Saturday, June 17, 2017

The pilgrim context of not living by "bread alone"

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deut. 8:3-5)

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by our Daily Bread. OK, bad pun. But the point is how often we, and Evangelicalism as a whole, have taken what is truly deep and rich and trivialize it into cheap piety saleable to the masses. From a pietist background, how else should we think about showing our dependence upon God and His Word than in spending 5 minutes of each day reading shallow "Christian" drivel and calling it a devotion? And then we wonder why is that Christianity is not practical, or that this daily reading seems more like ritual than actual true enjoyment. Perhaps the problem is because we have trivialized God's Word, and make the reading of God's Word into something more like the reading of inspirational sayings. In fact, for some "pastors" like Joel Osteen, there is no real difference between what He says and the inspirational sayings of self-help gurus!

The real context of the phrase that "Man shall not live by bread alone" is not in a time of comfort and ease. Many people might think the Exodus was a great time of deliverance from slavery, and that is true. But many people do not consider the costs of the Exodus, as if deliverance is such an enjoyable event. It is not! In leaving Egypt, Israel thrusts herself into the unknown. Her calendar was disrupted, one's daily routine in life is disrupted. The food has changed, there is no permanent home, and everything seems to be settled upon the whim of one man's decrees, a man that none of them have elected to be their leader. When Israel cried to return to Egypt, it is not so much that they love slavery, but that Egypt offered stability and certainty. But what certainty or stability do they have with Moses in the wilderness? And while it is true that God is leading His people, for most of Israel most of the time, since God is unseen, the earthly impression is that of an unelected dictator telling them where to go, what to do, and how to worship. And if any of them object, like Korah, supernatural punishments and plagues will come upon them (Num. 16).

The context of Deuteronomy 8 therefore is one of destabilization. God removed the pillars of stability of Israel's life, such that they have nothing whatsoever to depend on but God alone. This is the context of the phrase "Man shall not live by bread alone," not the idea that it is a good thing to get daily "spiritual nourishment" through 5 minutes of devotion every day. It it for those whom God has brought to the end of themselves, so that they will say

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25-26)

And we respond, like Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (Jn. 6:68b).

Deuteronomy 8:3-5 itself shows us that it is God's discipline that brings us to Himself. He Himself removes our pillars of support and security, because we have made them into idols and put our trust in them. We have put our trust in job security, in having peaceful lives (as if God owes us peace), relatively just government (as if God owes you a good government), and for Singaporeans, our CPF. Those are the crutches and idols in our lives that take the place of Christ, and that is why it is hard for people to trust in Christ, because we have become too comfortable. We have taken God's blessings of health and prosperity and made them into a curse upon our souls. And thus we cannot say that we have learned dependence upon God, because we have not. We trust in all the other things God has given, and think we are entitled to them. If God were to remove them, we curse God for taking any of them away from us, as if we are entitled to all these things. And then we ask how we can make Christianity practical to us! Ever read the story of the rich young ruler? Unfortunately, many Evangelicals are just like that rich young ruler, someone who is looking for something he can do to make himself better, but unwilling to let God actually touch the things He puts His trust and security in.

It is only in times of trials and tribulations that the worth of a man's faith is made manifest. When God begins to shake your life, will you, following the advice of Job's wife, curse God and die? Or will you surrender what God has blessed you with, acknowledging that it is God who gives, and God who also takes away, and regardless of what happens, God is to be blessed. Can you therefore say that you have learned to not live by bread alone but by the Word of God?

Christ of course is the fulfilment of this passage, as He took our punishments on our behalf and live the righteous life, with trials and tribulations, for us. But this does not imply that God is no more disciplining His children. We continue to need to learn this lesson of trusting in God alone, not for our salvation but for our sanctification. Those whom God loves He disciplines, and conversely those whom the Lord does not discipline, He does not love. True Christians living in this life will face trials and tribulations, and much sorrow, as God disciplines us for our good. We will slowly learn from experience what it is to trust in God alone, and thus, like Israel, learn that man is not to live by bread alone but by the Word of God.

Christology and Theology conundrum

A claim about the incarnate Son—particularly a claim about the relationship of the incarnate Son to the Father—may be a trinitarian proposition, but it may also be a christological assertion. To take a classic example, well worked through in patristic thought, when we hear Jesus pray, either in Gethsemane or in the high-priestly prayer of John 17, we necessarily hear the authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God, not an internal triune dialogue between the eternal Father and the eternal Son. [Stephen R. Holmes, "Classical Trinity: Evangelical Perspective," in Jason S. Sexton and Stanley N. Gundry, eds., Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 44]

When Jesus prays to the Father, is it an intra-Trinity dialogue? According to Holmes, who claims the support of the Church Fathers, it is the human voice of Jesus praying to God the Father, not the Second person of the Trinity praying to the First person of the Trinity. Now, of course it is admitted that the voicing of the prayer in human words and language is necessarily human, but is the prayer also "human"?

The problem it seems to me comes down to Christology. The Christian position has always been Christ is one person with two natures and two wills. The "two wills" is meant to safeguard the fact that Christ has two natures, in the sense that a nature comes with a will, and thus Christ having two wills safeguards the fact that Christ is both fully human and fully divine, not a mixture of the two in any sense. But orthodox Christology has similarly deny that a nature is its own actor, as if Christ has two separate wills in him warring over what to do. Christ is one actor, thus one person. Unlike humans who have one nature and thus our persons, natures and wills coincide, Christ's two natures are in one person and thus one act of willing (through two wills of course). The view that Christ's natures can subsist independent of His one person can be considered to be some variant of Nestorianism, which holds that Christ is two persons, two natures and two wills.

Thus, in embracing Chalcedon, it seems that we must reason in light of this orthodox doctrine of Christ's one person. Christ's natures are not personalized in any way, but rather it is Christ who acts according to either of his natures in whatever He does. In other words, Christ in His person is the actor, not His natures. Natures don't act, but persons do. Therefore, while it can be said in a human action that Christ acts to, for example, eat His lunch, according to His human nature, yet it is the one person of Christ who chooses to eat His lunch. Yes, such human actions are done according to His human nature. BUT, it is Christ's person who does so, according to His human nature.

What this implies for Holmes' interpretation of Christ's prayer is that we have a real problem here. According to Holmes' interpretation, which claims patristic support, Jesus' prayers on earth was done according to His human nature. So far, so good. But since Christ's natures don't act, it is Christ's one person that chooses to act according to His human nature. Or to emphasize, it is Christ's ONE PERSON who acts. In other words, yes, we hear the "authentically human voice of the incarnate Son pleading with God." But it is also the authentic voice of the one person of the SON who is pleading with God the Father. So, since it is the one and same person of the Son whether He is incarnated or not, does it really change the fact so that such interactions are not somehow intra-triune dialogues? The person of the Son remains the same pre-incarnated or incarnated. So why does the incarnation somehow makes the dialogue between the Father and the Son no longer an intra-triune dialogue?

Seeing as how Holmes claim patristic support, it is possible that such a conundrum was addressed by any of the Church Fathers. However, based so far on what I have read, I do not see how this rejection of the presence of intra-triune dialogues in time can be maintained. Not to mention that this idea of reading the Gospel accounts does not seem to me a natural way of reading Christ's interaction with His Father, which does suggest a genuine interpersonal relational interaction between God the Father and God the Son, rather than the triune God with the human nature of Christ.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The problem of reversed virtue

In my latest sermon, one point that I had made, but did not elaborate too much on, was in my second point concerning the problem of what I would call "reverse virtue." Due to the growing progressive liberal trend in Western society, cultural Marxism has infiltrated mainstream American society, such that Marxist ideas have become the trendy thing. In Latin America, Marxism in its various forms have long been influential, resulting in much devastation to the region (see e.g. today's Venezuela, also Argentina under Peron). Liberation Theology is the Marxist reading of theology, and its religious idea of "God's preferential favor towards the poor" has followed closely upon the heels of cultural Marxism, the latter infecting society while the former infecting religious thinkers and activists. Thus today in Western society, neologisms such as "white privilege," "confess your privilege," "woke" among other redefined terms have redefined social discourse, all for the worse.

The problem with Liberation Theology and contemporary Social Justice Warrior (SJW) religious Marxism (e.g. RAAN) is that it will not ever solve the real problem of human sin and actual inequality. What it does is that is merely flips societal values 180 degrees. What was once lauded as social virtues like wealth, thrift, intact families, law-abiding, truthfulness etc, are now labeled as vices, while what was once scorned as social vices such as poverty, wastefulness, single parenthood, law-breaking, being illegal aliens, lying etc, are now labeled as virtues. I will not be speaking here of the many social problems with such a scheme, but merely would like to point out how this does not conform to the Gospel at all.

The Gospel is all about salvation by grace alone, which excludes works of any kind. That is why God chooses the weak, and the foolish, and the lowly, because there is nothing virtuous about being weak, being foolish and being lowly. But in a Marxist scheme with the inversion of virtue, that would make God chose the newly-minted virtuous people. In a Marxist scheme, God choose the weak, the foolish, and the lowly because they are now virtuous in their weakness, folly and lowly status. But such is a betrayal of the Gospel message of salvation by grace alone! In a Marxist scheme, the poor can now boast that God chose him because poverty is a virtue. The foolish can now boast that God chose him because folly is a virtue, and so on.

Thus, whatever problems the problem of Marxism has socially (e.g. denial of Natural law), when it comes to the Gospel, religious Marxism with its reversed virtue scheme is an assault against the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. It is thus "anti-Gospel." It is a real indication that works-righteousness is not so easily expunged from the consciousness of men that the supposedly Reformed RAAN is promoting a theory that is contrary to the Gospel. We children of Adam are forever trying to make ourselves better and more deserving of salvation, and it is this tendency to think of ourselves better than we are that we all need to repent of, continually.

God glorified through our lack: 1 Corinthians 1:25-31

Here is my latest sermon preached May 28th 2017, on 1 Corinthians 1:25-31, entitled "God glorified through our lack."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Evaluating the Bebbington Quadrilateral

The Bebbington Quadrilateral denotes the four qualities that David Bebbington claimed are characteristic of [the Old] Evangelicalism, as described in his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989). In the book The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), various scholars interacted with Bebbington's thesis that Evangelicalism, as described having these four characteristics, originated in the 1730s and in the First Great Awakening in that era. The last chapter was a response by Bebbington to the diverse essays which interacted with his thesis, often critically. It is interesting to read Bebbington's response, to see how he dealt with critiques of his thesis and to observe whether it holds up to scrutiny.

The four characteristics of Evangelicalism are (1) Activism, (2) Conversionism, (3) Biblicism, and (4) Cruci(o)centrism. On top of that, Bebbington had asserted a discontinuity between the Puritans and the Evangelicals concerning the issue of assurance of salvation, an assertion that generated quite a lot of push-back from the various contributors to the book The Advent of Evangelicalism.

In his response, Bebbington modified his thesis to a certain degree. On the issue of assurance of salvation, Bebbington virtually concedes the point to his critics, while stating that "it seems likely that the predominant view on the subject in the seventeenth century was less confident than what was normally professed in the eighteenth" (Bebbington, "Response," in The Advent of Evangelicalism, 421-2). In his response, Bebbington rejects the identification of the notion of "activism" as indicative of Puritanism or any movement prior to Evangelicalism by focusing on an important distinction of Evangelicalism: the emergence of multiple interdenominational agencies (Bebbington, in ibid., 419, 427). On the issue of Biblicism and Crucicentrism, Bebbington focuses on the fact that Evangelicalism was all about making things simple and only for the purpose of salvation, with a corresponding downplaying of theology as an academic discipline, and of right order and discipline in the church (Bebbington, in ibid., 428, 30). On the issue of Conversionism, Bebbington focuses on the issue of revivals, and the idea and heightened expectation of revivals that permeates Evangelicalism.

While Bebbington's response focuses on his response to his critics, we can read in his response how he might have modified his quadrilateral in order to more clearly describe Evangelicalism. The almost 2-decade old definition is in line for an upgrade, and I will attempt such an upgrade in light of Bebbington's response. Instead of merely stating a belief in "activism," we should say that Evangelicalism is marked by interdenominational activism, and a downplaying of denominational difference in lieu of a unified evangelical witness. Instead of merely a belief in "Conversionism," we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a heightened belief in and discourse of revivals. Instead of holding to Biblicism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by an instrumental view of doctrine and a downplaying of academic theology and theological precision. Instead of holding to Crucicentrism, we could say that Evangelicalism is marked by a focus on the doctrine of salvation and anything related to the doctrine of salvation with a de-emphasis of other theological loci.

Thus, the new "quadrilateral" can be listed as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Heightened belief in Revivals
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. De-emphasis on anything not related to soteriology

It seems to me that besides new criterion number two (Belief in Revivals), which is one more of degree than of kind, the other three seem to be valid distinctives of Evangelicalism. Evangelicals of any stripe have little concerns over denominational issues, with some even attacking "denominationalism" as an evil. Evangelicals also tend to have an instrumental view of doctrine and truth, and always ask for practicality. Even those that are not anti-intellectual do not see the beauty of truth just for the fact that it is true, but that everything must be able to be put into practice. That is probably why the Doctrine of God and the Trinity are not of major importance among many Evangelicals, although Evangelicals tend to continue to preserve the orthodoxy bought and fought for by the early church.

And lastly, Evangelicals do tend to emphasize soteriology, which is why many conservative Evangelicals today can be Calvinist in soteriology yet they reject Calvin's view of baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is all about people "being saved," but what happens after salvation is of less importance in getting it right. Thus, Evangelicals will fight over getting the Gospel right such that those who get the Gospel wrong are excommunicated, but not even a tenth of that militancy will be displayed on the views of baptism and discipleship, much less church governance.

In lieu of the topic of revivals, I think it is better to focus on Evangelicalism's view of conversion as a punctiliar salvation event which marks a person's salvation. This view precludes children converted in the womb or in early childhood, and makes the focus of salvation about experiencing a "Damascus Road" type experience and less on a person's confession of faith. That is why Evangelicals love to hear about conversion testimonies. Evangelicalism does not really have a category for professing believers who do not have this experience of the new-birth, but yet claim to be Christians (except perhaps "unbelievers"?). With this view of conversion as a repetition of Paul's Damascus Road experience, the Quadrilateral could be recreated anew, as follows:

  1. Interdenominational Activism
  2. Conversion as experience
  3. Instrumental view of doctrine
  4. Soteriological primacy

[And on this note, it can be seen why I am not an Evangelical. I do not believe in interdenominational activism, conversion as necessarily an experience, neither do I hold to an instrumental view of truth and doctrine, nor the primacy of soteriology over all other doctrines.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? The consequences

The position of radical discontinuity in evangelicalism in the 1730s cannot be historically confirmed and is theologically dangerous, for it leaves us with the impression that Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley are the fathers of evangelicalism. The result of this controversial position is that Wesley’s Arminianism could then no longer be viewed as aberrational theology within a solidly Reformed movement. Instead, Reformed and Arminian theology would be given equal status in the origins of evangelicalism, as is often done today. [Joel R. Beeke, “Evangelicalism and the Dutch Further Reformation,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 168]

In closing, I wish to step out of the realm of history by commenting briefly on the consequences of this possibility for evangelical self-understanding. If we think that evangelicalism began in the 1730s, then Wesley and Edwards become its most important fathers. This means that evangelicalism was from its origin equally divided between Reformed and Arminian theology. Neither could claim to be the mainstream doctrinal position. In this sense it is easy to see how Bebbington’s analysis serves to give a strong foothold to Arminianism within the evangelical movement by making foundational one of its most noted proponents. If, however, we reconsider the origins of evangelicalism and find that it is a Reformational and Puritan phenomenon, then the picture looks very different. (Gary J. Williams, “Enlightenment Epistemology and Eighteenth-Century Evangelical Doctrines of Assurance,” in ibid., 374)

The movement spearheaded by John Wesley, notwithstanding his predilection for antiquity, was undoubtedly novel. The historian cannot dismiss it as an aberration, because it was numerically the largest sector of the evangelical movement in Britain. (David W. Bebbington, “Response,” in ibid., 424)

Despite the theological polarity over free will, there was generally a remarkable degree of mutual respect within the diverse ranks of the evangelicals. They had a sense of belonging to a common movement in which their united proclamation of the new birth transcended doctrinal differences. … Methodists were full participants in the Evangelical Revival. Their contribution ensured that the movement as a whole was in many respects discontinuous with earlier Protestantism as well as in other ways continuous with it. (Bebbington, "Response," in ibid., 425)

Let me mention a few things, therefore, which I put into the categories of non-essentials.

One is the belief in election and predestination. Now I am a Calvinist; I believe in election and predestination; but I would not dream of putting it under the heading of essential. [Martin Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1992), 87]

Is Evangelicalism Reformed? Or rather, is Evangelicalism the overarching set in which we can fit in the Reformers, the Puritans, and then the heirs of the First and Second Great Awakening? That is a historical question with important implications for believers' self-identity. If one is Reformed, is one necessarily an Evangelical? Are Evangelicals the set that comprises all true Christian believers who believe in the biblical Gospel, as many people seem to think so today?

While I am sure there are others who have investigated this issue, David Bebbington has brought the issue of the origins of Evangelicalism into the modern spotlight in academia, with his 1989 book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. In this book, Bebbington stated that Evangelicalism has its origins in the 1730s and especially through the prominent leaders of the First Great Awakening: George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. Evangelicalism (the "Old" version, not the "New Evangelicalism" of the 1950s) can be described as possessing four distinct traits: Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins) [David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 5-17]. In the early 18th century, a new movement came into being that came to be Evangelicalism, a new distinct movement that was not present prior to the 18th century.

It does not take much thought to realize the implications of the Bebbington thesis for Christian self-identification. In the collection of essays edited by Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart, contributors Joel Beeke and Gary Williams pointed out the obvious implications concerning how Arminianism is to be perceived if the Bebbington thesis is to be upheld. In his response, Bebbington plainly states that [Wesleyan] Arminianism is indeed part of Evangelicalism, and points out how Evangelical Calvinists and Evangelical Arminians cooperated in Evangelical enterprises and outreaches. That Evangelical Calvinists have historically regarded the Calvinisism/ Arminianism issue as a non-essential issue is further proved by Martin Lloyd-Jones in his book What is an Evangelical?, where Lloyd-Jones equated "Evangelicals" with "believers" and therefore held that Arminian Christians who believe in the Gospel are "Evangelicals" since they are indeed saved. In other words, it seems that the implications of the "controversial position" Joel Beeke detests is indeed what Evangelicals have always held to. (I guess Beeke has to decide whether he wants to identify himself an "Evangelical," since the Bebbington thesis has some merit along that line)

Ideas and theories have practical implications, and are not limited to academia. That it takes some time for ideas in academia to trickle down to the ground is definite. The only "impractical theories" and "abstract castles in the sky" present are those that deal with things that have little if any relation to reality; everything else is practical if one actually thinks about them. Here, the practical implications of the Bebbington thesis concerns not only a believer's self-identification, but also the status of Arminianism. If one identifies as an Evangelical, it is not possible, given the Bebbington thesis, to claim Arminianism as heresy. Rather, Arminianism must be seen as a minor doctrinal error, about as errant as differences in one's views concerning the Millennium.

It is because of this understanding of history, among others, that I do not identify as an "Evangelical," but rather as Reformed. I hold to the Canons of Dordt and therefore am precluded from considering "Evangelical" as a valid self-label, even apart from all other considerations. Perhaps if Bebbington's thesis trickle towards the church then we can get a greater self-understanding among Christians.

Puritanism and Neo-puritanism

But what is omitted from this canon of Puritan literature [by the Banner of Truth –DHC] is just as revealing as what is included.

Missing are the doctrinal works of Richard Baxter that promote a ‘neonomian’ doctrine of justification, a Grotian theory of atonement, and a minimalist, ecumenical creed; the writings of Roger Williams, who believed that the restoration of true churches would have to await the emergence of end-times apostles; the works of John Milton, the great Puritan poet, who defended divorce, freedom of the press and regicide, and was almost certainly Arminian and anti-trinitarian in his later life; the political writings of the Levellers, including the separatist John Lilburne and the Baptist Richard Overton; the Arminian works of John Goodwin, one of London’s lading Puritan pastors in the mid-seventeenth century; the visions of prophetesses like Anna Trapnel; the antinomian tracts of influential figures like Tobias Crisp and John Eaton; the scores of books published by the General Baptists.

[John Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, eds., The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 261]

What is Puritanism? The movement promoted by Martin Lloyd Jones and then the Banner of Truth Trust is called "neo-Puritianism" only because it seeks to recover the "Puritans" for today, yet they choose and select only the works they think are worthy to be reproduced. That is certainly good in a certain sense, since not everything that the Puritans wrote were good. Yet, if someone were to derive their knowledge of who the Puritans were and what Puritanism was about purely from the Banner of Truth republished books, they would probably not get an accurate understanding of what Puritanism actually is.

Thus, many people might have the idea that Puritanism is about moving deeper into godly living based upon true doctrine. In other words, now that the first and second generation Reformers have gotten the Gospel right, subsequent generations of believers in the Reformed Church, both the Puritans and the Dutch Further Reformation, were all about working out how to apply the orthodox Gospel in godly piety. Certainly, nobody would want to minimize the doctrinal advancement of subsequent generations of the Reformed Church on doctrine, but rather the impression is given that the focus of such subsequent movements in Puritanism was on practice and piety. Thus the question was, "Having gotten justification by faith right, what things ought to be done in order that we might live to glorify God?"

Such a portrait of Puritanism is however wrong. On the one hand, Puritanism is a much more diverse movement, and Anglicans like Archbishop James Ussher are doctrinally in the Puritan camp. Thus, it is not true that Puritanism was all about godly living. Rather, the only thing that can be said definitively about Puritanism is that it was committed to further reform of the Church [Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550-1682 (Studies in Christian History and Thought; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 8], not that it was about godly piety. Neo-Puritanism may be good for the church, but it is not the same as Puritanism. Again, the republished books by Banner of Truth Trust are good and edifying, but they cannot be counted on to accurately portray what Puritanism actually is.

On the other hand, it is a terrible historiography to sharply dichotomize between the first generations of Reformers and their spiritual heirs, as if they have radically different emphases and focuses. Luther and Calvin were concerned with godly living too (Luther against the Fanatics, and Calvin against the Libertines), while the Puritans of Reformed convictions were concerned about doctrine too (against Arminianism and Socinianism). It is not accurate to say that the Reformers reformed doctrine, while the Puritans reformed piety. Certainly, times change and challenges differ, but both the Reformers and the Puritans were resolute in combating both false doctrine and impiety. There is after all no true separation between right doctrine and godly living. Those who have one without the other are defective in both at best.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The "foolishness of preaching"

ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν, εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας (1 Cor. 1:21 -BGT)

For it is because in the wisdom of God the world did not know, through its wisdom, God, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21. Own translation)

How does one translate the Greek genitival phrase τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος? Is it an objective genitive, subjective genitive, adjectival or reverse adjectival genitive? Therein lies part of the beauty of such Greek phrases, which cannot be translated into English, and many other languages, without an attempt to decide how the genitival relation between "foolishness" and "preaching" is to be understood.

Various English translations have translated the phrase differently. The KJV decided to leave the ambiguity as it is by just literally stating it as "the foolishness of preaching." The NIV and ESV and even the NKJV decided to resolve the ambiguity by interpreting the phrase as an objective genitive and thus interpret the phrase as stating that it is the content of the preaching that is foolishness to the world. But is that a correct interpretation of the phrase? Surely it is the most natural understanding in our modern scientific context, but is that what Paul is trying to convey to us?

We note here the larger context of the phrase as describing the means by which someone can come to know God. The world, utilizing the instrument of its own wisdom, has shown itself unable to come to know God. In contrast, the "foolishness of preaching" is the instrument that God uses so that sinners who believe can come to know God. That is the contrast the verse is putting forward. The world's wisdom, versus the "foolishness of preaching." The people of the world, her philosophers, utilize their thinking and their wisdom to create empires and ideology, and ultimately the entire modern world with the modern nation-state and science and technology. But despite the greatness of the world's wisdom, the world cannot come to know God.

The question for us then is whether the interpretation taken by many modern translations of the Bible is correct. Certainly, on a theological level, what is preached, the Gospel message, is foolishness to the world. Saying that it is the message preached that is the foolishness that saves, or saying that it the act of preaching that is the foolishness that saves, are both true. And certainly grammatically, there is nothing wrong with translating that particular phrase as an objective genitive instead of a subjective genitive. But which interpretation fits better for our text? Since the "foolishness of preaching" is contrasted with the world's wisdom, and thus the "wisdom of the world," it is better for the phrase "foolishness of preaching" to be a subjective genitive just like the phrase "wisdom of the world" is a subjective genitive. Moreover, does the world just throw propositions in an attempt to come to know God? Or rather, they engage in the act of reasoning using their reason in an attempt to come to know God. Likewise, just as the means of wisdom is thinking, so the means of "foolishness" must be an action as well, which corresponds to preaching.

The phrase in 1 Corinthians 1:21, the "foolishness of preaching," therefore in my opinion should be best translated as the "the foolishness of the usage of preaching." Certainly it is true that the mere act of preaching is an issue, since Greeks love orations and speeches. But rather, it is the act of preaching as the instrument for salvation that is foolishness to the world. For if you want to "make friends and influence people," and even more, save the souls of men, would anyone past and present consider preaching to be a valid means to bring a person to salvation? Sophists engage in orations to entertain their audiences with their eloquence. Philosophers engage in dialogues (e.g. the Socratic model) to convince people of their truth. Many people today prefer the use of drama and multimedia presentations to bring the Bible stories "to life." (Since when was the Bible ever dead?) But God has ordained the means of preaching unto salvation, foolish though it seems to the world.

As those called to proclaim His Word, pastors therefore ought to stand firm in their conviction of the necessity of biblical preaching, not for mere instruction but also to save souls. It is in the faithful preaching of God's Word, Sunday after Sunday, where the Holy Spirit will most certainly work in the hearts of its hearers. While God can use any other means, we should not think that our "ministry" in workplaces or elsewhere is any substitute for biblical preaching, and most certainly should not have the expectancy that God will certainly work in those extra-ecclesial gatherings. For pastors, the burden to correctly parse and proclaim our Lord's work is heavy when one pauses to see its importance, so let us not treat this lightly but seriously, so that we may handle such a privilege and responsibility with reverence and godly fear.

The Paradox of the Faith: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5

On April 30th, I have had the privilege of proclaiming God's Word from 1 Corinthians 1:17-25, 2:1-5. It took some time for the sermon to be uploaded to Providence's website, so I have only checked it and found it recently. You can hear it here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

One African-American woman's musings against RAAN types

Over on her blog, Alicia posted some of her thoughts on RAAN and their unhelpful attacks on race relations. As a black woman, her musings show us a perspective that RAAN would rather not others read about.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Last thoughts on the Kong Hee case post-appeal

As I have mentioned months earlier, I do believe that City Harvest "pastor" Kong Hee is indeed guilty in regards to his church's finances, but Christians especially should not be rejoicing in his conviction, and we should differentiate clearly between what is immoral and what is illegal.

In light of the reduced sentence verdict arrived at by the Singapore Court, there has been a lot of outrage from Singaporeans. Now, whether the sentences are fair or unfair is a matter for judges to decide. But what is indeed revealing in many of these comments is the utter lack of distinction between morality and legality. Something can be immoral, yet legal, and vice versa. Adultery is immoral, but the law does not penalize adulterers. Abortion is immoral, but in many countries including Singapore, it is legal. Conversely, in France, telling the truth about abortion is illegal, while it is actually moral to tell the truth about abortion. In other words, there is no necessary correlation between morality and legality. That there ought to be such a relation is an assertion worth arguing about, but even if there should be a relation does not imply that there IS currently such a relation.

It is on this matter that much of the online outrage concerning Kong Hee is disturbing. Is it immoral for a pastor to live like a king? Yes, I think it is. But is it illegal? No! Is it immoral for a pastor to fleece people of their money for his own enrichment? Yes. But if the followers willingly give up their money for their pastor to live such a lifestyle, of their own free will and knowing that is how he uses the money, then how is it illegal for the pastor to use his followers' money in such a way? Is it immoral for Kong Hee to run the church like a corporate dictatorship? Yes, and contrary to the Scriptures too. But if the church members agree that this is how their church should be run, and such is not contrary to their own constitution, then it seems there is nothing illegal here either.

That is why, no matter how reprehensible I think Kong Hee's actions may be, I do not think he should be charged with anything beyond basic criminal breech of trust. The civil laws of a nation can and should only judge what is illegal, not necessarily what is immoral (unless what is immoral is also illegal). Lex Rex! The Law is King. That is what is meant for any country to be ruled by the law. If people think that any of these immoral actions taken by Kong Hee should be punished, then go ahead and try to introduce legislation to criminalize such actions. But unless and until such is done, there is absolutely no basis for anyone to clamor for greater sentencing of Kong Hee and company.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Social Darwinism the prevalent doctrine of race relations in the early 20th century

Darwinists' views about race existed not only in Nazi Germany but also in America, as it apparents from surveys of textbooks published from 1880 to around 1950. For example, Princeton biologist Edwin Conklin stated in his college text that comparison

of any modern race with the Neanderthal or Heidelberg types show... Negroid races more closely resemble the original stock than the white or yellow races. Every consideration should lead those who believe in the superiority of the white race to strive to preserve its purity and to establish and maintain the segregation of the races.32

German eugnicists relied heavily on work completed in Britain and America, especially that research related to sterilization policies. ...

[Jerry Bergman, Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: Joshua Press, 2012, 2014), 83]


32 Edwin G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribner's, 1921), 34, 53

.

Conversely, German eugenicists repeatedly acknowledged their debt to the American and British researchers and periodically honoured eugenicists from British and American universities with various awards. Furthermore, many of the American eugenicists argued that the Nazis were outdoing them and were able to convince American courts (including the Supreme Court) of the validity of even some of the most outrageous eugenic claims. Some of these eugenic-based ideas became part of American law and practice until after World War II when the full horror of the German eugenics programmes became widely known

[Bergman, 85]

What was the prevalent understanding of race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Western countries? Was it color-blindness? If one were to read the revisionist history put up by RAAN writers such as Jarvis Williams, you would think most Westerners in the late 19th century and early 20th century held to the theory of color-blindness. But such is absolutely false. While Christians of that era hopefully should have been promoters of color-blindness, and they did when their better angels prevailed, the predominant theory concerning race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Social Darwinism. It was in Nazi Germany that Social Darwinism was applied in practice in the Holocaust, but that does not mean that only Nazi Germany held to the theory of Social Darwinism, just that they were willing to actually put it into practice regardless of how inhumane it would become.

Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to real life. In Darwinian evolutionary theory, organizations and species evolve towards being fitter, and only the fittest survive (survival of the fittest), while the less fit slowly lose out and become extinct. Humans are also placed on the evolutionary scale as being an evolution from ancient apes, and thus are fitter and stronger than the apes. But even in a species, since everyone is struggling on the evolutionary process, the fitter specimens should survive while the weaker ones die off. Placed into the human context where latent racism was already present, some "races" were seen to be more evolved (e.g. the "Aryans") while other "races" less so and are deemed to be more "ape-like." Social Darwinism aims to apply the Darwinian process to humans and thus eliminate the "less fit" specimens. Thus, individuals and "races" deemed to be less fit are to be eliminated while fitter individuals should procreate and produce many children, leading to the evolution of humanity to become better and fitter. Of course, what does this world "elimination" mean except killing actual humans and groups of humans off, that is, genocide! Nazi Germany followed Social Darwinism to its logical conclusion, conveniently identify their enemies with the "less fit" and sought to eradicate all non-Aryans, starting with the Jews and the Slavs.

Outside of Nazi Germany, the implications of Social Darwinism was not worked out into extermination but rather sterilization, such that the "less fit" would not be able to reproduce and thus decrease the supposed "vitality" of the population gene pool. Of course, in America, it was the blacks who would bore the brunt of the label of being less fit, and I wouldn't be surprised if moves such as segregation came about because of an embrace of some form of Social Darwinism.

Social Darwinism is therefore the prevalent doctrine concerning race relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not color-blindness. If one desires to deplore racism, then one should attack Social Darwinism and its parents, the theory of human evolution itself. Otherwise, attacking color-blindness is to attack the cure and cause more racism instead of less, a problem that RAAN might actually instigate.

Monday, April 03, 2017

RAAN is promoting racism

I have stopped going over to The Aquila Report for quite some time, ever since they have shown themselves to be extremely biased and not conveying the truth when it comes to the ESS fiasco. That said, when I had cause to look at them again, I was dismayed that they had gone even further away from orthodoxy.

Meet RAAN, the Reformed African American Network, which is all about being a particular strain of "African-American," and not so much about being Reformed. The Aquila Report re-posted one such article originally published on RAAN, here, entitled The Cruelty of the Color-Blind Theory of Race in Evangelical Churches, written by one Jarvis Williams. In it, Williams took issue with color-blindness as reinforcing racism and especially white supremacy. This is of course astonishing given that at the core of color-blindness is the denial of racism. But what arguments and evidences does William produce for such a counter-intuitive accusation against color-blindness in favor of the neo-Marxist theory of Critical Race Theory?

Let us look at what color-blindness means when it is actually applied. It means that we are to treat everyone equally regardless of ethnicity and even culture. It means that I, as someone normally typed under "yellow skin," treat blacks and whites equally, and such color-blindness ought to be reciprocated. When I interact with an African-American, or interact with a Caucasian, or with an Indian, or another Chinese, I ought to treat them all equally as people all made in the image of God. I am not to discriminate against anyone because of his or her skin color! So, if in the event that someone discriminates against another based upon the person's skin color, that person is not practicing color-blindness! And here we see the problem with Williams' case against color-blindness. According to him, cases of racism (let's assume for the sake of argument they are indeed true cases of racism) invalidates color-blindness. But, if those people are not practicing color-blindness at all, why blame a theory when it is not practiced by racists?

It gets even weirder. Williams made the astonishing assertion: "The very racist social construct of race in 18-19th century Europe and America based on illusory biological traits and rooted in racial hierarchy and biological fiction proves that the color-blind theory is a myth." But are we to assume that color-blindness was held to as truth in the 18th and 19th centuries? Of course not! Color-blindness is a traditional [social] liberal theory, not one linked to the anciens regime in any shape or form! So why blame a theory for what it did not produce? Why blame a theory for the behavior of its non-practitioners?

As a "yellow" person, I find this attack upon color-blindness to be absolutely stupid. If color-blindness is rejected, why must we assume Liberation Theology and Neo-Marxist ideas of affirming the so-called victim races? If color-blindness is rejected, why should anyone not instead decided to embrace White Supremacy, or Chinese Supremacy, or any form of racism in response? Williams, and the Neo-Marxists who come before him, cannot produce a real answer here, because they have none. Liberation theology is assumed, not argued for, because this house of cards cannot be truly challenged otherwise the snowflakes will experience many meltdowns.

In practice, what should we do if we meet those who racially discriminate while claiming to be color-blind? Is the solution to reject color-blindness, or rather, that we ought to call them to live more consistently with their professed belief in color-blindness? The solution to giving lip-service to color-blindness is not less color-blindness, but more color-blindness. Ironically, it is Williams' approach that causes more racism if consistently followed. So, while I have no doubt the good intentions of RAAN, the sad but true fact is that RAAN is promoting racism and racial enmity, in the name of racial equality.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Book review: The Bible Among the Myths

The issue of historicity concerning Old Testament narrative, especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis, continue to remain a problem for many people. In his book The Bible Among the Myths, John N. Oswalt attempted to answer the questions concerning the Old Testament narratives and the questions of myth and history concerning them, and I have read and reviewed it accordingly, here. An excerpt:

The Bible claims to be a book that depicts historical events, all the way back to the beginning of time, or at least most Christians have always believed that from their reading of the Scriptures starting from the book of Genesis. Liberal “Christianity” since the 19th century has however cast doubt on the historicity of major events narrated both in the Old and the New Testaments, especially the first eleven chapters of Genesis 1. According to liberal scholarship, the first eleven chapters are “primeval history” which is made up of myths and legends no different from the various ancient myths and legends found among the pagan peoples of that time. The “Flood myth” in Genesis 6-9 for example is stated to be borrowed from the Akkadian Gilgamesh Epic. But if the events in the Bible are not truly history despite the fact that they claim to be history, can we trust the Bible at all?

[more]

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A suggestion for dealing with the problems plaguing the emerging culture

Each generation has its own problems, its own idols. The millennial generation has to deal with rank secularism and "progressive" identity politics and issues of "social justice," and it seems there is some question as to how the church ought to best deal with these matters.

In this light, I find these articles illuminating: Andrew Sullivan asking "Is Intersectionality a Religion", and articles from The Federalist "'Secular Religion' and the Impossibility of Religious Liberty" and "Liberal Fascism is what happens once people think God is dead." All of these articles make the point concerning the religious nature of much of progressive thought, and help us understand why progressives are so hateful, intolerant and bigoted, while claiming to be "loving" and "tolerant."

It seems to me that understanding the religious nature of progressive thought is helpful because then we can more clearly address the problem at its presuppositions. How should we address progressive thought? The way we have always dealt with false theologies, by exposing their incoherence and failures, and offering a true Christian alternative. Progressive Marxism however has masked itself, and thus it must be exposed. We cannot allow them to redefine language for their benefit. Progressive Marxism is a totalitarian system of thought and life, and thus the entire system and all its branches must be challenged and the Christian alternative regarding every part of thought and life is to be offered. We should not give an inch to this new incarnation of Marxism, but we cannot just stop at ideology, theology and philosophy, but also in action. The church has to offer an alternative community for the lost and hurting, even though the primary focus of the church is on the Word and sacraments, yet community is necessary for this progressivist age.

The church has to step up as it were, to face this new totalitarian challenge. We cannot be fighting the wars of the last century, for then we would not be properly witnessing to the emerging culture of our time.