Monday, August 25, 2014

Creation and False dichotomies

Most systematic theological treatments of Genesis 1-3 include these chapters in the doctrine of creaton, which entails the creation of the physical world ex nihilo, anthropology, constitution of man, imago Dei, fall, and perhaps the covenant of works. When one examines Genesis 1-3 from the systematic theological perspective, he sees a picture almost exclusively through the lens of ontology. It is perhaps this ontological lens that has led to the fragmented reading of Genesis 1-3, namely, examining the opening chapters of Scripture almost strictly in terms of the origin of man vis-a-vis Darwinian evolution. This fragmentary reading, in turn, has led to the misuse of Genesis in the battle between the claims of Darwin and the teachings of the Bible.

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Redemptive history as whole, then, necessitates exploring Genesis 1-3 in terms of protology rather than creation. Moreover, one must recognize the connections between protology and eschatology, connections that have important implications for the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. [John V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Rossshire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2007), 32-3]

What is Genesis 1-3 teaching? My former prof Dr. Fesko thinks that Genesis 1-3 is not trying to tell us anything about creation but is rather protology, in correspondence to eschatology. My main curiosity however is why must these two be put in contrast in the first place. The whole thing smells of a false dichotomy, as if Genesis 1-3 must be either about ontology, or about protology. Why must I choose one and not both?

An account that has no real correspondence to reality, to ontology, is purely literary. Literary accounts might have historical facts, but these are considered unimportant, for the main focus is purely literary, to show word associations, thematic progressions, and the development of various motifs. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with literary accounts per se. But can Genesis 1-3 function as a mere literary account, albeit somewhat historical (but not fully so)?

My main contention is that Genesis 1-3 cannot function as protology if one denies it as ontology. The literary exploration is a second order discourse, which presupposes the validity and truth of the first order ontological discourse. How can one claim an eschatology which happens in the real world while denying that the protology happened in the real world? Furthermore, if one says that the description is literary, then how does one deny that such would lead to a Neo-Orthodox view of saying that fiction conveys truth, since after all the particulars in Genesis 1-3 are claimed to be literarily not physically present. If one denies a literal Eden, a literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then should we expect there to be a literal heaven, a literal hell, a literal lake of fire, and so on? If so, where do we draw the line on what should we expect to be literal, and what not literal?

By all means, we should read Genesis 1-3 in light of all of Scripture with its typology, but let us not create false dichotomies and think we must choose between reading Genesis 1-3 plainly, and reading Genesis 1-3 typologically, as if one is antithetical to the other.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On attending churches

How many Christians move to a city because their company has transferred them there, and only after they have moved discover there is not a good church in the area? How much better it would be if Christians examined the area prior to a move, then told their employers, "No, I cannot accept this new job and an increased salary because there is not a solid church at which my family and I can worship." How can a Christian claim to love Christ, yet place a job over his worship of Christ? If Christ is truly our chief concern in this life, the one whom we truly love with all our heart, then we must be willing to say no to anything in this world that could take the place of Christ. [John V. Fesko, The Rule of Love: broken, fulfilled, and applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2009), 27]

OR just perhaps, you know, one could ASK for the Presbytery to begin a church plant there. And what happens if refusal to take this new job may mean that the person would become unemployed? Surely, the local church is not going to foot all his bills from now on!?

Seminaries always turn out fresh grads, and so far I have seen it is hard for many of them to get internships and calls. Look at it this way: God has provided so many people who are eager to go into the ministry. Why not actually think of ways to use them? If the Church is seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, shouldn't it be eagerly seeking to expand the Church and the orthodox Reformed faith through church planting? Or are we saying that the people in those areas without a confessional church around don't deserve to hear the Gospel?

We are not responsible for the conversion of people. But we are responsible for proclaiming the message to all, whether they believe it or not. It is inconceivable to me that so little effort is made to think of ways to plant churches so that everywhere a person goes, he does not have to face that kind of situation of having no "good church in the area."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameun: Miscellaneous and summary statements

Throughout the rest of John Frame's book, he reviews various books from authors related to the seminary in one form or another. Some of these books I have not read, but judging from how Frame misrepresented Horton and Clark, I would not be surprised if he misrepresented every single book he "reviewed."

It is not my intention to show all of Frame's other errors and misrepresentations, as it would be almost like beating a dead horse. Rather, I would look at a couple of other statements, then look at Frame's supposed summary statements describing the so-called "Escondido theology."

Worship and seeker-sensitivity

They [D.G. Hart and John Muether -DHC] quote my statement in Worship in Spirit and Truth that worship should be carried on in "a friendly, welcoming atmosphere," and they comment that "following this logic, worship style becomes a matter of taste." They then equate my recommendation with "irreverent worship." Nevertheless, they say later, as I do, that worship should involve joy. And of course they, like Horton, want no truck with anything from popular culture.

Does Reformed theology really require all this? Do we really forsake the Reformed faith if we seek to take visiting unbelievers into consideration (as 1 Cor. 14:24-25), or if we seek to be friendly to visitors? ... Didn't they [the Reformers -DHC] advocate clear communication in worship, both verbally (through the use of vernacular languages) and musically (through the emphasis on congregational singing)? [John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 280]

Here again, Frame misrepresents what Hart and Muether (and Horton) are arguing for. They are not arguing against communication, but against accommodation to worldly forms. Does this necessarily mean the denial of all Contemporary Christian Music? I do not think that is necessarily the case, although certainly Hart and Muether think it does. Regardless, the key issue is this: Hart and Muether are advocating for reverence in worship, a vertical focus through the dialogical principle. They never once denied that communication was essential to worship. Communication after all is not the same as adopting a horizontal "friendly atmosphere." Note also that a vertical focus does not mean that worshipers are unfriendly to each other. That is not at all Hart's and Muether's point, and one should not infer from the silence concerning the friendliness of believers to each other with the denial that one should be friendly with other believers.

I must say that this tactic of arguing from silence is endemic throughout Frame's book. As another example, Frame attacked David VanDrunen in his "review" of A Biblical Defense of Natural Law by stating that the problem with VanDrunen's view of the conscience providing moral knowledge is a grave "omission of any significant role for Gods supernatural commands informing his conscience" (p. 130), as if silence equals denial. All manner of such false accusations have been manufactured out of thin air just because writer X does not mention a certain principle Y that Frame thinks is important. Frame is truly straining at gnats here to try to come up with anything to stick on Westminster Seminary California it seems.

On Two-Kingdoms theory

If that is true [that Scripture teaches that "religious" issue intrude into politics and culture -DHC], then it is impossible to define a "realm" that is exclusively religious or nonreligious. There is one realm, the creation, the realm in which God works all things according to his sovereign will and demands that we serve him in all aspects of our lives.

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The existence of a Cainite society, separate from the people of God (Gen. 4:26) was an evil, VanDrunen, by calling this society "realm," intends to confer some sort of legitimacy on it. But the development of societies in opposition to God is, according to Scripture, profoundly illegitimate. (pp. 134-5)

I have not read this book by Dr. VanDrunen yet, but I have taken his class on ethics where he discussed parts of his two-kingdoms doctrine. So while I cannot speak for his particular version of Two-Kingdoms (R2K) theory, I know some parts of it and Frame's caricature is just plain ludicrous. First of all, VanDrunen never once claims that there is any realm that is religiously neutral. The issue is not religious neutrality, but rather the issue is how God rules that realm, "religious" or not. Secondly, historic Reformed teaching differentiate between the Church and the State, so that the existence of two "realms" is always held to. Even under Christendom, besides the Inquisition and the Crusades, the civil magistrate was the one to put heretics to death. The sentence of heresy is done by the church, but it is the civil authorities who actually executed the judgment. The difference between the Reformation view, the Kuyperian view and the R2K view is not whether there are two different "realms" or "kingdoms" but how they relate to each other. It is interesting to see how Frame, in his rejection of R2K, denies even this distinction held to in the entirety of church history. Lastly, the issue with Cainite society is not to say they are neutral, but that they are an assembly that only has one kingdom since they are not part of the kingdom of grace, i.e. the civil kingdom. Even Frame claims they are wicked, so surely it is conceded that they are not part of Christ's kingdom yet nevertheless they do still have a civil kingdom, thought wicked and, I could even concede for the sake of argument, "illegitimate."

Whether R2K is biblical or not, misrepresentation of the position hardly helps make the case for the opposing side. If name-dropping Van Til and Kuyper is supposed to make us think R2K is wrong, all the misrepresentation of the position surely discredits the opposition more than it shows why R2K is wrong.

Summary statements

At the beginning of the book, Frame threw up a bunch of statements that he claims are "assertions typical of and widely accepted among, Escondido theologians" (p. xxxvii). From all his misrepresentations so far, if one were to guess that little if any of these assertions are actually held to by the professors of Westminster Seminary California, one would be right. Here are the various assertions (pp. xxxvii-xxxix), and my responses:

  • It is wrong to make the gospel relevant to its hearers
    Answer: Misleading and false. It is wrong to compromise the Gospel and biblical practices in the name of "making the gospel relevant to its hearers."

  • Scripture teaches about Christ, his atonement, and our redemption from sin, but not about how to apply that salvation to our current problems.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation. Scripture teaches all things. YET, Scripture is not a textbook on all topics and therefore where Scripture is silent we should not try to "mine" Scripture for "application" to "our current problems."

  • Those who try to show the application of Scripture to the daily problems of believers are headed toward a Christless Christianity
    Answer: FALSE! Misrepresentation! Those who focus on "application" using Scripture as mere prof-texts, without the Gospel and without grounding in the Gospel, are not headed, but are proclaiming, a Christless Christianity.

  • Anything we say about God is at best only an analogy of the truth and is therefore partly false.
    Answer: Misleading but understandable misrepresentation. Vantillians have in view the nature of truth, of which Man's truth is an analogy to God's truth. Since analogies have similarities and dissimilarities between the archetype and the ectype, God being infinite means that there are quite a lot of dissimilarities between archetypal truth and ectypal truth. Such dissimilarities result in the nature of truth claims being "partly false." Again, I think that such language as used by Dr. R Scott Clark is misleading, but still one has to represent the position correctly.

    More importantly, I thought Frame claims to be a Vantillian. This should be the last objection he has if he truly is following Van Til.

  • There is no immediate experience of God available to the believer.
    Answer: If by that, Frame means mystical experiences, tell me where in Scripture is mysticism taught.

  • The only experience of God available to the believer is in public worship.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! To emphasize the primacy of public worship and public piety is not to deny private piety.

  • Meetings of the church should be limited to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments.
    Answer: False. The priority of church meetings IS preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. Other meetings may be called, but they are not mandatory. The main thing must remain the main thing however.

  • In worship, we "receive" from God, but should not seek to "work" for God.
    Answer: Misleading. A denial of every-member ministry does not make non office-bearers pew warmers!

  • The "cultural mandate" of Gen. 1:28 and 9:7 is not longer in effect.
    Answer: False. The "cultural" or creation mandate is still in effect, but it is given to humanity in general, not the church.

  • The Christian has no political mandate to seek changes in the social, cultural, or political order.
    Answer: Misleading. In 2K theory, the Church has no mandate to seek changes. Individual Christians have no "mandate," but they ought to be involved in the community, which involves seeking changes in the social, cultural and political order where applicable.

  • Divine sovereignty typically eliminates the need for human responsibility.
    Answer: False! Justification is purely of grace apart from good works. That is the point, not some "zero-sum game" such that God being sovereign imply humans are passive in their sanctification, which however is grounded in the Gospel and not of one's efforts.

  • Preaching should narrate the history of redemption, but should never appeal to Bible characters as moral or spiritual examples.
    Answer: They can be appealed to as examples, as examples ultimately of Christ, but all such examples are to be grounded in what Christ has already done for us, not mere moralism in Law-only preaching.

  • Preaching "how tos" and principles of practical living is man-centered.
    Answer: Misleading. Insofar as such preaching is not centered on the Gospel indicatives, it IS man-centered. But principles of living if based upon the Gospel should be preached.

  • To speak of a biblical worldview, or biblical principles for living, is to misuse the Bible.
    Answer: False! The issue is not whether there is a worldview, but whether one is trying to use the Bible to proof-text theories that are not actually taught in the Bible, where the Bible is silent.

  • Nobody should be considered Reformed unless they agree with everything in the Reformed confessions and theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! First of all, it is just Reformed confessions, not necessarily all theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries. Secondly, depending on the form of subscription practiced by the denomination, one may or may not take exceptions as long as they do not violate the essence of the faith, its "system of doctrine."

  • We should not agree to discuss any theological topics except the ones discussed by Reformed thinkers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
    Answer: False. Since Frame evidently thinks that republication and 2K is new, then his very case defeats this assertion.

  • Jonathan Edwards and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones were not Reformed.
    Answer: One can be in the Reformed church while holding to doctrines contrary to the Reformed confessions. They are "Reformed" in the loose sense. They are Reformed in the stricter sense (at least Jonathan Edwards) because they subscribe to a Reformed confession. But this is misleading. The question raised by Dr. Clark is not whether they are Reformed, but whether they were acting Reformed at that instance.

  • Theology is not the application of Scripture, but a historical investigation into Reformed traditions.
    Answer: False. Theology is not the application of Scripture it is true. It is rather thinking God's thoughts after Him, knowing God and making Him known. Theology is THEN applied to life, but it is not application itself. It is also NOT a historical investigation into Reformed tradition. Rather, historical investigation shows us the wisdom and insights of saints gone by, to direct us in the right path of thinking theologically.

  • There is no difference between being biblical and being Reformed.
    Answer: Misleading. There is a difference; the former follows Scripture, while the latter follows Scripture and it is understood that the Reformed faith IS what Scripture itself teaches. But what Frame is trying to insinuate is that being "Reformed" is an addition to Scripture, which is a misrepresentation of how the Reformed tradition has always understood itself — that to be Reformed IS to be biblical, and that non-Reformed thought is not biblical at all.

  • To study the Bible is to study it as the Reformed tradition has studied it.
    Answer: Misleading! We believe that the Reformed tradition has studied the Bible, and to study the Bible in any manner other than the Reformed tradition is to not study the Bible at all.

  • God's principles for governing society are found, not in Scripture, but in natural law.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! God's principles are indeed found in natural law, but whoever said there is no relation whatsoever between natural law and Scripture?

  • Natural law is to be determined, not by Scripture, but by human reason and conscience.
    Answer: False dichotomy! Why not both? But the main issue is not how it is determined, but the relation of natural law and Scripture, of which Frame has not even shown he understands them.

  • Scripture promises the believer no temporal blessings until the final judgment.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! But the blessings God promises us on earth may not be the "earthly blessings" we want.

  • We can do nothing to "advance" the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom, since the ascension of Christ, is wholly future.
    Answer: What does Frame mean by "advance"? He hasn't even defined his terms. Furthermore, denial of theonomy and theonomic postmillennialism does not translate into seeing the kingdom as wholly future, since the Kingdom of God has already come in Christ's first coming. What is denied is not the coming of the Kingdom now, but the coming of the Kingdom now in power.

  • The Sabbath pertains only to worship, not to daily work. So worship should occur on the Lod's Day, but work need not cease.
    Answer: M.G. Kline's view of the Sabbath is not held to by almost anyone else besides Kline. So this is a misrepresentation.

  • Only those who accept these principles can consistently believe in justification by faith alone.
    Answer: FALSE!

  • Reformed believers must maintain an adversarial relationship with American evangelicals.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Horton's "village green" model does not promote an "adversarial relationship." In fact, Dr. Horton is probably one of the nicest professors around. The only one adversarial here is John Frame. Concerning evangelicals, we call a spade a spade. We call on them to repent of their unbiblical doctrines and turn to the Reformed faith, out of a heart of love. Nothing adversarial here!

  • Worship should be very traditional, without any influence of contemporary culture.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Denial of seeker-sensitivity and informal worship does not necessarily equate to "worship should be traditional."

  • Only those who accept these principles can be considered truly Reformed.
    Answer: False. The focus is on whether they hold to the Reformed confessions, not "these principles," most of which as you can see are caricatures. The irony is that Frame is writing this book to exclude those from Westminster Seminary California from being called "Reformed." Who's the sectarian here?

  • These principles, however, represent only desirable "emphases." There are exceptions.
    Answer: There are no exceptions. The "exceptions" are an explication of the principles being discussed, and therefore that Frame sees them as exceptions shows he does not understand, or does not seem to understand, what he is "reviewing."

In conclusion, John Frame has shown himself to misrepresent almost every writer in this book, especially seen in those whose books under review I have read. Frame persistently engages in all forms of logical fallacies, and his charges are slanderous to those he is attacking. Far from proving some nefarious "Escondido Theology," Frame has to repent of his lies about these ministers of God— of violating the ninth commandment and attacking the good names of these authors, many of them ministers of the Gospel.

Contra Johannem Frameum: RSC's Recovering the Reformed Confession - Reformed vs Evangelical (Part 2)

In the American context evangelicals are orthodox Protestant Christians, Christians who maintain belief in the supernatural work of God to save us from sin, including Jesus' virgin birth,miracles, atoning death, resurrection, and return. The Reformed also maintain these doctrines (with some slippage on both sides). Since they hold every doctrine that defines evangelicalism, they can be regarded as evangelicals. But of course they also believe some things that do not define evangelicalism, which makes them a distinct strand of the evangelical movement. [John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 95]

Historically speaking, "evangelical" is the name used by Lutherans to describe themselves. The term then took on a new meaning when it came into widespread use as a name at the time of the First Great Awakening in Britain, as a description by Christians who believe that one must personally believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, in contrast to the general apostasy within the 18th century Church of England whereby many ministers do not even believe the Gospel much less teach and proclaim it. Evangelicalism therefore as a movement is a reaction to the unregenerate state of the 18th century Church of England. Unfortunately, the rejection of the apostate established church comes about without a recovery of Reformed church piety. When the First Great Awakening came to America, George Whitefield transplanted the entire British experience over such that all professing believers must be assumed to be unregenerate unless they have a conversion experience, resulting in the split within American Presbyterianism into the Old Side and the New Side.

"Evangelicalism" and "Evangelical" from then on refer to the movement that spawned from the 18th century Great Awakening. While it generally has similar doctrines to the Reformed faith, the major difference however is where they differ: ecclesiology. Evangelicalism never has a proper doctrine of the church, only a truncated doctrine of the local church and a spiritual doctrine of the universal church.

We see that John Frame thinks like an Evangelical. That is why he can talk so flippantly about "evangelical reunion," as if "evangelical" was primary. Of course, if one thinks only about doctrine, then Reformed seem to be a subset of Evangelicalism. But historically such is not the case. The Reformation was first, then the rise of Evangelicalism.

Frame's doctrine of the Church is not Reformed. That is why he can misunderstand R. Scott Clark's view of confessionalism, because for him there is no difference between the individual, and the group. He has no concept that the group, i.e. the institutional Church, is a distinct entity separate from the individuals even though it is made up of individuals. Frame therefore is stymied when Clark criticize his views as being individualistic when he defines Reformed as being "the consensus of Reformed believers" (p. 75, 81). There is a big difference between "the consensus of Reformed believers" and "the consensus of the Reformed Church made up of Reformed believers." The former focuses on the individual, such that a modification of Dr. Clark's syllogistic representation holds true ("a number of believers self-identify as Reformed, They hold X; X is Reformed"), while the latter focuses on the Church coming to its official pronouncement ("The Church, comprising many believers who self-identify as Reformed, wrote/adopt this Confession; The Confession state X; X is Reformed"). The failure of Frame to see this is astonishing, but I guess that is what happens when individualism is taken to the extreme such that the collective is denied. Lastly, Frame objects that the Confession has to be interpreted and thus subjectivism is still present, but such is a cop-out for the simple reason that the same argument can be applied to Scripture, yet Evangelicals still believe in the authority of Scripture instead of asking "Has God said?".

Frame may not like the Reformed doctrine of the Church; that is his perogative. But it is tiresome when he continues to insist that he is Reformed. Can someone who self-identifies himself as Reformed deny Reformed ecclesiology and still be Reformed? That is the crux of the matter, and that is why Frame's main critique of Clark is wrong.

Contra Johannem Frameum: RSC's Recovering the Reformed Confession - Reformed vs Evangelical

So the true church is now broken up into thousands of denominations and varying traditions, contrary to our Lord's will. The church is still one in that it has one Lord, one faith, and on baptism. But there are divisions of theology, practice, ethnicity, of which the Reformed tradition is one.

Christians are committed first to Christ, then to the one body of Christ, and only then to a particular form of the church. They must make the third commitment only because history has made it necessary. Because of the tragic division of the church. one may not be a "mere Christian." He must join a congregation that does not have fellowship with all other congregations. So he must be Reformed or non-Reformed, not both. There should be in his heart a purpose to do something, even if he only can do a little bit, to lessen the divisions of the church and to make progress toward the reunion of the church.

If a believer is Reformed he should give due appreciation to the achievements of that tradition in theology,church government, and other ways. But the focus of his life should not be on his denomination or tradition. It should be on Christ and the Scriptures. He should feel deeply the errors of Reformed chauvinism, the attitude that celebrates and seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of Reformed Christianity from the influence of other branches of the church. He should learn from other traditions and recommend what he learns to his Reformed friends. ...

His church home, contrary to Horton's "village green" model, is the whole body of God's elect. His relation to non-Refomed Christians is spiritual oneness with Christ, not "shared interests." (Shared interests! What a trivializing of the unity of Jesus' body!)

A Reformed community that maintains its biblical heritage while seeking to grow in its love for the church as a whole is well worth supporting and recommending to others. This is not [R Scott] Clark's view of the church, and that I take to be the most serous criticism of the book under review [Recovering the Reformed Confession]. But it is one I heartily recommend to my readers. (John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, FL: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011), 117-8)

Chapter 3 of John Frame's book is Frame's attempt to interact with R. Scott Clark's book Recovering the Reformed Confession. Clark is a strict confessionalist of sorts, and not surprisingly, Frame doesn't like him or his ideas one bit.

While Frame disagrees with Dr. Clark on many things, his main contention with Clark's book is that the two of them have competing views of what it means to be "Reformed." Clark defines "Reformed" historically, while Frame defines it, well, as merely a tradition he is sortof stuck in, a tradition that is merely one fragment of Christianity, as we can see from the quote above. One wonders why Frame even want to be called "Reformed," since evidently to him there is not much difference between Reformed and Anabaptist, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy. All are merely a matter of taste, as all are mere fragments of the Church. But if all are a matter of taste, why not just discard the labels entirely and merge in one "sweet" ecumenical syrup and just focus on the "lurrveeeeee" of Christ? Why doesn't Frame just join any of the Stone-Campbell descendent churches, since that was the original intention of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, who desired to be known merely as "Christians"? And to his claim that one can be either "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," not both, why not just apply the Hegelian dialectic and found your own denomination, a third path if you may?

The problem with Frame and his idea of "evangelical reunion" is that his church history is practically non-existent. What kind of "summary" of church history is it to state that the church began with Christ, and then after the times of the apostles,

... the one true church eventually divided.Groups broke away from the fellowship: west broke from east, Protestant from Catholic, Protestant from Protestant. ... The blame, of course, is not on everyone equally but these divisions always resulted from someone's sin— either the sin of those who illegitimately left the one body, or, in most cases, both. (p. 117)

In the early church councils, the various heretical groups were kicked out of the early Catholic church. At the time of Chalcedon in 451AD, a significant number of groups were excommunicated because they refused to subscribe to the Definition of Chalcedon. The Coptic church were Monophysites, while many Nestorians fled eastwards into the Sassanid Empire, and established a foothold there, creating a vibrant center of an alternate "Christianity" outside the Roman Empire (both East and West). So even in the early Catholic church before the East-West Schism formalized in 1054, there were centers of "Christianity" besides Rome and Constantinople. The trouble is that these churches were deemed heretical by Chalcedon, and their adherents not considered to be in communion with Christ and His Church.

The Reformation of course "split" the Reformers from the Roman Church, but then the Reformers were not trying to create a new church but to reform the Medieval Catholic Church. It was rather the Anabaptists who wanted to overthrow all of Christendom, not just the political order but also the ecclesiastical order. None of the Reformers thought of themselves as a mere "fragment" of Christ's Church, alongside other "denominations" like the Anabaptists and the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, they saw themselves as reforming the Church, and there is only one church. The various denominations were created in order to give form to the one church they conceived themselves to be in. Where there are practical issues that prohibit union, like national and language boundaries, the different church bodies had fraternal relations. In having fraternal relations, they are acknowledging that the other denomination was a legitimate church body. Union would have been considered and taken place if not for practical considerations, an understanding that saw the Reformed churches eager to cooperate and merge with other church bodies of like faith and practice (e.g. the merger of the churches from the Doleantie and the earlier 19th century Afschieding in early 20th century Netherlands).

All of these just go to show Frame's ignorance of church history and the general Reformed understanding of what a denomination is. A denomination is not a "fragment" of the Christian church. A denomination strives to encompass all of Christ's churches, and to establish fraternal relations with those that are practically impossible to achieve union for any kind of legitimate reason. Denominations and churches that have no legitimate reason to remain separate from any other church bodies ought to merge. So if Frame's view of the church is correct, then all of these churches ought to combine. There shouldn't be any "Reformed" or "non-Reformed," but only the title "Christian." This was after all the dream of the 19th century Restoranionists Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.

So why aren't churches uniting? Evangelical churches generally are not interested in uniting because they have a false doctrine of the church as to its nature being only local. Thus, Evangelicalism only believe in a spiritual unity, the unity of all believers "in Christ." For the Reformed churches, at their best they understand the inability to unite stems from differences in doctrine, serious differences in doctrine that make it impossible for ecumenism to be possible. First, we should acknowledge that there is no unity with heretical churches, which would rule out Frame's beloved example of Joel Osteen. Those with serious error(s) are also excluded, as are all Arminians and Arminian church bodies. And lastly, certain practices like the denial of pedobaptism in Reformed Baptists circles would make it impossible for a united church life to continue, even if we were to agree with the Reformed Baptists on almost everything else (which is not really true, but I digress).

There is the Reformed desire for union, which is to be based upon a shared confession of the same apostolic and Reformed faith. Then, there is the faux "Evangelical union" promoted by Frame, in which orthodoxy does not seem to define the boundaries of the Church. That is why Frame's view of "unity" is wrong. In Frame's counter-analogy to Mike Horton's "village green" model, Frame states that all who claim the name "Christian" should be treated automatically as brothers and sisters in Christ, with a corresponding "spiritual oneness." But such "oneness" advocated by Frame has little if anything to do with truth, in comparison with the Reformed view of unity. (Horton's "village green" model only makes sense when one sees the other houses as those who claim the name of Christ but who might not be actually part of Christ's church, and therefore there are "shared interests" when one interacts with them on a normal basis.)

While I do not necessarily agree with Dr. Clark on everything, he is right in linking "Reformed" to the Reformed Confessions, not because the Confessions have taken the place of Scripture, but because the Confessions confess what the Church believes to be true and biblical. (If the Church decides that certain parts are contrary to Scripture, then she is to amend them accordingly.) Frame's attack on Clark however, betrays his ignorance of church history and his ignorance of Reformed ecclesiology, and should be rejected altogether.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameum: Horton and Christless Christianity

Back in 2011, John Frame, a former professor at Westminster Seminary California and now at RTS (Orlando) wrote a book attacking what he called the "Escondido Theology." Since Frame was formerly a professor who left under a less than favorable situation, the book could be seen as the disgruntled whining of a former employee. Frame's charges were roundly rejected by the seminary and Dr. Michael Horton repudiated Frame's (mis)presentation of his views. That said, all of these are based upon their own judgments, and for some time I wanted to look at the charges myself. When I finally read it, I was astounded. The caricatures and misrepresentations are so bad and numerous one really wonders whether this libelous book is indeed the disgruntled attacks of someone who has a bitter personal vendetta against the seminary to the point of breaking the 9th commandment in order to "get back" at it.

I have graduated from the seminary, and I had tried to learn as much as I could there. I am no parrot and no follower of anyone but Christ, and just because I have graduated there does not mean that I necessarily adopt everything my professors believed and/or taught. That said, if what they teach is the truth, then of course I hold to it. And if one disagrees with what they teach, one needs to actually do so because the Bible says so, not because one does not like what they teach, much less reject a caricature of it. Sadly, the amount of strawmen burned by Frame blackened the sky with smoke. Lots of heat is produced, but not only is no light produced, but darkness covers the land because of his hack job of a book.

Frame's second chapter is an attack on Horton's book Christless Christianity. First of all, Frame misrepresents even Horton's position vis-a-vis the American churches. Frame claims that Horton makes a blanket condemnation of ALL churches and then backtracks later (pp. 23-4). The whole representation is ludicrous and one wonders whether Frame has problems with basic reading comprehension. In which world is general statements necessarily meant to be taken to be applicable to all of the particulars? This is the logical fallacy of division. Frame next reads Horton's saying that some professing Christians focus on good things as being a subtle distraction away from Christ, and mutates it into saying that Horton claims a two-tiered hierarchy of believers, the "higher" ones focusing on the best things and the "lower" ones focusing merely on the good things (p. 25). I must say this, and at various other point, I am rendered speechless as to how to even respond to such misrepresentations. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say perhaps because Frame reads this as speaking of actual Christians who are focusing on good things, while Horton is "denigrating" them for the purpose of setting up the "higher level" of those who focus on the "best things." But this is such a twisted thinking! Horton's point was that these "professing Christians" are in danger of falling away. Their conduct is not that of "second grade Christians," but conduct totally unbecoming of Christians in the first place! Throughout this chapter, Frame questions even whether anyone can be said to fall into this category. Does Horton have to name even more names and make what is clear even more evident? But I guess there is nothing that Frame sees as being unacceptable in the church, except for Confessional Reformed praxis it seems. How can anyone even defend the word-faith heretic Joel Osteen (p. 38) is beyond me. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reading Osteen in the "worst possible sense" (p. 38), for his theology is not hidden at all. Does Frame think that the Bible teaches that men are little gods and that they can claim God's blessings on demand, and only on demand? Does he thinks that it is perfectly in line with Scripture for people to say that God cannot do anything on this world without the express permission of men? Does he believe that it is perfectly legit for Christians to want to be rich and pay seed money to attempt to get a hundred-fold return on their "investments" into God's treasury?!

Frame defends the modern evangelical churches by claiming that there is nothing wrong with "application," since the Bible speaks about them (p. 30). Conversely, he accuses Horton (and the "Escondido Theology") of being against application (p. xxxvii). But this is nothing but a total misrepresentation of Horton's views. The problem is that Horton grounds application in right doctrine. One has to get the indicative of the Gospel before going to the imperatives of the faith. To just preach imperatives or even on "secular" topics is the very definition of "Christless Christianity." Frame does not even show the slightest hint that he knows that is what Horton is actually advocating. Instead, he sees an attack on "applicational preaching" and "preaching to felt needs" as being an attack on any forms of application at all (pp. 35-6), but this is a total non sequitur! Frame also thinks that Horton's critique of the language of "making him [i.e.Christ] relevant" is an attack on any and all forms of translating and communicating God's truth (pp. 35-7). I mean, how can one read a critique of saying that we should not soften the offense of the Gospel as saying that we should not translate the Gospel into another language like Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese? Seriously, what world is Frame living in, to make such egregious errors in reading comprehension?

More examples of absolutely horrendous misrepresentations follow. A critique of pietism with its focus on one's emotional feeling of salvation becomes misinterpreted as a denial of the Spirit's witness to our salvation (p. 40). Horton's distinction between Law and Gospel under Frame's pen becomes the separation of Law and Gospel (pp. 44-7). Horton's critique of moralism becomes an attack on all forms of using biblical figures as examples (p. 48). After reading through this chapter, one wonders if there is anything, just ANYTHING, that Frame does not misrepresent.

Frame concluded his chapter with a so-called "summary" of Horton's arguments in Christless Christianity, which are all misrepresentations of his actual positions. They are as follows (pp. 58-9), with my comments.

  1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to God.
    Answer: Misleading. Attention to ourselves as primary necessarily detracts from attention to God.

  2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearer.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Horton's argument is that we should not be focused on changing or watering down the message in the name of communicating the Gospel or making it relevant.

  3. God's sovereignty and human responsibility are a zero-sum game. The idea that man must do something compromises the absolute sovereignty of God.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! The issue is not about working on sanctification, but about the Gospel and justification which is totally free and MUST be the foundation for sanctification.

  4. God's work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us (Here he backtracks some.)
    Answer: Misleading and misrepresentation. God's work of salvation is not at all subjective in the sense of our emotional feeling of it. The work of Christ in us (regeneration and faith) is objective, not subjective, since God is the one who does the work. It may be expressed subjectively, but the works themselves are not subjective. Furthermore, it is one thing to know of the Spirit's work internally, and another to feel it emotively.

  5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a "theology of glory," deserving condemnation
    Answer: Misleading. God does promise us earthly blessings, but God does NOT promise us "earthly blessings" of health and wealth. The focus of God's blessings is not on earthly gain, but on our sanctification. To desire "earthly blessings" is indeed a "theology of glory" because it desires the glory of the world instead of Christ.

  6. Law and Gospel should be utterly separate. There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Law and Gospel are distinct, but not separate. When used as theological categories, they are not necessarily linked to the text like some simplistic idea of "Law" equals Old Testament and "Gospel" equals New Testament, or even "Gospel" equals the four Gospels.

  7. Preaching of the gospel must never use biblical characters as moral or spiritual examples. Nor must it address practical ethical issues in the Christian life.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Preaching of the Gospel must never use biblical examples WITHOUT seeing them in light of Christ and the Gospel, not that they must never be used.

  8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.
    Answer: Misleading. A focus on redemption does not mean that other issues are not important, just that they are peripheral to the faith, and should orientate themselves with Christ and the Gospel in the center.

  9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! A rejection of contemporary "participation" in worship does not imply that the congregation is fully passive in worship

  10. Analysts of the church must compare the Church's focus on Christ with its focus on other things, rather than considering that many of these other things are in fact applications of Christ's own person and work.
    Answer: Misrepresentation of much of American evangelicalism. It is not that they are applying Christ's person and work, as that they are using Scripture to preach on ethics without Christ and His work being central.

And this is just the beginning of Frame's misrepresentations...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cheungism, Biblicism and philosophy

Those who claim to have no tradition are often the ones with the most traditions -paraphrased saying of Dr. James R. White

An unpublished comment by the Cheungian Gregory S. Gill, which had violated rule number 5 (and thus deleted), claimed to follow the Scriptures and not philosophy in his holding to the heresy that God is the Author of sin. Looking at that comment, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, such is how terribly inane such statements are. There is no one without philosophy. The question however is whether one is conscious of it. Nobody actually arrives at the Scriptures, or any other book for that matter, a tabula rasa. In this particular instance, Gill smuggled his philosophy of nominalism into the text of Scripture. Where in Scripture is nominalism taught? Nowhere of course. He smuggled his philosophy under the pretense of reading Scripture only, and then accuse those who disagree with his philosophy of importing philosophy into the text of Scripture. Oh, the irony of ironies!

That is why biblicism is wrong. There are all manner of biblicists around, and it would truly be a thing to behold if you could place a couple of them in the same room to discuss theology. Each of them will accuse the other of importing philosophy into the text and distorting the "plain teaching" of Scripture, and each of them will deny the charge. The Jehovah's Witness, the Seventh-Day Adventist, the Arian, the Socinian — all claim to follow the Scriptures only. I could just imagine the chaos that would erupt when the accusations of "philosophy" start flying around the room they would be placed together.

The alternative to biblicism (Solo Scriptura) is Scripture as foundation, reading Scripture with an understanding of Scripture as the norming norm (norma normans non normata) and the Christian tradition as the normed norm (norma normans et normata). That is why, although we should not slavishly follow philosophy, we need to understand it and realize its use in theology, especially classical theology's usage of Aristotelianism. No one philosophy is sacrosanct, but the situatedness of theologizing imply that in some sense, the philosophies utilized in the Christian tradition are in some ways integral to the orthodox Christian faith, in the way those doctrines have been historically understood and formulated. One cannot reject them because of its "philosophical underpinnings," since we as humans are unable to transcend philosophizing, and thus we must always utilize philosophy of one kind or another. So instead of thinking we can transcend our historical situatedness, it would be better that we acknowledge our own traditions and philosophies, thus enabling us to be most honest and enabling more genuine discussions over any matters of controversies.

This side of post-modernity, denying the idea of human situatedness is not tolerable. Whatever its faults, the postmodern project has exposed the hubris of humans trying to transcend their creaturely status. It is therefore illustrative when Cheungians claim access to truth that are untied to historical or philosophical contingencies. By denying situatedness, Cheungians deny the archetypal/ ectypal distinction and erode the Creator-creature distinction. Instead of thinking God's thoughts after Him, they want to think the very thoughts of God in se. It is clear which one is more bounded by philosophy and contrary to the Reformed faith, and its naive view of philosophy and history marks it as not worthy of intellectual consideration.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The sovereign God, His decrees and secondary causes

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. [WCF 3.1. OPC edition. Taken from The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with Proof Texts (Wilow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2005, 2008), 12]

A friend of mine asked me to write on what I am for, if I am against Vincent Cheung's promotion of God as the Author of sin. That is rather simple. It is based upon the position of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which I subscribe wholeheartedly. God is the cause of all things, but God is not the author of sin. What that means I will explicate further.

Before I begin, I would like to direct attention to this post I had written 7 years ago, and to which I have not changed my position. It also has a nice chart to which I still think is excellent, and which I will reproduce as follows:

CausesPrimarySecondary
ActiveGod personally does this action by a positive extension of His willGod does this action through intermediaries by a positive extension of His will
PassiveGod personally does this action by not doing something in order to accomplish His willGod does this action through intermediaries by not doing something in order to accomplish His will

Back to the topic. We believe in the sovereignty of God over all things. Furthermore, God has total exhaustive control over everything both good and evil. Nothing happens without God approving of it, either actively or passively. God's sovereignty is worked out in His decrees, the proclamation of His plans to the cosmos of what is to happen and what is to come. God decreed it from eternity, and this decree once proclaimed will work itself out when the time comes. God's decrees are not God's work. The former is the plan, the latter its execution. Just as a carpenter draws up the plans for his work e.g. a table, and then he executes the plan to create that table, so likewise God "draws up" His plans, and when the time comes, the plans are executed.

The Reformed tradition and in fact almost all of Christian theology until recent times have always believed that God ordained whatsoever comes to pass. The difference between competing traditions (Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism) is what functions as the basis of God's ordination. The Reformed claims, as Ephesians 1:11 states, that the basis for God's choices, God's ordination, is God's free will. God decides freely, which is to say He does not decides based upon anything external to Himself. God decides unchangeably, which is to say God decides, and there is no change at all in any of His decisions. God after all does not change (Num. 23:19 Mal. 3:6) as He is perfect. Any change at all would have meant He was imperfect before the change. God's decides based upon His free will, and the counsel of His will is most holy and wise, as God is full perfection.

God decrees everything. Yet while we fully affirm God's decree of all things, yet we state unequivocally and clearly that God is not the Author of sin, which is to say that although God decrees everything, yet this decree does not imply that God personally creates or does sin (which is what "primary cause" means in Aristotelianism). Sin is done by the creature. God is fully passive in their sinning, by not intervening to stop them from sinning. Now, many people have the idea that mere allowance implies God is uninvolved, but that is false. Since God controls everything, even God's allowance is allowance of God as to where the person and how the person can sin. As an analogy, imagine 5 marbles. If I were to ask the person to choose a marble but take away four of them, the person can only choose one marble even though there was no external coercion upon him to choose it. Or to give a better, and more biblical analogy, the heart of Man is like a river. It flows. God directs the river's path, as He does the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1). In this analogy, the river flows and God direct them, but God does not make the river flow. Likewise, God changes circumstances and uses all manner of intermediaries so that the person will do what God intends, but the motivation (like the kinetic flow of water in the river) derives solely from the hearts of men.

Sin therefore is under God passively and secondarily. God's causing sin is "through intermediaries by not doing something in order to accomplish His will." God is not the author or the primary cause of sin. Rather, sin is sovereignly controlled by God through the use of intermediaries, or second causes. These second causes are actual and are real. They actually make real choices, not robots dictated by God that they can only make one choice. Just like the hearts of kings, the control is through direction, not choice. They freely choose, but their choices will always be what God intended them to choose.

As I have mentioned in that old 7-year old post, which God is more sovereign: the God who sovereignly controls all things such that everyone can make free choices yet their choices are always what God intended them to make, or a god who has his decrees and the free choice of anyone could potentially jeopardize his plans? Surely it is the former! This is why the Confession says that the "liberty or contingency of second causes [are not] taken away, but rather established," because God's full sovereignty means that Man's free actions are truly free; God does not have to impose restrictions on Man's freedom for His will to be done and for men to do what He has always planned for them to do. God is just THAT sovereign! That is why Calvinism is not fatalism in any sense, because in fatalism one always lives in fear that one's actions might be contrary to one's fate or destiny.

God is sovereign, and Man is free. That has been the truth trumpeted since the Reformation, and even before that in some form. Cheung's teaching on the other hand is novel, and shows the sovereignty of a god who will lose control if anything is not under his direct control. That is not the God of Scripture, and not the Lord I worship.

Gordon Clark on the "Author of Sin"

Summarizing the Scriptures, the [Westminster] Confession says here that God is not the author of sin; that is God does nothing sinful. Even those Christians who are not Calvinists must admit that God in some sense is the cause of sin, for he is the sole ultimate cause of everything. But God does not commit the sinful act, nor does he approve of it and reward it. Perhaps this illustration is faulty, as most illustrations are, but consider that God is the cause of my writing this book. Who would deny that God is the first or ultimate cause, since it was he who created mankind? But although God is the cause of his chapter, he is not its author. ...

The Scripture references show clearly that God controls the wills of men. ...

This does not mean that violence was done to the will of the creatures. It was not as if [in the case of Absalom and his men choosing a war plan] the men wanted to adopt Ahithophel's plan and were forced to follow Hushai against their desires. ... But it must be noted that God established psychological processes just as truly as he established physical processes.

This ties in with the next phrase, "nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

In the case of Absalom the secondary causes were the psychological proceses. The decision the men of Israel made was not made in opposition to those processes, nor even without them. God has established such processes for the purpose of accomplishing his will. He does not arrange things or control history apart from secondary causes.

To mention other examples, God decreed to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt; but they had to do the walking themselves. God decreed that Solomon should build the temple; but Solomon had to collect the materials. God dos not decree the end apart from the means. He decrees that the end shall be accomplished by means of the means. [Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2001), 37-8]

None of these can be affirmed by Vincent Cheung and his drones, who claim that (1) God is the Author of sin, (2) God is the primary cause of everything, (3)Second causes are mere occasions, not actually and truly real processes in which God is in control but not directly working

Recent consolidated articles

I have consolidated my posts on Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism into one article here, and consolidated my review of Ronald E. Osborn's book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, with some editing and a brief conclusion, here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The irrational nominalism of Cheungians

In their defence of their idol, Vincent Cheung, Cheungians behave like mindless drones repeating what their guru has taught them so well. It is really really sad that those who claim to be rational are the most impervious to logical reasoning. Not only are they impervious to reason, they propagate Cheungism and share their guru's writings as if they live by every word from his mouth

In the matter of ascribing the title "Author of sin" to God, Cheung came up with a seemingly easy answer to the question of theodicy. By definition, God is good, and therefore God cannot be called evil even though God is the author of sin. But this does not and will not work. Cheung's logical syllogism is as follows:

p = God is the Author of sin
r = God acts according to His nature
q = God is evil

P1: p
P2: not q
Conclusion: Not q

The problem is that statement p, when coupled with r, necessitates conclusion q. If that is indeed the case, then Cheung's argument become as follows:

P1': If p [and r; therefore q]
P2: not q
P3, p, r
C': not q

As it can be clearly seen, the new syllogism is clearly invalid and logically contradictory. Does it matter how true P2 is? If I shout over and over again statement q, that God is not evil by definition, does it solve the logical problem inherent to Cheung's position? NO, it doesn't! Logic is a tool. They are rules governing thought, and validity and invalidity of arguments does not lie in what the subject matter being discussed is. Insert anything, any proposition, you might wish into 'p,' 'q,' 'r' and the validity or invalidity of the argument does not change. The argument form: If p and r, then q; p, r, not q, therefore not q, is an invalid form of argument, regardless of the cognitive content of the argument.

Cheung's drones repeat over and over again "God by definition is not evil." That is "Not Q" and as it can be clearly seen from the form of the argument, asserting not-q over and over again does not make an invalid argument valid. As long as I can show the truth of premise 1', Cheung's argument is toast, period. Cheung's nominalism expressed in repeating "God is by definition not evil" like a mantra over and over again is useless. It is illogical to think that the problem is solved just by the mere assertion of a single premise. This is basic logic 101, on the definitions of soundness and validity of arguments. Cheung failed logic 101, and his followers fall headlong together with him into collective intellectual suicide.

If you are a Cheungian, please repent of following that false teacher. He has led you astray, clouded your mind towards irrational argumentation, in the false flag operation of being rational. May the Holy Spirit have mercy to break the bondage Cheung has on your mind and on your soul

I challenge all unrepentant Cheungians to a contest in logic. Elucidate the logical forms of all your premises and conclusions in nice, neat propositional logic forms, and then we can discuss who exactly is being logical

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Repost: Eternal Justification and Hyper-Calvinism

Back in 2010 (how time flies), I had posted on the topic of Eternal Justification here. I have matured in my thinking since then and would like to modify some things in that piece.

The main thing I would modify is with regards to the distinction I made between "timeless" and "everlasting." I would now say that God in Himself is timeless (imminent Trinity) while God in His works is everlasting (economic Trinity). The problem with both Eternal Justification and Hyper-Calvinism is the flattening of the distinction between the imminent and economic Trinity, such that everything is about the imminent Trinity, the "naked God" as it were. I would also like to modify the issue regarding the rationalism of the 18th century Hypers with the discussion I had in my previous post on the issue.

Overall, I stand by what I have written 4 years back. The blog post I had referenced on the heinous errors of Hyper-Calvinism seemed to have disappeared, but, as with almost anything on the Internet, what is posted will never truly disappear, and it can be found here. It is interesting to note the first point stated about Hyper-Calvinism is the statement that God is the author of sin and evil, precisely the point at which Vincent Cheung has gone astray.

Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism: The temptation to over-react

Fourthly, the Hyper-Calvinists were sincere men of average intelligence, but they lacked a prophetical and discerning spirit. They keenly desire to glorify God and mistakenly believed that God was more glorified in the exaltation of free grace in the pulpit and on the printed page, than in the evangelism and conversion of men. They became so obsessed with the defence of what they regarded as sound doctrine that the evangelistic note of Scripture as basically an overture by God towards sinners was muted. This lack of interest in evangelism (and a reference to evangelism in their books is virtually impossible to find) came, as we have seen, with the deduction of the duty of ministers in preaching from the secret will of the Lord, the will of His decrees. They did not realise what a baneful influence their doctrines would have upon those who followed in their footsteps. [Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765 (London, UK: The Olive Tree, 1967), 148]

As we have seen, it was a reaction within Nonconformity to Neonomism and Arminianism that resulted in the rise of Antinomianism and Hyper-Calvinism in the early 18th century. The Noncomformist pastors and theologians had good intentions, but good intentions alone is insufficient in the Christian life. Sadly, their efforts resulted in an arid church climate, such that God used the Evangelical Arminian John Wesley in the later half of the 18th century to chastise them for their lack of concern over evangelism, which was caused by their flawed theologies. Likewise, I am deeply concerned over the extreme views emanating from the online pen of Vincent Cheung, and the almost fanatical devotion his followers have for his views to the point of comparative neglect of many others.

My question to Cheung and his followers are thus: Are you open to the possibility that you just might be wrong? Does it not bother you at all that no one else in the entire 20 centuries of church history held to your position? Can you see that you just might have overreacted to the errors of the modern contemporary American (and American-influenced) churches, in the same way as the 18th century Noncomfromists overreacted to the errors of their time?

When you read those whom you disagree with, do you try to read them to understand where they are coming from, instead of circling the wagons and pigeon-holing them into a particular category? I am no Vantillian, but I appreciate Van Til's writings even where I disagree with some of what he says. Can you say that about those whom you disagree with, and actually try to understand where they are coming from? Would you even consider the objections people have made, instead of imputing whatever meaning you please to the words they use, and see any critique of e.g. rationalism, as an attack on rationality?

I admire your zeal, but it is greatly misplaced. Your philosophy has clouded your thinking, instead of clarifying it. There is a reason why tradition (small "t") exists, not that we are held captive to it, but that it guides us in the path we should go in our theologizing. Christianity was not born yesterday, and true theology has not been lost until the dawning of Vincent Cheung, or anyone else for that matter. Shouldn't you be guided by the Reformed and Christian tradition, instead of thinking that everyone, every single one of you is doing theology de novo? To raise some precedents, almost all biblicists have deviated in some way from the faith, from the Seventh-Day Adventists to the Jehovah's Witnesses to even Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell (founders of the Stone-Campbell movement). The fruit of biblicalism has been anything but biblical, so why do you insist on going down that path?

The temptation to over-react is always there. But overreactions almost invariably have potentially deadly consequences. For the sakes of your souls, please abandon Cheungism. Being "logical" (as opposed to being truly biblical and logical) is not a sufficient price for jeopardizing your salvation. Stop being so proud and certain of yourselves, and come and learn from the Reformed tradition. Not everything found in the Reformed tradition may be right, but at least you will be on the right track.

If you persist in Cheung's errors, be warned that it would lead you onto a path of death. For the sake of your souls, awake from your slumber and abandon it now. Do not be deceived, there is no life in that way, and only fools tread in that path.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov. 14:12)

Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism: The rise of heresies

Secondly, between 1689 and 1765, High Calvinism was placed in an environment which emphasised the role of reason in religious faith. This meant that the High Calvinists were in danger either of absorbing the rationalism, or of rejecting it completely, or of doing both. It would seem Joseph Hussey fell prey to both temptations. He absorbed the rationalistic tendencies of his day and applied strict logic to Biblical doctrines so that from the doctrines of eternal election and irresistible grace he deduced that Christ should not be offered to all men. And also he deduced from the part which he believed that Christ played in the covenant of grace the doctrine that Christ's humanity was "standing in God" before the creation of the world. One of Hussey's followers, Samuel Stockell, abandoned the doctrine of eternal generation because he could not conceive how "the Begetter and the Begotten" could be of equal date. [Lewis] Wayman, [John] Gill and [John] Brine applied logic to the (hypothetical) covenant of works and deduced the doctrine that it is not the duty of hearers of the Gospel to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet all these men believed that they were not being rationalistic in a human sense but were simply applying "evangelical reason", or reason inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the Bible's teaching. [Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765 (London, UK: The Olive Tree, 1967), 147]

In the 18th century, the orthodox (what Toon called the "High Calvinists") were shocked at the growing apostasy within both Anglican but especially Nonconformist circles. They were appalled and "a group of influential laymen decided to sponsor a series of lectures in defence of what they considered to be the main doctrines of the Protestant faith." (ibid., 42). The upshot was a strong reaffirmation of sound doctrine, yet at the same time danger lurks even within the camp.

The orthodox were not immune to the rationalist zeitgeist. They decided to use what they think is "evangelical reason." Here, we already seen a problem with their hermeneutics. Reason according to sound orthodoxy is a reason that reasons after faith. Fides quaerens intellectum — Faith seeking understanding. Faith provides the premises and manner for the exercise of reason. In this so-called "evangelical reason" however, reason chose the manner of reasoning and faith provides the "premises" through proof-texting. The traditional view is that reason works only after faith has provided the framework for it to function. The new "evangelical" view is that reason provides the framework while faith provides only the premises. That is why we can have biblicists like Samuel Stockell abandoning the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son. His reasoning process is as follows: The premises derived from Scripture are: "The Begetter is from eternity" and "The Begotten is from eternity." "By definition" the Begetter is temporally prior to the Begotten, so in conclusion, the eternal generation of the Son must be denied. Notice that Stockell's reasoning uses biblical truths as mere premises. Instead of understanding the form of reasoning behind the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and evaluating it rationally, he uses a rationalistic form of argument with the input of biblical premises in his form of "evangelical reason."

This 18th century evangelical rationalism resulted in the emergence of two main errors within Noncomformity: Antinomianism and Hyper-Calvinism. Antinomianism is the denial of the third use of the Law, and had its main proponent in Tobias Crisp (d. 1642). It is noted that we are speaking of "Doctrinal Antinomianism" here, as there is no indication that those promoting these teachings were in any way deficient in Christian conduct. As a reaction to Richard Baxter's neonomism, Crisp denied that God's law performed any function at all for a Christian. As Toon wrote:

The basic underlying difference of opinion in the Antinomian controversy concerned the nature of the law of God. Since his purpose was to extol Christ and free grace, Crisp had little to say about the moral law. ... he believed that God's justice is affronted by human transgression of His law, although he never seems to have explicitly stated that God's law is an eternal expression of His righteousness and justice.

...

He believed that the law served a useful purpose in convincing men of their need of a Saviour; nevertheless, he gave it little or no place in the life of a Christian since he held that "free grace is the teacher of good works." (ibid., 54)

As it can be seen, Crisp's stance is reactionary and directly opposite Baxter's neonomian idea of a salvation that takes account of works in some sense.

Following upon the heels of the antinomian controversy was the hard-shelling of Calvinism into Hyper-Calvinism. First, the doctrine of eternal justification was promoted by Isaac Chauncy (ibid., 61). The embrace of Eternal Justification betrays the flatenning of the imminent and economical Trinity in the theologies of the Hyper-Calvinists as time and eternity begin to be blurred. God's work in time was rationalistically seen to be a mirror portrayal of the imminent workings of the Trinity, and therefore justification must be eternal if it is to be actual for believers. The distinctions between God's being, God's decrees and God's work are burred in this rationalistic theory of eternal justification. Such blurring codified itself in Hyper-Calvinism, its logical conclusion. In 1706 and 1707, Joseph Hussy took this philosophical blurring of the imminent and economical Trinity to its logical conclusion in the denial of the offer of the Gospel (ibid., 74-5). Since God issues forth his irresistible grace only to the elect, this grace (of the economical Trinity) is a reflection of His call only to the elect (imminent Trinity). An offer to the non-elect (economical Trinity) has no reflection at all in God's eternal decree (imminent Trinity) and therefore such is to be rejected. As one of Hussey's 20 propositions states, "We must preach the Gospel as it is most fitted to the display of effectual grace. To offer God's grace is to steal: God saith, Thou shalt not steal." (ibid., 81) From Joseph Hussey to Lewis Wayman, John Gill and John Brine, this rationalistic tendency follows through in their denials of the offer of the Gospel. To be sure, Hussey, Gill and other do not deny that the Gospel ought to be preached to all. Rather, they deny that the Gospel is to be offered to all.

We see thus that rationalism had caused the creation of two heresies within the supposed defenders of the faith. Reacting against Neonomism and Arminianism, they swung to the opposite errors of Antinomanism and Hyper-Calvinism. The rise of heresies oftentimes come out of good intentions, as the case of the devolution of 18th century Noncomformity shows.

The parallels with Vincent Cheung in the early 21st century is not hard to discern. Cheung reasons rationalistically as well, using biblical truths as mere proof-text premises to insert into a priori rationalistically formed syllogisms. The Hyper-Calvinists of the 18th century flattened the distinction between the imminent and the economic Trinity, which resulted in their promotion of Hyper-Calvinism. Cheung likewise flattens the distinction between primary and secondary causation, which results in his monstrous doctrine of God being the author of sin. The 18th century Hyper-Calvinists were reacting to Arminianism and Socinianism, so likewise Cheung reacts against the soft-peddling of Calvinism in the Neo-Amyraldian views of contemporary New [Evangelical] Calvinism. The parallels are striking. And just as the 18th century English Hyper-Calvinists are in error, so likewise Cheung is in error.

[to be concluded]

Monday, August 11, 2014

Vincent Cheung and 18th century English Hyper-Calvinism: Social religious contexts

First, we may note that after the Restoration in 1660 orthodox Calvinism became, as it were, a cause under siege. The majority of Puritans who were orthodox Calvinists left the Church of England in 1662 to become Noncomformists. Thus the religious leadership of the nation was lodged firmly in the hands of men who were either Arminian or moderately Calvinistic in theology. The ejected ministers, being Noncomformists, were placed under harsh and cruel restrictions until 1688 and this severely curtailed their influence upon the religious thought of the nation. As the older men died their places were taken by younger men who had been educated under liberalizing influences in Holland and so a Moderated Calvinism gradually became popular, especially amongst the Presbyterian Dissenters. As the years passed by High Calvinism became more and more the sole preserve of the Independents and the Particular Baptists. The Antinomian controversy of the 1690s served to widen the gap between High Calvinism and Moderated Calvinism, and as the eighteenth century passed by, High Calvinism became in the main, the faith of the poorly-educated Independents and Baptists. These men who clung to the doctrines of High Calvinism saw themselves as a group preserved by God in an apostate age to defend “the faith once delivered to the saints”. Their time was taken up by the defence of their faith and it was in this atmosphere of a cause under siege that Hyper-Calvinism was born and nurtured. [Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765 (London, UK: The Olive Tree, 1967), 146]

England in the late 17th and early 18th century was a time of moderation of religion. It was the Augustan era, which was followed by the Victorian era. The Glorious Revolution in 1688 had deposed the last Roman Catholic Stuart Monarch James II. James II had presided over the continued persecution of Nonconformity and the killing fields of Scotland, where he tried to impose Prelacy upon the Scots. After all the inter-confessional strife, the terrible 30-years war (1619-1648) on the continent and both the English Civil war (1642-1651) and the ruthless persecution and bloodletting following the Restoration of 1660, European Christianity entered into the deconfessional and nascent Enlightenment era. People desired peace and toleration, even within the churches. What was the point of continued strife, as if killing everyone who disagreed with you was an answer to anything? In 1689, the Act of Toleration was signed into law allowing for the meeting of Protestant Dissenters, but not Roman Catholics, as long as they register with the government.

The times were changing. This was the period preceding the Industrial Revolution. Descartes had kick-started modern thought as he tried to come up with a third way (tertia via), as a reaction to the terrible massacres of the wars of religion. The turn to reason or empirical inquiry sought to ground knowledge on something more objective that can be argued for, instead of the confessional impasse between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Contrary to modern rationalism, non-French Enlightenment was not trying to supplant religion altogether, but rather Anglo-American Enlightenment thought desired to use reason to explicate the truths of religion. The Enlightenment in its three main forms (French, Anglo-American, German) can be seen as the bitter reaction against the Constantinian captivity of the Church in both its Roman and Protestant forms.

It is not surprising, though sad, that people were abandoning the Christian faith for the new teachings. Socinianism came into England where it was embraced by members within the Church of England, and it provoked controversy within the Anglican Communion (Toon, 36-7). Samuel Clarke, a rationalist and biblicist, published his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity in 1712 which examined the doctrine of the Trinity and denied it as being taught in Scripture (ibid., 37). We must remember that Clarke was not denying the Trinity because of any denial of the authority of Scripture. Rather, he was claiming that precisely because He follows Scripture only (biblicistically), the doctrine of the Trinity should be denied. Within the establishment, the eruption of Socinianism and Arianism caused much controversy

Among the Calvinistic Dissenters, many were influenced by the "moderate Calvinism" of the school of Saumur (most famous for its "4-point Calvinism or Amyraldism). Others followed Richard Baxter's Neonomian thought. The "moderate Calvinism" proved to be a Trojan Horse for many errors. In the continent, "moderate Calvinism" resulted in deconfessionalism and the toleration of errors in the days of Jean-Alphonse Turretin in the early 18th century. In England, "moderate Calvinism" became the vehicle for rationalism in religion resulting in many dissenters, particularly Presbyterians, denying the doctrine of the Trinity and becoming Arians (ibid., 39). In both establishment and dissenting circles, apostasy from the faith was rife. It was truly a sad time for orthodoxy.

The orthodox party among the dissenters consists mostly of less learned laymen, and increasingly, many of them were Baptists. (ibid., 146). Faced with the assault upon orthodoxy, they felt obliged to defend the faith. Many of them were self-taught and sought to defend the Calvinistic faith as best as they could. Being less learned, there was a tendency to veer towards the opposite error of what they were opposing, and this led to the various controversies that will plague Noncomformity in the early 18th century.

The relevance this has for today can be seen in the similar environment we find ourselves in. Mainstream Christianity, both mainline and evangelical, are riddled with all manner of errors, many of them serious. There is a need to defend the faith and affirm the truths taught in Scripture. More particularly, there is much soft-pedaling of Calvinism even within the so-called "New Calvinist" circles, in which their "Calvinism" has more in common with Amyraldism than true orthodox Calvinism. The social religious contexts of both early 18th century England and our times are very similar. In both situations, there is a dire need for sound teaching, and in both situations, catastrophe strikes even within orthodoxy.