Thursday, January 29, 2015

Response to Justin Taylor on 24-hour creation days (Part 2)

[continued from here]

Next, we'll move on to Taylor's third argument, that "The Seventh 'Day' is Not 24 hours long." On this issue, what I will say here is at best cursory, but note here that the 4th commandment depends on the seventh day being an actual day of similar length as the other six days. The Sabbath commandment is not a command to work six days, then we rest for the rest of eternity (pun unintended). So from the 4th commandment itself, there is prima facie reason to reject the idea of an eternal seventh day.

More importantly, those who promote an eternal seventh day fail to adequately address the difference in the rationales given for honoring the Sabbath between the account in Exodus (given at the beginning of the Israelites' wondering) and the second writing of the law as described in Deuteronomy (done near the end of the Israelites' wondering). For those who are astute, one will recognize that the Exodus account grounds the command to keep the Sabbath in the creation account, complete with the discussion of 6 days of work and 1 day of rest, while the Deuteronomic account grounds the command to keep the Sabbath in Israel's redemption from Egypt. For Christians who believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, we cannot take the easy way out to postulate two different traditions concerning the 10 commandments. Rather, both rationales are equally valid for their specific occasions in redemptive history, the former at the beginning of Israel's rebellion and subsequent wondering, the latter just before the conquest of the Promised Land. We see here that there are two kinds of Sabbath principles at work: one of creation, and one of redemption. Or one can see them rather as having a redemptive-historical slant, the former of creation, and the latter of new creation. This shows us that the Sabbath is both of creation, and of redemption.

Therefore, when we read passages such as Psalms 95 and Hebrews 4, we agree they speak concerning the eternal Sabbath, but that is not the eternal Sabbath of creation, but rather the Sabbath of the new creation that will come: the eschatological age. Taylor's appropriation of the concept of the eternal creation Sabbath is therefore in error.

The 4th argument is that "The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long." But this is to fail at basic exegesis, since the phrase there is not the word yom ("day") by itself, but with the preposition בְּ (be), in בְּי֗וֹם (beyom). Taylor here remarks that this use of yom presents a puzzle for YEC, but this just show his ignorance, since we have long since addressed this issue. In the beginning, I wrote about how doctrinal disputes should be managed, and the imperative to address what the opponent is saying, instead of being ignorant especially of their counter-arguments. Here is where this issue of ignorance rears its head. Taylor shows his ignorance of the YEC counter-argument on this point, which is not a good reflection on his article and the spirit in which he writes this article.

Taylor's last argument is that "The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day." Taylor here relies on Mark Futato's article Because It Had Not Rained, putting forward the Klinean argument that Genesis 2:5-6 supports that we are dealing very much with ordinary providence in the creation account, and thus the natural processes require more than a day. However, as I have written in another blog post, this Klinean argument is without teeth. There is a qualitative difference between the vegetation in Genesis 2 and that of Genesis 1, so Genesis 2:5-6 is not speaking of Day 3 of the creation account. Genesis 2:5-6 is therefore not promoting the operation of ordinary providence in the creation days, but rather the beginning of the processes of providence in day 6 for the growth of cultivated plants especially in Eden.

Having refuted Taylor's article, we will address Taylor's closing remarks. Taylor commented on God's condescension to us in analogical and anthropomorphic speech. That is true, but just as true is the direction of analogy. God uses anthropomorphisms as figures of speech to express what is true for our experience. The direction is always us-wards, not God-wards. Thus, to say that God is refreshed in Ex. 31:17 speaks to our understanding, not that somehow the issue of Sabbath and it being a day for rest is not somehow actually true!

In speaking of the creation days, the days are externally acted on by God, not predicated of him internally, and thus not an anthropomorphism. The direction in Scripture seems to be God using the creation days as analogies, which is the opposite flow of those advocating for analogical views of the creation days. In the former, the creation days are materially present, and THEN God uses them as an analogy for the 6-day work week and 1 day of Sabbath, from literal to analogy. In the latter however, the creation days are treated as analogical from the onset, and the literal sense is relegated (in the Framework view) to "God's work week," something that is unknown in Scripture except for the actual 6-day creation story in Genesis 1. Biblical analogy proceeds from the prior material to the spiritual, not the other way around, or worse, from spiritual (God in the "Upper Register") to spiritual (Man). After all, we see in Galatians 4 the allegorization of Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, all of whom were actual historical persons long before their stories were allegorized to make a doctrinal point!

In conclusion, we have answered and refuted Taylor's arguments against 24-hour creation days. Those who hold to the plain sense of Genesis 1-2 do not have anything to fear from those promoting alternative theories. It would be really helpful if the next time anyone wants to write against the 6-24 view, they would actually interact with the latest YEC arguments and counter-arguments, instead of demonstrating their ignorance of them.

Response to Justin Taylor on 24-hour creation days (Part 1)

וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ (Gen 2:2)

Over on TGC, Justin Taylor wrote an article that claims to provide biblical reasons to reject the creation days of Genesis 1 as being days of 24 hours period, in preference to an interpretation that is more in line with the Framework Hypothesis. Taylor is welcome to hold to his position, but are his reasons actually biblical?

Before we look at the reasons given, I would like to note how we are to address issues of disagreement. In doctrinal disputes, both sides normally hold to their positions because they think that the arguments for their positions are right. Hopefully, in the course of debate and dialogue, both parties will seek to understand the arguments from the other side and then formulate counter-arguments in support of their positions. In other words, even if one side were to disagree with the other and even with her arguments, he has to take note of her arguments and attempt a response. Generally, ignorance of what the other side is saying is bad, and does not help one's case at all.

Taylor gave 5 beliefs that together combine to give rise to a belief in 6-24 creation. According to Taylor, they are

(1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail microevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

Taylor then cites some of the views of theologians concerning the interpretation of the creation days, then he gives 5 "biblical" arguments that should cause his readers to doubt the 6-24 view, which I will look at later. But back to his 5 beliefs that supposedly combine to give rise to the 6-24 view of the Genesis creation days. Are these actually integral or even a part of the argument for the 6-24 view?

"Creationist belief" #1 is rather astonishing. There may or may not be creationists who claim that Genesis 1:1 is a summary or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3, but the question is not whether some creationists might use this to support their 6-24 interpretation, but rather whether one can take the 6-24 position regardless of how one interprets Genesis 1:1. I for one do not take the position that Genesis 1:1 is a summary of Genesis 1:2-2:3, so we can discount with supposed creationist belief #1.

Taylor's "creationist beliefs" #2 and #3 are indeed held by creationists, and I think we can defend them. "Creationist belief" #4 however is really curious. I suspect Taylor actually had the term "macroevolution" in mind rather than "microevolution." Be that as it may, having an old earth is less a problem for issues such as "hominids" and "animal death before the Fall" than holding to the cosmology of an old earth, which includes the supposed evolutionary and developmental timeline for life on earth (including the "Fossil Record"). As an example, a strict day-age view would not run foul of these hot button topics IF the one making the argument would simultaneously hold that there was no animal death before the Fall in "Day 6," whenever that is. The fact that those holding on to an old-earth simultaneously hold to an old-earth cosmology including animal predation and disease before the creation of Adam and Eve is the main issue, not old earth itself. As to how one can hold to an old earth without holding on to an old-earth cosmology, that is something for those professing to believe an old earth to answer for themselves; personally I don't see any way to do so.

"Creationist belief" #5 was certainly the belief by Reformed theologians such as Archbishop James Ussher. Regardless, one does not need to hold to genealogies without gaps in Genesis 5 and 11 to hold to young-earth creationism (YEC). Even if there are gaps and even if the numbers given in the genealogies are not precise, it staggers belief that millions of years can be smuggled into those gaps; it is just not possible. The positing of gaps can at the most increase the biblical time scale a couple of thousand years at the most, and even that is stretching things. After all, if one really wants to see what a biblical genealogy with gaps look like, look at Matthew's genealogy of Christ as an example! So the issue is not about reconstructing the exact age of the earth, but rather that the Bible gives a scale concerning the age of the earth, which is in the thousands rather than millions and billions of years.

Next, we look at Taylor's citation of church theologians. We notice that, besides Augustine, every single one of the theologians are modern theologians. Now, "modern" does not necessarily equals wrong, but "modern" does mean that the charge could be made that they adopted this interpretation of the creation days due to pressure from the supposed established view of "science." Therefore, while they may be stalwarts of the faith generally, their views on the creation days do not have the same imprimatur of authority. Speaking of authority, if one wishes to count theological heads, one wonders why Taylor does not count the Reformers (both Luther and Calvin) and the Reformed scholastics who all, almost without exception, held to YEC. Archishop James Ussher was not an anomaly for his time, and YEC was the general belief in all branches of Christiainity until the beginning of Modern Geology in the early 19th century.

Regarding Augustine, while he was certainly unclear on the creation days, yet he did so due to his ignorance of Greek in Sirach 18:1. The main question concerning Augustine however was whether he held to a YEC position, and in this, we can say that he answered in the affirmative.

We now approach Taylor's 5 arguments to cast doubt on the 6-24 interpretation. Taylor's first argument is that "Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary." As I have previously said, I agree with that interpretation. Genesis 1:1-2 describe the initial creative act of God at time, t=0 to establish the beginning state for creation to happen. As for Taylor's appropriation of the Framework literary view, I have repeated Andrew Kulikovsky's deconstruction of that framework here, and will not repeat it again.

Taylor's second argument is that "The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before 'The First Day.'" That however is not an issue because in my view I have said that they were created at time, t=0. After they appeared ex nihilo, then time and the creation days began. Taylor's objection to the light being created in the first day while the sun was not yet created is not an issue, for we read in Revelations 22:5 that there will be light without the sun in the new Jerusalem. Light therefore can exist apart from the sun, and in fact we prove that all the time we create and use artificial lighting in our daily lives. Regarding the purpose of the sun and astral bodies in Day 4, as I have argued, we should not confuse teleology with ontology. Questions of purpose are important, but they are not questions of being. Such confusion only serves to muddy the waters instead of dealing with the text.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Justifying beliefs

Let us say that a belief is justified for a person at a time if (a) he is violating no epistemic duties and is within his epistemic rights in accepting it then and (b) his noetic structures is not defective by virtue of his then accepting it. [Alvin Plantinga, "Reason and Belief in God," in Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, eds., Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1983), 79]

"Reformed Epistemology" is a system that claims to be based upon truths in the Reformed tradition, particularly as articulated by John Calvin. In a short article dealing with the existence of God as a properly basic belief, Alvin Plantinga wrote against Classical Foundationalism and introduced his idea of properly basic beliefs, of which the existence of God is one of them. In this post, I would like to deal with Plantinga's twin criteria for justification of beliefs.

Plantinga's criteria for justification, as presented here, deal with a person's epistemic duties and a working noetic structure. I would definitely agree that one should hold to be true what is congruent with the other truths one holds to, and thus one ought to not violate his epistemic duties, but that does not help us deal with foundational beliefs, for we are just beginning to ascertain what actually are foundational beliefs. As examples of properly basic beliefs, Plantinga brings up beliefs that one acquires through sense experiences like "I see a tree," but these circumvent the issue of whether the senses are indeed reliable. Whether the senses are generally reliable or not reliable is something that has not been decided yet in the building up of one's epistemology; one cannot assume they are generally reliable from the start unless one is an empiricist (and empiricism is wrong since empiricism itself is not empirically proven to be true).

Now, of course the question might be posed as to why anyone should want to believe that the senses are unreliable. But that is besides the point here. Most people will agree, as do I, that the senses are generally reliable. But one could believe that the senses are generally reliable because of other prior beliefs that are deemed to be more basic. In other words, it is not the case that those who do not accept sense experiences as foundational would therefore distrust the senses. Thus, to posit the criterion that one's noetic structures are not defective by virtue of accepting a belief is to beg the question. How exactly does one define whether one's noetic structures is or isn't defective?

Plantinga's justification criteria for properly basic beliefs are, in this sense, properly basic, yet totally worthless. They are true to the point of tautologies, yet worthless for judging whether any belief X is properly basic, since one cannot know if one is actually violating one's epistemic duties or if one is having a defective noetic structure by holding to belief X. One can be subjectively justified to be sure, sure that one has actually fulfilled those criteria, but since the question of whether belief X truly and objectively conforms to the criteria remains, one can never be objectively justified in holding to any "properly basic belief."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Evangelicalism, INC.

Jim Fletcher has an interesting article on Evangelicalism and its silencing of critics, here. Excerpt:

Those who call into question such methods (and in reality, there are only a handful, since discernment ministries operate on less than a shoestring, while the objects of their reports command gigantic and virtually unlimited budgets) are vilified, mocked, ignored and defamed at every opportunity. Mostly, the Big Leaders smartly ignore critics, but sometimes they just can’t help themselves and one can speculate that when they do answer, it’s because they are feeling some heat from constituents in the pews

One popular technique is to label such critics as “Pharisees,” “legalists” or some such pejorative label. Witness this frequent technique employed by key evangelical leader Ed Stetzer. The president of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) comes across as a winsome, dedicated, knowledgeable evangelical leader. He even reminds us often that he is a leader (

But when it comes to answering the critics of his closest ministry friends, Stetzer displays a subtly nasty streak that I believe is a hallmark of the crowd he runs with

The revisionist history of the New Evangelicalism

One manner of dealing with historical criticism is to refute it. Another way, the dishonest and lazy way, is to do historical revisionism and read the opposition out of the records. In the history of the New Evangelicalism, the established historiography claimed only 3 sides to the conflict: the Liberals, who compromised on doctrine, the Fundamentalists, who were so militantly opposed to compromise that they lost their love for the brethren and the lost, and the New Evangelicals, or just "Evangelicals," who stood firm on doctrine yet seek to be winsome and loving to all. Conspicuously absent from the revisionist historiography is the notion of a 4th group: Confessional Protestantism, those who stood firm on sound doctrine as taught in the Creeds and Confessions of the Church, and sought to do ministry with an ecclesial focus. We reject Liberalism for its toleration of heresy, we reject Fundamentalism for its imbalance of doctrine, AND we also reject [New] Evangelicalism for its compromise of the truth.

Justin Taylor has decided to dip his toe into the issue by speaking about the "three type of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals after 1956." As we can see however, Taylor made the same revisionist error of omitting Confessional Protestantism, whether that is due to ignorance or intentional maliciousness is another question. In the interest of correcting this deficit, I have decided to add the fourth column to his chart:

Confessional Protestantism
Personal separation from sin
Ecclesiastical separation from liberals/ modernists
Relationship of evangelism and social action
emphasized evangelism over social action
Style of combatting Modernism
Attitude towards Billy Graham
opposed (less strongly), but do not necessarily regard as apostate
Attitude towards NAE
Attitude towards self-designation of "fundamentalist"
Geographical concentration
J.G. Machen, Reformed churches

By defining the Confessional Protestant position out of the picture, the New Evangelicals, or its latest reincarnation in the "New Calvinism," can claim to be the moderate position between the extremes of Liberalism and Fundamentalism. Furthermore, they can claim, and do claim, continuity with the Reformation, even though they do not belong there. In the one hand, they held up the portrayal of the Liberals, which every true Christian would reject as having compromised the faith. In the other hand, they held up the portrayal of the angry Fundamentalists, using the worst excesses of that movement as an example to tar the rest. They thus seem both strong on doctrine (contra Liberalism) yet charitable towards others (contra Fundamentalism). Confessional Protestantism however cannot be so easily tarred, so it is probably better to revise them out of the picture, since after all they are generally not a big and vocal group, and some can be co-opted into their camp.

Between Confessional Protestantism and Separatist Fundamentalists, the major difference is the balance we achieve through focusing on the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. Separatists Fundamentalists, due to the anti-intellectualism held by many of them, tend towards imbalances resulting in factions and schisms. The prevalence of Dispensationalism in many parts of separatist Fundamentalism has resulted in a cottage industry of elaborate eschatological charts, filling in the blanks where Scripture is silent. Is it not any wonder that factions and schisms will result from such doctrinal imbalances, where belief in a pre-tribulation rapture (nowhere taught in Scripture) becomes definitive of orthodoxy in some circles? Confessional Protestantism, by focusing on the pattern of sound words, do not suffer from such schisms found in Fundamentalist circles, schisms which may be exaggerated by the New Evangelicals to prove that the separatists are short on Christian charity.

The focus on the historic creeds and confessions of the Church of course means that it is less a movement than a church, thus tied to denominations. It is understandable that Evangelicalism hate denominations, but that doesn't make the link to denominations wrong. Perhaps that is another reason why Evangelicals like Justin Taylor wish to ignore Confessional Protestantism. In all fairness, Taylor is not the only one to do so; most of the histories regarding Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the 20th century do the same, and all of them are wrong in their omission. One wonders how many of them actually read what John Gresham Machen believed concerning ecclesiology and the Fundamentalism of his time, instead of just focusing on his battle with Modernism.

We return to the beginning of Taylor's article, where he mentions three "definitions" from Dr. Dockery. I will add in the fourth "definition," and thus we will see the different spirit in Confessional Protestantism.

An Evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham;
A Liberal is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a fundamentalist;
A Fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is apostate. AND
A Confessional Protestant is someone who deplores Billy Graham's compromise and lack of biblical ecclesiology, while acknowledging both the good and the bad he has done for the spread of the Christian faith.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the right to offend


The massacre at the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists sparked outrage throughout much of the Western world. There is talk about freedom of speech and freedom of expression, even for blasphemy, of which the cartoonists most certainly were guilty of. The cartoonists were thus not exactly nice people, so even though gunning them down is wicked, some might think they deserve what they got. Even worse is the constant attack on freedom of speech and expression from certain sources like this, with the idea that we should not have absolute freedom of speech and expression.

There are two issues here: One of consistency, and the other concerning freedom. With regards to consistency, the issue is that the West is hypocritical when it comes to freedom of speech. Theirs is the "freedom" to ridicule those deemed acceptable to be mocked, but try mocking (actually only just need to disagree with) the LGBTQIA lobby and see what happens! Is there really freedom of speech in Western countries? The disgraceful dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran for "thought crime" certainly establishes the bigotry of the LGBTQIA agenda. So much for actual freedom of speech and expression in the West!


The second issue of freedom has two aspects: civil and religious. In the civil realm we have countries that categorically deny freedom of speech and expression on principle. In the religious realm, we have the argument that blasphemy should be criminalized Either way, the idea is that there should not be actual freedom of speech and expression.

The civil aspect focuses on the idea that peace and harmony in society depends on forbidding speech that offends. Now, as a practical concern, this is certainly a factor to be considered when one implements freedom of speech, but practice is not identical to principle. One could very well affirm freedom of speech on principle, while citing practical concerns for imposing some limitations on its exercise in society. The principle however should be defended, for the main issue is this: Who gets to define what speech is offensive and what speech is not? Does the State get to determine matters of religion and philosophy? Is it even qualified for that task? Of course not! And that is the main issue here: One man's religion might be another man's blasphemy. Islam for example categorically denies the deity of Christ, whom they call Isa. In Christian theology, denial of Christ's deity is heresy and blasphemy, so should Christians insist that Muslims do not teach that Christ is not God? Most certainly not! Muslims should have the right to deny what Christians assert to be true! That the State has the capability to decide what kind of speech is and is not offensive is ludicrous to the extreme. What happens is that such determination becomes totally arbitrary and the State becomes, as it were, "God", to determine by fiat what is and what is not considered "acceptable speech."

On the religious front, yes, blasphemy is a moral sin. It angers God, and blasphemers will be punished by God, personally. But does that mean on the civil realm we should punish blasphemy? Those like Tim Bayly who argue for blasphemy laws clearly do not have a sense of Church history especially the 30 years' war, where people are killed simply because they hold to a difference confession of faith. As I have mentioned earlier, one man's religion is another man's blasphemy. Who gets to determine what blasphemy looks or doesn't look like? The State? How about Tridentine Roman Catholicism, which bathed the European continent in blood with the French wars of religion, the Dutch war of independence, and of course the 30 years' war? Perhaps Bayly would love 16th century Italy, whereby Protestants of all stripes were routinely burned at the stake for heresy? Yes, blasphemy is sin, but not all sin is to be punished by the civil government. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the State decides to punish all lying? I guess the politicians would all go to jail first, followed by the rest of the people!

So while blasphemy is a detestable sin against God, in the civil realm, there must be a right to blaspheme. Christians have the right to express outrage, to organize boycotts and so on in response, but blasphemy should never be a civil crime.

In conclusion, there should be actual freedom of speech and expression, not because that would result in an ideal society, but because the alternative to that is a society not under the rule of law but under the arbitrary whims of government. Better some blasphemy and hurt feelings, than the Orvellian society of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Randy Alcorn the "Calvinist"

Over on TGC, Trevin Wax decided to interview Randy Alcorn on his new book hand in Hand: The Beauty of God's Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice, that supposedly seeks out some sort of "middle position" between Calvinism and Arminianism. Mark Jones has already taken Wax to task it seems, but the whole interview reveals many more problems than what Jones had covered.

I am sure this book would make interesting reading, but still the entire premise that there can be a "middle ground" between Calvinism and Arminianism is amusing. Others have tried, in vain, so it would be interesting to read what Alcorn brings to the conversation. What I find interesting, at least from the interview, is that there does not seem to be any presentation of what the two systems actually teach. Both the terms "Calvinism" and "Arminianism" are not well-defined, and it almost seems like Alcorn defines them according to what self-identified "Calvinists" and "Arminians" claim to believe in. In other words, on the surface, I do not see any indication that Alcorn has actually done his homework in defining what "Calvinisim" and "Arminianism" actually are.

It is interesting to me how Alcorn can be so dogmatic that those who think their system has no problems are "kidding themselves" and "need a dose of humility." If Alcorn thinks there are problems, let him bring them out, instead of poisoning the well. Why is he the only one that can be dogmatically certain of the "weaknesses" of theological systems? Whence the double-standards? What gives him the right to take the moral high ground even when he's shooting at others, accusing them of basically eisegeting Scripture? If Alcorn actually thinks he has arguments, let him bring them forth. All the name-calling is unwarranted, and seems to me to be hot air to hide the fact that he cannot deliver on what he claims to be able to prove.

Alcorn trots out Matthew 23:37 as if it proves that, in that instance, the fallen creatures had their way and God's will was frustrated. Now, I do not think it necessary that everyone reads James White's The Potter's Freedom, but surely if Alcorn thinks that this text is actually a problem for Calvinism, then he should at least address White's exegesis of the text, which claims the opposite of what Alcorn thinks it meant. But we have already seen seeming vagueness in Alcorn's definition of "Calvinism" and "Arminianism," and the continuation of this type of seeming sloppiness does not give me the impression that Alcorn's book is any better than the many other volumes discussing the topic, like for example the rather recent books For Calvinism and Against Calvinism, but rather that it is worse than those.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I am not a New Calvinist

I am not a New Calvinist. Say no to TNC, the cousin to the acronym TGC.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Gospel Coalition just has to prove its critics right

I think it goes to the whole structural problem in the whole young, restless and reformed thing, and that is, the guys at the top decided who was going to be allowed to make criticism, who they were going to listen to, and who they were going to ignore, and you end up, when you decide that, right at the start, you end up with a terribly, terribly potentially corrupt system. .. The truth is so rarely actually spoken into these guys' lives -Carl Trueman (10:45-11:14)

Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a hit piece attacking "internet criticism," and basically claimed that these guys aren't worth listening to. As if to prove my point, any posted criticism of DeYoung's article "miraculously" disappeared off their FB page. Now, just compare their action with what Dr. Trueman said about the entire YRR movement. Time and time again, we have been proven right, and over and over again, none of them want to listen. They rather blunder and abet more Mark Driscolls, more James MacDonalds and so on, and the train wreck continues. I had "prophesied" the train wreck, not because I possess the *gift* of prophecy, but because it was so obvious what was going to happen. Yet they ignored their critics and what we warned about came true.

This hit piece was written by Kevin DeYoung. Remember, this was the guy who hasn't apologized at all for insulting single men. When he talks about "internet critics," he means he can critique and attack anyone he wishes to, but the same is denied to those who push back against him. Evidently, to the YRR establishment, all they want is an echo chamber. Applause and accolades are welcome, but critiques are most certainly not welcome. Why they even bother with keeping up the facade of engaging in social media is anyone's guess, unless by "social media," they mean "I talk, you listen."

So here continues the New Evangelical Calvinism train wreck, coming to a town near you.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Sin revisited

First the AG ("alien gospel") offers an extremely thin concept of sin. Sin is seen as merely breaking the rules for which you need forgiveness. There is no hint of sin as the deep and settled bent of the heart towards self-salvation and idolatry. Because the AG's account of sin is so shallow, listeners do not get the sense either that their sin is deeply unfair, wrong, and offensive to God or that it is profoundly destructive of their own lives. Instead, this view of sin as "rule breaking" leads listeners to see that their only problem is the legal consequences of the sin they face from the Divine Enforcer. Nothing in this presentation shows sin as intrinsically wrong, hateful, destructive, and shameful in itself.

As a result of this thin view of sin, the AG does not really clarify the classic gospel distinction between grace and works, between faith in Christ's saving work and faith in our own saving work. The average hearer of the AG will see themselves as saved, not primarily because of Jesus' death on the cross, but because they are sincerely submitting to God and begging for mercy and resolving to live a better life. Essentially, they do not see themselves as moving from faith in their own moral efforts (whether as secular or religious persons) to faith and rest in Christ's saving work. Rather, they see themselves as moving from living bad lives to living better ones. Their sins are forgiven, and God accepts them because they are now living for Jesus — not the other way around. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 269]

Further into his book, Keller attempts to defend his choice of defining sin as idolatry instead of the breaking of God's law. To this effect, Keller claims that defining sin as the breaking of God's law (1) is a shallow account of sin which does not show that sin is "unfair, wrong and offensive to God," (2) make it seem like it's only about the legal consequences of their sins, (3) result in basing one's salvation upon better rule-keeping, that is, works. Therefore, defining sin as the breaking of God's law is ineffective and will result in misunderstanding.

In response, one wonders what kind of a "traditional" presentation of sin Keller has in mind. A true presentation of Law and Gospel would clearly show that one cannot stop breaking God's Law, because God's Law demands perfection. It will also include communication of the wrath of God against sin, and that the grace of God in salvation is given as a free gift to those who cannot hope to merit it, so objections 1 and 3 are invalid. If Keller has in mind a simple Gospel presentation attempt like the "Four Spiritual Laws," then that probably applies, but just because some presentations of the Gospel which define sin as law-breaking are deficient does not imply that all presentations which define sin as law-breaking are deficient.

Now, if Keller is reacting to the simplistic and truncated law-breaking definition of sin, then yes, these problems would hold true. But his proposed solution is not the right one, for sin is now made subjective and the autonomy of Man not really challenged. The right solution is the solution that builds upon the biblical cosmology that begins with creation. Sin is law-breaking that is true, but in its fuller sense, sin is cosmic treason. Sin is saying to the Creator God who has created everything in this world including you, "No, I will not live as you have designed me to live." It is mutiny against the King of Kings, it is a denial of the Creatorship and Kingship of God. It is a denial of one's created status and the obligations that flow from that. That is the larger definition of sin, which is applicable to all peoples since all peoples are created and sustained by God. That is why the doctrine of creation is so important, and why Keller's attempt to relegate the creation/evolution debate to secondary status is a great error, for it results in Keller and those who follow him being unable to do full justice to the Gospel.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Church: "All kinds of churches"?

How can a city's churches become unified enough to be a movement of the gospel, even a movement of movements? They need to be part of a citywide movement of churches and ministries that exist in a supportive, mutually stimulating relationship. The assumption behind this idea is that no one kind of church — no one church model or theological tradition — can reach an entire city. Reaching a city requires a willingness to work with other churches, even churches that hold to different beliefs and practices — a view sometimes called "catholicity." [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 368]

"I’ve learned several things in all my years being a pastor, and one of them is this: it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." -Rick Warren (Source)

If anyone were to suspect a link between Tim Keller and pragmatists like Rick Warren, it would not be from want of evidence. Even if there is no actual relation between Keller's and Warren's ideas, the eerie similarities between the two should make anyone uneasy. But perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised since both see themselves as 'Evangelicals' and both cater to the questions and mood of unbelievers, the difference between "seeker-sensibility" and "seeker-sensitivity" being only a willingness in the former to offend with the biblical answer.

In discussing the idea of "movements," both Keller and Warren as 'Evangelicals' have came up with the exact same answer: that one needs all kinds of churches to reach all manner of people. To ensure that we did not misunderstand him as saying we need different churches for people speaking different languages, Keller mentions that one "church model or theological tradition" is insufficient to reach people with the Gospel. Evidently for Keller, God must use sub-biblical church models and theological falsehood to lure people to the Christian faith, otherwise we simply cannot reach them. One wonders where Keller's professed Calvinism has disappeared to when he made those statements.

To say that Keller's statements here are wrong is a severe understatement. If one takes it to its logical conclusion, it must mean that God is unable to save some people without using some degree of falsehood. That opens up Pandora's Box of errors in soteriology and theology proper. Needless to say, I am happy that Keller is not consistent with what he wrote. If that statement stems from his tri-perspectivalism and contextualization, then that is another reason why we should reject those two as errors.

Should there be some variety in church practice? I do not see why there shouldn't be variety concerning circumstances of worship and evangelism. Since salvation is of the Lord however, we should state that a church with one church model and one theological tradition CAN reach an entire city. Such an endeavor might need church plants using different languages, meeting at different locations, and with different service times, but it would not require changing the church's model and her theology at all.

P.S.: "Catholicity" means in line with the witness of the entire Christian church, NOT in line with those proclaiming to be churches but are either false churches or severely deficient churches. For example, "Catholicity" never meant embracing Arians or Socinians because those sects are not Christians. It also never meant embracing the Donatists even though the Donatists, for the most part, do not seem to embrace any serious heresy.

Evangelism and 1 Corinthians 14

The biblical basis for evangelical worship can be developed by a close examination of two key texts: 1 Corinthians 1425-26 and Acts 2. ... Earlier in verses 15-17 [in 1 Corinthians 14 - DHC], Paul insists that God be worshiped in such a away that it leads to edification. Now he tells us that worship must also be done in such a way that it leads to evangelism. ... Virtually every major commentary tells us that in verses 20-25, Paul is urging the Corinthian believers to stress prophecy over tongues for two reasons: (1) prophecy edifies believers, and (2) it convicts and converts nonbelievers. In other words, Paul instructs them to stress prophecy over tongues at least in part because it converts people. Why else would he give a detailed description of how a non-Christian comes to conviction in worship?

In Acts 2, we find further compelling evidence for evangelistic worship. When the Spirit falls on those in the upper room, we read that a crowd gathers... Again we find the church's worship attracting the interest of outsiders. This initial curiosity and interest eventually lead to conviction and conversion; in other words, it is evangelistic. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 302]

Keller promotes having church services which are evangelistic in nature. While certainly I would agree that churches ought to proclaim the Gospel every Lord's Day, that does not mean that anything which calls itself "evangelistic" would be accepted for Gospel proclamation during the service. When Reformed churches speak about Gospel proclamation, they normally mean the Gospel proclamation primarily in the sermon and also in the liturgical practice of the reading of the law, confession of sin and declaration of pardon. In other words, the Gospel proclamation is done in a certain manner congruent with the principles of God's Word, not in any way we think it should be done. Therefore, while I believe that the Gospel ought to be proclaimed every Lord's Day, that is far from the idea of having "evangelistic worship," whereby the task of evangelism determines how worship ought to be done in the church service.

In order to prop up the idea of "evangelistic worship," Keller raises two passages: 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 and Acts 2. Both passages according to Keller speak of how we ought to orientate our worship towards unbelievers. Keller promotes what can be called being "seeker-sensible," in the sense that the "praise of Christians" ought to be comprehensible. As we have seen in the discussion about contextualization, what "comprehensibility" means is that the worship service ought to orientate itself towards answering the questions of unbelievers according to their terms, while the answers are however not soft-pedaled.

The key question is whether the passages Keller cites actually support his idea of "evangelistic worship." I suggest they do not. The first passage, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, speaks of what happens when unbelievers are in a worship service. Keller is right in his approval of what the commentaries say. But it is a logical leap to go from saying that the proclaiming of God's Word (which in the canonical era is partly expressed in prophecy) in the church service would lead unbelievers present to conviction of sin, repentance and faith, to saying that therefore service ought to be oriented towards evangelism in the "seeker-sensible" fashion. The first does not imply the second. What 1 Corinthians 14:25-25 teaches is that we should expect unbelievers to be present and we should proclaim God's word and the Gospel such that they might repent of their sins and turn to Christ in faith. It says nothing about whether we should alter the church service to make it more catered to the forms and terms (but not content) of unbelievers in the name of evangelism.

Keller's interpretation of Acts 2 is even worse. Acts 2 began as a prayer meeting, but when the Spirit descends at Pentecost, it did not become a worship service. Pentecost is a distinct sign, a unique event in the history of salvation. Keller is thus wrong in identifying Pentecost as a worship service. Therefore, that the sign attracts outsiders is not surprising, since that is what a sign is supposed to do — attract attention so that it may point to the reality God intends to reveal.

If Keller was just arguing about thinking of unbelievers and not using unnecessary Christianese, there would be nothing worth disputing. And on that, it is true that many churches could probably do better in making sure unbelievers who may visit know what is going on during the service, and also make the Gospel message more explicit. But being comprehensible in this sense is not the same as being "comprehensible" in Keller's sense. We should embrace the former, while rejecting the latter.

On cooperation across denominations

Another aspect of this contrast community is unity across church communities and denominations. In Christendom, when "everyone was a Christian," it was perhaps useful for a church to define itself primarily in contrast with other churches. Today, however, it is much more illuminating and helpful for a church to define itself in relationship to the values of the secular culture. It we spend our time bashing and criticizing other kinds of churches, we simply play into the common defeater that all Christians are intolerant. While it is right to align ourselves with denominations that share many of our distinctives, at the local level we should cooperate with, reach out to, and support the other congregations and ministries in our local area. To do so will raise many thorny issues, of course, but our bent should be in the direction of cooperation. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 260]

Openness to cooperation is another essential movement dynamic. Because members of the movement are deeply concerned with seeing the vision accomplished, they are willing to work with people who are materially committed to the vision and share primary beliefs but who differ in preferences, temperaments, and secondary beliefs or are members of other organizations. ... In the Christian world, this means Christian groups with movement dynamics are more willing to work across denominational and organizational lines to achieve common goals. (Ibid., 349)

Evangelicalism (the original one) is a movement that arose out of the 18th century First Great Awakening. Prior to that, reform was done through the church, and while in places like England something like different "denominations" eventually came to co-exist, for the most part each nation had one national church which was supposed to function as the church for the people in the vicinity. Even in England, the Church of England was (and currently still is) the national church and everyone in the districts were to go to their parish churches. Dissenter congregations were tolerated only out of necessity, not out of a desire to actually have multiple denominations. The original Evangelicalism desired only to focus on the Gospel and cooperate across the various denominations which had arisen by the 18th century. While not necessarily denying the importance of other doctrines of the Christian faith, the differences were reduced in importance as the focus was on proclaiming the Gospel unto the personal conversion of the masses.

Keller is an Evangelical (big "E"), which is to say he promotes cooperation across denominational lines just like the original Evangelicals do. On top of the usual reasons given for "cooperation," Keller added the reason that we should not "play into the common defeater that all Christians are intolerant." But is the Evangelical rationale and manner of cooperation across denominations valid?

First of all, we admit that all who profess the true Gospel, regardless of denominational affiliation, are our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But that does not mean that one treats churches the way one treats individual believers. As an extreme counter-example, just because one person who is in the Mormon temple actually believes the true Gospel does not mean that we should start treating Mormonism as Christian. Rather, we exhort the person to leave his false religion and identify with a true Christian church. Of course this is an extreme counter-example, but it serves to illustrate the principle that just because there are true Christians in a religious group does not necessarily imply that one treats the group as fully Christian.

With regards to church history, Keller is in error concerning why the different denominations exist. Besides those from different national backgrounds, those that exist in the same country are different denominations because they are real doctrinal differences separating them. For example, English Presbyterians were separate from the Church of England because Presbyterians believed in Presbyterian polity and were against Romish elements in worship, as seen in vestments and mandated liturgies. Baptists are congregationalist in polity and deny infant baptism. The separation between them was not due to any supposed competition for market share as Keller implied, but rather because each side believed their distinctive doctrines to be biblical and important; it had nothing to do with the existence of Christendom! Keller is also naive if he thinks that "cooperation" across denominations would stop unbelievers from thinking Christians are intolerant. They think Christians are intolerant because Christianity is exclusive, not because Christian denominations define what they believe in contrast to other denominations. In the same vein, Keller is in error when he claims that we should define ourselves against the secular culture as opposed to against other churches. First of all, we should not define ourselves primarily against anything. We define ourselves as Christians who believe certain doctrines that we hold to be biblical, and THEN we define ourselves against those who disagree with us. We shouldn't even define ourselves "against the secular culture," for not everything in the secular culture is wrong!

Keller speaks about "movement dynamics," which is congruent with his Evangelicalism because Evangelicalism is after all a movement not a church. And if one actually follows Keller's Evangelicalism, then Keller is absolutely right about such cooperation. But why should we be Evangelicals (big "E")? Now, no doubt there is nothing wrong with individual believers coming together for things like prayer, but we are speaking about the churches here. If churches are churches and not movements, then we should question whether such cooperation is what churches ought to do.

The fact of the matter is that churches, if they are to be churches, hold fast to what they consider to be the biblical pattern of sounds words, which in Presbyterianism is the Westminster Standards. Presbyterian churches are not "Gospel-only" movements (which is what Evangelicalism is), but churches confessing the pattern of sound words that the Church believes. As such, cooperation is to be done only between churches of like faith professing the same pattern of sound words. In America, such cooperation and unity is expressed through NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council).

Keller's idea of cooperation across denominations fails to understand the true nature and responsibility of the Church. The Church is to stand for the pattern of sound words she believes to be biblical, and cooperation is extended to all who holds to the same vision. His Evangelical Gospel-Onlyism results in him supporting even Pentecostal churches despite the fact that such churches are sub-biblical in life and doctrine. Against, just because there are many believers in Pentecostal churches does not have any bearing on whether the church they are in should be considered a true biblical church.

True biblical cooperation is to be done with churches that share a similar confession of biblical doctrine, which for whatever reason are unable to unite into a single church body. As I have said many times before, the only legitimate reason for having different denominations is doctrinal. Practical issues might prevent union between two church bodies with a similar confession, but such separation should be seen as a necessary evil with hopes of one day being rectified.

Reformed bodies are separate from non-Reformed bodies due to confessional differences. But those like Keller have no excuse for being separate. If Keller believes that such differences are insignificant such that he can help Pentecostal churches, then why isn't he in ecumenical talks with those churches? Separation without cause is schism, a breaking of the unity in Christ. While the Reformed have a legitimate reason for remaining separate, Evangelicals like Keller have no reason why they aren't actually united with other Evangelical-minded churches. If other doctrines are insignificant for ministry, then they should not divide those same churches from each other. Keller, if he were to be consistent with his Gospel-Onlyism, should just leave the PCA and form an "Evangelical" denomination or association consisting of churches like the Pentecostal and Baptist churches he had helped.

The ironic thing about such united Evangelical projects is that they missed out on true Christian unity. Those who proclaim the same understanding of the faith are united, and not just on the surface-level. Even more ironic, there is a deeper unity between confessional Presbyterians and confessional Reformed Baptists that will forever elude those surface level "Evangelical" cooperation. The funny thing is that true spiritual unity comes when one is not seeking it but seeking Christ and His truth, while for the Gospel-Only Evangelicals who seek such unity, true spiritual unity will forever remain a mirage.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Missio Dei, Missional

The Trinity is, by nature, "sending." The Father sends the Son into the world to save it, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit into the world. And now, said [David] Bosch, the Spirit is sending the church. In short, God does not merely send the church in mission. God already is in mission, and the church must join him. This also means, then, that the church does not simply have a missions department; it should wholly exist to be a mission. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 251]

The biblical God is by nature a sending God, a missionary God. The Father sens the Son; the Son sens the Spirit and his disciples into the world. Therefore the whole church is in mission; every Christian is in mission. ... A missional church, then, is one that trains and encourages its people to be in mission as individuals and as a body. (Ibid., 259)

The idea of being "missional" comes from within Liberal Christianity, and for some strange reason has been adopted by parts of Evangelicalism. Keller in his book acknowledges the problems with some versions of being "missional," while yet adopting the general thrust of the term.

Our first problem with being "missional" is that it flattens the distinction between Creator and creature. One cannot argue from the inner workings of the imminent Trinity and see the sending of the Spirit as similar to the sending of the Church. This is of course not to mention that it is God who sends the Church— Father, Son and Spirit, not just the Spirit. The whole idea of a chain of being sent erases the Creator-creature distinction, as if the sending of the Church is the next step after the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit.

The next major problem is that it portrays God as a "missionary God." If by that, it is meant that God is portrayed as seeking out the lost, then sure. But if by that, we portray God as being a missionary like us, then such is extremely problematic. God does not come and seek the lost like how missionaries desire to gain new believers for the kingdom. Rather, God already has a plan and His plan works for the salvation of many, all whom He has predestined to salvation. God's plan is implemented through His Church, and while the Church is a "mission," the Church is not just a mission. Rather, God is creating a people, of which missions is merely one aspect of what the church should be doing. The main motif describing the Church is a people and a witness (μαρτυς; martys, from which we get the word "martyr") for God. While the Church do missions in the sense of seeking out the lost, missions is not the defining nature of the Church.

According to Scripture therefore, God cannot be said to be a "missionary." God also has a plan and implements it through the Church, not apart from her. As such, the Church is not called to be "missional," in the sense in which it joins "God's mission," whatever that is. Rather, the Church is to be a witness, and missions are one aspect of her work of witness.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Eisegesis and How NOT to entice people to have faith

In order to persuade people, you must adapt to these differences. Carson lists eight motivations to use when appealing to non-Christians to believe the gospel. I have combined and simplified his categories down to six:

  1. Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of fear of judgment and death. Hebrews 2:14-8 speaks about Christ delivering us from the bondage of the fear of death. In Hebrew 10:31, we are told it is a terrible thing to fall under the judgment of the living God.
  2. Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of a desire for release from the burdens of guilt and shame. Galatians 3:10-12 tells us we are under the curse of the law. Guilt is not only objective; it can also be a subjective inner burden on our consciences (Ps 51). If we feel we have failed others or even our own standards, we can feel a general sense of shame and low self-worth. The Bible offers relief from these weights.
  3. Sometimes the appeal is to come to God out of appreciation for the "attractiveness of truth." Carson writes: "The truth can appear wonderful... [they can] see its beauty and its compelling nature." In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul states that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Yet, immediately after this statement, Paul argues that the wisdom of the cross is the consummate wisdom. Paul is reasoning here, appealing to the mind. He is showing people the inconsistencies in their thinking (e.g. "your culture's wisdom is not wisdom by its own definition"). He holds up the truth for people to see its beauty and value, like a person holding up a diamond and calling for others to admire it.
  4. Sometimes the appeal is to come to God to satisfy unfulfilled existential longings. To the woman at the well Jesus promised "living water" (John 4). This was obviously more than just eternal life — he was referring to an inner joy and satisfaction to be experienced now, something the woman had been seeking in men.
  5. Sometimes the appeal is to come to God for help with a problem. There are many forms of what Carson calls "a despairing sense of need." He points to the woman with the hemorrhage (Matt. 9:20-1), two men with blindness (Matt. 9:27), and many others who go to Jesus first for help with practical, immediate needs. Their heart language is, "I'm stuck; I'm out of solutions for my problems. I need help for this!" The Bible shows that Jesus does not hesitate to give that help, but he also helps them see their sin and their need for rescue from eternal judgment as well (see Mark 2:1-12; Luke 17:11-19).
  6. Lastly, the appeal is to come to God simply out of a desire to be loved. The person of Christ as depicted in the Gospels is a compellingly attractive person. ... There is an instinctive desire in all human beings to be loved. A clear depiction of Christ's love can attract people to want to have a relationship with him.

These are six ways that the biblical authors use to persuade people, and notice what a motley assortment they are. Some are what we might call "sticks," while others are "carrots." ... Sometimes the need is short term... while others want to escape judgment and hell in the long term— an equally practical concern! [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 114-5]

All Christians should want others to turn to Jesus in faith. But does that mean that we should encourage people to turn to Christ for any reason whatsoever? Surely not, for all who reject the health and wealth "gospel" certainly think that turning to Christ in order to be rich and healthy is the wrong reason to turn to Christ (not to mention that it doesn't actually work in most cases). So although we want people to turn to Christ, we want them to turn to Jesus for the right reasons.

Keller, seemingly borrowing from D.A. Carson, here lists 6 motivations for people to turn to Jesus. Now, it is one thing to say that people have less than pure reasons for turning to Christ, which happens many times. It is however another thing if we are to say that these motivations are legitimate reasons and should be promoted. So the question is not whether people have these reasons when they decided to follow Jesus; I am sure many new converts do have one or some of these reasons, but whether we should be promoting them as legitimate reasons like how Keller is doing here.

First however is the exegesis, which is really bad for the most part. The passages in Hebrews is exhortation within the church, not reasons to become a believer. The Galatians passage cited for the second reason is a statement of objective factual guilt, and says nothing about one's subjective feelings of guilt. Psalms 51 was written by David, a regenerate believer, in confessions of his sins; it is not the conversion prayer of an unbeliever. The 1 Corinthians 1 passage does indeed speak about the beauty of the Gospel truth. Paul however was not showing "inconsistency in their thinking" but shooting the unbelievers' thinking down as being foolish and weak, and more importantly the whole epistle was addressed to the Corinthian church to encourage them to stand fast in the "foolishness" of the Cross, not addressed to unbelievers to embrace the beauty of the Gospel truth. The John 4 passage cited for the 4th reason is probably the only good exegesis among the rest, as Jesus did appeal to the Samaritan woman at the well. The fifth reason fails to convince since these are narrations of people seeking Jesus for healing which He did, but that is different from Jesus appealing to them to come to Him because He can help them with their problems. The last reason is merely an observation without biblical support. While empirically likely to be true, that's different from saying that we ought to tell people to come to Jesus so they can feel loved.

The motivations themselves don't seem great either. The first reason, out of fear of judgment and death, seems more akin to having an idea of faith in Christ as being a "hell insurance policy." While certainly better than nothing, fear of damnation by itself is insufficient for true faith in Christ, otherwise the Devil would have long since have this "faith," but rather a person has to actually be broken over his own sins and trust Christ's righteousness alone for salvation. The second reason is purely psychological, and while repentance does sometimes express itself psychologically, it is a grave error to appeal to their subjective psychological state without addressing the objective reality of guilt, for otherwise Christianity becomes a psychological salve, and if another religion offers a better "salve," they will take it.

The third reason is plausible, yet while we can speak about the brilliance of the truths of Christianity, ultimately faith in Christ is not merely intellectual. One finally has to trust in Christ for salvation, and not just think Christianity is the most coherent religion. A person convinced cognitively of the truths of Christianity who however does not apply it to his own life in repentance over his own sins is just as lost as a pagan, in fact twice the son of damnation since they know the truth but held it in unrighteousness! Concerning the 4th, 5th and 6th reasons, the main thing is that Christ did not necessarily promise that all our needs (for love, for help with a problem, for existential longings) would be fulfilled in this life. What if the person comes to Christ and her need is unmet? Will she reject the Christian faith because she did not get what was promised by the evangelist? Yes, Christ do meet the needs of His people, but that does not mean every single thing we desire He will give us. A person who felt lonely will not necessarily be suddenly surrounded by friends after he turned in faith to Christ for example. As for asking Jesus for help with a problem, what if the person asked God for help and God did not seem to answer? Should the person reject the claims of Christianity because God did not "answer" his request as some evangelist claimed He would?

People do have mixed motivations for coming to Christ in faith, and the Good Shepherd will not turn them out just because they don't have the "correct motivations" for coming to Him. But we should not therefore encourage these motivations as if they are good motivations for coming to Him, and most definitely not give promises of God's help where biblical proof is lacking.

On Keller's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1

Though Romans 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 9 establish the basis and motive for contextualization, no single biblical text is more helpful on the subject of contextualization than 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, which provides the basic formula for doing contextualization: ... Here Paul assumes the mixed nature of culture. He tells us that when he spoke to Greeks, he confronted their culture's idol of wisdom. ... To the Jews, a salvation that came through a crucifixion was weak and ineffective. ... Notice, however that while the gospel offended each culture in somewhat different ways, it also drew people to see Christ and his work in different ways. Greeks who were saved came to see that the cross was the ultimate wisdom—making it possible for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe. And Jews who had been saved came to see that the cross was true power. It meant that our most powerful enemies—sin, guilt, and death itself — have been defeated. ... Paul's approach to culture, then, is neither completely confrontational nor totally affirming. He does not simply rail against Greek pride in intellect and Jewish pride in power; instead he shows them that the ways they are pursuing these good things are ultimately self-defeating. He reveals the fatal contradictions and underlying idolatry within their cultures and then points them to the resolution that can only be found in Christ. This is the basic formula for contextualization. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 111-2]

We have seen in the earlier quote by Iain Campbell which deals with Tim Keller's interpretation of Romans 1. It is reproduced below:

For all Keller's discussion of biblical narratives, however, it is difficult to agree with him that Paul's basic thesis in Romans 1 is that idolatry is the basic human problem, the soil out of which every sin grows. It could be argued that this is to reverse the Pauline argument, which is that unrighteousness, or sin, leads to a suppression of the knowable truth about God, which in turn is expressed by creature worship instead of by Creator worship. For Paul, the idolatry is the symptom, not the cause. [Iain D. Campbell, "Keller on 'Rebranding' the Doctrine of Sin," in Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, eds., Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical (Darlington, England, EP Books, 2013), 43]

As Campbell showed, Keller's skill as an exegete doesn't seem to be great, and here as he attempts to exegete 1 Corinthians 1, we see once again that Keller misses the point of the text.

The main error Keller makes is to assume that this is Paul laying out his strategy for witnessing of the Gospel. Rather, when one looks at the context, the passage is a polemic loudly trumpeting the "foolishness" of preaching and the "foolishness" of the cross. In other words, if one wishes to see a "strategy" here by Paul, Paul accentuates how foolish and weak the Gospel message is, then claim that it is precisely IN the "weakness" and "foolishness" that the power and wisdom of God is found. How Keller manages to turn a polemical text into an instruction manual is beyond me, for surely the two are different genres altogether!

Secondly, we note that what stumbles Jew and Greek is the manner of how God provides salvation: the death of Christ on the Cross. Jews expected a Messiah to triumph in battle over their enemies, not die in shame and under a curse. Greeks see the notion of God coming in the flesh as foolishness, and the death of Christ appalling. God's way of salvation goes against how they think God should have acted, and thus they stumble. The stumbling block here is the Cross and how the different cultures interpret it, NOT as Keller puts it, what they idolize. The Greeks for example do not idolize wisdom, but rather athlete stature and youth. Greek "wisdom" or philosophy informs their conceptual world. The Jews also do not idolize power, but rather they expect power because of their interpretation of the Messianic prophecies given in former times. The problem for both Jew and Greek mentioned here is an inability to conceive the notion of the Cross, and has nothing to do with their respective idolatries.

So, when Keller states that Paul "does not simply rail against Greek pride in intellect and Jewish pride in power," nothing can be further from the truth. There are no "contradictions" revealed, but rather a mere statement that Jewish and Greek unbelievers are in fact wrong. Instead, it is they that are "weak" and "foolish," the "foolishness of God" being wiser than the wisdom of Man and the "weakness of God" stronger than Man's strength. What we have in 1 Corinthians 1 is an apologetic confrontation, not a dialogue and definitely not a witness strategy.

1 Corinthians 1 in conclusion is not a text about contextualization. It is a polemical text, an apologetic text. Keller's interpretation is thus an eisegesis of the passage, altering its plain sense in service to his over-arching idea of "contextualization."

Keller and "contextualizing" the Gospel message: Sin as Idolatry

Contextualization is not—as is often argued— "giving people what they want to hear." Rather, it is giving people the Bible's answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 89]

... Sin, I explained, is building your life's meaning on any thing—even a very good thing— more than on God. Whatever else we build our life on will dive our passions and choices and end up enslaving us. ... Today in the West, our values have shifted, and our cultural narrative tells us it is most important to be a free person. The biblical theme of idolatry challenges contemporary people precisely at that point. It shows them that, paradoxically, if they don't serve God, they are not, and can never be, as free as they aspire to be. (Ibid., 127)

Part of this approach [Keller's portrayal of sin as idolatry -DHC] is its subjectivity. When Keller says in Center Church that 'The biblical theme of idolatry challenges contemporary people ... It shows them that, paradoxically, if they don't serve God, they are not, and can never be, as free as they aspire to be,' he sounds more like a life coach than a gospel preacher. The primary focus of the gospel is to restore our relationship with God, not our personal wellbeing.

For all Keller's discussion of biblical narratives, however, it is difficult to agree with him that Paul's basic thesis in Romans 1 is that idolatry is the basic human problem, the soil out of which every sin grows. It could be argued that this is to reverse the Pauline argument, which is that unrighteousness, or sin, leads to a suppression of the knowable truth about God, which in turn is expressed by creature worship instead of by Creator worship. For Paul, the idolatry is the symptom, not the cause. [Iain D. Campbell, "Keller on 'Rebranding' the Doctrine of Sin," in Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, eds., Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical (Darlington, England, EP Books, 2013), 43]

I have previously posted concerning Keller on contextualization before. The issue is not whether one has to "contextualize" in the sense of modifying one's expression of the Gospel message, but rather the type of modification advocated for. In this part of his book Center Church, Keller has "contextualized" the doctrine of sin for the city of New York, but is that faithful to the orthodox doctrine of sin, and how does it reflect Keller's practice of contextualization of the Gospel as a whole?

In the book Engaging with Keller, Iain Campbell showed that Keller's rebranding of sin confuses the symptom with the cause. I think that is a genuine concern, yet I would like to go further. Keller after all defined sin as idolatry because that particular aspect of sin resonates with the target culture he is trying to reach. In the process of contextualization, Keller uses what the culture values (i.e. freedom), and turns it against itself to convict people of sin. Now, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with seeing sin as consisting of idolatry, but it is a different thing altogether when one defines sin AS idolatry.

Contextualization is seen by Keller as trying to show the recipients that the Christian faith fulfills what they long for. Generally, such a practice is known as seeker-sensitivity. But here, the word "seeker-sensitivity" is not used partly because it now refers either to Robert Schuller's, Bill Hybels', and/or Rick Warren's ministry methodologies, and nobody who is not an overt pragmatist wants to identify himself with these. However, the essential aspect of why they do what they do remains the same: the target sets the manner of discourse, and the Bible gives the answers. The reason why Keller's idea of contextualization is not to be lumped with the traditional seeker-sensitivity methods is due to his desire not to allow the culture to remove what he thinks is the offense of the Gospel message, so Keller is not a pragmatist in that way. Keller, and all who follow Him, allow the culture to set the manner of discourse but not the content of the discourse, as opposed to the pragmatists.

The problem with such contextualization is that the Gospel ends up pandering to the autonomous human self, because it is used as the way to solve OUR life goals, although it is indeed God's way. God becomes the fulfiller of whatever that culture values. In contrast to this, the Scriptures has God as the judge and Man as the indicted one. God is God regardless of whether He fulfills anything. Man has to be put in his place as the creature, not to have his autonomy unchallenged by showing God as the "fulfiller" of one's values.

Keller mentioned the problems with portraying God as a judge and that sin is violation of God's law, and those problems are indeed real. But here is where the larger context of Scripture comes into play. The reason why men cannot comprehend God being a judge and sin being a violation of His Law is because they do not have a biblical cosmology. The problem is that they do not see God as Creator. So, yes, we do not start with God as judge and sin as violation of God's law. Rather, we start with creation, as God intended the biblical story to begin. The problem with ALL cultures is dealt with with a robust doctrine of creation, because ALL peoples are created by God, and ALL cultures came from Babel.

It is sad though understandable why Keller cannot begin with creation. Keller cannot begin with creation because Keller denies biblical cosmology. Keller capitulates to the zeitgeist by his denial of the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo in the space of six days, and his embracing of Theistic Evolution. Of course Keller will struggle to show why Christianity is relevant, because the correct way to do so depends on what he denies as being true. But without actually having a biblical cosmology, which grounds the Christian faith on real objective historical facts, why would anyone believe in a old sky-daddy? Keller will proclaim the historicity of Christ, but without a biblical cosmology, why would what Christ do even matter? The objective nature of sin is linked to the historicity of Genesis 3, otherwise sin becomes purely subjective or at best non-transcendental quasi-objective. No historical creation in 6 days, no historical Fall, no historical basis for the cultures of the world (i.e. not from Babel)— such a "Christianity" is rootless and no different from any other religion that proclaims itself as being true.

Keller's contextualization is certainly well-intentioned, but it just does not work. Using such "contextualization" only results in the autonomy of men remaining unchallenged, and while Man's autonomy might be challenged later in a different form, there is little basis for that and might instead feel like bait-and-switch. As Dr. James White has said, "what you win them with is what you win them to," those who are won by portraying God as the fulfiller of one's desires will be won to seeing God as the fulfiller of their desires, and, bar the work of the Spirit, will not appreciate being challenged concerning their human autonomy.

On "theological vision"

However, the doctrinal foundation is not enough. Before you choose specific ministry methods, you must first ask how your doctrinal beliefs "might relate to the modern world." The result of that question "therefore form[s] a theological vision." In other words, a theological vision is a vision for what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place. And what does a theological vision develop from? Lints shows that it comes, of course, from deep reflection on the Bible itself, but it also depends a great deal on what you think of the culture around you.


This concept of a theological vision explains how, for example, our conservative Presbyterian denomination, in which all churches share the same detailed doctrinal foundation (Westminster Confession of Faith) can be deeply divided over ministry expressions and methods, such as music, preaching style, approach to organization and leadership, forms of outreach and so on. The reason is that churches with the same basic doctrine are shaped by different theological visions because they are answering those questions about culture, tradition, and rationality differently. [Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 18-9]

So what is a theological vision? It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history. (Ibid., 19)

...a theological vision creates a bridge between doctrine and expression. It is central to how all ministry happens. Two churches can have different doctrinal frameworks and ministry expressions but the same theological vision—and they will feel like sister ministries. On the other hand, two churches can have similar doctrinal frameworks and ministry expressions but different theological visions—and they will feel distinct. (Ibid., 21)

According to Tim Keller, there is "hardware," "software" and something called "middleware" (pp 16-7), basically the middleman between "hardware" and "software." There are doctrines ("hardware") and applications ("software") and between the two is "theological vision." In other words, one starts with doctrines, and, instead of going directly to applications, one construct a "theological vision" first before applying the truths. Elsewhere, Keller explicitly utilizes the tri-perspectivalist hermeneutic to construct a part of his "theological vision."(pp. 299-301), which seems to suggest that the tri-perspectivalist hermeneutic lies behind some of the construction of what he calls a "theological vision."

The interesting thing about this category of "theological vision" is that it exists independently from the doctrinal foundation. Although Keller does state that one moves from the doctrinal foundation to the "theological vision," yet he claims that (1) the same doctrinal foundation does not necessarily lead to the same theological vision, (2) different doctrinal foundations may lead to the same theological vision. Since such is the case, "theological vision" has no necessary relationship with one's doctrinal foundations. The directionality of thought presumably is what happens temporarily, not what happens logically.

From a Reformed perspective, this new category is a big problem, since it cannot be grounded in Scripture, for otherwise it would not be possible for people with different doctrinal foundations to have the same "theological vision." It seems here that Keller's tri-perspectivalist hermeneutic has resulted in greater weightage given to the "situational" and "existential" perspectives, such that the difference in the normative perspective between two churches with differing doctrinal foundations but the same "theological vision" is reduced in significance. For if the "normative" perspective is made primary, then the differences between two churches with different doctrinal foundations cannot be reconciled even if they have similar "situational" and "existential" perspectives.

Herein lies the main problem with regards to Keller and his idea of "theological vision." Scripture speaks of its primacy in the life of the Church, and speaks as to how the Church is to conduct herself. Therefore, while one should think about the "situational" and "existential" perspectives, those should not in any way alter the primacy of the "normative" perspective, to use the language of tri-perspectivalism. Those in Reformed and Presbyterian circles, like Tim Keller, claim to hold to the RPW (Regulative Principle of Worship), therefore one does NOT have the right to innovate church practices where Scripture IS silent.

Thus, Keller's "middleware" functions like a trojan horse to smuggle in one's opinions derived from what one thinks of the culture ("situational perspectives") as having greater primacy over what Scripture commands (RPW). As we will see, Keller uses it to smuggle in all manner of stuff not found in Scripture, under the guise of "contextualization" (another problematic word).