Recently, the Unbeliever podcast by Justin Brierley hosted a discussion of Dr. James White with former New-Calvinist Austin Fisher, who wrote a book of why he has left the New Calvinist movement. The podcast can be listened to here.
Monday, March 03, 2014
The issue of the views of creation, while certainly academic, is not merely academic. Behind the various views lie major ramifications for faith and life. Here I would like to deal with the issue of history.
The Genesis accounts and the whole section normally termed "primeval history" (Gen. 1-11) are dealt with in various ways by advocates of the various creation theories. Key among many who deny 6-24 creation is relegating the creation account to some form of poetry or allegory. The best one could do was to affirm its overall historicity without at the same time holding to the necessary historicity of its parts, which is what the Framework view does with the Genesis account.
The main reason why creation is so important is because of what it does to history. If the Genesis accounts are fully historical, then what that implies for history is that world history actually begins the way the Bible says it would. Conversely, if the Genesis accounts are not in some sense historical, then that would tend to lead towards the idea that world history and redemptive history are at best parallel tracks. If we embrace the idea of two parallel histories, which are not always separate but ontologically independent of each other, then it will create problems for the universality of the Christian faith and evangelism.
The issue here is very simple: For example, I am non-white Chinese. Christianity as it comes to us is a "white-man's religion." Furthermore, Christian missionaries were often flawed and sometimes partook of the sins of the Western imperial powers in the 19th century as they bullied China into submission. The question therefore is: Why should the Chinese embrace Christianity, a religion historically (and I would certainly say wrongly) associated with imperialism and oppression?
There are various reasons that can be offered for why Chinese (for our example) should be Christians. The flimsiest reason is that it works; it provides for one's subjective spiritual and/or material needs. The "God-shaped hole" in one's heart after all *just* needs to be filled. The problem with this is that emotions are unreliable, and while I do believe that there is some sort of "God-shaped hole," in the sense that Man is made for God, people do not necessarily know or feel what they actually need, as the happy atheist will testify. The one who bases his faith on feelings of spirituality is like the shallow soil. When the plant grows up and unfavorable conditions come (which can be more than just persecution and also include one's emotional states), the plant of the Gospel will die in his heart and he will certainly fall away.
The second reason given for embracing Christianity, despite its alien origins, is that it speaks to the sin condition that I see in myself. Correlative with that is the evidentialist apologetic methodology proving the existence of Jesus, His death and His resurrection. The reasons here are better as it focuses on Jesus and the Cross, and such is the focus of Evangelicalism as a whole. The main problem here is that the sin condition is in some sense subjective. It depends on the person being convicted of sin based upon a rather subjective Christian realization of sin. The second reason suffers from the similar problem of subjectivity, and gives Christianity the impression of a crutch for weaklings — only for those who feel their sin in the Christian way. Now of course, some sense of sin is unavoidable, but falling short of the ideal can be construed in other fashions as it is done in other religions like Buddhism, where "sin" is impersonal and can be outweighed by good works. And the proofs concerning Jesus and His death and resurrection, while powerful in their own right, can be twisted to support pantheistic notions of Christ and Man, something which was seen in early Gnostism and now in the New [Age] Spirituality.
The third reason for embracing Christianity is through an appeal to its intellectual prowess and consistency, or Christianity as a philosophy and worldview. Such would appeal to intellectuals and philosophers. With their sophisticated arguments, they are convinced that Christianity provides the best answers to the ultimate questions. Be they Alvin Plantinga or William Lane Craig, they are intellectually convinced of Christianity and its universality, arguing for Christian theism against unbelief. Now this has much more virtue than the previous two since it appeals to more objective issues, and the use of evidentialist claims about Jesus here are more objective because they are not left drifting but correlated to a bunch of other philosophical and theological arguments for the Christian faith. Yet, the weakness here comes from its strength, its intellectual rigor, as it almost made Christianity the religion of Christian intellectuals and philosophers, or at the very least split Christians into two camps: the uninitiated, and the intellectuals. Lastly, the methodology itself has a flaw in the following: What happens if one day some philosopher suddenly proves (at least for a time) that Christianity is not the best and most rational system? Are we rationalists that only follow Christ to the extent that Christianity makes sense to us?
If we hold to the parallel tracks of history, it is not much of a surprise if non-Christians see the other track as irrelevant to "normal life." From a non-Christian non-white point of view, the claims of Christianity are merely just that, claims. Even if true, they have no relation to him and his history. After all, in the prevailing secular metanarrative, life evolved from non-life, humans evolved from primeval apes, and cultures and civilization develop naturally. Eastern non-materialists could conceivably accept supernatural occurrences in the history of Israel for example, but what has that got to do with *MY* country and culture? The history of China goes back 4000 years, so why should we listen to the "white men" who were living in caves while we were building great cities?
That is why the whole issue of creation is so important, because it attacks the supposed autonomous histories of cultures, even those as ancient as China's (or Egypt's). Primeval history especially in the table of nations of Genesis 10 established the historical basis for all of Christianity's claims of universality. It is because there is a real objective historical basis for sin that sin is sin and deserves damnation. It matters not whether someone is happier after he has jettisoned his faith, for feelings often deceive. It matters not whether one feels sinful, it matters not whether one feels that Christianity is meeting his need, it matters not whether he feels a "God-sized hole" in his heart. All these don't matter! It is because Christianity is historically objectively true on the origins of Man, that it is objectively true regarding everything else it teaches. No one for example dispute the fact of gravity (except theoretically). In the same way, Christian history should be claiming that level of truth.
Only a proper grasp of the historicity of the Genesis account will avoid a parallel track system of two histories, and only that can solve the problem of the universal claim of Christianity (not its universal appeal). If one holds to some version of the dual system of histories, then why would anyone be interested in hearing just another "abstract theory," especially during the times when they feel self=fulfilled?
It is because of this that I find holding to 6-24 creation necessary. The other views, while held to sincerely, do not seem capable of adequately answering the problem of universality. Why should a particular faith be universally applicable? Experience, guilt, miraculous evidences of the 1st century AD, and rationality all bypass the history of other cultures and peoples, and thus cut redemptive history from other cultures and people God did not work with in the Bible..
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
[Previous post here]
The issue of "common sense" and "properly basic beliefs" is surely astonishing in light of the post-modern revolution. It seems that a more sophisticated natural theology and philosophy of sorts for some people is preferable to staring down the abyss of the failure of human philosophy of any kind. The failure of postmoderneity to construct a positive system does not imply that their negative critiques can be discarded. One cannot discount skeptical arguments just because skepticism fails to form a coherent philosophy (and it can't).
The problem with "common sense" is not that "common sense" is at some times useful, or that it should be discounted altogether. To discount "common sense" in toto is self-refuting. The question is not whether "common sense" is valid in some instances, but whether it can be used in reasoning about the grounds of knowledge and of knowing. In other words, to deny the validity of "common sense" for all instances is not self-contradictory.
The problems with appeal to "properly basic beliefs" is that it eliminates questions concerning these beliefs. Such beliefs, being "properly basic," cannot be questioned. However, upon what basis can we not question such beliefs? This is where some appeal to "common sense" is brought in. But as I have repeatedly pointed out, "common sense" is no proof for anything. To extrapolate from the usefulness of "common sense" in some instances to its usefulness in others is unwarranted. This is not to mention that "common sense" changes depending on one's expectations. Before the advent of quantum physics, what is "common-sensical" in science is different from what is "common-sensical" now. Nobody now bats an eyelid in speaking about photons or matter waves, but it was almost inconceivable for those reared in the Newtonian mechanical paradigm. So what exactly is "common-sensical"?
Speaking about "properly basic beliefs," it borrows a lot from Christianity and the Christian-influenced Western zeitgeist. None of this talk about "properly basic beliefs" will make sense in a non-Western culture, where for example a denial of the reality of the external world is considered "common-sensical." In this light, it should be interesting for "Reformed Epistemology" if they would get out of its cultural zone and actually engage (not just discount) Eastern philosophers, NOT Western-influenced Eastern philosophers. Such an engagement should prove that "properly basic beliefs" don't exist as such.
Over in England, it seems some homosexuals have nothing better to do with their time. The homosexual "couple" Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow is suing the British government in an attempt to force churches to host homosexual "weddings." According to them, they sue because they want Christians to "recognize them" and this is what they want. Excuse me?! Since when do they have the right to force people to "recognize" their union as legitimate, and force people to give them what they want?
The problem with some homosexuals and especially the activists is that they think they deserve super rights. They are asking for rights that no one else has. They want the right to redefine marriage, the right to force people to celebrate their "union," the right to punish anyone who speaks out against them, and the list goes on. All the while, they are denying the rights of everyone else to hold to and act on their beliefs concerning the definition of marriage; they are denying the right of people to believe that homosexuality is sinful, they are denying the right of others to disagree with their promotion of wickedness, or even call it "wicked." In the name of "rights," they trample on the rights of everyone else.
This "couple" claim that they want to have a church wedding, and therefore they have a right to it. This is about the most narcissistic statement ever. All of us have many things we want. I want homosexual unions to be outlawed, so why aren't they promoting my right to have that want fulfilled?
As Dr. James White says, the homosexual agenda is not for equal rights, but for über rights. As a group, homosexual activists are duplicitous, vicious and hypocritical, and this alone should discredit their cause in society.
Saturday, February 08, 2014
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’(Rev. 3:1-6)
Korean Christianity is often trumpeted as a model for world Evangelical Christianity. Korean Christians typically wake up early in the morning to pray for about 2 hours, and are devout Christians fervent for evangelism and missions, sending many missionaries around the world. Some of them even do missions where they emulate the 72 disciples of Jesus (Lk. 10:1-12), going from town to town witnessing about Christ while bringing no money and no food, relying on the people that they meet to give them shelter and food.
Nevertheless, I am not enamored of Korean Christianity. Korean Christianity in my opinion in general partakes of the same weakness of the Church of Sardis, and serious fault lines lie just beneath its surface. This is not to discount the good that Korean Christianity has done in the world, but to what extent such is beneficial to Christianity in the long term is questionable.
I am sure there will be many who would be horrified by my claim, and I fully understand that. Such comes from hearts that have been leavened by pietism, which had infected all of world Christianity through the Evangelical missions of the 18th-20th centuries. Piety, or outward godliness, has been elevated to a measure of prominence. From Philipp Jakob Spener, the founder of the Pietist movement within Lutheranism, to John Wesley, who brought pietism into Evangelicalism, to Charles Finney all the way to Rick Warren, with his "deeds, not creeds" mantra, pietism has infected much of world Christianity to the extent that to deny Pietism seems to be denying Christianity itself. It is so ingrained into the Christian consciousness that it takes radical surgery of the heart to remove it.
We would look at the practice of Korean Christianity, and then examine its flaws.
The first issue we want to examine is the idea of prayer. The problem with prayer is not that prayer is bad, but that prayer is meant to function as a means of grace. In other words, prayer is the place where we meet God through His Word. In other words, it is a confession of weaknesses not of strength. Thus the whole idea of spending 2 hours in prayer could be confused with godliness, as if spending 2 hours daily in prayer is more godly than another person who spends 15 minutes in prayer! Don't get me wrong. Spending extended time in prayer before God is great. I loved the times when I have more than 1 hour in communion with God. All Christians should be encouraged to pray more often. But that is not the issue. The issue is when we use the time we have in prayer as a yardstick for measuring godliness. Suddenly, prayer becomes a measure of how godly one is. That is the whole point of portraying Korean Christians who spend 2 hours daily in prayer as a godly example. If the amount of time spent in prayer IS definitive of godliness, then the Pharisees ought to be considered very godly indeed. But we know they were whitewashed tombstones, clean only on the outside. So why are we putting people who spend hours in prayer up on a pedestal, as if those who spend the most hours in prayer are necessarily the godliest? The heretic Pelagius, who denied original sin, was probably one of the holiest monk in the early church. His denial of original sin was in the interest of motivating men to be godly, as he was trying to be. But, unless one is a Pelagian, anyone who claims to follow the historic Christian creeds must say that Pelagius is a heretic who is now in hellfire.
In the medieval era, medieval monks and nuns spent almost all the day in prayer and meditation, even confessing their sins to the extent that some of them flogged themselves. Prayer was regarded as a spiritual discipline then, as it is now in Evangelical pietism, and they were considered the epitome of godliness. Yet the most wicked sinners came from the monastic orders, like Johannes Tetzel and the many "holy" priests and cardinals who took part in the Inquisition, persecuting Christians who believed in the Gospel. Closer to the modern times, German Liberals like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Adolf von Harnack and Wilhelm Hermann were extremely devout Christians, at least externally. Besides Schleiermacher's questionable relationship with the married Eleonore Grunow, many German liberals were externally very devout. John G. Machen while he was studying for his doctorate was nearly taken in by the devout prayers of Wilhelm Hermann for example. So what do all these say about the idea of correlating godliness with prayer?
Speaking from experience, this promotion of prayer within the context of Evangelical pietism is probably the worst impediment to spiritual growth. Spending more time in prayer ironically creates spiritual pride, not necessarily because I was looking down on others who spent less time in prayer, but because I thought I was being more pleasing to God and knowing Him more. This "high" only lasted until the "crash" which came shortly afterwards. The more I strove in prayer, the worse off I was. While I was the youth Prayer IC in my first church I grew up in, I strove to grow deeper in prayer and tried implementing many programs for the youth to grow in prayer. I always felt that I was missing something, and was thus attracted to the growing "prayer warfare" stuff in the Third Wave Charismatic movement. As I was looking into those, my interest in prayer gradually disappeared, and the second year I was Prayer IC much less was done. Looking back, I saw my entrapment within the Pietism I grew up in, and how deadly it was for my spiritual walk in Christ. Ironically, the more one focuses on prayer, the less one would actually commune with God.
All of these just show how foolish we are to correlate prayer with godliness. Prayer is a sign of weakness, and we are all weak. It is never a sign of strength. Spending 2 hours in prayer is not more godly than spending 15 minutes in prayer. High-sounding words and elaborate phrases are no guarantee of closeness to God. Evangelicals might very well want to read some of the written prayers of the Roman liturgy, or even the Anglican liturgy. They are generally beautiful, regal in tone, mostly orthodox in theology, and would put many an Evangelical to shame for the comparative poverty of their own prayers. That does not imply that the ones penning them were actually godly though, although certainly some of them were.
Missions and evangelism are again good things that Christians ought to be engaged in. And we certainly owe Korean Christianity a debt in the amount of missionaries they send out regularly. Yet, we should realize that evangelism and missions in themselves are no guarantees of godliness. The Pharisees traversed land and sea to make one convert, and in the end made that guy twice a son of hell as he previously was (Mt. 23:15). The Counter-Reformation provoked a spate of Roman Catholic missions spearheaded by the Jesuits, and through their conversion of the natives of places like South America made those "converts" twice children of hell, and plunged the South American continent further into darkness for at least a century of two. Promising life, the Jesuits delivered death and damnation. Could one or two be saved through those missions? Perhaps, but that is in spite of the Jesuits through the scattered truths of the Gospel found in their messages or from the Scriptures themselves. Any true salvation accomplished in the Roman Catholic missions was achieved despite the Jesuits, not because of them.
Thus, we see that fervor in missions and evangelism is not correlative with true godliness. In fact, such fervor could very well be a desire to gain one's salvation, as it was in the person of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Such "missions" are a sign of wickedness not of godliness.
Flaws in Korean Christianity
How Korean Christianity has evolved the way it did might not be purely because of the Gospel. The Korean culture also must be factored in. Thus for example, the "Beggars mission" should not be seen as something truly extraordinary if one understands Korean culture with its roving Buddhist monks. If the culture was very much spiritually-minded, spending 2 hours a day early in the morning praying is less spectacular than if such were to happen in a white congregation in materialistic New York today. Now, I am not denigrating 2 hours being spent in prayer, but I am saying that culture does play a part in how one's spirituality is expressed.
Once we can see that, we can begin to see the flaws underneath the veneer of vibrancy in Korean Christianity, starting with the most obvious: toleration of heresy.
The toleration of heresy comes in the form of Word-faith preacher David Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, supposedly the largest church in the world. Cho is a rank heretic, promoting the idea that Christians can tap into a spiritual dimension of power to actualize their prayers into existence. That third dimension is accessible to everyone who has faith, including unbelievers, which is Cho's explanation of how other religions could perform healing. That Cho is a heretic beyond the pale of orthodoxy in any sense of the term is beyond doubt. The problem is that Korean Christians will not generally speak out against Cho. In one interaction I have had with a ethnic Korean Christian, he defended Cho, saying that there are true Christians in the Yoido Full Gospel Church. That person is a Reformed Christian, which only goes to show how perversive this toleration of rank heresy is within Korean Christianity. If even supposedly orthodox Reformed Korean Christians can DEFEND an outright heretic on the totally irrelevant claim that there are possibly true believers in his church, then we can see the scale of the problem within Korean Christianity.
This ties in to the main issue with Korean Christianity: a deficient doctrine of the church and its relation to salvation. Of course, this is not the problem with just Korean Christianity, but East Asian Christianity in general and world Evangelical Christianity to a slightly lesser extent. Korean Christianity continues not to have an idea of how a local Church is to operate with respects to those who claim to be believers, and no idea of how one is to manage the church in regards to the church's role as the pillar of the truth (1 Peter 3:15). That is why East Asian churches in general descend into moralism in practice, because discipline becomes limited to moral issues and only the rankest of heresies (i.e. denial of Jesus' deity). It does not take rocket science for someone to wrongly infer that Christianity is about moral living, when the churches will discipline someone for homosexuality, while winking at someone who just taught that faith is a force that can be used to extract power from the "third dimension," as if homosexuality is a worse sin than heresy! Let me just put this plainly: I would deem a person struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) who attends church and the means of grace regularly to be godlier than an unrepentant pastor who promotes heresy, even though the latter prays 4 hours per day and is a loving husband of one wife!
As I reject the unbiblical practices of the Singapore Church, so for similar reasons I am not enamored of the Korean Church. No church can be considered to be healthy until the infestations of Pietism among others is purged from within, and confessionalism takes root in its place. All external acts of piety are irrelevant to the discussion, and those who think that they are need to repent of their pietism.
[ADD: Yonggi Cho has recently been convicted of fraud, and the silence from Korean Christianity is deafening]
Sunday, February 02, 2014
Recently, I had to un-friend (and block) a guy whose FB screen name is Cado Odac, from Dallas, TX. I had to do so because that guy was promoting hatred against Jews on his FB page. Together with people like Robert Fort, a whole group of his friends decided to defend racism (against black and Orientals as well), attacking all non-whites with vitriol.
As part of his campaign to demonize the Jews, Cado posted this link to an attack on the Ashkenazi Jews and their supposed Kazhar ancestry. The whole article is anti-Semite to the core, based upon all sort of conspiracy theories that would make Dan Brown appear to be a novice. Jews are demonized as part of the New World Order who are out to destroy America, as if these white supremacists have not already destroyed America!
The problem with conspiracy theories is that they have a faulty view of Man and a faulty view of God. They elevate Man, or rather a group of men, to god-like status. Such a group of people are seen as malevolent and the incarnation of the Anti-Christ himself. They also have almost god-like power, able to implement their wicked schemes with great and brutal effect. On the other hand, they demote God. God it seems has not the power to restrain evil. God sees this great malevolent scheme of the ubermensch, stares in horror at it, and wrings his hands helplessly at the destruction it caused to "Christendom." God is not sovereign in all conspiracy theories, for this "god" is powerless and has allowed a group of men to usurp the right to dictate the direction of history.
Let's look at this hack job of an article. We note at the beginning that it has NO footnotes, no references at all. Furthermore, it quotes from.... you guess it... the virulently anti-Semitic fiction titled the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Any citation from the Protocols probably has as much authority as someone citing from the Da Vinci Code, or even less. Therefore, from the start, why would anyone want to actually take this waste of web space seriously?
As to its content, the entire thesis of Kazhar ancestry is disputed by many. But let's say we grant that for the sake of argument. I can even grant the supposed schemes of the "Kazhar Jews" to rule the world. What does that actually prove? NOTHING! Nothing at all!
As I have said, conspiracy theories suffer from an unbiblical elevation of man to god-like power and Satan-like maliciousness, and a diminishing of God to a powerless deity. These come into play here. So what if some "Kazhar Jews" made statements that show they wanted to control the world? First, are these individuals omnipotent? Who's sovereign here: the rulers of the world, or God? So what if they have all their grand plans of world domination? Can anything happen without God allowing it? Secondly, are these people human beings, or demons? Do they still have a remnant of the Imago Dei, or is the Imago Dei totally destroyed in the Fall? Also, is God still restraining the wickedness of men? And finally, what have the schemes of a few men, if true, have to do with an ENTIRE ethnic group? If those white supremacists were actually consistent with such ideas of collective punishment, they should be all hung and quartered for the crimes of the Imperialist powers against the blacks and Asians! Remember the Opium War, or the invasion of Beijing by the combined 8-nation armies at the turn of the 20th century, together with the massacre and rape of Chinese women by the Western armies?! Should the crimes of a few in the past be punished on the whole today, lots of whites ought to be killed, massacred and raped now!
Conspiracy theories, of whatever kind, ought to be discarded for these two reasons. Are there conspiracies? Yes. Do they succeed? Sometimes, if God allows. Are the conspirators demonspawn? No. Can they repent of their wickedness? Yes. Do they represent their entire race? NO! We should stop all conspiracy fear-mongering, and stop demonizing entire groups of people. Such a behavior is contrary to Christianity. And anti-Semitism is extremely wicked, for it is a travesty for someone to claim to follow Jesus the King of the Jews who is a Jew, and then turn around and hate the Jews.
Friday, January 31, 2014
The Lordship Salvation controversy in the 1990s happened quite some time ago. In that controversy, Pastor John MacArthur wrote a book The Gospel According to Jesus against the growing antinomianism in Dispensational Fundamentalism, notably against Dispensationalists like Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges. MacArthur's target was the idea that a person can just have Jesus as Savior while denying Him as Lord. In other words, American revivalism, combined with a bastardized version of the doctrines of Assurance of salvation and of the Perseverance of the Saints in Dispensationalism, resulted in the production of a mangled doctrine often termed "Once Saved, Always Saved" (OSAS) or "Eternal Security." In this doctrine, once someone professed to have faith, as indicated by a tick in the response slip at a revival meeting or going up for an altar call, that person is saved for certain. In its most extreme version, OSAS teaches that a person after he prayed the Sinners' Prayer can apostatize later and even deny Christ, but he is still saved regardless of what he does afterwards, since he at ONE time in his life indicated faith in Christ. This "carnal Christian" however loses out on his reward, and, according to Charles Stanley, they will be in the "outer darkness" in the suburbs of heaven, a lesser hell situated within the vicinity of heaven itself.
This background is crucial to understand the context in which MacArthur was in when he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. Some time later as the Lordship Salvation Controversy was still raging, a group of Reformed theologians like Dr. Michael Horton decided to write a response in the book Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation. In that book, the Reformed theologians faulted both camps of the debate. The error of the non-Lordship camp was their reduction of faith to one of mere assent, while the fault of the Lordship camp was a subtle confusion of justification and sanctification. They acknowledged at that time that MacArthur did listen to some of their concerns.
In 2008, Zondervan put out a revised and expanded anniversary edition of MacArthur's book The Gospel According to Jesus. That book puts forwards his more advanced understanding of the issue, and corrected various errant phrases in his earlier editions. MacArthur it seemed has corrected whatever errors and loose phrases there were in the book when it was initially published, and it is this version that should be examined as to what MacArthur now believes to be the truth.
The question now is this: Does MacArthur still confuse justification and sanctification? I do not think so, and I will look at one section to show why this is the case. We must remember that we are to understand a person's position in the context in which he is writing it in, and not impute our meanings of what we thinks he says into his text, and thus misrepresent his position.
One section in which MacArthur deals with the demands of Christ is seen in his exposition of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. He is accused of stating that the rich young ruler could earn salvation by actually doing good works. In the revised and expanded anniversary edition, here are some relevant excerpts in which MacArthur expounded the passage:
Many readers of Matthew 19 have taken the young man to task for his question. They say his mistake was in asking, "What good thing shall I do?" In other works, he has a works-oriented mind-set. And of course, it is true he was attuned to a religion based on works. He had been raise in a Pharisaic system of tradition. He was trained to think of religion as a system to earn divine favor. But with all that in his background, he asked a fair question. ...
After all, there is something we have to do to inherit eternal life: we have to believe. This man's question was not much different from the question of the multitudes in John 6:28: "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered these people with a simple and straightforward reply: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent" (v. 29).
But this is where the story takes an extraordinary turn. Jesus' answer to this young man seems preposterous: ...
Strictly speaking, Jesus' answer was correct. If a person could keep the law all his life and never violate a single jot or tittle, he would be perfect, sinless (cf. James 2:10). But no one except the Savior alone is like that; we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5). To suggest that the law is a means to eternal life clouds the issue of faith. ... (p. 94)
Finally, Jesus gave him the ultimate test: "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21). This challenged his claim to having kept the law. ...
The ultimate test was whether this man would obey the Lord. Jesus was not teaching salvation by philanthropy. He was not saying it is possible to buy eternal life with charity. ... The Lord was putting His finer on the very nerve of this man's existence. Knowing where his heart was, He said, "Unless I can be the highest authority in your life, there is no salvation for you." By placing Himself alongside the man's wealth and demanding that he made the choice, our Lord revealed the true state of the young man's heart.
The rich young ruler failed the rest. He was not willing to acknowledge Jesus as sovereign Lord over his life... It seems he really did want eternal life, but he was unwilling to come the way Jesus specified — the way of confessing his sin and surrendering to Jesus' lordship. In other words, he remained in unbelief. (pp. 97-8)
Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). This is the consistent and unambiguous teaching of Scripture. But people with genuine faith do not refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness. They sense that they have offended the holiness of God. They do not reject the lordship of Christ. They desire Him more than the things of this world. Real faith lacks none of these attributes. Saving faith does not recoil from the demand to forsake sin and self and follow Jesus Christ at all costs. Those who find His terms unacceptable cannot come at all. He will not barter away His right to be Lord.
If we learn anything from the account of the rich young ruler, it is the truth that although salvation is a blessed gift from God, Christ will not give it to one whose hands are filled with other things. Those who are not willing to turn from sin, possessions, false religion, or selfishness will find they cannot turn to Christ in faith. (p. 99)
When we look at the excerpts, we note here that MacArthur is not saying that people have to do something to be saved, or that the rich young ruler needs to do something to merit salvation. Rather, the request is to expose the failure of the rich young ruler to keep the Law, as he had claimed to do. That MacArthur is not teaching justification by faithfulness can be seen in the phrase he used that "our Lord revealed the true state of the young man's heart" (p. 98). Any work done in repentance is evidentiary of the state of the man's heart, not part of what contributes to their justification. That such is the correct interpretation is seen in the slightly later phrase that the rich young ruler "remained in unbelief" (p. 98).
Faith is normally described as consisting of cognition, assent and trust. Interpreting MacArthur's exposition using this three-fold description of faith shows us that MacArthur exposited the rich young ruler as not trusting in Christ. He did not trust in Christ, depicted by MacArthur as not "confessing his sins and surrendering to Jesus' lordship" (p. 98). It is not that the act of repentance or selling all he had will contribute to his justification, but rather that the failure to do that shows he has not the true faith that will evidence itself in works of repentance.
MacArthur probably did use language that confuses justification and sanctification in his earlier editions. The issue to be addressed now is whether he seems to have realized his mistakes in expression and made the necessary corrections, which he seems to have since there is nothing wrong with the exposition in this edition. This should make us see that MacArthur did not confuse justification and sanctification. Furthermore, the errors previously made were not intentional but a result of the polemics he was using against the Dispensational antinomians. That MacArthur responded positively and changed the questionable phrases shows us that any errors made were unintentional. Seeing the book in the context of the controversy it had both spawned and addressed, it should be clear that MacArthur did not confuse justification and sanctification in substance, and in his latest revised edition he also did not confuse justification and sanctification in form.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Christianity is concerned mainly about Christ and the redemption He purchased of His people. The focus of Christianity is on redemptive history (which occurred in real history) and its implications for not only us, but the whole world (cosmos). Those of us who are called to the ministry should focus on these issues, and try not get involved with issues we have no expertise in since it is highly likely we will make a mess. Now of course if a pastor has for example also a PhD in a certain field, he could write about that field with some degree of expertise, yet that should be done with an understanding that whatever he writes about that subject does not have the same authority as when he deals with God's Word.
Nevertheless, once in a while, a seeing secular issue or two may crop up which has implications for one's view of redemptive-history. Such an issue deals with complicated matters and fields. The issue of modern-day Israel is one such issue. Emotions run high on this issue on both sides. Generally, those who are "pro-Israel" are correlated to the "Christian Zionist" movement and linked with Dispensationalism. Those on the other side are correlated to most of the mainstream European churches, and some factions within Reformed circles. The correlation is so strong that it is normally assumed that anyone supporting Israel as a nation are "Zionists" and Dispensationalists who reject traditional orthodoxy on the covenants (as if the "anti-Zionists" have a correct doctrine of the covenants!). Those in the Reformed churches typically focus on the errors of Dispensationalism and the rejection of national Israel as the people of God, showing how the Church is spiritual Israel (cf Rom. 9:6, Gal. 6:16). While that is true, it does not help us to understand how we are to understand modern Israel, and give rise to the specter that an embrace of Reformed Covenant Theology (CT) must necessitate a rejection of modern Israel, whereas that is not a necessary inference from Reformed CT. In the midst of this confusion, we have terms like "supersessionism" and "replacement theology" being thrown around, muddying the waters even further.
In an attempt to add some clarity to the subject, I would first clarify what Reformed CT teaches concerning Israel, then deal with some necessary historical matters, and finally posts some thoughts towards a theology of ethnic Israel. The second part is an historical interpretation not Scripture, and is my attempt to bring some resolution to the issue.
What Reformed CT teaches
Traditional Reformed CT teaches one Covenant of Grace throughout redemptive history. The Covenant of Grace was initiated in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve violated the primeval Covenant of Works. God then initiated the Covenant of Grace, as the Westminster Confession states:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe. (WCF 7.3)
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. (WCF 7.5)
The Covenant of Grace was administered through the various historical covenants (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New). Its aim was the redemption of God's people the Elect. In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was expressed to Abraham and his seed, and that through his seed all the nations will be blessed. Thus, it was to ethnic Israel through which salvation came, and this promise of the seed finally coalesced in the person of Jesus Christ, the true Israel, the Israelite of the Israelites. It was to this seed who is Christ that the Abrahamic Covenant came to fruition for the salvation of the nations (Gal. 3:16). As expressed in apocalyptic terms, the woman in labor has given birth to the child with an iron rod to rule the nations (Rev. 12:1-6). Christ came from ethnic and national Israel, the people of God.
The Mosaic Covenant advances God's covenant administration through the addition of a works principle to function as a pedagogue. National theocratic Israel was the people of God, the theocracy functioned as the crucible for the enactment of the New Covenant. On the one hand, the Mosaic Covenant is an advancement of the Abrahamic Covenant, as it fulfilled in typological form some of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. The typological fulfillments were to signify the realities that would come in the New Covenant, either in its inauguration and/or its consummation at the end of time. Such typological fulfillment include the land promise. For example, the land promise was fulfilled as the promise land of Canaan was conquered for God's people in the Mosaic economy, but such was meant to be a picture of the new heavens and new earth which would come when Christ comes again, not a permanent ownership of the land of Canaan.
The New Covenant is "new" as it is contrasted with the Mosaic (the "Old") Covenant, which is how the books of Galatians and Hebrews contrast the historical covenants. The typological elements of the Mosaic Covenant, which include the land of Canaan, are fulfilled in the realities they signify. Canaan is no more the "Holy Land," except in a historical sense. No more is national Israel the treasured possession of God, but all who are spiritual descendants of Abraham, BOTH Jews and Gentiles, are now the treasured possession of God, the "Israel of God." In Christ, there is no more two but ONE people.
Reformed CT therefore teaches ONE people of God. Contrary to Dispensationalism, we do not believe that there are two peoples of God, as if God has two brides. We similarly do not believe that the land of Canaan is holy in any but the historical sense. Since the theocracy is abrogated, we do not see anything special about the current nation of Israel, again contra Dispensationalism.
That being said, we should not embrace the cause of supersessionism, otherwise known as "replacement theology." Supersessionism teaches that the Church has superceded Israel, or rather that the Church has taken the place of Israel. In supersessionism, Israel has rejected Christ especially when they called down curses upon their own heads and that of their children (cf the "infamous" verse of Mt. 27:25). God has thus rejected Israel altogether for the (Gentile) Church. The Jews must thus cease being Jews and become Christians, otherwise they retained their "blood guilt" and God's wrath remains forever on them. If that sounds Anti-Semitic, that is because it is. Regardless of its social ramifications, it should be easily seen that supersessionism is not what Reformed CT teaches. Reformed CT teaches an expansion of God's Covenant of Grace. Whereas previously it is limited to ethnic and national Israel, now it is open to both (ethnic) Jews and Gentiles. The Church does not replace Israel, for Jews do not need to cease being Jews in order to be saved. Jewish Christians do not need to repudiate their ethnicity, just as Gentile Christians do not need to repudiate their ethnicities either.
We also want to note here what Reformed CT does not teaches. It does not teach that Christians should either embrace or reject Zionism. It does not teach that we should either accept or reject the modern state of Israel. It most certainly does not say that we should hate the Jews. Just because Dispensationalism is for the modern state of Israel does not mean that Reformed CT is necessarily against the modern state of Israel. Reformed CT rightly construed does not take a stand either on Zionism or the modern state of Israel, and such needs to be made clear in any discussion concerning Israel. The only thing Reformed CT is concerned with is that the modern state of Israel is not some special fulfillment of biblical prophecy as a special people of God.
Here we turn to the issues concerning the modern state of Israel. It is here that geopolitics are very much involved, and lots of spin and propaganda is produced mainly by the pro-Palestinian side. I would like to offer just some observations pertinent to the issue which the other side has ignored or spun.
Following Jesus' time, the Jewish rebellions like the Bar-Kochba revolt has resulted in the slaughtering of many Jews and the famous prohibition of Jews from Jerusalem. The area called Palestine was depleted of much of its Jewish population, and there was never to be a nation in that area until the 20th century. The Roman Empire was succeeded by the Byzantine Empire. With the rise of Islam, Palestine was conquered by the Caliphs and the various Caliphates administered the region of Palestine, excepting the minor historical phenomena known as the short-lived Crusaders States. The last Caliphate was the Ottoman Empire. After its defeat in World War I, the European victors divided up its territories into somewhat artificial plots of lands to be administered by the various European powers. The area of Palestine was administered by the British together with the Transjordan region. Back in Europe, Zionism began to take shape and immigration of Jews back to Palestine began in earnest, a process accelerated with the rise of Nazi Germany. In the meantime, pan-Arabism also began to take shape, as the residents of the former Ottoman Empire began to identify themselves as Arabs and desired independence. The non-Jewish natives in Palestine began to identify with this pan-Arab cause, and thus the first stirrings of "Palestinian nationalism" began to take shape. It must be noted here that what was beginning to take shape back then wasn't a Palestinian independence movement; that would come later. The non-Jews in Palestine identified themselves not as Palestinians, but as Arabs.
After the 1967 six-day war and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel emerged victorious and took over most of the other regions of Palestine, which were formerly part of Egypt (Gaza Strip) and Jordan (West Bank). These became known as "occupied territories." It was only then that a Palestinian identity and cause was formed, as separate from an Arab identity. Whatever the reason(s), the Arabic states refused to assimilate the people feeling from Palestine, instead putting them into permanent refugee camps. This is in sharp contrast to the Jews fleeing the opposite direction from pogroms launched by the Arab states against their native Jewish populations, who were assimilated into Israeli society (instead of being placed into refugee camps and then stating that they should have a "right to return").
This short history of the region of Palestine is necessary in order to give a better understanding of the issue of modern national Israel. As I have said, Reformed CT does not take a position on modern national Israel. That is why it is unfortunate that people think that to be Reformed is to be against modern national Israel. A right understanding of history should help us see through a lot of the propaganda out there. One does not have to be a Dispensationalist to see that national Israel has a right to exist. One does not have to believe that Israel continues to be a special people of God in order to believe that Jews are not children of the Devil. None of us should think that modern Israel is blameless on all matters. But that is different from blaming Israel as if it were demonspawn and the mother of all evil. And lastly, it is a total travesty to attempt to disguise one's Anti-Semitism as being driven by theology. It might be driven by theology, or rather one's perversion of sound orthodoxy, but it is certainly not driven by Reformed CT.
Towards a theology of ethnic Israel
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Rom. 11:11-12)
In my opinion, Rom. 11: 1-32 provides a key to understanding how we should look at the Jews, who had in large measure rejected God's promises. Yet the Abrahamic promises are primarily for the seed of Abraham and through them to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3). It is most certainly true that the promise is fulfilled in Christ as Abraham's seed, but does that mean that the physical descendants of Jacob (Israel) are thus excluded from the picture?
In Scripture, promises and prophecies may have dual fulfillments, and seeing this text in line with Rom. 11:1-32 hints at a promise for the salvation of ethnic Israel. Just as salvation in Christ does not eradicate all ethnic boundaries but only render them secondary to the union we have in Christ, so likewise Jews as an ethnic group remain distinct from Gentiles, although those in Christ are indeed one people with us in the Church. While this is not the place to go into detailed exegesis of the Romans 11 passage, yet on the surface it seems to teach a future ingathering of the Jews, so that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). In light of what we have seen of CT, this final conversion of the Jews will be the final fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, which deals with ethnic Israel, the physical covenant family of Abraham, as opposed to national Israel which is the creation of the Mosaic Covenant.
It does seem therefore that while we should oppose Dispensationalism and most definitely its religious form "Christian Zionism," yet in light of the blessing we have from the Jews, we should love the Jews and seek their salvation, so as to complete the circle of redemption. This seems to necessitate some weak version of secular "Zionism" in that we should desire to love and bless the Jews and not regurgitate lies about them.
Reformed Covenant Theology, rightly understood, is not supersessionism. We believe in expansion theology, not replacement theology. Nowhere is this more practical than in the way we deal with ethnic Jews and the modern state of Israel. We should not excuse their rebellion and unbelief, or their sins, and we should not glorify them either. Rather, we should seek to love the Jews and tell the truth about both the Jews and the modern state of Israel, while seeking their salvation. In God's plan and timing, He will bring about many of them to salvation, and thus God's salvific purposes will be fulfilled in time, to the praise of His glory and grace.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
[Previous post here]
That charity must not be justice in order to be charity is something sadly controverted in our day. From within supposed Reformed and Evangelical circles, we have Tim Keller who has muddied the waters and attempted to steer people towards embracing the Leftist notion of "social justice," which has nothing to do with real justice at all.
The main focus of "justice" is basically giving people what they deserve. Someone breaks the law, they are punished for doing so. Especially in Christian theology, the notion of justice is tied in with notions of works and merit. God exercises His justice when He punishes sinners, because sinners sin and their sins deserved to be punished. Justice is purely an external of giving another his due.
Charity on the other hand as it is used is often linked with mercy. Mercy by definition must be unequal. A judge who acquits the innocent is NOT being merciful to the acquitted. Mercy is always to the undeserving, either in withholding punishment or in giving undeserved aid. To speak of "merited" mercy is an oxymoron. God in His grace in His mercy withholds the punishment due to sinners who turn in faith to Christ. Those sinners do not deserve the mercy; it is purely unmerited. Mercy and charity is thus antithetical to justice and law, the former pair being unmerited and the latter pair merited.
It is with this understanding that we see how terrible Keller's leftist socialist idea of "social justice" is. By calling charity and mercy "justice," Keller has turned something unmerited into something merited. In other words, whereas in the older understanding charity is something given by people out of their care and concern, charity in Keller's leftist system is an entitlement for the poor. The poor could demand charity, as is the case in socialist states. When charity is seen as an entitlement, then what we have as an example today are the socialist countries of Europe, where people give much to charity involuntarily through the State.
So, when Keller tried to equate "justice" and "righteousness," he commits many fallacies in his eisegesis of Job 29:12-17. No one controverts the fact that "justice" and "righteousness" are very similar and could function as synonyms. But synonyms may not necessarily have the same meaning all the time, and when we go into the details, then the differences between similar words can be seen. "Justice" is focused on the external, while "righteousness" is an internal quality. Righteousness does manifests itself in justice, and thus the two can and are often used interchangeably. But just because righteousness does manifests itself in justice does not mean that it cannot consists of other things like love. When the focus is on obligations of people, then the differences between the two terms appear. It is one thing to say it is righteous to aid the poor, and another thing to say that aiding the poor is justice, as what Keller has done. Keller, and those who follow him, have committed logical and etymological fallacies in equating righteousness with justice. While the two terms can e used as synonyms, they are not always the same thing.
The concept therefore of "social justice" is nonsensical. What it leads to logically are socialist states and economies. Instead of spreading the wealth, socialism only spreads the poverty around, being based upon faulty economics.
p = "righteous," q = "just, justice," r = "love, charity, mercy"
If p, then q; If p, then r
Keller's claim: If q, then r; q = r (Both invalid)
1 2 Conclusion: p q r If p, then q If p, then r 1 & 2 If q, then r q = r T T T T T T T T T T F T F F F F T F T F T F T F T F F F F F T T F T T T T T T T F T F T T T F F F F T T T T T F F F F T T T T T
Saturday, January 25, 2014
In an informal philosophical discussion I had joined, the issue of consciousness was raised in the context of some apologetic argument of which I have forgotten. The only thing I remembered was my contention that that particular argument could not work on a die-hard materialist, who could just claim that the "self" did not really continues through time, but that it changes every second according to the changes in the states of the mind. The response to that was that such is true, but that anyone holding on to this consistent materialist view of consciousness would automatically lose the argument because it is so absurd and so much against common sense it would be rejected in an instance.
The problem I see in such a reasoning is that "common sense" seems to be a major criterion for determining truth, but why should that be the case? Yes, "common sense" is good for many things, but it is one thing to claim that "common sense" is good for much of life, and another to say it is normative for everything.
Consider the scientific discipline of quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, the orbitals of electrons are quantitized in specific quanta, thus producing spectral lines of [visible] light (and other radiation in the other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum) when electrons lose energy. The whole idea of quantitized radiation does not make sense in a classical physical setting, which would anticipate a spectrum or smear of light instead of specific spectral lines. Yet this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Quantum mechanics also postulated the idea of electrons being both particles and waves, and not just electrons but all matter, which all have a de Broglie wavelength. Likewise, light, long considered a wave, is found to be made up of particles called photons. Photons are then stated to be massless particles, which is also counter-intuitive.
Even stranger in quantum mechanics is that stated in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that is is impossible to know both the position and the velocity of particles like electrons. Whereas electrons were formerly thought of as like planets orbiting the nucleus, electrons are now thought of as probabilistic matter-wave functions found in specific orbitals. That means that in the area of those orbitals, the probability of detecting the electron increases, and that the very act of detecting it fixed either the position or the velocity of the electron. In other words, it is not just a measurement of quantum phenomena, but rather the act of measurement itself creates the result in interaction with the sample. Lastly, the quantum phenomenon of entanglement, or "spooky action at a distance," has entangled particles influencing each other even across vast distances with no communication between them. In other words, if one of the entangled pair is placed on the moon, while the other entangled particle is placed in a submarine 1 km under the sea, altering one particle (in the submarine) would also alter the other particle (on the moon), despite the vast distances between them and the impossibility of any material communication between them.
Quantum mechanics therefore functions antithetical to common sense. This shows that in understanding certain aspects of reality, "common sense" breaks down. Philosophical issues, dealing with things behind "normal life" could also be other aspects of reality in which "common sense" does not apply. If such were the case, then rejecting any philosophical position merely because it is against "common sense" is not exactly a good argument. Furthermore, in the Neo-Darwinian scheme, "common sense" is merely the cognitive habits suited for Man in the natural world, and as such they may not be suited for discourse on anything other than "normal life."
Flowing from what we have seen in quantum mechanics, the whole notion of "common sense" therefore should not be used in arguments. For if "common sense" does not work in some parts of the physical realm, why should we think that it is necessarily a useful thing in philosophical or religious questions? "Common sense" does not work in some aspects of reality, and thus we should not use it in philosophy or theology either.
Friday, January 24, 2014
It was some time ago when Thomas Nagel's book Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False came out, to a spate of vitriol from the Neo-Darwinists, ironic since Nagel is an atheist and also a Darwinist. I finally had the time to read it, and it was illuminating if only to show the philosophical bankruptcy of the naturalistic Neo-Darwinian synthesis (not that I was convinced otherwise prior to reading that).
Nagel's thesis is very simple: The materialist Neo-Darwinian view of the world does not seem able to account for the "immaterial" realities of Consciousness, Cognition and Value. Nagel is an atheist, and does not reject Darwinism at all. His only "crime" was to suggest that Darwinism is not the be all and end all of everything and cannot adequately account for the other aspects of reality. Nagel does not reject any developmental hypothesis for these realities, only that such only explains the development and use of physical faculties, not the development of the subjective states themselves.
On the issue of Consciousness, Nagel deals with the issue of subjective consciousness, i.e. the fact that organisms have subjective consciousness of themselves. Evolution could "in principle provide the framework for a physical explanation of the appearance of behaviorally complex animal organisms with central nervous systems" (p. 44), but to link this with subjective consciousness is a bare assertion. As Nagel states:
It is not an explanation to say just that the physical process of evolution has resulted in creatures with eyes, ears, central nervous systems, and so forth, and it is simply a brute fact of nature that such creatures are conscious in the familiar ways. Merely to identify a cause is not to provide a significant explanation, without some understanding of why the cause produces the effect. The claim I want to defend is that, since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include an explanation of the appearance of consciousness. That cannot be a separate question. An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such. (p. 45)
After exploring various theories, Nagel spoke in passing of substance dualism but passed it over in favor of some form of property dualism as a preferred model. Nagel after all is an atheist, despite his aversion to materialism. While Nagel does not exactly settle on any one theory, he proposes some form of panpsychism as something preferable. As he writes:
But since conscious organisms are not compose of a special kind of stuff, but can be constructed, apparently, from any of the matter in the universe, suitably arranged, it follows that this monism will be universal. Everything, living or not, is constituted from elements having a nature that is both physical and nonphysical — that is, capable of combining into mental wholes. So this reductive account can also be described as a form of panpsychism: all the elements of the physical world are also mental. (p. 57)
A comprehensive reductive conception is favored by the belief that the propensity for the development of organisms with a subjective point of view must have been there from the beginning, just as the propensity for the formation of atoms, molecules, galaxies, and organic compounds must have been there from the beginning, in consequence of the already existing properties of the fundamental particles (p. 61)
In other words, in order to explain consciousness without invoking something separate from matter (e.g. spirit), matter itself must become "spiritual" in the sense that it possess within itself the capability of creating beings possessing subjective consciousness. Materialism is rejected for some version of spiritual-matter emergentism.
The second reality Nagel deals with is that of Cognition. Here, the problems go even deeper than that of consciousness. The problem cognition poses to materialism has two aspects, the first has to do with "the likelihood that the process of natural selection should have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances" (p. 74), and the second is the "difficulty of understanding naturalistically the faculty of reason" (p. 74). The first aspect comes to the fore when the naturalistic theory behind cognition is looped in on itself, which gives rise to the strange notion that our theory of evolution is itself anti-realist, since notions of reality have no objective ground but are rather formed through the random process of evolution. Such is of course unacceptable for any naturalist. Nagel muses about the possibility of some function of a Kantian categorical imperative as the backdrop and evolutionary pressure for the discovery of some form of "objectivity," which he admits is rather far-fetched. (p. 78) Yet even admitting that, the second aspect of the problem rears its ugly head. Instead of merely looping the naturalistic theory upon itself, this loops theories and cognition in general upon itself. The concept of second-degree reasoning (thinking about thinking) is a big problem because how does one explain the assumed objectivity in such meta-reasoning? As Nagel states:
...whenever we take such a reasonable detached attitude toward our innate dispositions, we are implicitly engaged in a form of thought to which we do not at the same time take that detached attitude. When we rely on systems of measurement to correct perception, ... we take ourselves to be responding to systematic reasons which in themselves justify our conclusions, and which do not get their authority from their biological origins. ...
...in a case of reasoning, if it is basic enough, the only thing to think is that I have grasped the truth directly. I cannot pull back from a logical inference and reconfirm it with the reflection that the reality of my logical thought process is consistent with the hypothesis that evolution has selected them for accuracy. ... It is not possible to think, "Reliance on my reason, including my reliance on this very judgment, is reasonable because it is consistent with its having an evolutionary explanation. Therefore, any evolutionary account of the place of reason presupposes reason's validity and cannot confirm it without circularity. (pp. 79-81)
Abstract reasoning is the bane of naturalistic explanations of cognition, because they do not confer any selective advantage to an organism. Meta-reasoning is the abstract of abstract reasoning, reasoning about reasoning, and such cannot be explained naturalistically at all. How could random molecules come up with not just a thinking individual, but an individual that can theorize about thinking itself presupposing objective rules of reasoning while doing so thinking about thinking. To be sure, evolution could conceivably "explain" how those faculties develop, but historical development is insufficient as in the prior case of consciousness. An explanation of "how" is not an answer to "why."
As in the previous section dealing with consciousness, Nagel acknowledges the theists have a simple and workable answer. Nevertheless, he explicitly states his bias against that view even though it does solve all the problems that he is raising for naturalism. As he writes, "My preference for an immanent, natural explanation is congruent with my atheism" (p. 95). Thus, in dealing with this issue, Nagel does accept an emerging constitutive explanation for how rationality could be, but supplements it with a naturalistic teleological principle for its historical emergence as something objective. This principle says that "in addition to physical laws of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are 'biased toward the marvelous'" (p. 92). Such teleological laws, by their status as being teleological, would not be universally applicable and thus temporally historically applicable, functioning only at a particular time and space. With this explanation, Nagel puts forward what he thinks is the best natural explanation for rationality.
The last concept to deal with is value, which stretches the naturalistic scheme to near the breaking-point. Value, which deals with moral and evaluative truth, is what pushes us towards making moral or evaluative judgments. Nagel first denies all subjectivist metaethical theories for moral objectivism. Agreeing with fellow philosopher Sharon Street's position that moral realism is incompatible with a Darwinian account of "the evolutionary influence on our faculties of moral and evaluative judgment" (p. 105), Nagel bites the other end of the bullet and rejects the Darwinian account as inadequate to explain the evolution of value. He notes that the "ability to detect such truth, unlike the ability to detect mind-independent truth about the physical world, would make no contribution to reproductive fitness" (p. 107). He then puts forward the example of pain and pleasure, arguing that there is no reason why pain is bad and pleasure good, since "as far as natural selection is concerned, pain could perfectly well be in itself good, and pleasure in itself bad..." (p. 109). To put it simpler, evolution can only explain judgments of fact, but not of value (The Is-Ought divide). Just because person X intends to murder person Y only tells us what would happen if we decide on certain courses of actions, but not which one is better than the other. For example, one could decide to aid in the murder. Evolution can only explain the judgment that doing so would result in the death of that person, but where is the judgment that says that action is good or bad in itself?
Nagel's proposed solution to the problem of virtue is to embrace some form of teleology, in which "the natural world would have a propensity to give rise to beings of the same kind that have a good — beings for which things can be good or bad" (p. 121). In this manner, the concept of an objective good or evil can be established, much like that of cognition as being inherent to the development of nature.
From the relatively easiest to the hardest to explain, Nagel's metaphysical theory is one of non-reductive emergentism, a panpsychism with a teleological focus. What it is consistent with is some form of spiritual, non-materialistic evolution. He is brilliant yet at the same time remarkably frank about his own presuppositions, admitting that his rejection of theism is purely a priori. Such honesty is commendable, while Christians could certainly benefit from his critique of materialism.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence (Ps. 11:5)
"Love the sinner, hate the sin" (One Evangelical cliche)
It is typically said within Evangelical Christianity that we should love the sinner, but hate the sin. On the surface, it sounds right, for Christ loved the world to save it, so should we love people who are made in the Image of God. From this Evangelical piety we have the Evangelical praxis of interaction with fellow believers, and those outside the Church. While certain more wicked sins do provoke natural revulsion, Evangelicals in general try and struggle to love people and share with them the Gospel of Christ that they might believe and be saved. And to a certain extent, all such actions are laudable manifestations of godliness, if they have indeed arose from true faith in Christ.
The problem with Evangelical piety is not that it is totally wrong, but at certain critical places there is a slight but significant shift away from what is taught in Scriptures. The downside of such bite-sized cliches is that it truncates biblical truth concerning the matter. With regards to this particular cliche, it affects one's view of God and His relation with mankind, and this in turn effect a difference in the worship of believers, and how they deal with sin within and without the congregation.
The problem with this particular way of understanding is that it makes no sense of the biblical data in places like the Psalms, particularly the imprecatory psalms. For God only hates sin, but not the sinner, right? Thus, God only hate this "thing" out there called sin. This way of understanding God is congruent with a God without any real wrath, with the Old Testament being relegated to second-class status. Understandably, Evangelicals have no idea what to do when faced with passages in Scripture about God's wrath against sinners. One doesn't have to read very long in the Old Testament to see the fury of God breaking out against those who violated even a small part of the law, as the issue with the Sabbath-breaker proved (Num. 15:32-6). It is no wonder therefore that many Evangelicals feel the need to apologize for God in the Old Testament, and of course they don't sing the Psalms.
Such a view also results in an inability to deal properly with sin both within and without the church. Since sin is this abstract "thing" out there that somehow infects the person, what does one do when one faces sinners? The first alternative is to love them, while somehow convincing oneself that we are not condoning the sin, and hopefully one will someday get around to telling them that what they are doing is sin. This is the path followed by many an evan-jellyfish and is almost the default setting of almost all Christians. The second alternative is the path threaded by Fundamentalists, where sinners become and now ARE sin itself, since one must hate the sin and sins are committed by sinners. In the first path followed by the majority, sin is almost as it were tolerated to some extent. In the second path, let's just say that it is highly unlikely that the Gospel message can be heard in such settings.
The problem with that Evangelical cliche lies at its foundation. On the surface, everything seems rather fine, although one just might perceive something odd about the statement. The root issue is a failure to understand sin as an ethical issue, not an ontological or epistemic issue. Ethical issues means sin is relational, not in the ontological sense of "relations," but in the ethical personal sense. Since sin is ethical, then persons are involved. The sinner sinned against another person. Sin is not some abstract entity out there, but deals with persons. Remove one of the persons, and that ethical relation ceases to be present. One cannot after all sin against for example a car, neither can water sin against anyone. Sin is always personal, and thus one cannot separate sin from the sinner and/or the one sinned against.
The idea of "loving the sinner, but hating the sin" thus makes zero sense in this scheme. How does one hate "sin," since sin doesn't exist as a "thing"? Yes, one can personifies sin, or think of sin along the lines of its effects, but that is not the same as saying that sin has independent ontological existence! Thus, while the concept hints at the truth, it distorts it as much as it clarifies.
Psalms 11:5 states God's hatred of the wicked and those who love violence. Unless one wants to be a Marcionite, one must concede that God in some sense must hate the wicked; there is simply no way to get around that plain teaching short of attacking the divine inspiration of Scripture. When we think of sin in terms of ethical personal relations, then navigating this thorny topic becomes easier. God does hate the sinner, for surely it is sinners who sin! Yet, at the same time, God loves His creatures. The only way forward is to delineate the senses of how love and hate function. God loves sinners by virtue of their creatureliness. God hates sinners by virtue and because of their sin.
In place of the Evangelical cliche, a more biblical manner of expression is to say that we should love people because of their creation by God, and hate sinners in their sins. This of course is not as rememberable, and parodoxically neither is it easier to grasp or to practice. But since when did God promise the Christian Life to be easy? In this formula, love and hate, Creation and the Fall, cut through any and all unregenerate humans. There is no way we can view people as somehow a victim of "Sin," neither can we view people as constitutively little different from the Devil. The same person is simultaneously both loved and hated, in different senses.
In practice, holding to such a view with all its corollaries would solve the practical Marcionism in much of Christianity. In regards to interaction with people, the first benefit it would give is to force people to be less self-righteous. Sin is not something external, some infestation that believers are cured of. The second benefit is in dealings with unbelievers. It forces Christians to be at one time more unloving, and yet more loving. God hates sinners in their sin, so should we. God loves sinners because there are creatures in His image. So should we. We are called to love sinners more, and hate sinners more. The problem with both Evangelical and Fundamentalist approaches is that they love too little, and they hate too little. That which ought to be loved we hate; that we ought to hate we love. We must exhibit a holy hatred for sinners in their sin, yet show them the love of Christ offered in His grace. So in the analogous example of church discipline, there must be real discipline against the offender, yet to those who repent, FULL forgiveness must be offered. We must hate more, and love more.
Love the sinner, hate the sin? Almost right. But rather, we ought to love the person and hate the sinner in his sin. An almost imperceptible difference, but one with real practical ramifications. Just like much of Evangelicalism, this cliche is very close to the biblical truth, yet at a critical joint, a slight divergence in theory results in greater errors in practice.
[Previous post on the topic here]
One of the more notorious practices of local banks is to "redline" poor and nonwhite neighborhoods. That is, they refuse mortgage and small business loans to applicants who live there. Their argument is that they simply look at the statistic and conclude that residents of those neighborhoods are more likely not to make good on the loan. God, however, says we are not to live that way in our relationships to the poor. He says, in effect, in Proverb 19:7: "Don't you dare 'redline' people. Don't look at someone and say, 'If I get involved with that person I might be taken advantage of!' I see a gift to the poor as a gift to me. I will, in some way, make the loan good. I will give you value, trust me."
—Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (New York, NY: Penguin, 2010), 184
After quite some time, I have finally read Tim Keller's book Generous Justice. Looking back at my initial interaction with an interview he had done concerning the book, I saw that my assessment was somewhat correct though it requires tweaking.
Besides the categorical confusion over the Church and individual Christians, Keller has misread the Job narrative altogether, as if charity is justice. Keller uses Job 29:12-7, using the words translated as "justice" and "righteousness" to build his entire case that helping the poor is actually justice, not charity. In response, it must be said that "justice" is not the same as "righteousness." "Justice" normally refers to some form of external objective verdict, while "righteousness" is an internal quality. In context, Job rendering justice is his righteous actions. But saying that doing justice is a righteous action does not mean that justice EQUALS righteousness, must less infer that since the injustice Job addressed is oppression of the poor and payment of wages, therefore justice is to work for social good and injustice is not to work for social good. That action X is a subset of set J, and J manifests character R, DOES NOT imply that action X EQUALS character R!
The case I would like to make here concerns the above quote from the book, which is merely one instance, among many, of Keller offering practical steps Christians OUGHT to take in order to practice "generous justice." This quote is shown only because it could be easily tied in to the sub-prime crisis in America around 2007, whereby loans made to poor people were bad debts which had to be written off, and the accumulation of so much bad debt triggered a financial meltdown. The actions of the banks certainly sounds like rectifying the scenario Keller is painting, by not "redlining" people. We now know, in hindsight, what happened when banks decided to not "redline" those who are poor and in fact encourage the practice of allowing any Tom, Dick and Harry to take loans regardless of their financial status.
The point I want to make is that just because Scripture do tell us to be charitable to the poor does not give any pastor a right to propose solutions (which seems almost always to look and sound like Liberal social justice solutions), besides general teaching. Pastors are not economists, and even economists and politicians are not monolithic on the solutions that should be implemented to help the poor. It is one thing to say that believers should be compassionate and helpful towards the poor, it is another to tell them what policies they should do to help the poor. As it is, why should people accept Keller's solutions as actually helping the poor? Upon what basis should a pastor who is clearly not an economist pontificate about the proper way of dealing with sociatal problems? Furthermore, in hindsight, do we honestly think that allowing anyone to take a loan from any bank for any reason is actually a good idea for all?
Keller's book therefore fails to prove its points. The only thing worth salvaging is that Christians ought to be concerned about the plight of the poor, and I don't need his book to tell me that.
Friday, January 10, 2014
If p, then q. ~q. Therefore ~p
In thinking in general, and philosophy and theology in particular, logic is very important. Logic is the way we think, formulate arguments and prove our theses. Without logic, not only can there be no reasoning, but even words are meaningless since they can mean both A and ~A (not A), or X.
The problem with much of contemporary discussion is that logic is overlooked and even demeaned, and those who are logical are labeled and maybe shunned as "rationalists" (proving that those applying the label have no idea what they are talking about). Logic however has a way of returning with a vengeance, and those who neglect it will pay the price when their arguments fail.
I am currently having an email discussion concerning Vincent Cheung's heresy on theodicy. Part of my argument deals with the issue of unacceptable consequences, which somehow my correspondent fails to get.
This is where basic logic comes into play, which is extremely funny and ironic since Vincent Cheung supposedly priced logic. The argument against Cheung's supposition that God is the author of sin is in the form of a modus tollens, as follows:
p: God is the Author of Sin
q: God's will is divorced from God's nature, or God is evil
If p, then q; ~q, therefore ~p
So the argument is set simply as such. If the conditional statement is true (If p, then q), then a rejection of q must necessarily result in a rejection of p as well. It is altogether irrelevant for one to subsequently claim ~q, that God is good by definition. That is a separate claim that stands in tension with this particular argument. If one insists, as Cheung does, on claiming that God is not evil because of He is good by definition, what does this claim do? It does not vitiate the initial argument at all! Rather, it creates a new argument as follows:
If p, then q. p; ~q; therefore p.
As it can be clearly seen, such an argument is nonsense, for it is logically contradictory and invalid.
Now, one can dispute the truth of the conditional statement, but such is easy to be proved. If God is the Author of evil, which is to say he directly causes evil, then he must do so because his action in causing evil has no relation with his good and pure nature, or that his nature is evil. These are the only two possibilities. Either God is good but does evil, or he is evil and does evil. That is the basic logical law of the excluded middle, and is thus non-negotiable. So if God is evil and does evil, God is evil. But if it were to say that God is good and yet he does evil, then there must be no relation of his nature to his will; the two are divorced from each other. The conditional statement therefore is proven true.
But then the proposition q is actually two propositions, and are both necessarily false? Let us have q1 = God's will is divorced from God's nature, and q2 = God is evil. q2 is most certainly to be rejected. But what about q1? If q1 were to be true, then God's actions are totally arbitrary, since there would be no necessary relations between God's actions and who God is. Is that however how the Scripture portray God? Don't we see the Scripture proclaim who God is as the basis for what He will do for His people? In Numbers 6:23, God's faithfulness and truthfulness and immutability (His nature) function as the basis for why God will do what He has spoken and promised. However, if we have the "God" of Vincent Cheung with his arbitrary actions, God could continue to be faithful, truthful and immutable, but he could change his mind (action) and decided not to fulfil his word. Judge for yourself whether proposition q2 is true to Scripture! It is most certainly not!
That is why everyone should have a course in basic logic, for it exposes a whole bunch of nonsense that tries to pass itself off as something profound. Cheung's theodicy is unbiblical, because its consequences contradict the express teachings of Scripture. It is sad that even such a basic argument in my first article needs to be clearly enunciated in another blog post, which just goes to show how illogical people are.