Wednesday, July 01, 2015

On sins against Nature

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; (Rom 1:26)

Διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας, αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν, (Rom 1:26)

All sins partake of the commonality of "sin." In that manner, all sins are equally damnable before God, there is no distinction in culpability between one sinner and a "greater" sinner. All sins are therefore equally forgivable under the blood atonement of Christ upon the condition of faith and repentance.

However, just because all sins are equitable in terms of damnation and forgiveness does not imply that all sins are to be seen as equal. This does not mean that we should revive the artificial Medieval (and Roman Catholic) categories of Moral and Venial sins, but just an acknowledgment that, though all sins are damnable, some sins are worse than others. After all, committing murder is worse than hating a brother, and Jesus was not equating the two in Matthew 5:21-26, but rather to show that the sixth commandment applies to the heart attitude, not just the mere physical action of murder. It is after all ridiculous to claim that hating a person is the same as murdering him. For otherwise, if one seeks the death penalty for murder, ought one to kill anyone who hates another person also? This is the type of nonsense those who see no differences at all among sins will get themselves into.

There are sins, and there are worse sins. Among the worse are what can be categorized as sins against Nature. Now, the Scriptures do not explicitly say what define sins against Nature except to give us examples like homosexuality (e.g. Rom. 1:26). Nevertheless, since "nature" (φύσις) is related to the "being" of a thing, and furthermore the context of Romans 1:18-32 has reference to Creation, it is evident that "Nature" is related to Creation. "Nature" is therefore to be defined as God's order of how things operate in their very being (ontology).

"Nature" as such has to do with God's ordained order, which is not necessarily the same as Science. Science is the study of the empirical orderliness of Nature, but it is not Nature. Furthermore, the natural world is fallen, therefore there should be some things that are in nature ("natural"), which are in fact contrary to Nature (as intended by God; Natural Law). There is also a further distinction between sins that do not violate Nature (being ethical as opposed to ontological), and sins that violate Nature (going against the established "being" of things). To the former belong sins like murder, racism, theft and so on. To the latter are sins like homosexuality, which in Romans 1:26 was stated to be "contrary to nature" (εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν).

Sins against Nature are thus sins that distort the very being of things. Homosexuality, transgenderism, genderbending etc attack the created nature (ontology) of humans as male and female. Beastiality, transpecieism etc attack the created nature (ontology) of humans as humankind. The idea of creating human-animal or other types of hybrids that transcend their created kind boundaries (as opposed to species which remain their own kinds, but with one or two genes from other species) likewise attack the created nature of humanity. In fact, one interpretation of Genesis 6:1 is that of fallen angels taking human females as wives, an interpretation which I currently have no particular opinion for or against, but if that is true, it gives even greater credence to the idea that crimes against Nature are particularly heinous crimes.

Scripture does in fact speak to crimes against Nature. They are particularly heinous because they attack the very order of Creation, being ontologically rather than ethical. That is why Sodom and Gomorrah were singled out for judgment by God, not because they were the most wicked cities quantitatively, neither because they were the only ones committing homosexuality, but because they as a society celebrated homosexuality, every single one of them. Abraham had interceded to spare these cities for the sake of 10 righteous people (Gen. 18:32), but even 10 righteous people could not be found in them.

There is therefore a qualitative difference between ethical sins, and sins against Nature. While all are damnable, and all can be forgiven upon repentance and faith, sins of the latter are considered worse sins than the former. And when such wickedness is celebrated in a culture as per Romans 1:32, we know that the wrath of God is upon a society, giving them over to the wickedness of their hearts to their own destruction.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Marriage

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)

Marriage nowadays is seen as a romantic pairing of two persons who love each other. It is seen as a step of self-actualization, where the feelings of loving and being loved are enjoyed within the relationship. Of course, this notion of marriage is quite modern. Marriages in history tend to be less about romance and more about expediency, although certainly romance is not always absent.

In the history of the Christian Church, marriage has not always been highly extolled. The onset of asceticism in the middle part of the early church era, due to Neo-Platonic influences, led to a denigration of marriage and an elevation of the contemplative life. No less than the Church Father Augustine of Hippo left his mistresses after his conversion and lived the rest of his life in celibacy. As theology developed in the Middle Ages, matrimony was seen as a sacrament, which was however mutually exclusive to the sacrament of holy orders. Matrimony was "good," but Grace was seen as superior to Nature, perfecting it. Those who are called to service in the Church should not be "contaminated" with natural things like marriage, and therefore priests and bishops cannot marry, at least officially.

It was the Reformation that restored the goodness of marriage. Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers all were married, and it was not because they couldn't keep their pants up! The marriage of the Reformers was just as much a theological statement as it was about love. As opposed to the Medieval Church's (and that of its daughter Roman Catholicism) doctrine of Grace perfecting Nature, the Reformation altered the relationship to one of Grace renewing Nature. Grace allows Nature to be what it was meant to be. Also, over and against Anabaptism, which held to Grace against Nature, God's grace does not change what is natural in this world. Applied to the marriage relationship, marriage as a creation ordinance is good. The whole idea therefore that devotion to God entails forgoing marriage is unbiblical. It stands to reason therefore that, unless one has the gift of celibacy like the Apostle Paul, one should not willingly deny marriage, for to do so is to go against Nature.

Marriage is a natural pairing of one man and one woman. It is part of Nature, which is not Special Revelation and thus not exclusively Christian. Being part of Nature, it is not done for one's self-fulfillment or self-actualization. It is therefore contrary to the idea of marriage being an optional extra, or the greatest good, for it is neither. It is not to be treated as something one can "try" if the opportunity presents itself, neither is it to be seen as the goal to be gained such that one can experience the pleasure of sex. It is what everyone without the gift of celibacy should desire, but desire not as the ultimate epiphany of goodness, but as an earthly and natural good.

In practical terms, this means that everyone who does not have the gift of celibacy should desire marriage. Unless one has that gift, to intentionally denigrate marriage and thus to put it off for no good reason is sin, for that is to deny God's good creation. That is the problem in the Medieval Church and in Roman Catholicism, which, because of its Grace perfecting Nature paradigm, denies the goodness of what God has ordained for mankind. It is also the problem for the Anabaptist Grace against Nature paradigm, for it destroys the validity of marriage since it is a creational institution. This is not to say that singleness is wrong, for it is God who provides in time, but intentional singleness without the gift of celibacy is wrong.

Christians above all should stop letting the culture dictate our values. We should avoid the twin errors of seeing marriage either as an optional extra (neglecting it), or as the greatest good on earth (idolizing it). Marriage is natural, and since Nature, though fallen, is still God's creation, we should esteem it in its proper place.

Love vs Lust

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

What is love? What is love as opposed to lust? The SCOTUS judgment that irrationally claims a "right" to same-sex marriage claims it is about "love." #LoveWins, or does it?

Love is an emotion. But is it just an emotion? The world defines "love" as a purely emotional thing, such that people "fall in love." Denying one's emotions is seen as cruel and wrong, except of course when it comes to denying the emotions of incestous couples (so far). Even those who are not hopping onto the LGBTQIAXXXXXXX bandwagon have a view of love that treats it an emotion that one mysteriously come to have, and must not be denied if the emotion is mutual.

Love however cannot be purely an emotion. For if that is the case, then the marriage vows do not make any sense, for what happens if a spouse does not "feel" loving towards the other at any time? Would that be immediate grounds for divorce? But if marriages are to make any sense, "love" has to be more than an emotion, but rather it is to be grounded in the will or volition. From a Christian perspective, God commands us to love. Emotions cannot be commanded, for one either feels or don't feel. But the will can choose to love. Therefore, love must be grounded in the will.

For love to be love, it must seek the good of the other, not fulfill what one desires from the other party. Love as such is antithetical to selfishness; it is other-centered. In seeking the good of the other, it wants what is best for the other, and what is good is a moral question, to be decided according to considerations of ethics not feelings. After all, everything is for hurting the feelings of terrorists and stopping them from committing terrorism. Scarcely anyone will say that we should not hurt the feelings of terrorists since their deep desires would get hurt if we stop them. The reason is because we hold that terrorism is morally wrong, and therefore the feelings of those involved are absolutely irrelevant.

Love is grounded, or should be grounded, in the will, and it seeks the good of others. Lust on the other hand is purely emotional, and has no regard for others, except as a means to satisfaction of desire. Here we see the problem with the predominant view of "love," for what they see as "love" is actually "lust." So love does not win; lust did. The SCOTUS decision is a celebration of lust, not of love. A pure love would require a channeling of emotions towards what is true and good. If two men really loved one another, they would not enter into a same-sex "marriage," because that is supremely unloving. The partners of a same-sex relationship do not love each other, because they are willingly entering into a relationship that destroys the other party. It is hateful lust, destroying each other in perverse sex. But what about those struggling with same-sex attraction? If they truly love others, they would be willing to fight their attraction. Giving in to the unnatural desire is an act of hatred against their neighbors — a lustful action not a loving one.

The sadder thing is not that marriage has been perverted (it has), but that most people operate on a wrong view of love. Love is not self-seeking, which means that true love sometimes might entail letting the other go, and not pursuing a wrong relationship. It is not doing whatever you please based upon your feelings, no matter how strong they might be, but with discipline and self-control discerning one's own feelings according to what is good and true, and acting accordingly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bavinck on Law and Gospel

According to Herman Bavinck, there are three ways to speak about the relation of Law and Gospel. The first way is broadly, as depicting the Old and the New Testaments (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:453). The second way is "concretely," which is to say as presented in the text, such that "the law made promises and the gospel utters admonitions and imposes obligations." (Bavinck, 4:454). The third way is in "content," where the two are contrasted as antithetical to each other (Bavinck, 4:453-4). With regards to the third manner, Bavinck writes,

Although they [Law and Gospel] agree in that both have God as author, both speak of one and the same perfect righteousness, and both are addressed to human beings to bring them to eternal life, they nevertheless differ in that the law proceeds from God's holiness, the gospel from God's grace; the law is known from nature, the gospel only from special revelation; the law demands perfect righteousness, but the gospel grants it; the law leads people to eternal life by works, and the gospel produces good works from he riches of the eternal life granted in faith; the law presently condemns people, and the gospel acquits them; the law addresses itself to all people, and the gospel only to those who live within its hearing; and so forth. (Bavinck, 4:453)

We see here that Bavinck agrees fully with the Law-Gospel distinction as being something that comes from the Reformation, which "restored the peculiar character of the Christian religion as a religion of grace" (Bavinck, 4:453).

Bavinck's second way of speaking of "Law" and "Gospel" is concretely, which is to say that the elements of Law and Gospel are so intervowen in the text of Scripture that "the law made promises and the gospel utters admonitions and imposes obligations" (Bavinck, 4:454). We note here that Bavinck is not by this denying the Law-Gospel distinction he affirmed in the previous page, but rather he is acknowledging (1) that the text of Scripture is not always delineated into neat "Law" and "Gospel" sections, and (2) that issues such as "duty-faith" are tough issues to categorize nearly as either "law" or "gospel." Regarding the issue of "duty-faith," the idea that unbelievers have a duty to believe in Jesus Christ and are thus called to do so, Bavinck states that even among the Reformed there is disagreement about how to categorize it. This "preaching of faith and repentance, which seemed after all to be a condition and a demand" was argued to "really [belong] to the gospel and should not rather (with Flacius, Gerhard, Quenstedt, Voetius, Witsius, Cocceius, de Moor, and others) be counted as law (Bainck, 4:454). So some categorize it as "Gospel," which would seem to have the Gospel making demands, while others like Witsius, who I think are more consistent, would categorize it as "Law". The difficulty is due to the fact that Law and Gospel are tightly intervowen in the text of Scripture, such that, while in concept and content they can be distinguished, and SHOULD be distinguished, they often are found together in the text of Scripture and applied together in practical life.

So we see three main senses in speaking about Law and Gospel. Broadly, they refer to the Old and New Testaments. Concretely, they refer to the textual and concrete applications of "Law" and "Gospel" activities. In content, they refer to antithetical realities of "Indicatives" and "Imperatives." For a full orbed view of both justification and sanctification, we should understand these three senses, so that we neither confuse the "Law" with the "Gospel," nor do we flatten out the Christian life as if everything is about just focusing on the complete salvation in the Gospel.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Local and larger governing assemblies of the Church

All these meetings reported in the New Testament were assemblies of the local church attended only in Acts 15 by representatives from other places. [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:431]

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. ... And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. ... Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. ... (Acts 15:6, 12, 22a)

Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics is a erudite piece of Reformed scholarship. Yet, surprisingly, in this particular section there is a denial that Acts 15 depicts a broader church assembly. Rather, according to Bavinck, Acts 15 depicts an assembly of a local church with "representatives from other places."

From the surface, there is already a problem with the idea that Acts 15 depicts a "local church gathering." While we are not given the number of believers in Jerusalem, we do know that there were three thousand baptized at Pentecost, and with growth, we can assume that the church in Jerusalem probably numbered in the thousands and the tens of thousands. Even after the great persecution in Acts 8:1, the church would have bounced back in the many years since. With this number of believers, it is unlikely, given the hostile climate in Jerusalem, that thousands of Christians would be worshiping in public as one assembly, much less deliberate doctrinal issues. Therefore, the Church in Jersualem likely was made up of multiple local churches, all of them under the authority of the Apostles, and the elders and deacons tasked to help them. The assembly in Acts 15 would thus likely be the meeting of the leaders of the Jerusalem churches, with representatives from the other churches.

The next problem with the idea that Acts 15 is an assembly of the local church is that the issue under discussion was an issue in the churches of Antioch, caused by Judaizers that come from Judea. If this was a local church assembly, why would it render a ruling that goes out to the other churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia? If we grant that these Judaizers came from the Jerusalem churches, the ruling would be to discipline the Judaizers as teaching contrary to what the Jerusalem churches believe in, not to give a positive command that is obligatory on believers not in the "local church" of Jerusalem. A "local church assembly" would disavow the Judaizers as teaching contrary to what the Jerusalem churches teach, while letting the "local church" assemblies in Antioch and other cities settle the doctrinal issue for themselves in their own "local church assemblies." After all, each "local church" is autonomous, or is it not?

Acts 15 therefore must be an example, the only canonical example, of a broader church assembly. It is the "whole church" of Jerusalem inasmuch as all its representatives were there, thus verse 22 is not giving us the impression that every single member in the churches of Jerusalem head for head were present in this gathering and they all made that decision, but that the vote to send men to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas was unanimous from all the representatives from all local churches. Contra Bavinck, Acts 15 functions as an example of a broader church assembly, and a basis for Presbyterian church polity.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Totalitarianism under the guise of freedom

"As Anderson explains, the movement intends to cast supporters of traditional marriage once and for all as bigots who won’t be allowed to make their case in the public square. They want to salt the earth post-Obergefell and make certain it’s impossible for any traditional marriage movement to flower." ... more

The LGBTQIA agenda was never about "civil rights" and equality, but about oppression in forcing people to celebrate sexual deviancy, or face the consequences

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CT and Evangelicals forced to make a decision

Al Mohler has recently wrote an article concerning how Evangelicals will be forced to make a decision regarding the issue of homosexuality. That Evangelicals need to make that decision is true. The problem however is with how Evangelicalism as a movement is unable to halt those within its ranks from compromising on this and other issues.

The issue of focusing on a center with non-distinct boundaries, if any, is the way Evangelicalism has functioned, to the detriment of the movement. Even the term "center-bounded set" emphasizes the center while the boundaries are not clearly marked. One may want to fault Fundamentalism with having boundaries legalistically, but is the solution to legalism no boundaries that are unclear and unable to be enforced?

The desire to be "nice" and liked by all has destroyed the witness of Evangelicalism. From Billy Graham's compromise to toleration of "partial inerrancy," Open Theism and Theistic Evolution, Evangelicalism has become everything, and nothing. That the apostate Tony Campolo can ever be called an "evangelical" says it all. The statement by current CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli that "Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them" was correctly critiqued by Mohler, but can all of us not "condemn the convert" (whatever that means), but more importantly, treat them as apostates that are to be called to repentance and faith?

Evangelicalism has been wary of boundaries. Ironically, their witness is sullied by a desire to be "nice." If Evangelical leaders will not disavow heretics, the movement will certainly be co-opted by these heretics.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The LGBT movement and free speech

Dr. R Scott Clark recently did an interesting two part interview with Stella Morabito on the issue of the LGBT movement and free speech. You can listen to the podcasts here and here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

On Religion

"Religion" in many circles is seen as something staid, formal and dead. The picture given is a bunch of moral hypocrites who claim to obey the law and impose harsh demands on others. For some strange reason, the Pharisees are seen as the epitome of what "religion" is all about, and we all *know* that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and instead call for a "heart religion." But is such a picture correct?

The association of "religion" with dead formality has been a recurring motif throughout history. There was always the State or official religion, and then there were the "mystery" religions for the common people. In the Greco-Roman world, the "mystery" religions multiplied since they promised something exotic and liberating from the official status quo. As Christianity penetrated the Greco-Roman world, the phenomenon known as Gnosticism became the "Christianized" version of the pagan mystery religions. After Christendom was established under Constantine's successors, the mystery religious impulse was partially co-opted by the Medieval Catholic Church, and thus Roman Catholicism (the unreformed branch of the Medieval Catholic Church) has been filled with all manner of unbiblical superstition up to this present day.

Closer to modern times, this mystical impulse returned in the Anabaptists, then in the Lutheran Pietists especially in the Moravian Brethren. It then become a key component of Evangelicalism as it was born in the Evangelical awakenings under George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John and Charles Wesley. Whether through Evangelicalism or through Unitarianism and Liberalism, modern society has by and large become infected with the mystical impulse.

The problem with the mystical interpretation of "religion" is that it is at best a caricature. True, "dead orthodoxy" or nominalism is a problem, but it is not a new problem. The old way is to treat nominal believers as the mission field, while, under the mystical impulse, formal religion itself is tarred as being essentially the same as "dead orthodoxy."

It is true that Jesus promoted a heart religion, but that is precisely the point — a "heart" "religion." As James 1:27 says, what God is asking for is a religion that is of the heart. In other words, it is done sincerely out of love ("heart") in a manner that is orderly and with regard to the institutional structure of the church ("religion"). As an aside, the problem with the Pharisees is not that they were religious, but that they had a false religion, a religion that added to God's Word in the multiplication of laws, and subtracted from God's Word through their denial of Jesus Christ.

The contrast therefore should not be between Christianity (as relationship) on the one hand, and "religion" and irreligion on the other hand. While pandering to the prevailing culture's idea of "religion" might help gain sympathy in the short term, what this denigration of "religion" may very well result in is a denial of any formality in Christianity for an amorphous idea of "love," viz mysticism. And as Dr. James White has said, "What you win them with is what you win them to." If you utilize this "contextualized" manner of presenting Christianity to a public that is certainly skeptical of authority and formality, how would you be able to teach them respect for the institutional aspects of the visible church, unless of course you want to become egalitarian in church polity? Church discipline is all but impossible if mysticism becomes the default setting of members in the church. Through all these, God is not honored, and we have not corrected the false teaching concerning the church that was tolerated (or promoted) in the language denigrating "religion" and "irreligion."

"Religion" is treated as a bad word in certain quarters, but it shouldn't be. Perhaps instead of attacking "religion," we should actually be truthful and call it by its true name: "Legalism," or one can call it "Ritualism." Or, since it smacks of the return to the Law principle, we can call its proponents "Judaizers."

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: The Genesis Account: A Theological, Historical, and Scientific Commentary on Genesis 1-11

Creationist and apologist Dr. Jonathan D. Sarfati of Creation Ministries International has recently published a 700 page commentary on Genesis 1-11, bringing in biblical, historical and scientific discussions into his commentary of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. I have read and reviewed it here, as follows:

The Genesis Account is a commentary of Genesis 1-11 written by Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) scientist and Christian apologist Jonathan D. Sarfati. Dr. Sarfati seeks to write this commentary as a defence of the truthfulness of Genesis, especially concerning its first eleven chapters (pp. 1-2). From a chemistry background with a working knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and theology, Sarfati seeks to write a commentary that is faithful to the biblical text, while using science ministerially to explicate how scientific findings can be seen to buttress the claims of Scripture (p. 4). Such is a monumental task indeed, seen in the fact that this commentary is 700+ pages in length for a mere 11 chapters of Genesis. [more]

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Christianity, Culture and the deconversion of missionaries in China

But the courses of their [missionaries'] missions changed as they were changed. They began to cast doubts on their Christian missions as they developed appreciative understanding of Chinese religions and of the culture they has set out to displace. Traditional missionary mentality had relied on a hemispheric division of the world into light and darkness, the Kingdom of God and the territory of Satan, civilization and barbarism. Yet for these individuals, the growing belief in the worth and self-sufficient of China's own cultural tradition threatened those distinctions that were required for their dedication. [Lian Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907-1932 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 11]

The early 20th century was a catastrophe for the Protestant cause, where Liberalism eviscerated the churches and great apostasy abounded. Liberalism had even infected the mission field, and this book by LIAN Xi is an interesting look at the collapse of the missionary enterprise in China from an American missionary perspective.

The missionary enterprise in China combined Western culture and Christianity. While missionaries do not necessarily equate the two early on (which they did later when the Social Gospel infected the missionary enterprise), there was an uncritical acceptance of the superiority of Western culture in the more learned missionaries, which probably stems from the Enlightenment. The notion of progress, linked with scientific advancement, infected much of Western society. While not necessarily coming with a domination complex, the overarching worldview in Western society was one of the supremacy of the Western world with its scientific advances which was linked to the superiority of the Christian faith.

This marriage of Christ and Culture became the curse of the missionary enterprise, because it confused special and common grace. It assumes that a renewed mind and a Christian worldview would necessarily result in a superior culture, which God has nowhere indicated in His Word. It is of course true that a renewed mind and society and a Christian worldview would have some benefits in this life, but nowhere are we promised that such benefits would grant an advantage over all other cultures. Thus confused, missionaries to China are disoriented by the advanced Chinese culture, as they ought to be if they thought they were superior. I am an ethnic Chinese, and I am proud to be part of a culture that has lasted for millennia. The cultural accomplishments of the Chinese people stand as magnificent monuments to the power of the human intellect under the common grace of God, and thus the Enlightenment mentality of the missionaries should be seen as misguided and an insult.

The message that the missionaries ought to have come with (which some do) is the Gospel, which is to say the saving work of Christ for sinners. It is not the "social gospel" or anything of that sort that is of any help. The problem for China, and the problem anywhere for that matter, is not that they are "uncivilized," but that the most magnificent artifices of human intellect and will is totally unable to expiate the sins of men. History is filled with the monuments of what humans can accomplish, and all of that apart from God's saving grace. No matter the greatness of Chinese culture, all of that is dung and worthless before the eyes of a holy God. It is God who gives greatness to cultures and nations, and it is His pleasure to remove and humiliate as He wishes to do so. Babylon in its heyday was the greatest empire in the world, yet God brought her down when He saw fit.

The deconversion of confused missionaries is understandable, for they have lost their way prior to their actual apostasy. The sad thing is that the rest of us have to deal with the consequences of their errors in the mission field, and with the hardened hearts and the syncretism in the many false churches there.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Quantum physics and the nature of science

I drag you through this raft of speculation only to help you understand that if science is supposed to be a literal, verified view of Reality in itself, based on experiments which are somehow able to see beyond readings on instruments to that Reality in itself, then science is dead. There is no direct observation of the metaphysical objects of contemporary physics. ... More

What is "science"? A recent article argued that "science" is dead, based upon the implications of quantum physics, in the sense of it perceiving and verifying reality. While one can argue that quantum physics shouldn't be taken as representative of the sciences in general, yet the main point is not to say that what is implied from quantum physics can be implied from the others sciences, but rather that IF quantum physical phenomena and "objects" are in fact real, THEN science as this idea of an objective understanding of reality does not exist. In the collapse of the subject/ object distinction and the dissolution of matter, reality is reduced to some form of Idealism, and we can almost start flirting around with solipsism (I mean "I," whatever "I" means).

The problems pose by Quantum Physics should give us pause in thinking of science in a realist sense. Scientific Realism, the reigning paradigm in the natural sciences, must necessarily hold to the realities of quantum objects and phenomena, which it seems to me would result in the death of the natural sciences as we currently understand them (i.e. objective, empirical investigation of the world). Thus, we have three things of which all three cannot all be true at the same time: Scientific Realism, Science as objective empirical investigation, and Quantum Phenomena. One may be tempted to reject Quantum Physics altogether, but then at least some aspects of Quantum physics seem to be true, for we use them in our everyday lives (e.g. Tunneling Electron Microscope, or you can check this out on some other practical applications.). So if we want to rescue the objective nature of science, it seems we are forced to jettison Scientific Realism, and this in my opinion is the right move.

Denying Scientific Realism is not the same as denying Realism. Denying Scientific Realism just mean that science does NOT necessarily deal with ontologically real entities and phenomena. Pragmatism, a version of scientific anti-realism, merely states that science works. So quarks for example may or may not ontologically exist; that is irrelevant. What science is concerned with is to use these as descriptors for understanding the workings of reality, not reality itself. Scientific laws is our human way of mapping out natural operations as perceived by us and as applicable for our use.

Pragmatic scientific anti-realism deals with quantum phenomena and "objects" easily, since whatever they are, all laws regarding them are explanatory of their workings, not necessarily of what they are in themselves. We cannot see quarks with our eyes, not even under a microscope for that matter, so who knows whether they actually exist or not? We just need to know that they "exist" as explanations and descriptors in order for us to comprehend quantum phenomena, and that is sufficient. Are all matter merely waves, and thus "matter" as a category doesn't exist? No, for the wave-like nature of matter is an explanation of phenomena, and bears nothing on the reality of matter other than its operations.

For those who embrace Scientific Realism, Quantum Physics would pose a major problem. Together with the implications of General and Special Relativity especially concerning the theoretical possibility of time travel, it seems to me that one cannot simultaneously embrace Christian metaphysics and Scientific Realism and the findings of science.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 4)

God cannot allow the sinner, or even the mere human, though he be sinless Adam, to merit. Merit puts God in the sinner’s, or the mere human’s, debt. This would be for God to “ungod” Himself [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 121].

To this, I will just point to my short post on the topic of covenant merit. If we are talking about covenant merit, which even the authors of Moses and Merit profess to hold, then Engelsma's concern with the use of "merit" is totally misplaced.

All humans have a grace of God in common. All humans alike are bound to God and to each other in a divine covenant of grace. God is bound, in His covenant, graciously, to the likes of Nero, Duke Alva, Hitler, Stalin, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Dawkins, and all those today whose rebellion against Him has reached the pitch of changing “the truth of God into a lie, and worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

The authors put the blessing of God in the houses of all these wicked persons, where it may contend (successfully, the authors think) with the curse that God Himself has placed in these houses (see Prov. 3:33). (Ibid.)

"Common grace", at least the orthodox version of it, is not redemptive or salvific. Therefore, to say that a teaching of common grace is to bind rebellious sinners to God "graciously" unto salvation is a gross misrepresentation of what Brown and Keele mean by "common grace." If we can use the word "grace" to talk about non-redemptive grace before the Fall, then why is it that we cannot speak of non-redemptive "common grace" after the Fall? If one wants to restrict grace for the process of salvation, then one cannot claim that there is grace before the Fall, for Adam does not need to be saved before he fell.

In conclusion, Engelsma misrepresents Brown and Keele in their book Sacred Bond, he engages in all manner of redefinitions of words and concepts, and in so doing massacres the English language. He also shows his ignorance of what those who do not hold to his sectarian version of Covenant Theology actually believe in. It is fine if one disagrees with orthodox Reformed Covenant Theology, but it is not acceptable that one misrepresents one's opponents and recasts them in one's idea of what constitutes error without even showing understanding of what they hold to. Unfortunately, from my personal interaction with PRCA people, this is sadly what I have come to expect.

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 3)

In their exposition of the covenant, the authors of Sacred Bond show no awareness of the covenant heresy and its root. If they are aware, as one cannot imagine they are not, they have learned absolutely nothing from the heresy and its dreadful effects in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, including their own. [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 119]

I am sure that, in a book that seeks to introduce the basics of Covenant Theology to simple believers, an assault on Federal Vision is absolutely unnecessary. Is Engelsma suggesting that someone new to the Reformed faith for example MUST be immediately taught how bad Federal Vision is?

The biblical covenant confessed and explained by Brown and Keele is conditional from stem to stern, from source to fulfillment. (Ibid.)

The problem with Engelsma is that that he is totally unable to see that he must hold to some form of condition in even his "unconditional covenant." If Christ did not die on the Christ, can there be a Covenant of Grace for the Elect? Engelsma to be orthodox should say no. But if the death of Christ on the Cross is necessary for the implementation of the Covenant of Grace, then the death of Christ on the Cross is a condition for the Covenant of Grace. Or to put it more theologically, one condition for the Covenant of Grace is that Christ must merit salvation. To put it another way, Christ must fulfill the law and merit righteousness, and that is the main condition of the Covenant of Grace.

Engelsma, as with many PRCA theologians, are totally unable to see that conditions cannot be eradicated, unless one becomes a universalist. Anything that must happen, or that restricts the application of redemption, is a condition. The question to differentiate between orthodoxy and heresy is not whether there are conditions, but where and how and by whom the conditions are fulfilled. But if one has only one covenant (which the PRCA holds to), then one is even more restricted as to how the conditions are to be configured, and just by fiat denying there are conditions is manifestly inconsistent if one says that believing in Christ is necessary to be saved.

In this explanation of the “covenant of redemption,” the authors pay no heed to any number of Reformed theologians, including Herman Bavinck and Herman Hoeksema, that the main Scriptural proof adduced for the explanation—Zechariah 6:12, 13—does not at all refer to a bargain of Father and Son in the Godhead ... (Ibid.)

That there is an agreement between the members of the Godhead does not imply that there is any form of bargaining involved. That is a strawman and misrepresentation, as well as a massacre of the English language, to say that agreements must imply the presence of bargaining.

...they go on to describe the new covenant with believers and their children, which is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, as conditional: “Its [the new covenant’s] condition is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’” (Ibid., 120)

If someone does not have faith, can he be saved? No. If someone has faith, is he saved? Yes. So, according to the basic definition of syllogistic logic, faith is both a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation.

The problem with Engelsma is what happens when you have people who don't see that basic logic necessitates saying that faith is a condition. It is just like Engelsma's problems with definitions. One cannot define something in a way that restricts its meaning based upon one's ideology. To restrict meaning, one uses modifiers to modify the basic words. In the case of faith, we call it an "instrumental condition," because it is through faith that we are saved, not on the basis of faith.

As though the Canons of Dordt had never exposed the Arminian heresy as teaching that faith is the new covenant condition of salvation, rather than obedience to the law in the old covenant (Canons, 2, Rejection of Errors: 4)... (Ibid.)

The error rejected in Canons of Dort section 2, rejection of errors 4 is the error that God "graciously looks upon this [faith] as worthy of the reward of eternal life." In other words, the Arminian error is that faith is the ground of justification, not the instrument. God looks upon faith and by congruent merit credited that imperfect faith for righteousness. This is far from the position taken by Brown and Keele that faith is the instrumental condition for salvation, and thus Engelsma misrepresents what they, and the Reformed tradition, teaches.

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 2)

A promise is neither a sacred bond nor an agreement, but something quite different from both. Theologically, the concept of covenant promise (by God) contradicts the concept of covenant as mutual agreement. [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 118]

On the contrary, a promise IS a bond and an agreement. A promise given by party A to party B establishes an agreement whereby Party A promises to do X to Party B, and thus Party B can hold Party A to his promise and ask him to fulfill it. It is a bond precisely because the two parties are now tied in a relationship whereby Party A has obliged himself to honor his word. Agreements are agreements, not necessarily "mutual agreements," which is why "mutual agreements" require the adjective "mutual" to modify the noun "agreements."

Similarly, it is contradictory to assert, on the one hand, that “the covenant of redemption was not a ‘plan B’ to fix the mess Adam made, but the original blueprint for the work of Christ” and, in the same breath, to assert that God’s plan regarding Christ was “to remedy the disastrous results of the first Adam’s failure to fulfill the covenant of works in the garden of Eden and bring humankind to glory” (Ibid.)

Here, Engelsma err in failing to see the difference in view between the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, God's revealed will and His secret will. In God's eternal plan and secret will, Adam was destined to fall, though it was Adam's own fault and doing. But in redemptive history, Adam could in fact merit eternal life through fulfilling the conditions of the Covenant of Work. Therefore, in the outworking of redemptive history, Christ was to "remedy the disastrous results of the first Adam's failure." And that is the whole point of the typology in Romans 5 contrasting Adam and Christ, which is that where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Christ indeed remedied the disastrous results of the first Adam's failure, which one should have no problem with even if one disputes whether Adam can merit anything.

The authors suppose that they relieve this contradiction by distinguishing eternal benefits from temporal blessings and the heavenly Canaan from the earthly. But the fact remains that on their view the Sinaitic covenant was not wholly an administration of the covenant of grace. (Ibid., 118)

Form is not substance. To claim that there is a formal republication of the Covenant of Works does not mean that the substance of the Sinaitic Covenant is in part of the covenant of works. This is a misrepresentation by Engelsma, who shows no indication that he understands anything regarding Formal Republication.