches they were brought up in. The halfway covenant, which allowed for baptism and participation in the life of the church of the 2nd generation children of 1st generation children who did not receive a conversion experience, was a bad solution to a problem created by bad theology, in this case the idea that every believer ought to have a conversion experience.

This theology of the "conversion experience" carried over into American religious life in the 18th century through the New Side Presbyterians and New Light Congregationalists. In fact, it can be said to provide a major impetus for the First Great Awakening in America. But when coupled with Calvinism, the revival teaching calls people to repentance and faith as a conversion experience, and since God is sovereign, no time limits can be placed for the onset of the conversion experience.

It is therefore correct when historians assert that Finney rejects "the notion that sinners should continue under conviction of sin." But one should notice that this notion comes about because of the emphasis on the conversion experience, which as God's sovereign activity cannot be timed. This particular piece of bad theology from New England Puritanism was not rejected by Finney but instead modified. The key error concerning the necessity of the conversion experience is kept. Finney merely replaced Calvinism with Pelagianism, therefore allowing him to shift the focus to Man's ability to decide for God, immediately. Also, since revivals are created by the mere use of the proper means, therefore all manners of appealing to the emotions to create revival are to be used. Thus, revivalism is birthed, a man-centered theory for creating converts which has created all manner of trouble in the churches

Evangelical histories in general are in error concerning Charles Finney. At the same time, we should understand that there was indeed a problem in the churches of that time, that of the necessity of a conversion experience for salvation, the more vivid they are the better. Wrong diagnostics by Evangelical hagiographers should not lead us into blaming Finney for things he is not guilty of. Finney has enough to answer for for his heresies, but we do not need to make him the devil incarnate even as we reject him and his heresies.