Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Charles Hodge and the republication in the Mosaic covenant

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic Law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii.6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:375)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Supralapsarianism, and Charles Hodge's objections to it

The debate between Intralapsarianism and Suprelapsarianism concerns the logical order of God's decrees. God as the sovereign Ruler plans for everything, and thus the various decrees of God are God's directives to cause various and diverse things to happen in space-time. Thus, there is the decree of creation, which results in the creation of this universe, and the decree of the incarnation, where the Son willingly came down and was born of a woman into this world, which is part of the overall decree of redemption. Since in eternity (past) time doesn't really exist, the order of the decrees must be logical, not temporal. In other words, what is the best way we can understand how God's decrees relate to each other?

In the Supralapsarian scheme, the decree of election and reprobation comes before (thus "supra-") the decree of the Fall. Thus, the order is (1) the decree of election and reprobation, (2) the decree to cause the Fall, and (3) the decree to create. Whereas, in the Infralapsarian scheme, the decree of election and reprobation comes after (thus "infra-") the decree of the Fall. Thus, the order would be (1) the decree to create, (2) the decree to cause the Fall, (3) the decree of election and reprobation. It is to be noted that the logical order of the decree is just that: logical. It therefore does not concern the execution of the decrees in space-time, one thing which we need to take note when we look at the Reformed Confessions none of which have dealt specifically with anything other than the execution of the decrees.

Charles Hodge in pages 318-319 of volume 2 of his Systematic Theology lists down his objections to Surpralapsarianism. I think them singularly unconvincing and would like to provide a response to his objections.

Hodge's first objection is that Supralapsarianism involves a contradiction because the objects of the decree of election and reprobation need to exist, for nothing can be determined of a non-entity. This objection however is to confuse the idea of a logical order with the execution of that order in space-time. Individuals can be thought of before they have existed, in fact they must be for after that this is how any piece of fiction is made: One conceives of the plot and the characters before writing them down. One does not (at least in a good plot) introduce a character without any idea of what that character would be doing in the story, so how much more are individual humans before the Creator God, the Author of the greatest story ever told?

The second objection argues from the principle that "where there is no sin there is no condemnation" to show that foreordination unto death must contemplate its objects as being already sinful. But this fails to distinguish between the aspects of preterition (passing-by) and condemnation. Reprobation in the orthodox scheme is never equivalent to election. Election is God's active work to save sinners, while reprobation is God's passive work in leaving sinners in their sin. [Note: the use of the word "sinners" here is the language of the execution of those decrees]. The decree of reprobation therefore includes their preterition, and then only after that, their subsequent condemnation. No reprobate is ever condemned apart from consideration of his sins, and thus, while we agree that where there is no sin there is no condemnation, we disagree that this has anything to say about the decree of reprobation, which is primarily about preterition, which does lead to damnation but is not damnation per se.

Hodge's third objection is that the language of Romans 9:9-21 is that the "'mass' out of which some are chosen and others left, is the mass of fallen men" (2:318). But this again confuses the logical order of the decree with the execution of that order, which, as the scholar Robert Reymond has pointed out, is always the inverse of the logical order of the decree. His fourth objection is that creation in the Bible is never represented as a means to execute the purposes of election and reprobation, but that to me is a strawman. Creation has its own penultimate telos, but we are talking about how these decrees relate to each other logically, not whether these decrees have legitimate penultimate purposes different from each other. The decrees of God are not just towards one goal only, but many goals, all of which are non-exclusive. After all, the desire to glorify the Son is not mutually exclusive to the desire to save some sinners to eternal life in Christ. Similarly, the desire to manifest His glory in Creation is not mutually exclusive from the desire to glorify Himself through redemption.

The final objection given is that Supralapsarianism is inconsistent with the portrayal of God as a God of mercy and justice, since in Supralapsarianism individuals are condemned to "misery and eternal death" as "innocents." First of all, this confuses preterition and condemnation. Secondly, since in the Infralapsarian scheme, God permitted or passively caused the Fall which affects all subsequent "innocents," the Infralapsarian scheme is not superior to the Supralapsarian scheme in dealing with the topic of theodicy ("Why evil exists").

Hodge of course supports the Infralapsarian position. But if that is treated as the logical order of God's decrees, then it seems that election and reprobation only come about because of sin, and therefore they are contingent upon sin occurring. In the Supralapsarian scheme, the allowance of sin serves the purposes of election and reprobation, whereas in the infralapsarian scheme, election and reprobation are reactions to sin. This seems to me troubling because of what that implies for our understanding of God's desire to save us. To put it practically and somewhat simplistically for simple believers, are we saved because God has always desired to save us (Supralapsarianism), or that God desires to save us only when it appears we are falling away (Infralapsarianism)?

I mentioned that we need to decide on the best way we are to understand God's decrees as they relate to each other. The best way to relate them is to look for the ultimate purpose of God, which is His own glory, and then locate each decree in the order towards the promotion of God's glory. After all, God desires to glorify Himself, and therefore the best way to relate them is to put them in an order towards that same goal. Before time began, God who works all things for His own glory will plan for that to happen, thus we perceive the logical order of God's decrees accordingly. God of course will execute these decrees in "time," and thus in the execution we see the election and reprobation of sinners after they have sinned in Adam. Thus, we understand a logical order, and an order of execution. All of these intellectual exercises are for us to be consistent in our theology, and thus make us understand that God has always desired to save us, which did not begin only after Adam and Eve fall.

Charles Hodge against Occasionalism

A third form of necessity includes all those theories which supersede the efficiency of second causes, by referring all events to the immediate agency of the first cause. This of course is done by Pantheism in all its forms, ... According to all these views, God is the only agent; all activity is but different modes in which the activity of God manifests itself.

The theory of occasional causes leads to the same results. According to this doctrine, all efficiency is in God. Second causes are only the occasions on which that efficiency is exerted. Although this system allows a real existence to matter and mind, and admits that they are endowed with certain qualities and attributes, yet these are nothing more than susceptibilities, or receptivities for the manifestation of the divine efficiency. They furnish the occasions for the exercise of the all-pervading power of God. Matter and mind are alike passive: all the changes in the one, and all of the appearance of activity in the other, are due to God’s immediate operation. (Charles Hodge, Systematc Theology, 2:281-2)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Romans 2:6-10 and the Covenant of Works

And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:122)

According to Charles Hodge, Romans 2:6-10 is not about some idea that believers would bring forth "Spirit-wrought works," as what John Piper believes, but that it speaks about the condition of perfect obedience required in the Covenant of Works. It is because the Covenant of Works is still valid that Man continue to die physically. Death is caused by sin, and that all men die is proof that all men sin (Rom. 5:12).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hodge and the doctrine of concursus

This concursus is represented first, as general; an influence of the omnipresent power of God not only sustaining creatures and their properties and powers, but exciting each to act according to its nature. It is analogous to the general influence of the sun which affects different objects in different ways. The same solar ray softens wax and hardens clay. ... (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:599)

Concursus, therefore, assumes, (1) That God gives to second causes the power of acting. (2) That He preserves them in being and vigour. (3) That He excites and determines second causes to act. (4) That He directs and governs them to the predetermined end. ...

The doctrine of concursus does not deny the efficiency of second causes. They are real causes, having a principium agendi in themselves. (1:600)

The above statement of the doctrine of concursus is designed merely to give the views generally entertained by Augustinians, as to the nature of God's providential government. Whether those views are correct or not, it is important that they should be understood. It is very evident that there is a broad distinction between this theory of concursus and the theory which resolves all events, whether necessary or free, into the immediate agency of God. The points of difference between the two theories are, (1.) That the one admits and the other denies the reality and efficiency of second causes. (2.) The one makes no distinction between free and necessary events, attributing them equally to the almighty and creative energy of God; the other admits the validity and unspeakable importance of this distinction. (3.) The one asserts and the other denies that the agency of God is the same in sinful acts that it is in good acts. (4.) The one admits that God is the author of sin, the other repudiates that doctrine with abhorrence. (1: 603)

God works, and there are real second causes at work. To deny the real validity of second causes, like Vincent Cheung, is to make God a monster.

Hodge and Natural Theology

Those who deny that natural theology teaches anything reliable concerning God, ... (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:22)

The Scriptures clearly recognize the fact that the works of God reveal his being and attributes. This they do not only by frequent reference to the works of nature as manifestations of the perfections of God, but by direct assertions. (1:24)

Not only the act of this revelation, but its clearness is distinctly asserted by the Apostle [Paul] ... It cannot, therefore, be reasonably doubted that not only the being of God, but also his eternal power and Godhead, are so revealed in his works, as to lay a stable foundation for natural theology (1:25)

Natural theology. It seems strange to me that people think that natural theology is actually a biblical and worthwhile endaevor, as opposed to just staying with a Biblical Theology of Nature. Natural theology, in its Reformed variant, is limited in scope yet it seeks truths from nature about God. Using Romans 1:20-21 as one of its base texts, it declares that Man can from nature know something about God, namely His eternal power and divine nature. The basic Biblical Theology of Nature, or Doctrine of Created things, on the other hand, tells us what God intends Nature to convey to us. The former (Natural Theology) looks to nature for God's revelation in nature, while the latter (Biblical Theology of Nature) looks to Scripture for God's revelation in nature.

Hodge, as part of his background in some form of Scottish Common-Sense Realism, believes that one can just trust one's senses as they are. Thus, he claims that Nature's revelation is plain enough on its own to give us a natural theology. But it is one thing to believe, with Scripture, that General Revelation is enough to condemn people through some knowledge of God, and another to claim that Nature itself reveals those aspects of Nature. The two propositions are not the same, and in my opinion it is a leap to jump from the biblical teaching that God reveals in General Revelation through Nature, to God reveals in Nature. Of course, it might be argued that the first leads to the second, but that is what is under dispute here.

General Revelation is what Scripture teaches. But the mode is not explicitly mentioned. Relying on empirical data and sense experiences, or even cognitive experiences, presupposes that these are necessarily reliable for the perception of truth. But if that is the case, why is it that none of the theistic arguments are foolproof? Even the teleological argument, or the argument from design, merely proves the existence of a cosmic designer(s). Now God is certainly who we believe the designer is, but I don't think it is clear enough from that argument that there is one Designer who is the Christian God.

Hodge claims the "most obvious" and "most effective" argument "in support of the truths of natural religion" comes from "the constitution of our own nature." (1:22). But what does this even mean, since there is no consensus on the constitution of Man in philosophy? Of course, if one interprets reality through Christian lenses, then the Imago Dei certainly shows us an aspect of General Revelation, but what if one does not interpret through Christian lenses?

Hodge lives in a much more Christian environment, but for those of us who have been exposed to non-Christian thought from cultures that never had Christian influences until the modern time, we can see how pervasive Christian theological and philosophical thought patterns have pervaded the West such that even much of Western unbelief borrows from the conceptual world of the Christian worldview. What Hodge thinks are "obvious" are not actually obvious to everyone. It is not so much that the arguments are inconclusive, as that the axioms undergirding the arguments are disputed as well. Therefore, it seems to me that arguments for natural theology are undermined at the conceptual level. For example, the ontological argument assumes that perfection of being in all aspects is possible, or that just because something can be mentally conceived means that it could exist in a possible world. All such assumptions can be questioned, and it seems that unless one brings in the Christian worldview, there is no way to establish the arguments for natural theology at all.

God does reveal aspects of Himself, His eternal power and divine nature, through General Revelation. At the same time, I deny that there is actually Natural Theology of any kind. It would seem that General Revelation is mediated by daily living as opposed to philosophical arguments, for after all General Revelation is accessible to everyone including the non-philosopher. The man on the street watches the stars, and encounters God's General Revelation there, without the necessity for analysis. General Revelation therefore is by intuition through daily living in God's world, and not by philosophical arguments and empiricism or science.

Charles Hodge not a rationalist

The question is not first and mainly, What is true to the understanding, but what is true to the renewed heart? The effort is not to make the assertions of the Bible harmonize with the speculative reason, but to subject our feeble reason to the mind of God as revealed in his Word, and by his Spirit in our inner life. [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Hendrickson, 2001), 1:16]

Philosophy, in its widest sense, being the conclusions of the human intelligence as to what is true and the Bible being the declaration of God, as to what is true, it is plain that where the two contradict each other, philosophy must yield to revelation; man must yield to God. (1:58)

In the first place, reason is necessarily presupposed in every revelation. Revelation is the communication of truth to the mind. But the communication of truth supposes the capacity to receive it. (1:49)

If it [thing, theory] is seen to be impossible, no authority, and no amount or kind of evidence can impose the obligation to receive it as true. Whether, however, a thing be possible or not, is not to be arbitrarily determined. ... The impossible cannot be true; but reason in pronouncing a thing impossible must act rationally and not capriciously. (1:51)

In some circles, Charles Hodge, and Old Princeton in particular, has been marked as rationalists, in putting reason before revelation. In his systematics, the last two quotes given seem to support the idea of Hodge being a rationalist, while the first two seem to suggest otherwise. Is there a contradiction here, or are his accusers reading him wrongly?

I would suggest that those who see rationalism in Hodge have a strong aversion towards Systematics as a whole. As it can be noticed, the second quote come AFTER the other two quotes that seem to support the case that Hodge is a rationalist, which suggest that Hodge conceives of the priority of revelation through using reason. Reason is the tool used to evaluate theories, not Scripture, and that is the key point. Reason receives revelation, and therefore we can evaluate theological theories using reason as a tool, but that is totally different from saying we can reject or redefine biblical truth if it seems irrational to us. Using reason as a tool imply that we reject theories with contradictions in them, like claiming that God is both one person and three persons, or that God who is sovereign dies for all but saves only some.

An attack against reason as a tool is therefore an attack against systematics and consistent theology, in favor of irrational theories and mysticism. Perhaps that is why people prefer to tar Hodge as being a rationalist, because they reject his theology and anything that leads to Calvinism.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 3)

[continued from here and here]

Christians and trials

The antithesis is between Christianity on the one side and other philosophies and religions on the other. It is epistemological not ontological. Living in this valley of tears, Christians share many things in common with unbelievers, with struggles for meaning and provision being things we have in common.

It is here that we move on to Aaron Lim's fourth point, that Christian students face persecution in public schools but they need friends. Now, it is true to some extent Christians will struggle in this world. Yet persecution is one thing, how we should respond to it another. The fact of persecution does not necessarily mean we should avoid situations where persecution is present. After all, Jesus prayed for our protection not that we would not have persecution. Our Lord after all said that he is sending his followers as sheep among wolves (Mt. 10:16). We are not called to separate from the world, but to keep ourselves pure in the midst of the world.

Aaron shared his own personal struggle in his school years, but what relevance does that have? This writer also struggled with ostracism in his school years, but feelings are not a valid argument for anything. In fact, it is through struggles that we grow. Those who are too sheltered are severely disadvantaged when they are finally exposed to the perils of the world. An emerging butterfly will emerge weak and unable to do much if the struggle to get out of its cocoon is cut short by "help" given by someone snipping through the cocoon instead of letting the butterfly emerge naturally by itself. Pain and suffering is part and parcel of living in this cursed fallen world, and children need to learn that. Even God does not spare us from trials, but He disciplines those He loves (Heb. 12:7-11). Trials in this life are given by God, who did not promise us the absence of trials, but that He will bring us through trials (1 Cor. 10:13; Jas. 1:2-4). Are we trying to argue that just because we struggle greatly in the past, so we want to make things easier for subsequent generations by eradicating the struggles we ourselves have to face? What exactly is growing up supposed to be for in this modern era, but for comfort and self-esteem even to the creation of "safe spaces"? Have we become so pampered and soft that we need to extend kindergarten into adult years?

Yes, children need friends. Christians friends do need to be made so we can encourage each other in the Lord (Heb. 10:25). But since friendship is a creational thing, so we can and should make friends with others regardless of religion and philosophy. After all, friendship is a good thing, and friendship can function as a portal for Gospel witness too. Now, I am not advocating for making friends with wicked people and joining them in sinning. But not all unregenerate people are sinful to that extent, and some of them might even be occasions for God to work in His people.

Living the antithesis IN the world

Christians are called to be pilgrims (Heb. 11:13). Pilgrims are those who are in the land and participate in the happenings in the land, yet do so as one who feels they belong to another. They are foreigners in the land, and as such they do not feel they belong. The archetypal pilgrim is Abraham, who sojourned in the promised land, and engaged in economic activity and made covenants with the locals, yet he knew his identity as being someone belonging to another country, the City of God. Abraham did not separate himself in doing only "Christian businesses," or eating only "Christian food" or engage in other such spiritualization of common realities. The difference between him and the unregenerate is spiritual, not on things of the common sphere which he shared with the unbelieving pagans around him.

Likewise, the early Christians lived the antithetical life without denying the legitimacy of the common sphere. As an early church writing describes,

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. [Ad Diognetus, 5]

The early Christians do not separate themselves from the common realm in things of "clothing, food and the rest of their ordinary conduct," or "customs which they observe." In common affairs, they participate as other peoples. The difference is spiritual, not with regards to the common creational things. The antithetical life is to live virtuously in the midst of a wicked generation, not to separate oneself to create Christian sub-cultures. That is the way God has ordained for us. We are to be leaven in the midst of a dying world (Mt. 13:33), and bear witness in this world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not separate ourselves from it!

Aaron's fifth reason thus fall flat in light of this reality. Yes, in terms of purpose and goals, public education has contrary goals to that of Christian values. But that is irrelevant, for unless they are actually mandating indoctrination into SecularISM, one does not have to accept their principles. After all, what do you expect from unregenerate people: that they think and teach in a Christian manner? The responsibility for bringing children up in the faith belongs to the parents, and schools are educating in loco parentis (in the place of a parent). Parents are responsible for bringing children up in the faith, but why does that have to be done in schools (especially in Christian schools) instead of the home? In the exact manner of how parents are to bring their children up in the faith, the Bible only mandates the witnessing of the Gospel of salvation (Deut. 6:4-9, 20-25) and says nothing else more specific, so there should be Christian liberty where Scripture is silent. Some Christians might opt to do their duty by going through the public education system, while having catechisms and devotions in their family time, so who is to condemn them?


As I think I have proved, this attack on the "evils of public education" is utterly misguided and contrary to Scripture. No doubt there are bad public schools, but then they are bad Christians schools too. The fundamental issue is whether public education is in itself inherently evil, and to that I say NO. The PRCA's erroneous misconstruction and denial of "common grace," its radicalization of the Kuyperian doctrine of the antithesis, has led to a toxic stew of separatism and uncalled for over-the-top polemics against those who disagree with them on something we all should have Christian liberty over. Such actions such as separating from all public schools is contrary to the biblical view of being pilgrims in the land, and resembles the Anaaptists more than the Reformers.

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 2)

[continued from here]

On the antithesis and the common sphere

In Reformed theology, what exactly does the antithesis pertain to? According to both Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark (despite their disagreement on other matters), the antithesis exists at the level of one's philosophy. In other words, there is a fundamental disagreement between the systems of Christianity, and that of other belief systems. Christianity is unique and contends against all other philosophies and religions. The antithesis lies at the level of thought, of philosophy, and maintaining the antithesis is done by way of vigilance in constantly renewing our minds after God's Word (Rom. 12:2), thinking God's thoughts after him.

It will be noticed that the antithesis exists at the level of systems, not persons. Contrast this with the Neo-Kuyperian view that is expressed by Aaron Lim and his professor David Engelsma:

Describing the antithesis between Covenant children and unbelievers, Prof. Engelsma writes:

“First, the life of the believer is subject to the Word of God, whereas the unbeliever’s life is independent of the Word and in rebellion against it. Second, the goal of life is different. The believer directs his life towards God. His life is God-centered. The unbeliever leaves God out. His life is man-centered” (pg 57, Reformed Education).

[Aaron Lim, "Our Children's Education: A Covenant Necessity (III): The Evils of Public Education," Salt Shakers 33 (Jul 2015), 15]

Now it is true that theology is to be worked out in life. But when one applies the doctrine of the antithesis, one has to actually deal with how Scripture speaks about the world before applying one doctrine to the exclusion of others. Here is where the problem begins for those who are radically pushing a total antithesis, for Scripture teaches that there is not just a category of "good" and a category of "evil," but also a category called "common."

The notion of "common" is associated with the Noahic Covenant, which focuses on preservation of this world, not on salvation and special grace. It is concerned with this age, which in Latin "age" is saeculum, from which we get the word "secular." Reformed theology does not just speak about the ultimate in the coming age, but also has practical teaching and application for [the penultimate] things of this world. For example, marriage is a common or secular institution, for there is no marriage in heaven (Mt. 22:30). But just because marriage is not of ultimate value does not mean that it should be denigrated (as in Monasticism), or that Scripture has little concern for it! Imagine if we were just to focus on ultimate things, then marriage should be seen as unimportant, and working in secular jobs also. We will then go back to the medieval notion that some jobs, the "spiritual callings of ministers," are really vocations from God. Or we can take the Neo-Kuyperian route and attempt to make all jobs "special" and thus baptize one's secular job into a ministry, which tends to subvert what one is actually employed to do.

The PRCA's rejection of common grace is certainly at the root of this radicalization of Kuyper's view of the antithesis. But what the PRCA fails to do is to distinguish the (Neo)-Amyraldian and Neo-Kuyperian view of "common grace" with the Calvinist view of "common grace." The Calvinist notion of "common grace" has to do with penultimate reality, not ultimate reality. It is formally instituted in the Noahic Covenant, and treats creation (though penultimate) as important. Over against the Amyraldian view of "common grace" as being in some sense salvific, the consistent Calvinist denies the salvific value of common grace. Common Grace is nothing more and nothing less than a creational (non salvific) good. It pertains to the common kingdom, not the spiritual kingdom of the church and the kingdom.

It is because there is a legitimate category called "common" or "secular" (saeculi) that we do not have to pigeon-hole everything into "good" and "evil" categories. We see this radical antithesizing tendency at work in Engelsma's shocking words concerning the topic of friendship:

Friendship with the unbeliever is both impossible and forbidden. Friendship demands oneness in Jesus Christ. My friend and I must have God as our God together. Whoever is an enemy of God is my enemy” (pg 70, Common Grace Revisited, RFPA, 2003; as cited by Aaron Lim, "Evils," 15)

According to Engelsma, friendship MUST always be based upon oneness in Jesus Christ. That axiom is of course totally unsubstantiated, and makes sense only if we is pressed with the false dichotomy between "good" and "evil." If one reads Scripture, one can see Abraham developing friendships with people like Abimelech (Gen. 21:22-33), who is an unregenerate Canaanite ruler. King David, the man after God's heart, developed a friendship with the pagan king of Tyre Hiram (1 Chron. 14:1, 1 Ki. 5:1). Friendship therefore is a "common sphere" blessing, which can be infused with spiritual benefits to be sure (among believers) but it is not exclusively Christian. Engelsma' definition of "friendship" is one example of such radicalization of the Kuyperian doctrine of the antithesis, such that now we have a distinction between "friendship" and "Christian friendship." That is why the third stated reason is ridiculous. There is no "antithesis" between the persons of unbelievers and the persons of believers, but between their faiths. Or to use philosophical language, antithesis applies to the area of epistemology not ontology. We all still remain humans and sinners in need to salvation. Only if we refuse to acknowledge the penultimate and focus just on the ultimate can we have such antithesis being placed between believers and unbelievers! At least we do not (as yet) have a difference between air and "Christian" air, although I wouldn't be surprised if someone has thought about that already.

We will go back to the issue of "Christian friendship" later, but for now it suffices to show how radical and unbiblical Engelsma's position is concerning friendship, and Engelsma arrives at this position because of an a priori rejection of the "common" category, putting systematic theological concerns ahead of the plain teaching of Scripture.

[to be continued]

Monday, September 07, 2015

On "The Evils of Public Education" (Part 1)

When parents of the Covenant place their children in public schools, they subject their children to an environment of rampant ungodliness and worldliness. This spiritually hostile environment tempts their children to live in spiritual harmony with their ungodly peers. [Aaron Lim, "Our Children's Education: A Covenant Necessity (III): The Evils of Public Education," Salt Shakers 33 (Jul 2015), 15]

The doctrine of "common grace" is one topic that certain conservative segments within Dutch Reformed circles reject. According to groups like the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America), the doctrine of "common grace" implies that God is gracious towards the reprobates, and that He in some sense desires and works towards their salvation. Of course, that assumes that there are only the Arminian and Amyraldian interpretations of "common grace" available, but I digress. Coupled with the rejection of any notion of "common grace" is a radicalization of Abraham Kuyper's doctrine of the antithesis. Not only is the Christian faith and other religions and philosophies seen to be antithetical to each other, but the antithesis divides even between institutions and societies. The strong Dutch Calvinist tradition of Christian schooling stems from this particular strain of the antithesis as applied to schooling, and thus there is a strong promotion of Christian schools within the Dutch Reformed tradition. Now, I do not think that there is anything wrong with Christian schools; in fact I think that is a good educational path if one is available. But the issue of contention is not the goodness of Christian schools, but rather that some people would not stop at promoting good Christian schools, but that they continue on to demonize alternative ways of education as being essentially unChristian.

In an article for the latest Salt Shakers issue (a magazine of the youth of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore), Aaron Lim, a member of the congregation who was sent to the PRC seminary for theological studies, wrote an article decrying the "evils of public education." Lim is arguing against public education, seeing it as being full of evils and thus not something Christians should be in. Lim lists down a few reasons for why public education is evil. First, public education is an "environment of rampant ungodliness and worldliness." (15). Second, due to peer pressure, Christians are very much tempted to become wicked and ungodly. Third, there is the danger of "blurring the spiritual distinction" between Christians students and the children of the world. Fourth, if they resist ungodliness, they will be persecuted and ostracized, but children need friends to share their lives with. Fifth, the goal of public education is worldly and earthly-minded, which is contrary to Christianity (16), and results in children being worldly and treating the world as "a playground."

I must say that these reasons are all singularly unconvincing, and this presentation struck me as being isolationist and Anabaptist. Jesus prayed for Christians to be in the world, but not of the world (Jn. 17:14-15), but it seems to me that Aaron is arguing that we should be neither in the world nor of the world.

One main thread throughout the various reasons is the idea of the world's temptations. The theme of keeping Christian children away from public education is to keep oneself away from the world's temptations towards ungodliness. But such is to strongly associate wickedness with a particular institution ("public education"), and gives rise to a view of sin as being "something out there," instead of the biblical picture of sin as being pervasive even within Christians. According to the Scriptures, sin and wickedness pervades all mankind and the line between good and evil is NOT between "good institutions" and "worldly institutions," but through the hearts of every man. Sin is internal, not just in external institutions which we can conveniently demonize. After all, one of the most wicked institution, the Medieval Inquisition, originated not from the world but from within the Church. And if one continues to want to demonize institutions and thus condemn all of medieval Christianity, those who claim a Reformed heritage may want to consider the Salem witch trials in Puritan New England, or the massacres the Puritan armies led by Oliver Cromwell inflicted on the Irish.

We now look at the reasons one by one. The first two reasons speak of the world's temptations. Now, there is a difference between willingly putting oneself in the path of temptation, and having temptations that are part of the natural course of life. If a seductress attempts to seduce you into sexual sin, it is well and proper and mandated to flee from that temptation, as Joseph ran from Potiphar's wife. But if you see someone drops his wallet, the temptation to just take the money is to be resisted. It makes sense in the former example to flee from temptation and NOT put yourself willingly into the path of such temptations. But is entirely impossible to flee from temptations of the latter variety. Is there any way one can ensure that one will not ever be in a scenario where someone dropped his wallet in front of him? It is impossible to escape such temptations, unless one leaves the world entirely!

The presence of temptations towards worldliness therefore is no sufficient reason for separation from public schools. After all, is Aaron claiming that sin and the world does not follow us the fallen seed of Adam into Christian schools? You might not have overt worldliness, but worldliness will just assume a different guise. The Anabaptists experimented with their holy societies in the 16th century, and it did not make them any more holier than the rest who did not separate themselves from the societies of their time! The opposite sins of lawlessness and licentiousness are moralism, pride and self-righteousness, and look how the Pharisees fared before Jesus in His day. And since we are on the topic of Christian schools, do we need to talk about Calvin College and how it has managed to "redeem" science into an embrace of theistic evolution? You can take a person "out" of the world, but you can never take the world out of the person (not in this life), for we are all sinners and sin still works its iniquity even in the best of us.

Aaron says that "sin always appears attractive," and yes it does. But it is an underestimation of sin's ubiquity as if sin is just "out there" and one can easily avoid it by avoiding public education! It is the nature of things for Christians to struggle with sin, and that struggle does not cease just because one is spared the "worldly environment" of public education! Worldliness will just as quickly creep into "holy" and "spiritual" Christian education if you let it!

We will take up the other points in the next few posts.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

On Language and "contextualization"

Because language and reasoning are image-bearing capacities common to all human beings, they have the potential for constructive communication across differences in gender, ethnicity, language and culture, even as they are context-qualified, personally and communally situated, and culturally embedded. This is especially true for Scripture, God's Word for all image-bearers, and for its interpretation. [Richard Gaffin, "The Redemptive-Historical Response," in Stanley E. Porter and Beth M. Stovell, eds., Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012), 186]

In this book on the topic of hermeneutics, Richard Gaffin focuses on what I think is the crux of the issue with regards to the new hermeneutical theories. The question concerns the nature of language. Is language from God, or from Man? Is it from above, or from below? If language comes from God (not that it is God), then it must be adequate for the task of communication. The fallen nature of humanity does not destroy all language and all reasoning, but twist its usage and perception.

It is because language is a created thing from God, therefore communication is possible between men, and between God and men. We are not looking to read the minds of others, but rather each block of communication convey, in a fallible manner, the form (poetry, prose) and substance (propositions) that the author intends to communicate to the recipient. There might be missteps each step of the process (Author to Communication block to Recipient), but missteps do not imply that the process always fails or that it is geared towards failure.

Therefore, "contextualization" in the sense of translating meaning dynamically with little regard for the actual terms used, in the process of "cultural contextualization," is in error. Translation is always translation towards understanding of concepts, not towards making them familiar (like what the Insider Movement does). The new hermeneutical methods, far from achieving clarity, have created chaos and confusion, as various "interpretations" of Winnie the Pooh have shown.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Warfield on Inerrancy and Preservation of Scripture

It is another curiosity of the controversial use of a phrase, to find the Church's careful definition of the complete truth and trustworthiness of the Scriptures as belonging, as a matter of course, only to the genuine text of Scripture, represented as an appeal from the actually existing texts of Scripture to a lost autograph—as if it were the autographic codex and not the autographic text that is in question. Thus, we have heard a vast deal, of late, of "the first manuscripts of the Bible which no living man has ever seen," of "Scriptures that have disappeared forever," of "original autographs which have vanished"; concerning the contents of which these controversialists are willing to declare, with the emphasis of italics, that they know nothing, that no man knows anything, and that they are perfectly contented with their ignorance. Now, again, if this were to be taken literally, it would amount to a strong asseveration that the Bible, as God gave it to men, is lost beyond controversy; and that men are shut up, therefore, to the use of Bibles so hopelessly corrupted that it is impossible now to say what was in the original autographs and what not! [B.B. Warfield, "Inerrancy of the Original Autographs," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:583]

(1)There is nothing new under the sun. Warfield could have been describing Bart Ehrman if we didn't know the time period he was writing it.

(2) Preservation of Scripture pertains to the text of Scripture, not to the codex of Scripture. Therefore, the absence of the original autographs are not a problem at all. Since we have so many textual evidences, there are few issues with establishing the original text of Scripture among the many variants.

(3) The KJVO (King James Version-Only) position accepts the liberal axiom that an authoritative Scripture require an authoritative codex of Scripture. Whereas the liberals denies the existence of an authoritative codex, and thus they deny the authority of the text of Scripture, KJVOnlyism asserts that there MUST be an authoritative codex (i.e. the King James Version) because otherwise there would not be an authoritative text of Scripture.

Warfield on the Westminster Doctrine of Scripture, contra liberalism and Barth

The [Westminster] Confession teaches that by their inspiration the Scripture are made not only to contain but to be the Word of God. In i.2 the alternate name of Holy Scripture is "the Word of God written." In i.4 it is declared that Holy Scripture "is the Word of God"; in i. 5 it is pointed out how it evidences itself "to be the Word of God." This phraseology pervades the whole document (cf. iii. 13; x. 1, 4; xiii. 1; xiv. 1, 2; xvi. 1; xx. 2; xxi. 5, 6, 7; xxii. 7, xxiv. 4; xxx. 2; Shorter Catechism, Q. 2, 99; Larger Catechism, Q. 3, 4, 67, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160 etc.). The Holy Scripture which is thus declared to be the Word of God is defined to be itself "all the books of the Old and New Testament"; and cannot, therefore, be thought to be only selected passages in those books. It is called the "Word of God written" to distinguish it by its accidents from the spoken Word of God, as given to the prophets aforetime, in the sense of i. 1, and as explained in the citation from Calamy. Finally, when we read in the Shorter Catechism of "the Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments," we are not reading of a distinction within the limits of Scripture between a word of God and a word not of God, as if it were only asserted that the former is to be found indeed within the Scriptures; but we are reading an anti-Romish and anti-Mystic declaration that the only Word of God that is recognized is that contained in the Scriptures. This, everyone acquainted with the literature of the times will perceive at once; ... As simple historical students, we must admit that the Westminster Confession is committed to the position that the Bible not only contains but is the Word of God. [B.B. Warfield, "The Westminster Doctrine of Inspiration," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:576-7]

Anyone who believes in any version of "limited inerrancy" or flat our deny inerrancy, and/ or who take the Barthian view of Scripture, cannot hold to the Westminster Confession concerning this issue and thus they cannot subscribe sincerely and truly to that Confession.

Warfield on Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism

The Remonstrant controversy was a battle of giants. In its earnest grapple, the movement tentatively begun by Arminius tended rapidly toward its level in a distinctively Pelagian anthropology and Socinian soteriology. But in the great evangelical revival of the last century [18th century; Warfield wrote this at the end of the 19th century], the Wesleyan leaders offered to the world an Evangelicalized Arminianism. The rationalism of the Remonstrants, they affirmed, was not due to their Arminianism but to their Humanism. The essential elements of Arminianism, they asserted, were in no wise inconsistent with the great Evangelical doctrines of sin and atonement. On the contrary, they declared, the Arminian construction alone gave their full rights to the catholic doctrines of the condemnation of all men in Adam and the vicarious satisfaction for sin in Christ. An Arminianism zealous for these doctrines might well claim to stand on a higher plane than that occupied by the Remonstrants. The question, however, was a pressing one, whether the Evangelical elements ought to rule to the exclusion of the unharmonizable Arminian principle, in which case we should have consistent Calvinism; or else the Arminian principle would inevitably rule to the exclusion of the Evangelical doctrines forced into artificial conjunction with it, and we should have consistent Arminianism. After a century of conflict, Dr. Miley's [a Wesleyan Arminian theologian] admirably reasoned volumes come to tell us frankly that the Calvinists have been right in these contentions. Arminianism, he says, has no logical place in its system for a doctrine of race sin either in the sense of the participation of the race in the guilt of Adam's first sin, or in the sense of the infection of the race with a guilty corruption. Arminianism, he says, has no logical place in its system for a doctrine of penal substitution of Christ for sinners and of an atonement by satisfaction. If the Arminian principle is to rule, he says, the doctrine of race sin must go, and the doctrine of vicarious punishment must do. And, as he thinks that the Arminian principle ought to rule, he teaches that men are not by nature under the condemning wrath of God, and that Christ did not vicariously bear the penalty of sin. Thus, in his hands, Arminianism is seeking to purify itself by cleansing itself from the Evangelical elements with which it has been so long conjoined. [B.B. Warfield, "A Review of John Miley's Systematic Theology," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:314-5; Bold added]

Contrary to modern "Evangelical Arminians," it has long been known that there is a qualitative difference between the Classical Arminians or the Remonstrants, and the Wesleyan or Evangelical Arminians.

Warfield on authority and the Liberal attack on "bibliolatry"

Thus, he [a Liberal], too, throws back the spirit upon itself, under the euphemism of "the witness of the Spirit in the heart," for the source and test of all truth. One of the strange things in connection with this widely prevalent subjectivism is the tendency observed in many and very diverse quarters to represent it [this attitude of rejecting the authority of the external text of Scripture] as a return to the attitude of the Reformers. It stands rather, of course, in direct contradiction to the Reformers' attitude. What they renounced was not "external authority," but "human authority," inclusive naturally of that of their own spirits; and what they fell back on was "Divine authority,: which not only includes, but primarily exhibits itself in, the Scriptures. When it is "external authority" that is renounced, the authority of God goes with it, and we can revert only to the human authority of the individual soul. And that, conceal it under whatever honeyed phrases we may, is nothing but a return to the fundamental principle, not of the Reformation, but of "Rationalism." [B.B. Warfield, "Recent Reconstructions of Theology," in Selected Shorter Writings, 2:293]

The charge of "bibliolatry," or making an idol of the Bible, is a spurious charge by liberals against those who believe the true Christian faith. Since no one is actually bowing down to a physical copy of the Bible, or to Codex Sinaiticus or any of the Papyrii, the charge is false. Those who refuse to be constrained by Scripture are rejecting the authority of God Himself, and thus are themselves idolators of their own reason and/or experience.