Friday, January 24, 2020

Adams again on Doug Wilson and FV Baptists

On his blog, Brandon Adams has written an interesting response on the issue of Douglas Wilson and the Federal Vision. You can read it here.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Eternity, essential and accidental attributes

The problem is this. If authority over the Son is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Father, and subordination to the Father is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Son, then something significant follows. Authority is part of the Father’s essence, and subordination is part of the Son’s essence, and each attribute is not part of the essence of the other persons. (Millard J. Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapid, MI: Kregel, 2009), 172)

When it comes to issues of time and eternity, issues of contention are very very difficult to be dealt with. Nowhere is this so when we talk about predication of God. Since God is eternal, does whatever God does in eternity essential to Him? This is the argument put forward by Millard Erickson against what he calls the "gradationist" position, now commonly called ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). The problem when we deal with God in eternity is that we can come across some rather strange difficulties. Let us put the issue of ESS to the side for now. Rather, let us go back to the basics.

When we say that God the Father is the the Father, is Him being the Father necessary or contingent? Surely if we believe in immutability, we must say that God the Father is always God the Father, because there is not where the three persons mutually decided that one of them is the Father, the other the Son, and the last one the Holy Spirit. But if God the Father is always the Father, then is "being the Father" always part of the Father's essence, "being the Son" always part of the Son's essence, and each of these attributes is not part of the "essence of the other persons"? But, you object, there is only one essence in the Godhead. And you are perfectly correct. This is why Erikson's formulation of the supposed problem makes no sense, because what is of the persons is not necessarily predicated of the essence. The "unbegotten-ness" of the Father is not shared with the Son or the Spirit, but this does not imply that "each attribute is not part of the essence of the other persons."

The orthodox formula on the Trinity is: One undivided divine essence subsisting in three divine persons. It is an "unstable" formula, in the sense that it is not at all clear what that means, except that God is truly one, and yet truly three, in different senses. Since that is the case, predications of "necessity" and "contingency" are liable to fallacies. What does it mean for something to be an "essential" attribute of a person, if the person is not the essence (each divine person is fully God, but none of them are the essence apart from the other two)? If each person is distinct from the other, does that not imply that whatever is distinct is not shared between them, as "unbegotten-ness" is not shared with the Son and the Spirit?

This is not to say that there are no difficulties with saying that "authority over the Son is an essential, not an accidental, attribute of the Father." Rather, it is to assert that unless we can be clear about what we mean by "essential" when predicated of a divine person as opposed to the divine being, we cannot assume that the position known as ESS leads to ontological subordination of some kind.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Is there science before the Scientific Revolution?

If historians of science were to investigate past practices and beliefs only insofar as those practices and beliefs resemble modern science, the result would be serious distortion. (David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2)

… they were operating within quite a different linguistic and conceptual world and with different purposes; and it is in the light of these that their achievements must be judged. (p. 9)

The second candidate for early modern revolutionary status is methodological—the invention and practice of the “experimental method” (according to the defenders of this thesis) by such sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientists as Galileo, William Gilbert, Robert Boyle, and many others. According to defenders of this theory, the sterile scholastic debates and syllogistic demonstrations of ancient and medieval natural philosophy came to an end, replaced by experimental science, with its firsthand observation and manipulation under controlled conditions. (p. 362)

For present purposes, I am inclined to define it [the word "experiment" in experimental method" -DHC] narrowly, by what I take to be its primary epistemological function: an attempt to confirm or disconfirm a theoretical claim about the nature or behavior of the material world by an observation (under controlled conditions if necessary) made for that purpose, or the gathering of data against which future anticipated theoretical claims may be tested. (p. 362)

Experimentation continued through the later Middle Ages, wherever it met a scientific need. (p. 363)

… what credit is left for Francis Bacon (1561-1626) popularly celebrated as the founder (or a founder) of experimental science? … what he and the Baconian tradition of the seventeenth century gave us was not a new method of experiment, but a new rhetoric of experiment coupled with full exploitation of the possibilities of experiment in programs of scientific investigation. (p. 364)

Where, then can we locate this elusive revolution of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century science? I believe that Alexandre Koyré, who, in the 1950s and 1960s, disputed Combrie’s focus on experimental science as the revolutionary agent, has put his finder on the right place. The underlying source of revolutionary novelty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, he argued, was metaphysical and cosmological rather than methodological. (p. 364)

Historian of science David Lindberg has written a book showing the intellectual foundations of modern Western science. In its elucidation of intellectual history, I find it compelling. However, Lindberg has seemingly asserted that ancient science is indeed "ancient SCIENCE." My question to that is: Can we actually called what we see prior to the Scientific Revolution "science"?

The question posed here is not to claim that there is no rich intellectual foundations for science prior to the Scientific Revolution. But for science to be "science," it must be distinct from anything that is not science, otherwise the word "science" has lost its meaning. This to me is my main objection to the whole idea of "ancient" or "medieval" science. Lindberg has held up Alexandre Koyré's thesis that the Scientific Revolution was "metaphysical and cosmological rather than methodological" (p. 364). From a philosophical perspective, that seems correct. But I think such is a partial picture, for a shift in metaphysical and cosmological perspective would surely affect one's methodology.

When one does scientific experiments today, one does not appeal to the divine or to spiritual forces as part of one's explanation for why things happen the way they do. The reason is that modern science is committed to what is called "methodological naturalism." That is indeed a philosophical commitment, yet it is necessary for modern science to be "science" as opposed to "philosophy" or "religion." Should science be committed to methodological naturalism? Well, if science is not committed to methodological naturalism, then where is the boundary between "science" and "philosophy," or "science" and "religion"? This is why I find Lindberg's definition of "experimental" in explaining one reason why there is a scientific revolution deficient. Judging by Lindberg's definition of "experimental," certain aspects of philosophy (e.g. that there is a God) and religion (e.g. the resurrection of Christ) can be termed "science," but we do not normally called these "science," do we?

It is because of the necessity of defining our terms properly that I think Lindberg's assertion of continuity between "ancient science" and "modern science" problematic. Rather, it is better to assert that there is a continuity between ancient natural philosophy and modern science. For "science" to be "science," there must be a commitment to methodological naturalism. That being said, I will assert that this is a limitation on science, for anything that is outside the realm of nature can still be true but it is outside science's purview. Thus, I will assert, contra Lindberg, that there was indeed a real scientific revolution that is more than just a shift in rhetoric (that marked the beginnings of modern science). I will further claim that the emergence of modern science does not imply the de-legitimization of anything that is non-science as disciplines that do not convey truth, since an a priori commitment to methodological naturalism precludes science from discovering truth outside of naturalistic events.

The history of Christianity and Science

One of the charges frequently leveled against the church is that it was broadly anti-intellectual—that the leaders of the church preferred faith to reason and ignorance to education. In that, this Is a major distortion. Although Christianity seems at first to have appealed to the poor and disenfranchised, it soon reached out to the upper classes, including the educated. Christians quickly recognized that if the Bible were to be read, literacy would have to be encouraged; and in the long run Christianity became the major patron of education in the Latin West and a major borrower from the classical intellectual tradition. Naturally enough, the kind and level of education and intellectual effort favored by the church fathers was that which supported the mission of the church as they perceived it. But this mission, interestingly, did not include the suppression of scientific investigations and ideas. [David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 (2nd ed.; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992, 2007); 148-9]

If we compare the early church with a modern research university or the National Science Foundation, the church will proved to have failed abysmally as a supporter of science and natural philosophy. But such a comparison is obviously unfair. If, instead, we compare the support given to the study of nature by the early church with the support available from any other contemporary social institution, it will soon become apparent that the church was the major patron of scientific learning. Its patronage may have been limited and selective, but limited and selective patronage is a far cry from opposition.

However, a critic determined to view the early church as an obstacle to scientific progress might argue that the handmaiden status accorded to natural philosophy is inconsistent with the existence of genuine science. True science, the critic might maintain, cannot be handmaiden of anything, but must possess total autonomy; consequently, the “disciplined” science that Augustine sought is no science at all. In fact, this complain misses the mark: totally autonomous science is an attractive ideal, but we do not live in an ideal world. Any many of the most important developments in the history of science have been produced by people committed not to autonomous science, but to science in the service of some ideology, social program, or practical end; for most of its history, the question has not been whether science will function as handmaiden, but which mistress it will serve. (p. 150)

The monasteries served as the transmitters of literacy and a thin veneer of the classical tradition (including science or natural philosophy) through a period when literacy and scholarship were severely threatened. (pp. 156-7)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

The issue of time and (one of) Zeno's Paradox(es)

One of the problems with the whole ESS fiasco, and the so-called recovery of the historic doctrine of God by people like Reformed Baptist James Dolezal, is its uncritical appropriation of Aristotelianism as mediated by Thomas Aquinas. To put it bluntly, these "confessional scholars" are philosophically stuck in the 16th century. They are reasonably well-versed in the Scholastic literature during the Reformed and Post-Reformed period, but they ignore or downplay the reasons why philosophy has dumped Aristotelianism as a whole.

One major issue has to do with the problem of time. Time is something that is hard to grasp, only because we are creatures of time. How do we go about thinking about time when we are bound by time itself? There is no place whereby we can be "objective" about time and the passage of time. It seems prima facie that time progresses, does it not? We can conceive of time moving faster or slower, because time can appear to move faster or slower (even when it does not do so objectively) when we labor at things we enjoy or things we dread. But to conceive of a stoppage of time, or timelessness, or reversal of time, or time loops, all of these are conjectures not available to us except by extrapolation and guesswork. We can deal with it mathematically, but numbers are abstract things which we cannot conceived how it may or may not work out in real life.

One ancient paradox concerning the issue of time in general is Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Hare. In this paradox, the hare is ahead of Achilles by a certain distance (let's say 1 meter). As they race, both Achilles and the hare moved a certain distance in a certain time. In order for Achilles to overtake the hare, he must first cover the distance from him to the initial point of the hare. But during that time, the hare would have moved a certain distance (e.g. 0.1m). Achilles would then still be behind the hare, and must now race to where the hare is currently at. But at distance 1.1m, the hare would have moved 0.01m which Achilles needs to cover, but then the hare would move 0.001m, and so on. The paradox here asserts that if motion is possible, then Achilles would need to cover an infinite series of distances in order to catch up and overtake the hare. Since it is not possible to cover an infinite series of motions, the fact that Achilles can actually overtake the hare suggests that motion and change does not truly exist—they are illusionary.

For those from a scientific background, the "solution" to Zeno's Paradox of Achilles and the hare seemed easy enough. After all, it is a mere addition of a set to infinity of (1 + 0.1 + 0.01 + 0.001 +...). Or rather it can be expressed as follows:

Therefore Achilles will pass the hare at distance 1-1/9m. There, problem solved, but has the paradox actually been resolved?

We must remember that the key point of the paradox is not that Achilles will not overtake the hare. Rather, the key point of the paradox is that true motion, true change, cannot exist. The argument is a philosophical reductio ad absurdum concerning the nature of motion and time. It is not an empirical question at all. Just as in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, just because something is empirically seen does not necessarily imply that what is seen and what is perceived is indicative of true reality. Zeno's paradox is a question on reality itself, not empirically how things work. One might as well "disprove" Zeno by merely arranging a race between Achilles and a hare and showing that Achilles does in fact overtake the hare, easily, and it would still prove nothing. Why is the overtaking not a mere illusion, and that actually change is not real, but everything merely exists? Already, in modern physics under a B-series interpretation of space-time, time itself is a dimension and therefore nothing really changes, since the 4-D tesseract of space-time is "fixed" (in a universe without any higher dimensional beings or gods/God), and therefore space-time is determined right from "the start."

Science therefore cannot address Zeno's paradox. Since it deals with empirical reality, it cannot, until and unless there is a way to get us time-bound creatures out of the dimension of space-time (and I do not mean tunneling from one point of space-time to another point in space-time, but to be independent of space-time altogether). So how then should we deal with this paradox, but by rational philosophical inquiry?

One way, the way I think would address this paradox, is to point out how, as Achilles reached the next place of the hare, the time taken for each part in the series gets shorter and shorter. Let's say Achilles took 1 second to reach the hare's first position. He will then take 0.1 seconds to reach the hare's second position, and 0.01 seconds to reach the hare's third position. One would get a decreasing infinite series for the time traveled for Achilles to overtake the hare, and therefore it seems that we will never reach the "point" in time whereby Achilles overtake the hare. However, since there are two infinite series of time and distance, dividing the two infinite series gives us a finite (non-serial) speed of 1 m/s. One can therefore assert that the "infinite" aspect of the paradox is illusionary, since motion in terms of speed is not an infinite series but a finite number. Therefore, following Aristotle, I would say that seeing motion as a continuum instead of moving from point to point in space-time would solve the paradox quite nicely.

However Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the hare is solved, Zeno's paradox (not by itself) points to an even deeper issue concerning the nature of time itself (and thus indirectly opens the paradox again to mystery). We talk about time as "here," "before," and "after," or "now," "yesterday," and "tomorrow." But what exactly is this thing called "now"? John McTaggart has given an argument why time itself is not real. This is reflected in Zeno's paradox as one considers the infinite series of temporal instances Achilles must cover to overtake the hare. So while we can perhaps prove that motion seems real (since speed is a finite non-serial number), how do we, or can we, prove the reality of time? And if time is not real, then space is not real and motion becomes a mere mathematical number depicting the relation of two unreal things.

As with time, thus goes the notion of "eternity." "Eternity" is defined as an "infinity" with regards to time. When we say God is "eternal," what we mean is that God is infinite with respects to time But what does this mean when the notion of "time" itself gets questioned?

To untangle all these will not be easy, and this article is not meant to give all the answers to these questions, although I have suggested a preliminary approach here. The main point of this post rather is to show, by appeal to Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the Hare, that issues concerning time and eternity are so much more complicated than our modern "confessional theologians" make it out to be. Adopting Thomism as orthodoxy is not a virtue but a step backward in the wrong direction. If we are to be interested in truth, then we should wrestle with the actual issues involved when we talk about terms like "time" and "eternity," or even "temporal attributes," instead of going back to the "Golden Age" of "Reformed Scholasticism," which definitely has its strengths but many weaknesses also, chief among them its wholesale embrace of Aristotelianism.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Evangelicals, and social and political issues

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8)

In light of Christianity Astray Today's nonsensical editorial (see here for example for a rebuttal against leftist politicking), it is pertinent to go back to the principle of Christian social and political engagement. Engaging in social issues, and sociopolitical issues, it is asserted, is a way to not bifurcate the Christian faith and act in obedience to Micah 6:8, to "do justice." The church ought to be engaged in justice in social issues, it is claimed. But how should we engage with social issues? One pastor in Singapore has asserted that when it comes to social issues, the key thing under consideration is whether something is "biblical" or "not biblical," not whether something is "left" or "right." The funny thing is that if that is the case, then why is he advocating for leftist issues while refusing to engage in "political right" issues? Why is "political right" issues seen as "imposition" while "political left" issues are not seen likewise as "imposition"?

As it should be evident from someone who looks at "Evangelical" sociopolitical interaction, "Evangelicals" are basically naive and ignorant on this issue. The whole idea that one can be focused only on "biblical" and "not biblical" categorization is, quite frankly, un-Christian. Both the "Religious Right" and the "Religious Left" claim that their social engagement is "biblical" and their opponents' social engagement is "doing politics." Just like everyone has a default tradition, so likewise everyone has a default sociopolitical tendency. The way to be biblical and not bound by tradition is to understand one's tradition and be critical of it. The way to be biblical and not bound by one's sociopolitical tendency likewise is to understand one's sociopolitical tendency and be critical of it. Otherwise, what happens when "Evangelicals" want to engage social issues is that they baptize whatever sociopolitical tendencies they have imbibed from their environment. Those brought up in a political right environment will assert that their political right approach to social issue is biblical, while those brought up in a political left environment will assert that their political left approach to social issues is biblical.

The assertion has been made that Evangelicals after the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy have lost the practice of social activism they were engaged in prior to that controversy, and thus Evangelicalism today has a truncated faith. That might be true (depending on how one understands the genesis of Evangelicalism), but how should one engage social issues? If one really wants to be biblical in social engagement, then one has to be critical of one's sociopolitical tendency, a trait which is seldom seen, if at all, in Evangelical social engagement.

It has been argued by Mark Noll that the scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there is no real mind in Evangelicalism. Likewise, I will assert that the scandal of Evangelical social engagement is that there is no mind or real social engagement in Evangelical social engagement. Evangelical social action cannot even be categorized as "biblical," or "non-biblical." Rather, the real categorization of Evangelical social engagement is "worldly," or "reactive." From Jerry Falwell to Tim Keller, Evangelical social engagement is anti-intellectual, anti-reflective, and more about emotions than propositions.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

On Gender Roles and Society

The problem with Miller’s approach is there are no such thing as “man-actions,” and “woman-actions.” Both genders can do any action depending on the context! The nature of men and women are not dependent on what action they are currently doing, especially when the same action word can mean different things for both men and women. For example, the leadership of Deborah was one that seek to encourage a man to take up leadership (Barak; Jdg. 4:6-7), while the men in leadership in Israel do not do so. By focusing on actions instead of the manner of how things are done, Miller gives the impression that there is no essential difference (besides biology) between men and women in their natures, which is essentially the egalitarian position. [-DHC, from my review of Rachel Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission]

The crushing normalcy of egalitarianism pervades modern culture today. Egalitarianism is the air that we breathe, so much so that it take tremendous effort to not think in terms of egalitarian terms. That is likely why Rachel Miller is a social egalitarian, because the church focuses (as it should to a certain degree) most of her efforts on the church and less on how the Bible orders how men and women ought to reflect the glory of God in Creation. The Church rightly teaches concerning Redemption, yet its teaching on Creation is sorely lacking, which is why so-called "soft complementarianism" has emerged in supposed orthodox Reformed circles.

As I have alluded to in my review of Miller's book, I agree that there are no "men" and "women" actions, but that the manner of doing such actions are to be informed by nature which includes gender. (For general purposes, I treat "sex" and "gender" as interchangeable terms.) Some people may think that this implies that a woman can do anything a man can. But such is not what I am asserting. Rather, I am saying that men and women can do all actions, which is different from saying they can do all things interchangeably. The case in point is the action of leading, where I contrasted the action of leading of Deborah to the action of leading of any male leader in Israel. Deborah's leading is a deferential leading, a leading because of a lack of leadership. The correct way of understanding Deborah is not that she wants to lead, but she leads because there is no competent male judge at that time, and Barak refuses to take the lead even after being asked to do so.

Thus, there is a distinction between an action, and the context and persons involved in the action. Unlike many complementarians, I do not like to give concrete applications of what a man can or cannot do. Application of what God has taught concerning gender is a matter of wisdom, not law. The principles however should be taught concerning gender roles, and who one is in his or her nature ought to influence how one acts and behaves in life, including in society. Having said that, there are some issues of which we should have no ambiguity over. To have women in the armed forces in combat vocations is definitely wrong, for how can one think that having the potentiality of women dying in wars to defend the country is ever acceptable? Or how about women being the top ruler(s) in a country? All of these are contrary to the principles of Creation ordered by God, and thus should be rejected by Christians.

In today's fallen, non-Christian world, such things and more have become increasingly common, under the so-called push for "equal rights." As Christians living in secular countries, we submit to the ruling authorities no matter how wicked they are. That does not however mean that we endorse what is happening as something good. Christians must submit to female prime ministers, but we should not think that is a good thing, and we must agree that such a person if she were in our churches should be investigated for possible church discipline. We live as dual citizens. As earthly citizens, we submit to earthly authority, but as heavenly citizens, we testify to the evils of the earthly kingdom, including its violation of the Natural Law given by God.

On the one hand, we must acknowledge the ethical equality of men and women, On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ontological inequality of men and women. Men and women are not the same and will never be the same, no matter what nonsense the world says in her wickedness. All of these we must not only hold intellectually, but also practice as best as we can, living as counter-cultural witness to the Kingship of God in this world, not just in Redemption but also in Creation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: Beyond Authority and Submission, by Rachel Green Miller

I have finally managed to find the time to read the book and write a review of Rachel Green Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society. The review can be seen here. An excerpt:

The Church in the West (which bleeds into the Global Church) is currently facing many challenges without and within the church. In the later half of the 20th century, Christians in America reacted against radical feminism and re-asserted the biblical teaching of complementarianism, with its flagship organization being the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Its opponent within Christendom is egalitarianism, held by many who have been influenced by feminism. ... [more]

To summarize one critical part of my review, Miller's book is promoting social egalitarianism while holding on to a weak form of ecclesial complementarianism (male-only ordination). Her book is disingenuous in her portrayal of those she disagrees with, and her citation of sources is unscholarly and less than acceptable for someone who has been given an oversized platform to promote her aberrant views.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cinedoc: By What Standard?

The Cinedoc produced by Founder Ministries is finally released, and it can be watched here. Although it deals mainly with issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, the issues will spill over into other churches and denominations in this globalized world.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Errant doctrinal points of the Federal Vision

The Federal Vision started out as a biblicist reformed program. Over time, it began to systematize its thoughts, and the final document (at least that I know of) that showed its main doctrines is the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession. So what exactly does the Federal Vision believe? While there are various elements of Federal Vision, here are some key points of the Federal Vision that are contrary to the Christian faith:

  1. Election is immutable and the elect will always be saved. However, not everyone who is in the Covenant of Grace is elect and will be saved. Some in the Covenant are truly and really in the Covenant of Grace, but they chose to apostatize from the faith and thus are not truly elect.(Decretal/Covenant Dialectic)
  2. Apostasy is a true falling away from a real participation in the Covenant of Grace.
  3. The visible church refers to all professing Christians who may or may not be elect. However, all in the visible church are in the Covenant of Grace (unless they apostatize). The invisible church is currently not present, but will be manifest at the end times (invisible is eschatological), where it will be manifest who in the visible church have shown themselves to be truly elect because they did not apostatize from the faith but are faithful to the Covenant. (True faith is a 'living faith'))
  4. There may be a Covenant of Life with Adam (some FVists deny this). But even if there is a Covenant of Life with Adam, all of God's covenants have essentially the same form. There may be different parties, different conditions, and different rewards. However, all of God's covenants have the form: "Believe in God, be faithful, and you will live" (Monocovenantal Legalism)
  5. There is no Law-Gospel hermeneutic. All of Scripture can be Law to those who do not believe. All of Scripture will be Gospel to those who believe.

You will note that I did not once mention the word "baptism" in those errant points. This it not because baptism is not important in Federal Vision, because they (in common with the orthodox Reformed) see baptism as the rite of covenant initiation, but rather their error lies in their view of the covenant, while the issue with baptism is merely the outworking of their doctrinal errors in practical church life. That is why I have said that Baptists can be Federal Vision, because the Federal Vision is all about their view of the nature of God's covenants, not the nature of baptism.

[See also: For those just turning in: What is the Federal Vision?]

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Why Douglas Wilson remains Federal Vision, and is wrong

It seems the article by Brandon Adams has caught the attention of the biggest name in Federal Vision, Douglas Wilson, who has responded in his article entitled with a slight against R. Scott Clark (RSC). Wilson claims he is orthodox, and denies that he holds to any of the five points of Federal Vision summarized by Dr. Clark.

For me, I have no desire to interact with Wilson on the issue of RSC's five points, which are simplified summaries of Federal Vision. Rather my point is note the following: Wilson remains Federal Vision, and his Federal Vision is biblically wrong.

First, Wilson is and remains Federal Vision. In his supposed "recanting" of Federal Vision, Federal Vision No Mas, Wilson wrote the following:

This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe. ... I would still want affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement, ...

In other words, Wilson does not want to be called Federal Vision because he does not want to own everything that is under the umbrella of Federal Vision. That for sure is fair enough. Wilson does not want to be lumped in with people like Leithart or Jordan. What he believes is what he believes, and others do not speak for him. However, what did he say he believes? He states that he would still "affirm everything ... in the Federal Vision statement," referring to the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession, which I have shown to be in error here. In other words, Wilson remains Federal Vision, as he has not recanted signing the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession.

Second, Wilson's version of Federal Vision remains heretical. As one reads Wilson's article, note that nothing in the article precludes the Federal Vision understanding of salvation. We must remember to read it using the dialectical pairs of decretal versus covenantal, and invisible/ eschatological versus visible/ present. Wilson claims he is following the WCF when he states that faith is a living faith, but here he misquotes WCF 11.2, whereby the part of the living faith is mentioned only after what faith is has already been described in the first part of WCF 11.2. A living faith is living as a consequence of faith, not because obedience is necessary for faith itself, but because faith necessarily leads to obedience. Thus, Wilson is still a neonomian despite his protests to the contrary.

What is most illuminating in Wilson's article however is where Wilson shows his FV heresy in his comment to Adams, as follows:

Brandon, thanks. Not a contradiction. There is a difference between the condition of the covenant itself and the condition for keeping the covenant. The central aspect of the first covenant was to believe what God said about not eating the fruit. The central aspect of the second covenant is to believe what God said about the resurrection of Jesus. But men, always and everywhere, must believe God. Right?

As it can be seen, for Wilson, the Covenant of Works has the condition of believing God by not eating the fruit. The Covenant of Grace has the condition of believing God by believing in the resurrection of Christ. What is the condition for the first covenant? Faith. What is the condition for the second covenant? Also faith. In Wilson's view, the Covenant of Works is not "Do this and live" (c.f. Lev. 18:5), while the Covenant of Grace is not "believe and you will live." No, rather, both are "believe and do to live." That obedience is necessary for salvation is seen in a subsequent comment, where Wilson said, in reference to God's covenants, "One of the common characteristics on our side is that all of us would have to do what He says. We would have to comply, or be obedient."

One of the reasons why I called Federal Vision monocovenantal legalism is that it is monocovenantal, where the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace have the same form (not necessarily the same content). It is legalism because in both covenants, obedience is necessary to the covenant. Whereas in orthodox Reformed Covenant Theology, obedience is necessary for the Covenant of Works, but our obedience is absolutely unnecessary for the Covenant of Grace. Our evangelical obedience comes AFTER the covenant has been established, AFTER salvation has already been determined. Once someone is in the Covenant of Grace, there is nothing that can cause the person to fall away, and nothing means nothing including disobedience. That is what perseverance of the saints actually teach, that even the person saved cannot "undo" his salvation. Again, this is not to say obedience is not important for the Christian. But it has nothing to do with the basis for salvation, under the Covenant of Grace.

That Wilson see obedience as necessary for both covenants to be saved proves he is still an unrepentant Federal Vision heretic, and therefore should be avoided as someone who pays lip service to Justification by Faith Alone yet undermines it in the very next breath.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Again: Can Baptists be Federal Visionists?

[Previous posts on this here and here]

In his article, Brandon Adams wrote an analytic overview of the issues concerning the White/Wilson/ Clark kerfuffle. One major issue is whether Baptists can become or be influenced by Federal Vision (FV). Adams argued that Baptists cannot become Federal Visionists, but they can become influence by it to become neonimians.

On the question as to whether Baptists can be Federal Visionists, my response would be, "How do you define Federal Vision?" Does being FV imply full assent to every single proposition in the 2007 Joint FV Statement? Or is it affiliation with CREC (Confederacy of Reformed and Evangelical Churches)? Or something else? Certainly, if Federal Vision is taken in its fullness, then sure, Baptists cannot be Federal Visionists. But are there certain core aspects of Federal Vision that Baptists can assimilate into their beliefs? Most certainly.

The core belief of Federal Vision that should be the most concerning for Christians is the issue of the nature of faith. Look again at the Joint FV Statement on the topic of Justification by Faith Alone:

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

As I had written, the Joint FV Statement redefines fiducia from a passive reception of Christ into an active faithfulness. That is why it is claimed that the parts of faith are "assent, knowledge and living trust." That faithfulness is understood as being of the nature of saving faith is seen in its chapter on apostasy, whereby it is affirmed that apostasy is a real cutting off that is not "merely external." That means that the person who once had faith but was cut off was indeed a true Christian. Yes, he is not "decretally elect," but that is because there is a dialectic at work here between decree and covenant. The "decree" is eschatological, not actually present in real time in full. That is why a person who come to have faith is treated as covenantally of the elect (because covenant is the category in time), whereas whether he truly is "decretally" elect must await final confirmation without apostasy at the last day.

The question then is can Baptists adopt these dialectical pairs (decretal/ covenantal, visible/invisible church) without at the same time adopting the FV view of children. I do not see a reason why not. But if that is the case, can those Baptists be called FVists? Honestly, the label is not that important to me (whether FV or Neonomian). But why I think FV is a better label for that error is that neonomianism itself does not have these dialectical pairs. Neonomianism in itself merely states that obedience to the law is necessary (antecedent) for a Christian's salvation. Whereas these dialectical pairs come about through a more holistic view of biblical and covenantal theology. What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from adopting a dialectic between decree and covenant, or between the visible and invisible church? What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from holding faithfulness as necessary (antecedent) for salvation?

Can Baptists be Federal Visionists? Not if you think Federal Visionists must included inclusion of children in the covenant. But since it is possible to reject that while agreeing with the other parts of the FV theology, Baptists can indeed be "credobaptist FVists."

[P.S.: Yes, while the Joint FV Statement was not written to be "a confessional statement by any ecclesiastical assembly or body," yet it can function as a legitimate expression of FV theology]

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The "Doctrinal Triage"

For his Masters of Divinity degree, Eric Powers has written a thesis entitled "Is there any Biblical Warranty for the Doctrinal Triage," which can be accessed here. In this 2016 thesis, Powers argues that there is no biblical warrant for the doctrinal triage: the view that doctrines can be split into first-order, second-order, and third-order doctrines. Citing Al Mohler, among others, the triage is described as follows: first-order doctrines are those that are non-negotiable; second-order doctrines are those that are "denominational distinctives" and are doctrines that, while serious, Christians can disagree with without calling salvation into question; third-order doctrines are less serious doctrines that Christians can disagree on within a church (pp. 13-14). Powers engages some of the texts used to support this notion of doctrinal triage and shows that they do not in fact promote this teaching. Rather, any claim of order of doctrine is one of the relation of foundation to the building. In this view, the foundational doctrines are required for the other doctrines, yet there is no sense in which we can say that the doctrines built upon that foundation is any 'less important' or 'less essential' than the foundational doctrines required for them. Interestingly enough, Powers appealed to the unity (and simplicity) of God to ground his view that all doctrines are "relevant to the believer and are equally true" (p. 68; pp. 68-73).

Coming from a confessional perspective means that I do not start with a view of doctrinal importance based on some notion of triage. At the same time, the doctrinal triage is practiced in broad Evangelicalism, under various names, and it is clear that it has been used (or abused) to allow for toleration of doctrinal errors within the church. This thesis is indeed a helpful piece of work as it addresses the tendency within Evangelicalism to water down and downplay doctrinal differences among professing Christians and churches.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The sordid state of American Reformed Christianity on Twitter

On October 11, 2019, I had posted a response to Todd Pruit's tweet attacking a paragraph written by Douglas Wilson. In response to this, as I had previously commented on, Dr. Clark decided to block me on Twitter:

So as it can be seen, there are some against the FV who are factionalists. But what about the opposite side? Well, I decided to attempt to engage Richard Pierce of Alpha and Omega Ministries on Twitter, in a thread as follows:

My somewhat sketchy screenshots of the entire thread is as follows:

Despite my attempt at genuine conversation, Pierce decided that he has no wish to engage, slandered me as an "inquisitor" alongside my "inquisitor friends," and blocked me.

I guess I should not be astonished any longer, but I am astonished that Christian leaders on Twitter are now behaving like the world. I assert that one must be truthful even about Douglas Wilson, and I get blocked by one side. I attempted to reason that Federal Vision is a heresy attacking the faith, and I got blocked by the other side. Is there any Christian leader left on American Reformed Twitter that has some semblance of maturity, instead of behaving like children in a schoolyard!? How is all such refusal to actually engage the issue helpful for the truth? Both sides are like two kids screaming at each other from opposite sides of the hallway, refusing to engage. And these are our pastors and theologians?! God help us.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Who can partake of the Lord's Supper?

If you have received Christ and are resting upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to you in the gospel, if you are a baptized and professing communicant member in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ ... ["The Directory for the Public Worship of God," III.C.3. In: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (2011 Edition) (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2011)]

According to confessional Reformed practice and piety, who should be partaking of the Lord's Supper? If we take seriously the commands of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, then we must say that the Lord's Supper is not open to anyone and everyone. Those who partake of it illegitimately eat and drink damnation upon themselves. I shudder when I see parents in certain (non-Reformed) churches break pieces of the consecrated bread and give it to their children. How can they hate their children so much to invite judgment upon them? But I digress.

If the Lord's Supper is not to be open to anyone and everyone, and most certainly it is to be taken in a spirit of reverence (instead of the irreverence of the Corinthians which had gotten them killed in judgment), then the Church ought to guard the Supper. The guarding of the Supper is not to protect the elements, for we do not believe they are transformed into the divine substance in any way. Rather, from the passage in 1 Corinthians, the practice of "guarding the Supper" is meant to protect those who partake of it. Guarding of the Supper is meant to protect the irreverent from eating and drinking further judgment upon themselves. As a sacrament given to the Church, it is the Church that administers it to God's people. Therefore, as a church-instituted ritual, other qualifications soon come to bear to ensure that the Lord's Supper is to be properly administered.

In the conflict that is the Reformation, the Reformers inquired into the nature of the true church. The signs of the true church, according to the Reformed tradition, are: the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Lord's Supper, and the right administration of church discipline. In order for the Lord's Supper to be properly administered, it must be administered in both elements (Bread and wine), by a minister rightly ordained, in a true church that preaches the Gospel, to church members who are not under legitimate church discipline. The phrase in Reformed circles for legitimate partakers of the Lord's Supper therefore can be framed to be for "members of good standing, in a church of like faith." It is of course agreed that only Christians can partake of the Supper. But besides that, the qualifications for someone to partake of the Supper is encapsulated in that phrase, which will be unpacked as follows.

The first qualification for partaking of the Supper is that someone is a church member. Since the Supper is an ecclesial ritual, a rite given to the Church, only those who are members of churches can partake. Since we are saved into the church, it stands to reason that those without membership in a church are not affiliated with the institution of salvation and thus should not partake of the Supper.

The second qualification is that the one partaking is a communicant member. This is obvious since the Supper is to be done "in remembrance of me." Non-communicant covenant children have not yet come to a profession of faith and thus cannot fulfil what is commanded of believers to do.

The third qualification is that the member must be a "member in good standing." This means that the member is not being placed under legitimate church discipline for sins committed in his life. Grievous unrepentant sin is a scourge in the church, and must be dealt with just as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 5:5. The term "legitimate" is stressed since the false church always persecutes the true church, just as Martin Luther and the Reformers were excommunicated by the apostate Late Medieval Catholic Church.

Fourthly, the one who partakes must be in a member in "a church of like faith." What this means is that it is recognized that his church is a true church "of like faith." The Reformers struggled against both the emerging Roman Catholicism and the Anabaptists. If the church is a false church, then someone being a member therein means nothing whatsoever since that is not a church. Progressing further in history, we have the Arminian controversy in early 17th century Dutch Reformed Christianity, where the Classical Arminians were kicked out of the church for false teaching. Some of the expelled ministers in time form their own Arminian churches. Since these ministers are under church discipline themselves, their churches are not biblical and neither can membership in them be considered true church membership in true churches.

With the emergence of Evangelicalism in the late 18th century, the issue of what constitute a true church "of like faith" becomes more difficult to discern. Evangelicalism to a large extent believes in the true Gospel, so it seems that members in their churches can be considered members of churches "of like faith." On the other hand, particularly with New Evangelicalism, heretics of all sorts abound within, extending even to entire churches. So how does one discern whether a membership in a church is a membership of a "church of like faith"?

Concerning this, much discernment and wisdom is required. In some sense, it can be said that Evangelical churches meet the criteria for being "churches of like faith." Yet, in another sense, they do not since many of them tolerate heretics and heresies in their midst. Thus, the "line" if you will is not so clear cut, running somewhere between Evangelicalism broadly and confessional Reformed churches only, narrowly. Generally speaking, members in Reformed churches can be considered "of like faith" while those in Evangelicalism should be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Who are those therefore who can partake of the Lord's Supper? They are to be believers, members in good standing, in a church of like faith. Failing to meet either of these criteria means that one should not partake of the Supper, even if one truly believes in Christ for salvation, so that the Supper is not defiled by the stain of someone taking it improperly, resulting in judgment upon the one partaking.