Monday, January 28, 2013

Bible study class: Scripture Alone is Biblical

My friend Nate Taylor has done part 1 of his 6 part series on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura here. Do check it out

Sunday, January 20, 2013

To name or not to name, that is the question

The biblical practice of naming people is either to warn others against them (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:20), or to academically discuss the views of another. In other words, naming names should be intentional. The question about naming names when discussing issues then arise.

The fact of the matter is: where there is no necessity of naming names, names do not have to be mentioned. When discussing various issues, if the intention is to discuss doctrine and practice, there is simply no need to name churches and ministries if they are not intentionally adopting heretical positions. If said churches and/or ministries feel in some sense slighted by critique, well ... if the shoe fits, wear it. That the focus is on any particular doctrine and practice, not on any church, is an indication that the critique was never meant as a personal attack against any particular church and/or ministry that are not named.

Previously, I had been flamed for naming names. Recently, however, I have been criticized for NOT naming names. It is indeed a strange day, when people expect me to criticize them personally by name if I happen to criticize a doctrine or praxis they hold to. Do they or do they not know the difference between criticizing said doctrine and/or praxis, and criticizing churches/ministries that hold to said doctrine and/or praxis?

As far as I am concerned, when I critiqued doctrine and/or praxis "in the abstract," that means that I am not treating those who hold to it as intentionally in error. In other words, such critique is meant to be alongside those (not named) who hold to such positions, not against those who hold to such positions. It is to say, "Look, I care about you. You should not believe position X, because..." Do people prefer to be seen as the perpetrator (knowingly or unknowingly) of error to be opposed?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Pastoral issue: Answering questions

One issue which I seem to be at variance with some others with is the issue of answering questions, specifically doctrinal questions. It seems that some would prefer to ask the enquirer why they ask the question first before answering it. Now, to some extant, this may be helpful pastorally since sometimes there are other questions and issues below the surface. But do we have to always inquire as to the reason why a question is asked before answering it?

There is of course a personal part to this question. In my Christian walk, I have had a few episodes where people seem more interested in why I am (or someone else is) asking a question. One time was a question I had asked a pastor (not my church). Another time was when I was seeking advice when I was counselling someone struggling with a doctrinal issue. Both times I was extremely disappointed when they were more interested in the "why" rather than the "what." When I asked the question, and received a "why" question back, my impression of the pastor immediately went downhill. Here was someone, I thought, who was not interested in answering my question. Here was someone who thought that behind my question laid some personal struggles and difficulties I may have, and thus doctrinal question was merely the symptom for personal struggles. I was very much offended and saw that as someone who belittled me and my inquiry. The good thing at least is that this guy was not my pastor, otherwise if so I might have left the church.

The struggle therefore is how should one go about answering questions. From my experience, I am resolved, as much as possible, that I will NOT speak down to others when they ask doctrinal questions. I will not insult them or their intelligence, by somehow having the "secret knowledge" that their doctrinal questions are symptoms of personal issues. To think as if any and every doctrinal question must be symptomatic of personal struggles is an insult to the inquirer and a belittling of God's truth as something important only to the extant it is "practical," whatever that terms means.

So when should we ask the "why" question? I don't know. It is probably better done in the context of relationships, and NOT when the person is asking that question.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

On Campus Crusade for Christ (aka Cru)

This is a post requested by a friend. I generally hesitate to write such posts in which I deal with people and organizations I have attachment to. I have many friends from my time over in Campus Crusade in my university days, many great times of fellowship, and as such it is not easy to be objective over this issue.

Nevertheless, the question that is to be answered is: What should biblical Christians think about Campus Crusade? Should someone who desires to be obedient to the full counsel of God's Word join it? It is noted here in passing that I refuse to refer to Campus Crusade as "Cru." In my opinion, there is absolutely no justification for the switch beyond capitulation to forces prevalent in the larger culture, especially since Crusade is known by other names in some countries (e.g Agape in UK).

CCC is a para-church organization founded by the late Bill Bright. It is an organization that started off with a focus on evangelism and outreach in university campus, although they do do discipleship as well. Over the years, it has diversified to various kinds of ministry, for example in the marketplace and the media, and thus it is not purely about campus ministry anymore although that is still its main focus.

In its historical setting, CCC is one of the main organizations that are symptomatic of the larger movement called the New Evangelicalism. Started by Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, with its flagship seminary Fuller Theological Seminary and its famous evangelist Billy Graham, the New Evangelicalism is a movement that seeks to stand for biblical truth while being positive and winsome towards others, disagreeing with the polemics of Fundamentalism. As a movement that originated in the context of 19th and 20th century American religion, it partakes of the same low-church, anti-institutional slant of the previous Evangelicalism that began with the 1st Great Awakening and developed through the 2nd Great Awakening. New Evangelicalism as a movement is of course very diverse, yet in order for it to be a movement at all, it had various characteristics. Since it is supposed to embrace professing Christians who believe the Bible, confesssional minimalism becomes the norm. In other words, while one could hold on to for example infant baptism, confessional minimalism in the movement requires one to suspend one's strength of conviction on the issue so that one could co-operate across confessional lines. Such of course relativize certain doctrines to the category of "secondary doctrines" which must be held on to loosely and not firmly.

CCC as a child of the New Evangelicalism partook of this Zeitgeist. It is very much low-church, and while individual Crusade staff and students could hold on to a higher view of the Church, Crusade itself does not have a strong doctrine of the Church. It is inter-denominational, as it works towards fulfilling its mission which is to evangelize the world (with a certain myopic and reductionistic understanding of the Great Commission). As such, it could not take strong stands on many doctrines taught in Scripture as long as those who are called "Evangelicals" disagree over it. Rather, they seek to hold to some form of "mere Christianity" and proclaim the "simple" message of Jesus Christ coming to die for the sins of mankind, with its attendant duty to repent and believe the Gospel

With this introduction to CCC in its historical context, here are some points I would like to make:

  1. CCC's desire to see people saved is laudable. Whatever one wants to say about Crusade, they have a sincere desire for those who are lost to come to salvation.
  2. CCC provides good Christian support and fellowship, and thus helps mitigate against negative peer pressure
  3. CCC embraces by default an Arminian view of the Gospel. Coming from the revivalist tradition after Charles Finney, the idea of salvation and the Gospel has been shaped and perceived by those forces. While not embracing Finney's rank Pelagianism, the mixture of Calvinistic and Pelagianizing elements produce an inconsistent mixture that closely resembles Evangelical Arminianism. Total Depravity of Man is held to alongside with the view that methods helps in the effectiveness of evangelism, although in another inconsistency the Holy Spirit is believed to be ultimately responsible for the salvation of those evangelized. This mixture of Calvinistic and Pelagianizing elements have created a veritable chaotic mess when it comes to evangelism and outreach, with people and methods running the spectrum of beliefs from Semi-Pelagianism to Amyraldianism, seldom reaching true Calvinism.
  4. Most people especially in the Asian context are decidedly piestistic and anti-intellectual. They love God, but sadly do not know much of God and much about God. I do not doubt their salvation and they are great people, but their maturity leaves much to be desired. They will generally not understand any Christian who is non-pietistic and who earnestly strive for biblical accuracy and fidelity.

Therefore, I will advice thus:

  • One should know the good and the bad in CCC. One should make a decision whether to join or not based upon all these data.
  • One's foremost loyalty is to God, and then to one's local church. Attending CCC mid-week meetings are never a substitute for Sunday church services. CCC as a para-church organization can never minister the Means of Grace, and if they do so, those persons are violating God's commands.
  • Knowing the confessional minimalism of CCC, one has to discern for oneself whether one can live with that for the sake of fellowship and lay ministry in CCC. CCC is not a church, and therefore it is my opinion that it does not have to meet the standards of orthodoxy that a church should have. This is a matter of wisdom and between God and you the person, and a matter of your conscience.
  • Know that one may have to dissent from CCC and the leadership at times. CCC being not a church does not mean that one rolls over and plays dead with regards to sound doctrine. Rather, one tolerate dissenting view not pertaining to the essence of the faith, but any Pelagianizing move we should dissent.
  • Finally, whatever that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23ff). If one does not have the peace to join CCC, or one thinks that doing so would violate his conscience, don't.

I hope this helps

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Book review of C. John Collins' book Science and Faith: Friends or Foes

C. John Collins' book Science and Faith: Friends or Foes was a book that was a letdown in its dealing of issues regarding creation and evolution. I however have not found the time to review it, but it seems Andrew Kulikovsky has done a good review of Collins' book here. An excerpt:

This book is yet another in a long line of books that try to resolve the perceived conflict between science and faith. The author, C. John Collins, is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary and unlike many of the writers in this area, has both theological and scientific qualifications. Thus, this work is far more comprehensive than others (it is 448 pages long including indexes), and the arguments are far more sophisticated and nuanced.

The book is divided into four sections: (1) ‘Philosophical Issues’, (2) ‘Theological Issues’, (3) ‘Science and Faith Interact’, and (4) ‘Conclusion’. There are also three appendices containing (1) additional notes and comments which attack many young-earth creationist arguments and claims, (2) a list of additional resources including websites and journals, and (3) a review of Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

It is extremely disappointing that non-YECs do not deal with the best of the creationist literature. It is one thing to reject the YEC position. It is another to reject it with bad science, bad philosophy, and almost complete ignorance of the YEC arguments. Not to mention his horrendous distortion of Thomas Kuhn's position, of which I had written a paper on it entitled Science as Paradigmatic: A Critical Analysis of Thomas S. Kuhn's View of Normal Science, in which I had written:

C. John Collins therefore is in error in decrying Kuhn as being an anti-realist and as promoting irrationalism. Nothing is further from the truth. What Kuhn denies is absolute universal truth being present in science. The contingent truths within a paradigm are objective, being available to be proven objectively right or wrong within the standards and language of that paradigm.

Kuhn's idea of science is that scientific truths are ontologically objective but epistemological subjective (being contingent upon paradigms).

Collins' book is thus extremely disappointing in a lot of ways.

Paper: Fiducia and the Anatomy of Faith

What is faith? In a recent paper of mine here, I have decided to interact on the issue of the definition of faith, interacting with Gordon H. Clark's definition of faith in dialogue with the Reformed tradition. An excerpt:

What is faith? Faith can refer to the objective faith to be believed (fides quae creditur), or the subjective element of faith (fides qua creditur) believers are to exercise. In the Reformation, the description and definition of the subjective element of faith was a matter of contention between the Reformers and the Roman Catholics. Traditional Roman Catholicism with its view of fides implicita or implicit faith made faith out to be a mere unknowing assent to whatever the church teaches. ...