Monday, August 13, 2018

The strength and weakness of Evangelicalism

The strength of evangelicalism is its minimalism. … [This] has afforded not only a wide berth for cooperation but also a laser focus on contested points. The weakness of evangelicalism is also its minimalism. Doctrinal minimalism in one generation can be a way of focusing the fight; in another, the path to doctrinal indifference. [Michael Horton, “Prologue: What are We Celebrating?,” in Matthew Barrett, ed., Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 15-6]

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

North Florida Presbytery (PCA) objects to using sin as identifier marker

The PCA North Florida Presbytery has produced an interesting study committee report on the recent issue, as seen in the Revoice conference, where sin was used as an identifier marker amidst a demand for inclusion. You can read the committee report here.

[HT: Heidelblog]

Monday, August 06, 2018

On Reformed Piety

Earlier this year I started a series on Reformed piety, in contrast to Evangelical piety. I had then decided to take the project offline and finish it first, so here is the completed document. Two excerpts, one from the introduction:

What is Reformed piety? Or is there such a thing as Reformed piety, as distinct from Evangelical piety? For those of us who do not identify as "Evangelicals," and that even before the term has become politicized during and after the election of US President Donald Trump, we do see a difference between Reformed piety and Evangelical piety. We do this, not out of a blind following of tradition, but because of what we see as being taught in Scripture and in light of the implications of Scripture.

And another from the conclusion:

Reformed piety stems from Reformed theology, while Evangelical piety stems from the social settings of Evangelicalism. The distinctives of being Reformed is to be confessional, orthodox, reverent and orderly, while the distinctives of being Evangelical is to be conversionist, activist, Biblicist, and crucicentrist. ...

You can access the entire document here.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Robert Letham on the Trinity and so-called subordinationism

[In rejecting Kevin Giles' accusation of ESS as subordinationism] Giles is right that all three persons are engaged in all of God's works and ways. However, only the Son—not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit— entered into hypostatic union with our humanity, and he did so forever. ...

His [the Son's -DHC] sending preceded his incarnation, and so his incarnate life and ministry can (as appropriate) reveal something of his eternal relations. If this were not so, we would be left with agnosticism, in flat contradiction to Jesus' own words that he who has seen him (in his lowliness) has seen the Father (John 14:9 et al.). ... [Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 494]

Giles even cites one of his heroes, Athanasius, to the effect that the divine Son willingly subordinated himself in the Incarnation (p. 37). But, we may ask, if he did so in the Incarnation without jeopardy to his deity, why is this not so in eternity? Since he has permanently united to himself the assumed human nature, does it not follow as something appropriate for the Son in his exaltation as well as in his humiliation, not as a slave to a master, but in the loving and willing communion of coequals? [Ibid., 495]

Quick, someone tell the "confessionalist" "pro-Nicene" crowd to take out their torches and pitchforks and start an inquisition of the "proto-Arian subordinationist heretic" Robert Letham...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

On Multiculturalism

What is "Multiculturalism"? Many countries today hold to "multiculturalism," but it is not so easy to get a precise definition of the term from them. The term simply means "a theory of many cultures," but besides this it is unclear exactly what it means. In some circles, multiculturalism is extolled as a sign of an enlightened and tolerant society. In other circles, it is demonized as an evil leading to the destruction of Western culture(s). Which is it, exactly? I would suggest that when one actually looks at the term and how it is used, it is both. There are two basic definitions of "multiculturalism," and the two are often confused and conflated by both those for and against multiculturalism. If we are to achieve clarity on the topic, we will need to understand the two different definitions, following which we can then understand how we ought to understand "multiculturalism."

Among those who extol multiculturalism, "multiculturalism" is taken to mean a celebration of cultural diversity. Different peoples from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities come together and mix freely with each other. The various peoples do not have to give up their own specific cultures but rather each diverse culture is celebrated as contributing to the overall richness of society. Whether it is in terms of dress, food or even ethnic festivals, everyone is free to live according to their own culture, without being coerced to change, to conform to another culture.

On the other side, "multiculturalism" is seen as an evil that has resulted in the destruction of their own [Western] culture(s). Particularly in Europe, their view of "multiculturalism" is slanted from watching how "multiculturalism" works out in real life in their towns, their cities and their countries. Welcoming people from diverse cultures has resulted in many immigrants who do not assimilate into the host country, with some not even speaking the native language well. They watch as some of these foreigners come in and violate the social norms of their country, take money in welfare, and do not contribute to society. Also, while not all migrants do so, a sizable minority of migrants commit heinous crimes against the native populace, like mass rape, while the police ignore their plight out of a fear not to appear racist. They watch as their own cultures are belittled in their own country, Christianity denigrated, while it seems that the professed religion of those who commit acts of terrorism is extolled while the terrorists are treated with kids' gloves. Note here: We are not at this moment claiming whether their perception is right or wrong, but merely to note what they have perceived (whether rightly or wrongly). The rejection of "multiculturalism" by the hoi polloi in many Western societies stems from what they have seen first-hand happening in their own societies.

As with anyone who is committed to searching for the truth, and genuinely desiring to understand both the issues being discussed and people being affected by social ideologies, it is imperative to understand what is happening on the ground. It seems obvious, except it is a glaring fault of the elites of the world where they do not really know or care about what is actually happening on the ground. That is why the elites were blindsided and shocked when Brexit or the election of Donald Trump as the American President happened. The elites somehow managed to insulate themselves from the ground, despite appearing to be knowledgeable about many things. And throwing epithets like "racist," "white supremacist," etc etc only produce heat but not light, fomenting enmity instead of understanding.

The first definition of "multiculturalism," extolled by the elites and idealized as a most perfect social good, I would term "social multiculturalism." It might be the "multiculturalism" seen by the elites, because they get to walk around and enjoy the diverse foods, clothes and other such cultural products, while remaining safe in their gated enclaves. In other words, the elites get to enjoy the positives of multiculturalism without any of the negative consequences. No, it is left to the hoi polloi to suffer any negative consequences. If some of the migrants are criminals, the elites will generally be protected from them since they do not stay in the same neighborhood and walk the same streets at night. "Social multiculturalism," as limited to the social sphere, is the belief that diversity of cultures is to be celebrated as a social good.

Alongside this "social multiculturalism" is "philosophical multiculturalism," which is a philosophical value claim about both the diverse cultures and the lifestyle that allows for the celebration of diverse cultures. The liberal elites move smoothly from one (social multiculturalism) to the other (philosophical multiculturalism) without much thought. Philosophical multiculturalism is the value judgment that all cultures and all cultural values are equally good as each other. Also, as a celebration of all cultures, it must relativize all cultures as equally false, in the sense that any truth claims of any culture is to be rejected as being false. All cultures are to be treated as experiences not as actual claimants to how things ought to be. Therefore, in actual fact, "multiculturalism" has become THE culture by which all other traditional cultures must kowtow to. Since it is primarily Western culture that the Western liberals faced, and which they reject, Western culture(s) is regularly denigrated and Christianity incessantly mocked.

Reality however has a way to ruin false ideologies, and nowhere more so than philosophical multiculturalism. Logically, if all cultures are equally true, or equally false, then upon what basis can liberals impose their "multiculturalism" culture on us? In reality, thanks to misbehaving immoral adherents of some cultures, the liberals are placed in a bind whether to condemn the immoral parts of certain cultures, or to allow immorality to thrive. In the case of Europe, the epidemic of mass rape has falsified philosophical multiculturalism, if only liberals had brains to think it through.

The fact is that not all cultures are equal. There is good in all cultures, but some cultures have certain aspects that are just evil. Toleration and celebration of all cultures comes from a Pelagian view of Man and of culture. Since Man is fallen, there is evil in all cultures. But since Man is created in the image of God, there is also good in all cultures. By virtue of how the world develops, some cultures will be more moral than others, and other cultures will be so depraved, like the Aztecs with their practice of human sacrifices, that it almost seem that there is nothing good in them. Will any of the liberals defend the notion that offering human sacrifices to the gods is morally right, and that the Spanish were evil in eradicating human sacrifices? I sincerely doubt so, but then, who knows?

Philosophical multiculturalism is false, but what about social multiculturalism? If one were to reject the immoral aspects of various cultures, social multiculturalism by itself is morally neutral. Liberals place value in diversity, but diversity in itself has no inherent virtue. Diversity might be good because of a richer life experience, but then diversity is good here only subjectively, and in service of what one perceives as a richer life, which is itself subjective. Social multiculturalism can however be a positive good if utilized in the service of allowing people from different backgrounds and cultures to coexist peacefully. It is therefore not a surprise when multi-ethnic countries promote multiculturalism. In this, however, we must differentiate between the two senses of "multiculturalism" and reject its philosophical sense, as it is self-contradictory and contrary to the facts on the ground.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Response: On Emergentism and Consciousness

On Creation.com, Paul Price wrote an article arguing that consciousness cannot be a property that emerges from matter. According to Price, consciousness has the property of freedom of choice, while emergent properties are solely derived from laws of nature, and therefore do not have real freedom. Therefore, consciousness cannot emerged out of nature. Since that is the case, the more sophisticated atheism that utilizes emergentism is left without an explanation for human consciousness. But is this actually an argument that we should use, and is it sound?

With the failure of Neo-Darwinian materialism to account for higher level immaterial things like the mind, as demonstrated by Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos, emergentism is the current theory in vogue. In Nagel's emergentism, matter itself has inbuilt mental properties which, when constituted in for example a human being, will give rise to consciousness. This does not mean that everything has consciousness, for the whole point of Nagel's emergentism is not that all matter has consciousness, but that all matter has the potential when properly constituted to produce consciousness.

If we assume Nagel's theory of panpsychism to be correct (for the sake of argument), would Price's argument actually hold true? I would suggest not. If matter in itself has mental properties, then it would stand to reason that the emerging consciousness would have true freedom of choice. Yes, things that emerge emerge in a manner consistent with laws, but that does not mean that the thing that emerged is therefore constrained by laws. [Otherwise we would commit the logical fallacy of composition.] Since Nagel would presumably hold that one of the metal properties [of matter] is the freedom of choice, therefore the individual consciousness that emerged will also have and will express freedom of choice. The beauty of emergentism is that matter itself, since it has not been properly constituted, does not express mental properties since consciousness has not emerged, and it is therefore for all intents and purposes without consciousness or cognition, but it can [sortof] explain how an individual person can come to possess consciousness, cognition and value.

Now, one may disagree with Nagel's emergentism, which I do. But it cannot be denied that Nagel's emergentism has produced answers that are somewhat plausible to account for many immaterial things from an atheistic point of view. The problem with Nagel's emergentism is that his emergentism is actually a form of pantheism more than atheism, with all its attendant problems. But as an explanation of consciousness, I think Nagel has done a decent job of explaining it while remaining (nominally) an atheist. It is for this reason that I think that Price's argument fails, because his argument is formulated against pure materialism, which is not what emergentist philosophers like Nagel actually hold to and believe.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

On Reformed Piety: Defining Evangelicalism (Part 2)

Defining Evangelicalism [cont'd]

The second pillar of the Bebbington Quadrilateral, Activism, seems to be something that does not actually distinguish Evangelicalism as a separate movement, but rather it is meant to emphasize one major focus of Evangelicalism. In that sense, it seems that Evangelicals of any kind are merely obeying the command of Scripture, which calls us to do good works (Eph. 2:10), at it states that "faith without works is dead" (c.f. Jas. 2:20). Also, Evangelicals note the Great Commission given for sharing of the Gospel in Acts 1:8, where we are all called to be a witness for Christ wherever we are, spreading the message of salvation to all and sundry. Thus, this pillar of the Bebbington Quadrilateral does not seem to be a particular distinctive of Evangelicalism, or does it?

We would all certainly agree that the Scriptures teach that good works are necessary for Christian living (not for salvation), and that a "faith" that works wickedness is not really faith. But in the translation of good intentions to its application to society, to what extent should the church be actively taking a stand on various social ills? Here we see how activism has shifted every so slightly the focus concerning good works. Historically, the teaching of good works and its application to society has always been rather specific. No doubt the largely agrarian nature of much of medieval and early modern European societies aided the direct application of Israel's civil laws to the context of their times. With the advent of the Industrial Age however, the rapid changes in society have made Israel's civil laws less applicable. As Evangelicalism began with the First Great Awakening, along with the revival came a renewed interest in dealing with the problems of society. Unfortunately, there is no obvious blueprint in Scripture for how that is to be done in a modern context. Christians were left with a text that seemed dated, and many did not really wrestle with how to derive sound general principles that are both biblical and applicable to their times. Instead, Christianity intellectual thought became focused on the "spiritual," while Enlightenment philosophy permeates all other fields.

Evangelical Activism thus become tied with expressing the biblical command to do good and to witness for the Gospel. (We will discuss the Gospel witness as we discuss the fourth pillar). And in this command to do good, the failure to adequately wrestle with all that is to be translated to the modern context has resulted in an Activism that is very much informed by the world and her ideas (Zeitgeist). Therefore, in the modern era, Evangelical Activism has been typically split into left-wing and right-wing movements, depending on which movement is currently in vogue among Evangelicals. In a politicized era like 21st century America, that means that Evangelical Activism becomes highly political, either on the right or on the left, as opposed to a faith that will only speak where the Scriptures speak and keep silent where the Scriptures are silent. Therefore, we have both the "Moral Majority" in late 20th century America (right), and the "Evangelical Left" of which Jim Wallies of Sojourners was one such prominent figures, both of them Evangelicals. And in the early 21st century, we have the nationalist Trump supporters on the "right" and the Social Justice Warriors and Critical Race Theorists on the Left.

Bebbington's pillar of Activism, in light of the social history of Evangelicalism, therefore needs to be modified. Bebbington had defined it as "a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world." But in light of Evangelicalism's history, activism should be modified to be "a commitment to participate with God in doing good according to the world's current social notions of doing good, and to witness for God in a way that focuses on the spiritual alone." The latter point we will pick up again as we discuss the last 2 pillars of the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which are where the most obvious differences between Evangelicalism and the Reformed Church are.

[to be continued]

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Woke Christianity," and the "intersection" of theology and sociology

In the beginning, before all the "woke" activism began in the ostensibly orthodox Reformed circles, there was some measure of unity within the American Reformed churches. Sure, it cannot be denied that racism was present here and there, an evil lurking in the shadows ready to erupt when the right conditions were to manifest themselves. But the solution was to call people to the unity of the one human race, that all Man whether white or black, "Asian" or Hispanic, were all one in Adam by virtue of creation, and are remade one in Christ by virtue of regeneration. The solution to racism was to promote "color-blindness," the theory that all should be treated alike without discrimination due to skin color. But all that has changed in recent times, and appalling filth under the guise of "social justice" and "racial justice" has infiltrated the church, promoting dissension and division within her ranks. Everywhere the new "woke" gospel went, it has provoked outrage, [actual] racism, animosity and schism. The apostles of this new "Christianity" strenuously insist that they are merely bringing the true Gospel to bear on the sin of racism, never realizing that they have imbibed of the zeitgiest, and have swallowed the redefinitions of the world hook, line, and sinker.

When I had first protested against the mission creep of the Core Christianity team, one of the responses was to claim that I was bringing politics into the picture. The accusation implicitly claims the moral high ground that they were upholding Scripture, while I was bringing in politics. More specifically, I was bringing in right-wing politics! Despite the fact that I wasn't an American, neither was I part of any "Moral Majority," nevertheless the same tarring was used against me in my initial protests. Therein lies one of the major problems with "woke Christianity": It assumes that what it holds to be true are mere unbiased and dispassionate scientific truth. It assumes that the concepts of "privilege," "justice," "equality," and so on and so forth are facts, on the same practical level as the fact that the world is round. Critical Race Theory is taken to be like Newton's Laws of Motion, and one must be a moron or a malicious racist to actually dispute these "facts."

But when one actually gets out of the liberal echo chamber and assume an attitude of objectivity, one can discern that both sides are "political," in the sense that both sides are analyzing the issues using different frames of view. The "woke Christian" is no less political than his opponent. What he claims to be axiomatic are not really axiomatic but heavily disputed interpretations.

If one therefore truly desires to be absolutely apolitical, then by all means stick purely to the Bible. But that means that one cannot apply what the Bible says specifically to one's situation, because in application one must have an understanding of the social environment where the biblical truths are to be applied. But the rot extends back even further to the hermeneutics of the Left as they distort the Bible's teaching about Israel's social polity. Ancient Israel of course was no modern socialist state, but that does not stop liberals from reading their socialist fantasies into the biblical text, with the Jubilee being one such example. I have previously did a short exegesis on the event of the Jubilee, but suffice it is to say here that the Jubilee was neither a capitalist nor a socialist institution. Reading ancient Israel as a capitalist society would be just an egregious an error as reading ancient Israel as a socialist country, but only the latter extreme has been attempted (to my knowledge) in church history.

In light of all this, the "intersection" of theology and sociology requires careful navigation of Scripture and the application of Scripture. Since politics will be involved in any specific application to society, the Church ought to make the application purely general and in Scriptural terms, which is that racism is to be rejected through focusing on teaching the unity of all Man as equal in Adam, and of the new Man in Christ. Once one thinks that bringing in other concepts such as "privilege," "equality," "equity" etc. are helpful to the discussion, one has immediately taken a political stand, not a biblical stand, and in my opinion a wrong one at that. The "Core Christianity" team therefore is supremely political, and therefore they have not been honest about what they stand for, which was supposed to be CORE Christianity. Once they have brought politics into the discussion, then they have no moral high ground for attacking others as being "political."

"Woke Christianity" thus at best is one of the many political applications of the Gospel. At worst, it is a subversion of the biblical Gospel, since it claims to make a certain sociological viewpoint part of the Gospel. Therefore, even if one were to reject right-wing ideas, one should not embrace woke "Christianity" as anything but poison to the health and well-being of the Church.

On "privilege" and the new gospel of woke activism

Here are two interesting articles on the topic:

No, I Won't Check My Privilege: The Left's Latest Pejorative is racist, sexist, and stifling of honest debate
Atonement as Activism: The Great Awokening

[RT: R Scott Clark on the Heidelblog]

Sermon: Charity and Liberty (1 Cor. 8)

Here is the sermon I had preached on May 6 2018 at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, continuing my series on the book of 1 Corinthians, entitled "Charity and Liberty."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sermon: Waiting on God (Psalm 130-131)

Here is the sermon I had preached this morning at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, from Psalm 130-131, entitled Waiting on God.

"Evangelical" racial SJWs and their deception

In light of the so-called MLK50 Conference, heavily promoted by the New Calvinists, and which claimed to be all about "racial reconciliation" but seemingly ended up causing a whole lot of confusion and division within the church, Dr. James White had posted a response to one strongly worded article by TGC council member Thabiti Anyabwile. In response, Anyabwile posted an article stating that "there can be no reconciliation where there is no truth-telling first," to which Dr. White responded in his Dividing Line podcast here. Essentially, Dr. White's first response argued that in Scripture, all our creaturely distinctions are eclipsed by the Cross of Christ, and there is where we should go to find Christian unity. Anyabwile's response to that is to state that truth-telling is the prerequisite for reconciliation, while Dr. White's second response is to show how Anyabwile has not really dealt with the biblical text (namely the book of Colossians and especially Colossians 3-4). Anyabwile's final response thus far is to claim that his critics have been committing an "Evangelical Gnosticism," which focuses on the spiritual while neglecting the creational distinctions still present while we live as embodied human beings on earth.

Now, I happen to think that both sides are right in their criticisms, mainly because the two sides are not really talking to each other but at each other. This goes for Dr. R Scott Clark's articles on racism as well (here, here, and here), which, while true, does not really deal with what seem to me to be the main SJW argument. On the one hand, the SJW racialists, Anyabwile included, have not really done their exegesis neither have they thought about what biblical reconciliation before the Cross implies for all within the church. They have not, to my knowledge, actually answered any actual arguments their critics have put forward to them except to advance their own arguments in return. On the other hand, Anyabwile's main argument does not seem to be addressed. We are indeed ensouled bodies, truth-telling is indeed necessary before we can talk about reconciliation, and putting forward an argument from Colossians 3-4 on Christian unity, while not addressing his arguments, is in my opinion not a very helpful thing, from an apologetic viewpoint.

The foundation of Anyabwile's arguments, and that of the SJW left, is their flawed idea of justice and their refusal to accept any narrative that does not line up with what they know, a priori, to be "the truth." Facts are sadly not important for the SJW. Now, I have no idea what is the truth regarding the supposed police shootings of black people, although I have read both sides. But first, the facts are disputable and it seems a strong case could be made that they are not actually evidences of police brutality and discrimination against blacks, as is argued in for example here (written by someone who is leaving The Village Church over Matt Chandler's racialism). But secondly, the SJW left is totally incapable of knowing the difference between equality, equity and fairness. They are NOT the same. In my interactions with certain left-leaning people, before all this racialism became such a big thing, none of them could discern the difference between these three concepts, probably even if their lives depended on it! Equality of outcome (Equity) was seen to be evidence of systemic discrimination! That, is classic Marxism! On a macro scale, such confusion of equality and equity will lead one to claim injustice and systemic racism anywhere so-called "people of color" (which almost always excludes Asians) are not doing as well in society as whites in America.

Thus, Anyabwile is right that, if there is any real racism and injustice, calling for unity while ignoring such sins is to put the cart before the horse. That is why I think that we need to address Anyabwile's Marxism first. Yes, there is no reconciliation without truth-telling. But what, Thabiti, is the truth? You think you know the truth, but you don't. You have been fed lies, and you promote lies, the lies of Critical Race Theory (Racial Marxism). That IS the problem which must be dealt with, for without dealing with the sea of lies the "evangelical" SJWs are soaked in, both deceived and deceiving others, there can be no getting through to them. They have a different paradigm, an anti-biblical paradigm, which they are using to interpret the Scriptures and the world. They know a priori what "justice" is, absent from the Scriptures, for the world with its distorted ideas of justice have polluted their thoughts.

The key dividing issue is not what constitutes "reconciliation" or "Christian unity," but rather, what constitutes "justice." And the sooner we start to realize that justice is not about fairness, the quicker we can start to address what biblical justice actually means.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Jubilee and justice

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

“In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 25:8-17)

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. (Lev. 25:23-4)

“If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. (Lev. 25:29-32)

What is justice? The current notion in vogue, "social justice," has been used in the sense of restorative justice, which is the notion that justice is all about restoring the offender to right relation to society. Whatever the merits of understanding justice in a restorative sense, the key point we want to notice is that such is not the biblical notion of justice. "Justice" in the biblical sense is God-ward in nature. The only "restorative" element is to restore a person's relationship to God. In a horizontal sense, "justice" in the Bible is about punishing evildoers because they violate God's law and God's commands, His statutes and decrees. Those who do good will have life, while those who do evil will face justice (c.f. Deut. 28, 6:1-3). "Justice" in Old Testament Israel encompasses both what we would call "civil" as well as "religious" aspects, and those those who violate Israel's ceremonial code were to be severely punished as well (c.f. Lev. 18:5, 19:7-8). The law as given to Israel did not differentiate between civil and religious infractions (as we understand them), and therefore those who wish to claim biblical support for supposed welfare programs should do well to note that, as if one could adopt unquestionably the supposed welfare programs of ancient Israel without simultaneously adopting Israel's religious laws as well.

Understanding Israel's law as a single whole in the context of ancient Israel should inform us of how we are to make sense of its supposed welfare aspects. To put it bluntly, to claim that Israel had elements of a modern welfare state is anachronistic. Ancient Israel was not just a nation but a theocratic nation, a fusion of Church and State. As such, laws concerning the taking care of the least in society were made in the context of Israel as the Old Testament church, where people were to take care of the disadvantaged in the Church.

As a Church-State, Israel's religious laws were also civil laws. Thus, the mere establishing of such laws for that entire nation tells us nothing about whether any other country ought to implement such or similar laws. But once this law of Israel was established, any infraction of that law is injustice in the sense of a violation of what God had commanded, and therefore any punishment is retributive in nature, not "restorative."

But just as the nature of the law (positive religious) has nothing to do with the civil enforcement of that law (retributive), so likewise those who would claim the mantle of "social justice" fail to adequately understand what this law is and what it is not. The law concerning Jubilee (a religious not civil concept) is not a law calling for the redistribution of wealth. It is rather a law given to protect people from becoming destitute. But just as it prevents a person from becoming destitute by calling for the return of ancestral land to its original owners at the next Jubilee, likewise it prohibits those desperate for money to fully leverage on what they own. In verses 15-16, we note that the price of the land to be sold is to be pegged to the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee. Thus, what is actually being sold is a leasehold, not freehold. The owner of that ancestral land is prohibited by law from selling his entire right to his ancestral land, but is only to sell a leasehold to that land. Therefore, if there is only one year left until the Jubilee, the seller is NOT to ask for a high price for a one-year leasehold to that land.

Likewise, the Jubilee does not prevent anyone from becoming rich and owning lots of properties. In verses 29-30, we see that properties that are not ancestral plots of land, but are within cities, will be permanently transferred to the buyer if the seller does not redeem the property within a year of sale. Thus, any property that is not an ancestral plot of land could be permanently sold and the buyer could become very wealthy, without any "reset" of society after every 50 years. The Jubilee is therefore not a blueprint for a socialist redistribution program, but rather a law regulating the sale of property, both protecting and limiting the extent to which property can be sold and bought. If the potential seller is desperate for cash, he is prohibited by law from selling away the right to his ancestral home, just as the buyer is prohibited by law from buying that right to that ancestral home.

The point of looking at the Jubilee in the context of discussion of "justice" is to note that any appeal to the Old Testament for calls for a more "holistic" idea of "justice" is sorely mistaken. As stated, the Jubilee does not teach wealth distribution or even debt forgiveness, but rather it is a law regulating the sale of property. Therefore, arguing from the major to the minor, any Old Testament laws concerning the call to justice has nothing to do with what many today would put under the umbrella of "social justice." Biblical justice is concerned with retribution for wrongs done, not restoration. Restoration in the Bible is a matter of grace, not law, and thus restoration comes through Israel's sacrificial system, not Israel's courts.

The Jubilee in its civil implementation is legal, and regulates the sale of properties. The Jubilee in its place in Israel's religion however is gracious, and it points towards the forgiveness of debts that Christ brings to us. But we know that it is only in Christ that forgiveness comes, not through the law. And therefore, using the Jubilee as an example for "social justice" is to confuse Law and Gospel. The lesson for Christians today from the Jubilee is to point out to us the grace of Christ in forgiving our sins, as portrayed in the return of the ancestral land to its original owner. That is the goal of the Jubilee for us who believe, and may we never misuse this great religious event in Old Testament Israel in any other way as support for the world's misguided social programs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon: Kingdom Contentment

Here is the sermon I had preached on March 11th 2018, on 1 Corinthians 7:17-40, entitled Kingdom Contentment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On Reformed Piety: Defining Evangelicalism (part 1)

As we move towards comparing and contrasting Reformed piety with Evangelical piety, we must first define these two sides. After all, both the terms "Reformed" and "Evangelical" have been used and understood in many different ways by many different people. Some have used the term "Reformed" to refer to the followers of Karl Barth, but for those who are actually Reformed, such an association with the founder of Neo-Orthdoxy is extremely repugnant, to say the least. And others have used the term "Evangelical" to refer to those who anyone who claim that their faith is very important in their lives. Or, in a very misleading and offensive move, it is used to refer to the subset of white Christian Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 US elections. Suffice is it to show that if these two sides are not clearly defined, comparing and contrasting their respective pieties is next to impossible.

Defining Evangelicalism

What is an "Evangelical," and thus what is "Evangelicalism"? Historically, a claim can be made that "evangelical" refers to all Protestant Christians who believe, like Luther, that justification is by faith alone (Sola Fide), since Lutherans were first called "evangelicals" (German evangelische) as they focus on the Gospel of free grace. However, words and the connotation of words change over time. At least in the English-speaking world, Lutherans are called "Lutherans." The term "evangelical" in English parlance came to denote a trans-denominational movement that begun during the time of the 18th century First Great Awakening. Prior to the First Great Awakening, each denomination and church body does its own thing and they do not generally work together. During and after the First Great Awakening, many Christians who believe in the Gospel had decided that denominational differences were not worth fighting over to the point of non-cooperation in ministry, and therefore there is a need to join together to proclaim the Gospel. We must recognize that, prior to the First Great Awakening, the state of Protestant Christianity lies in its various confessional traditions (e.g. Presbyterian, Anglican, Congregationalist, Dutch Reformed, Swiss Reformed, Lutheran etc.), with each tradition proclaiming itself to be the visible representation of the true church in its particularly locality, and all other local churches are to join her or be guilty of schism.

Evangelicalism therefore must be seen as both a creature and a creation of the First Great Awakening. Evangelicalism must likewise partake of some elements of the trans-denominational perspective of the leaders of the First Great Awakening, and all subsequent evangelical revivals. Evangelicalism therefore cannot be reduced to merely a doctrinal standpoint, but it is rather a social and religious phenomenon. It is not enough to ask what are the doctrines all Evangelicals hold to, but rather to ask what are the practices also of the leaders of historical Evangelicalism.

In this light, British historian David W. Bebbington, in his seminal work Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London, UK: Unwin Hyman, 1989) gave us four points to describe Evangelicalism (both Old and New). Known as the "Bebbington Quadrilateral," these four points are: Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins) [Bebbington, 5-17]. Academia by and large has agreed with Bebbington's four pillars of Evangelicalism, even though Bebbington's insights have for the most part yet to filter down to the churches.

The Bebbington Quadrilateral however has to be modified in light of the differences between the churches before and after the First Great Awakening. The first pillar, Conversionism, has to be modified to "a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation, with the necessity of a recollection of a personal conscious experience in doing so." The reason for this modification is that Evangelicalism has always rejected the notion of regenerate covenant children being raised in the faith, but who have not felt a single day apart from Christ, and whose lives are not filled with great spiritual experiences. That was why the congregationalists in Puritan New England had trouble with the spiritual lives of the second and third generation puritans to the extent that Solomon Stoddard (Jonathan Edwards' grandfather) instituted the Halfway Covenant. The New England Puritans had developed an imbalanced experimental Christianity whereby believers are to recount some spiritual experience whereby they have trusted Christ for their salvation. Now, this was not yet the emotional decisionism of Charles Finney and his part in the Second Great Awakening, for believers were not asked to produce a specific conversion experience. However, evidence of spiritual life was to be sought in having some form of crisis resulting in spiritual conversion to God. The half-way covenant came about because so many second and third generation Puritans did not possess that crisis-faith experience and therefore were not admitted into church membership and the Lord's Supper, despite how orthodox they were in their profession of faith. What happens when these non-communicant members desire to present their children for baptism? The half-way covenant was Stoddard's way of promoting a "half-way" whereby these second and third generation Puritans could be admitted to the Lord's Supper and have their children baptized if they were orthodox in doctrine and not scandalous in behavior, even though they were not considered full members of the church (officially non-communicant members who partake of Holy Communion!)

Jonathan Edwards, as one of the major leaders of the First Great Awakening, ultimately chose to reject the Halfway covenant which his grandfather had instituted. Edwards rejected the Halfway Covenant not by accepting that covenant children might not have a radical faith experience, but rather by biting the bullet and insisting that covenant children without a faith experience should be regarded as unbelievers. Thus, one can be orthodox in doctrine and godly in life, but if a conversion experience cannot be shown, he is to be regarded as a heathen! It is only a matter of time before the conversion experience become a conversion decision experience, which Charles Finney popularized in his anxious bench, and Billy Graham with his altar call.

The first pillar of Evangelicalism, Conversionism, is thus to be modified to a necessity of a conversion experience. The Old Evangelicalism, the Evangelicalism of the First Great Awakening, only insisted on some intense spiritual experience sometime in one's life, and is therefore more orthodox than the experience called for in Finney's anxious bench and Graham's alter call. Yet for both Old and New Evangelicalism, conversion experience, and spiritual experiences in general are considered vital for a genuine Christian life, apart from which a person no matter how orthodox and godly is considered dead.

[to be continued]