Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jesus Culture?

Bill Johnson and Bethel Church, while on my radar, have never been my focus. But seeing this post by fellow CRN contributor Erin Benzinger on her blog, especially this video, disturbs me greatly. Anyone with the Spirit of Christ in them should feel a gut reaction to the demonic presence in that video clip.

The problem with Bethel Church and Jesus Culture is obvious when we see that nothing in there has any basis whatsoever from Scripture, and yet these false prophets lie and blaspheme God and especially the Holy Spirit in putting words into His mouth, claiming divine revelation where none is given. The Holy Spirit speaks (present tense) in Scripture and through Scripture, not apart from it. To claim divine revelation from God where none is given is the height of hubris, and anyone who knows their Bible knows what false prophets deserve from God.

There are many watchbloggers I am sure who are busy exposing the errors of Bill Johnson and the "New Apostolic Reformation." But we can discount all their heresies at its root: the charismatic claim of new revelation. God has revealed to us how He has and how He will reveal Himself to us (Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). God will never contradict Himself. Since God has already told us how He has and will reveal Himself to us, to claim knowledge of God and His Will from any other source is to call God a liar. God will NEVER give us any more new revelation, because God does not contradict Himself. God has NOT given those visions to Kim Walker-Smith, for He will never promise us one thing in His Word and do another thing altogether just for her. Therefore Kim Walker-Smith is being deceived and not telling the truth. The entire Bethel and Jesus Culture movement is built upon something other than God, and we know there are essentially only 2 sources of supernatural power and visions in this world.

There is nothing much we Christians can do except to pray and evangelize. We should not treat these people as Christians, as they are even more deceived than the Roman Church is. At least the Roman communion strive for biblical accuracy, although they will never achieve it since they interpret Scripture through their (false) traditions. Those who belong to the NAR and the Bethel/ Jesus Culture movement are to be treated as objects for evangelism, and treated as worshipers of another God, for that is what they are in truth.

Reformation, Lent and the Church Calendar

Over on the Gospel Coalition, New Calvinist Colin Hansen has posted on the topic of the church calendar in general and Lent in particular. The overall slant of the article is towards the celebration of Lent, while giving room for Ligon Duncun to voice the lone case against the celebration of Lent. Given that people like Hansen are low church baptists, it is interesting to see them adopt what is essentially a high church ritual, but I digress,

The main argument brought up by Hansen is the idea that all churches practice a church calendar, just as all churches practice a liturgy (which is after all an 'order of service'). Since all churches practice a church calendar, the argument goes, why should we be against the celebration of Lent, especially since many churches celebrate Christmas and Easter as well?

Now, it is true that many low church Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter, and yet are against the celebration of Lent. But this is not the historic Reformed position. The Reformed with the Regulative Principle of Worship removed the celebration of Christmas and Easter, and all other holy days, as can be seen in the Westminster Directory for Public Worship:

There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued. (Appendix)

The Reformed see that proper worship is to be centered upon the 52 Lord's Days per year, with the ceasing of all other holy days, which necessarily means removing the celebration of Christmas and Easter. Now of course, such did not happen in the Dutch churches for instance, because of various reasons including the fact that people do want to celebrate Christmas and Easter.

So, yes, Hansen is right in saying that all churches have a calendar. The Reformed at their best however see the calendar as speaking of the celebration of 52 Lord's Days, which are our "holy days." We can say that we have a "church calendar," but it is a church calendar centered around the 7 day creation week, not the circuit of the earth around the sun.

Now I personally have no issue with people wishing to celebrate Christmas or Easter, if they are not done as holy days. By all means people may decide in their personal piety to celebrate Christmas and Easter, but that is different from saying that the Church should celebrate them. Likewise, if some people want to fast during Lent season, that is their own prerogative. But Christians can fast any time they wish to, not just during the Lenten season. And Christians should be meditating upon the death and sacrifice of our Lord every time they partake of the Lord's Supper, which should be done frequently, not just during Lent leading up to Good Friday and Easter. So while I do think believers could choose to fast, and meditate upon Christ's death and sacrifice during the Lenten season, I do not see why they should be doing so, since they should be meditating upon it everytime they partake upon the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Instead of celebrating popish feasts like Lent, why not have a proper church service with frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper? Perhaps the impetus for the promotion of Lent is the fact that many evangelical church services have lost all sense of the sacred, and are more like rock concerts instead of covenantal meetings with our holy God.

Friday, February 22, 2013

DGM, Reformed and Charismatic?

There is a recent session at the Desiring God Conference 2013 where the speaker Tope Koleoso attempts to argue for his case that Reformed people should be Charismatics. The Cripplegate has analyzed his talk (Part 1, 2, 3), while Dr. R Sott Clark has responded to it from a historical point of view.

Perhaps the greatest issue that irks me about all these Charismatic arguments is that almost all of them totally misrepresent the opposing side. To disagree with Cessationism is one thing; to misrepresent it is another. I admit my still limited exposure to Charismatics, but I have not yet found one Charismatic who has adequately represented the Cessationist argument in its strongest form, and then show why he rejects it. Instead, we are treated to trite nonsense like "Cessationists fear the Holy Spirit." If I want to be polemical, I could very well state that Charismatics like Koleoso probably believes in a different Spirit than the one I and other cessationists believe in, because his description of the Holy Spirit certainly does not seem like the person I see described in the Scriptures. So I could very well counter that cessationists do not fear the Holy Spirit; we just fear that the Spirit Koleoso described is not the Holy Spirit at all.

There are many reasons why Reformed Christianity is antithetical to Charismatism, reasons which I cannot do justice to in this short post. My main contention has always been that Reformed Christianity believes in Sola Scriptura, particularly its teaching on the sufficiency of Scripture and thus the sufficiency of the means of grace ordained in God's Word for our growth in Chris, while Charismatism in every form denies this to some extent. In Charismatism, Scripture is not sufficient for the Christian life, for extra revelation of some sort (e.g. prophecy, word of knowledge, interpreted tongues) is necessary for the Christian life. Granted, reformed Charismatics do not consider such revelations on the same level as Scripture, but still they are considered necessary for the Christian life in some sense. In practice, the ordinary means of grace are deemed to be insufficient for the Christian walk. Rather, Charismatism must in some sense add practices like receiving "word of prophecy," "speaking in tongues," "dreams," "vision" etc as being needed for the Christian walk, even if they are needed merely to "enhance" one's spiritual walk. Charismatism therefore has a denial of the fullness of Sola Scriptura inherent within it. They could very well hold to parts of Sola Scriptura or even most of it, but in the final analysis they must depart from the Reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura, or cease being Charismatic in any real sense of the term.

There is thus no way for Reformed Christians to be Charismatics, for there is a fundamental difference between the two beliefs. Reformed Christianity cannot be reduced to the TULIP or the 5 points of Calvinism, for Reformed Christianity is not just Reformed Soteriology, but rather Reformed Christianity has its own pneumatology which is diametrically opposed to the pneumatology of the Charismatics. Koleoso's call therefore only makes sense in the shallow waters of New Evangelicalism, where doctrines are disjointed and not seen holistically.

There are Reformed, and there are Charismatics. There are 'reformed' Charismatics, but there will never be Reformed Charismatics. The whole term itself is an oxymoron, not even historically, as Dr. Clark points out, but doctrinally and logically. One might as well speak of a Oneness Pentecostal Trinitarian, or an Arian Modalist, all of which do not exist in the same logical sense that square circles don't exist.

Perhaps the day will come when 'reformed' Charismatics will stop having Charismatic altar calls. Perhaps the day will come when Continuationalists will finally adequately represent the Reformed objection to their position. But I'm not holding my breath for any of that to happen.

[See also: This is why Charismatics are simply not Reformed]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

NT Wright and the Hebrew Law Court analogy

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. (John 5:45)

Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:5-6)

In James R White's interaction with and discussion of NT Wright's doctrine of justification, Dr. White focuses on Tom Wright's idea of the "law court" analogy, in which NT Wright states that his "law court" analogy is to be that of the Hebrew law court where there is a judge and the defendant, 2 parties only. Dr White focuses on the idea of the newness of the New Covenant in his interpretation of Romans 8, in which clearly there is a third party, the mediator, present. From a Reformed (non-Baptist) perspective, do we or should we go along that line of argument? Or is there a better line of argument against NT Wright's portrayal of what the law court analogy in Scripture teaches?

It is my opinion that there is a better way to go about defending the historic reading of the law court analogy, through looking at the Hebrew law court itself. Is NT Wright true when he says that the Hebrew law court has only 2 parties? True, there seems to be only two parties present (the judge and the defendant), but is that really the case?

To truly understand the Hebrew law court, we must understand the Old Covenant. The Law or Torah was given by God to Israel. God's decrees, statutes and commandments were given to Israel as their covenant document (c.f. M.G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King). This was the way Israel ought to live her life as God's covenant people. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant or the Mosaic Covenant. He was the mediator between God and Israel, receiving the Law from Mount Sinai. What Moses received was the constitution of Israel, the basis for all of Israel's laws. As John 5:45 assumes, Moses was the covenant mediator of the Old Covenant. He who received the Law mediates Israel's covenant to God under that economy. Heb. 3:5-6 assumes that Moses was a covenant head and mediator just as Jesus is a covenant head and mediator, and then contrasts the two mediators and the two covenants they mediate.

If Moses is the mediator of the Old Covenant with its laws, then Moses is the mediator in the Hebrew law courts under the Mosaic economy. Moses' mediatory office however focuses on the principles of works found in Lev. 18:5: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD." The Mosaic economy is strictly legal without mercy. The one who does the Law shall live, while the one who violates the Law dies. Moses in this sense mediates death. This is not to say that the Law is evil, as Rom. 7: 7-14 shows. Rather, because of sin and wickedness, all are under the curse of the Law.

Therefore, in the Hebrew law court, there are not just 2 parties. Moses is present as a mediator everytime the Law is used. The Law in the Hebrew law court therefore brings the mediation of Moses as the covenant head, in typological form, in its deliberations and judgments. If the accused is guilty, Moses "mediates" punishment to him. If the accused is innocent, Moses "mediates" life in the form of acquital. There therefore IS a mediator in the Hebrew law court, the head of the Old Covenant Moses. That is why the Pharisees could set their hope on Moses, while Jesus state that Moses will condemn them instead.

We could very well therefore grant NT Wright his appeal to the Hebrew law court. The problem is that Wright does not truly understand the Old Covenant, and thus his view of the Hebrew law court is defective.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Trueman on Confessionalism, and my reflections

Confessionalism (NOT confessionalization, which is the process of codifying church confessions) broadly speaking is the practice of confessing what one believes (Latin credo "I believe") and practicing this confession in church life. Church historian Carl Trueman has written on the benefits of confessionalism (here and here). In the first part, Trueman deals with how the confession without discipline is no real confession at all. In the second part, Trueman deals with the issue of having discipline without confession, which results in "the stage ... [being] set for potential pastoral tyranny. I would like to reflect here with regards to the necessary of confessions for the discipline of the church.

In churches which focus more on emotions and de-emphasize doctrine, problems related to doctrinal teaching within the church will not surface. Such a church however is not functioning as one, and will easily go astray, as being officially not concerned about doctrine just means that that church will fall prey to every wind of doctrine that comes its way.

Where there is doctrinal concern, what will happen however when doctrines are being introduced into the church by those not part of its "core" leadership? For example, if someone comes in and strongly advocates for Young-earth Creationism, while the church leadership does not take a position on the issue, can the church leadership stop the person from doing so? Upon what basis can they tell anyone to not teach doctrine X, where X can refer to any doctrine under the sun? The answer is that biblically, if they do not take a stand on the issue, they have no basis to forbid anyone to teach doctrine X. If the church does not state that this position is unbiblical, they have no right to forbid its teaching. To do otherwise is pastoral tyranny which is sin that needs to be repented of.

The benefits of confessionalism is that it functions as a basis for managing the teaching of doctrine. Abiding by one's confession means that one has an objective standard to allow or disallow the teaching of diverse doctrines. Doctrines not condemned by creeds and confessions that the church subscribes to have to be tolerated within the church. The pastor could very well disagree with it, and speak against it, but he has no right to forbid it. For example, both supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism are to be tolerated in Reformed churches, since the Reformed confessions do not take a side on this issue. To censure an elder for teaching infralapsarianism when one is supralapsarian, or vice versa, is tyranny, for going beyond what the church considers as orthodoxy and imposing it on your Christian brother.

Confessionalism helps safeguard orthodoxy and safeguards what is considers necessary for the functioning of the church. To the extent that churches desire discipline within the church but is not confessional, to that extent the discipline process in the church is ripe for pastoral abuse and tyranny. Furthermore, since discipline does not pertain to doctrine only, churches that desire to practice discipline without being confessional are extremely susceptible to all manner of abuse by those in leadership not only in discipline of doctrine but also in discipline of the (moral) lives of their congregation, and in conflict resolutions and counseling too.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No Compromise Ever: Episode 2

Erin Benzinger has posted the link to the second episode of the No Compromise Podcast, which focuses on the topic of Sola Scriptura, mysticism, and some interactions with John Eldrige's idea of masculinity.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Justification Debate: White vs Wright

On Unbeliever radio, James R White debated N.T. Wright on the issue of justification recently, which can be heard here. Dr. White has also started a discussion of NT Wright's JETS article on his Dividing Line here.

ADD: The second discussion by Dr. White on the JETS article can be heard here.

NT Wright wrong on the person and work of Christ?

Is NT Wright right on the person and work of Christ? While he strongly defends the resurrection, there may be more to Wright's Christology than meets the eye, as Rachel Miller muses.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The New City Catechism: Analysis Part 6


Heidelberg Catechism:

Q12: Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?
A: God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Q13: Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?
A: By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.

Q14: Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?
A: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.

Q15: What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?
A: For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous; and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.

Q16: Why must he be very man, and also perfectly righteous?
A: Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin; and one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.

Q17: Why must he in one person be also very God?
A: That he might, by the power of his Godhead sustain in his human nature, the burden of God's wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.

Q18: Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?
A: Our Lord Jesus Christ: "who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."

Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q21: Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?
A: The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Q22: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her,yet without sin.

Q23: What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?
A: Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

Q24: How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A: Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.

Q25: How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A: Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.

Q26: How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A: Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us,[71] and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

Q27: Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A: Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Q28: Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation?
A: Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q36: Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace?
A: The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father, in the fulness of time became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, forever.

Q37: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance, and born of her, yet without sin.

Q38: Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?
A: It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death, give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God's justice, procure his favor, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation.

Q39: Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be man?
A: It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer and make intercession for us in our nature, have a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.

Q40: Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?
A: It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us as the works of the whole person.

Q41: Why was our Mediator called Jesus?
A: Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.

Q42: Why was our Mediator called Christ?
A: Our Mediator was called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure, and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation.

Q43: How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A: Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and Word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.

Q44: How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A: Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be reconciliation for the sins of his people; and in making continual intercession for them.

Q45: How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A: Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

Q46: What was the estate of Christ's humiliation?
A: The estate of Christ's humiliation was that low condition, wherein he for our sakes, emptying himself of his glory, took upon him the form of a servant, in his conception and birth, life, death, and after his death, until his resurrection.

Q47: How did Christ humble himself in his conception and birth?
A: Christ humbled himself in his conception and birth, in that, being from all eternity the Son of God, in the bosom of the Father, he was pleased in the fullness of time to become the son of man, made of a woman of low estate, and to be born of her; with divers circumstances of more than ordinary abasement.

Q48: How did Christ humble himself in his life?
A: Christ humbled himself in his life, by subjecting himself to the law, which he perfectly fulfilled; and by conflicting with the indignities of the world, temptations of Satan, and infirmities in his flesh, whether common to the nature of man, or particularly accompanying that his low condition.

Q49: How did Christ humble himself in his death?
A: Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors; having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God's wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.

Q50: Wherein consisted Christ's humiliation after his death?
A: Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.

New City Catechism:

Q20: Who is the Redeemer?
A: The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, in whom God became man and bore the penalty for sin himself.

Q21: What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?
A: One who is truly human and also truly God.

Q22: Why must the Redeemer be truly human?
A: That in human nature he might on our behalf perfectly obey the whole law and suffer the punishment for human sin; and also that he might sympathize with our weaknesses.

Q23: Why must the Redeemer be truly God?
A: That because of his divine nature his obedience and suffering would be perfect and effective; and also that he would be able to bear the righteous anger of God against sin and yet overcome death.

Q24: Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?
A: Since death is the punishment for sin, Christ died willingly in our place to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin and bring us back to God. By his substitutionary atoning death, he alone redeems us from hell and gains for us forgiveness of sin, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Q25: Does Christ’s death mean all our sins can be forgiven?
A: Yes, because Christ’s death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God graciously imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as if it were our own and will remember our sins no more.

Q26: What else does Christ’s death redeem?
A: Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.

On the topic of Jesus Christ, the different catechisms again go at it differently. How then should we proceed in comparing them? Christology is normally discussed under two parts, speaking of the person of Christ and the work of Christ. Using this systematic categorization, we can examine how the New City Catechism compares to the older Reformed catechisms.

On the person of Christ, it can be seen that the New City Catechism does a good job at explaining the reason why Christ must be very God and very Man. Granted, it is not as technical as the older Reformed catechisms, but it does not omit anything serious in its explanation of these basic points on Christ's person. The Heidelberg Catechism does this beautifully also, but certainly the New City Catechism explains this truth well and succinctly. Here, the Westminster Short Catechism does not explain it well, but a good explanation can be seen in the Larger Catechism. As a minus point, the New City Catechism does not use the traditional Chaceldonian language of Christ having two natures in one person, a point which the Westminster Catechisms do state.

On the work of Christ, we see that the Westminster Catechisms excel here. The New City Catechism is inferior to the Westminster Catechisms in this regard. It is acknowledged that the New City Catechism confesses the substitutionary atonement of Christ as well as Christ's imputed merit to us. Yet, the Westminster Catechisms with its delineation of Christ's work as prophet, priest and king clearly shows Christ's work in detail, of which its omission does diminish our understanding of Christ's work. Unlike the previous section on the person of Christ, the New City Catechism does not give a succinct expression of Christ's work as prophet, priest and king as mediator on our behalf. The New City Catechism further complicates matters with its question and answer 26, which states that Christ's death "is the beginning and the redemption of every part of fallen creation." While that can be construed as speaking of Christ being the first fruits of the Eschaton, it is vague enough to mean other less orthodox teachings such as the New Apostolic teaching of Institutional redemption. As such, that question and answer reduces the value of the New City Catechism.

The New City Catechism is of mixed value here. While it does a good job in its question on the person of Christ, its answers on the work of Christ is reasonable but inferior in its speaking of Christ's mediatoral work in general, and is disastrous in speaking when it ventures into speaking of Christ's work as it pertains to the Eschaton, something which should be rightly spoken of in the context of the work of the Holy Spirit, and not of the work of Christ.

The New City Catechism: Analysis Part 5


Heidelberg Catechism:

Q7: Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
A: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Q8: Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
A: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

Q9: Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?
A: Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Q10: Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A: By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he has declared, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them."

Q11: Is not God then also merciful?
A: God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q14: What is sin?
A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Q15: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.

Q16: Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.

Q17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q18: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

Q19: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A: God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

New City Catechism:

Q16: What is sin?
Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.

Q17: What is idolatry?
Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.

Q18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?
No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.

Q19: Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?
Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.

The New City Catechism attempts to speak of the issue of sin to a more contemporary audience. How does it fare compared with the earlier Reformed standards?

Comparing the standards on this issue is hard, since they are quite divergent in how they even go about framing the issue of sin. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks about sin primarily from the viewpoint of God's justice, the Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks about sin from the viewpoint of covenant, while the New City Catechism speaks about it primarily in terms of rebellion and mistrust. All three points of view are valid in speaking of the problem of sin.

In comparing these, it must be said that the New City Catechism is using simpler language to express biblical truth. In this respect, the New City Catechism is superior to the older standards in conveying what sin is. That said, this superiority is tempered with the issue of sin being divorced from the creation account. The impression is given that sin only pertains to our actual sins, while the concept of original sin is obscured, a problem that the older catechisms do not have.

In comparison with the older standards therefore, the New City Catechism has a plus point and a minus point. It is better in conveying what actual sin is, but it is worse in not speaking about original sin. Here, therefore, the New City Catechism can be seen as a helpful pedagogical tool on the nature of sin, but only as a supplement to the older Reformed catechisms on this issue.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Paper: James 5:1-6— An NT Imprecation Against Injustice

A paper of mine on James 6:1-6 has just been returned. It is entitled James 5:1-6— An NT Imprecation Against Injustice, and can be accessed here. An excerpt:

The motif of wealth and poverty has occupied the attention of Liberation theologians, and is in fact their central dogma through which all of theology and life is seen and interpreted.1 God is seen as the advocate of the poor, and He personally opposes the capitalist rich. In this light, the passage of James 5: 1-6, among other texts in James, is seen to function as a prophetic denunciation of the evil and rich bourgeois who oppress the poor, and as a call for us to take up the cause of the poor. ... [more]

Monday, February 04, 2013

The failures of (New) Evangelicalism

The Church is the Bride of Christ who is to be nurtured so that her members grow in godliness, and that sheep not yet of the sheep-fold are brought in. One reason why I detest Evangelicalism is because it generally fails in the former, and stumbles through doing the latter.

Here is my case against Evangelicalism. Since Evangelicals love to see the fruit, we shall measure them by their fruit:

  1. New Evangelicals wanted to preserve orthodoxy while being winsome and engaging. Laudable motives, but has their strategy worked? From the inerrancy controversy to debates about origins (creation and evolution) to the issue of open theism, the strategy of Evangelicalism has been shown to be a disaster for holding firm to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It seems strange to me that, after being burned by the failure of New Evangelicalism in the later half of the 20th century, people like D.A. Carson decided to restart the same experiment with the Gospel Coalition as we begin the 21st century. Do they ever learn from history? If something fails even by their standards, is the solution to reboot the project and try again?
  2. New Evangelicals thought that being "nice" and winsome will help them witness to the world. Now, the desire to reach people where they are at has caused even unbelievers to be offended by the raunchy sexual ads promoting "church services" with titillating sermon titles (e.g. Ed Young Jr.). Now, many Evangelical may be outraged at Ed Young's antics. But what is Ed Young doing that is not inconsistent with the type of ministry philosophy that promotes an idea of soul-winning "at all costs" ?
  3. The number of heretical, semi-heretical and heterodox doctrines that is deemed acceptable to be labeled "Evangelical" has been increasing over the years. How does this line up with Evangelicalism' idea of preserving orthodoxy while the focus on being "nice" and "winsome" make them incapable of throwing out heretics? Or if being an open tent is a better idea, how does this line up with their desire to preserve orthodoxy?
  4. Has being "nice" and "winsome" won any liberal over to the conservative side, or is the traffic rather the other way? Historically, it seems the direction of influence is the other way round. If so, what is the fruit of being "nice" and "winsome" except compromise of doctrine and the falling away of Evangelical scholars from the faith?
  5. Has the desire to meet people where they are at helped people to grow in the faith? Or are we always pandering to their taste for milk? Those who decry someone teaching, for example the doctrine of reprobation, as being improper and stumbling to people, do you actually teach it in a way that you think is proper? As it is commonly said, "I liked your way of doing it badly rather than your way of not doing it at all."
  6. Closely related to that, how has Evangelicalism fared in terms of building people in the faith? Judging by growing bible illiteracy, not well.
  7. For Christians to be nurtured in godliness, they need to be a member of a true church ministered to by God's servants. Sadly, Evangelicalism cannot even decide on whether such is necessary for godliness, as we see in the extreme example of the "house church movement" promoted by Frank Viola and George Barna.
  8. Decades of Evangelicalism and we have Evangelicals, partaking of the culture, think with their feelings. Does it not show that Evangelicalism is failing in its stated goal of preserving orthodoxy? How can it preserve orthodoxy if its members cannot even think right?

With the failure of New Evangelicalism in its task, should not it be time to reconsider the entire project, and reject it altogether? Why continue digging the grave deeper and deeper?

The 20th century Reformed downgrade

Dr. R. Scott Clark has an interesting post on his Heidelblog on why the doctrine of republication (the Mosaic Law as a republication of the Covenant of Works) is controversial today. It is interesting in this regard to see how there has been a serious downgrade in Reformed theology in the 20th century, of which Dr. Clark puts the blame at least partly on Karl Barth's "reformed" theology, especially it seems as mediated by people like G.C. Berkouwer. While I have no doubt Barth and Berkouwer has sent Reformed theology on a downward spiral, I am perhaps not convinced that people like Cornelius Van Til did not in some way contribute to the downgrade in Reformed theology.

That there is a downgrade in Reformed theology in the 20th century seems to be indisputable. Speaking from experience, I did not learn republication from Kline. I had some idea of republication from my meditation on the Scriptures in light of covenant theology as taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and then the concept crystallized through reading Herman Witsius' The Economy of the Covenants. It was surprising to me personally when I found out it was controversial. One would have taught that if something is explicitly taught in the WCF, which is subscribed to by Presbyterians, it should not be controversial in Presbyterian circles.

Back to the issue. The Reformed downgrade it seems starts with Karl Barth, the "reformed" revisionist, and his sympathizers. At around the same time, the form of Reformed theology was held to by people like Van Til, but it is coupled with a fondness for innovation and re-interpreting doctrine according to what they think the doctrine means for the modern age. Thus, the archetypal/ ectypal distinction was "transformed," or distorted, into the idea of analogical knowledge which has no point of contact between God and Man. The fondness for innovation in light of the Dispensational challenge caused John Murray to emphasize the unity of the covenants to the formal denial of the Covenant of Works. With Kuyper's unique model, some of those after him ran off with his idea of antithesis to deny common (providential) grace and thus the idea of the common realm of creation, while others so accentuate common grace they practically capitulated to the Zeitgeist. And all the while, monocovenantalism crept in through introducing confusion over Law and Gospel from the pens of Karl Barth, Daniel Fuller, John Piper, Herman Hoeksema, Norman Shepherd among others.

We must recover Reformed Orthodoxy. Not because Reformed Orthodoxy is perfect, but there can be no talk about progressing above them until we have reached their level. In some way, recovering Reformed Orthodoxy helps ameliorates the problems with Vantillianism, and in so doing I am hopeful it will be able to resolve the Clark-Van Til controversy by affirming the good points of each, and rejecting the excesses of the other.

W Robert Godfrey on the Inventions of Rome

Modern Reformation/ White Horse Inn has done a 2 part interview with my seminary president Dr. W Robert Godfrey on the topic of Roman Catholicism. In light of the apostasy of people like Jason Stellman and the fervor of Roman apologists, this is a pertinent subject.