Saturday, December 20, 2014

Examples of Ignorance of YEC

John Walton has proven that ignorance of basic teachings of YEC are endemic throughout the academy. Misrepresentation of YEC doesn't seem to be an offense in academic circles it seems, whereas I would think that misrepresentation of any other topic would be rather severely punished.

...everything we know logically repudiate the absence of death at any level prior to the Fall. Day three describes the process by which plants grow. The cycle of sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds is one that involves death at every stage. This system only functions with death as part of it. Likewise with animals: we need not even broach the topic of predatory meat eaters to see that the food chain involves. A caterpillar eating a leaf brings death. A bird eating the caterpillar brings death. Fish eating insects brings death. If animals and insects did not die, they wold overwhelm their environment and the ecology would suffer. Furthermore, if we move to the cellular level death is inevitable. Human skin has an outer layer of epidermis—dead cells—and we know that Adam had skin (Gen. 2:23) [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 99]

RESPONSE: YECs believe that there is a difference between biblical death, and biological death. Regarding animal death, see my review of Ronald E. Osborn's book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, here.

For example, they [YECs - DHC] typically account for the visibility of the stars by suggesting that light was created in transit (Ibid., 107-8)

RESPONSE: I have no idea whether the "light-in-transit" theory has ever been embraced by any creationist scientist. I know that sometime in the 1980s(?), a theory of light-speed decay was proposed. Russell Humphreys then in the early 21st century thereabouts came up with his white-hole cosmology. More recently, John Hartnett came up with an entire alternate cosmology using the cosmology developed by Moshe Carmeli. Given that Walton's book is published in 2009 not the 1980s, his ignorance of modern creationist thought is sad.

Creation, the "Cosmic Temple" and the flow of typology

First in line is the curious fact that the number seven appears so pervasively in temple accounts in the ancient world and in the Bible. Thus the seven days of the Genesis account of origins has a familiarity that can hardly be coincidental and tells us something about the seven-day structure in Genesis 1 that we did not know before and that is not transparent to modern readers. That is, if Genesis 1 is a temple text, the seven days may be understood in relation to some aspect of temple inauguration. What would days of inauguration have to do with creation? What is the connection? If Genesis 1 were an account of material origins, there would be no connection at all. But as an account of functional origins, creation and temple inauguration fit hand in hand. Given the relationship of the temple and the cosmos, the creation of one is also the creation of the other. The temple is made functional in the inauguration ceremonies, and therefore the temple is created in the inauguration ceremony. So also the cosmic temple would be made functional (created) in an inauguration ceremony.

We must draw an important distinction between the building of a temple and the creation of a temple. ... The temple uses that which is material, but the temple is not material. If God is not in it, it is not a temple. If rituals are not performed by a serving priesthood, it is not a temple. If those elements are not in place, the temple does not exist in any meaningful way. A person does not exist if only represented by their corpse. It is the inauguration ceremony that transforms a pile of lumber, stone gold and cloth into a temple. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 86-7]

Flowing from his postulation that the Genesis account is about "functional ontology," Walton states that it is focused on the inauguration of the cosmic-temple, using analogies from other ANE temple accounts to make his case. Now, we have already established that Walton's main argument collapses because of his philosophical confusion. Thus, applying the correct categories and discounting the idea of "functional ontology," we will say that the ontology of a temple consists of a building, sacred object(s), priest(s), and ritual(s) to connect with the divine. Its telos is to function as a site for religious devotion. As such, the inauguration of a temple completes it by adding the elements necessary for its ontology. Now of course, an empty temple building is still called a "temple," but that is to focus on the building with the understanding that the other elements are supposed to be present there. A "temple building" without those elements has a temple architecture, but it is not in fact a temple.

Concerning the ANE, the supposed seven days in the ANE temple accounts might parallel the seven days of creation, but we can say that it is expected if we hold that the ANE accounts are corruptions of the true religion. More serious is the supposed parallel between the Genesis creation and the temple accounts themselves. But here, we must ask ourselves, why do we assume that the temple inauguration is not meant to reflect something, instead of the other way seeing the creation account as a reflection of temple inauguration?

Here, we come to the issue of typology, which is to say that there are types and shadows throughout the Bible where the type prefigures what it intends to portray. If we start with creation, then it seems clear that temple accounts are meant to reflect the creation of the universe, especially the first garden-temple of Eden. In other words, creation comes first, and the temple accounts were meant to typify it in their worship. This is in contrast to the approach taken here, and taken by those like Peter Enns, that make the creation texts typify the ANE and Israel in her religious life. That approach is wrong because it makes a primary theme of Scripture (i.e. creation) into a type of a secondary theme (the cultic element, which prefigures Christ and the salvation He purchased). Both Walton and Enns reverse the flow of typology in this area, and thus they are in error in how they read these texts.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Genesis, "Ancient Cosmology" and "Functional Ontology"

In this book I propose that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system. Here I do not refer to an ordered system in scientific terms, but an ordered system in human terms, that is, in relation to society and culture. In this sort of functional ontology, the sun does not exist by virtue of its material properties, or even by its function as a burning ball of gas. Rather it exists by virtue of the role that it has in its sphere of existence, particularly in the way that it functions for humankind and human society. In theory, this way of thinking could result in something being included in the "existent" category in a material way, but still considered in the "non-existent" category in functional terms ... In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not "exist" if it has not become functional ... Unless something is integrated into a working, ordered system, it does not exist. Consequently, the actual creative act is to assign something its functioning role in the ordered system. That is what brings it into existence. Of course something must have physical properties before it can be given its function, but the critical question is,what stage is defined as "creation"? [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 24-5]

Q: Why can't Genesis 1 be both functional and material?
A: Theoretically it could be both. But assuming that we simply must have a material account if we are going to say anything meaningful is cultural imperialism. We cannot demand that the text speaks to us in our terms. Just as we cannot demand a material account, we cannot assume a material account just because that is most natural to us and answers the questions we most desire to ask. We must look to the text to inform us of its perspective. In my judgment, there is little in the text that commends it as a material account and much that speaks against it. (Ibid., 170)

On the issue of origins, John Walton has came up with a variant reading of the Genesis creation account, one which he claims is the natural reading of the text as interpreted in its ANE (Ancient Near-East) context. Whereas others have interpreted the Genesis account either as literal, analogical, or framework, Walton claims that the actual interpretation of the Genesis account is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the material creation. Rather, it depicts the inauguration of the cosmic-temple of the world, the world's "functional ontology" rather than its "material ontology." Walton has one major argument to support his thesis: Ancient cosmology, and Genesis, thinks in terms of function not matter. But does his thesis actually stand up to scrutiny?

I have posted on the issue of ancient cosmologies before. As I have said, there is a certain idea of the ANE as one of general backwardness, in the sense of the ancients creating myths to explain the world, myths which are not based on true transcendental truths but just created to explain what they had experienced. Now, at least some historians will hasten to add that the ancients do believe those myths to be in fact true, but it only compounds the problem of people creating fiction, and then believing the fiction they have just created to be true. The only religion that fits this idea of "myth" is Scientology. Other religions claim some measure of transcendentality, whether they be true or not is besides the point as to how they see their claims as squaring with reality.

Right from the start therefore, there is prima facie evidence to distrust any sort of "ANE context" that supposedly changes the teaching of the Genesis account that has been held to for most of the history of the church. We agree that the modern world is very much different from the pre-modern world, such that the difference between Europe in the 15th century to the modern world is much much greater than the difference between that 15th century Europe and the ANE, but just because the modern world is different does not necessarily means our understanding of what constitutes a plain reading is suspect; one has to prove and not merely assert a qualitative hermeneutical difference between ancient and modern times, and not assume that just because there is a real qualitative difference between ancient and modern times. In fact, since ANE studies are most modern, one has to wonder which view is actually imposing an alien hermeneutic on the text. Josephus for example is no modern person, yet his interpretation of Genesis sounds nothing like the supposed "ANE contextual" interpretation that those like Walton proposes. Surely Walton isn't going to accuse Josephus of engaging in "cultural imperialism"?!

So now we go into Walton's argument itself. Walton claims that the Genesis account is about functional existence, not material existence. Creation is all about purpose, not just the bare fact of a thing existing. First of all, I really want to know where this language of "functional ontology" comes from. The goal or purpose of a thing is its teleology, not its ontology. "Ontology" is the nature of a thing, what a thing IS. To speak about a "functional ontology" seems to me to be a conflation of separate philosophical concepts. If Walton has in mind the distinction of creating something for a purpose as opposed to creating something without a purpose, then the former ("functional ontology") is merely ontology with teleology, while the latter is dysteleological ontology. Ontology exists independent of teleology, for water is still ontologically water whether it sits in a basin, or whether it is used ("functionally") to wash a wound.

As part of his promotion of of his category of "functional ontology," Walton asks what the ontology of a curriculum is (p. 23). Since a curriculum has no "material ontology," but is created for the purpose or function of teaching, therefore he states that there is such a category as "functional ontology." But ontology is not just about "material things," but just "things." The ontology of a curriculum consists of a lesson plan, student handouts and a list of materials (e.g. books) for students to acquire, while its teleology is for the purpose of guiding a student's education. Looking at another example, the ontology of a committee is a group of men and women gathered with a telos, and that telos is to have a meeting to deal with indicated subject(s) of interest. Walton seems absolutely confused over philosophical concepts, and limiting ontology to material things is one of the most egregious errors in this regard.

So the modified question raised by Walton concerns not whether the Genesis account is about "material ontology" or "functional ontology," but rather whether an account of something being created for a purpose precludes a material creating. In other words, can one describe only teleology without ontology? First of all, as a modified supralapsarian, I believe that God does EVERYTHING with a purpose, including the ordering of the divine decrees. Thus, to state that God has created something with a purpose does not prove anything, for everything God has created has a purpose. Therefore, Walton, in proving that the Genesis text speak about how everything has a telos doesn't prove that the text is speaking only about teleology and not ontology, since for God, all created things have a telos.

Back to the question: Can one describe only teleology without ontology? Theoretically, I do not see any reasons why one cannot do that. But saying this does not mean that Walton is vindicated, for he has shown us no proof that the Genesis account ever intends to be not about ontology. Since I have stated that all things to God have a purpose, proving that God has a purpose in creating, or just that the created things have purposes period, proves nothing. Literarily, the material parts and the function parts are both found in the Genesis account, thus there is no reason whatsoever to say that the Genesis account is purely teleological and not also ontological. As with regards to the other ANE stories, there is no reason likewise to think they are sincerely believed fictions instead of stories sincerely believed to correspond to reality, which brings us to the problems with seeking an "ANE cultural" context — it seems to be most modern rather than pre-modern in construction.

Walton's arguments therefore falls flat at its source, his ignorance of philosophical concepts showing. Since the historic Christian view speaks of ontology WITH teleology, it is the onus of those who disagree to prove their alternate hypotheses, like saying that Genesis is about teleology apart from an ontology. With all the ontological features mentioned in the biblical text, that does seem a most unlikely hypothesis.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some thoughts on ANE for OT background

The biblical view of reality ... is paralleled by the pagan worldviews [ANE worldviews -DHC], which both predate and postdate the Bible. The ancient world understood that there was a supreme God,with whom all things originated and who held all authority and yet was relatively inactive in human affairs. But they also understood that there was another god, the storm god, who was indeed active among both divine and human affairs. A constitutional monarchy may present an analogy, in which the monarch theoretically holds authority and instructs the prime minister to form a government, but it is the prime minister who is truly active, who "gets things done." So it was in the ancient world with Enlil, Baal, Zeus, and Jupiter. ... In any case, the parallel that concerns us now is that which obtains between the pagan divine assemblies and the biblical assembly of angels, or "sons of God" (Job 1-2 RSV). Holy angels refuse human worship (c.f. Rev. 19:10), but fallen angels clearly do not, as Moses and Paul have indicated. It seems reasonable to agree with these biblical writers, and such agreement leads us to understand that the common pagan theological structure presented above is a theological counterfeit not only endorsed by all ancient pagan thought, but imposed upon the ancients by the misleading inspiration of fallen angles (or, to use Paul's words to Timothy, "doctrines of demons," 1 Tim. 4:1 RSV). [Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008), 180-1]

From the time of German liberal Hebrew scholars like Hermann Gunkel and Friedrich Delitzsch, the discovery of the ANE (Ancient Near-East) has undermined the faith by postulating that much of the Old Testament historical narratives (especially those that deal with "pre-history") are myths borrowed and contextualized from the other ANE cultures surrounding Israel. Similarities between for example the Gilgamash Epic and the Biblical Flood account have been pointed out and used to undermine the truthfulness of Scripture. Even more subtle are the comparisons between storm imagery in the Psalms with the Ugarit Baal Epic, in an attempt to link OT spirituality with Canaanite/ Phoenician religion.

Yet the similarities are indeed present, and anyone dealing with the OT need to wrestle with that issue. German liberal scholars of course took it to mean that biblical sources borrow the myths of their neighbors, but certainly that should not be the only option possible. Great antiquity of a written source only establishes that the myth (e.g. Gilgamesh) existed at that time, but it does not establish that the "younger" tale was not present then, especially once we understand that oral culture was much more present and important in the ancient world. In other worlds, assuming priority based upon antiquity of a written source is ultimately an argument from silence, for there is no way to disprove the biblical account was present but unwritten back then.

In his book on ANE themes in biblical theology, Jeffrey J. Niehaus went through the parallels between the ANE cultures and religions with OT culture and religion. Niehaus basically postulated that the parallels are due to common grace to the pagan nations (pp. 29-30), thus God uses these common forms to instruct Israel in true religion. At the same time, Niehaus argues that it is the distorted inspiration of demons that lies behind the pagan religions (pp. 180-1). It seems to me that the two given reasons do not cohere with each other. Are the pagan religions part of God's common grace, or demonic deception? And why should God utilized demonic forms, as it were, to instruct Israel in true religion?

It seems to me that, if one takes a presuppositional approach, that we see true religion as being there from the beginning. As such, the false pagan religions of Sumer, Egypt, Babylon, Ugarit and others, are demonic distortions of the religion they once had. In other words, it is not as if they were grasping in the dark and had "evolved" their religions to this "higher" level. Rather, theirs were a devolution of the original religion they had learned from Noah. Therefore, similarities are due not to borrowing of Israel from her neighbors, but rather because paganism devolved from the true religion of Noah. Israelite religion, being a divine restoration and also an advancement of true religion, would therefore look similar to the ANE religions, since they both historically were from the same source.

Thus, instead of seeing Israel as borrowing from her pagan neighbors, it is better to see Israel as preserving the truths that the pagan religions have distorted. That includes the storm imagery, while the primal gods of paganism were probably originally meant to represent the true God before various cultures distort what they knew about the Noahic religion into paganism.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Why I am most certainly unconcerned over charges of racism

Racism is a sin. Yet, the charge of systemic racism and the supposed problems of racism in America struck me as odd. I self-identify as a Christian first and foremost. Culturally, I consider myself Singapore Chinese, not "Asian." My ancestors did not take part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and thus I think that qualifies me as a third party.

My problem with such issues is very practical. In my time in America, I will say that the Caucasians I have met have generally been nice and welcoming. Blacks too of course. But let's just focus on someone who has posted on this issue on the Reformation 21 blog: Leon Brown. Leon was my senior in WSCal back when I began my first year. He was extremely vocal about many things, but one particular episode stuck in my memory: There was a time when there was some discussions between him and some of the other freshmen or something, and a question I asked him was ignored. For some reason, despite the fact that sometimes the two of us were in the same place or event, we did not talk. Now, I am not saying that he was intentionally antagonistic towards me, and I don't bear a grudge, but I'm bringing this up merely to illustrate one simple point.

Now, I understand there might be reasons, some even legitimate, that might cause some blacks or minorities to build up resentment and anger towards the dominant white majority. While I do not want to discount that, I find it strange that none of them ever shine the light upon themselves. My example of Leon Brown is to show that he himself did not seem to act according to his idea of equality. Just like this episode involving a black pastor, I find it strange that people do not think that blacks can be racist. I mean, when they express their outrage, my question is: Are they truly against racism, or are they only against racism because they are the victims? After all, we have seen throughout history what happens when the oppressed turn the tables against their oppressors: they oppress their former masters. Likewise, are they only against racism when they are the victims, while they have no trouble with racism IF they become the dominant race?

As I have said, I have found the Caucasians I have interacted with nice and welcoming, in general. I have no problems with many of those of other ethnicities also. Unfortunately, using Leon as an example here, I could have said that Caucasians in general are more welcoming towards me. Do I therefore cry "racist" if a black person slights me? Oh, but that wasn't his intention, but isn't that the PRECISE issue? Is it the intention, or the feeling of being slighted, that counts, when all the rage start boiling out? What if I were to start nursing any slights, real or perceived, that others of other ethnicities, have "committed" against me? If a white person were to offend me, I will chalk it to ALL whites. If a black person were to offend me, then can I chalk it up to all blacks as being anti-Chinese? I should hope not! But why not?

"They" want "equal treatment." You know, it would be helpful when they actually practice equal treatment - to "Asians" and whites too. When black pastors like Bryan Crawford Loritts can stop playing the race card to defend the heretic T.D. Jakes, that would be a real marked improvement.

P.S.: I have addressed real racists before, for example here. Cado Odac is a true white racist. The issue here is not whether individual racists exist, but the sweeping charge of systematic racism and the ungodly bitterness within certain segments of the black and minority populace (note: I did not say "community," because it overgeneralizes and categorizes people according to what they supposedly are).

Phillips, Craig and Dean: "Only Jesus" and Oneness Pentecostalism

Philips, Craig and Dean have been controversial over their background in Oneness Pentecosatlism, a heretical movement that denies the Trinity for belief in "Jesus only." For a while, they have been ambiguous over their stance concerning the Trinity. But their latest song "Only Jesus" should prove beyond a doubt their adherence to Oneness Pentecostalism in its denial of the Trinity. I refuse to embed their heretical song, but here's the link if anyone is interested.

In terms of the lyrics, one might think the song is about the exclusivity of Jesus , as over against the syncretism of the age. And to the extent that the first and second stanzas focus on Jesus' work during His incarnation, that seems fine, but then we arrive at the chorus:

Holy, King Almighty, Lord
Saints and Angels all adore
We join with them and bow before
Jesus, Only Jesus

We see here that according to the chorus, it's not just that we are to worship Jesus because of His work, but that the person to worship is "only Jesus." Contrast what is stated here with Revelations 4, and the difference would be more obvious. We do not join saints and angels together to adore and bow before "Jesus, only Jesus" but before the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 3 persons 1 essence. God the Father is not named "Jesus," neither is God the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, which is why it's wrong to say that we worship "only Jesus."


D.G. Hart: New Calvinism is Warmed-Over New Evangelicalism with a Hint of Hipster

I have been calling the New Calvinism "New Evangelical Calvinism," because to me the New Calvinism is simply New Evangelicalism version 2.0, or 3.0 and so on. D.G. Hart points out this fact as well, here.

Ref21, and the Uncommon Compromise of Richard Mouw

Reformation 21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. While generally theologically sound, sometimes one read stuff that makes one cringe. The recent piece by Sean Lucas is one such example, as he praised Richard Mouw and his "uncommon generosity."

Who is Richard Mouw, you may wonder? Mouw was at one time the president of Fuller Seminary, the New Evangelical institution that decided to jettison their initial stance on biblical inerrancy to allow for toleration of heresy. Now, it is admitted that Fuller is not a church, yet it claims to be a Christian institute, so it should be reasonable to expect it to keep within the pale of orthodoxy. Thus, while it would be rather unreasonable to expect a generic Christian institute to take a position on e.g. the validity of infant baptism, I think it is reasonable to expect a professing Christian institute to actually be, like, Christian. While Mouw was president of Fuller, was there any attempt for Fuller to actually behave like a Christian institute? Judging by their continual tolerance of "partial inerrancy" and other kinds of false teachings, I guess not!

Even more pertinent to our concern here is Richard Mouw's endorsement of Mormonism as being a legitimate expression of Christianity, as documented by Dr. James R. White (here is one example). The problem with Mouw is not that Mormons believe that God the Father is supreme, but that Christianity is monotheistic, not henotheistic or polytheistic. It astonishes me that Lucas can say that Mormonism "has historical roots within evangelicalism." If by "historical roots," it means the founder was nominally from an evangelical religion, then almost every cult can claim that, including presumably Satanism. That phrase could however mean that Mormonism, because of its historical connection, can claim some form of commonality with evangelicalism, and that is patently false. Thus, it is easy for this phrase to be an equivocation which is technically correct in the first sense yet serves to mislead people into thinking Mormonism is close to the evangelical religion (in the second sense).

The fact is that in both these instances, Richard Mouw has compromised the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. It is inconceivable to me that Reformation 21 could allow Lucas to write such a piece praising Richard Mouw for his "uncommon generosity," which is more like uncommon compromise. Mouw's actions are not the actions of the apostles, who anathemized those who proclaimed another Gospel (Gal. 1: 6-9) and who call for clear separation from false teachers (2 Jn. 10-11). Mouw has compromised the Faith, and it is a travesty that any biblical Christian would even think that he is being "generous," unless one thinks "generosity" equates to apostasy, like in Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Response to D.A. Carson's Themolios' YRR "reflections"

Themolios is currently the magazine of the Gospel Coalition. In volume 39 number 3 published this year (2014), Dr. D.A. Carson decided to write an editorial reflecting on the failures of the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement [D.A. Carson, "The Underbelly of Revival: Five Reflections on Various Failures in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement," Themolios 39:3 (2014): 405-10]. The editorial is remarkable both for what it does say and what it does not say. Positively, it, despite some nuancing from Carson, proves the point that the YRR movement, as a movement, is essentially dead, realizing my prediction made more than a year ago. Individual points about the need for greater watchfulness in a movement is likewise great advice, as well as the dangers in high growth ministries and the impact the failures of high profile ministers would have, especially of pastors that have not been adequately tested.

Negatively, what is more remarkable is what it does not say. In reflecting on the failures of the YRR movement, Carson's focus is on the generic concept of revivals and the dangers and pitfalls in them. But this presupposes that the YRR movement is indeed a "revival" in the same sense as the First Great Awakening. What's even worse is that the reflections is silent with regards to whether the men behind the YRR movement did not in any way contribute to the failures of the movement. Assuming the Edwardsian idea of revivals having boom and bust seasons does not mean that one can just point to cycles of revivals and exonerate the human failings within the movement.

Carson decided to reflect on the YRR movement by drawing analogies to what he had experienced in Quebec and the more well-known happenings in South Korea. Obviously, I do not know much about what had happened in Quebec. But let us grant Carson that what happened in Quebec was a true boom and bust cycle of revival. What has Quebec got to do with TGC? It is insufficient to point to surface similarities; one has to actually deal with the specific issues involved. Furthermore, Carson IS one of the founding members of TGC, whereas I doubt he had the same amount of influence in what had transpired in Quebec. Concerning the YRR movement, Carson has great influence over it, so surely whatever reflections he should be having should reflect on the role he himself play, or didn't play, concerning the failure of the YRR movement, or does he think he has done absolutely nothing wrong in his management of TGC?

In an illustration of why biblical theologians probably shouldn't be doing church history, Carson utilized the analogy of the South Korean experience, conveniently ignoring the fact that South Korea has problems with toleration of heretics like David Yonggi Cho in their midst. Last I know, God does not bless heresy or the toleration of heresy. Even worse is when Carson raised the issue of the Kentucky revivals in the early 19th century. Otherwise known as the Cane Ridge revivals, those "revival meetings" were chaotic and emotional and denounced by orthodox churchmen, and marked the beginning of revivalISM and the decay of orthodox Christianity in American Evangelical circles. One fruit of those "revivals" was Barton Stone (of Stone-Campbell fame) and his "Christian church" movement. Stone denied the Trinity, and was against denominataionlism in principle (which is why he just insists on being called "Christians.") Another fruit of the frontier revivals was the Cumberland Presbyterian church with its denial of God's sovereignty and synergism. It is astonishing to see Carson referenced the Kentucky revivals since that was mostly the work of Man with raw emotions running unchecked. The church historian Iain Murray in his book Revival and Revivalism, while bein pro-revival (in the Edwardsian sense) decried the Kentucky revivals as the corruption of true revivals and thus the beginning of revivalism. Does Carson really think that the Kentucky revivals should be appealed to to mitigate the failures of the YRR movement? I guess if Carson wants to yoke the YRR to a profoundly unbiblical, man-centered and false "revival," that is his prerogative.

As I have said, the silence is deafening on Carson's reflections on his own role in the failures of the YRR movement. And that to me is the crux of the problems with this editorial. Carson's editorial itself is not totally wrong. However, if that is all Carson can write about the failures of the YRR movement, it betrays a sentiment that none of the big shots in TGC even think that they have done any wrong to contribute to its failings. This is despite the overwhelming evidence for how people like John Piper had promoted Mark Driscoll, how TGC have totally mishandled the Elephant Room fiasco, and we can continue adding to the list with items like this. To put it simply, TGC has quite a lot of repenting to do, and it astonishes me that Carson can be so blind to the sins he is guilty of in his role as a TGC council member. Sin, as the Bible teaches, is not merely the commission of what is against God's Law, but also the failure to do what God's Law positively commands (cf WSC 14 "any want of conformity unto... the Law of God"). Carson might not have not positively violated God's Law per se on this issue, but he certainly failed to do what God's Law positively commands with regards to his role in TGC. And just as sin is an offense to a holy God, so the presence of sin at the highest levels of the YRR establishment will certainly mean the withdrawal of God's blessings from it.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Mortification of Spin (MoS): The spin of the "YRR establishment"

The most recent Mortification of Spin (MoS) podcast dealt with the issue of the Mark Driscoll fiasco and the response of the "YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) establishment." Carl Trueman dealt particularly with John Piper's interview concerning whether he regretted promoting partnering with Mark Driscoll, and expressed astonishment at Piper's statement that he has "no regrets." Trueman voiced my exact thoughts concerning this issue. Here are some choice morsels:

I think it goes to the whole structural problem in the whole young, restless and reformed thing, and that is, the guys at the top decided who was going to be allowed to make criticism, who they were going to listen to, and who they were going to ignore, and you end up, when you decide that, right at the start, you end up with a terribly, terribly potentially corrupt system. .. The truth is so rarely actually spoken into these guys' lives -Carl Trueman (10:45-11:14)

It [issuing a note of repentance] shows a leadership of discernment, a leadership that's willing to make hard decisions, and takes responsibilities when it's gone off the rails. ... My respect for the leaders of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement would be much greater than it is if they had just once, in all of the crises that have engulfed the movement over the last two or three years, just once, they had expressed some regret - just once they had taken some responsibility for these disasters. But in actual fact what we get time and time again is the spin machine in operation trying to get everybody off the hook. And then turning around and saying, "Why didn't anybody tell us?" Well, people did tell you, but not people that you care to listen to,... -Carl Trueman (14:20- 15:12)

... when it's the top men just talking to the top men, and they forgot the ordinary people that actually get bruised and damaged by the decisions they made -Carl Trueman (16:01 -16:14)

I absolutely agree. It is extremely disturbing that the "YRR establishment" does not even ONCE says it is wrong, that it has sinned. Instead, it's all spin, and none of them are interested in listening to biblical advice, rebuke and correction.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Christianity and inconsistent evolution

Modern evolutionism has created great difficulties for Christians, not so much because it tells us that we are genetically related to orangutans and chimpanzees, but because it insists that fundamentally we are not very different from them. In theory, say evolutionists, it would require only a few small genetic changes in those animals to turn them into human beings like us, and it is assumed that some millions of years ago all of us evolved out of a common ancestor. Without denying this possibility completely, Christians are obliged to make two observations about it. First, such an evolution was not and could not have been spontaneous. There is little evidence to support the theory that one species can evolve naturally into another by a process of random trial and error, and none to say that this happened to produce the human race. Orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees still exists, but how is it that all the intermediate species have died out leaving little or no trace behind them? Logically, one would expect to find them around somewhere, but although it is sometimes claimed that proto-human bones have been dug up, the evidence is controversial and it must be concluded that such "missing links," as they are called, have never been convincingly identified. [Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 246]

One major problem with Christians who want to "avoid" where possible the issue of science in origins is that they end up either with little to say about actual cosmic origins (relegating the Genesis account to a framework or something), or when they try to relate it with the "current scientific consensus," what you get is terrible science and even worse theology. In this section by Gerald Bray, we see some really bad science and bad reasoning on the topic of origins.

In the paragraph, Bray shows an ignorance of science when he states categorically that "such an evolution [of humankind] was not and could not have been spontaneous." Bray probably means by "spontaneous" the concept of naturalistic causation, since it is remarkably stupid to suggest any evolution is "spontaneous" in the sense that it must take a few generations, 100 years or even 1000 years. Evolutionary theory posits the accumulation of small incremental changes over long periods of time (Gradualism), unless of course one wants to hold to Punctuated Equilibrium which is the alternate theory. Regardless, when Bray asserts that human evolution cannot be "spontaneous," the question is: why not? Isn't this an instance in which the tail is wagging the dog? If one is committed to evolutionary theory, why stop at humans? One already acknowledges the grand narrative of evolution, so why are those like Bray keeping human evolution out of the picture, as if every other species can evolve but humans are somehow exempted from scientific consideration?

Worse still is the next line: "There is little evidence to support the theory that one species can evolve naturally into another by a process of random trial and error." Excuse me while I wonder if he realizes that evolution through random mutations and survival of the fittest IS the standard evolutionary mechanism. In evolutionary theory, all mutations ARE random, and it is the job of the environment to select for the organisms that have good mutations. The "fittest" survive and pass on their beneficial genes to the next generation, and the cycle continues. When an organism approached a certain point of time, they might branch off into two separate sub-groups, which over time have evolved into two separate species. So when Bray make such statements while claiming that he "does not deny the possibility [of evolution]," how is that not being duplicitous? Does he or does he not allow for the theory of evolution, including human evolution? How can we say that one is open to the possibility of evolution, while claiming in the next breath that there are no evidences for the mechanisms of evolution when it pertains to humans (as opposed to animals)?

Bray brought up the paucity of transitional fossils, which is an interesting apologetic method to be sure. Yet, it is strange to me that he utilizes the argument only to cast doubt on human evolution, or at least naturalistic human evolution. The same problem of transitional fossils plagued all supposed instances of major evolutionary transitions, so it seem it is brought up just for the issue of distancing humans from evolution. Again, it is profoundly unscientific to claim that humans are somehow exempt from the same processes and same mechanisms that supposedly apply to all other living beings, especially when one is agreeing with the supposed high degree of similarities in the genotypes of humans with apes for example.

Unless one wants to speak about the actual beginning of the Cosmos, Christians who try to "avoid" the issue of origins typically do a bad job in science, and nothing screams that more when one sees believers who hold to some form of evolutionary theory yet refuse to endorse human evolution.

P.S.: The argument Bray uses is known as the god-of-the-gaps argument, and it is philosophically untenable as much as it is scientifically untenable.

Sin and death

Do suffering and death have any legitimate place in the natural order? The Bible makes it clear that death entered the world because of sin, but this must be interpreted in context. Sin is a spiritual rebellion against God,which means that the death it brings is also spiritual. ... That physical death is a part of the natural life cycle within the created oder seems obvious, since if it were not, none of us would be able to eat anything. The "food chains" in the animal world remind us that many species could not exist without the death of other creatures, and there is no reason to think that this state of affairs came about as a result of the fall of man. ... [Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 234]

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom. 5:14)

The issue of death before the fall it seems is something taken almost as fact in some Christian circles. Coupled with that is near total ignorance of YEC arguments, and here in this section of his book, Bray proves that in many parts of the academy, questions relating to origins are done in an echo chamber without the need to actually interact with what others have said.

Bray's arguments about positing death before the Fall consists of (1) construing the consequences of the Fall as being about spiritual death, (2) arguing that ecosystems require death due to the existence of food chains. The latter argument shows ignorance of the YEC thesis that biblical death that does not exist before the Fall pertains only to the nephesh chayyah while other plants and animals do "die" in the biological sense of the term. Moreover, food chains are not set in stone, but rather they change as animals adapt to their environments. Just because current food chains involve death of the nephesh chayyah does not necessarily mean that it was always the case, so Bray's argument from the existence of food chains does not prove his case.

The former argument is rather interesting, because it is true that the primary focus of the consequences of sin is spiritual death. Yet here, we see that Bray is not true to Scripture. We read in Romans 5:14 that death reigned from Adam to Moses, which is stated to be a mystery why that is happening since they did not have the Law which informed them what sin is. If we interpret this as speaking about spiritual death, are we saying that spiritual death reigned over Adam to Moses? That suggests that from Adam to Moses, all of them died without being saved, and presumably everyone from Adam to Moses are now in hell, a conclusion which we should reject. Rather, we should keep to the traditional interpretation that the death here is physical death, or rather physical death that conveys spiritual realities. Those from Adam to Moses died physically as proof that they have sinned, and thus they have the Law in some form, which is the thrust of the rhetoric of Romans 5:13-14.

Biblical (physical) death therefore cannot exist prior to the Fall. To affirm that there is death before the Fall undermines one's doctrine of sin, the Federal headships of Adam and Christ, and thus the Gospel itself. While one can inconsistently hold to death before the Fall and the Christian faith, one cannot consistently hold to any version of death before the fall and remain a Christian.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Common grace and ultimate ends

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

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

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

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

Forward by Pastor Andrew Lanning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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