Friday, November 06, 2015

Michael Horton and Impassibility

The Stoic doctrine of apathes/apatheia is flatly denied by the Christian tradition wherever the latter asserts God's free involvement in the world. Moltmann is right when he says that we cannot read the passion narratives and conclude that God is aloof and unaffected by us. While some ancient and medieval Christian writers evidences a wariness towards attributing emotion to God, at least in etymological terms God's impassibility referred not to an inability to relate or to feel, but an inability to suffer. ...

If we say that God is not intrinsically affected by the world, what are we to make of the intimacy of that personal relationship that God is represented as having with his creatures? Yet if we say that God is intrinsically affected by the world, how can we continue to say that God is perfect and independent of created reality? The answer proposed here is to recognize that although God exists independently of creation, he freely chooses to enter into a genuine relationship with the world. In this freedom for creaturely reality, God is genuinely affected, although in any given case this is to be understood in an analogical rather than a univocal sense. ... [Michael S. Horton, Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2005), 42-3]

Impassibility, or the doctrine of a God without passions, is highly controversial in the modern world. From the liberal (small 'l') side, Jurgen Moltmann is the most well known for promoting the suffering of God in his book The Crucified God. Open Theism has been a Trojan horse for bringing this nonsense into the so-called Evangelical camp, while the Reformed Baptists have been having some problems with the issue too it seems.

Of course, part of the confusion over impassibility lies with its definition. What do we mean when we say that God is impassible, that He has "no passions"? Does it mean that God has totally no emotions like a robot or a rock? Most assuredly not, so what exactly does impassibility mean?

Impassibility is a corollary to immutability. Immutability is the doctrine that God doesn't change. Impassibility therefore is the doctrine that God doesn't change in His emotions. In other words, God's emotions are self-determined and steadfast. It is we who change relative to God, not God Himself.

It is here that I would like to demur from Dr. Horton's portrayal of impassibility. According to this (earlier) book, impassibility is to be seen more along the lines of the non-suffering of God. God is dynamically involved with the world, though it is because God freely chose to interact with the world, and such dynamism is to be understood analogically. This however to me is the wrong way to go about understanding impassibility, which seems to me to be better understood as God's steadfastness in regards to His emotions, i.e. immutable with regards to His emotions.

Perhaps in an effort to simplify the issue, the question to be asked is this: Can a creature cause God to feel a certain way? Or to use stronger and more intensive language, can the creature emotionally manipulate God's emotions? If one were to (correctly) deny that the creature can ever cause a change in God's emotions, then what kind of dynamic quality and genuine affecting can we claim for the creature with the true God? But if all emotions in God are self-caused and independent of the creature, can we have a true dynamism in this relationship? Now of course God does relate to His creatures especially Man, but since God is Lord, it seems that the "dynamic" interaction must be due to us not to God. In other words, God's emotions are constant and steadfast, but it is we who change, thus resulting in the illusion of God's "changing" emotions towards us.

When we read that God repents, we are to read it as an anthropopathism signaling not that God actually repents in the essence of His being, but that God seems to be repenting because of the changes in people and the environment. To unrepentant sinners, God is constantly in a emotional state of wrath. To the elect who has repented and turned to Christ for salvation, God is constantly loving us in Christ. To the believer who continues in a state of sin, God is grieved over this sin and disciplines His children for our good. In all this, it is not God who changes, but Man. God is constant and thus unchanging (immutable). He always has wrath for the unrepentant sinner, always has love for the elect who repents and have faith, and always grieves over the sin of a believer in sin.

This understanding of impassibility as self-determinance and steadfastness seems to be a better portrayal of the God who is steadfast (אֱמֶת - emet) with loving kindness (חֶסֶד - hesed) towards His people (e.g. Ps. 25:10). It is not the Greek Stoic ideal of apatheia, but it does contain the idea of unchangeableness like it. This, as opposed to Horton's (at least) earlier portrayal of impassibility, seem to be much more biblical.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

On the Kong Hee saga

The Kong Hee trial, where Hee and 5 others were charged with criminal breach of trust and financial mismanagement, has came up with a guilty verdict for all of the 6 accused, with sentencing due later. Many professing Christians especially City Harvest Church (CHC) members defend Kong Hee and see the entire affair as persecution, while those especially who have been critical of Hee have generally piled on the criticism.

This entire affair to the outside world leaves a black mark on Christianity (since City Harvest is seen as a Christian church and Kong Hee as a Christian pastor). While I have been critical of Kong Hee (and still am), the fact that to the outside world Christianity gets tarred is sad. I would very much prefer not to comment on this fiasco if I do not have to. Objectively, it cannot be denied that City Harvest accounts were not done properly, so that the prosecution has a legitimate case against City Harvest on this technical matter. At the same time, while I disagree with the Crossover Project, what City Harvest wants to do with its own money is its own business, as long as the members approve. The government does not have a right to tell any private organization how to spend its own money as long as its members agree, just as it is none of the government's business if I decide to spend my personal money on expensive items or not.

As I have said, I would prefer not to comment on this sad saga, until I read this "theological reflection" article, which has as much theology in it as a generic Singapore Evangelical church bulletin. Unfortunately, such shallow drivel is considered "theological reflection" in today's world. Worse still, it promotes false teachings, and thus its errors need to be shown.

The first error is the author's airbrushing of prosperity theology. The idea that one holds to either a prosperity theology or a "poverty theology" is absolute nonsense from the pits of hell, promoted by the prosperity heretics themselves to try to deceive people into believing a prosperity theology. The author has bought this lie as a matter of first principle, and then attempt the Hegelian dialectic to create his third option, seeing "merits on both sides of the equation." Thus, we see the treating of "prosperity" and "poverty" as being two opposing options and then he laid out his third option.

As opposed to such deception, the Scriptures only condemns the love of money without focusing too much on the topic. Unlike us, the Scriptures are not fixated on money; it neither extolls prosperity or poverty. It does not promote lust of money such that one loves prosperity, neither does it see money as ontologically evil and thus to be avoided at all costs. Money in Scripture is to be a mere tool of exchange.

The author here correctly points out the problems with appealing to Jesus or the patriarchs. He correctly appeals to Matthew 6:24 against the prosperity gospel. He also states the problem with associating outward success with blessing. All of these are right and true, yet we see here no denunciation of the false gospel of the prosperity message, but rather the Hegelian process at work. What is the use of offering some correct insights while claiming that there is good in the prosperity gospel? Does it bother him even, or maybe he does not believe it, that the prosperity gospel has brought desolation to millions in this life and, in the next, brought them to hell, alongside heretics such as Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Creflo Dollar and so on? The prosperity nonsense normally comes alongside the Word-faith heresy, since it is through speaking words of power (faith) that one can create one's better life into being. In any address of the prosperity heresy therefore, there should be a knowledge of the Word-faith nonsense behind it. In Kong Hee's case, one should probably also be informed of the new syncretized version called Dominion Theology promoted by the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), but I guess that's asking too much from his article.

The author's second point focuses on saying that the means do not justify the end. This is of course true. At the same time, the Crossover Project is a moral issue, not a legal issue. As I have said, any private organization should have the liberty to spend its money however it pleases if its members agree to do so. The author seem to think that the Crossover Project is in itself a violation of the law of the land, which is false. It is the round-tripping and financial irregularities that are the problems, for this is (still) a (relatively) free country, and there should not be anything wrong with the project per se. Now, I think that the whole project is morally bankrupt (see Sun Ho's "China Wine" video if you want to know why), but legally there shouldn't be any reasons why an organization can't spend its money that way.

The author says that one should not "compromise the gospel in order to share the gospel." That is true, but what is the Gospel? After all, the author has "irenically" told us there is good in the prosperity gospel. The author accepts the rationale of good works done by CHC, and just contend that all the good does not excuse one from breaking the law. While that is true, yet is the problem with CHC just that they broke the law while doing good? Again, what exactly is the Gospel? That we should be good citizens doing good works? We are not told.

All of these criticisms so far are just the problems with what the author has said. But what is even more disturbing is the author's unspoken assumptions concerning CHC. To me, CHC is not a legitimate Christian church. There are professing Christians inside, and maybe some true ones, but it's none of my business to judge their personal salvation. Rather, the focus is on the nature of CHC as a Christian church, and it is not one. CHC has promoted heresy and it has promoted false teachers like Benny Hinn (e.g 13-15 Apr 2007). As an independent church, it has no accountability and it shows. With regards to the ordering of the church, who exactly ordained Kong Hee and was he legitimately ordained? But back to the issue of the Gospel, what exactly is the "Gospel" in CHC? If its sermons and conferences are anything to go by, it is a syncretized Word-faith NAR perversion of the Gospel, and THAT is the elephant in the room which the author does not touch, and which makes CHC a false church.

The main problem with CHC is not some cosmetic issues with their financial mis-accounting. Neither is it with their promotion of prosperity per se. But the problem goes deeper to the essence of Christianity, the Gospel. CHC has lost the Gospel, and that should be the main issue of criticism. It has lost the Gospel, and therefore it has adopted the Word Faith and NAR nonsense. It has lost the Gospel, which is why godliness to them look the same as worldliness. It has lost the Gospel, which is why they don't have a problem with the ends justifying the means. It has lost the Gospel, which is why Sun Ho can behave so scandalously and dress so lewdly in MTV. It has lost the Gospel, which is why her members behave like they worship Kong Hee, because they do.

Kong Hee has sadly remained unrepentant, but his main issue is not with the government, but with God Himself. Until he repents of his heresy, there will be a greater Judge who will be against him, and nothing he does then will avail him any good.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hodge: In what sense is Christ present in the Lord's Supper

It [the body and blood of Christ] is present to the mind, not to our bodies. It is perceived and received by faith and not otherwise. He is not present to unbelievers. By presence is meant not local nearness, but intellectual cognition and apprehension, believing appropriation, and spiritual operation. The body and blood are present to us when they fill our thoughts, are apprehended by faith as broken and shed for our salvation, and exert upon us their proper effect. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:642)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

R Scott Clark on conditions in the covenants and the topic of sanctification

Dr. R Scott Clark discussed the topic of sanctification with his pastor Chris Gordon of Escondido URC in his latest Heidecast, number 98, here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Musings: Do RCs believe in faith as mere assent?

One issue which I find puzzling is that many Reformed theologians claim that in Roman Catholicism, faith is defined as knowledge and assent, while Protestantism defines faith as including knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus) and trust (fiducia). Now that might be in interaction with Counter-Reformation apologist Robert Bellarmine, who is certainly a valid opponent and a premier scholar against the Reformation. But supposing that Bellarmine did in fact teach faith as consisting of mere assent, it only proves that at least a number of RC theologians taught thus. In practice, it does not seem to me that such is the case even in Tridentine Catholicism.

Consider the issue of implicit faith (fides implicita). In implicit faith, the parishioner is not required to have any knowledge whatsoever, but wholly assents and trusts that whatever the church says or teaches is true. We note here that there is indeed trust, but such is blind trust in the veracity of Rome, thus fiducia in ecclesia (trust in the church) and Sola Ecclesia (the Church alone). Furthermore, it is not as if Roman Catholics are called to merely trust the Roman Church, but rather they are called to trust in Christ, through the mediation of the Roman Church. Statement 154 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Catholics are to be "trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed," thus showing forth that the assertion that Roman Catholicism denies fiducia is rather doubtful.

It seems therefore that in Roman Catholicism, faith is defined as assent and trust, with knowledge being optional. Now of course the claim can be made that what Protestant theologians mean by fiducia is different from what Rome means by trust, but that is really besides the point. The point is that Rome does in fact believe in fiducia- that one should place one's trust in God. That such trust is to be worked out through the mediation of Rome shows the difference between theirs and our understanding of trust, but it cannot be denied that they do embrace some version of the necessity of trusting in God.

In conclusion, it is best to not say that Roman Catholicism believes in faith as mere assent, but rather as blind assent. They do "trust" in God, but it is a God who is essentially unknown and made known only through Rome's mediation. Faith therefore in the Roman scheme has two parts: blind assent, and blind trust, and not mere intellectual assent.

Hodge on Faith and Reason

A fifth question is, Whether the objects of faith may be above, and yet not contrary to reason? The answer to this question is to be in the affirmative, for the distinction implied is sound and almost universally admitted. What is above reason is simply incomprehensible. What is against reason is impossible. It is contrary to reason that contradictions should be true; that a part should be greater than the whole; that a thing should be and not be at the same time; that right should be wrong and wrong right. It is incomprehensible how matter attracts matter; how the mind acts on the body, and the body on the mind. … The great body of Christian theologians have ever taken the ground that the doctrines of the Bible are not contrary to reason, although above it. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:81)

While, therefore, the objects of faith as revealed in the Bible are not truths of the reason, i.e., which the human reason can discover, or comprehend, or demonstrate, they are, nevertheless, perfectly consistent with reason. They involve no contradictions or absurdities; nothing impossible, nothing inconsistent with the intuitions either of the intellect or of the conscience; nothing inconsistent with any well established truth, whether of the external world or of the world of mind. On the contrary, the contents of the Bible, so far as they relate to things within the legitimate domain of human knowledge, are found to be consistent, and must be consistent, with all we certainly know from other sources than a divine revelation. … (3:82)

For Hodge, theological truths can be above reason, but never against reason, and he uses examples of logical contradictions as examples of what constitutes being "against reason."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Charles Hodge and the republication in the Mosaic covenant

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic Law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii.6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:375)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Supralapsarianism, and Charles Hodge's objections to it

The debate between Intralapsarianism and Suprelapsarianism concerns the logical order of God's decrees. God as the sovereign Ruler plans for everything, and thus the various decrees of God are God's directives to cause various and diverse things to happen in space-time. Thus, there is the decree of creation, which results in the creation of this universe, and the decree of the incarnation, where the Son willingly came down and was born of a woman into this world, which is part of the overall decree of redemption. Since in eternity (past) time doesn't really exist, the order of the decrees must be logical, not temporal. In other words, what is the best way we can understand how God's decrees relate to each other?

In the Supralapsarian scheme, the decree of election and reprobation comes before (thus "supra-") the decree of the Fall. Thus, the order is (1) the decree of election and reprobation, (2) the decree to cause the Fall, and (3) the decree to create. Whereas, in the Infralapsarian scheme, the decree of election and reprobation comes after (thus "infra-") the decree of the Fall. Thus, the order would be (1) the decree to create, (2) the decree to cause the Fall, (3) the decree of election and reprobation. It is to be noted that the logical order of the decree is just that: logical. It therefore does not concern the execution of the decrees in space-time, one thing which we need to take note when we look at the Reformed Confessions none of which have dealt specifically with anything other than the execution of the decrees.

Charles Hodge in pages 318-319 of volume 2 of his Systematic Theology lists down his objections to Surpralapsarianism. I think them singularly unconvincing and would like to provide a response to his objections.

Hodge's first objection is that Supralapsarianism involves a contradiction because the objects of the decree of election and reprobation need to exist, for nothing can be determined of a non-entity. This objection however is to confuse the idea of a logical order with the execution of that order in space-time. Individuals can be thought of before they have existed, in fact they must be for after that this is how any piece of fiction is made: One conceives of the plot and the characters before writing them down. One does not (at least in a good plot) introduce a character without any idea of what that character would be doing in the story, so how much more are individual humans before the Creator God, the Author of the greatest story ever told?

The second objection argues from the principle that "where there is no sin there is no condemnation" to show that foreordination unto death must contemplate its objects as being already sinful. But this fails to distinguish between the aspects of preterition (passing-by) and condemnation. Reprobation in the orthodox scheme is never equivalent to election. Election is God's active work to save sinners, while reprobation is God's passive work in leaving sinners in their sin. [Note: the use of the word "sinners" here is the language of the execution of those decrees]. The decree of reprobation therefore includes their preterition, and then only after that, their subsequent condemnation. No reprobate is ever condemned apart from consideration of his sins, and thus, while we agree that where there is no sin there is no condemnation, we disagree that this has anything to say about the decree of reprobation, which is primarily about preterition, which does lead to damnation but is not damnation per se.

Hodge's third objection is that the language of Romans 9:9-21 is that the "'mass' out of which some are chosen and others left, is the mass of fallen men" (2:318). But this again confuses the logical order of the decree with the execution of that order, which, as the scholar Robert Reymond has pointed out, is always the inverse of the logical order of the decree. His fourth objection is that creation in the Bible is never represented as a means to execute the purposes of election and reprobation, but that to me is a strawman. Creation has its own penultimate telos, but we are talking about how these decrees relate to each other logically, not whether these decrees have legitimate penultimate purposes different from each other. The decrees of God are not just towards one goal only, but many goals, all of which are non-exclusive. After all, the desire to glorify the Son is not mutually exclusive to the desire to save some sinners to eternal life in Christ. Similarly, the desire to manifest His glory in Creation is not mutually exclusive from the desire to glorify Himself through redemption.

The final objection given is that Supralapsarianism is inconsistent with the portrayal of God as a God of mercy and justice, since in Supralapsarianism individuals are condemned to "misery and eternal death" as "innocents." First of all, this confuses preterition and condemnation. Secondly, since in the Infralapsarian scheme, God permitted or passively caused the Fall which affects all subsequent "innocents," the Infralapsarian scheme is not superior to the Supralapsarian scheme in dealing with the topic of theodicy ("Why evil exists").

Hodge of course supports the Infralapsarian position. But if that is treated as the logical order of God's decrees, then it seems that election and reprobation only come about because of sin, and therefore they are contingent upon sin occurring. In the Supralapsarian scheme, the allowance of sin serves the purposes of election and reprobation, whereas in the infralapsarian scheme, election and reprobation are reactions to sin. This seems to me troubling because of what that implies for our understanding of God's desire to save us. To put it practically and somewhat simplistically for simple believers, are we saved because God has always desired to save us (Supralapsarianism), or that God desires to save us only when it appears we are falling away (Infralapsarianism)?

I mentioned that we need to decide on the best way we are to understand God's decrees as they relate to each other. The best way to relate them is to look for the ultimate purpose of God, which is His own glory, and then locate each decree in the order towards the promotion of God's glory. After all, God desires to glorify Himself, and therefore the best way to relate them is to put them in an order towards that same goal. Before time began, God who works all things for His own glory will plan for that to happen, thus we perceive the logical order of God's decrees accordingly. God of course will execute these decrees in "time," and thus in the execution we see the election and reprobation of sinners after they have sinned in Adam. Thus, we understand a logical order, and an order of execution. All of these intellectual exercises are for us to be consistent in our theology, and thus make us understand that God has always desired to save us, which did not begin only after Adam and Eve fall.

Charles Hodge against Occasionalism

A third form of necessity includes all those theories which supersede the efficiency of second causes, by referring all events to the immediate agency of the first cause. This of course is done by Pantheism in all its forms, ... According to all these views, God is the only agent; all activity is but different modes in which the activity of God manifests itself.

The theory of occasional causes leads to the same results. According to this doctrine, all efficiency is in God. Second causes are only the occasions on which that efficiency is exerted. Although this system allows a real existence to matter and mind, and admits that they are endowed with certain qualities and attributes, yet these are nothing more than susceptibilities, or receptivities for the manifestation of the divine efficiency. They furnish the occasions for the exercise of the all-pervading power of God. Matter and mind are alike passive: all the changes in the one, and all of the appearance of activity in the other, are due to God’s immediate operation. (Charles Hodge, Systematc Theology, 2:281-2)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Romans 2:6-10 and the Covenant of Works

And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:122)

According to Charles Hodge, Romans 2:6-10 is not about some idea that believers would bring forth "Spirit-wrought works," as what John Piper believes, but that it speaks about the condition of perfect obedience required in the Covenant of Works. It is because the Covenant of Works is still valid that Man continue to die physically. Death is caused by sin, and that all men die is proof that all men sin (Rom. 5:12).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hodge and the doctrine of concursus

This concursus is represented first, as general; an influence of the omnipresent power of God not only sustaining creatures and their properties and powers, but exciting each to act according to its nature. It is analogous to the general influence of the sun which affects different objects in different ways. The same solar ray softens wax and hardens clay. ... (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:599)

Concursus, therefore, assumes, (1) That God gives to second causes the power of acting. (2) That He preserves them in being and vigour. (3) That He excites and determines second causes to act. (4) That He directs and governs them to the predetermined end. ...

The doctrine of concursus does not deny the efficiency of second causes. They are real causes, having a principium agendi in themselves. (1:600)

The above statement of the doctrine of concursus is designed merely to give the views generally entertained by Augustinians, as to the nature of God's providential government. Whether those views are correct or not, it is important that they should be understood. It is very evident that there is a broad distinction between this theory of concursus and the theory which resolves all events, whether necessary or free, into the immediate agency of God. The points of difference between the two theories are, (1.) That the one admits and the other denies the reality and efficiency of second causes. (2.) The one makes no distinction between free and necessary events, attributing them equally to the almighty and creative energy of God; the other admits the validity and unspeakable importance of this distinction. (3.) The one asserts and the other denies that the agency of God is the same in sinful acts that it is in good acts. (4.) The one admits that God is the author of sin, the other repudiates that doctrine with abhorrence. (1: 603)

God works, and there are real second causes at work. To deny the real validity of second causes, like Vincent Cheung, is to make God a monster.

Hodge and Natural Theology

Those who deny that natural theology teaches anything reliable concerning God, ... (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:22)

The Scriptures clearly recognize the fact that the works of God reveal his being and attributes. This they do not only by frequent reference to the works of nature as manifestations of the perfections of God, but by direct assertions. (1:24)

Not only the act of this revelation, but its clearness is distinctly asserted by the Apostle [Paul] ... It cannot, therefore, be reasonably doubted that not only the being of God, but also his eternal power and Godhead, are so revealed in his works, as to lay a stable foundation for natural theology (1:25)

Natural theology. It seems strange to me that people think that natural theology is actually a biblical and worthwhile endaevor, as opposed to just staying with a Biblical Theology of Nature. Natural theology, in its Reformed variant, is limited in scope yet it seeks truths from nature about God. Using Romans 1:20-21 as one of its base texts, it declares that Man can from nature know something about God, namely His eternal power and divine nature. The basic Biblical Theology of Nature, or Doctrine of Created things, on the other hand, tells us what God intends Nature to convey to us. The former (Natural Theology) looks to nature for God's revelation in nature, while the latter (Biblical Theology of Nature) looks to Scripture for God's revelation in nature.

Hodge, as part of his background in some form of Scottish Common-Sense Realism, believes that one can just trust one's senses as they are. Thus, he claims that Nature's revelation is plain enough on its own to give us a natural theology. But it is one thing to believe, with Scripture, that General Revelation is enough to condemn people through some knowledge of God, and another to claim that Nature itself reveals those aspects of Nature. The two propositions are not the same, and in my opinion it is a leap to jump from the biblical teaching that God reveals in General Revelation through Nature, to God reveals in Nature. Of course, it might be argued that the first leads to the second, but that is what is under dispute here.

General Revelation is what Scripture teaches. But the mode is not explicitly mentioned. Relying on empirical data and sense experiences, or even cognitive experiences, presupposes that these are necessarily reliable for the perception of truth. But if that is the case, why is it that none of the theistic arguments are foolproof? Even the teleological argument, or the argument from design, merely proves the existence of a cosmic designer(s). Now God is certainly who we believe the designer is, but I don't think it is clear enough from that argument that there is one Designer who is the Christian God.

Hodge claims the "most obvious" and "most effective" argument "in support of the truths of natural religion" comes from "the constitution of our own nature." (1:22). But what does this even mean, since there is no consensus on the constitution of Man in philosophy? Of course, if one interprets reality through Christian lenses, then the Imago Dei certainly shows us an aspect of General Revelation, but what if one does not interpret through Christian lenses?

Hodge lives in a much more Christian environment, but for those of us who have been exposed to non-Christian thought from cultures that never had Christian influences until the modern time, we can see how pervasive Christian theological and philosophical thought patterns have pervaded the West such that even much of Western unbelief borrows from the conceptual world of the Christian worldview. What Hodge thinks are "obvious" are not actually obvious to everyone. It is not so much that the arguments are inconclusive, as that the axioms undergirding the arguments are disputed as well. Therefore, it seems to me that arguments for natural theology are undermined at the conceptual level. For example, the ontological argument assumes that perfection of being in all aspects is possible, or that just because something can be mentally conceived means that it could exist in a possible world. All such assumptions can be questioned, and it seems that unless one brings in the Christian worldview, there is no way to establish the arguments for natural theology at all.

God does reveal aspects of Himself, His eternal power and divine nature, through General Revelation. At the same time, I deny that there is actually Natural Theology of any kind. It would seem that General Revelation is mediated by daily living as opposed to philosophical arguments, for after all General Revelation is accessible to everyone including the non-philosopher. The man on the street watches the stars, and encounters God's General Revelation there, without the necessity for analysis. General Revelation therefore is by intuition through daily living in God's world, and not by philosophical arguments and empiricism or science.

Charles Hodge not a rationalist

The question is not first and mainly, What is true to the understanding, but what is true to the renewed heart? The effort is not to make the assertions of the Bible harmonize with the speculative reason, but to subject our feeble reason to the mind of God as revealed in his Word, and by his Spirit in our inner life. [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Hendrickson, 2001), 1:16]

Philosophy, in its widest sense, being the conclusions of the human intelligence as to what is true and the Bible being the declaration of God, as to what is true, it is plain that where the two contradict each other, philosophy must yield to revelation; man must yield to God. (1:58)

In the first place, reason is necessarily presupposed in every revelation. Revelation is the communication of truth to the mind. But the communication of truth supposes the capacity to receive it. (1:49)

If it [thing, theory] is seen to be impossible, no authority, and no amount or kind of evidence can impose the obligation to receive it as true. Whether, however, a thing be possible or not, is not to be arbitrarily determined. ... The impossible cannot be true; but reason in pronouncing a thing impossible must act rationally and not capriciously. (1:51)

In some circles, Charles Hodge, and Old Princeton in particular, has been marked as rationalists, in putting reason before revelation. In his systematics, the last two quotes given seem to support the idea of Hodge being a rationalist, while the first two seem to suggest otherwise. Is there a contradiction here, or are his accusers reading him wrongly?

I would suggest that those who see rationalism in Hodge have a strong aversion towards Systematics as a whole. As it can be noticed, the second quote come AFTER the other two quotes that seem to support the case that Hodge is a rationalist, which suggest that Hodge conceives of the priority of revelation through using reason. Reason is the tool used to evaluate theories, not Scripture, and that is the key point. Reason receives revelation, and therefore we can evaluate theological theories using reason as a tool, but that is totally different from saying we can reject or redefine biblical truth if it seems irrational to us. Using reason as a tool imply that we reject theories with contradictions in them, like claiming that God is both one person and three persons, or that God who is sovereign dies for all but saves only some.

An attack against reason as a tool is therefore an attack against systematics and consistent theology, in favor of irrational theories and mysticism. Perhaps that is why people prefer to tar Hodge as being a rationalist, because they reject his theology and anything that leads to Calvinism.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 3)

[continued from here and here]

Christians and trials

The antithesis is between Christianity on the one side and other philosophies and religions on the other. It is epistemological not ontological. Living in this valley of tears, Christians share many things in common with unbelievers, with struggles for meaning and provision being things we have in common.

It is here that we move on to Aaron Lim's fourth point, that Christian students face persecution in public schools but they need friends. Now, it is true to some extent Christians will struggle in this world. Yet persecution is one thing, how we should respond to it another. The fact of persecution does not necessarily mean we should avoid situations where persecution is present. After all, Jesus prayed for our protection not that we would not have persecution. Our Lord after all said that he is sending his followers as sheep among wolves (Mt. 10:16). We are not called to separate from the world, but to keep ourselves pure in the midst of the world.

Aaron shared his own personal struggle in his school years, but what relevance does that have? This writer also struggled with ostracism in his school years, but feelings are not a valid argument for anything. In fact, it is through struggles that we grow. Those who are too sheltered are severely disadvantaged when they are finally exposed to the perils of the world. An emerging butterfly will emerge weak and unable to do much if the struggle to get out of its cocoon is cut short by "help" given by someone snipping through the cocoon instead of letting the butterfly emerge naturally by itself. Pain and suffering is part and parcel of living in this cursed fallen world, and children need to learn that. Even God does not spare us from trials, but He disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:7-11). Trials in this life are given by God, who did not promise us the absence of trials, but that He will bring us through trials (1 Cor. 10:13; Jas. 1:2-4). Are we trying to argue that just because we struggle greatly in the past, so we want to make things easier for subsequent generations by eradicating the struggles we ourselves have to face? What exactly is growing up supposed to be for in this modern era, but for comfort and self-esteem even to the creation of "safe spaces"? Have we become so pampered and soft that we need to extend kindergarten into adult years?

Yes, children need friends. Christians friends do need to be made so we can encourage each other in the Lord (Heb. 10:25). But since friendship is a creational thing, so we can and should make friends with others regardless of religion and philosophy. After all, friendship is a good thing, and friendship can function as a portal for Gospel witness too. Now, I am not advocating for making friends with wicked people and joining them in sinning. But not all unregenerate people are sinful to that extent, and some of them might even be occasions for God to work in His people.

Living the antithesis IN the world

Christians are called to be pilgrims (Heb. 11:13). Pilgrims are those who are in the land and participate in the happenings in the land, yet do so as one who feels they belong to another. They are foreigners in the land, and as such they do not feel they belong. The archetypal pilgrim is Abraham, who sojourned in the promised land, and engaged in economic activity and made covenants with the locals, yet he knew his identity as being someone belonging to another country, the City of God. Abraham did not separate himself in doing only "Christian businesses," or eating only "Christian food" or engage in other such spiritualization of common realities. The difference between him and the unregenerate is spiritual, not on things of the common sphere which he shared with the unbelieving pagans around him.

Likewise, the early Christians lived the antithetical life without denying the legitimacy of the common sphere. As an early church writing describes,

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. [Ad Diognetus, 5]

The early Christians do not separate themselves from the common realm in things of "clothing, food and the rest of their ordinary conduct," or "customs which they observe." In common affairs, they participate as other peoples. The difference is spiritual, not with regards to the common creational things. The antithetical life is to live virtuously in the midst of a wicked generation, not to separate oneself to create Christian sub-cultures. That is the way God has ordained for us. We are to be leaven in the midst of a dying world (Mt. 13:33), and bear witness in this world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not separate ourselves from it!

Aaron's fifth reason thus fall flat in light of this reality. Yes, in terms of purpose and goals, public education has contrary goals to that of Christian values. But that is irrelevant, for unless they are actually mandating indoctrination into SecularISM, one does not have to accept their principles. After all, what do you expect from unregenerate people: that they think and teach in a Christian manner? The responsibility for bringing children up in the faith belongs to the parents, and schools are educating in loco parentis (in the place of a parent). Parents are responsible for bringing children up in the faith, but why does that have to be done in schools (especially in Christian schools) instead of the home? In the exact manner of how parents are to bring their children up in the faith, the Bible only mandates the witnessing of the Gospel of salvation (Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25) and says nothing else more specific, so there should be Christian liberty where Scripture is silent. Some Christians might opt to do their duty by going through the public education system, while having catechisms and devotions in their family time, so who is to condemn them?


As I think I have proved, this attack on the "evils of public education" is utterly misguided and contrary to Scripture. No doubt there are bad public schools, but then they are bad Christians schools too. The fundamental issue is whether public education is in itself inherently evil, and to that I say NO. The PRCA's erroneous misconstruction and denial of "common grace," its radicalization of the Kuyperian doctrine of the antithesis, has led to a toxic stew of separatism and uncalled for over-the-top polemics against those who disagree with them on something we all should have Christian liberty over. Such actions such as separating from all public schools is contrary to the biblical view of being pilgrims in the land, and resembles the Anaaptists more than the Reformers.

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 2)

[continued from here]

On the antithesis and the common sphere

In Reformed theology, what exactly does the antithesis pertain to? According to both Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark (despite their disagreement on other matters), the antithesis exists at the level of one's philosophy. In other words, there is a fundamental disagreement between the systems of Christianity, and that of other belief systems. Christianity is unique and contends against all other philosophies and religions. The antithesis lies at the level of thought, of philosophy, and maintaining the antithesis is done by way of vigilance in constantly renewing our minds after God's Word (Rom. 12:2), thinking God's thoughts after him.

It will be noticed that the antithesis exists at the level of systems, not persons. Contrast this with the Neo-Kuyperian view that is expressed by Aaron Lim and his professor David Engelsma:

Describing the antithesis between Covenant children and unbelievers, Prof. Engelsma writes:

“First, the life of the believer is subject to the Word of God, whereas the unbeliever’s life is independent of the Word and in rebellion against it. Second, the goal of life is different. The believer directs his life towards God. His life is God-centered. The unbeliever leaves God out. His life is man-centered” (pg 57, Reformed Education).

[Aaron Lim, "Our Children's Education: A Covenant Necessity (III): The Evils of Public Education," Salt Shakers 33 (Jul 2015), 15]

Now it is true that theology is to be worked out in life. But when one applies the doctrine of the antithesis, one has to actually deal with how Scripture speaks about the world before applying one doctrine to the exclusion of others. Here is where the problem begins for those who are radically pushing a total antithesis, for Scripture teaches that there is not just a category of "good" and a category of "evil," but also a category called "common."

The notion of "common" is associated with the Noahic Covenant, which focuses on preservation of this world, not on salvation and special grace. It is concerned with this age, which in Latin "age" is saeculum, from which we get the word "secular." Reformed theology does not just speak about the ultimate in the coming age, but also has practical teaching and application for [the penultimate] things of this world. For example, marriage is a common or secular institution, for there is no marriage in heaven (Mt. 22:30). But just because marriage is not of ultimate value does not mean that it should be denigrated (as in Monasticism), or that Scripture has little concern for it! Imagine if we were just to focus on ultimate things, then marriage should be seen as unimportant, and working in secular jobs also. We will then go back to the medieval notion that some jobs, the "spiritual callings of ministers," are really vocations from God. Or we can take the Neo-Kuyperian route and attempt to make all jobs "special" and thus baptize one's secular job into a ministry, which tends to subvert what one is actually employed to do.

The PRCA's rejection of common grace is certainly at the root of this radicalization of Kuyper's view of the antithesis. But what the PRCA fails to do is to distinguish the (Neo)-Amyraldian and Neo-Kuyperian view of "common grace" with the Calvinist view of "common grace." The Calvinist notion of "common grace" has to do with penultimate reality, not ultimate reality. It is formally instituted in the Noahic Covenant, and treats creation (though penultimate) as important. Over against the Amyraldian view of "common grace" as being in some sense salvific, the consistent Calvinist denies the salvific value of common grace. Common Grace is nothing more and nothing less than a creational (non salvific) good. It pertains to the common kingdom, not the spiritual kingdom of the church and the kingdom.

It is because there is a legitimate category called "common" or "secular" (saeculi) that we do not have to pigeon-hole everything into "good" and "evil" categories. We see this radical antithesizing tendency at work in Engelsma's shocking words concerning the topic of friendship:

Friendship with the unbeliever is both impossible and forbidden. Friendship demands oneness in Jesus Christ. My friend and I must have God as our God together. Whoever is an enemy of God is my enemy” (pg 70, Common Grace Revisited, RFPA, 2003; as cited by Aaron Lim, "Evils," 15)

According to Engelsma, friendship MUST always be based upon oneness in Jesus Christ. That axiom is of course totally unsubstantiated, and makes sense only if we is pressed with the false dichotomy between "good" and "evil." If one reads Scripture, one can see Abraham developing friendships with people like Abimelech (Gen. 21:22-33), who is an unregenerate Canaanite ruler. King David, the man after God's heart, developed a friendship with the pagan king of Tyre Hiram (1 Chron. 14:1, 1 Ki. 5:1). Friendship therefore is a "common sphere" blessing, which can be infused with spiritual benefits to be sure (among believers) but it is not exclusively Christian. Engelsma' definition of "friendship" is one example of such radicalization of the Kuyperian doctrine of the antithesis, such that now we have a distinction between "friendship" and "Christian friendship." That is why the third stated reason is ridiculous. There is no "antithesis" between the persons of unbelievers and the persons of believers, but between their faiths. Or to use philosophical language, antithesis applies to the area of epistemology not ontology. We all still remain humans and sinners in need to salvation. Only if we refuse to acknowledge the penultimate and focus just on the ultimate can we have such antithesis being placed between believers and unbelievers! At least we do not (as yet) have a difference between air and "Christian" air, although I wouldn't be surprised if someone has thought about that already.

We will go back to the issue of "Christian friendship" later, but for now it suffices to show how radical and unbiblical Engelsma's position is concerning friendship, and Engelsma arrives at this position because of an a priori rejection of the "common" category, putting systematic theological concerns ahead of the plain teaching of Scripture.

[to be continued]