Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Video: Rosario Butterfield's Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

[HT: Heidelblog]

The problem of Charismatism and African syncretism

Pastor Conrad Mbewe has posted an interesting blog post on one reason why Charismatism has grown so much in African culture, namely that Charismatism does not challenge traditional African spirituality but merely baptizes it with a veneer of Christianity. An excerpt:

Many explanations have been given for the explosion of the Charismatic movement in Africa. Many have seen this as a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit. Whereas there is probably more than one reason, I want to add my own observation to this for what it is worth. In this blog post, I do not refer to the old conservative form of Pentecostalism once represented by the Assemblies of God churches. I have in mind the current extreme form that is mushrooming literally under every shrub and tree in Africa. How can one explain this phenomenon?

I think that one reason why the Charismatic movement in Africa has been like a wild bushfire is because it has not challenged the African religious worldview but has instead adopted it. It has simply baptised it with Bible verses and Christian words that previously meant something totally different.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Creationism, the Age of the Earth, and the problems with opponents of YEC

It has been some time, but Bill Evans had written a response to Al Mohler's presentation promoting Youth-Earth Creationism (YEC) on his blog [HT: The Aquila Report]. While there are a lot of interesting things that can be said in response, chief of which is that Mohler is a popularizer not an expert in YEC, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of the conversation concerning Creation and the Age of the Earth question — that of studious ignorance and non-interaction with the YEC position.

As someone who has read YEC literature and am convinced of the YEC position, I have been exposed to and was taught the Framework position at Westminster Seminary California, in which I am a student. There is of course nothing wrong with studying what other positions are. In fact, it was an interesting experience in and of itself reading [M.G.] Kline and others. The problem however is the almost total ignorance I have found of the YEC position, something that I have seen is extended to much of the Reformed world, or at least those segments that think themselves part of the Reformed intelligentsia.

Such ignorance of the YEC position is seen everywhere. The portions of the creation reports of both the OPC and the PCA are woefully inadequate, the authors in the the Three Views of Creation are nobodies in the YEC community and I have seen few if any interact with the scholarly work done by any of the actual YEC intellectuals! In WSCal, the only major YEC they mention is E.J. Young, and while not denigrating Young, Young is no YEC scholar! He is a OT scholar, not a YEC scholar, and the two are not the same! One does not have to be an expert in the YEC position after all to be an OT scholar.

In Evan's articles, the usual stuff are paraded before us, all without any interaction with YEC answers. Now, the YEC answers may or may not be correct, but it is totally unscholarly that Evans should post the usual objections to YEC claims while not interacting with answers provided by those who actually defend YEC. Non-interaction with the YEC position is preaching to the choir, and would certainly fail to convince YECs like me who actually know the arguments for YEC.

First of all. Evans claimed that the rationale for YEC is to slam the door shut on Darwinism. While that is certainly a beneficial result of YEC, Evans failed to realize that there are YECs, like me, who are YECs because they believed Scripture teaches it, not because of any perceived reaction(s) against Darwinism. Secondly, Evans repeats the usual "scientific consensus" concerning the Age of the Earth, failing totally to interact with the criticisms of the dating methods in the scientific literature of the YEC scientists. As a non-scientist, Evans should not be taking sides in the scientific debate unless he interacts with the scientific arguments. Furthermore, to rely on "consensus" to argue for truth is fallacious, for the "scientific consensus" changes over time. Does Evans really want to tell us that Christians ought to have defended geocentrism based upon the "scientific consensus" during the Medieval period? Evans commits here the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum. Evans also has taken a realist epistemic view of Science, totally ignoring the seismic shift in the philosophy of science that Thomas S. Kuhn brought about.

Thirdly, Evans shows himself totally ignorant of YEC claims concerning the age of the earth and the fossil record. It is simply astounding that Evans speaks about the "apparent age of the earth," since YEC scientists deny such a thing. The earth does not come with an age tag! There is no apparent age, just faulty dating methods that claim to tell us the age of the earth. Fourthly, Evans confused common grade with science, as if General Revelation is equatable with the findings of "Science" (whatever that means). The problem is that there is no such thing as "Science," defined as an impersonal set of natural truths about the world. As both Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn (though coming from different angles) have pointed out, there are only scientists doing experiments in a discipline that people call science. Scientists are NOT people following the "scientific method" (which eliminate all biases) to find the brute empirical facts! General Revelation is true and infallible, but our interpretation of General Revelation (in the scientific enterprise for example) is fallible and often false.

Fifthly, Evans produced the same canard about death before the Fall, ignoring the fact that YECs generally distinguish biological death from the the death of the nephesh chayah. Now, whether that is a good explanation is beside the point here. The point is that: one should not caricature the position one is critiquing. Nobody claims that there was no plant death or bacteria death before the Fall, and for Evans to think that is the YEC position further shows those opposing YEC have no idea what they are talking about.

Sixthly, and lastly, Evans assumes a certain interpretation of the ANE creation myths, and the worldview they supposedly had. Such a view of course is not new. The idea that those dim-witted ancients were idiots coming up with mythological tall tales, and those cosmologies were total myths by those ignoramuses, comes from liberal scholarship. That there were works like the Ennuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic is besides the point. The point is: How should these works be interpreted? The mainstream interpretation adopted by lots of those opposing YEC is that the ancients think in terms of myths of gods and goddesses, but why should we think such was the case? Why should we think there were such things as "ancient cosmologies" that the ancients invented for the purpose of proclaiming the superiority of their god(s)? Why can't those "ancient cosologies" be seen as the distorted versions of the truth subsequently written down by Moses? Why can't we see that those ancients really believed those events actually occurred? The Sumerians probably believed Gilgamesh and Enkidu actually existed, and that those events described in the Gilamesh Epic actually happened in the times of their ancestors, even though YECs would say the Epic itself was a distorted story of Noah and the Flood event.

The problem with Bill Evans, as with many of those opposing YEC, is that seldom if at all do they actually interact with YEC scholars. Popularizers such as Al Mohler are easy targets, but it would be actually helpful if those opposing YEC actually interact with the position itself, not build a plethora of strawmen and light them on fire for all to see.

The Regulative Principle and the issue of culture

On the 9Marks blog, Trip Lee has posted an interesting article concerning the Regulative Principle as it relates to culture, reflecting on the similarities and differences in worship of his church in America, compared to the church in Zambia, Africa [HT: The Aquila Report]. His main point is that the Regulative Principle will ensure much similarity in worship, but also it allows for much diversity as well. As he puts it,

While our churches should not be innovative in the content or the components of our services, the way we carry those things out is, to some degree, up to us. Scripture gives us the “substance” and the “elements,” but within broad biblical guidelines, the forms are flexible.

Now, as a non-white non-European person, I do think that culture does play a part in the way Christians worship. I do not think that the whole world should worship with one uniform Scottish Psalter (and translations into different languages) from the 17th century with its corresponding liturgy. Nevertheless, that does not mean that one can re-cast the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) as one sees fit, and then claims diversity is allowed under the RPW based upon one's interpretation of it.

We see immediately that Lee has an interesting idea of the RWP. In his scheme, the "elements" merely refer to events as a composite whole, thus "praise," "sermon" etc. Those events as a composite whole are "elements," while the manner of doing those events, the "forms," are totally flexible. Thus, the forms, are "accidents" like a "six-piece band of talented musicians" and who knows what instruments and musicians were used in the Zambian church?

The issue is not whether diversity is allowed under the RPW. I for one am under no illusions that the manner in which people worship is shaped in some measure by culture(s), which may be good or bad. To go back to a 17th century Scottish Psalter with its "thees," "thous," and "ye's" and language that is not understandable by anyone without a working knowledge of 16th century English literature in this modern age is ridiculous. There is after all nothing sacrosanct about the 17th century, or the Scottish culture of the 17th century. But that does not mean that one can drive a truck through the RPW as if regulation merely applies to events as a composite whole.

The Regulative Principle is a regulative principle. Forms are not totally neutral, and are to be regulated by Scripture as well. If anyone claims that form is totally neutral, why shouldn't anyone sing a psalm a capella with a heavy metal "melody" and "beat"? So on the one hand, against those like Lee who sees the Scriptures as allowing for any form, this counter-example is enough to disprove his assertion that the RPW does not govern forms. On the other hand, for those who are fastidious about applying the RPW under a strict Aristotelian taxonomy about "elements" and "accidents," this also is a counter example. Asserting exclusive psalmody and no instrumentation solves nothing, because the underlying assumptions are still very much based upon an early modern European cultural framework. Again, is there anything wrong with singing Psalms 2 with a heavy metal beat? What "elements" and "accidents" categorization could solve the issue of beat and accompanying music? What Aristotelian category does the "metrical rhythm" fall under? Or should we just chant the Psalms? Oh wait, chanting does have a beat too! Asserting the "wisdom" category does not solve the problem for the usage of Aristotelian taxonomy, for if we have "elements" and "accidents" only, where does "wisdom" fit in? And if we say wisdom is required to reject heavy metal beat etc, then the usage of Aristotelian taxonomy is only seen to be self-serving in the interests of conserving white conservative Caucasian cultural preferences, for why is wisdom used to reject heavy metal beat, whereas CCM are rejected in toto even when some of them are paraphrases of Scripture and even if they are sung a capella?

Against those who broaden the RWP so that it becomes almost like the Normative Principle, and against those who restrict the RPW so that it becomes the mere rationale for cultural imperialism, we should strive to see and apply the RPW afresh. The RPW is a regulative principle, and thus it governs all parts of worship. It is a regulative principle, and not law. Against those who claim that forms are flexible, the RPW informs us that forms are also to be governed by Scripture. No part of worship can be said to be free from what Scripture has said. At the same time, the RPW does not give us the exact forms to use; it is not a law, but a principle. There can be thus diversity in forms, but a diversity that occurs as people govern their worship with its forms according to the Scriptures. How that looks like will defer in various social and cultural contexts, but each church needs to wrestle with what Scripture teaches concerning forms as it reforms its worship according to Scripture.