Monday, December 27, 2010

Modern Arminians and historical revisionism

I stumbled onto a forum thread at CARM which referenced my article on Classical Arminianism.

As I have expected, modern Arminians like William Birch were attacking my article over on the forum, displaying the exact error I was mentioning around the time I wrote the article. As I have said back then,

It seems that there are a lot of modern Arminians who, like Roger Olsen, feel free to revise history in order to make the Classical Arminians into a respectable evangelical group, ignoring clear historical evidence to the contrary. Who do you think knows the Classical Arminians and their doctrines better: their contemporaries like the scholar John Owen, or modern Arminians who are ~400 years removed!

... it is extremely revealing that these revisionists insist that Classical Arminianism believes in Total Depravity. That must one of the most popular myths floating around it seems. The whole reason for the TULIP acronym was that 'T' represented Total Depravity over and against the Remonstrants' view of Partial Depravity! Classical Arminianism NEVER once believed in Total Depravity. They may use language that seem to suggest that, but then their doctrine of prevenient grace erase original depravity in toto, leaving behind only a "sinful nature".

Just because Birch and supporters do not agree with the view of the Classical Arminians as stated by Owen do not give them the right to call him a liar. Instead of thinking that Owen lied about the Arminians, why not see that Classical Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism are simply two different systems of thought altogether? Thus, Birch et al as Evangelical (hopefully) Arminians should see that Owen was addressing Classical Arminianism, of which they do not seem to believe in.

Birch's approach of discounting all Reformed, Calvinist evidence to the contrary is bad historiography. It commits the genetic fallacy and his reasoning is thus fallacious at the core. Is there a possibility that ALL Reformed and Calvinists for the last 400 years have misrepresented the Classical Arminians? Yes, but that has to be proved, not merely asserted. To say that no one in 400 years until you come along has understood the Classical Arminians is an astonishing claim that requires a lot of arguments and proofs to even make it a plausible hypothesis.

Again, conveniently discounting the case of Conrad Vorstius is not going to aid his case. Mere assertion that Vorstius is not a proper Arminian because he became a Socinian is called begging the question. Wasn't Vorstius appointed to "succeed" Arminius at the University of Leiden? Isn't it the case that the reason why he lost his prominence to Episcopius was because he was kicked out of Netherlands prior to the Synod of Dordt, and also that he became a Socinian later in life? I can understand why no respectable Arminian wants to acknowledge Vorstius, but to ignore the skeleton in the closet is not a good argument.

The historiography of the modern so-called "Classical Arminians" is seriously lacking. They can call themselves whatever they want, but clearly they are either classical or evangelical, and not both.

Wes White on blogging and the 9th Commandment

Wes White has recently posted an excellent write-up looking at the issue of blogging with regards to the charge of violating the 9th commandment, especially in the sphere of the PCA in which he is in. An excerpt:

For some reason, there are people who think that blogging is evil. They then complain that those who blog do not represent them fairly. Instead of getting a free blog from WordPress or Blogger in order to respond, they prefer to demonize those who blog. They are in a tough position. If they don’t blog, those who do will control what is said about them. If they do blog, they can no longer demonize those who do. Moreover, you will validate those who blog.

But there is another option, they can try and suppress blogging in some way. The only problem is that every attempt you make to suppress blogging is going to look like, well, suppression.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paper: The Apologetic Import of the Autopistia of Scripture

I have just received my other paper back. The paper is entitled The Apologetic Import of the Autopistia of Scripture. Barring formatting changes, the paper is presented as submitted, here.

An excerpt:

In apologetic endeavors, the question of authority or the ground of knowledge is an important one. How can one know what is the truth? For a Christian, not only do we ponder over the question of how we can know what the truth is, but the question of how truth and Scripture relate to each other is equally pertinent.

In this paper, I would like to defend the thesis that the doctrine of autopistia or the self-authenticating nature of Scripture substantiates the proper foundation or ground of knowledge which is the Scriptures themselves, and that this can be used profitably in the realm of apologetics. To this end, firstly, I will put forward the proposition that the foundation for the framework of all knowledge is the Scriptures themselves. Secondly, I would show how the doctrine of autopistia can be used to substantiate it. Thirdly, I would proceed from there to suggest a method to apply this fact in the realm of apologetics.


These would be extremely pertinent I think:

There is therefore no shame and no need to hide the fact that the Christian epistemology is circular, for all epistemologies are likewise circular. ...


What is the import of this doctrine [of autopistia] in apologetics? Since all epistemologies are circular, the fact that the ultimate authority of the faith appeals to itself is actually self-consistent with its own claim to be the ultimate authority. Although it is most definitely not sufficient to prove the faith, as if apart from the work of the Spirit anyone can be argued into the kingdom, the coherency of the Christian system is a work of beauty indeed.

Along these lines, we have a platform to critique rival epistemologies. Empiricism can be critiqued because there is nothing in empiricism to validate empiricism as a valid epistemology. Rationalism can be similarly critiqued since formulae such as Cogito Ergo Sum (I think therefore I am) are not inherently found in reason but reasoned out in order to support rationalism. In other word, reason itself never claimed to be an ultimate authority in any sense. Rather, it is fallen men who cling on to reason as their ultimate authority since that is internally all they have, and they therefore make reason their ultimate authority by an irrational leap of faith.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Archetypal/ Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology

I have managed to finish my main intended project for this term break: an article interacting with parts of Dr. R. Scott Clark's article on the Well-Meant Offer in the book The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, a fetscrift for Dr. Bob Strimple edited by Dr. David VanDrunen. My article is entitled The Archetypal/Ectypal distinction and Clarkian epistemology, and can be found here.

An excerpt:

The distinction between archetypal and ectypal knowledge as promoted by the 17th century Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius is vital in Reformed scholastic thought. In this short article, I would like to interact with it as it is presented in Willem J. Van Asselt’s article in the Westminster Theological Journal of 2002, and tie that in with Clarkian epistemology. It is my opinion that there is no necessary conflict between the two, contrary to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s opinion that the denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction is foundational to Clark’s epistemology and his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.

In this article therefore, I would first present the archetypal/ectypal distinction as presented by Van Asselt, and evaluate how that can tie in with Clarkian epistemology. Lastly, I would interact with some of Scott Clark’s criticism on the subject and show that it does not apply to Gordon Clark either in his epistemology or his denial of the Well-Meant Offer.


[Note: An article is not a(n) [academic] paper. Unfortunately, almost all of my Gordon Clark books are back in Singapore so I can't reference them]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reviews and articles

I have finally managed to consolidate my recent book reviews and articles onto my website. Here they are:

Review of Esther Meek's Longing to Know

The (Non)-Problem of Evil

The Epistemic Priority of Logic

Ignorance, Scholarship, Authority and Autonomy

Do note that these consolidated articles are generally better than when they are on the blog, because I have relooked them and amended any weakness and errors in them. For example, I have previously thought Meek's book was pushing for some form of communitarian epistemology, but now I think it fits better with a Barthian idea of knowledge as relationship- still erroneous but at least a better representation of the error taught.

Paper: Preaching to the Three Fold Image of God

I have received one of my papers (for the course PT500 Ministry of the Word and Worship) back. Dr. Dennis Johnson is an English major and it shows as he picked up two spelling/formatting mistakes which I had overlooked. Barring these corrections and some small phraseological changes in the last page of my paper due to the feedback received, I would like to share the paper here.

The paper is entitled "Preaching to the Three-Fold Image of God" and it marks my reflections and thoughts on the issue of Christ-centered preaching.

Jim Renihan on New Covenant Theology

I have finally finished the papers and exams for my semester and took some time off. Between now and the start of the winter term, I would be going back to readings as usual.

Anyway, here's a good analysis and critique of the movement known as New Covenant Theology, which I am sure I have addressed before some time back, by Dr. James Renihan in a sermon here. [HT: AOMin]. Having addressed the issue one or two years back, I truly wonder what is the current developmental status of the NCT theologies as they have evolved till now, though I truly have no time to figure out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A short analysis of CT's article on Keller's new book

Christianity Astray Today (CT) has posted an interview by Kirsten Sharold with Tim Keller over his new book Generous Justice. Tim Keller being part of New Evangelicalism version 2.0 is immensely popular, and this CT article seems to confirm one of my fears regarding the New Evangelical Calvinist movement.

Having not read the book, I will stick with the interview itself. Now, it may be the case that the interview does not do justice to the book, and that CT has distorted Keller's message. If so, then the fault lies with CT and Keller should come out and repudiate the report of the interview as he did not actually say what they reported him to say. This is always a possibility, but barring that, we must take the interview to be accurately reporting Keller's words and position.

In this interview, Keller specified what he means by justice and equates that with helping the poor. In Keller's words: "All I know is, if I don't care about the poor, if my church doesn't care about the poor, that's evil." Strong words indeed. However, is Keller right? We will analyze the interview to see if that is so.

Helping the poor

When we look at Scripture, we do indeed see that God is concerned for the poor, and he expects us to be too. This theme is found throughout Scripture,for example in Lev. 25:35, Deut. 15:7-10; 24:14-15, Jas. 2:1-6 and others like them. The issue with Keller is not that we are to be compassionate to the poor, but how.

Ever since the advent of the "social gospel," Liberalism has always trumpeted the cause of helping the poor and downtrodden in society. The so-called benevolent empire in the 19th century, as is the modern so-called ONE campaign, desired to solve society's problems. With the fusion of liberalism and socialism, modern-day liberalism has been about solving poverty by redistributing the wealth through taxing the rich to give to the poor. Even in its "softer" form, the idea of helping the poor is linked to the idea of giving handouts and feeding the poor through soup kitchens and other similar measures.

However, is that what God means by helping the poor? Is helping the poor done only through such measures? Keller speaks of the great stuff Tony Campolo and Ron Sider have written, which shows what he thinks helping the poor is — social works. This betrays his capitulation to the liberal zeitgeist. Of course, there is nothing wrong with social works per se, but if helping the poor is conceived to be done only through social works, then we are not really helping the poor. How much does Keller really understand about economics? For example, if we remove all the entrepreneurs in society, the economy would stagnate, more people would be without jobs, and the number of poor would increase. Under communism (and socialism to some extent), there is little incentive to work since everyone receives the same pay anyway so likewise poverty increases.

The fact of the matter is that the call for social works is totally naive and shows Keller's ignorance of the causes of poverty, which is complex (it is not always the case that the poor are always victims for example). Pastors should be doing their job instead of commenting on fields such as economics which they know little of, which brings me to my next point.

Confusion of 2 Kingdoms - The Church is NOT a social club!

Liberalism at its inception was never about denying the Gospel message. It was about "contextualizing" the Gospel message to modern times. For example, since people are now enlightened and do not think they are sinful, then we jettison the teaching of sin (this does not necessarily mean that the preacher personally denied the existence of sin). The slogan "Deeds, not creeds" is as old as Liberalism itself. The goal of the Church was to solve the ills of society. In time however, the method becomes the message and the true biblical Gospel was denied.

Evangelicalism reacted against Liberalism's trend of "contextualization" followed by denial of the Gospel message by rightly seeing that the Church is a spiritual institution and organism of which Christ is her head. The Church is called out of the world for Christ. Unfortunately, Dispensationalism with its escapist view of reality sees no need for Christian to be participants in this world. The hyper-spirituality of Dispensationalism make them ever "rapture-ready" and perceive their involvement with the world as exclusively tied to evangelism. The pendulum continues to swing with the younger evangelicals moving towards the other extreme: either by forming the "religious right" or the "religious left".

All of these pendulum swings show a confusion of the two kingdoms which God governs. The Church is the Church, yet her members are in the world. In Liberalism, Christians are stated to be in the world and of the world, whereas Dispensationalism (which dominated Evangelicalism) are neither in the world nor of the world. Yet Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world (Jn. 17:11, 14).

In being not "of the world," the Church is a spiritual institution and speaks of spiritual things. The Church qua Church is the Church and is not part of the world! The Church has no obligations to the world except evangelism. This is what Liberalism denies and Evagelicalism affirms.

As opposed to Dispensationalism, Christians are in the world and we are to participate in the world. Christians as such are to help the poor and get involved with bringing God's light and truth to a fallen world.

The Church and Society (the World) are two different institutions, although both of them are ruled by God. This means that the Church qua Church must and only should be focused on the things of God. That means that the Church is NOT a social club! As stated, the Church has no obligations to feed the poor; that is the obligations of individual Christians not of the Church.

Keller in this interview confuses the two kingdoms. As a minister of the Gospel, his job and the Church's job is not to "care for the poor". It is not "evil" for the Church to ignore the poor, because that's not her job. Sure, if the diaconate desires to help the poor in the community, that's not wrong, but that should not be their primary focus. The Church's primary job is the proclamation of the Gospel and the truths of Scripture and the tending of her flock, not tending to the world's needs.

It is simply not sufficient to be, like Keller, placing "social justice" as an outworking of the"experience of grace". Of course, good works (not "social justice", which we will discuss below) like helping the poor are always an outworking of grace, but that is still about the individual Christian in the world and not the Church. The Church qua Church has no involvement with "good works", regardless of how they are framed.

This brings us to the last issue: the idea of "justice"

Biblical "Justice" and helping the poor?

Keller in this interview seems to equate the idea of justice with helping the poor. In his own words:

I used the term "generous justice" because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it's just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I'm not generous with my money, I'm offending God, which means it's not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor. It's biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.

It would be good to see what is the verse in Job Keller has in mind, because I truly doubt a proper exegesis of that verse supports his equation of justice to helping the poor. Nevertheless, this is a dangerous view to hold, which we shall see.

The idea of "Justice" has to do with the righting of wrongs. When justice is present, those who are wrong will be punished, and restitution will be made to those who are wronged. When justice is absent, the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer. This has always been the definition of justice.

If justice is equated to helping the poor, as Keller states, then there is a connotation that being poor is wrong. The existence of poverty is unjust. Yet this is most assuredly not the biblical view. Deut. 15:11 states that poverty is a normal scene in our fallen human society. It is God who makes a person rich or a person poor (1 Sam. 2:7). Just as riches come from God, so too does poverty. Yes, poverty is part of the Fall and thus not part of the original creation, but that is different from saying that poverty itself is unjust. Are the consequences of sin unjust? Is God unjust? To say that poverty is unjust is an attack on the justice of God who determines what the consequences of sin should be.

It is most assuredly the case that there is much oppression of the poor, but it is not true that all of the poor are always poor because of oppression. For example, if a person squanders all his money away in gambling and is reduced to poverty as a result, his poverty is the fruit of his wickedness. Some people are just lazy and refuse to work and that is why they become poor. The whole idea that poverty is unjust tends to paint halos on the heads of the poor, as if the poor are sinless victims who are poor merely because they are being oppressed, instead of the biblical teaching that all man both rich and poor are alike sinners before God. There are virtuous poor, and they are wicked poor too, just as there are virtuous and wicked rich people on society as well.


In conclusion, Keller's view on this issue commits the most egregious errors of the Liberal Left in their view of poverty and society. Keller further confuses the two kingdoms and makes those who listen to him susceptible to falling into the Social Gospel. As the maxim states, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." It is not sufficient to have good intentions, but the truth. May we reject Keller's views on this matter and obey what Scripture teaches on this matter. Amen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Answer to Paul Manata on COVETS

[continued from here, here and here]

Paul M, whom I have just realized is Paul Manata, has replied to my critique of Van Til's one person view of the Trinity, which he has dubbed COrnelius Van til’s Enigmatic Trinitarian Statement, or COVETS. They can be seen here, here and here.

I would like to make a couple of points here, then close up (hopefully) the discussion. First of all, I very much appreciate the interaction with Paul. We can disagree strongly even, but to take each other's arguments seriously and interact with them is a virtue that few people have. As I may have said somewhere, I respect people who hold to their beliefs and are willing to stand for them and defend them. Those who retreat into the darkness and snipe are cowards who are unwilling to stand for their beliefs.

With that, let us look into the response proper.

Manata is clearly more well-read than me on this topic, and I concede that fact. That does not mean that he is right, but it certainly mean that I need to read up more on the subject. And if one thinks that such an attitude is wrong, one needs to learn what are the implications of the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.

Van Til's contradiction

Manata consistently insists that the burden of proof is on me to prove that Van Til's formula is a contradiction. My reply has been that it is impossible to prove something is a contradiction if the statement makes no sense. I have in mind Van Til's statement that God is both three persons and one person. If Van Til and Paul and any Van Tillians out there cannot explicate the senses, the statement of it that being true due to each proposition predicated according to different senses is meaningless. And if the predication according to different senses is meaningless, then by default the one person three persons view is a formal contradiction.

Now, there are attributes of God that are almost impossible to explain, which is why we use the negation to tell others what God is not. So God is incomprehensible, God is infinite etc. Similarly, in order to explicate the different senses, language may fail to describe the senses. Even then, through the use of negation such may be done. So it is not the case that language cannot explain what are the different senses. Contra Manata, no one is asking for "what the terms meant in sufficient detail," and thus we can comprehend God fully. We are not asking Van Tillians to "fully solve and explicate the mysterious doctrine of the trinity [sic]." We are merely asking for enough explication to differentiate the different senses instead of mere ipse dixit and appeal to paradox.

Manata attempts an analogy to show why formal contradictions are fine. He wrote:

For example, suppose a wise father tells his young daughter that he say a young female patient today who had x-y chromosome pair. The daughter, relying on the wise testimony of her father holds both propositions on the testimony of her father, recognizing she is not as wise as him but if he says so it must be so. Now, in fact the propositions do not contradict if the father, say, means the first one genotypically and the second one phenotypically.

This analogy however fails. Note that the contradiction posited by Manata states is between the proposition "female" and "ha[ving] x-y chromosome pair." It is not a formal contradiction in and by itself. The contradiction occurs only with the addition of another premise, namely: "Those having XY chromosome pair are males." But this premise is wrong! Not all XY chromosome pair possessing individuals are males, a fact that geneticists know. For example, just a simple mutation that make all cells non-responsive to testosterone would render XY individuals females. Sox9 repressed XY individuals are similarly phenotypically females, while SOX9 over expression in XX individuals causes female-to-male sex reversal.

Using this analogy, a formal contradiction analogous to Van Til's error would be saying something like "female" and "male" as predicated of the same subject. Assuming a world without hermaphrodites, this would be a formal contradiction of the first degree. If such were to be said, explanation would be necessary. Manata's analogy thus fails to establish his point.

An Analogy

Manata pointed out that my counter-analogy of saying that "Jesus is always the uncreated Son of God form [sic] eternity and is also at the same time a created being" is actually possible. Upon reading again, it is indeed so. So I propose another analogy along the same lines: "Jesus has two natures and one nature at the same time". We'll see if this will pass as orthodox if we insist that they are spoken of in two different senses, which we will not tell of course.

The relation of the orthodox formula and the one person view

Manata maintains that the one person view for Van Til is a logical implication from the orthodox view. That is a matter of interpretation. One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens. I will just leave it as that and ask the reader to decide whether it is proper to assume Van Til's orthodoxy and rationality on this point of the doctrine of the Trinity in interpreting the evidence, or vice versa.

The issue of "paradox"

As Manata has said which I agreed, paradox are apparent contradictions. Therefore, they must be shownto be apparent and not real contradictions. Through the use of negations which I have discussed above, it is possible to prove that real paraoxes are real paradoxes not antinomies. For example, that Christ is fully God and fully Man is not an antinomy because we deny that God and Man are necessarily exclusive categories. True, God is not Man and Man is not God, but we have an example of one who is both God and Man so the Chalcedonian formula is not a contradiction.

The issue of "person"

Manata claimed that there is no Confessional definition of the word "person". While technically true, the same could be said that there is no Confessional definition of the word "created" or "begotten" too. [Gordon] Clark made the same critique and my reply would be the same: What did the word personna (in Latin) and προσωπον (in Greek) meant in their historical context of the first five centuries of the Church? I am sure that would be an excellent topic to look into. Nevertheless, the point I was making is that the word means something historically, and that definition is what is used in the Creeds and Confessions.

The issue of numerical identity

Manata posts some quotes claiming that they support the idea of numerical identity. However, the texts by themselves merely state a numerical identity of essence/substance. If that is all Manata has to go by, one wonders how Manata can transit from numerical identity of essence to numerical oneness of person in the Trinity. To say that God the Father is God in one essence says nothing about persons.

Singular predicates of God

Manata states that the proposition "God is one, period" doesn't necessitate the usage of singular predicates. He insists that such would require putting such predicates in "scare quotes". In his own words,

Second, my car is “one.” But my calling it “her” is an anthropomorphism and should be qualified with scare quotes. God refers to Moses as “I.”

Is Manata denying that God uses anthropomorphisms in describing Himself? Does God have male genitalia? Does God have wings, hands, or feathers? If God's revelation of Himself to us is done through anthropomorphisms, shouldn't we, according to Manata, bracket all qualifiers of God with scare quotes. So God is not He, He is "He" or maybe "It(?)". The "eyes" of the Lord, not the eyes of the Lord etc.

If the Bible does not see fit to circumscribe the obvious anthropomorphisms of God in scare quotes, why should we do so just because Manata claims that anthropomorphisms require them?

God as "He" or "They"

Is God a "He" or "They"? The orthodox answer is both. God is a "He" with regards to his one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons. I will repeat it again: God is a "He" with respects to His one essence and "They" with regards to His three persons. I do not see what is so hard to understand about this. Using "they" with regards to God does not mean an embrace of tritheism, because we are talking about personS then.

Personal versus person

In this, Manata errs again. Having a virtually single consciousness does not make one a person. Personal is not person. As a counter-example, can we call a person with split personality two persons? If not, why?

Van Til a heretic?

Apparently, Manata thinks that I call Van Til a heretic, even though I did not use the word to describe him. The question before us is this: Does irrationality condemns one to hell? No! Many Christians are not logically consistent in their beliefs, and even I cannot say that I have always been consistent within my own beliefs. John Wesley was one of the most irrational prominent Christians in history, with his belief in conditional security and justification by faith alone contradicting each other.

The fact of the matter is: I regard Van Til as an irrationalist at certain points. Irrationalism does not condemn one to hell, as if we are Gnostics who believe that knowledge is the way of salvation.

Next, with regards to the nature of error. Do all errors condemn one to hell? Most assuredly not. Does an error regarding the millennium for example condemn one to hell? No. The Gospel is the content for salvation and that alone.

Now, Van Til propagates an error regarding an important topic: the Trinity. However, there are error and then there are ERRORS. Van Til did not deny orthodoxy; what he did was to undermine it by coming up with a novel doctrine. Just because the implications of an error lead to heresy does not mean that that error itself per se condemns the proponent to hell. Again, the Gospel determines the content required for salvation. It is believing in errors regarding the Gospel that condemns, not believing in errors that have logical implications that deny the Gospel message that condemns.

Similarly, "not in line with the historic Christian faith" does not necessarily mean heresy. Evangelical Arminianism is not in line with the historic Christian faith, but that does not make John Wesley a heretic! There is a category called "heterodoxy", which Manata did not take into account.

Manata therefore errs in thinking that saying Van Til is in error means he is a heretic. Van Til is many things, but heretic he is not.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Response to Paul M. on Van Til's doctrine of the Trinity (part 2)

[continued from here]

In response to a brief comment I left on his blog, Paul responded to it somewhat. My brief comment was brief and only focused on the confessional aspect, while Paul's was all over the place.

Paul starts off accusing Gordon Clark as being Nestorian. This however is disputed. Firstly, I have briefly read through Clark's last book on the incarnation and it was his editor John Robbins who finished the book. Clark himself was in the process of thinking and working through the issues and it is not so sure that he will embrace a two person view of Christ although he tends towards that.

Secondly, Clark's definition of "person" is unique. For some strange reason, he refuses to use the historic definition of "person" and invented his own definition of person. If Clark was Nestorian because of that, Van Til is likewise a Monarchian for apparently inventing his own definition of the one person of God.

So while I do not follow [Gordon] Clark in his Christological adventures, and I think he is wrong, to say that Clark is a Nestorian is not true.

Is Paul here furthermore trying to stereotype those who disagree with Van Til as necessarily Clarkians who necessarily believe everything Clark taught? Just because I identify myself more with Clark does not make me a parrot of everything produced by the Trinity Foundation! It is extremely irritating being stereotyped as if those who identify themselves more with Clark do not have a brain of their own.

As for apparent contradictions and paradoxes, again there is a world of difference between contradictions and paradoxes. I have not yet read Anderson's book so I will withhold comment on it, and while I know of W. Gary Crampton's review of it, I have no opinion on Anderson's book.

Paul mentioned the words used by G. Vos and probably others such as Warfield. The issue here is that of precision. From the words used, can we say that just because Vos said "God is a person" thus Vos intends to teach Van Til's teaching of one person? I suggest not. Vos intends, at least from the short passage given, to emphasize that God is personal. Instead of saying "Because God is a person, we say 'God is a Spirit,'" we can substitute as saying "Because God is personal, we say 'God is a Spirit.'" Just because non-precise language was used does not mean that we can see the first inkling of Van Til's strange doctrine of the one person of God.

In conclusion, it is hoped that this 2-part response would be sufficient to prove that Van Til is wrong in his one person of the Trinity. We should reject it as errant and not in line with the historic Christian faith. Amen.

Response to Paul M. on Van Til's doctrine of the Trinity (Part 1)

Paul M. has posted his thoughts defending Van Til's novel definition of the Trinity as one person on his blog Aporectic Christianity. I would thus like to respond more fully here and then to his reply to me in the meta of his post.

Paul mentioned that I have only given one sentence from Van Til. To rectify this, I have typed out the entire relevant section from Chapter 17 of Van Til's An Introduction to Systematic Theology and interacted with it here. It is not the case that the sentence is isolated out of context, as anyone can read for themselves.

Paul asked the question: "What’s the problem? Which heresy is Van Til guilty of?" The problem here is that no one in the history of the church has ever been so irrational, so how can we find a name for something that is so ridiculously wrong? What is the name of the heresy that believes that Jesus is always the uncreated Son of God form eternity and is also at the same time a created being, and that the word "created" have different senses for each proposition? Or is that an heresy at all? If Paul can answer this question, then I would answer his.

Of course Van Til condemned heretical notions of the Trinity. Of course he claimed to believe in the Chalcedon Definition. This is all documented in Chapter 17 in his Intro. But Van Til did not just say that God is one essence in three persons but that God is one person too! It is an addition that Van Til says is equally true. Van Til teaches not only that the orthodox formula is right and the Christological and Theological heresies of the 2nd-4th centuries are wrong, but we must also affirm that God is one person. One wonders if the error of Monarchianism in Van Til's opinion is not that they believe that God is one person, but that they refuse to at the same time acknowledge that God is three persons in one essence. I guess if only they embrace that God is three persons in one essence, they can continue to believe that God is one person too.

Paul continues by stating that "a mere announcement of contradiction isn't sufficient for condemning Van Til to the flames". I agree, which is why we prove it. It is a contradiction to say that God is one person and three persons in the same sense. If one was to say that the word "person" is used in different senses, then 1) that is a non-confessional use of the word "person", 2) the onus is on the person making the proposition (ie. Van Til and those Van Tillians who follow him here) to state what these different senses mean. To refuse to explicate those senses is to make a mockery out of language and is mere playing of word games. Waving a magic wand and calling something "analogy" or "paradox" does not ex opere operato make something an "analogy" or a "paradox". The words "analogy" and the word "paradox" mean something specific, not something vague. After all, using such an approach, what would anyone say if I were to say that (using my former analogy), "Jesus is both uncreated and created in different senses" and then I absolutely refuse to tell anyone what these senses are? Would anyone be impressed if I just say that this sentence is a paradox which we are to just believe in because it is an analogy of God's truth not ours?

It must be remembered that the onus is on the proponent of such theories to explain his theories in the first place. Paul's suggestion that "we need to see the derivation [of why Van Til's doctrine of one person of God is wrong] done and justified, step-by-step, according to rules of logic" is wrong. As an analogy, what would you think if I mention the sentence "Jesus is both uncreated and created in different senses" and demand that the onus is on you to show me step-by-step why I am wrong when I refuse to explicate what those different senses are? Using another analogy, what would you think if I just say "Moses X David Z" and then demand that the onus is on you to show me why my sentence is wrong and then refuse to explain my sentence?

Following from this, Paul wrote:

Ultimately, Van Til is writing in the tradition of Augustian Trinitarianism, where each divine person of the trinity is numerically identical with the one divine being. If A is numerically identical to G, then if A is a person, G is a person. The basic view here is that God is a self

To say that each person of the Godhead is fully God (orthodox) is NOT to say that each divine person of the trinity is numerically identical with the one divine being (unorthodox). Van Til did not use such inappropriate language, although he came close (cf CVT,p. 230). Coterminosity is not identity. This is the problem with those who make the Trinity into a quantitative doctrine, instead of a qualitative one. Of course, if one follows in this rationalistic path, it is not surprising that one ends up with God being one person.

From this Paul states that "None of this is good enough for those who like neither Van Til or John Frame". As a matter of fact, while I am critical of both, I do not think they have nothing to offer us. Such is poisoning the well and assumes that those who disagree with Van Til or Frame hate them, which is plainly ridiculous. Dr. R. Scott Clark disagrees with Van Til's idea of the one person of the Trinity. Will Paul say that he does not *like* Van Til? Furthermore, what does liking or not liking a person has anything to do with whether a person is right or wrong? This smack of postmodernism and subjectivity.

It seems that Paul thinks that using a singular predicate noun and verb for God implies that God is "uni-personal". Such an argument only makes sense if the previous argument for "numerical identity" holds true. However, it does not. God is predicated by singular nouns and verbs because he is one, period. The persons of the Godhead are not each numerical identical with the one divine being, but interpenetrate each other (perichoresis). That singular nouns and verbs for God are used at the most only imply that each person is fully God, which is not the same as being "numerically identical" with the divine being.

The language of the confession is next brought up, which says that God is "three persons, of one substance". Of course substance does not mean "working together"; I never claimed it meant that. I was trying to explain in simpler terms how this concept of one substance is worked out. Obviously, it failed.

The question is then asked why this is monotheism. The answer is simple enough: There is only one God which is triune, and it is impossible to separate the persons of the Trinity and subtract any of them. Either you have the Triune God, or you have no God. One or Zero.

As to the Perichoretic Monotheist Social Trinitarianism model, the issue that I have with it is that it moves (atemporally) from a ontological tritheism to a monotheism of being and will. The Scriptures however start from monotheism and remain monotheistic. God has always been three persons in perichoresis and cannot be separated. We (and God) do not start off wth three persons who then are combined in being and will.

Finally, we reach what may be the experiential core of Paul's objections. He states:

Fourthly, a logical implication of his view is that God is not a center of consciousness. So God is not a self. God is not a person. So, technically, phrases like “God loves us” or “God plans” or “God hates” or “God believes” are, strictly speaking, false. The ultimate unity of the world is non-conscious, hence non-rational, hence non-moral.

But such a "logical implication" is invalid. It must be remembered that this depends on a "numerical identity" model of how the persons of God relate to the "divine being." If however God is not a [1 (=God) +1 (=God) +1(=God) =3 persons] model, but a [1person (fully God) +1person (fully God)+ 1person (fully God)= 3 persons in 1essence] model, then the whole argument here collapses. Each person has His own center of consciousness, but because of perichoresis, God has a "center" of consciousness. Paul's arguments thus collapse. It is of no use to say that "Surely we don’t have any single unified consciousness since the persons have different properties (or predicates), and contradictory first-person indexical beliefs". That does not take into account the doctrine of perichoresis at all.

Lastly, there is a big difference between "mystery" and "paradox" and outright contradictions. The fact that the early church chose to use two different words to describe the "three-ness" and "one-ness" of God show that while they are fine with mysteries and paradoxes, they are not fine with outright contradictions.

[to be continued]

Van Til's contradictory doctrine of the One person-Three persons "Trinity"

We turn from our consideration of the incommunicable attributes of God to that of his triunity. The fact that God exists as concrete self-sufficient being appears clearly in the doctrine of the Trinity. Here the God who is numerically and not merely specifically one when compared with an other form of being, now appears to have within himself a distinction of specific and numerical existence. We speak of the essence of God in contrast to the three persons of the Godhead. As we say that each of the attributes of God is to be identified with the being of God, while yet we are justified in making a distinction between them, so we say that each of the persons of the Trinity is exhaustive of divinity itself, while yet there is a genuine distinction between the persons. Unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead. The persons of the Godhead are mutually exhaustive of one another, and therefore of the essence of the Godhead. God is a one-conscious being, and yet he is also a tri-conscious being. (p. 220)

It is sometimes asserted that we can prove to men that we are not asserting anything that they ought to consider irrational, inasmuch as we say that God is one in essence and three in person. We therefore claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing.

Yet this is not the whole truth of the matter. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person. We have noted how each attribute is co-extensive with the being of God. We are compelled to maintain this in order to avoid the notion of an uninterpreted being of some sort. In other words, we are bound to maintain the identity of the attributes of God with the being of God in order to avoid the specter of brute fact. In a similar manner we have noted how theologians insist that each of the persons of the Godhead is co-terminus with the being of the Godhead. But all this is not to say that the distinctions of the attributes are merely nominal. Nor is it to say that the distinctions of the persons are merely nominal. We need both the absolute cotermineity of each attribute and each person with the whole being of God, and the genuine significance of the distinctions of the attributes and the persons. "Each person," says Bavinck, "is equal to the whole essence of God and coterminous with both other persons and with all three" (Vol. I, p. 311)... Over against all other beings, that is, over against created beings, we must therefore hold that God's being presents an absolute numerical identity. And even within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person. When we say that we believe in a personal God, we do not merely mean that we believe in a God to whom the adjective "personality" may be attached. God is not an essence that has personality; He is absolute personality. Yet, within the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being, and three personal subsistences. (p. 229-230)

— Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978)

In reply to Van Til's error, it has been suggested that we should read Van Til in context. With this in mind, the entire relevant section from Chapter 17 in Van Til's book has been reproduced above so we can see Van Til's words in context.

As mentioned, nobody has said that Van Til does not believe in the orthodox formula of one essence and three persons. What Van Til did was not to deny the one essence three persons orthodox formula but to add to that his idiosyncratic theory that God is both three persons and one person. Attempt to say that Van Til was orthodox merely because he repeated orthodoxy and affirms it is irrelevant, because Van Til did not merely say that God is one essence in three person, but that God is also one person. To say that merely because Van Til in most of the chapter stated orthodox beliefs is to misrepresent Van Til, who insists on believing in BOTH the orthodox formula plus his "one person" formula. It clearly is not a dichotomy of which one Van Til holds to, because he holds to both.

If Gordon Clark is to be viewed as being a rationalist for attempting to solve the problem of evil, why isn't Van Til charged with the same offence for his similar speculations into the nature of the Trinity? The orthodox formula does say that "each of the persons of the Trinity is exhaustive of divinity itself" but to extrapolate from that that therefore God is a one-conscious being while simultaneously a tri-conscious being is invalid. Using the theory of archetypal and ectypal language which Van Til recovered (from Franciscus Junius), what Van Til is doing is to illegitimately peer into the mysteries of God. Van Til himself ignores his own teaching about analogy and insists on doing archetypal theology to reconcile how the fact that "each of the persons of the Trinity is exhaustive of divinity itself" translates to the fact that God is one person.

Now, I am not accusing Van Til of being a rationalist. What I am saying is that his topic is just as philosophical as trying to solve the problem of evil and theodicy. One cannot call Clark a rationalist while exonerating Van Til of the same charge. Either both aren't, or both are rationalists.

If one insists that it is irrational to hold that Van Til holds to both a one person and three person view of the Trinity, such a person should come to know quickly Van Til's idea of "paradox". The whole teaching is a paradox when Van Til says it is a paradox of which both theories are both true yet they contradict each other on the surface. Now, there are true paradoxes in Scripture to be sure, but calling anything that one thinks is a paradox a paradox does not make it a true paradox, nevermind a biblical paradox. It is an abuse of the word "paradox" to make it consists of any two or more propositions who have real or perceived contradiction. After all, the words "contradiction" and "antinomy" exist for a reason! Sadly, Van Til prefers to appear pious than clear.

As stated in Chapter 17, a reason why Van Til came up with his one person view is that "We need both the absolute cotermineity of each attribute and each person with the whole being of God, and the genuine significance of the distinctions of the attributes and the persons." However, the reasoning does not follow. What exactly in the fact that each person qua individual person of the Godhead is fully God and co-terminus with the other two person necessitates that there is one person in the Godhead?

In the spirit of "Doctor, heal thyself", Van Til should have consistently followed the Reformed distinction between the archetypal/ectypal distinction. The one person formula is not even necessitated by the orthodox doctrine of each person being individually fully God anyway. Van Til should have just embraced perichoresis instead of coming up with new formula that make no sense whatsoever. Perichoresis solves the problem of how there is one God and yet each person of the Godhead is fully God and co-terminus with the other two persons of the Trinity too, for the interpenetration of the persons in the Godhead means that every person is fully God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Homofascism in the rise in Brazil

The Christo-phobic homosexual activists are gearing up their hateful attacks on Christians in Brazil. The sheer amount of vitriol and attacks leveled against Christians are increasing, yet the world is more interested in promoting hatred than in fulfilling their stated mission— persecution of hate crimes. Oh wait, all hate crimes are criminal offences, except if the subject of hatred is Christians and Christianity. Figures!

Recently, as Brazil attempts to pass a "hate crime" bill, which punishes "homophobia" but not "Christo-phobia", MacKenzie Presbyterian University and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil have published a manifesto opposing such a move, a move calculated to criminalize biblical Christianity. This would indeed be something to watch, as one of the economically largest developing country turns more and more liberal. Do pray for righteousness to prevail over the homo-bigots. [The only people more militant in imposing their agenda on people by force are the Islamic terrorists it seems]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CTS versus WSC reading list on Covenant Theology

Wes White has recently published a list of books required for reading in WTS-P, RTS (Jackson) and CTS. Most interesting is the reading list for CTS on the topic of Covenant Theology. Here is what we find is required reading for their Covenant Theology (CT) courses.

COVENANT THEOLOGY I — by Michael Williams

Far as the Curse is FoundWilliams, Michael
Proper ConfidenceNewbigin
Creation RegainedWolters
Science and FaithCollins, C. John
He Gave Us StoriesPratt, Richard L. Jr.

COVENANT THEOLOGY II — by Michael Williams

New Testament and the People of GodWright, N.T.
Knowing Jesus Through the OTWright, Christopher J.H.
Redemptive History & the New Testament ScripturesRidderbos, Herman

Now, contrast this with WSC's required reading (books only) for our Covenant Theology course:

HT566 History of Covenant Theology — by R. Scott Clark

Commentary on the Heidelberg CatechismUrsinus, Zacharias
Exposition of the Apostles' CreedOlevianus, Casper
Institutes of Elenctic TheologyTurretin, Francis
Marrow of TheologyAmes, William
Marrow of Modern DivinityFisher, Edward
The Economy of the CovenantsWitsius, Herman
Casper Olevianus and the Substance of the CovenantClark, R.S.
The Covenant of Life OpenedRutherford, Samuel
Institutes of the Christian ReligionCalvin, John
The Christian's Reasonable Servicea Brakel, Wilhelmus
A Treatise on the Law and the GospelColquhoun, John

I find the contrast especially revealing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colin Smith's response, and my reponse

Colin Smith has kindly responded to my brief post addressing the idea of Van Til's idea of the one person in the Trinity. It may indeed be true that for many people "occupying pews in evangelicalism", the idea that the one essence of the Godhead is personal is a novelty to them. Such would indeed be sad if true. My experience so far has not been that evangelicals think that the Godhead is impersonal, but that they don't even understand the Trinity at all. In other words, they cannot even tell you what the Trinity means except the most elementary basics that 1) God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three persons, 2) there is only one God. One would probably be greeted by blank stares just mentioning the word "essence".

Van Til's motives on this issue, if true, is indeed commendable. However, I fail to see how creating a novel definition of "person" will help the argument regarding the Trinity. If the Chalcedonian formula works for the church for the last 1500 years without it generating confusion in the church, how exactly is a novel definition, which is a seeming antinomy, clarify our understanding of the issue further? Instead, after Van Til propose the formula, people like Gordon Clark have denounced it as heretical. Assuming that Van Til was orthodox, which we have no reason to doubt, of what benefit therefore is his confusing formulation of the Trinity? One could hardly think of a quicker way for a Reformed theologian to destroy his reputation than to do what Van Til did in creating his own idiosyncratic definition of the word "Person". Left to a lesser pastor or theologian, the guy who make such a proposal would probably be charged for heresy and excommunicated by the Church. After all, they excommunicated Nestorius who may not have actually believed what we come to know as Nestorianism!

Regardless, we can certainly agree with Smith that God is His essence is a personal being. Indeed, if all Van Till said was that God in His essence is personal, I sincerely doubt anyone will have a big problem with that. Why Van Til did not see fit to use that phrase is something we probably will not know this side of eternity.

Since that is so, it would certainly be interesting to follow Smith in his explication of the implications of the personal nature of God in the area of apologetics. Readers can also peruse his paper in advance. Just substitute the word "person" with "personal", and I think all would be fine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Van Til and the One person of the Trinity

Over at, contributor Colin Smith has put a blurb for his paper addressing Cornelius Van Til's idea of the Trinity, which interacts with Van Til's idea of the one person of the Godhead. As he has written:

In his Introduction to Systematic Theology, Van Til made the following statement:

… It is sometimes asserted that we can prove to men that we are not asserting anything that they ought to consider irrational, inasmuch as we say that God is one in essence and three in person. We therefore claim that we have not asserted unity and trinity of exactly the same thing.

Yet this is not the whole truth of the matter. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person.

This quote has been used by critics of Van Til to proclaim him a heretic. The orthodox view of the Trinity is, simply stated, that within the one being who is God, there exists three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the quotation above, Van Til appears to be saying "Within the one Person who is God, there are three Persons..." Was Van Til's view of the Trinity orthodox? This is an important question, since if Van Til was guilty of heresy on this point, then we could rightly ignore whatever application he might make of the Trinity to apologetics, since he would not be sharing a view of the Trinity consistent with biblical Christianity.

It is interesting to note that as far as I know, nobody has claimed that Van Til does not claim to believe that there are three persons in the Godhead. Therefore, merely saying that Van Til claims to believe in three persons is a moot point in and of itself.

More pertinent to the point is how Smith spins Van Til's idea of one person. In his opinion, saying that God is one person makes the Godhead personal. In his own words, "the divine essence is not just an impersonal abstraction". In response, one truly wonders who among the orthodox ever thought of the Godhead as being "an impersonal abstraction". If the Godhead is made of up three persons, does not the presence of three persons in the Godhead make the Godhead even more personal, without having the need to adopt a non-confessional and idiosyncratic at best definition of the Trinity?

To bolster his case, Smith quotes theologian John Frame in his discussion of the idea of "doghood". That however is a horrendous analogy. The Godhead does not refer to the "essence of God", whatever that may be (an expression which sounds positively Platonic). The Godhead IS the presence of God in three persons, not some impersonal entity of "god-ness". When we speak of God as being one essence (substantia, hypostatis), we are saying that God is one and works in unity, not that three separate "gods" partake of one divine essence of "God-ness" — which is practically tritheism. How we are to comprehend it fully is none of our business. The three persons of God are distinct but not separate from each other. They have their own "centers of consciousness" (ie what make persons persons) which are however not operating independently of the other two persons (cf perichoresis).

The fact of the matter is that Van Til was and is wrong in his doctrine of the Trinity. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to adopt a one person view of the Trinity, regardless of whether one understands it as a contradiction or speaking in "different ways". The early church for 400+ years has hammered out the vocabulary to understand the orthodox teaching of the Trinity and of Christ for us, and unless what they are saying is wrong, we should not arrogate to ourselves the right to redefine terms for the sake of being innovative. In other words, we should either repudiate Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon, or submit to the teachings of the ecumenical councils. Van Tillians are trying to have their cake and eat it too, and this we should not allow.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ignorance, Scholarship, Authority and Autonomy

The progress of modernism and post-modernism (or Liquid modernity) has impacted the Church in significant ways. The Reformation slogan Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone was initially meant to signal a return to the Bible as the source of authority and the final arbiter of truth. Injected with the virus of Enlightenment thought, the "Enlightened" Modernist made Man's "objective" interpretation of Scripture the source of authority and the arbiter of truth. Yet truth was still seen as objective if not absolute. The Scriptures were still seen as being the source of authority and the arbiter of truth, after it has been filtered through the real final arbiter of Man's thought of course. Modernism thus keeps the form of Scripture's authority except that it made Man the final interpreter instead of God.

Modernism version 2.0 or Post-modernism destroys the idea of universality. Any facade of continuity with the Reformation has been eradicated. Whereas the arbiter of truth in Modernity is Man universally speaking, the arbiter of truth in Post-modernity is each and every man for him or herself, each one creating his own truth each equally valid.

The Church being made up of people living in the world cannot help being not affected by the Zeitgeist. Enlightenment thought with its flowering of humanism led to the elevation of a new group of "clergy" — the Academics (Theologians). In pre-modernity, authority was invested officially in Scripture but unofficially in the clergy class of priest, bishop and other ecclesiastical offices. In modernity, scholarship is seen as the diligent workings of Man to strive to know the truth. Academics rule the world of ideas, and woe to those who go against the "scholarly consensus", whatever that may be. In postmodernity, the explosion and democratization of knowledge led to the creation of the "inner clergy" — every single person's views and opinions no matter what they are. In the postmodern world, everyone now is "clergy".

As it can be seen, Science as an enterprise and a significant portion of Evangelical scholarship remained stuck in the phase of Modernity. The now assimilated-into-the-mainstream Emerging Church Movement is on the other hand a manifestation of postmodernity.

Under the heading of hermeneutics, Man under the three worldviews will address the discussion of doctrine differently. Under the pre-modern mindset, if the priest says X; X is true. Under the modern mindset, if the scholars say Y; Y is true. Under the post-modern mindset, whatever you say; it is true for YOU only.

In discussion of doctrines, the three mindsets come into play. The older theological establishment works under the modernist framework on this issue, and sees itself as superior to those who are uneducated. Criticism from the proletariat of learning is almost always ignored, for what can the hoi polloi teach us?

The shift to postmodernism however causes other problems in the Church. With everybody being "clergy", no one wants to listen and learn anymore from anyone else. Sure, eclectic learning takes place, but education and learning is a consumerist activity where the learner is king. The idea of authority is resented and vigorously opposed.

To complete the analysis, under pre-modernity, if the priest or bishop says X, there are right period. The only debate then was between counciliarism and papal fiat authority, but whatever the leaders of the Church say is always right even if they are actually wrong.

Over and against all three frameworks is the biblical framework of Sola Scripture. Scripture alone is the final arbiter of truth. Contra pre-modernity, the church and her offices have no inherent authority. Contra modernity, Man, and most definitely educated men, is not the intellectual mediator between God and Man. Contra Post-modernity, there is such a thing as an authority transcendental and standing external to one's own self.

The problem with doctrinal discussion and controversy nowadays is the utterly alien Zeitgeist people even Christians take to the discussion. We have too many sheeple who behave like pre-moderns and blindly accept whatever their pastors teach them as the truth. At the same time, we also have [theologically] educated and not so educated people who follow the latest trends and ideas in academia and treat whatever they say as true. On the other end, we have people who are offended when pastors and/or theologically educated people tell them that they are wrong in their biblical interpretation. Such people are seen as pompous and proud because they are educated and are imposing what they say as true on others, surely the most egregious violation of the post-modern rulebook on ethics.

To the pre-modern mindset, Scripture gave us the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who did not just accept Paul's authority as an apostle but check his teachings according to the Scriptures. Uncritical acceptance of even the teachings of an Apostle is unbiblical. "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Is. 8:20).

Against the modernist mindset, we must stress the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers (cf 1 Peter 2:9). Also, "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? ... But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1: 20, 27-29)

In the rest of this missive, I will focus on the response to the postmodern mindset.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes ... that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you (1 Jn. 1:1a, 3a)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: (1 Cor. 15:3a)

The Apostolic Faith is the tradition handed down to the Church which we are to stand firm and hold on to (2 Thess. 2:15). As John wrote, he heard and saw the unfolding of the drama of redemption in the person of Jesus Christ, and this tradition which he has is proclaimed to the Church (1 Jn. 1:1a, 3a). Paul similarly is passing down the apostolic tradition which he has received, not created (1 Cor. 15: 3a). In all this, the apostles were adamant that their job was never the creation of a body of literature of their own design (2 Peter 1:16). Rather, Scripture is the transmission of the tradition which they have received in order to pass it down through the generations (2 Peter 1:21). [So yes, Protestants have Tradition (capital "T"); it's called Scripture.]

Contra postmodernity therefore, Scripture is not of "someone's own interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). Scripture is not so much putty you can mould to mean anything you wish it to mean. On the contrary, the faith is fixed even for the Apostles! The Apostles themselves were not creating the Tradition. Rather, they are bearing witness to the Tradition (receiving and delivering), and in so doing their witness (ματυρια) became the Scriptures which are similarly breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and authoritative for us (cf Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures).

We must also note that it is called "prophecy of Scripture". Prophecy relates to preaching and the [authoritative] proclamation of the Gospel and the Christians truths (cf William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying). We are told to obey our leaders and submit to them (Heb. 13:17). The implication here is that the proclamation of Scripture and biblical truths has derivative authority from the Word and should be submitted to.

Back in our example of theological discussion and controversy, the post-modern aversion to all forms of authority here is not only unbiblical, it is positively sinful. Since the proclaimed Word is authoritative insomuch as it is based upon the Scriptures, there is no option to leave and ignore it. Either you accept it, or dispute it. The problem with postmoderns (and moderns) is that they refuse to accept it if others say that they are wrong. The proper response should be to discern and argue Scripture like the Bereans, not attack the messenger for doing a politically incorrect action. Worse still is the autonomy rejecting all forms of authority and sees anyone who seeks to "enforce" their views as being arrogance or something like that.

So let's get this straight. There is nothing wrong with authoritatively proclaiming what is true and what is false and expecting people to respond. That is not arrogance. Rather, it is the Apostolic model. The minister should not be conceited (contra Modernism), but he nonetheless has the authority that should be respected by the people in the biblical manner. He is not infallible, but because his authority is derived from the Word, the only biblically legitimate way to disagree with him is to dispute his interpretation of the text according to Scripture, not one's personal preferences. If what the minister says is biblical, the content must be obeyed and submitted to no matter what.

Ignorance and Scholarship, Authority and Autonomy. Embracing Sola Scriptura would brings us to correct our worldview, and see doctrinal discussion in its proper light. Amen.

Michael Horton: The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Dr. Mike Horton has an excellent article on the latest issue of Modern Reformation entitled The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture — Church of the Word or Word of the Church. It's always nice to see Horton writes out some of his stuff presented in his lectures, so that we can digest the material better.

John Calvin complained of being assailed by "two sects" — "the Pope and the Anabaptists." Obviously quite different from each other, both nevertheless "boast extravagantly of the Spirit" and in so doing "bury the Word of God under their own falsehoods." (1) Both separate the Spirit from the Word by advocating the living voice of God with the inner speech of the church or of the pious individual. Of course, the Bible has its important place, but it is the "letter" that must be made relevant and effective in the world today by Spirit-led popes and prophets. Radical Anabaptist leader Thomas Müntzer taunted Martin Luther with his claim to superiority through a higher word than that which "merely beats the air." The Reformers called this "enthusiasm" (literally, "God-within-ism") because it made the external Word of Scripture subservient to the inner word supposedly spoken by the Spirit today within the individual or the church. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul's letter-Spirit contrast refers to the law apart from the gospel as a "ministry of death" and the gospel as the Spirit's means of justifying and regenerating sinners. Gnostics, enthusiasts, and mystics throughout the ages, however, have interpreted the apostle's terms as a contrast between the text of Scripture ("letter") and inner spiritual knowledge ("spirit").

If only it were that easy to identify the "two sects" in our day. Tragically, "enthusiasm" has become one of the dominant ways of undermining the sufficiency of Scripture, and it is evident across the spectrum. Rome has consistently insisted that the letter of Scripture requires the living presence of the Spirit speaking through the Magisterium. Anabaptists and Pietists have emphasized a supposedly immediate, direct, and spontaneous work of the Spirit in our hearts apart from creaturely means. Enlightenment philosophers and liberal theologians—almost all of whom were reared in Pietism — resurrected the radical Anabaptist interpretation of "letter" versus "spirit." "Letter" came to mean the Bible (or any external authority), while "spirit" was equivalent not to the Holy Spirit but to our own inner spirit, reason, or experience. By the mid-twentieth century, the synods and general assemblies even of denominations historically tied to the Reformation began to speak of the Scriptures as an indispensable record of the pious experiences, reflections, rituals, beliefs, and lives of saints in the past, while what we really need in this hour is to "follow the Spirit" wherever he/she/it may lead us. And we now know where this spirit has led these erstwhile churches; but it is the spirit of the age, not the Spirit of Christ, that has taken them there.



[HT: Heidelblog]

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Athanasius's quote

One benefit of reading the primary sources for oneself is that the actual writings are seen and read in context. In my Ancient Church course taught by Dr. R. Scott Clark, we have to read a sampling of the primary patristic texts (translated into English of course). It constantly amazes me how orthodox the early Church Father generally are, although of course they are not always orthodox on everything. The nascent Covenant Theology embraced by the apologists Justin Martyr and Ireneaus of Lyons is one such example. While it is anachronistic to read modern theological issues back into the Church Father, the Church Fathers did show awareness of some of these topics and laid the foundation for later theological development along these lines.

In his famous work On the Incarnation, Athanasius (the famous 4th century bishop who defended the Nicene faith against the Arian heretics) gave a presentation of salvation that generally could be said by any Evangelical. In his discussion of the Incarnation, Athanasius grounded the incarnation as being integral to God's solution to the problem caused by Man's sin. As it was stated:

6. For this cause, then, death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding upon them, the race of man was perishing; the rational man made in God's image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution. For death, as I have said above, gained from that time forth a legal hold over us, and it was impossible to evade the law, since it had been laid down by God because of the transgression, ... ... For it were not worthy of God's goodness that the things he had made should waste away, because of the deceit practiced on men by the devil. ... So as the rational creatures were wasting and such works in course of ruin, what was God in his goodness to do? Suffer corruption to prevail against them and death to hold them false? And where were the profit of their having been made, to begin with? For better were they not made then, once made, left to neglect and ruin. For neglect reveals weakness, and not goodness on God's part ...

7. But just as this consequence must needs hold, so, too, on the other side the just claims of God lie against it: that God should appear true to the law he had laid down concerning death. For it were monstrous for God, the father of truth, to appear a liar for our profit and preservation. So here, once more, what possible course was God to take? To demand repentance of men for their transgression? ... But repentance would, firstly, fail to guard the just claim of God ... nor, secondly, does repentance call man back from what is their nature ...

8. For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no part of creation is left void of him... But he comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. ... he took pity on our race, and had mercy under penalty of death, and condescended to our corruption, and ... he takes upon himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. ... And thus taking from our bodies one of life nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death he gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father — doing this, moreover, of his loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone ... and that, secondly, he might turn them from death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of the resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.

9. For the Word, perceiving that not otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end he takes to himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all ... Whence, by offering unto death the body he himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightaway he put away death from all his peers by the offering of an equivalent. ...

— Athanasius, On the Incarnation. In Edward Rochie Hardy, ed., The Library of Christian Classics Vol. III: Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia: The Westinster Press, 1954), pp. 60-63

In this quote, Athanasius grounded the necessity of the incarnation in that Christ came into our world in order to die for us on our behalf. The death he died was paid to God the Father in order to free us from the "law involving the ruin of man" or the sentence of death against us. Athanasiu explicitly denied repentance was sufficient for salvation since repentance alone cannot change the nature of Man. The only way to do so is for Christ to be incarnated for us.

Now, is Athanasius always right? No. That is why we are called Protestants. Like Calvin, we appreciate the Church Fathers while recognizing the normative authority of Scripture Alone, and critique them when they are not following Scripture. For example, we can critique Athanasius' argument for the necessity of God having to save Man. We can discern the compromises the Church Fathers made with Greek philosophy especially Platonism, and those have to be rejected. Nevertheless, the Church Fathers were genrally orthodox and wrote in a generally biblical framework. You wouldn't for example read any of the Church Fathers and think that their doctrines bear any resemblances with the teachings of Roman Catholicism. Rome's developmental view of doctrine surely works wonders in postulating an apostolic succession from the early Church Fathers to Vatican II and beyond.

Athanasius' work On the Incarnation is truly a good work, which should be read by all Christians. I would venture to say that Athanasius was more evangelical than many so-called Evangelicals today, suely more an indictment against the modern church than praise for Athanasius' theology itself.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Was Barth Reformed?

The short answer is no — NEIN! For the longer answer, Dr. R. Scott Clark has recommended Ryan Glomsrud's essay "Karl Barth and Modern Protestantism: The Radical Impulse" in the recently released book Always Reformed: Essays in Commemoration of W. Robert Godfrey. I haven't have the time to read it though I bought my copy within the week after this festschrift was presented during chapel, so unfortunately I can't comment much more, but it should be good. Hope to have the time to read it after semester is over.

Van Till's misrepresentation of Gordon Clark

The misrepresentation of Gordon Clark's thought goes back all the way to Cornelius Van Till. In his book In Defense of the Faith Vol. 1: The Doctrine of Scripture (Ripon, California, USA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1967), in pages 62-72, Van Till interacts with Clark's view on the relation of special and general revelation, and totally misrepresents Clark in the process.

On page 63, Van Till accuses Clark of setting "God's general revelation given by thought" and "word communication" against each other. As proof, Van Till quotes Clark as follows:

"When Adam was created and placed in the Garden of Eden," says Clark, "he did not know what to do. Nor would a study of the Garden have led hm to any necessary conclusion. His duty was imposed on him by a special divine revelation. Thus moral norms, commands and prohibitions were established by a special and not a general revelation" (Special Divine Revelation as Rational in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry, p. 29)

I would leave it to others who may want to check out the context. However, how does this quote exactly prove Van Till's point of contention? From the quotation itself, all that is affirmed is that General Revelation by its own apart from Special Revelation cannot prove anything. Rather, God needs to tell Adam (Special Revelation) what to do. Van Till's contention that Clark "overlooks the fact that from the beginning God spoke to man" misses the point altogether. Of course in the beginning God spoke to man! The quoted sentence did not establish or deny whether there was ever a time when God did not speak to man. All that is said or affirmed is the inadequacy of General Revelation by itself to inform Man of his duty. Furthermore, in writing about "the study of the Garden", empiricism is thus denied.

General Revelation does show us that there is a God and we ought to seek Him (Rom. 1:18-23), but it does not show us who God actually is and what He demands of us. Van Till essentially says the same thing in pages 63-64, and while the quote given does not mention it, neither does it deny it.

Van Till's next misrepresentation of Clark is with regards to the idea of philosophy of science. In this, Van Till thinks that just because Clark states that science "must not be regarded as cognitive" (p. 68), quoting Clark's book The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, so therefore Clark

... does not tell the unbelieving scientist that nature clearly reveals the ownership of God the creator-redeemer. Clark simply gives up asking the natural man to recognize the revelational character of the field of facts in which he makes his research. (p. 68)

In other words, Van Till sees Clark as denying General Revelation by his denial that science is cognitive.

Yet this is nothing like what Clark is actually advocating. Van Till himself has earlier state that "the inadequacy of general revelation" means that "it is inadequate for men as sinners" (p. 63). Clark in his book on the philosophy of science does not even mention the topic of General Revelation but the scientific methodology itself. Science is not the same as General Revelation, unless one wants to say that General Revelation is not present in the pre-scientific era! However, even if we grant the equivocation, General Revelation as Van Till puts it is inadequate for men as sinners. How does appealing to an inadequate revelation apart from its use in conjunction with Special Revelation supposed to function as an adequate apologetic?

The misrepresentation of Clark and Clarkian thought starts with Van Till. If there is to be any resolution to the Van Till-Clark controversy, both sides have to stop misrepresenting the other side and understand what the other side actually is saying.

The misrepresentation of the Clarkian idea of Univocity in Van Tillian thought

[Langdon B.] Gilkey demonstrates confusion on both the premodern and moder use of the terms "univocal" and "analogical" when he writes that "the biblical and orthodox understanding of theological language was univocal" ... It is clear that he equates univocal with literal. Given the assumption, he understandably concludes, "Unless one knows in some sense what the analogy means, how the analogy is being used, and what it points to, an analogy is empty and unintelligible; that is, it becomes equivocal language."

— Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama (Louisville, Kentucky, USA: WJKP, 2002), 52


Univocal: (adj) having only one meaning, unambiguous (

While doing my readings and preparing for my paper assignments, which are time-consuming, I came across a couple of interesting passages. In his book Covenant and Eschatology, my professor Mike Horton interacted with various theologians and philosophers on the themes of a God who actually acts in history (contrary for example Bultmann and Pannenberg) and a God who speaks into our world. While doing so, the passage above shows the Van Tillian idea of univocity, an idea which I would like to interact with.

As I have mentioned before, it seems that in Van Tillian thought epistemology is subsumed within ontology. Anytime the term "epistemology" is mentioned in Van Tillian discourse, just substitute it with "ontology" and the sense of the sentence is almost always right.

While interacting with Gilkey, Dr. Horton states that Gilkey confuses the term "univocal" with "literal". However, what exactly does "univocity" mean?

The term "univocal" as an adjective is used to state that something has only one meaning. In Clarkian thought, the adjective "univocal" is only applied to propositions not sentences. Therefore, when we express the proposition "God is God", it has only one meaning, namely "God" is "God. It does not mean "God" is "not God", "God" is not "God, "God" is "an animal" or anything else you can think of. Conforming to the dictionary meaning of the term "univocal", it is affirmed that epistemologically, propositions in theology and philosophy mean exactly what they mean.

Therefore, when we approach knowledge, while the manner (Note: an ontological term) of knowing is different for Man and God, the propositions known are univocal. Contrary to Horton, there is no real difference between saying that something is literal and something is univocal.

The problem in Van Tillian thought on this point seems to be a failure to read anything and anyone without interpreting their writings through their lenses. Since epistemology is seen to be subsumed within ontology, all writings about epistemology must be interpreted ontologically. Therefore, any affirmation of univocity is taken to mean a violation of the Creator/creature distinction. Noting Platonism's idea of the Ladder of Being which implies a univocity of Being, all mention of univocity is immediately associated with ontology (and Platonism), instead of allowing the term "univocal" to stand on its own as a neutral marker.

In my opinion, Van Tillians ought to stop their criticism of Clarkian thought until they can accurately represent their opponents.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"'Global warming is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life" - Prominent Physcist

It seems that a prominent physicist has gotten tired of the unscientific behavior of the so-called "scientific community" in the Global Warming scam. Harold Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has send in his resignation letter to the American Physical Society, citing their unscientific behavior as his reason. The letter, addressed to the APS president Curt G. Callen Jr., states as follows:

Dear Curt:

When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago). Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence—it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it. For example:

1. About a year ago a few of us sent an e-mail on the subject to a fraction of the membership. APS ignored the issues, but the then President immediately launched a hostile investigation of where we got the e-mail addresses. In its better days, APS used to encourage discussion of important issues, and indeed the Constitution cites that as its principal purpose. No more. Everything that has been done in the last year has been designed to silence debate

2. The appallingly tendentious APS statement on Climate Change was apparently written in a hurry by a few people over lunch, and is certainly not representative of the talents of APS members as I have long known them. So a few of us petitioned the Council to reconsider it. One of the outstanding marks of (in)distinction in the Statement was the poison word incontrovertible, which describes few items in physics, certainly not this one. In response APS appointed a secret committee that never met, never troubled to speak to any skeptics, yet endorsed the Statement in its entirety. (They did admit that the tone was a bit strong, but amazingly kept the poison word incontrovertible to describe the evidence, a position supported by no one.) In the end, the Council kept the original statement, word for word, but approved a far longer “explanatory” screed, admitting that there were uncertainties, but brushing them aside to give blanket approval to the original. The original Statement, which still stands as the APS position, also contains what I consider pompous and asinine advice to all world governments, as if the APS were master of the universe. It is not, and I am embarrassed that our leaders seem to think it is. This is not fun and games, these are serious matters involving vast fractions of our national substance, and the reputation of the Society as a scientific society is at stake.

3. In the interim the ClimateGate scandal broke into the news, and the machinations of the principal alarmists were revealed to the world. It was a fraud on a scale I have never seen, and I lack the words to describe its enormity. Effect on the APS position: none. None at all. This is not science; other forces are at work.

4. So a few of us tried to bring science into the act (that is, after all, the alleged and historic purpose of APS), and collected the necessary 200+ signatures to bring to the Council a proposal for a Topical Group on Climate Science, thinking that open discussion of the scientific issues, in the best tradition of physics, would be beneficial to all, and also a contribution to the nation. I might note that it was not easy to collect the signatures, since you denied us the use of the APS membership list. We conformed in every way with the requirements of the APS Constitution, and described in great detail what we had in mind—simply to bring the subject into the open.

5. To our amazement, Constitution be damned, you declined to accept our petition, but instead used your own control of the mailing list to run a poll on the members’ interest in a TG on Climate and the Environment. You did ask the members if they would sign a petition to form a TG on your yet-to-be-defined subject, but provided no petition, and got lots of affirmative responses. (If you had asked about sex you would have gotten more expressions of interest.) There was of course no such petition or proposal, and you have now dropped the Environment part, so the whole matter is moot. (Any lawyer will tell you that you cannot collect signatures on a vague petition, and then fill in whatever you like.) The entire purpose of this exercise was to avoid your constitutional responsibility to take our petition to the Council.

6. As of now you have formed still another secret and stacked committee to organize your own TG, simply ignoring our lawful petition.

APS management has gamed the problem from the beginning, to suppress serious conversation about the merits of the climate change claims. Do you wonder that I have lost confidence in the organization?

I do feel the need to add one note, and this is conjecture, since it is always risky to discuss other people’s motives. This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.

I want no part of it, so please accept my resignation. APS no longer represents me, but I hope we are still friends.