Saturday, September 20, 2014

Worship, RPW, Time and Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Darbyite "ecclesiology"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Philosophy of History: Redemptive-history versus evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UnChristian?

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

Quick quiz, is this statement referring to

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

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Answer: 4 (none of the above).

The full citation goes like this:

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 04, 2014

On the history of creation science

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Creation and False dichotomies

Most systematic theological treatments of Genesis 1-3 include these chapters in the doctrine of creaton, which entails the creation of the physical world ex nihilo, anthropology, constitution of man, imago Dei, fall, and perhaps the covenant of works. When one examines Genesis 1-3 from the systematic theological perspective, he sees a picture almost exclusively through the lens of ontology. It is perhaps this ontological lens that has led to the fragmented reading of Genesis 1-3, namely, examining the opening chapters of Scripture almost strictly in terms of the origin of man vis-a-vis Darwinian evolution. This fragmentary reading, in turn, has led to the misuse of Genesis in the battle between the claims of Darwin and the teachings of the Bible.

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Redemptive history as whole, then, necessitates exploring Genesis 1-3 in terms of protology rather than creation. Moreover, one must recognize the connections between protology and eschatology, connections that have important implications for the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. [John V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Rossshire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2007), 32-3]

What is Genesis 1-3 teaching? My former prof Dr. Fesko thinks that Genesis 1-3 is not trying to tell us anything about creation but is rather protology, in correspondence to eschatology. My main curiosity however is why must these two be put in contrast in the first place. The whole thing smells of a false dichotomy, as if Genesis 1-3 must be either about ontology, or about protology. Why must I choose one and not both?

An account that has no real correspondence to reality, to ontology, is purely literary. Literary accounts might have historical facts, but these are considered unimportant, for the main focus is purely literary, to show word associations, thematic progressions, and the development of various motifs. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with literary accounts per se. But can Genesis 1-3 function as a mere literary account, albeit somewhat historical (but not fully so)?

My main contention is that Genesis 1-3 cannot function as protology if one denies it as ontology. The literary exploration is a second order discourse, which presupposes the validity and truth of the first order ontological discourse. How can one claim an eschatology which happens in the real world while denying that the protology happened in the real world? Furthermore, if one says that the description is literary, then how does one deny that such would lead to a Neo-Orthodox view of saying that fiction conveys truth, since after all the particulars in Genesis 1-3 are claimed to be literarily not physically present. If one denies a literal Eden, a literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then should we expect there to be a literal heaven, a literal hell, a literal lake of fire, and so on? If so, where do we draw the line on what should we expect to be literal, and what not literal?

By all means, we should read Genesis 1-3 in light of all of Scripture with its typology, but let us not create false dichotomies and think we must choose between reading Genesis 1-3 plainly, and reading Genesis 1-3 typologically, as if one is antithetical to the other.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On attending churches

How many Christians move to a city because their company has transferred them there, and only after they have moved discover there is not a good church in the area? How much better it would be if Christians examined the area prior to a move, then told their employers, "No, I cannot accept this new job and an increased salary because there is not a solid church at which my family and I can worship." How can a Christian claim to love Christ, yet place a job over his worship of Christ? If Christ is truly our chief concern in this life, the one whom we truly love with all our heart, then we must be willing to say no to anything in this world that could take the place of Christ. [John V. Fesko, The Rule of Love: broken, fulfilled, and applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2009), 27]

OR just perhaps, you know, one could ASK for the Presbytery to begin a church plant there. And what happens if refusal to take this new job may mean that the person would become unemployed? Surely, the local church is not going to foot all his bills from now on!?

Seminaries always turn out fresh grads, and so far I have seen it is hard for many of them to get internships and calls. Look at it this way: God has provided so many people who are eager to go into the ministry. Why not actually think of ways to use them? If the Church is seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, shouldn't it be eagerly seeking to expand the Church and the orthodox Reformed faith through church planting? Or are we saying that the people in those areas without a confessional church around don't deserve to hear the Gospel?

We are not responsible for the conversion of people. But we are responsible for proclaiming the message to all, whether they believe it or not. It is inconceivable to me that so little effort is made to think of ways to plant churches so that everywhere a person goes, he does not have to face that kind of situation of having no "good church in the area."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameum: Miscellaneous and summary statements

Throughout the rest of John Frame's book, he reviews various books from authors related to the seminary in one form or another. Some of these books I have not read, but judging from how Frame misrepresented Horton and Clark, I would not be surprised if he misrepresented every single book he "reviewed."

It is not my intention to show all of Frame's other errors and misrepresentations, as it would be almost like beating a dead horse. Rather, I would look at a couple of other statements, then look at Frame's supposed summary statements describing the so-called "Escondido theology."

Worship and seeker-sensitivity

They [D.G. Hart and John Muether -DHC] quote my statement in Worship in Spirit and Truth that worship should be carried on in "a friendly, welcoming atmosphere," and they comment that "following this logic, worship style becomes a matter of taste." They then equate my recommendation with "irreverent worship." Nevertheless, they say later, as I do, that worship should involve joy. And of course they, like Horton, want no truck with anything from popular culture.

Does Reformed theology really require all this? Do we really forsake the Reformed faith if we seek to take visiting unbelievers into consideration (as 1 Cor. 14:24-25), or if we seek to be friendly to visitors? ... Didn't they [the Reformers -DHC] advocate clear communication in worship, both verbally (through the use of vernacular languages) and musically (through the emphasis on congregational singing)? [John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 280]

Here again, Frame misrepresents what Hart and Muether (and Horton) are arguing for. They are not arguing against communication, but against accommodation to worldly forms. Does this necessarily mean the denial of all Contemporary Christian Music? I do not think that is necessarily the case, although certainly Hart and Muether think it does. Regardless, the key issue is this: Hart and Muether are advocating for reverence in worship, a vertical focus through the dialogical principle. They never once denied that communication was essential to worship. Communication after all is not the same as adopting a horizontal "friendly atmosphere." Note also that a vertical focus does not mean that worshipers are unfriendly to each other. That is not at all Hart's and Muether's point, and one should not infer from the silence concerning the friendliness of believers to each other with the denial that one should be friendly with other believers.

I must say that this tactic of arguing from silence is endemic throughout Frame's book. As another example, Frame attacked David VanDrunen in his "review" of A Biblical Defense of Natural Law by stating that the problem with VanDrunen's view of the conscience providing moral knowledge is a grave "omission of any significant role for Gods supernatural commands informing his conscience" (p. 130), as if silence equals denial. All manner of such false accusations have been manufactured out of thin air just because writer X does not mention a certain principle Y that Frame thinks is important. Frame is truly straining at gnats here to try to come up with anything to stick on Westminster Seminary California it seems.

On Two-Kingdoms theory

If that is true [that Scripture teaches that "religious" issue intrude into politics and culture -DHC], then it is impossible to define a "realm" that is exclusively religious or nonreligious. There is one realm, the creation, the realm in which God works all things according to his sovereign will and demands that we serve him in all aspects of our lives.

...

The existence of a Cainite society, separate from the people of God (Gen. 4:26) was an evil, VanDrunen, by calling this society "realm," intends to confer some sort of legitimacy on it. But the development of societies in opposition to God is, according to Scripture, profoundly illegitimate. (pp. 134-5)

I have not read this book by Dr. VanDrunen yet, but I have taken his class on ethics where he discussed parts of his two-kingdoms doctrine. So while I cannot speak for his particular version of Two-Kingdoms (R2K) theory, I know some parts of it and Frame's caricature is just plain ludicrous. First of all, VanDrunen never once claims that there is any realm that is religiously neutral. The issue is not religious neutrality, but rather the issue is how God rules that realm, "religious" or not. Secondly, historic Reformed teaching differentiate between the Church and the State, so that the existence of two "realms" is always held to. Even under Christendom, besides the Inquisition and the Crusades, the civil magistrate was the one to put heretics to death. The sentence of heresy is done by the church, but it is the civil authorities who actually executed the judgment. The difference between the Reformation view, the Kuyperian view and the R2K view is not whether there are two different "realms" or "kingdoms" but how they relate to each other. It is interesting to see how Frame, in his rejection of R2K, denies even this distinction held to in the entirety of church history. Lastly, the issue with Cainite society is not to say they are neutral, but that they are an assembly that only has one kingdom since they are not part of the kingdom of grace, i.e. the civil kingdom. Even Frame claims they are wicked, so surely it is conceded that they are not part of Christ's kingdom yet nevertheless they do still have a civil kingdom, thought wicked and, I could even concede for the sake of argument, "illegitimate."

Whether R2K is biblical or not, misrepresentation of the position hardly helps make the case for the opposing side. If name-dropping Van Til and Kuyper is supposed to make us think R2K is wrong, all the misrepresentation of the position surely discredits the opposition more than it shows why R2K is wrong.

Summary statements

At the beginning of the book, Frame threw up a bunch of statements that he claims are "assertions typical of and widely accepted among, Escondido theologians" (p. xxxvii). From all his misrepresentations so far, if one were to guess that little if any of these assertions are actually held to by the professors of Westminster Seminary California, one would be right. Here are the various assertions (pp. xxxvii-xxxix), and my responses:

  • It is wrong to make the gospel relevant to its hearers
    Answer: Misleading and false. It is wrong to compromise the Gospel and biblical practices in the name of "making the gospel relevant to its hearers."

  • Scripture teaches about Christ, his atonement, and our redemption from sin, but not about how to apply that salvation to our current problems.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation. Scripture teaches all things. YET, Scripture is not a textbook on all topics and therefore where Scripture is silent we should not try to "mine" Scripture for "application" to "our current problems."

  • Those who try to show the application of Scripture to the daily problems of believers are headed toward a Christless Christianity
    Answer: FALSE! Misrepresentation! Those who focus on "application" using Scripture as mere prof-texts, without the Gospel and without grounding in the Gospel, are not headed, but are proclaiming, a Christless Christianity.

  • Anything we say about God is at best only an analogy of the truth and is therefore partly false.
    Answer: Misleading but understandable misrepresentation. Vantillians have in view the nature of truth, of which Man's truth is an analogy to God's truth. Since analogies have similarities and dissimilarities between the archetype and the ectype, God being infinite means that there are quite a lot of dissimilarities between archetypal truth and ectypal truth. Such dissimilarities result in the nature of truth claims being "partly false." Again, I think that such language as used by Dr. R Scott Clark is misleading, but still one has to represent the position correctly.

    More importantly, I thought Frame claims to be a Vantillian. This should be the last objection he has if he truly is following Van Til.

  • There is no immediate experience of God available to the believer.
    Answer: If by that, Frame means mystical experiences, tell me where in Scripture is mysticism taught.

  • The only experience of God available to the believer is in public worship.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! To emphasize the primacy of public worship and public piety is not to deny private piety.

  • Meetings of the church should be limited to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments.
    Answer: False. The priority of church meetings IS preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Other meetings may be called, but they are not mandatory. The main thing must remain the main thing however.

  • In worship, we "receive" from God, but should not seek to "work" for God.
    Answer: Misleading. A denial of every-member ministry does not make non office-bearers pew warmers!

  • The "cultural mandate" of Gen. 1:28 and 9:7 is not longer in effect.
    Answer: False. The "cultural" or creation mandate is still in effect, but it is given to humanity in general, not the church.

  • The Christian has no political mandate to seek changes in the social, cultural, or political order.
    Answer: Misleading. In 2K theory, the Church has no mandate to seek changes. Individual Christians have no "mandate," but they ought to be involved in the community, which involves seeking changes in the social, cultural and political order where applicable.

  • Divine sovereignty typically eliminates the need for human responsibility.
    Answer: False! Justification is purely of grace apart from good works. That is the point, not some "zero-sum game" such that God being sovereign imply humans are passive in their sanctification, which however is grounded in the Gospel and not of one's efforts.

  • Preaching should narrate the history of redemption, but should never appeal to Bible characters as moral or spiritual examples.
    Answer: They can be appealed to as examples, as examples ultimately of Christ, but all such examples are to be grounded in what Christ has already done for us, not mere moralism in Law-only preaching.

  • Preaching "how tos" and principles of practical living is man-centered.
    Answer: Misleading. Insofar as such preaching is not centered on the Gospel indicatives, it IS man-centered. But principles of living if based upon the Gospel should be preached.

  • To speak of a biblical worldview, or biblical principles for living, is to misuse the Bible.
    Answer: False! The issue is not whether there is a worldview, but whether one is trying to use the Bible to proof-text theories that are not actually taught in the Bible, where the Bible is silent.

  • Nobody should be considered Reformed unless they agree with everything in the Reformed confessions and theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! First of all, it is just Reformed confessions, not necessarily all theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries. Secondly, depending on the form of subscription practiced by the denomination, one may or may not take exceptions as long as they do not violate the essence of the faith, its "system of doctrine."

  • We should not agree to discuss any theological topics except the ones discussed by Reformed thinkers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
    Answer: False. Since Frame evidently thinks that republication and 2K is new, then his very case defeats this assertion.

  • Jonathan Edwards and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones were not Reformed.
    Answer: One can be in the Reformed church while holding to doctrines contrary to the Reformed confessions. They are "Reformed" in the loose sense. They are Reformed in the stricter sense (at least Jonathan Edwards) because they subscribe to a Reformed confession. But this is misleading. The question raised by Dr. Clark is not whether they are Reformed, but whether they were acting Reformed at that instance.

  • Theology is not the application of Scripture, but a historical investigation into Reformed traditions.
    Answer: False. Theology is not the application of Scripture it is true. It is rather thinking God's thoughts after Him, knowing God and making Him known. Theology is THEN applied to life, but it is not application itself. It is also NOT a historical investigation into Reformed tradition. Rather, historical investigation shows us the wisdom and insights of saints gone by, to direct us in the right path of thinking theologically.

  • There is no difference between being biblical and being Reformed.
    Answer: Misleading. There is a difference; the former follows Scripture, while the latter follows Scripture and it is understood that the Reformed faith IS what Scripture itself teaches. But what Frame is trying to insinuate is that being "Reformed" is an addition to Scripture, which is a misrepresentation of how the Reformed tradition has always understood itself — that to be Reformed IS to be biblical, and that non-Reformed thought is not biblical at all.

  • To study the Bible is to study it as the Reformed tradition has studied it.
    Answer: Misleading! We believe that the Reformed tradition has studied the Bible, and to study the Bible in any manner other than the Reformed tradition is to not study the Bible at all.

  • God's principles for governing society are found, not in Scripture, but in natural law.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! God's principles are indeed found in natural law, but whoever said there is no relation whatsoever between natural law and Scripture?

  • Natural law is to be determined, not by Scripture, but by human reason and conscience.
    Answer: False dichotomy! Why not both? But the main issue is not how it is determined, but the relation of natural law and Scripture, of which Frame has not even shown he understands them.

  • Scripture promises the believer no temporal blessings until the final judgment.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! But the blessings God promises us on earth may not be the "earthly blessings" we want.

  • We can do nothing to "advance" the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom, since the ascension of Christ, is wholly future.
    Answer: What does Frame mean by "advance"? He hasn't even defined his terms. Furthermore, denial of theonomy and theonomic postmillennialism does not translate into seeing the kingdom as wholly future, since the Kingdom of God has already come in Christ's first coming. What is denied is not the coming of the Kingdom now, but the coming of the Kingdom now in power.

  • The Sabbath pertains only to worship, not to daily work. So worship should occur on the Lod's Day, but work need not cease.
    Answer: M.G. Kline's view of the Sabbath is not held to by almost anyone else besides Kline. So this is a misrepresentation.

  • Only those who accept these principles can consistently believe in justification by faith alone.
    Answer: FALSE!

  • Reformed believers must maintain an adversarial relationship with American evangelicals.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Horton's "village green" model does not promote an "adversarial relationship." In fact, Dr. Horton is probably one of the nicest professors around. The only one adversarial here is John Frame. Concerning evangelicals, we call a spade a spade. We call on them to repent of their unbiblical doctrines and turn to the Reformed faith, out of a heart of love. Nothing adversarial here!

  • Worship should be very traditional, without any influence of contemporary culture.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Denial of seeker-sensitivity and informal worship does not necessarily equate to "worship should be traditional."

  • Only those who accept these principles can be considered truly Reformed.
    Answer: False. The focus is on whether they hold to the Reformed confessions, not "these principles," most of which as you can see are caricatures. The irony is that Frame is writing this book to exclude those from Westminster Seminary California from being called "Reformed." Who's the sectarian here?

  • These principles, however, represent only desirable "emphases." There are exceptions.
    Answer: There are no exceptions. The "exceptions" are an explication of the principles being discussed, and therefore that Frame sees them as exceptions shows he does not understand, or does not seem to understand, what he is "reviewing."

In conclusion, John Frame has shown himself to misrepresent almost every writer in this book, especially seen in those whose books under review I have read. Frame persistently engages in all forms of logical fallacies, and his charges are slanderous to those he is attacking. Far from proving some nefarious "Escondido Theology," Frame has to repent of his lies about these ministers of God— of violating the ninth commandment and attacking the good names of these authors, many of them ministers of the Gospel.

Contra Johannem Frameum: RSC's Recovering the Reformed Confession - Reformed vs Evangelical (Part 2)

In the American context evangelicals are orthodox Protestant Christians, Christians who maintain belief in the supernatural work of God to save us from sin, including Jesus' virgin birth,miracles, atoning death, resurrection, and return. The Reformed also maintain these doctrines (with some slippage on both sides). Since they hold every doctrine that defines evangelicalism, they can be regarded as evangelicals. But of course they also believe some things that do not define evangelicalism, which makes them a distinct strand of the evangelical movement. [John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 95]

Historically speaking, "evangelical" is the name used by Lutherans to describe themselves. The term then took on a new meaning when it came into widespread use as a name at the time of the First Great Awakening in Britain, as a description by Christians who believe that one must personally believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, in contrast to the general apostasy within the 18th century Church of England whereby many ministers do not even believe the Gospel much less teach and proclaim it. Evangelicalism therefore as a movement is a reaction to the unregenerate state of the 18th century Church of England. Unfortunately, the rejection of the apostate established church comes about without a recovery of Reformed church piety. When the First Great Awakening came to America, George Whitefield transplanted the entire British experience over such that all professing believers must be assumed to be unregenerate unless they have a conversion experience, resulting in the split within American Presbyterianism into the Old Side and the New Side.

"Evangelicalism" and "Evangelical" from then on refer to the movement that spawned from the 18th century Great Awakening. While it generally has similar doctrines to the Reformed faith, the major difference however is where they differ: ecclesiology. Evangelicalism never has a proper doctrine of the church, only a truncated doctrine of the local church and a spiritual doctrine of the universal church.

We see that John Frame thinks like an Evangelical. That is why he can talk so flippantly about "evangelical reunion," as if "evangelical" was primary. Of course, if one thinks only about doctrine, then Reformed seem to be a subset of Evangelicalism. But historically such is not the case. The Reformation was first, then the rise of Evangelicalism.

Frame's doctrine of the Church is not Reformed. That is why he can misunderstand R. Scott Clark's view of confessionalism, because for him there is no difference between the individual, and the group. He has no concept that the group, i.e. the institutional Church, is a distinct entity separate from the individuals even though it is made up of individuals. Frame therefore is stymied when Clark criticize his views as being individualistic when he defines Reformed as being "the consensus of Reformed believers" (p. 75, 81). There is a big difference between "the consensus of Reformed believers" and "the consensus of the Reformed Church made up of Reformed believers." The former focuses on the individual, such that a modification of Dr. Clark's syllogistic representation holds true ("a number of believers self-identify as Reformed, They hold X; X is Reformed"), while the latter focuses on the Church coming to its official pronouncement ("The Church, comprising many believers who self-identify as Reformed, wrote/adopt this Confession; The Confession state X; X is Reformed"). The failure of Frame to see this is astonishing, but I guess that is what happens when individualism is taken to the extreme such that the collective is denied. Lastly, Frame objects that the Confession has to be interpreted and thus subjectivism is still present, but such is a cop-out for the simple reason that the same argument can be applied to Scripture, yet Evangelicals still believe in the authority of Scripture instead of asking "Has God said?".

Frame may not like the Reformed doctrine of the Church; that is his perogative. But it is tiresome when he continues to insist that he is Reformed. Can someone who self-identifies himself as Reformed deny Reformed ecclesiology and still be Reformed? That is the crux of the matter, and that is why Frame's main critique of Clark is wrong.

Contra Johannem Frameum: RSC's Recovering the Reformed Confession - Reformed vs Evangelical

So the true church is now broken up into thousands of denominations and varying traditions, contrary to our Lord's will. The church is still one in that it has one Lord, one faith, and on baptism. But there are divisions of theology, practice, ethnicity, of which the Reformed tradition is one.

Christians are committed first to Christ, then to the one body of Christ, and only then to a particular form of the church. They must make the third commitment only because history has made it necessary. Because of the tragic division of the church. one may not be a "mere Christian." He must join a congregation that does not have fellowship with all other congregations. So he must be Reformed or non-Reformed, not both. There should be in his heart a purpose to do something, even if he only can do a little bit, to lessen the divisions of the church and to make progress toward the reunion of the church.

If a believer is Reformed he should give due appreciation to the achievements of that tradition in theology,church government, and other ways. But the focus of his life should not be on his denomination or tradition. It should be on Christ and the Scriptures. He should feel deeply the errors of Reformed chauvinism, the attitude that celebrates and seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of Reformed Christianity from the influence of other branches of the church. He should learn from other traditions and recommend what he learns to his Reformed friends. ...

His church home, contrary to Horton's "village green" model, is the whole body of God's elect. His relation to non-Refomed Christians is spiritual oneness with Christ, not "shared interests." (Shared interests! What a trivializing of the unity of Jesus' body!)

A Reformed community that maintains its biblical heritage while seeking to grow in its love for the church as a whole is well worth supporting and recommending to others. This is not [R Scott] Clark's view of the church, and that I take to be the most serous criticism of the book under review [Recovering the Reformed Confession]. But it is one I heartily recommend to my readers. (John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 117-8)

Chapter 3 of John Frame's book is Frame's attempt to interact with R. Scott Clark's book Recovering the Reformed Confession. Clark is a strict confessionalist of sorts, and not surprisingly, Frame doesn't like him or his ideas one bit.

While Frame disagrees with Dr. Clark on many things, his main contention with Clark's book is that the two of them have competing views of what it means to be "Reformed." Clark defines "Reformed" historically, while Frame defines it, well, as merely a tradition he is sortof stuck in, a tradition that is merely one fragment of Christianity, as we can see from the quote above. One wonders why Frame even want to be called "Reformed," since evidently to him there is not much difference between Reformed and Anabaptist, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy. All are merely a matter of taste, as all are mere fragments of the Church. But if all are a matter of taste, why not just discard the labels entirely and merge in one "sweet" ecumenical syrup and just focus on the "lurrveeeeee" of Christ? Why doesn't Frame just join any of the Stone-Campbell descendent churches, since that was the original intention of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, who desired to be known merely as "Christians"? And to his claim that one can be either "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," not both, why not just apply the Hegelian dialectic and found your own denomination, a third path if you may?

The problem with Frame and his idea of "evangelical reunion" is that his church history is practically non-existent. What kind of "summary" of church history is it to state that the church began with Christ, and then after the times of the apostles,

... the one true church eventually divided.Groups broke away from the fellowship: west broke from east, Protestant from Catholic, Protestant from Protestant. ... The blame, of course, is not on everyone equally but these divisions always resulted from someone's sin— either the sin of those who illegitimately left the one body, or, in most cases, both. (p. 117)

In the early church councils, the various heretical groups were kicked out of the early Catholic church. At the time of Chalcedon in 451AD, a significant number of groups were excommunicated because they refused to subscribe to the Definition of Chalcedon. The Coptic church were Monophysites, while many Nestorians fled eastwards into the Sassanid Empire, and established a foothold there, creating a vibrant center of an alternate "Christianity" outside the Roman Empire (both East and West). So even in the early Catholic church before the East-West Schism formalized in 1054, there were centers of "Christianity" besides Rome and Constantinople. The trouble is that these churches were deemed heretical by Chalcedon, and their adherents not considered to be in communion with Christ and His Church.

The Reformation of course "split" the Reformers from the Roman Church, but then the Reformers were not trying to create a new church but to reform the Medieval Catholic Church. It was rather the Anabaptists who wanted to overthrow all of Christendom, not just the political order but also the ecclesiastical order. None of the Reformers thought of themselves as a mere "fragment" of Christ's Church, alongside other "denominations" like the Anabaptists and the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, they saw themselves as reforming the Church, and there is only one church. The various denominations were created in order to give form to the one church they conceived themselves to be in. Where there are practical issues that prohibit union, like national and language boundaries, the different church bodies had fraternal relations. In having fraternal relations, they are acknowledging that the other denomination was a legitimate church body. Union would have been considered and taken place if not for practical considerations, an understanding that saw the Reformed churches eager to cooperate and merge with other church bodies of like faith and practice (e.g. the merger of the churches from the Doleantie and the earlier 19th century Afschieding in early 20th century Netherlands).

All of these just go to show Frame's ignorance of church history and the general Reformed understanding of what a denomination is. A denomination is not a "fragment" of the Christian church. A denomination strives to encompass all of Christ's churches, and to establish fraternal relations with those that are practically impossible to achieve union for any kind of legitimate reason. Denominations and churches that have no legitimate reason to remain separate from any other church bodies ought to merge. So if Frame's view of the church is correct, then all of these churches ought to combine. There shouldn't be any "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," but only the title "Christian." This was after all the dream of the 19th century Restoranionists Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.

So why aren't churches uniting? Evangelical churches generally are not interested in uniting because they have a false doctrine of the church as to its nature being only local. Thus, Evangelicalism only believe in a spiritual unity, the unity of all believers "in Christ." For the Reformed churches, at their best they understand the inability to unite stems from differences in doctrine, serious differences in doctrine that make it impossible for ecumenism to be possible. First, we should acknowledge that there is no unity with heretical churches, which would rule out Frame's beloved example of Joel Osteen. Those with serious error(s) are also excluded, as are all Arminians and Arminian church bodies. And lastly, certain practices like the denial of pedobaptism in Reformed Baptists circles would make it impossible for a united church life to continue, even if we were to agree with the Reformed Baptists on almost everything else (which is not really true, but I digress).

There is the Reformed desire for union, which is to be based upon a shared confession of the same apostolic and Reformed faith. Then, there is the faux "Evangelical union" promoted by Frame, in which orthodoxy does not seem to define the boundaries of the Church. That is why Frame's view of "unity" is wrong. In Frame's counter-analogy to Mike Horton's "village green" model, Frame states that all who claim the name "Christian" should be treated automatically as brothers and sisters in Christ, with a corresponding "spiritual oneness." But such "oneness" advocated by Frame has little if anything to do with truth, in comparison with the Reformed view of unity. (Horton's "village green" model only makes sense when one sees the other houses as those who claim the name of Christ but who might not be actually part of Christ's church, and therefore there are "shared interests" when one interacts with them on a normal basis.)

While I do not necessarily agree with Dr. Clark on everything, he is right in linking "Reformed" to the Reformed Confessions, not because the Confessions have taken the place of Scripture, but because the Confessions confess what the Church believes to be true and biblical. (If the Church decides that certain parts are contrary to Scripture, then she is to amend them accordingly.) Frame's attack on Clark however, betrays his ignorance of church history and his ignorance of Reformed ecclesiology, and should be rejected altogether.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameum: Horton and Christless Christianity

Back in 2011, John Frame, a former professor at Westminster Seminary California and now at RTS (Orlando) wrote a book attacking what he called the "Escondido Theology." Since Frame was formerly a professor who left under a less than favorable situation, the book could be seen as the disgruntled whining of a former employee. Frame's charges were roundly rejected by the seminary and Dr. Michael Horton repudiated Frame's (mis)presentation of his views. That said, all of these are based upon their own judgments, and for some time I wanted to look at the charges myself. When I finally read it, I was astounded. The caricatures and misrepresentations are so bad and numerous one really wonders whether this libelous book is indeed the disgruntled attacks of someone who has a bitter personal vendetta against the seminary to the point of breaking the 9th commandment in order to "get back" at it.

I have graduated from the seminary, and I had tried to learn as much as I could there. I am no parrot and no follower of anyone but Christ, and just because I have graduated there does not mean that I necessarily adopt everything my professors believed and/or taught. That said, if what they teach is the truth, then of course I hold to it. And if one disagrees with what they teach, one needs to actually do so because the Bible says so, not because one does not like what they teach, much less reject a caricature of it. Sadly, the amount of strawmen burned by Frame blackened the sky with smoke. Lots of heat is produced, but not only is no light produced, but darkness covers the land because of his hack job of a book.

Frame's second chapter is an attack on Horton's book Christless Christianity. First of all, Frame misrepresents even Horton's position vis-a-vis the American churches. Frame claims that Horton makes a blanket condemnation of ALL churches and then backtracks later (pp. 23-4). The whole representation is ludicrous and one wonders whether Frame has problems with basic reading comprehension. In which world is general statements necessarily meant to be taken to be applicable to all of the particulars? This is the logical fallacy of division. Frame next reads Horton's saying that some professing Christians focus on good things as being a subtle distraction away from Christ, and mutates it into saying that Horton claims a two-tiered hierarchy of believers, the "higher" ones focusing on the best things and the "lower" ones focusing merely on the good things (p. 25). I must say this, and at various other point, I am rendered speechless as to how to even respond to such misrepresentations. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say perhaps because Frame reads this as speaking of actual Christians who are focusing on good things, while Horton is "denigrating" them for the purpose of setting up the "higher level" of those who focus on the "best things." But this is such a twisted thinking! Horton's point was that these "professing Christians" are in danger of falling away. Their conduct is not that of "second grade Christians," but conduct totally unbecoming of Christians in the first place! Throughout this chapter, Frame questions even whether anyone can be said to fall into this category. Does Horton have to name even more names and make what is clear even more evident? But I guess there is nothing that Frame sees as being unacceptable in the church, except for Confessional Reformed praxis it seems. How can anyone even defend the word-faith heretic Joel Osteen (p. 38) is beyond me. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reading Osteen in the "worst possible sense" (p. 38), for his theology is not hidden at all. Does Frame think that the Bible teaches that men are little gods and that they can claim God's blessings on demand, and only on demand? Does he thinks that it is perfectly in line with Scripture for people to say that God cannot do anything on this world without the express permission of men? Does he believe that it is perfectly legit for Christians to want to be rich and pay seed money to attempt to get a hundred-fold return on their "investments" into God's treasury?!

Frame defends the modern evangelical churches by claiming that there is nothing wrong with "application," since the Bible speaks about them (p. 30). Conversely, he accuses Horton (and the "Escondido Theology") of being against application (p. xxxvii). But this is nothing but a total misrepresentation of Horton's views. The problem is that Horton grounds application in right doctrine. One has to get the indicative of the Gospel before going to the imperatives of the faith. To just preach imperatives or even on "secular" topics is the very definition of "Christless Christianity." Frame does not even show the slightest hint that he knows that is what Horton is actually advocating. Instead, he sees an attack on "applicational preaching" and "preaching to felt needs" as being an attack on any forms of application at all (pp. 35-6), but this is a total non sequitur! Frame also thinks that Horton's critique of the language of "making him [i.e.Christ] relevant" is an attack on any and all forms of translating and communicating God's truth (pp. 35-7). I mean, how can one read a critique of saying that we should not soften the offense of the Gospel as saying that we should not translate the Gospel into another language like Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese? Seriously, what world is Frame living in, to make such egregious errors in reading comprehension?

More examples of absolutely horrendous misrepresentations follow. A critique of pietism with its focus on one's emotional feeling of salvation becomes misinterpreted as a denial of the Spirit's witness to our salvation (p. 40). Horton's distinction between Law and Gospel under Frame's pen becomes the separation of Law and Gospel (pp. 44-7). Horton's critique of moralism becomes an attack on all forms of using biblical figures as examples (p. 48). After reading through this chapter, one wonders if there is anything, just ANYTHING, that Frame does not misrepresent.

Frame concluded his chapter with a so-called "summary" of Horton's arguments in Christless Christianity, which are all misrepresentations of his actual positions. They are as follows (pp. 58-9), with my comments.

  1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to God.
    Answer: Misleading. Attention to ourselves as primary necessarily detracts from attention to God.

  2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearer.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Horton's argument is that we should not be focused on changing or watering down the message in the name of communicating the Gospel or making it relevant.

  3. God's sovereignty and human responsibility are a zero-sum game. The idea that man must do something compromises the absolute sovereignty of God.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! The issue is not about working on sanctification, but about the Gospel and justification which is totally free and MUST be the foundation for sanctification.

  4. God's work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us (Here he backtracks some.)
    Answer: Misleading and misrepresentation. God's work of salvation is not at all subjective in the sense of our emotional feeling of it. The work of Christ in us (regeneration and faith) is objective, not subjective, since God is the one who does the work. It may be expressed subjectively, but the works themselves are not subjective. Furthermore, it is one thing to know of the Spirit's work internally, and another to feel it emotively.

  5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a "theology of glory," deserving condemnation
    Answer: Misleading. God does promise us earthly blessings, but God does NOT promise us "earthly blessings" of health and wealth. The focus of God's blessings is not on earthly gain, but on our sanctification. To desire "earthly blessings" is indeed a "theology of glory" because it desires the glory of the world instead of Christ.

  6. Law and Gospel should be utterly separate. There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Law and Gospel are distinct, but not separate. When used as theological categories, they are not necessarily linked to the text like some simplistic idea of "Law" equals Old Testament and "Gospel" equals New Testament, or even "Gospel" equals the four Gospels.

  7. Preaching of the gospel must never use biblical characters as moral or spiritual examples. Nor must it address practical ethical issues in the Christian life.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Preaching of the Gospel must never use biblical examples WITHOUT seeing them in light of Christ and the Gospel, not that they must never be used.

  8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.
    Answer: Misleading. A focus on redemption does not mean that other issues are not important, just that they are peripheral to the faith, and should orientate themselves with Christ and the Gospel in the center.

  9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! A rejection of contemporary "participation" in worship does not imply that the congregation is fully passive in worship

  10. Analysts of the church must compare the Church's focus on Christ with its focus on other things, rather than considering that many of these other things are in fact applications of Christ's own person and work.
    Answer: Misrepresentation of much of American evangelicalism. It is not that they are applying Christ's person and work, as that they are using Scripture to preach on ethics without Christ and His work being central.

And this is just the beginning of Frame's misrepresentations...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cheungism, Biblicism and philosophy

Those who claim to have no tradition are often the ones with the most traditions -paraphrased saying of Dr. James R. White

An unpublished comment by the Cheungian Gregory S. Gill, which had violated rule number 5 (and thus deleted), claimed to follow the Scriptures and not philosophy in his holding to the heresy that God is the Author of sin. Looking at that comment, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, such is how terribly inane such statements are. There is no one without philosophy. The question however is whether one is conscious of it. Nobody actually arrives at the Scriptures, or any other book for that matter, a tabula rasa. In this particular instance, Gill smuggled his philosophy of nominalism into the text of Scripture. Where in Scripture is nominalism taught? Nowhere of course. He smuggled his philosophy under the pretense of reading Scripture only, and then accuse those who disagree with his philosophy of importing philosophy into the text of Scripture. Oh, the irony of ironies!

That is why biblicism is wrong. There are all manner of biblicists around, and it would truly be a thing to behold if you could place a couple of them in the same room to discuss theology. Each of them will accuse the other of importing philosophy into the text and distorting the "plain teaching" of Scripture, and each of them will deny the charge. The Jehovah's Witness, the Seventh-Day Adventist, the Arian, the Socinian — all claim to follow the Scriptures only. I could just imagine the chaos that would erupt when the accusations of "philosophy" start flying around the room they would be placed together.

The alternative to biblicism (Solo Scriptura) is Scripture as foundation, reading Scripture with an understanding of Scripture as the norming norm (norma normans non normata) and the Christian tradition as the normed norm (norma normans et normata). That is why, although we should not slavishly follow philosophy, we need to understand it and realize its use in theology, especially classical theology's usage of Aristotelianism. No one philosophy is sacrosanct, but the situatedness of theologizing imply that in some sense, the philosophies utilized in the Christian tradition are in some ways integral to the orthodox Christian faith, in the way those doctrines have been historically understood and formulated. One cannot reject them because of its "philosophical underpinnings," since we as humans are unable to transcend philosophizing, and thus we must always utilize philosophy of one kind or another. So instead of thinking we can transcend our historical situatedness, it would be better that we acknowledge our own traditions and philosophies, thus enabling us to be most honest and enabling more genuine discussions over any matters of controversies.

This side of post-modernity, denying the idea of human situatedness is not tolerable. Whatever its faults, the postmodern project has exposed the hubris of humans trying to transcend their creaturely status. It is therefore illustrative when Cheungians claim access to truth that are untied to historical or philosophical contingencies. By denying situatedness, Cheungians deny the archetypal/ ectypal distinction and erode the Creator-creature distinction. Instead of thinking God's thoughts after Him, they want to think the very thoughts of God in se. It is clear which one is more bounded by philosophy and contrary to the Reformed faith, and its naive view of philosophy and history marks it as not worthy of intellectual consideration.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The sovereign God, His decrees and secondary causes

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. [WCF 3.1. OPC edition. Taken from The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with Proof Texts (Wilow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2005, 2008), 12]

A friend of mine asked me to write on what I am for, if I am against Vincent Cheung's promotion of God as the Author of sin. That is rather simple. It is based upon the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I subscribe wholeheartedly. God is the cause of all things, but God is not the author of sin. What that means I will explicate further.

Before I begin, I would like to direct attention to this post I had written 7 years ago, and to which I have not changed my position. It also has a nice chart to which I still think is excellent, and which I will reproduce as follows:

CausesPrimarySecondary
ActiveGod personally does this action by a positive extension of His willGod does this action through intermediaries by a positive extension of His will
PassiveGod personally does this action by not doing something in order to accomplish His willGod does this action through intermediaries by not doing something in order to accomplish His will

Back to the topic. We believe in the sovereignty of God over all things. Furthermore, God has total exhaustive control over everything both good and evil. Nothing happens without God approving of it, either actively or passively. God's sovereignty is worked out in His decrees, the proclamation of His plans to the cosmos of what is to happen and what is to come. God decreed it from eternity, and this decree once proclaimed will work itself out when the time comes. God's decrees are not God's work. The former is the plan, the latter its execution. Just as a carpenter draws up the plans for his work e.g. a table, and then he executes the plan to create that table, so likewise God "draws up" His plans, and when the time comes, the plans are executed.

The Reformed tradition and in fact almost all of Christian theology until recent times have always believed that God ordained whatsoever comes to pass. The difference between competing traditions (Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism) is what functions as the basis of God's ordination. The Reformed claims, as Ephesians 1:11 states, that the basis for God's choices, God's ordination, is God's free will. God decides freely, which is to say He does not decides based upon anything external to Himself. God decides unchangeably, which is to say God decides, and there is no change at all in any of His decisions. God after all does not change (Num. 23:19 Mal. 3:6) as He is perfect. Any change at all would have meant He was imperfect before the change. God's decides based upon His free will, and the counsel of His will is most holy and wise, as God is full perfection.

God decrees everything. Yet while we fully affirm God's decree of all things, yet we state unequivocally and clearly that God is not the Author of sin, which is to say that although God decrees everything, yet this decree does not imply that God personally creates or does sin (which is what "primary cause" means in Aristotelianism). Sin is done by the creature. God is fully passive in their sinning, by not intervening to stop them from sinning. Now, many people have the idea that mere allowance implies God is uninvolved, but that is false. Since God controls everything, even God's allowance is allowance of God as to where the person and how the person can sin. As an analogy, imagine 5 marbles. If I were to ask the person to choose a marble but take away four of them, the person can only choose one marble even though there was no external coercion upon him to choose it. Or to give a better, and more biblical analogy, the heart of Man is like a river. It flows. God directs the river's path, as He does the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1). In this analogy, the river flows and God direct them, but God does not make the river flow. Likewise, God changes circumstances and uses all manner of intermediaries so that the person will do what God intends, but the motivation (like the kinetic flow of water in the river) derives solely from the hearts of men.

Sin therefore is under God passively and secondarily. God's causing sin is "through intermediaries by not doing something in order to accomplish His will." God is not the author or the primary cause of sin. Rather, sin is sovereignly controlled by God through the use of intermediaries, or second causes. These second causes are actual and are real. They actually make real choices, not robots dictated by God that they can only make one choice. Just like the hearts of kings, the control is through direction, not choice. They freely choose, but their choices will always be what God intended them to choose.

As I have mentioned in that old 7-year old post, which God is more sovereign: the God who sovereignly controls all things such that everyone can make free choices yet their choices are always what God intended them to make, or a god who has his decrees and the free choice of anyone could potentially jeopardize his plans? Surely it is the former! This is why the Confession says that the "liberty or contingency of second causes [are not] taken away, but rather established," because God's full sovereignty means that Man's free actions are truly free; God does not have to impose restrictions on Man's freedom for His will to be done and for men to do what He has always planned for them to do. God is just THAT sovereign! That is why Calvinism is not fatalism in any sense, because in fatalism one always lives in fear that one's actions might be contrary to one's fate or destiny.

God is sovereign, and Man is free. That has been the truth trumpeted since the Reformation, and even before that in some form. Cheung's teaching on the other hand is novel, and shows the sovereignty of a god who will lose control if anything is not under his direct control. That is not the God of Scripture, and not the Lord I worship.

Gordon Clark on the "Author of Sin"

Summarizing the Scriptures, the [Westminster] Confession says here that God is not the author of sin; that is God does nothing sinful. Even those Christians who are not Calvinists must admit that God in some sense is the cause of sin, for he is the sole ultimate cause of everything. But God does not commit the sinful act, nor does he approve of it and reward it. Perhaps this illustration is faulty, as most illustrations are, but consider that God is the cause of my writing this book. Who would deny that God is the first or ultimate cause, since it was he who created mankind? But although God is the cause of his chapter, he is not its author. ...

The Scripture references show clearly that God controls the wills of men. ...

This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures. It was not as if [in the case of Absalom and his men choosing a war plan] the men wanted to adopt Ahithophel's plan and were forced to follow Hushai against their desires. ... But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes.

This ties in with the next phrase, "nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

In the case of Absalom the secondary causes were the psychological proceses. The decision the men of Israel made was not made in opposition to those processes, nor even without them. God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes.

To mention other examples, God decreed to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt; but they had to do the walking themselves. God decreed that Solomon should build the temple; but Solomon had to collect the materials. God dos not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. [Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2001), 37-8]

None of these can be affirmed by Vincent Cheung and his drones, who claim that (1) God is the Author of sin, (2) God is the primary cause of everything, (3)Second causes are mere occasions, not actually and truly real processes in which God is in control but not directly working

Recent consolidated articles

I have consolidated my posts on Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism into one article here, and consolidated my review of Ronald E. Osborn's book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, with some editing and a brief conclusion, here.