Thursday, November 20, 2014

The wrong way to insert faith in education

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

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

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

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

Interstellar, or why TGC should not be doing film reviews

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Orthodoxy, Creationism and its detractors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Godfrey's unwarranted judgment of YEC

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Theonomy and response to a response to critics

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

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

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

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

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

Theonomy, the Two Swords and Penal sanctions of the law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theonomy and the lack of the "civil law"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interaction: YEC and the problem of double-standards

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

This just came in my twitter feed:

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

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 10, 2014

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

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

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

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS: This sums up the issue:

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

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


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

— Aaron (@TearsInMyBeard) November 14, 2014

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

The "Ceremonial Restorative Law"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Theonomy and Matthew 5:17-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Reformation and the Singapore culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Church discipline and excommunication in a degenerate Christendom

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 18:18)

The modern and post-modern deconfessional era has resulted in the formation of many many denominations and independent churches, not all of them biblical. One major problem that arises out of this is the issue of church discipline and excommunication. In a place with many churches not in communion with each other, someone who is excommunicated can simply hop over to the next church down the street and be received with open arms. Church discipline and excommunication, in this sense, has become impractical. What's the point of going through all that effort only to see that member leaving, complete with broken relationships and less incoming tithe?

The fundamental issue to be dealt with is the purpose of discipline and excommunication. Is it merely for the purpose of depriving a person of Christian fellowship and of partaking the sacraments as it were (i.e. the Anabaptist idea of shunning)? If so, then certainly the plurality of churches will render that goal impossible to reach. If however, we see discipline and excommunication as judicial acts of the Church, which if truly in line with Scripture conveys the actual sentence of Christ in this present age, then our perspective should change.

Matthew 18:18 and the keys of the kingdom speak about the authority Christ gave to the Apostles and through them the Ministers of the Gospel. All of them have the keys of the kingdom. The key of loosing is the proclamation of the Gospel opening the door to salvation. But what is the key of binding? It is the process of church discipline and excommunication. To those who are persistently recalcitrant and unrepentant in their sins, God in Christ has given the key of binding through which these people are put out of the kingdom of God. As a judicial act of the Church, when such is done in line with God's precepts, it is as if Christ has came and pronounced the sentence Himself. What is bound on earth WILL be bound in heaven. Christ has vested His ministers with this authority that they yield on His behalf, and thus excommunication has actual power, not just made up of ineffectual empty sentences by the courts of the church.

What this means is that even though church discipline and excommunication may seem ineffectual, since a member can just go to the next church down the street, a biblically valid excommunication is the decree by the Church upon which God looks with disfavor upon the one under its sentence. The weapons of the Church are spiritual, and on this issue, it is most certainly spiritual. The Church has no physical or governmental power (or at least it shouldn't have), but it is certainly far better to be punished by Man than by God. Someone under legitimate excommunication has God as his enemy, and that is NOT something anyone should ever want. If the person is elect, God will severely chastise him until he repents and submits to the discipline of the Church.

So yes, in an era where a person can just walk down the street to the next church and ignore whatever his previous church has said, he seems fine practically. But things in the spiritual realm are far different, and that is what matters.

For those who actually believe and practice church discipline, which is a mark of the true church, this should inform our practice in regards to accepting professing believers from other churches. It doesn't really matter what church they are from, if the person is being subjected to church discipline or even excommunicated, we have to find out why. If the reason is invalid (e.g. promoting Reformed theology in an Arminian church), one can disregard the prior discipline as being one contrary to Scripture. If however the reason is valid (i.e. wife-beating, illegitimate divorce), the sentence of excommunication must be upheld even if the sentence came from a Pentecostal church.

It was the Reformation that came up with the three marks of the true church, one of which was proper administration of church discipline. In this era of degenerate Christendom, we should most certainly be concerned over the practical ineffectiveness of church discipline and excommunication, yet continue to do so regardless of its supposed practicality. Ultimately, God is the One we serve. At the very least, proper execution of church discipline would bar the person from going back to true churches where the mark of discipline is practiced.

Publicly denouncing heretics and false teachers

In Singapore, we have a "new" home grown heretic in the person of Joseph Prince. In South Korea, we have a long-time favorite in the Word-faith syncretist David (Paul) Yonggi Cho. Both of them are in cultures which are steeped in Confucianism. Both of them are very prominent among the visible Church. Both of them are also free to publish their views without fear of almost any pastors in their home countries denouncing them.

The absence of denouncing heretics seem to be due to a misplaced idea of what being peaceable and being meek and Christ-like mean. In the absence of widespread public denunciation, these false teachers do not have to fear being marked as a false teacher, for what can a few laymen (if any) do? In the Confucian concept of "face," the whole issue becomes entwined with cultural expectations and norms. The problem therefore is that ministers in those countries have a false view of what heresy is, and a failure to recognize their duty in the face of damnable errors.

Let's look at an analogy. What do these countries do to those who commit heinous crimes? The names and pictures of those convicted of such crimes like murder, terrorism and treason are routinely published. The civil realm denounces publicly and convict publicly those who commit such crimes. In the case of rape, men who are accused of rape are even presumed guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion (while women rapists get a free pass in this regard). Do the civil authorities or the media give "face" to those accused and/or convicted of such crimes? Of course not! The public shaming and disgracing is part and parcel of the punishment meted out on these criminals.

When it comes to God's Kingdom in the Church however, suddenly everything changes. Here, even Satan might be given "face"! False teachers commit spiritual murder, but spiritual murderers are treated much much better than physical ones. Heretics who spew their toxin from the pulpits commit spiritual treason against the God they claim to serve, but of course whereas in the civil realm traitors are subject to capital punishment, in the Church it seems they are accepted and their critics portrayed as being un-Christlike. The comparison can go on and on, but the point should be clear by now.

Those who refuse to publicly denounce heretics and false teachers are winking at sin. What would we say about a judge who looks at someone convicted of murder and refuse to punish him? What a scandal it would be for a government to allow a person convicted of treason to go away scot-free? Yet, somehow these pastors and ministers think that it is better not to offend a person than to serve God. They rather give "face" to heretics and false teachers, and allow God to be mocked, souls to be destroyed, and the witness of the Church to be sullied before the world. If the civil realm even in Confucian societies do not give "face" to criminals, why are these pastors giving "face" to those committing heinous spiritual crimes?

If those pastors actually think they are answerable to God alone for their ministry, let them stop their cowardice and start speaking out against the heretics and false teachers in their countries. Your silence is silent consent to their errors, in the same way as someone silently observing a rape in progress is giving consent to that rape even though he did not participate or support it, and the blood of those you did not warn will be upon you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Venema, Turretin and Republication

[continued from previous post]

When New Testament writers (especially the apostle Paul) contrast the "law" of Moses and the covenant of grace in Christ, the contrast is not between the Mosaic covenant as such and the covenant of grace. The contrast is between the law abstracted from its setting within the Mosaic administration and considered only in terms of what it demands and promises, and the covenant of grace. However, when the law, narrowly considered, is regarded as having been promulgated by God through Moses to teach Israel to find salvation through works of obedience, then the law has been turned to a design contrary to God's intention. Within the purposes of the God of the covenant, the Mosaic law was designed to serve the preaching of Christ and to point Israel to the only Mediator whose obedience could procure salvation. In a statement that both anticipates and opposes the appeal of the authors of The Law is Not of Faith to a passage like Galatians 3:12, Turretin observes that Paul speaks of the law "not as taken broadly and denoting the Mosaic economy, but strictly as taken for the moral law abstractly and apart from the promises of grace (as the legalists regarded it who sought life from it)."39 In Galatians 3:12, accordingly, the apostle Paul is not equating the "law" with the Mosaic administration as such, and then sharply opposing the Mosaic administration with the covenant of grace. Rather, the apostle is contrasting what the law, wrested from its covenant setting, demands, and arguing against his legalistic opponents who pursued a righteousness that consisted in obedience to the law.

39 Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.267-8

[Cornelius Venema, "The Mosaic Covenant: A 'Republication' of the Covenant of Work?" MAJT 21 (2010): 67-8]


XXXI. Meanwhile it pleased God to administer the covenant of grace in his period [Mosaic -DHC] under a rigid legal economy—both on account of the condition of the people still in infancy and on account of the putting off of the advent of Christ and the satisfaction to be rendered by him. A twofold relation (schesis) ought always to obtain: the one legal, more sever, through which by a new promulgation of the law and of the covenant of works, with an intolerable yoke of ceremonies, he wished to set forth what men owed and what was to be expected by them on account of duty unperformed. In this respect, the law is called the letter that kills (2 Cor 3:6) and the handwriting which was contrary to us (Col. 2:14), because by it men professed themselves guilty and children of death, the declaration being written by their own blood in circumcision and by the blood of victims. The other relation was evangelical, sweeter, inasmuch as "the law was a schoolmaster unto Christ" (Gal. 3:24) and contained "the shadow of things to come" (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. Hence, as much of trouble and vexation as that economy brought in its former relation (schesin), so much of consolation and joy it conferred in the latter upon pious men attending to is and seeking under that bark and veil the spiritual and evangelical truth (which the Holy Spirit taught them by a clearer revelation). ...

XXXII. According to that twofold relation, the administration can be viewed either as to the external economy of legal teaching or as to the internal truth of the gospel promise lying under it. ...

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.227)

In his attempt to refute the notion of republication (of which Venema is rather confused), Venema attempted to show historically, biblically and theologically that the contributors to TLNOF are all wrong, and that republication is a novel thing created by Meredith G. Kline. Now, Kline is many things, but just because Kline is in error on the Framework Hypothesis does not mean that he is wrong on everything he promotes.

Here, I would like to focus on one of Venema's arguments, specifically his historical case concerning the views of Francis Turretin. According to Venema, Turretin's position is that the "legal manner" of reading the Mosaic Covenant is a Jewish and legalist distortion of the actual teaching of Scripture. Paul is therefore arguing against those who distort the law to promote works-righteousness in the book of Galatians, and therefore Paul (and Turretin) is not promoting any "works principle" in the Mosaic Covenant.

I find it rather illuminating that Venema's citation of Turretin comes from the portion whereby Turretin poses the question "whether the Sinaitic legal covenant, made by Moses with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, was a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace." Earlier in Turretin's Institutes however, Turretin dealt with "the twofold economy of the covenant of grace" and "the difference between the old and the new covenants." Surely, those earlier sections should inform our understanding of Turretin's views concerning the relation between the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works? Shouldn't we read Turretin in context all the way from the earlier sections? If one reads the earlier sections, one would surely come to a different conclusion from Venema.

As the citation from the earlier section of Turretin should show, Turretin believes that the Mosaic Covenant is a "rigid legal economy" and that it posses an "external economy of legal teaching." Believers have to go beyond the "bark and veil" to find the Gospel of the Covenant of Grace hidden within it. This is surely a strong affirmation of formal republication. Thus in the earlier sections, it seems that Turretin strongly affirms formal republication of the Covenant of Works, so what are we make of Venema's claims concerning Turretin?

Now, it surely is true that Turretin is indeed arguing against the distortion of the law. But the question is: What does Turretin think IS the distortion of the Law? When one reads from the earlier section, it can be clearly seen that for Turretin, to read the Law correctly is to read it in its twofold relation — its external legal economy and the internal evangelical truth. In other words, for Turretin the "distortion" is a distortion from the Christian point of view from the perspective of the full canon, not the Jewish point of view of merely having the Mosaic economy. Turretin deals with the issue from the perspective of the full light of revelation, not with regards to the historia salutis, and we most certainly should agree with him that focusing on the Mosaic economy alone is a distortion (from the Christian point of view) of the Law.

If however we proceed from the viewpoint of the historia salutis, then it becomes impossible to use the language of "distortion." Rather, the word to be used is "dimly." Old Testament believers therefore see the works principle in the Mosaic economy, while the hidden Covenant of Grace which is its substance is seen dimly. It is not a "distortion" for anyone during that time in redemptive-history to see only the works principle, but rather blindness to the hidden Covenant of Grace underlying the Mosaic Covenant.

Reading Turretin in context therefore shows us Venema's misrepresentation of Turretin's position. Turretin holds strongly to the formal republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, while affirming that its substance is indeed the Covenant of Grace. The distortion of the law is therefore a distortion from our point of view, but mere blindness on the part of the people of the Old Testament.