Thursday, July 30, 2015

One more problem with the Cheungian view of direct agency

The heretic Vincent Cheung denies the ontological reality of second causes, while, as it must noted, he does not deny their epistemic reality. Cheung as a Hyper-Calvinist makes God the Author of Sin, and he is proud of it. But this kind of direct agency and strong Occasionalism would result in an interesting problem: How does Cheung deal with the death of Christ?

The death of Christ is ordained by God, but in the traditional Calvinistic understanding the Pharisees and Romans freely put him to death, without compulsion from God to do such a wicked act (cf. Acts 2:23). But if one takes Cheung's position, one must assert that God directly cause the Pharisees and the Romans to put him to death. In other words, since God the Son is God, what we have here is divine sadomasochism, or, since they are two different people, divine child abuse. Of course, such conclusions are absurd, but one must take these positions if one believes in only direct causation. And no, I do not admit the blank assertion that God is not "X" because by definition He is not "X." I am done arguing with extreme Nominalists, who think that defining their way out of actual problems in their theories makes valid arguments.

Faith, Assent, Volition and Emotion

b. An emotional element (assensus). Barth calls attention to the fact that the time when man accepts Christ by faith is the existential moment of his life, in which he ceases to consider the object of faith in a detached and disinterested way, and begins to feel a lively interest in it. It is not necessary to adopt Barth's peculiar construction of the doctrine of faith, to admit the truth of what he says on this point. When one embraces Christ by faith, he has a deep conviction of the truth and reality of the object of faith, feels that it meets an important need in his life, and is conscious of an absorbing interest in it, — and this is assent. [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 504-5; in Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)]

On the nature of faith, the Reformed tradition do not have a consensus until recently (see Witsius and Turretin for example), and even then it seems no one knows exactly what to make of the 3 elements which are claimed to make up faith. Berkhof in later sentences admitted difficulties in drawing the various distinctions between the elements, albeit towards a reduction into the two elements of knowledge and trust, omitting "assent" altogether.

In his Systematic Theology, Berkhof defined assent as an emotional state, a state of feeling an interest in the subject of Christ. This is certainly interesting, if only that defining assent as emotions seem suspect. Does a person have to be in a certain emotional state ("assent") in order to trust ("fiducia") Christ?

What are some synonyms with "assent"? Doing a simple Google search will show results like "agree to," "accept," "approve," "consent to," and so on. In other words, "assent" is defined volitionally, not emotionally. I agree ("assent") with what I know ("notitia"), and thus I as an actor by an act of my will move from a state of "neutrality" or "disagreement" to a state of "agreement." It does not seem that any emotions are necessary for this act of the will.

As I had argued, the supposed third element "fiducia" has not always been the "third" element. I think part of the confusion over the elements of faith results in creative interpretation of even "assent" here. But if we define [saving] faith as being knowledge and an assent that leads to confidence (plerophoria), then I think we would have solved the confusion over the constitution of saving faith, without having "fiducia" become "faithfulness" as the Federal Visionists would want it, or, in Berkhof's case, making assent into an emotion.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Berkhof against the Analogical Day view of the creation days

Now some hold that the Bible favors the idea that the days of creation were indefinite periods of time, and call attention to the following: ... (b) The days referred to are God's days, the archetypal days, of which the days of men are merely ectypal copies; and with God a thousand years are as a single day, Ps. 90:4; II Pet. 3:8. But this argument is based on a confusion of time and eternity. God ad intra has no days, but dwells in eternity, exalted far above all measurements of time. This is also the idea conveyed by Ps. 90:4; and II Pet. 3:8. The only actual days of which God has knowledge are the days of this time-space world. [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 153; in Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996)]

Friday, July 24, 2015

God reveals Himself to us... in Scripture

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14)

And we have the prophetic word (προφητικὸν λόγον) more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

God reveals Himself to His people. Yet, what is the nature of this revelation? From Hebrews 1:1-2, we can see that God has indeed utilized a variety of ways in times past to reveal Himself and His will, like through theophanies and even the casting of lots (Lev. 16:8, Prob. 16:33). But NOW all God's revelation is found in His Son, and the former ways of revelation have now ceased, as the Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1 so beautifully states as a deduction from this passage.

The only way to get to this revelation of both the "former ways" and the final revelation of Christ however is through the Scriptures, for we would otherwise have no other way to access God's revelation than for it to be recorded for us, since God's revelation is given in history (thus the contrast between the former times in history and the "now" in history). From 2 Peter 1:19-21, we can see that the written revelation that is the prophetic word or Scripture is given to us as a more sure way of revelation, even in comparison to the glory of our Lord's Transfiguration. In other words, written revelation trumps even the most glorious revelatory experiences. The supremacy of the written Word is expressed earlier in redemptive-history in Isaiah 8:20, "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn."

The relation of Christ and the Word is that Christ IS the Word, at least the Word Incarnate. As Christ who is the final revelation reveals God to us as the Word Incarnate (Logos Ensarkos), so the Scriptures which is the God-breathed-out Word (logos theopneustos) reveals what God in Christ reveals. Christ is the ontological revelation of God, and Scripture the epistemological revelation. God is not a schizopreniac, so obviously the two are one and the same revelation, differing only in kind. Whatever Scriptures teaches, Christ teaches, and whatever Christ teaches, Scripture teaches. God does not have two different logoi (words), but one logos (Word). The Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14), the prophetic word (2 Peter 1:19) breathed out (2 Tim. 3:16), are the one and the same Word.

We do not live in the "former times" of the Old Testament, or even the foundation times of the New Testament. We live in the "last days" where God's revelation is found in Christ and thus in Scripture, the written prophetic word. Scripture is thus the only revelation for us from God today; it is sufficient for us. Therefore, since Scripture is sufficient, it must be clear for us to understand since God intends His revelation to be understood.

Since Scripture is sufficient and clear, therefore any theory that concludes that Scripture is unclear (because of the limits of language or other such arguments) must be in error. This is the argument form known as modus tollens (If p, then not q; q, therefore not p). It doesn't matter how sounds the other theory is. For if the theory (p) will result in a denial of what we already know, the "conclusion" that Scripture is sufficient and clear (not q), then our knowing from Scripture that Scripture is indeed sufficient and clear (q) necessitates a rejection of the theory no matter how true that theory (p) sound to us. The question to be asked for someone who doubts is not whether any particular theory (p1, p2, p3) (that would lead us to conclude that Scripture is unclear) is true, but rather whether the conclusion q is true. If the conclusion q is true, then those theories (p1, p2, p3 etc.) are rendered false by default.

On the other hand, some may ask concerning natural revelation. The biblical answer in Romans 1:18-23 is that there is indeed a natural revelation, yet by itself it only leads to condemnation. Can one grow "close" to God through nature? The Psalmist certainly broke out in praise after seeing the work of God in creation (Ps. 19:1-4) so in this sense we can say that one can "grow close" to God through nature, yet such is done through the lens of Scripture, for we read in Romans 1:18-23 that natural revelation in itself leads the sinner to idolatry and rejection of God. So yes, there is a natural, or general, revelation by God outside of Scripture, yet (1) it reveals only condemnation, (2) in itself it cannot reveal God in grace to us and thus will not bring us to praise Him and fellowship with Him. The Psalmist is only able to write Psalms 19 out of a regenerate heart already in communion with God, something only God can accomplish through His Word. Therefore, while there is a revelation of God outside of Scripture, it is limited and unable to reveal God in grace to us.

God reveals to us, in a way for our good, in Scripture. We are to look at Scripture therefore for our knowledge of God in order to know Him, and even to Scripture in order for us to interpret Nature and General Revelation alright. Above all, Scripture reigns supreme as the source and final authority for our faith, and where we should go to to have communion with God (alongside the sacraments, which are another form of the Word, but those are dependent on Scripture and are another topic altogether).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

We can actually know God's truth

One source of skepticism stems from certain understandings of Vantillian epistemology. Now, after reading concerning the Reformed Scholastics and Van Til's works, I can see where Cornelius Van Til was trying to be orthodox. Nevertheless, my concern here is that I think he is not a good communicator of Reformed doctrine concerning the knowledge of God, in my opinion. The idea of "God's knowledge" and "Man's knowledge" being qualitatively different, with "no point of contact" between the two, seeks to convey historic Reformed doctrine on the difference between God and Man, yet it does so in such a way that I believe obfuscates the true doctrine it desires to convey. While those with background in Reformed orthodoxy might interpret such language correctly (in an orthodox manner), yet for those without such a background, I fear what such words and phrases convey skepticism concerning the Christian faith. The reasoning by such people is that, if God's knowledge and Man's knowledge have no point of contact, therefore we cannot know anything about God, since all we have is necessarily "always false." While some in the Reformed orthodox camp can stay in their ivory towers, they just might want to see how the careless words and phrases they use are (mis)understood by people on the ground, especially by those without any background in theology or the Reformed tradition!

Coming from a Clarkian background, reading the works of Gordon H. Clark, I have found Willem Van Asselt's article on the theology of Franciscus Junius to be illuminating. Unlike Van Til, van Asselt and Junius write clearly. After reading that, I have found a way of understanding the core orthodox truth that Van Til was trying to defend, and put it in a way that I believe is much more understandable and certainly orthodox. Thus, I had written an article here, in which I have striven to show how Clark's concerns could be synthesized with the concerns of Van Til and the Reformed orthodox so that both sides can be assured that the dangers they perceive in the other side are eradicated. Do I believe that proponents from both sides can be persuaded to put down their weapons? That would be rather naive, but at least there should be a way forward, to produce light instead of heat.

The archetypal/ ectypal distinction preserves the Creator/ creature distinction. There is no "point of contact" between the archetype in God and the ectype in Man. Yet, this model safeguards against skepticism as well. For we note that there are actually two "points of contacts," but these are not between the archetypal knowledge of God and the ectypal knowledge of Man, for such would compromise the Creator/ creature distinction.

The first point of contact is within God Himself. God's archetypal knowledge and God's ectypal knowledge meet as one is a reflection of the other. The two meet ... in the person and mind of God. Quite obviously, since they meet in the mind of God, we finite human beings are not privy to how that happens. But the meeting is important, if just to show that God is not schizophreniac. God does not have an ectypal knowledge that is contradictory to His archetypal knowledge, but rather His ectypal knowledge is in some sense a faithful reflection of His archetypal knowledge. The two bodies of knowledge do not conflict with each other, for there is perfect harmony in God. We do not have to worry that, even though we cannot know God's archetypal knowledge, therefore God's archetypal knowledge will contradict His ectypal knowledge, for that will never happen at all.

The second point of contact is between God's ectypal knowledge with our human ectypal knowledge. God communicates, God reveals to us, knowledge. Truth is the correspondence of our ectypal knowledge with a section of God's ectypal knowledge that He Himself reveals to us. We do not have a point of contact with God's archetypal knowledge, but we do have a point of contact with God's revelation. When God reveals that Jesus Christ is the propitiation of our sins, we actually can know the proposition "Jesus Christ is the propitiation of our sins." With this point of contact, we do not have to worry that our knowledge is false. Yes, it is not archetypal knowledge, but it corresponds to God's ectypal knowledge, and therefore it is true. God's word is truth, and we do not have to worry that we are believing in falsehood just because our knowledge is ectypal.

Therefore, we should not have to worry about skepticism based upon intemperate language about how our language about God is always false. No, our knowledge and language about God can be trusted. We CAN know God's truth! Do not be deceived by pious nonsense about how we are to know our place as creatures, for God has spoken and we can know that! Is it faith or the lies of the Devil that will cause us to doubt the possibility of knowing God who is communicating to us His words? Surely it is the latter! When God gives us His Word, He actually intends for us to be able to understand it, and whoever says otherwise is a tool of the Devil!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On ordination

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Tim. 4:14)

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, .... (1 Tim. 5:22a)

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Heb. 6:1-2)

What is ordination? In the life of a (especially traditional) church, ordination is normally seen as a formal ceremony in which a person is ordained into an office of a church (normally elders and ministers - teaching elders), accompanied with the laying on of hands. Texts such as 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 are appealed to, which are said to show Timothy as having been ordained into his office of an elder in the church of Ephesus. (1 Tim. 1:3), which church tradition confirms (Eusebius, Church History, 3.4.6; in NPNF2-01).

According to the traditional reading of these texts from Timothy, Timothy shows us the example of ordination with the laying on of hands, and therefore all elders and teaching elders (ministers) are to be ordained to their office(s) with the laying on of hands. This formal ordination is the formal recognition of God's call to ministry. As Protestants, we do not accept the Roman sacrament of holy office, which is to say we do not hold that ordination imparts a material grace upon its recipients. Since grace is relational and judicial (legal), not ontological, therefore ordination is the recognition of God's call. Most certainly, at the occasion of an ordination, God could grant spiritual gifts (charisma) like in the case of Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14), but the granting of spiritual gifts must be seen as a separate occurrence to that of ordination, which is the recognition and installation into an office.

Now, since it is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture that Timothy, or Titus too for that matter, are elders, as opposed to mere apostolic workers, it is not surprising that this traditional interpretation of these texts have been questioned by biblicists. That Timothy was an elder is not explicit in Scripture and, since Eusebius' Church History is not Scripture, and not very reliable according to modern history standards, doubt has been cast on Eusebius' portrayal of Timothy as being the bishop (episkopos; ἐπίσκοπος, translated in the New Testament as "overseer" c.f. 1 Tim. 3:2) of Ephesus. But is such doubt valid?

We note that Scripture teaches only two permanent offices in the New Testament: that of elders or overseers (πρεσβύτερος, ἐπίσκοπος) and deacons (διάκονος). Apostleship by its very nature is extraordinary and for the foundation stage of the Church. While one can claim an "apostolic worker" office, (1) the "apostolic worker" is not mentioned separately in Scriptures so it is not an office, and (2) it is always linked to an apostle so therefore it is transient. Thus, there is no such office and we should not treat it as such

One big indication that the traditional interpretation concerning ordination is correct can be seen in the context of 1 Timothy 5:17-22. We note here that the context is that of elders ruling and teaching the flock, yet in verse 22 we see the command not to be hasty in the laying on of hands, followed by a discussion on sins and good works. This subsequent section on sins and good works can be seen as a discussion following upon the issue of sins and charges of sin against elders as mentioned in verses 19-21, and thus it is meant to show what kind of (major) sins is being discussed that one can charge elders with.

The laying on of hands in this context must be seen as the appointment of elders. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, because of the gravity and responsibilities of being an elder. Since Timothy is to appoint elders by the laying on of hands, so he himself by the laying on of hands must be an elder too, as all apostles are as well (c.f. 1 Peter 5:1).

Ordination is the formal recognition by the Church of God's calling. This means that ordination is not absolutely necessary, since God's calling is primary and the formal ceremony of ordination is supposed to recognize God's calling. On the other hand, ordination is not unnecessary, as if one can just claim God's call and ignore how God usually governs His Church. Just as a person can be saved apart from baptism, so likewise a person can be called to the ministry apart from ordination, but that is not how God normally governs His Church. A person called should be ordained by the Church, if he is to take up the office God has called him to.

That has implications for ministry and ordination. If ordination is the Church's recognition of God's call, it stands to reason that all who are called should be ordained. All pastors therefore ought to be ordained if they are to serve in the ministry of the Word, and it is wrong to separate the ministry of Word and the ministry of the sacraments, which after all is just another form of the Word. The idea that a pastor should serve for a few years before becoming ordained has no basis in Scripture, for ordination is not a "promotion" for a minister but it should be his due as the Church recognizes God's call upon the minister's life. A minister that is not to be ordained should logically not be expected to serve as a minister in the church, for the church is telling him both that they do not recognize God's call in his life, and also that they want him to serve as if God is indeed calling him to serve as a minister of the Gospel, which is a total contradiction. If we are to keep ordination as being one of calling, then we cannot turn it into one of rank, as if one group of ministers (e.g. those who have served a certain number of years) has a higher rank than another group of ministers ("new" pastors).

It may be objected that ordination is something serious and requires examination of pastors. Then perhaps all ministers should be examined prior to becoming ministers, for are we to say that an error in administering the sacraments is very serious (thus requiring examinations), whereas we do not have to worry too much about errors in handling the Word of God? Lord forbid we treat the sacraments as of higher value than the Word which gives the sacraments meaning! If a person can be trusted with the greater task of handling the sacred words of God, then he should be trusted with the lesser task of administering the sacraments. To say otherwise is to elevate the sacraments above the Word of God, which is contrary to the teachings of Scripture.

Ordination is important but not absolutely necessary. Against the high church, ordination is not some mystical anointing that elevates the minister to another plane of existence. Against the low church, ordination is necessary as the Church's recognition of God's call. Ministers ought to be properly called and ordained, so that the work of the Church can continue and grow.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

James White responding to Matthew Vines' "questions"

Dr. James White responds to Matthew Vines's "40 questions" concerning homosexuality, here.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

2-Kingdoms, and prayers for authorities

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

In the church's corporate worship, we ought to pray for various concerns — for the local church's own need, for the needs of the broader church, for the lost, and for the good of society and the government. It is with regards to the latter that the issue of confusion of Church and State might arise. After all, the Church is to be in the world but not of the world. How are we to pray for any country without trying to co-opt God for earthly and sometimes nationalistic agendas? Both sides in the American Civil War thought God was on their side, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic is a "patriotic hymn" for such an occasion. In the American context, how should one pray for the country without trying to sound like the "Republican or Democratic party at prayer"? Should one pray for military success and thus the "successful bombing and killing" of America's enemies as if they were God's enemies?

It is here that I think the 2-Kingdoms theory and the spirituality of the church helps. The Church's concerns are to be heavenly, not earthly. Furthermore, God is not American. God does not treat America differently from any other nation, or Singapore for that matter - all equally insignificant, all equally dispensable. All countries exist as God wishes, and cease to exist once He decided they have finished their part to play in history. God does not care about "human rights" so called; He does whatever He pleases, regardless of what autonomous Man thinks or schemes. If God decides to destroy America or Singapore tomorrow, nothing anyone can do will alter the fact — that's how insignificant we humans are.

The Church in any country is always a heavenly creature. While her members are citizens of various countries, the Church should not be tied to any country. The Church's obligation to pray for leaders and authorities does not change regardless of what government or what conqueror (in times of war) is in power, and therefore we do not adopt the particular agendas of countries, nations and states.

Prayers for authorities focuses thus on requests for freedom and absence of persecution from authorities, for general human flourishing, and for the government to uphold God's moral law, which anyone from any country can pray without taking sides on issues of real-politics. One does not have to be a citizen of a country to pray that the government would uphold the moral law of God, for all countries everywhere ought to do the same. The moral law stands over all nations, and God will punish those who violate His law, nations as well as individuals. The country that celebrates wickedness will be judged, and God does NOT respect the "rights" of those celebrating sin.

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. (Ps. 2:2-4)

2-Kingdoms theory allows both citizens and non-citizens together to pray for those in authority. A foreigner can pray for the good of the host nation, for Christians ought not to be nationalistic and seek only the good of their own countries. We ought to pray for the government to have the fear of God and uphold the moral law of God, to rule justly and fairly for the good of all, especially for the people God has temporarily placed under them, which is our civic duty. And through all these, may the peace that comes from governments that uphold justice serve the mission of the church, so that many will be reached for Christ and His Gospel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

On sins against Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love vs Lust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bavinck on Law and Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 22, 2015

Local and larger governing assemblies of the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Totalitarianism under the guise of freedom

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CT and Evangelicals forced to make a decision

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

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

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

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