Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dr James White on RAAN again, and Marxism among the "Reformed" camp

Dr. James White has recently in his Dividing Line podcast spoke concerning Jemar Tisby and RAAN (Reformed African-American Network), the network he co-founded, in light of comments Tisby made after the US election victory of Donald J Trump. Now, the victory of the race-baiting Donald Trump is not a good thing, but neither was the potential victory of the radical liberal Hilary Clinton. Still, Trump won legitimately and he will be the next president of the United States. Tisby's comments are disturbing but not out of character from what I had expected from anyone associated with RAAN, much less its co-founder.

To be sure, I can grant that Tisby's comments were made out of pain, with legitimate personal history backing them up. So I am not inclined to pile on Tisby. Yet, what he has said has revealed once again the problems with RAAN I had stated before. RAAN embraces a false anti-Christian racial narrative, and then cobbles it with a spiritual veneer of "Reformed theology." That is not what being Reformed means however. We can't just take the theoretical aspects of Reformed theology and fix it to a practical secularism (or Marxism)! To be Reformed is to be Reformed both in thought and life, and it is sad that RAAN cannot seem to get that. And dangerous when it claims to speak for all "people of color" (what does that mean anyway?!), or even for all "Reformed African-Americans"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On the Nevius method

According to [John L.] Nevius' method, foreign missionaries should devote themselves to just a few activities, focusing on itinerant evangelism, biblical literacy, and leadership training. Foreig missionaries were to leave most of the other tasks of ministry to local converts and train new believers to take over even these few missionary tasks as quickly practical. [Bruce P. Bagus and Sung -Il Steve Park, "A Brief History of the Korean Presbyterian Mission to China," in Bruce P. Bagus, ed., China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 2014]

The spread of the Christian faith demands indigenization. The kind of ingenization Ahava Theology advocates does not resort to ethnic and political markers to set is boundaries or employ slogans such as "self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting," which are used to isolate Chinese churches from European and American churches. (Paul Wang, "The Indigenization and Contextualization of the Reformed Faith in China," in Ibid., 289)

The Nevius' method, coined after the American Presyterian missionary John L. Nevius, seems to be held up as a great method by certain Western and Presbyterian missionaries. John Nevius was a missionary from the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA), back when the PCUSA was actually in some sense biblical, before the Modernist controversy and the disgraceful defrocking of J. Gresham Machen. The method named after him is adopted in a modified form by what became the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state controlled church of China. The method aims to create an indigenous church in a mission context that would be able to grow independent of foreign missionaries by being "self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting." This is in contrast with the real situation in many mission churches in the late 19th/ early 20th century that have congregations perpetually dependent on the foreign mission agencies for ministers and leadership.

The perpetual dependency of the mission churches in the late 19th/ early 20th century is most definitely a problem. But is Nevius' method the solution? Coming from a country that was the beneficiary of foreign missions in the late 19th/ early 20th century, I would suggest not. Even in the book itself, Chinese-American pastor Paul Wang does not sound too happy about that idea. While the goals of being self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting sounds nice in theory, what is seen in practice doesn't look that great. Let us look at the best examples of the Nevius' method in action, in the Prebyterian churches in Korea. How many of them are sound, orthodox and truly Reformed? I have no idea, but with so many Presbyterian denominations, one wonders what kind of Presbyterianism is being taught and passed on there. Also, one wonders why Korean Presbyterianism tolerates and does not denounce heretics like David (Paul) Yonggi Cho, a Word-faith heretic of the "largest church in the world." My suspicions are that Korean Presbyterianism has not been pure Presbyterianism since its inception, and that is partly because of Nevius' methods.

Nevius' method for sure helps churches to be started fast in the mission field. But the goal should not be just to start churches but to start biblical churches. Telling the Gospel to non-Christians, seeing them repent and believe in Jesus Christ, training them in basic Bible doctrine and then sending them out to do church is not the biblical method. In the biblical method, proper training of ministers is necessary. The opposite of keeping foreigners dependent on Western missions is not to give them the minimal training required and then take a hands-off approach to the mission churches! Untrained Christians are sheep wondering around awaiting the arrival of the wolves for their daily lamb chops! The disaster of the perpetual dependency model is that of baby Christians suddenly forced to do ministry and thus inventing theology and practice on the fly. The disaster of the Nevius model is that of baby Christians already doing ministry and already inventing theology and practice on the fly. In my opinion, neither is better than the other. Just look at the fruits of these models in the mission field. Why is it that after so many years, decades, centuries even, of missions, the solid Reformed and Presbyterian churches are still situated in America? Where are the great Reformed ministers from Asia, the great theologians, the great exegetes? They are nowhere to be found!

While Western missionaries might think highly of the Nevius method, I do not. It is in my opinion reactionary to the perpetual dependency model of 19th century Christian missionaries. Paul Wang charged the method of isolating "Chinese churches from European and American churches." I would say that it partakes of the same mentality that treats "the heathen" as a special class different from Westerners, and thus it partakes of latent racism. I am not RAAN calling for white to "check their privilege," and I am not asking for superior rights over whites. But we wish to be treated equally, not as inferiors or as superiors (pace RAAN). Stop patronizing us! Let us join you as equals. We do not want to be treated under the Nevius method, but similar to home missions with the exception of culture.

The goal of true biblical missions is the formation of biblical churches. The modern (19th/ 20th) mission movement has in general failed at that task. Let us reject both the perpetual dependency model and the Nevius model, and strive towards a new model for producing true biblical Reformed churches, that God may be glorified.

Monday, November 07, 2016

19th Century America: "Calvinistic Fatalism," New England Revivalism and Charles Finney

Reacting against a kind of fatalism in his own denomination, [Charles] Finney deplored the notion that sinners should continue under conviction of sin until God should deign to grant them repentance: rather he felt that they should by an act of the will surrender to God. It was this emphasis upon immediate decision and his preaching of "whosever [sic] will" which had made a powerful effect. [J Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations: Evangelical Renewal and Advance in the Nineteenth Century (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1965), 60]

The Evangelical myth concerning Charles Finney and the 19th century Second Great Awakening, propagated by Evangelical church historians, is that Finney revived true evangelism against a petrified sterile "dead orthodoxy." In much of contemporary Evangelicalism, this myth has permeated the churches such that anyone who speaks out against modern evangelistic practices are believed to be against evangelism. Evangelistic rallies, altar calls, the Gospel message as being that of "God loves you" — all of these and more stemmed directly and indirectly from the middle stages of the Second Great Awakening temporally, from the "New Measures" adopted by Charles Finney in practice, and from Finney's Pelagianism in theory.

The religious environment in which Finney came into the scene was not that dead orthodoxy, contrary to Evangelical hagiographies. But it would be similarly an error to assume the fault lies wholly with Finney, as if the church just decided to lose its mind for no reason whatsoever and adopt Finney's New Measures. Finney was a product of his age, and there are legitimate problems in the religious scene when he began his revivals.

The older view of revivals, stemming from the First Great Awakening, was that revivals are acts of God. The preacher is to present the wrath of God and then call people to turn to Christ, who offers us the way of salvation. In the life of the church in 17th century Puritan New England, Congregationalism had came up with an emphasis on conversion experiences as being part of the experience of salvation. Believers ought to have a genuine feeling of horror over their sins, followed by an experience of joy and gladness over God's grace over them. Only those with such conversion experiences were to be regarded as being saved. [In other words, even if a person professes faith in Jesus Christ, is orthodox in his beliefs and strives to live a godly life, that person is not a Christian as long as he does not possess the required "conversion experience."] The Halfway covenant advocated by some Congregationalist pastors like Solomon Stoddard (Jonathan Edwards' grandfather) became necessary only because many covenant children did not have such conversion experiences and thus were not regarded as church members despite their faith in Christ and adherence to orthodoxy, and thus the question was raised as to whether their own children (2nd generation) should be baptized as infants since the 1st generation children were not members of the churches they were brought up in. The halfway covenant, which allowed for baptism and participation in the life of the church of the 2nd generation children of 1st generation children who did not receive a conversion experience, was a bad solution to a problem created by bad theology, in this case the idea that every believer ought to have a conversion experience.

This theology of the "conversion experience" carried over into American religious life in the 18th century through the New Side Presbyterians and New Light Congregationalists. In fact, it can be said to provide a major impetus for the First Great Awakening in America. But when coupled with Calvinism, the revival teaching calls people to repentance and faith as a conversion experience, and since God is sovereign, no time limits can be placed for the onset of the conversion experience.

It is therefore correct when historians assert that Finney rejects "the notion that sinners should continue under conviction of sin." But one should notice that this notion comes about because of the emphasis on the conversion experience, which as God's sovereign activity cannot be timed. This particular piece of bad theology from New England Puritanism was not rejected by Finney but instead modified. The key error concerning the necessity of the conversion experience is kept. Finney merely replaced Calvinism with Pelagianism, therefore allowing him to shift the focus to Man's ability to decide for God, immediately. Also, since revivals are created by the mere use of the proper means, therefore all manners of appealing to the emotions to create revival are to be used. Thus, revivalism is birthed, a man-centered theory for creating converts which has created all manner of trouble in the churches

Evangelical histories in general are in error concerning Charles Finney. At the same time, we should understand that there was indeed a problem in the churches of that time, that of the necessity of a conversion experience for salvation, the more vivid they are the better. Wrong diagnostics by Evangelical hagiographers should not lead us into blaming Finney for things he is not guilty of. Finney has enough to answer for for his heresies, but we do not need to make him the devil incarnate even as we reject him and his heresies.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Miracles and the Laws of Science

In his famous essay “Of Miracles,” Hume defines a miracle as a “transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” (C. Stephen Evans and R. Zachary Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith, 126)

What are miracles? Are they transgressions of scientific laws? Many people especially atheists might think so. Statements might be made even by Christians that miracles involve a "suspension" of the laws of science, or that laws of science are inapplicable for the "special" occurrences when miracles happen. I would suggest however that such explanations are very unhelpful and give the wrong impression to others of how God works in this world.

Christianity is true. Thus, God is a personal being who acts on this world. Normally, he acts via providence, but sometimes he acts via miracles, which are distinct special acts different in kind from providence. The world therefore is always the theater of God's actions. Therefore, from a Christian perspective, the idea of a neutral impersonal world where God interrupts via miracles may be the perspective of skeptics, but it is certainly not the Christian perspective. Here already, we see a different starting point, a different interpretation grid as we attempt to understand miracles.

Next, we have to know what is science. Science is the study of how the world works through what is often term "the scientific method." To simplify things, science normally involves experimentation involving cause and effect to understand and formularize how various forces and processes in the world work. In experimentation, two of three things are present: initial conditions, final conditions, equation of process(es). An experiment or experiments are done (with controls) to figure out the unknown, experiments are repeated where possible, and thus scientific knowledge is gained.It must be noticed that the scientific method must assume methodological naturalism, or that only nature is at work in the scientific processes under study. One cannot assume a demon has tinkered with the scientific experimentation, or science would be undoable.

Putting the two together, science is the study of God's providence. But since miracles are not providence, obviously it is out of the domain of science. It is in that sense correct to say that the laws of science are "inapplicable" for miracles, or that the law of science are "suspended," but such statements are not helpful because they make it seem as if God somehow does away with the laws of science when He does miracles, but that is totally untrue.

When God works, He acts. In miracles, God works differently to create the outcome He desires. Thus, the best way to understand miracles is as an external force working through unknown (supernatural, spiritual) processes to accomplish the end of what God desires. A good way for us to understand such an action is through an analogy in science. Suppose that I add one mole of copper powder to two moles of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in solution. I would get one mole of Copper Chloride (CuCl2) solution, which is a blue solution. But suppose that someone added two moles of Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) solution to my nice blue solution, without my knowledge. The resulting mixture would be two moles of sodium chloride (NaCl) or common salt in solution with a nice precipitate of one mole of copper hydroxide (Cu(OH)2) at the bottom. Since I did not know of the tinkering done to my solution, what would I see? I would observe that adding copper powder to hydrochloric acid would give me a clear solution of sodium chloride and an insoluble greenish blue precipitate at the bottom. I would most certainly find it strange and suspect that my experiment has been tampered with, since I obviously know what I should be getting.

Miracles can be seen as analogous to the unknown person adding the NaOH solution to the reagent mixture. In miracles, God as a third party acts on the situation on hand, thus the outcome is not what we might have expected. Of course, God not only acts, he acts using divine processes and forces, and therefore the outcome may seem out of this world, but that does not imply a "suspension" of natural laws but rather processes that we do not know and could not qualify. Some miracles are obviously more "miraculous" than others, yet if we understand God as working, God did not transgress the "laws of science" because scientific laws cannot prevent the action of divine forces and processes from changing the outcome. When Jesus turned water into wine, Jesus could have teleported grapes into the containers, do a time acceleration warp, remove the fermented grapes and thus wine is produced.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, magic has been seen as advanced science. Miracles of course is not advanced science, but in concept there is nothing to suggest that is could not be miraculous forces causing the change as an external agent, not through breaking the laws of science, much like magic in the MCU are unknown forces causing changes as external agents. If we understand miracles in this manner, which I think is the better way to understand miracles, then we can show how miracles are not contrary to science, just contrary to scientism.

Again: On the Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument for the existence of God is in my opinion a terrible argument. Of course, by smuggling in Christian premises, God is indeed the most perfect being, but for the argument to function as an apologetic, one must not consider Christians truths as premises in an argument meant to convince unbelievers. In light of the mainstream scientific theory of evolution and the history of the universe, the ontological argument sounds even more far-fetched than it was in the time of Anselm and Aquinas.

More sophisticated versions of the ontological argument attempt to ground the ontological argument not in theories about "being" but about existence or possible worlds theory. In the possible worlds theory, the premise is stated that God exists in at least one possible world, and therefore from there it is argued that God exists. But what does it mean to say that "God exists in at least one possible world"? If it is meant that there is such a possible world that can be conceived in the mind, then we run into similar problems as Anselm's original argument. Mental conception implies nothing about whether something is possible in reality. [Of course, conversely, inability to be conceived mentally implies nothing about whether something is possible in reality — the doctrine of divine incomprehensibility and ineffability]. One could say that "God exists in at least one possible mentally conceived world" but that is not the same as saying "God exists in at least one possible real world."

The argument from existence (from Norman Malcom) has the following form:

  1. If God exists, his existence is necessary.
  2. If God does not exist, his existence is impossible.
  3. Either God exists or he does not exists.
  4. Therefore, God's existence is either necessary or impossible.
  5. God's existence is possible (not impossible).
  6. Therefore, God's existence is necessary.
[C. Stephen Evans and R. Zachary Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith (2nd ed.; Contours of Christianity Philosophy; Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1982, 2009), 65]

As the authors of this book had pointed out, premise 5 is questionable. And to clarify further, the doubting of premise 5 is only predicated of the descriptor of God as one necessarily existing. In other words, what this version of the ontological argument proves is that a God with necessary existence either exists or is impossible to exist. But as we can see, that is a tautology.

The ontological arguments I have seen thus far either suffer from ideas about "being" or ontological attributes that are disputed as to their possible perfection or existence, or they become tautologies. I do not see any way such arguments can actually function in any context, and thus we should stop using them altogether.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Law-Gospel distinction

The Law-Gospel distinction has sometimes been thought of as "Lutheran" and thus not Reformed. This kind of thinking however obscure the very real similarities between traditional (confessional) Reformed and Lutheran thought. Both Reformed and Lutheranism came out of the same 16th century Reformation, and at the beginning they were not trying to be different for the sake of being different. Rather, whatever Luther and Lutheran theologians said that were biblical, the Reformed appropriated it. The Reformed of that time were about embracing and confessing the truth from Scripture, not about creating boundary markers against foes real and imagined except where necessary (and most definitely not against "Big Eva").

The Reformed view the Law-Gospel distinction typically with a more covenantal slant. Thus, the Law-Gospel distinction is translated into the Covenant of Works- Covenant of Grace distinction. In the Covenant of Works, we are told to "Do this and Live" (Lev. 18:5, Gal. 3:12). Since we cannot do, we stand condemned under the law, under the broken covenant of works. But under the Covenant of Grace, we are told "It is done." The Gospel proclaims to us what we cannot do of our own accord. We failed, we sinned, but where we fail, where Adam fail, Christ succeeded. We are now under grace, not because we do not have to obey the Law, but because we are not under the condemnation of the Law as a covenant of works.

While I will not yet commit to a definitive judgment on the Marrow controversy (in Scotland in the early 18th century), it seems to me that the Marrow men have it right. John Colquhuon (pronounced "ka-hoon") (1748-1827) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister who wrote what is probably one of the best books on the topic of Law and Gospel in the Reformed tradition. His book is entitled A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, and is highly recommended for its balance and pastoral concern. Here are some choice quotes from the book:

In the Sinaitic transaction, the hewing of the latter tables of stone by Moses, before God wrote the Ten Commandments on them, might be intended to teach sinners that they must be convinced of their sin and misery by the law as a covenant of works before it can be written legibly on their hearts as a rule of life (p. 60)

The gospel, in this its strict and proper sense, seeing it is the form of Christ’s testament which consists of absolute and free promises of salvation by Him, contains no precepts. It commands nothing. It does not enjoin us even to believe and repent; but it declares to us what God in Christ as a God of grace has done, and what He promises still to do for us and in us and by us. (p. 105)

In the blessed gospel, Christ, and God in Christ, are freely offered to sinful men, and men are graciously invited as sinners to receive the offer and to entrust the whole affair of their salvation to Christ, and to God in Him (John 6:32; Isaiah 55:1-4) (p. 120).

The law wounds and terrifies the guilty sinner; the gospel heals and comforts the guilty sinner who believes in Jesus. (p. 151)

Whatever is required in the covenant of works as the condition of eternal life is, according to the covenant of grace, provided and given gratuitously to believing sinners. (p. 156)

The law, as a covenant of works and a rule of life, demands nothing of sinners but what is offered and promised in the gospel; and in the gospel everything is freely promised and offered to them which the law, in any of its forms, requires of them. (p. 161).

The law requires true holiness of heart and of life, and the gospel promises and conveys this holiness. (p. 168).

As it was the privilege of the Christians in Rome, so it is the privilege of all true Christians, in every place and in every age, that they are dead to the law as a covenant of works, and that the law in that form is dead to them. (p. 198)

As the relation between the husband and spouse is dissolved by death (Romans 7:2), so the relation between the law as a covenant and believers is, in the moment of their justification, dissolved (Romans 7:4). (p. 203)

When it comes to the Law and the Gospel, the twin dangers are Legalism (Gospel is not good news but more law), and Antinomianism (The Law is to be disregarded). Throughout the history of the Christian church, groups have veered into one or the other. If we embrace a Law-Gospel distinction, how should we understand these twin errors? Here Colquhuon puts it succinctly:

There are two errors respecting the deliverance of believers from the law which are equally contrary to the Oracles of Truth. The one is that of the legalist who maintains that believers are still under the moral law as covenant of works; the other is that of the antinomian who affirms that believers are not under it even as a rule of life. (p. 205)

In other words, the Legalist puts salvation dependent upon our good works. While they may pay lip service to grace, they hang the Law as a threat and motivator to goad believers to be good or to do good works. For legalists, we must preach the Law to make believers do good works, and imply that failure to obey the Law will make them somehow less welcome in God's sight.

The Antinomian does the exact opposite. The Antinomian does not really focus on good works. He is only interested to tell believers about "grace, grace, grace" without calling them to live holy lives for God. At best, an antinomian thinks of sanctification as an automatic process, and all anyone has to do is to think about grace and he will be holy.

Here, again, Colquhuon has excellent counsel for how we are to navigate the Christian Life. How should we live our lives and deal with the vestiges of our our sinful nature while cultivating the proper desire to do good works?

If Christ is the way to God and to glory, and it He is the way of holiness, or the holy way, then you who have believed through grace ought to take heed that you walk consistently in that way. “As you have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). In union with Him, go forward daily in the exercise of faith and love, and in the practice of holiness. Depending on his grace and strength, advance with holy diligence and with increasing ardor in the daily practice of these good works which are works of faith and labors of love. Make constant progress in your exercise of faith, and by sanctifying and comforting influences from the fullness of Christ, walk on with cheerfulness and resolution in Him as your way to the perfection of holiness and of happiness. (pp. 317-318)

They not only look, therefore, to the law as a rule for authority to oblige them to the practice of good works, as well as for direction in performing them, but the look also to the gospel, and to the Savior offered in it, for strength to perform them, for merit to render them acceptable to God, and for a reward of grace to crown them. (p. 320)

The Law is the standard, the goal. But to the Christian, it the Gospel who gives them strength for sanctification. While desiring to obey the Law can be a motivator for good works, it must be grounded in one's love for God because of his gratefulness for an-already present salvation. Sanctification is about gratefulness, not about earning brownie points before God, for after all, who can give anything to the God who owns anything anyway?

The Law-Gospel distinction is a distinction that preserves the necessity of the Law and the glory of the Gospel. We must get it right in order that we may not put believers back under bondage, yet to encourage them to be holy and do good works. It is because of this that Colquhuon's book seem to be me very important for the task at hand, so that Christians can be edified and assured of their standing before God.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Ninth Commandment

Q 143: Which is the ninth commandment?
A: The ninth commandment is, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Q 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

(Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 143-145)

Retraction

I guess I should have seen that one coming, but the last post has been retracted. Evidently, I hit a nerve. Apologies to any unintended slight on Todd Pruitt's character. Apologies to those not part of the Reformed world involved in the issue for the assault on their Nicene Orthodoxy; I am really sorry you have to bear the continual and incessant questioning of your theological orthodoxy.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Concerning one philosophical argument against EFS

[Tom McCall] asserts unambiguously, "Hard EFS entails the denial of the homoousion." He argues:

(1) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

(2) If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

(3) If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

(4) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

(5) If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

[Philip R. Gons and Andrew David Naselli, "Three Recent Philosophical Arguments against Hierarchy," in Bruce A. Ware and John Starke, eds., One God in Thee Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 198]

...

In the same way, then, the historic doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit, which the majority of the church has embraced in the East and the West since at least the Council of Nicaea in 325 and arguably much earlier, would entail the denial of homoousion. We could restate McCall's argument this way:

1. If the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity is true, then the Son has the property generate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

2. If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

3. If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

4. If the historic doctrine of the Trinity is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

5. If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

If the argument is valid, not only does it refute EFS's proposal that the distinction between the Father and the Son is best understood in terms of authority and submission, but it also refutes the view held by the vast majority of the church for at least the last seventeen hundred years, namely, that the Father, Son and Spirit possess unique personal properties that distinguish them from one another.

If what McCall and Yandell argue is true, then the church's best theologians, the very ones who defined and defended homoousion, unknowingly denied it and differed only slightly from Arians. The entire history of orthodox Trinitarianism was unknowingly heterodox for the simple reason that its view of the Trinity entails a denial of homoousion. That is a weighty charge.

(Ibid., 199-200)

The primary argument against EFS it seems is to make it a matter of ontological subordination. But the question always is "where's the proof?". Given that EFS proponents have always affirmed ontological equality between the persons, the onus is on their accusers to prove their case that their affirmation is invalid.

One particular argument it seems is that predicating submission of the Son in eternity implies that it belongs to the being of the Son to be subordinate to the Father. Thus argues Tom McCall. But as Gons and Naselli pointed out, the same argument would implicate Nicene Orthodoxy itself when applied consistently. The key error in McCall's reasoning is to equivocate on the term "essential" (Ibid., 201). The first meaning is that of necessity, "essential to being something." The second meaning is that it pertains to the essence of a thing, "what a thing is." By equivocation, McCall's argument makes an invalid argument in an effort to promote his view of radical egalitarianism.

I would of course disagree that "the distinction between the Father and the Son is best understood in terms of authority and submission." But I do not deny such a distinction. That the Father has personal properties that the Son does not have is basic Nicene Orthodoxy: the Father unbegotten, the Son begotten. But the way Nicene Orthodoxy goes about is to say that the predication of the persons have no bearing on the being (the essence) of God. In being, in ontology, the three persons share the one Godhood, and all are the one God, equal in power and glory. BUT in persons, they posses personal properties that are not shared among the persons. The Father does not share in the property "begotten," for example. There is thus an asymmetry in the relations of the Godhead. To claim otherwise is to reject Nicene orthodoxy.

Functions of authority and submission only work in dynamic relations, and thus they can only be predicated of the works of the persons. Therefore, they must be predicated of God ad extra. The relations of eternal generation and eternal procession of the Son and the Spirit respectively are stative concepts, in that they pertain immutably to God ad intra. But to speak of the eternal submission of the Son from the pactum salutis in eternity past is to envision a dynamic interaction of the Son covenanting with the Father for the salvation of the elect. Gons and Naselli did not quite make the distinction, but a distinction between the ad intra and ad extra would be very helpful here as it introduces another layer of distinction and nuance into the relations within the Godhead. It would certainly avoid more confusion over people thinking that EFS has to do with ontology when it has absolutely nothing to do with ontology. Evidently, the critics think they know better what the proponents believe about EFS than the proponents do themselves.

Regardless, I think Gons and Naselli has pointed out one fatal flaw among those who deny EFS. Can the doctrine of God espoused by EFS critics survive the reductio ad absurdum pointed out by Gons and Naselli? If they could, how? After all, it seems that if everything is about BEING, then the Son must be subordinate to the Father if he is really begotten of the Father. Or perhaps, we can stop being so obsessed with ontology. But I'm not holding my breath for EFS critics to actually respond. After all, misrepresentation and demonization is always easier, especially when the opponent is "Big Eva"!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Unity, the Reformed churches, and "Reformed" tribalism

God has given our churches the body of truth. He has given us the precious truth of the gospel of His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ. He has revealed that truth to us in His Word. He has given it to us as it is summarized and set forth in our Reformed confessions. God has also given us in our own congregation(s) unity in that truth. That truth should be precious to us. We must guard and protect it. We must stand for the truth of God without compromise. This means we may not unite with those who oppose it, but only with those who are one with us in the truth.

The question now is, how do we carry this out? In answer to that question, it must be clear from the outset that the way in which this is carried out with those who are not one with us varies from church to church, and from situation to situation.

If there are churches who have made it clear that they are determined to oppose and reject the truth, certainly we cannot be close to them nor continue to seek unity with them. By their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith. Instead of being a church that is reforming and coming to a clearer understanding and confession of the truth, they are moving further away from the truth. This does not mean that they have immediately become a false church. But the fact is that they have shown by their wilful [sic] rejection of the truth that they are headed in that direction. [Daniel Kleyn, "Loving Churches who Seek the Truth," Salt Shakers 39 (Sept 2016): 6]

Thus wrote Pastor Daniel Kleyn, a PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America) missionary in the Philippines, in this article of relating to other churches that are not in the same denomination as them. Now, I think it is a good idea to consider how we should perceive and interact with other churches, which surprisingly few people write about. So I would applaud Kleyn for daring to write on this issue openly, and taking a position that is most certainly at odds with Evangelicalism of any stripe (including the Martin Lloyd-Jones style Old Evangelicalism)

While I applaud his daring, and he certainly has it right that unity is found in truth, yet I do have serious problems with his article, not less is because of his denomination the PRCA. In full disclosure, I was formerly a member of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), joining it before it developed sister church relations with the PRCA. I joined the church then because it was Reformed, not because it was PRCA. When the church decided to pursue a closer relation with the PRCA, and as I began to see what the PRCA stood for, I was in total disagreement with the direction the church was going. When I left for seminary, I took the opportunity to get out and join the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), of which I am still a member.

The PRCA have certain hobby horses they love to harangue others over, and while I do not know how explicitly they express it, they are certain that almost every other Reformed church in the US are deeply compromised in doctrine, with their favorite whipping boy being the CRC (Christian Reformed Church), and those that came out of either her and the PRCA: the URCNA (United Reformed Churches of North America) and the CanRC (Canadian Reformed Church). Basically, they alone are the true Reformed church body, if you believe their polemic. Now there is nothing wrong with criticizing these church bodies IF they are in fact apostate, but where is the evidence for that?

When you start to examine the issues and the critiques by PRCA pastors and theologians, and measure it according to Scripture, the Reformed tradition, and Reformed theological sources objectively, you will start to realize that the PRCA do not trade in truth. The PRCA has a tradition which is regarded as axiomatic as being truly "Reformed," but that tradition is not open to criticism or reconsideration. What is "Reformed" is what they believe as taught especially by their founder Herman Hoeksema; everything else has to fit into that system. By "truth," they mean "the Reformed tradition as interpreted by Herman Hoeksema, and their two other theologians Herman Hanko and David Engelsma." Everything they read must be re-interpreted according to this lens, as we have seen in Engelsma's absolutely horrendous review of the book Sacred Bond, co-authored by my pastor Zach Keele and Pastor Michael Brown of Christ URC at Santee (here, here, here and here).

The only and true reason why I am Reformed, and why anyone should be Reformed, is because the Reformed faith is the truth. I other words, the Reformed faith is the truest and purest form of biblical Christianity. If that were not so, there is no reason for anyone to be Reformed, and I would be the first to throw out that label. Therefore, to stand on the truth and to be always seeking after truth is a Reformed imperative. When Kleyn says that "we must stand for the truth of God without compromise," he speaks truly in form. But do the PRCA actually stand on and trade in truth? NO! If they were actually standing on the truth, then why are they so resistant to actually represent their opponents accurately? Why does Engelsma have to misrepresent Keele and Brown in his review of Sacred Bond? If they are really interested in the truth, why don't they interact with their critiques? I am sure I am not the only one who has pointed out the errors in their theology and practice, so why not interact with us? After all, since they clearly believe they are right and we are wrong, shouldn't they be interested to show us how wrong we are?

The problem with the PRCA is they are "Reformed" tribalists. "Reformed" to them is a tribe in which certain shibboleths must be honored. The truth is not that important as much as following the standards and traditions of the group. I don't think it needs to be proven why tribalism, or sectarianism, is wrong. Therefore, when the PRCA and ministers like Kleyn talk about how churches that that by "their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith," and that "they are moving further away from the truth," he is rejecting other Christians just because they do not hold to PRCA tribal doctrines. That of course is a sin against the catholicity of the Church, and is utterly reprehensible.

Now, saying this, I do not wish to imply that sectarianism is a problem merely for the PRCA. There are other groups that are just as sectarian (e.g. those attacking EFS as "anti-Nicene heresy"). The common denominator is a willingness to misrepresent their opponents, ignore critics, and spin the truth. But as Jesus is the truth, such should never be the way true Christians and true Reformed Christians conduct ourselves. And for those who fall into sectarianism, they are to repent of their sins and turn to God, seeking true ecumeneity in the truth of Christ.

A further note on the Kong Hee case

The Kong Hee case is an ongoing scandal in Singapore Christianity, even though I deny City Harvest as being a true church. I have previously written on the incident here and here. While Kong Hee is a false teacher and City Harvest a false church, those who gloat over Kong Hee's fall show themselves to not have the mind of Christ in this matter (c.f. Mt. 23:37)

There are people who say that we should stand with City Harvest, citing 1 Corinthians 12:26 in this regard. Their motives are laudable, and indeed I do believe in standing in solidarity with fellow believers, but NOT when they are in the wrong. Right and wrong in a biblical worldview are objective judgments. Even apart from considering the heresy Kong Hee and City Harvest teach, round-tripping money and financial irregularities are crimes. To be sure, I do not subscribe to the nonsense of the prosecution (more on that later), but I do not see under any circumstances how one can deny that what Kong Hee and cronies did was not a crime.

Aside from Kong Hee's heretical nonsense, I have said and will say again that one should not multiply crimes. Round-tripping is a crime, but private organizations deciding to spend their own money on foolish stuff is not a crime. It is not a crime for a private club to spend its funds on an all-expense paid vacation to Las Vegas for all its members, if the decision was made according to the club's own rules. Likewise, a church as a private organization has the right to spend its money to support the career of Sun Ho, no matter how immoral it is. If a City Harvest member doesn't like how his church spend its money, and he is the minority opinion, then stop tithing to them and get out of the church! Volunteer private organizations ARE voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to stay in there if you disagree with them. If you don't like how they allocate funds, then don't give. Don't give money and then whine when you don't have a say in how your money is used.

This is why I find the prosecution ridiculous, sounding like it is coming after Kong Hee out of vengeance instead of justice. Evidently, putting Kong Hee behind bars for 8 years is not enough; what is needed is to destroy him. They might as well just ask the judge for the death penalty, then they can have their full vengeance! Yes, what Kong Hee did in his Crossover Project is wicked, but it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS! There are a lot of things in this world that are wicked, so should I make it my business to prosecute them? I think casinos are immoral, so when will the DPP (Deputy Public Prosecutor) go after the two Singapore casinos that are plying an immoral trade? I think changing the presidential election criteria with a probable intention of excluding someone from the race is immoral, but I wouldn't hold my breath for the DPP to prosecute those making those stupid recommendations.

Many people for whatever reason don't think of what kind of precedence is set and what are the implications of legal judgments. They are happy when the law goes after those they deem immoral or wrong, without regard for what might happen next. For those who think the government can punish Kong Hee for his immoral behavior, tell me: do you think the government has the right to punish legal but immoral actions of a private entity? Assuming the City Harvest leadership did not do the round-tripping but funnel funds into the Crossover project openly, with the members agreeing, and therefore the whole thing is perfectly legal, would you recommend prosecution of City Harvest then? If you think that the government should still be involved since a minority of former members complained, then you are arguing that the government has a right to meddle in the private affairs of a private institution. Since the government is secular and thus incapable of judging morality in and of itself, then you are opening the door to future persecution of the church. Let me ask you then, you who think it is fine for a government to meddle in the affairs of a private organization: If the government decides one day that anyone promoting a biblical view of the family is promoting "hate" against the LGBTQIAXXX "community" (a reality in many parts of the fallen West), can the government prosecute the church leadership if a few former members complained about experiencing "discrimination"? After all, in the eyes of such a wicked government, black is white and white is black. Promoting the biblical family is seen as a "hate crime" and thus immoral. Since you have already agreed in principle that the government can punish immorality in private organizations, upon what ground do you have to argue that a wicked government cannot punish any church, or even any school, for "discrimination" against the LGBTQIAXXX community?

This is why I am against the prosecution, because it is not the government's job to punish matters of morality except those according to evident natural law. By all means, Kong Hee and the other City Harvest board should be punished, but only for their accounting errors. As reprehensible as China Wine is, it is not a crime for City Harvest to fund its production.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The evolution of the papal institution

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was not instituted by the apostles but rather it evolved over time. It was not even conceived by the apostles as some sort of acorn flowering into a mature oak tree (John Henry Newman's and Vatican II's idea of development). When Jesus told Peter that "on this rock I will build my church" (Mt. 16:18), even if we grant that the "rock" is Peter, Jesus made the same promise of the authority of binding and loosing to the other apostles (Mt. 18:18, Jn. 20:23). There is nothing special about Peter except that he was the one chosen to show how slow and foolish the apostles were. In fact, despite the grace given to Peter, even after Pentecost and after years as a church leader, Peter still fell into error and needed to be rebuked publicly by Paul in Galatia (Gal. 2:11-14). And while Peter gave the sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36), it was James who presided over the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:12-21)

The idea of a Petrine chair of apostolic succession is historically and biblically without any foundation whatsoever. So how did the papal office came into being? It came into being slowly over centuries, built upon many choices the church made that slowly but surely deviated from the biblical norm of ecclesiastical governance.

The early church was a built upon the Presbyterian model. Elders were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), and deacons were likewise elected into office (Acts 6:1-3). The Apostles, as the special office, slowly passed from the scene, leaving every church with a plurality of elders and deacons, yet connected to each other.

As the apostolic church became the early catholic church, bishops began to emerge. The first churches were founded in major cities like Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus among others. But as the Church grew, churches began to be planted in minor cities and towns. The pastor of the church in the major cities began to take on a mentoring and leadership role over the smaller churches, and they became the bishops. Thus, the episcopal model of governance began purely as a matter of good, helpful and efficient practice. Over time, power and influence began to converge into five major churches in the cities of Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople (New Rome), and Antioch. The bishops in those five cities began to be seen as in some sense superior to the others, as they claimed apostolic succession for their respective sees.

While Presbyterianism has ceased to be practiced in the early catholic church, the equality of bishops persisted for a longer time. At Nicea in 325AD, the bishop of Rome was not seen in a special light. In fact, Liberius in his capacity of bishop of Rome (352-366AD) condemned Athanasius on behalf of the Arians, and was in turn anathemized by Hilary of Poitiers (Hilary of Poitiers, "Liberius, to the Eastern Presbyters and Fellow Bishops," Book II, VII; "Letter of Liberius in Exile to Urascius, Valens and Germinius," Book II, IX.)[1]. The bishop of Rome in the fourth century was taken to be just one of many bishops. He was the bishop of the capital city of Rome, but that did not come with any special privileges.

As the age of the united Roman Empire drew to a close, chaos began to spread in society. Over time, the Empire became divided over the issue of language. The Western half of the Empire began to speak exclusively Latin, while the Eastern half spoke Greek. The coming of the "barbarians," the Goths, Huns and other non-Romans who attacked and bled the Roman Empire, created space for the spread of the influence of the church. As society collapsed in the West, the Church stepped in to provide services for society, which is certainly a good thing yet it had unintended consequences. East and West moved further and further apart over language and culture and even jurisdiction. The vacuum of power in the West led the Church to began to assume secular power for herself, creating the two swords doctrine. In the East, the Emperor controlled the church, resulting in caeseropapalism, the emperor (Caesar) as "pope."

As the "apostolic sees" emerge, the various Patriarchs still embraced an equality among them. Unfortunately for the Church, only one of the apostolic sees was in the West - Rome. The bishop of Rome, sitting in a land without any equals, and sitting among the vacuum of sociopolitical power, began to be elevated in power and stature. Despite the first real pope Gregory the Great denying the use of the appellation "universal" to any one single bishop, in time his successors would embrace the term, amassing power and wealth into the see of Rome. By the time of the High Middle Ages, the papal office as the supreme leader of Christendom was established. Of course, the history of the church in the setting up of church councils was not forgotten, so some people still held that councils are superior to the pope, a movement known as Conciliarism. The fiasco known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where a series of popes and anti-popes ruled and anathemized each other, became an utter disgrace to the Church and strengthen the forces of Conciliarism. During the Medieval period, the pope did not have absolute power over all of the Church, but must rule with the help of bishops and other members of the clergy. The Pope of course was very powerful, but he did not yet have the power of an absolute monarch although he certainly acted the part.

This situation persisted through the Reformation. As powerful as the Pope was, if more bishops had turned on him during the Reformation, he would be forced to try to find a middle ground with the Protestants. But the Pope had enough powerful people who sided with him, and many people did not like being mocked and ridiculed by Martin Luther, an "uncultured" German. During the Jansenist controversy after the Reformation, and especially later in the Ultramontanist controversy, the various warring factions began to see Rome as the court of final appeal.

Ultramontanism makes for an interesting prequel to the next evolution of the papal office. As the Enlightenment dawned, the advances in learning split the French clergy between the smart and powerful who attend elite schools and were trained in the latest learning, and the poorly-educated priests who were trained in the old ways and used as fodder to fill pulpits. The lowly priests resented their smarter elite cardinals and bishops, and appeal to Rome was used to take the elite French clergy (Gallicans) down. France was of course the most advanced Roman Catholic country at that time, while the other Roman Catholic countries were just beginning to face the Enlightenment. The tremendous changes caused by the Enlightenment frightened the pope, who had a taste of is power when Napoleon humiliated one of his predecessors, Pius VI, by attacking the Vatican and taking him prisoner in the late 18th century. The pope thus had lots of reasons to fear the Enlightenment, and Ultramontanism dovetailed nicely with his mood as the pope was turned to as the defender of the faith.

In a reaction to the Enlightenment, Pius IX in 1864 published his Syllabus of Errors as a rejection of "Modernism." This dovetails nicely into the next evolution of the papal office into one of infallibility, as a safeguard against "modernism" in any form. Vatican I occurred from the years 1869 to 1870, and Pius IX pushed through the novel doctrine of papal infallibility, ignoring objections from learned Roman Catholic historians like Ignaz von Dollinger. Standing as THE defender against modernism, the pope gained support from the Ultramontanes and passed the encyclical Pastor Aeternus defining papal infallibility as dogma. Ironically, at the end of the council before it could be formally closed, the Italian nationalists invaded the Vatican, stripping the pope of his secular powers just as he claimed supreme spiritual powers for himself.

Vatican II marks another shift in the papal institution towards something closer to the situation of the early medieval period. This did not happen however because the pope suddenly became humble and decided to give up his power. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church had grown too large for the type of central control to take place, and the Asian, American, African, and Latin America bishops revolted and forced changes that promote a more decentralized model. Apart from suspending the council altogether, the pope could do nothing but acquiesce and try to work out something that preserved some of his power while ceding parts of it to the other clergy. Post-Vatican II, the Pope has become more of a figure of authority than an actual monarch. The Pope's absolute authority promulgated in Pastor Aeternus still remains on paper, but he has become more of a paper tiger than a real tiger in these modern times.

Thus marks the evolution of the papal institution. It began with helpful practices, mixed in with some heterodox teaching, and the special environment of its time cultivated the papacy. Good and helpful practices over time may result in error, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the evolution of the papacy.


References:

[1] Lionel Wickham, trans., Hilary of Poitiers, Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth Century Church (Liverpool: Liverpool University, 1977), 77-9. Translated Texts for Historians, Volume 25, Against Valens and Uracius: The Extant Fragments, Together with His Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Translated from A. Feder (CSEL), ed., Collectanea Antiariana Parisina (including Lber ad Constantium Imperatorem and Liber II ad (or con.) Constantium) (1916). As cited in William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith (Volume II: An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura; Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, 2001), 2:267

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pope Gregory the Great did not believe in the pope as THE universal bishop

The papacy as an institution evolved over time, contrary to what Roman Catholics believe. Historical facts can really be a pain in the ass for Roman apologists, who would love to think that there was a pope in the 1st century or 2nd century AD. That there were no popes involved at Nicea in 325AD should have given them pause. The first real pope, as an office that began to stand out above the other bishops, was Pope Gregory the Great, in the 6th century AD. In one of this letters to the Eastern bishops, he wrote:

For, as your venerable Holiness knows, this name of Universality was offered by the holy synod of Chalcedon to the pontiff of the Apostolic See which by the providence of God I serve. But no one of my predecessors has ever consented to use this so profane a title; since, forsooth, if one Patriarch is called Universal, the name of Patriarch in the case of the rest is derogated. But far be this, far be it from the mind of a Christian, that any one should wish to seize for himself that whereby he might seem in the least degree to lessen the honor of his brethren. While, then, we are unwilling to receive this honor when offered to us, think how disgraceful it is for any one to have wished to usurp it to himself perforce.

Wherefore let not your Holiness in your epistles ever call any one Universal, lest you detract from the honor due to yourself in offering to another what is not due. (Book V, EPISTLE XLIII: TO EULOGIUS AND ANASTASIUS, BISHOPS; Source)

The Bishop of Rome slowly evolved over time into the Pope, and even at the time of Gregory the Great, the pope was still considered primus inter pares (first among equals), not yet superior as the universal bishop, with the title Pontifex Maximus. Of course, the papacy slowly grew in power until Vatican I where he usurps for himself infallibility when he decides to define dogma ex cathedra.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The immutable order of relations of the Godhead, and the Pactum

In the ad intra relations of the Godhead, the Father is first, unbegotten. The Son is second, begotten. The Spirit third, proceeding. The order (taxis) is always the Father first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, and never reversed or switched. Obviously, the persons are fully equal and fully God, so what does this order mean?

The order of relations is an expression that the Father is always the Father, the Son is always the Son, and the Spirit is always the Spirit. It is not as if three undifferentiated persons in eternity past came together and deliberated which person will be the Father, which person will be the Son and which person will be the Spirit, perhaps through a divine coin toss! No, the persons are who they are eternally and have never and will never change. Consequently, we speak of God as "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Ever wonder why we do not say "the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit" or "the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son" or other such permutations? We say "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" because the Father is first in relation, the Son is second in relation, and the Spirit is third in relation. Every time we insist on the formula "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," we are insisting on this order of relation. If anyone denies this order of relations, then they should have no problems with saying "the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit" (the ultimate "Christocentric" phrase), or "the Holy Spirit, the Son and the Father" for after all, the persons qua order of persons is fully arbitrary and could very well be otherwise.

Of course, to say that the order of persons could be otherwise attacks the doctrine of immutability. I am not that sure it would compromise the doctrine of aseity since I do not subscribe to Thomistic (Aristotelian) metaphysis. But compromising the doctrine of immutability should be bad enough. Egalitarians who think of the Trinity as a "divine dance" of three persons who are as good as interchangeable are in error at this point. The Son is always the Son, and thus this is reflected in His workings ad extra as an eternal submission to the Father. The Son always submits to the Father, and to say that it is only restricted to the incarnation is a failure to deal with the entirety of the text of Scripture. Particularly in the Reformed tradition, the pactum salutis was made in eternity past. It cannot be timeless but in "time" since the pactum is a "past event" at least before the incarnation. To claim that the pactum is "eternal" in the idea of "timelessness" is to create a time paradox whereby the making of the pactum has a "temporal" overlap with the incarnation and the crucifixion (regardless of whether one takes "timeless" as outside time or as all-time-in-an-instance, or sempiternal). If one takes "timeless" as "outside time," then the making of the pactum is a stative event relative to the incarnation and the crucifixion, so the making of the pactum IS at the time of the crucifixion (static "action"). If one takes "timeless" as sempiternal, then the pactum is in the eternal PROCESS of being made at the time of the incarnation and the crucifixion (perpetual dynamic action). Both scenarios should be unacceptable for Christian theism.

Since the Pactum is past in relation to the incarnation and the crucifixion, and yet eternal, it must be in eternity past, the eternity in the sense of "everlasting time." While yes, we can say that the Pactum has its origin ad intra, because the plan of God comes from within the being of God, yet it is made ad extra in everlasting "time." It must be so otherwise we would have the crazy time paradoxes which makes nonsense of the entire plan of God.

God has an immutable order of relations of the persons in His being. As such, this is reflected in the ad extra eternal submission of the Son in the Pactum Salutis, which is not "timeless" or "sempiternal" but in the past in eternity (everlasting). To say otherwise would be to compromise something either of God or of God's plan, and thus to go contrary to Scripture.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Book Review: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Role and Relevance, by Bruce A. Ware

In light of the EFS controversy, I have decided to read the controversial Bruce Ware book. I find the book to have quite a lot of positive things I must say, although there are the usual concerns. I have done a book review on the book listing the positive things and my concerns with the book, which can be read here. An excerpt:

The Christian God, the true God, is the Triune God. He is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one essence. It is beyond our understanding to fully grasp what it means for God to be both one and three, yet it is not contradictory that God is both one and three, for He is one in essence and three in persons, two different categories. But is there any relevance of this mysterious doctrine of the Trinity for us today?

In his book, Bruce Ware attempts to flesh out the roles the various persons of the Godhead play in the drama of redemptive history, and tries to show the relevance the doctrine of the Trinity has for Christian living, especially with regards to gender relations. Ware states at the beginning the equality of the persons in the one essence, stating that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possesses the divine nature equally, … eternally, … and fully … The Father, Son , and Holy Spirit … each is fully God, equally God, and this is true eternally and simultaneously” (p. 41). This was done in chapter 2, with chapter 1 showing the importance of the doctrine of the Triune God.

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Saturday, September 03, 2016

The creation/ evolution debate and ministering to Christians who are scientists

Many Christians who work in the various fields of science find themselves in treacherous waters. If they are bold in making their faith known in the workplace, they can be easily marginalized by their colleagues and bosses because of the supposed ways in which faith is thought to undermine one's ability to function in a scientifically oriented world. They may find themselves not taken seriously, and their careers might suffer because of their faith commitments.

When these people come to the church expecting to find support and encouragement as they face the struggles of their workplace, too often they find that the church is suspicious of them. And worse, if they have come to accept some of the tenets of the scientific consensus that the church has traditionally disparaged, they are also marginalized in the church. The message is loud and clear: leave your scientific conclusions at the door.

We are not doing a good job of ministering to these brothers and sisters. We have communicated that their commitment to Christ is subverted, their service to the church is unwanted and their very salvation is suspect. ... it would be appropriate for the church to help them work through these difficult issues — not by making them choose (Bible or science) but by charting a path of convergence and compatibility. (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 207-8)

The impetus among many ministers and theologians in moving towards an embrace of evolution and the varying beliefs of the "scientific consensus" has to do with practical pastoral concerns, and that is laudable. Even though I disagree with Walton and people like him, I agree that the last thing we want to do is to make it seem as if scientists are unwelcome in the church, or that they ought to check in their brains at church. Telling scientists they have to "choose" between science and faith is a terrible thing to do, especially since there is absolutely no need for that kind of choice, although not for the reasons Walton would have us believe.

The first thing that must be mentioned is that for most scientists and in most of science, evolution has little to no tangential value for their research. As someone trained in the life sciences for my undergraduate degree, and with experience in research lab work, I can say that evolution is mostly assumed and evolutionary terminologies are used, like "convergent evolution" or "divergent evolution" but they are mostly verbiage. I use the terms myself, but I know they are just code words, jargon, that indicate you are in the "in" group. Of course those words have a certain specific evolutionary meaning, but one does not have to subscribe to the Neo-Darwinian paradigm and word meanings for the science to make sense. Thus, the value of evolution is seriously over-rated in the biological sciences, much less the other scientific disciplines. What value after all does the theory of evolution have for fluid mechanics? None! And that is the point: much of the concern over any non endorsement of evolution sounds more like hysteria once one actually knows something about science. I might add that both those who are hostile to science and those moving towards endorsing evolution and the "scientific consensus" have a deficient view of science, which is why they react to science the way they do, just from two opposite angles.

Secondly, the supposed conflict between faith and science is probably the greatest hoax instigated by militant atheists, and perpetuated even unconsciously by Christians, against the church, and it is wildly successful. This false narrative will be present regardless of what the Christian scientist does or does not do. Hostility towards the Christian faith will be present regardless of whether he embraces or do not embrace evolution. Concern over how his bosses and colleagues may possibly discriminate against him because of his faith is a valid concern, but we must realize that embracing evolution will not suddenly coat the Christian faith with an aura of respectability. In fact, if his boss was someone like Richard Dawkins, he would probably be despised even more as someone who is intellectually dim and dishonest. Why would we think that embracing evolution would stop people from seeing Christians as Luddites?

Third, the church that rejects evolution based upon sound arguments (not those rejecting evolution because of being anti-science), does not ask the scientist to check his brain at the door of the church, or live a double life, in order to be a Christian. Rather, they are asking the scientist to reject false and invalid theories masquerading as science, which is what evolution is. They are calling for even more science, not less science. Creation science, no matter how much it has been demonized by its opponents, is a valid scientific program superior to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. The "conflict," if we want to label it as such, is not between faith and science, but between a philosophy masquerading as science (Neo-Darwinism) and a scientific paradigm informed by Scripture (Creationism). In this light, we are asking the scientist not to believe in the dismissive rhetoric of the world and to actually do science, which is to say actually do an honest inquiry into the issues instead of taking Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Darwinian rhetoric on the basis of faith.

The church ought be calling everyone to submit their minds to the lordship of Christ in all things (Rom. 12:2). Therefore, the church's ministry to scientists, among other aspects of ministry, ought to be one of calling them to be biblical even in their science. To say that we ought to let scientists bring in their "scientific conclusions" as they are without question is precisely the way not to minister to them. Is it ministry to allow scientists to conform their science according to the world, and not to be transformed according to the truth of Scripture? I would suggest not! In a field which aims to discover "truths," the Truth of God in Scripture ought to be very important for the scientific enterprise, and thus for scientists.

Friday, September 02, 2016

John Walton: Historical person as archetype "Adam," but no historical Adam

In conclusion, then, both a textual element (genealogies) and a theological element (sin and redemption) argue strongly for a historical Adam and Eve. At the same time, it must be observed that for them to play these historical roles does not necessarily require them to be the first human beings (biologically/genetically). In other words, the question of the historical Adam has more to do with sin’s origins than with material human origins. (John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 103)

The amount of exegetical gymnastics required to create a historical person that function as the archetype Adam that is however NOT the historical Adam of Genesis 2-3 is astonishing! I guess asking people whether they believe in a historical Adam is nowadays insufficient for establishing orthodoxy, in this light.

John Walton: Adam is archetypal human; no historical Adam

… we found reason to conclude that “formed from dust” was archetypal rather than a description pertaining to Adam alone. We have also seen reason to believe that “rib” should be understood as “side.” Furthermore, we have suggested that Adam has seen Eve’s formation in a vison but that the vision conveys an ontological truth with Eve serving as an archetype. In both cases, the archetypal interpretation offers the reader significant theology about the identity of mankind and womankind. As such, it does not, however, make definitive claims about the identity of mankind and womankind. If Genesis 2 makes no claims about material human origins, one would find no other statement in the Bible to offer details beyond the fact that we are all God’s creatures. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 81]

As opposed to federal headship, Walton believes that Adam and Eve are archetypal humans, and that Genesis 2 does not offer a real historical narrative of Adam and Eve as the first human couple. Now, an archetype does exist as a real person(s), but that is different from saying Adam and Eve exist as how the Bible describes Adam and Eve as the first human couple created de novo.

Obviously, if one were to follow Walton's interpretation of Genesis 2, then we can say goodbye to Adam's federal headship and Reformed covenant theology.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Creation Ex Nihilo and Genesis: Contra John Walton

Ex Nihilo doctrine comes from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, not Genesis 1. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2015),33]

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν (Gen 1:1 LXX)

πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν (Jn. 1:3)

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται (Col. 1:16)

According to John Walton with his idea of "functional ontology," the Genesis account was not about God creating the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), but rather it is about God forming and ordering things from what was already present, just like how the ANE creation myths narrate their tales. Astonishingly, Walton in the quote above was very direct in categorically denying that Genesis teaches creation ex nihilo in any form. Walton still holds to creation ex nihilo, except that he thinks only John 1:3 ad Colossians 1:16 teach it, but not the first few chapters of Genesis.

Walton puts forwards his interpretation by arguing that every single "creation" episode using the words normally translated "create" or "make" in Genesis 1-2, בָּרָא and עָשָׂה, "does not intrinsically pertain to material existence" (p. 29, 32). Arguing from what a word could possibly mean, as opposed to what the word is actually trying to convey, is a terrible way of doing exegesis. Be that as it may, let's overlook for the sake of argument the problems he has in translating בָּרָא and עָשָׂה. If we take Genesis 1-2 as having nothing to do with creation ex nihilo, then what are the consequences?

The first thing that we must take note is that the Jews would have held that God was not transcendent. Without a knowledge of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, YHWH would be seen as just another tribal deity, albeit a powerful and imperialistic one. The Old Covenant Jews would have not known that God was apart from his creation since he was there molding pre-existing matter, but not creating it. The "Old Testament" god would certainly be superior to physical matter since he molded it, but he is, as far as they could have told, still very much part of the material universe. If seen from a Neo-Platonic Gnostic point of view, Walton's "Old Testament god" would be just like the Demiurge, or even the Demiurge's assistant, molding matter, while there could be other spiritual and timeless beings that were not involved in the molding of matter. Instead of saying that one believes in the "God who created the heavens and the earth," one would rather say that one believes in the "God who molded the physical heavens and the earth." If that sounds like nothing the Jews believe in, well, perhaps it is because they do not hold to Walton's interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.

The second problem lies in Walton's exegetical principle. If the only value of words is that they COULD mean something in some context therefore, arguing from silence, it probably means that in another context, then why should we hold that John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 teach creation ex nihilo? John 1:3 uses the Greek verb γινομαι (ginomai), which has the general meaning "to be" and is used in many places that have nothing to do with ex nihilo creation. Colossians 1:16 does use the verb root κτιζω (ktizw) which is usually translated "create" and so it seems to teach creation ex nihilo yet when one looks at the usage of the word, it is used in the LXX for example in Deuteronomy 4:32 where it said that God made (ἔκτισεν) Man. (Incidentally, the Hebrew verb used here is בָּרָא, so is בָּרָא a creation or molding verb?) It seems that therefore if one is consistent with Walton's hermeneutic, both John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 cannot be used to support creation ex nihilo either.

The sad thing about Walton's hermeneutic is that it reduces the Bible to be just like any other ancient document of its time. When applied consistently, one cannot hold to creation ex nihilo neither can one hold to the transcendence of God. The most one can be is a panentheist with respects to God, which is better than "God" being an extremely powerful "cosmic entity" which is nonetheless constrained by the universe. he is in

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dr. Bob Gonzales' interesting review of Confessing the Impassible God

Dr Robert Gonzales is a qualified (im)passibilist, and I have had prior disagreements with him concerning the framing of the Well-Meant Offer quite a few years back. But as a self-proclaimed Reformed Baptist, he was obviously one of the most high-profile targets of the movement within American Reformed Baptist circles when the impassibility controversy began. In this light, I was curious as to how he would deal with the publishing of the book by his critics on the topic of impassibility, and I wasn't disappointed in this regard.

For some reason, Gonzales' website was down (perhaps he quit blogging?), despite the fact that his review of the book was in Google search results. I decided then to see if there was an archived version of the page, and voila, here it is.

An excerpt:

Confessing the Impassible God is mainly a polemic against a more moderate form of classic theism. In particular, the book argues that God cannot be affected or affect himself in any way whatsoever and, therefore, cannot have anything analogous to human affections or emotions. Thus, when the Scripture writers describe God as angry or compassionate or grieved, they intend the reader to interpret those ascriptions as mere figures of speech that do not reveal God’s inner attitudes but that simply stand for the outward manifestations of God’s temporal judgments or blessings. Funny that Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, or Paul never let us in on this secret!

...

Were the reviewer unaware of the book’s “backstory,” he might have given it a slightly higher rating. The book does provide the reader with some helpful history of doctrine, and it may appear to uninformed readers as nothing more than a gentlemanly attempt to commend a more austere version of impassibility. But unlike larger conservative Reformed denominations, like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), that allow both the stricter and more moderate views of impassibility, the authors of the book reject that this is an “in house” debate. In fact the essays in the book are the fruits of an effort to remove pastors and churches from a Reformed Baptist association who could not in good conscience affirm the more philosophical entailments of the thesis.

While I would certainly disagree with how Gonzales or Ware would modify divine impassibility, I find myself sympathizing with them somewhat, since I have seen how those attack dogs come after Grudem and Ware on the topic of Eternal Functional Submission (EFS). But the posting of this review is not about me having sympathy with Gonzales' position on the topic, but rather just to note the thoughts from one of those whom the book is castigating.

Impassibility and "Classical Theism": On RB Affirmations and Denials

In the last chapter of the Reformed Baptist book on divine impassibility (Richard S Baines, Richard C. Barcellos et al, eds., Confessing the Impassible God), chapter 15, the authors of that chapter Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie wrote a series of 24 affirmations and denials on the topic. A majority of the affirmations and denials everyone who affirms divine impassibility would have no problem agreeing with, but a couple of them I would take issue with, as being philosophy based upon a certain theory of being - an over-fixation on being, instead of merely Scrpipture and good and necessary consequences from Scripture.

In the interest of showing the problems with those affirmations and denials, the objectionable statements would be listed as follows:

12. We affirm that love (and all other affections proper to God) is not an accidental or relational property that God has, but what he is. Therefore, an emotional change in God of any kind would necessarily entail a change in the essence and existence of God. We deny that God has any accidental or relational properties, that is, properties that are distinct from his essence.

15. We affirm that God, who is his essence and existence, has no cause; his existence is necessary and therefore unchangeable. We deny that God can be his own cause, and that he is capable of sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state.

17. We affirm that all of God's affections are infinite in perfection. Therefore, if God were to undergo an emotional change, that change would be either for the better or for the worse. If for the better. then he must not have been infinite in perfection prior to the change, and therefore was not God. If for the worse, then he would no longer be infinite in perfection after the change, and therefore no longer God. We deny that it is an imperfection in God to be incapable of emotional change.

(pp. 396-7)

First, we look at number 12. The affirmation in number 12 is biblical. We also hold that there are no emotional change IN God in an ontological sense. But here is where we start to run into problems. For who says that any emotional change must be predicated of God in His being, ad intra? Does God only operate in the ad intra sphere and not also in the ad extra workings, which can be metaphorically called "in," like "in God in His actions"? Thus, the denial in number 12 is extremely problematic because it is unclear whether we are talking about "relational properties" of being or of action or anything else. Obviously, if the "relational properties" are ontological properties, then we should reject them, for God is immutable. But who says that these must be interpreted only in an ontological sense?

This bleeds over to number 15 of the affirmations and denials. Number 15's affirmation is well and proper. But in the denial, we are once again left with confusion. Of course, it is ridiculous to say that God is His own cause. God just IS, and doesn't begin to exist even from eternity. But to extrapolate from the ontological aseity of God to state that God could not "sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state" assumes that any change in emotion must be ontological in nature. Perhaps those trying to modify divine impassibility are thinking in ontological terms, and thus the criticism is valid, but what if they are not thinking in ontological terms? Can God effect a change in emotions in his workings with us, ad extra? I do not see why not. Can this be termed as God "sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state"? I do not see why not. Likewise, we should reject the denial in number 17, while the affirmation of number 17 suffers from the problem of defining what "perfection" is if one attempts such a Thomistic ontological argument.

God is impassible. But God does have affections, ad extra, that change. Those do not change because of the creature, or because of a change within God, but purely because God's affections follow the nature of His being. To the justified, He expresses love. To the wicked, He expresses wrath and hatred. The transition from wrath to love for the one turning from sin to faith in Christ is REAL. Of course, that is because the creature "changes," but the transition is not a mere mirage with the idea that wrath is not a real emotion from God because God has always loved the elect. And yes, wrath is an "improper" emotion of God, but that does not mean that God does not actually expresses real wrath even against the elect prior to their justification!

God is impassible, yet He expresses real emotions. If this book represents a "recovery" of Reformed orthodoxy, then it is a sad day indeed, for Reformed Orthodoxy does not need to remain wedded to Aristotelian or Platonic metaphysics, neither should it aspire to be so.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Doctrine of God and the distinction of nature and action

In defense of divine impassibility against the avalanche of criticism and rejection within conservative Reformed and evangelical circles, Michael Horton proposes that it could be beneficial to shift the discussion of divine passions to the persons of the Trinity, rather than God's essence. (Charles J. Rennie, "A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God," in Richard S Baines, Richard C. Barcellos et al, eds., Confessing the Impassible God, 285)

This particular proposal, though well-intended, provides more confusion than clarification. As argued above, Horton is correct to insist upon the distinction between the human essence and a particular human person ... His attempt to posit similarly of God, however, is incoherent, since God is his essence and the essence if not "shared" in a generic sense, but is numerically and indivisibly one. The persons of the Trinity not only each have the whole undivided divine essence, but they have no subsistence outside of or apart from the divine essence. The divine essence is not a fourth "thing" that the divine persons "share." The divine essence is undivided and common to all three persons of the Trinity. (Rennie, "Attributes," in Baines et al, 286)

I have always suspected that there is an over-fixation on ontology in many areas of theology and philosophy, and here is one more example that seems to validate my suspicion. In fact, interactions like this make all the crazy misrepresentation during the EFS debacle more understandable, since it seems that those who hold to "classical theism" are incapable of thinking of anything but being, being and being.

Dr. Horton in his systematic theology, when he is trying to shift the discussion of passion from the essence to the persons of the Godhead, is operating under a personalist ontology and epistemology, or what he calls "covenant ontology" and "covenant epistemology." One of the books in our reading lists in his Christian Mind class at Westminster California, essentially the prolegomena course, was a book by Ester Meek entitled Longing to Know, which is Meek's retooling of Michael Polanyi's philosophy towards a more Christian context. In my opinion, the Polanyi-Meek reworking of epistemology is deeply flawed, but I do agree with it on one issue - the desire to get away from traditional philosophical categories of being and knowing. Operating under a personalist or covenant ontology, Horton shifts the discussion of passions to the dynamism of the persons of the Trinity, thus preserving impassibility of the Godhead while having the persons being able to be emotionally involved.

Whatever one thinks of this proposal, we must note that there is indeed a shift away from a traditional focus on ontology. The differentiation of the persons of the Godhead of course start with the nature of God as being both one and three. But the persons of the Godhead are also in action, or dynamic. Thus, before creation, God covenants with God in the Pactum Salutis. Thus, God hears our prayers and interacts with us. Thus, God speaks and continue to speak through His Word the Scriptures. In other words, the persons of the Godhead have a "being" or nature, but they are also in act. The ad intra relations of the Godhead are there, but there is also the ad extra works of the persons of the Godhead. In God ad extra, we can and should say that God interacts with His Creation, and expression of emotions is one such interaction.

When Charles Rennie therefore writes that "The persons of the Trinity not only each have the whole undivided divine essence, but they have no subsistence outside of or apart from the divine essence," he is the one in confusion, for it is clear enough from Horton's writings that he is precisely not dwelling on ontology, neither of the essence or of the persons. Of course, for orthodoxy, we should all agree that for the persons, "there is no subsistence outside of or part from the divine essence" and that "the divine essence is not a fourth 'thing' that the divine persons 'share.'" But one can hold those orthodox truths and still believe in Horton's proposal, because Rennie totally is confused over Horton's proposal. This confusion is because of the incessant focus it seems on being, being and being.

Look, I get it that the doctrine of impassibility is denied and attacked in many quarters. But retreating back to 17th century theology and philosophy isn't going to do anything except hurt your cause, and those of us who are interested in truth and apologetics instead of intellectual retreat and beating drums aren't going to join you there.

God, Infinity and (Im)mutability

God's immutability seems to be an entailment of his infinity. Anything actually infinite in being and perfection can neither lose a perfection it already possesses and remain infinite nor receive any additional act of being since it lacks no actuality; thus it cannot undergo change either by augmentation or diminution. (James Dolezal, God without Parts, 81; as cited in Charles J. Rennie, "A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God," in Richard S Baines, Richard C. Barcellos et al, eds., Confessing the Impassible God, 283)

Now, before interacting with this quote, let me just say upfront that I hold to divine impassibility, and the immutability, infinity and eternity of God. With that out of the way, let's look at the quote here. In this quote by James Dolezal and argued by Charles Rennie, the point is made that the various divine attributes are related to each other such that modification or rejection of any one attribute would undermine and result in the unraveling of belief in other divine attributes. To some extent, that is true, for a denial of divine immutability would entail denial of divine impassibility for example. But I am not so convinced that they are so related that every single doctrine is jeopardized by the denial of one of those attributes.

On the doctrine of divine infinity, what does infinity mean? It means that God is not finite, that God is beyond anything and everything. Divine infinity implies omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. But does infinity necessarily imply divine immutability, as Dolezal and Rennie argue? Now of course perfection understand as God being pure act (purus actus) does imply immutability, but does infinity itself imply immutability? I think not!

Dolezal and Rennie argue that changes would either augment or diminish one's being. If perfection is understood as pure act, then of course change would imply the presence of potentiality within God and thus God cannot be perfect and thus cannot be infinite. But we see here that the deduction from infinity to immutability has a few steps to follow.

  1. God is infinite which means He is perfect
  2. Perfection entails God having no potentialities
  3. Any change must result in either augmentation or diminuition
  4. Therefore, infinity implies perfection which implies immutability.

Now, if all 3 premises are true, then of course the conclusion (4) follows. But points 2 and 3 are not implications of infinity. In fact, I can't think of where they can be implications of any other attribute of God. It seems to me that points 2 and 3 are implications of immutability rather than the other way around. Apart from belief in immutability, why should we accept points 2 and 3?

Let's look at point 3. Why must any change be either augmenting or diminishing? What about horizontal changes, i.e. change from one state to another equal and alternate state? And since there is no reason why (apart from immutability) there cannot be equal and alternate states, point 2 is also called into question, for there can be an infinite number of perfect states. One can always posit an infinite, mutable God. Such a "God" would of course not be the God of the Bible, but I do not see why it could not be conceived without having its other attributes unraveled.

God is an infinite, immutable and impassible God. But we do the doctrine of God a disservice when we think we can articulate 17th century arguments and expect everyone to buy into unspoken and unproven premises. In the modern age when every single attribute of God might be questioned, and where Aristotelian metaphysics is hardly known and most definitely not embraced, arguments like these by self-professed confessionalists only serve to make classical theism look like dinosaurs by others. I guess they don't really care, but for those who are interested to be confessional and be intellectually honest and engaged, such a treatment of the doctrine of God is really disappointing.

[P.S.: Along similar lines, I do reject the ontological argument for the existence of God]