Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book Review: The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin

Some time back, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) had a free PDF book giveaway of Rebecca McLaughlin's book The Secular Creed. I therefore came to possess a book that I might not have read. I have recently finished the book, and while the book is orthodox in the positions taken, there is much here that is disturbing and undermines those same biblical positions. I have therefore decided to write a review of the book, which can be found here. An excerpt:

How should the Christian Church think about the various movements happening in the Western world in late modernity? In her book, Rebecca McLaughlin seeks to address five movements, five claims, in the contemporary American context: “Black Lives Matter” (On BLM and racism), “Love is Love” (On homosexuality and the supposed validity of all love), “The Gay-Rights Movement is the New Civil-Rights Movement” (On Intersectional Political LGBTQ+ movement), “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” (Feminism), and “Transgender women are women” (Transgenderism). McLaughlin attempts to deal with these issues from what she sees as the biblical perspective, and is supported in this endeavor by The Gospel Coalition (TGC), which published this book and promotes her work.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The American captivity of the Reformed Church

Those who think that they have no traditions, are often the ones who are most blinded by tradition. In the same way, those who think they are above culture, are often blinded by their own cultures.

While working on and completing a project, this tweet by Craig Carter, Mr. "Great Tradition," alongside the promotion of Christian Smith's understanding of "biblicism" in The Bible Made Impossible by Josh Sommers, has been fascinating, if only for the fact that the current crusade against "biblicism" has taken on a life of its own. As opposed to dealing with the term academically, the term has become a proverbial slur by certain Reformed people against the inferior "evangelicals" who are obviously "so stupid" they have no idea how to actually read the Bible correctly. An honest analysis of the term "biblicism" must deal with the term impartially. However, in the hands of certain "Reformed" and especially ressourcement polemicists, the term has become a slur in a culture war waged by the ressourcement "historical Christians" versus the rubes in what they see as "modern American Evangelicalism."

It is certainly a major blind spot, but it is surely illustrative that, in a time when cultural analyses of "evangelicalism" is in vogue, little attention is paid to the cultural elements of the war against "evangelicalism." This is not to suggest that "evangelicalism" is spotless. Rather, it is to make the claim that the reaction to "evangelicalism" however defined has also its cultural elements, and this particular reaction is very American. Of the various cultural movements in American Christianity, perhaps nothing is more tied to culture than that of the current ressourcement movement, influenced by the Roman Catholic impetus of ressourcement, mediated by Hans Boersma to Craig Carter, and fueled by Richard Muller's disciples. It is also noted that the animus against "Evangelicalism" is mostly centered in America, where a backlash against "Evangelicalism" driven partly by partisan American politics provides the impetus to inweigh against "Evangelicalism" in America. In other words, it has become cool to be against "evangelicalism" in America.

Now, there is nothing wrong to analyze American Evangelicalism and notes its flaws. There is certainly nothing wrong with analyzing "biblicism." But it is surely revealing that the critiques of Evangelicalism and of "biblicism" in the American Reformed churches nowadays are less about doctrine and history, and more about cultural animus. "Evangelicals" and "biblicism" are attacked, misrepresented, and spat on with vitriol, showing forth that, for all the vaunted ideas of being "historical," "scholarly" and "churchly," many parts of the Reformed churches in American are in fact under cultural captivity, unable to see things objecticely and totally ignorant of global Christianity.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Babel babble: A review of Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible

The term "biblicism" has been floating around for quite some time. What is it, and is it really bad?

In this light, I have recently finished a book review of Christian Smith's book attacking "biblicism." Entitled The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not truly an Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Smith thinks that biblicism is wrong and not a biblical hermeneutic. If Smith is true, then evangelicalism has been reading the Bible wrongly for a long time, but is that so? I would assert not. In the process of my review, I addressed the issue of "biblicism" in some detail. An excerpt of the review is here given:

How should a person read the Bible? In the Reformation, the emphasis was on placing the Bible in the hands of the laity, so that God’s people can read God’s Word for themselves. Whatever one can say about the Reformation, one must be able to say that putting the Bible into the hands of the laity, into “untrained hands” as it were, is a good thing. But is that really the case?

Sociologist Christian Smith, in his new book, demurred against this approach. Smith’s central thesis is that a plain reading of the Bible is impossible, and that one has to approach the Bible differently from that “biblicist” approach. Smith does not advocate for removing the Bible from the hands of the laity, but he thinks the typical approach they take in reading it is not correct. Given that the “biblicist” approach is the approach of the unwashed masses, what Smith’s argument implies is that, while the laity can have the Bible, they cannot read it for themselves, because they will otherwise read it with a “biblicist” and hence wrong hermeneutic. Rather, they must be taught to read it differently from what they have been doing by default.


Friday, December 30, 2022

Geerhardus Vos and Natural Theology

"Natural Theology" continues to be a topic of concern. In this light, I have bought and read the translated book Natural Theology by Geerhardus Vos. From advice given by others, I have read Vos' book first before the introduction by Dr. Fesko. With no disrepect intended to Dr. Fesko, the two are quite different, with Fesko's introduction reading like his reflection and criticism of Vos on the topic of Natural Theology instead of a true introduction. I further note that, alongside the beginning section introducing Natural Theology, Vos continus with what he see as its application in the various theistic arguments, and then he moves to a taxonomy of theism and religion itself, before ending with the immortality of the soul. Evidently, all of these especially the "systems of religion" are much less important in an introduction compared to to overview of the history of Natural Theology.

One helpful thing about Vos' book is his clarity in stating that natural theology is for unbelievers to condemn them, and thus the main application of natural theology is stated to be in the theistic proofs. (Questions 2, 10; Vos, pp. 3, 5). Against Jordan Steffaniak, whose definition of Natural Theology is rather idiosyncratic, for Vos, Natural Theology is about the Theistic Proofs. Therefore, "Natural Theology" for Vos is all about establishing how God is shown to from nature to be God, without appeal to Scripture, yet such is non salvific in nature.

The Reformation and Natural Theology

25. Was the Reformation favorable to the development of natural theology?

No, for it opposed the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition as well as the semi-Pelagianism of the Roman Catholic Church. For that reason, it preferred to stick to Scripture alone and wanted people not to rely on their own powers for their knowledge of God or to seek Him by their own means, but rather simply to believe in God.

[Geerhardus Vos, Natural Theology, 10)

That the Reformation was not favorable to Natural Theology is stated by Vos, and even grudgingly acknowledged by Fesko (J.V. Fesko, "Introduction," in Vos, xxv), albeit Fesko made the astonishing claim that this silence does not imply outright rejection of Natural Theology, and thus argue for an essential continuity of the church on the topic of Natural Theology. As opposed to the supposed continuity between Thomas Aquinas and Geergardus Vos, Lane Tipton has instead argued for a deeper natural theology by Vos in line with Reformed doctrines of sin and salvation (Lane Tipton, "The Deeper Protestant Conception of Natural Theology: Natural Theology in Light of Vos' Reformed Dogmatics," Reformed Forum (Fall/ Winter 2022): 3-13), a really interesting article indeed.

Reflections on Natural Theology

Now, while all that is interesting and helpful, I struggled to see why Natural Theology itself is necessary. Vos' focus on the Theistic Proofs tie Natural Theology with apologetics. Yet, it is clear after thinking it through that the theistic proofs do not work. The ontological argument fails because it assumes certain views on ontology that many people today reject as simply not true (e.g. something can have more "being"), the cosmological argument fails because it at best establishes a cause which could be anything including an impersonal principle, the moral argument assumes objective morality apart apart from God, and so on. None of the theistic arguments truly work as they are advertised, as sound arguments irrefutably proving the existence of God. If that is all Natural Theology can offer, then certainly we should throw away Natural Theology as a concept, since it is useless even if it is true. However, after more thought, perhaps the trascendental method of the theistic proofs work. In this case, they work not because the arguments are sound; they are not, but because the mere fact of their existence and their resonance with various peoples show that all men have the sensus divinitatis and thus God is real.

All in all, Vos' book on Natural Theology is indeed helpful. That said, if this is all Natural Theology is, it retains its place in the apologetics section, as methods by which people have historically thought that the existence of God could be proved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

On Theological Method: A Review and response to Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps on "Trinitarian Theological Method"

In 2019, a book was written showcasing an in-house debate among Baptists on the doctrine of God. In that book, Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps wrote a chapter on it promoting the concept of "trinitarian theological method."[1] The reason for "departures from classical Christian doctrine," according to them, is due to faulty theological method.[2] Fidelity to Scripture as sole and final authority alone is insufficient, unless paired with a theological method that they believe to be true. Those who do not accept the need of their theological method are "biblicists," defined as those who "seeks to interpret the biblical text, as far as is possible, without any outside any outside influence, particularly any undue creedal or confessional influence."[3]

As someone troubled by this ressourcement happening within professing conservative Protestant circles, I read the chapter (and the book), and have written a review and response to Emerson's and Stamps' proposal. Briefly in response, I find their proposal vague and confusing, and liable to be interpreted either in an orthodox manner or a heterodox manner. Ultimately, I hold that Emerson's and Stamp's proposal is actually dangerous for Christians, as it opens them up to possible deception under the guise of theological retreival.

My review and response to Emerson's and Stamps' proposal can be found here. An exceprt:

Evangelicals are committed to Scripture as the sole and final authority. However, does this guarantee fidelity to biblical truth? Emerson and Stamps argue that it does not. Pointing to examples of what they see as departures from “classic Christian doctrine,” Emerson and Stamps assert that the reason for these departures is due to a difference in theological method. In other words, a commitment to Scripture as the sole and final authority is insufficient for any theology to be truly biblical unless it adopts a certain theological method which will ensure that it would be truly biblical.


[1] Matthew Y. Emerson and Luke Stamps, “On Trinitarian Theological Method,” In Keith S. Whitfield, ed., Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2019), 95-128

[2] Ibid., 97

[3] Ibid.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Does God have libertarian free will?

(3) Issue: Is the Son free in his willing to obey the will of the Father? Some might think if the Son must embrace the Father's will, then he cannot truly be free in accepting to do the Father's will. ... Response: This objection stands only if the kind of freedom one is considering is libertarian freedom, the so-called power of contrary choice. That is, Butner's criticism works only if the freedom by which the Son is said to "freely obey" the Father is one in which he can equally obey or disobey the Father (i.e., The Son has libertarian freedom which requires the power of contrary choice). I have argued elsewhere that libertarian freedom is a failed concept that neither explains why moral agents choose precisely what they do nor accords with the strong sovereignty of God we see throughout the Scriptures. If we adopt instead the concept of freedom in which our freedom consists in our unconstrained ability to do what we most want or to act according to our highest inclination— sometimes referred to as a "freedom of inclination"—then this problem is resolved. The Son's willing submission is his free and unconstrained expression of what he most wants to do when he receives the authoritative will of the Fahter, which is always, without exception, to embrace and carry out precisely what the Father gives him to do. (Bruce A. Ware, "Unity and Discintion of the Trinitarian Persons," in Keith S. Whitefield, Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application, pp. 49-50)

Does God have libertarian free will? Professor Bruce Ware would certainly reject the notion, as he uses his rejection of divine libertarian free will to respond to Glen Butner's objection to EFS based on the issue of the divine will. But in order to truly answer the question, we must ask what the idea of divine libertarian free will actually mean.

When it comes to God, who is omnipotent and sovereign, the "power of contrary choice" seems to be a vacuous concept, since by definition, God being sovereign means He can choose to do whatever He wants to do, and His omnipotence means He will most certainly have the ability to do whatever He chooses to do. What does "contrary choice" mean to an infinite and all-powerful being? Perhaps we might consider the issue from another angle. We could therefore focus not so much on God considered absolutely (Dei potentia absoluta), but rather the relation between God considered absolutely and God as He has revealed Himself, in the ordination of all things (Dei potentia ordinata). Is God free to do anything whatsoever even if it goes against His plan or His nature, and is there anything that constrains what God would do, not by force but by principle? Now, if God is the only true God who is a se, then nothing can constrain God at all from the outside, because God is before all things. Therefore, any constraint if present must be within God. Most people might think that God's nature would "constrain" God, and, speaking anthropomorphically, it does. In a certain sense, it is impossible for God to go against His own nature, because God is God, a simple being.

With two dead ends, is there a way we can talk sensibly about a "divine libertarian free will"? In order for that category to make sense, we must construe freedom differently. Freedom cannot refer to choice or nature in the case of God, but rather we must turn to the issue of modality. In other words, we must ask ourselves whether God is free to bring to pass any possible world that can be conceived, with any permutation He so chooses. In other words, it is not about God's choices, or His power, or His nature, but wholly on the circumstances that befit each possible world. God has "libertarian free will" only if He can make any possible world actual, and He does not have "libertarian free will" if there are certain constraints that restrict the existence of any possible world. The issue here is one of modality, not of actuality. Put mathematically, is the probabiity that God can make a possible conceivable world X not zero, or are there some mentally conceivable possible world of which its probability of existence is zero?

Phrased in this manner, we can see that God does not truly have libertarian free will, but not because He does not have the "power of contrary choice." Rather, God's plan and decree acts as further constraints on which conceivable world is a possibly actual world, above that exercised by the divine nature. In Butner's example here, the Son voluntarily and freely obeys the will of the Father. Being free, there is no compulsion for the Son to actually obey the Father. In Classical Theism, the unity of the singular divine will ensures that the Son and the Father are not at loggerheads with each other. In Ware's system on the other hand, the Son must obey the Father because the Son does not have libertarian free will, but His freedom of inclination ensures He always obeys the Father. In a certain sense, both explanations are correct. Yet, if we are to consider the issue of free will in a way that makes sense for a sovereign and omnipotent being, then the answer for why the Son always obeys the Father is this: That is the way God's plan will work in any possible existent world. The freedom of the Son means that it is mentally (hypothetically) conceivable for the Son not to always obey the Father, but that world can never exist. The Son always obey the Father because God's plan and decree acts as constraints upon what worlds are available to actualize.

Therefore, does God have libertarian free will? If we define it as the "power of contrary choice," then yes. If we define that as being able to act contrary to the divine nature, then no. These two definitions however are not helpful because it tells us nothing about the nature of divine freedom. But if we define it in terms of modality, then we can say profitably that no, God does not have libertarian free will, because God is not free to actualize all mentally conceivable worlds. Using the language of the divine energies, we can say that the divine energies act to restrict the exercise of the divine will. Thus, in conclusion, God does not have libertarian free will, but rather energetic free will.

Monday, October 31, 2022

"Partitive Exegesis"?

"...partitive exegesis: the common patristic stratey of determining whether a biblical passage is speaking of the Son of God in terms of his deity or in terms of his humanity. (Matthew Y. Emerson and Luke Stamps, "On Trinitarian Theological Method," in Keith S. Whitefied, ed., Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application, p. 116)

In the supposed modern retrieval of trinitarian orthodoxy, certain trends in academia has started to make its way into Reformed circles as they lure people to the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas. This supposed ressourcement in part seems to be a re-reading of classical theology using a Thomistic framework, and this fiters into one's hermeneutics and exegesis of the text of Scripture.

As defined by Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps, "partitive exegesis," a word that was not present during most of Reformed history, is reading Scripture about Jesus Christ, then asking the question, "Is this talking about Jesus in his divine nature, or Jesus in his human nature"? In a certain sense, the question is innocent. After all, if you believe Jesus has two natures: one human and one divine, then certainly when you read for example that Jesus slept, you might want to ask whether this means the divine nature can sleep. But is the question really that innnocent?

Exegesis is the interpretive task whereby the meaning of a text is derived from the text itsef. It is a literary endaevor, as it deals with texts in contexts. In order for an interpretive process to be exegesis, the meaning of the text has to be read out of ("ex-") the text of Scripture. The oppposite of exegesis is eisesegesis, where meaning is read into ("eis-") the text of Scripture. Now, for a long time, the term used to describe Protestant exegesis of Scripture is "Grammatical Historical (G-H) Exegesis," where attention is paid to the grammar and the historical context of any text of Scripture. As God communicates in words through the Word, meaning is seen to be found in the words inspired by God, and G-H exegesis is the highest compliment paid to the primacy of the written word in Scripture. An expansion of G-H exegesis is Redemmptive-Historical (R-H) exegesis, where Reformed exegetes point out the progressive revelation of Scripture, with Scripture interpreting Scripture. All of such progression in one unified Word brings forward God's plan of redemption, the one plan in both the Old as well as the New Testaments. Through exegetes and bibical theologians such as Gehardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, this canonical reading of Scripture can be indeed seen to emerge organically from Scripture itself. G-H and R-H are not, as some might think, competing methods of interpreting the Scripture. Rather, R-H expands upon the insights of the G-H method, emphasizing that Scripture's way of interpreting itself must be seen and utilized by us as well.

If exegesis is to read meaning from the text of inspired Scripture, then there are limits to what is exegesis and what is not exegesis. It is from the exegesis of Scripture that we arrive at fragments of biblical truth — what the Bible teaches in particular texts. While we acknowledge that God's truth is indeed whole, nevertheless, an examination of the text of Scripture itself does not grant us this whole truth. The discipline of systematic theology therefore is meant to eludicate biblical truths. Systematic theology builds upon the fragments of biblical truth, and seek to systematize them and in so doing smooth out any flaws in our exegeses. Systematic theology is necessary for the Christian to know the unity of God's (ectypal) truths, but it is itself not exegesis. One is not doing exegesis when one is engaged in systematic theology. Rather, one begins with truths arrived at via exegesis, and then synthesize the biblical system of truth, the "pattern of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13), from them. In order for something to be truly biblical, founded on Scripture, sound exegesis must be at the base of one's systematic theology.

It is on this note that we look at this thing called "partitive exegesis." Does this "exegesis" derives its truths from the text of Scripture? The obvious answer is no. It calls us to ask a question that is not found anywhere in that text. On this answer alone, we must reject its label of being "exegesis." But I have said that the question is "in a sense innocent," haven't I? Yes, when we are trying to synthesize biblical truths into a coherent system. "Partitive exegesis" is therefore not exegesis but theologizing. But, if the question should be asked anyway, why the concern over terminology? The concern comes about because of how easy it is to confuse one's theology with Scripture. If it is seen as exegesis, then one has placed the usage of this "exegesis" beyond criticism. Anyone who criticizes any use of this "partitice exegesis" is seen to be not truly interpreting Scripture, being tarred with the slur "biblicist." But if the issue is over systematic theology, then no view is considered as a "default" view. Contested views have to be argued and debated, where both sides can appeal to Scripture, and Christians have to deliberate over which view is more faithful to Scriipture.

This adoption of "partitive exegesis" is therefore a scourge to the Reformed churches. Even if the views adopted by the promoters of "partitive exegesis" are true, the very concept should be rejected. It is a terrible practice to prejudice your views as the default "biblical" view, and demand that anyone who rejects your view must prove it on your own terms using your own prejudiced method. That is certainly one way to avoid debate, but it is not a way that glorifies God or His truth.

ADD: And just to show why Thomists do not get it, here is a tweet from Joshua Sommers:

Sommers confuses what the Reformed Scholastics term the Principium Cognoscendi (The beginning of knowing) and the Principium Essendi (The beginning of being). No, nobody "presuppose(s) something of the nature of God" when reading Scripture. We know who God is only from what Scripure tells us who He is. To believe something of God not taught by Scripture is called "idolatry."

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

How to interpret James and his definition of faith? You don't!

Therefore, it is better to go with interpreting James according to its genre not as a doctrinal treatise, but as a letter on practice and encouragement; not didactic but parenetic. (Daniel H. Chew, "Did John Calvin Teach a Doctrine of Secondary Justification? Refuting Steven Wedgeworth on Secondary Justification," Trinity Review 357 (April/ May 2020): 5. Available here.)

Justification is an act of God's free grace, whereby He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. (WSC Q33). The Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith alone states that faith is contrary to any human work whatsoever. The only meritorious element in faith is the work of Christ, whereby He imputes His righteousness to us so that we are considered righteous not because we are actually righteous, but because we have an alien righteousness (iustitia aliena). By definition of the fact that the ground of justification lies outside of us (extra nos), our works or lack thereof plays no part in justification, as God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). To claim otherwise is to return to the Roman Catholic position that faith is a faith formed by love (fides formata caritate). Contrary to popular Evangelical distortions, Roman Catholicism actually has a robust view of faith. It is manifestly false that Roman Catholicism teaches Semi-Pelagianism or even Pelagianism. I would even say that an orthodox Roman Catholic (a minority given the state of today's Roman Catholicism but I disgress) is probably more tuned to grace than the average Evanglical today.

But, it is objected, isn't it true that all Protestants hold that faith without works is a dead faith? If one means that Protestants reject Antinomianism, then most definitely. In popular parlance, we can say that we are "saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone." That however is a rather reductionist cliche – good for a simple understanding but not the actual Protestant understanding of the relationship between faith and works. The focus on works is a practical outflow of true faith; a most pragmatic observation. The idea is simple: Those who are truly saved do not live like those who are not saved. The emphasis is not on the doing of works, but as works as evidence of true faith, the so-called Practical Syllogism (Syllogismus Practicus). The Practical Syllogism is practical, not doctrinal. It is meant for living out one's live, not probing the nature of faith, which brings us to the issue of James 2.

Perhaps because James seems to be an overt contradiction of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, much ink has been spilled trying to "reconcile" Paul with James. However, after much thought on the matter, I think that much of the manner in which we deal with James is wrong. Most try the path of reconciliation, whereas if we dwell on the genre of the epistle and its place and use for the Church (not just James 2 but the entire epistle of James), you will notice that the parenetic (encouragment) genre of the epistle means that it was never meant to be used doctrinally. This is NOT to say that it does not deal with any doctrine at all, but that is not the focus of the epistle. Therefore, in reading James 2, we need to see it not as a discussion on the nature of faith, the order of salvation, the grounding of justification and all other questions we try to shoehorn into the text, but rather as an exhortation for Christians to live worthy of our heavenly calling. There is a big difference here between reading James 2 as doctrinal, and as parenetic. If we read it as doctrinal, we will think that James is qualifying the nature of saving faith as being "leading to good works" or things to that effect. The difference between the two approaches can be seen in the application of these two interpretations to a person (whom we shall call John) who has not done what is right in a particular situation:

The "doctrinal" interpretation:

Pastor: John did not do what is right at that instance. He has failed to do good. According to James 2 therefore, I must question his salvation, warn him that he is danger of hellfire if he does not repent and do what is right the next time.

The parenetic interpretation:

Pastor: John did not do what is right at that instance. He needs to be encouraged to do better the next time, since He is a child of God.

The parenetic nature of the genre implies that we should not treat James as discussing the nature of faith. James is meant to be encouragement toward fellow believers, not a rod to beat people down if they fail to be "faithful" in their Christian living, however one defines "faithfulness." It means that we should not go to James 2 when discussing whether faith is living or dead, because that is not its purpose, unless one wishes to discuss the "faith" of demons. For the nature of faith, we should go to the doctrinal texts of Scripture, and leave the practical outworkings to the working of faith in sanctification, not in justification.

How then should we interpret James and his definition of faith? We do not, because James does not have a definition of faith. Use James in the way it is intended, and stop using it for self-critical introspection or judgmentalism.

Monday, October 03, 2022

The American Idolatry of "Freedom" and David French's continual defense of rank immorality

David French is at it again, defending his so-called "moderate" views in his blog piece "When Culture Wars go too far." Under his so-called moderation, French defended his "classical liberal" view that everyone should have the freedom to sin, stating that he is a "strong believer in classical liberalism, pluralism, and legal equality." Unfortunately for him, French is none of these things. Does anyone seriously think that any of the American Founders would have agreed that anyone should be free to do Drag Queen Story Hour?

The problem with David French and many so-called conservatives is that they have imbibed the Spirit of the Age. French's view of freedom is that of Left Liberatarianism, not Classical Liberalism. It is an idolatry of "freedom" from all forms of law, where all men are to be free to violate laws as long as they are not illegal under the Zeitgeist. In other words, French's view of freedom is what John Calvin calls libertinism, where under the guise of freedom, men are to be free to break any law they want as long as the Zeitgeist does not agree with said law.

A simple thought experiment would be in order. Is there freedom for a person to own and flog another person as a slave today? It was considered legal in the American antebellum South, so one should be free to do so even if one disagrees with slavery, right? Of course not! French would probably claim that the law forbid it, so let me reframe the question. In the antebellum South, would French defend the right of a slaveowner to own slaves and flog his slaves, even if he thinks it is immoral? Let me repeat the question again: In the antebellum South, would French defend the right of a slaveowner to own slaves and flog his slaves, even if he thinks it is immoral? If French utilizes the same reasoning he uses to defend the freedom of Drag Queen Story Hour, he should logically say yes. But if French says no, as he probably would, then that is only proof that what should be awarded freedom depends on the Zeitgeist. What wickedness the current Zeitgeist allows and celebrates, French would defend the "freedom" to sin in that manner. What wickedness the current Zeitgeist demonizes, that he probably would deny the freedom to do so also.

There is a deep sickness in American conservatism, a pathology of immorality in thought even if not in act. The idea that Drag Queen Story Hour should be tolerated because of "classical liberalism" is total nonsense. Some sins have to be tolerated of course in society for a variety of reasons, like private immorality. But every healthy society has always criminalized gross public immorality. From a Christian perspective, this is just the application of the Natural Law, the Second Table of the Ten Commandments. There is nothing contrary to freedom to enforce the Natural Law, just as it is not contrary to the freedom of the rapist to criminalize rape, or against the freedom of the murderer to punish the murderer.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Trinity Foundation Radio Podcast: Thomas Aquinas Hypnotizes the Reformed Church

Some time ago, the Trinity Foundation Radio podcast has an episode on Thomas Aquinas. In this episode, "Thomas Aquinas Hypnotizes the Reformed Church," host Steve Matthew interviews Stuart Quint of Berean Beacon Ministries on the growing influence of Thomas Aquinas in Reformed circles, especially his growing prominence on the doctrine of God. You can listen to it here.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Law-Gospel, Natural Law, and Natural Theology

In Reformed teaching about salvation, the Law-Gospel distinction, is codified in the distinction between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. The Law, functioning as the revelation of righteousness, was the standard and condition for eternal life if gained "naturally." Adam, placed in the Garden of Eden, was placed under the Covenant of Works, which he failed. This same law, without the ability to grant righteousness, remains the standard for eternal life, for all mankind (Rom. 2:6-11). The law is universal to all, given to all, demanded of all. In contrast to that, the Covenant of Grace was given to the elect under her head Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the broken covenant of works; fulfilled the law (Mt. 5:17, Rom. 10:4). Thus for the elect, salvation is freely given upon condition of faith alone. By faith, a person believes in Jesus and is saved. The Gospel, while to be preached to all, is particular, for it speaks of a salvation that those who do not believe do not have, of a message that many parts of the worlds in various epochs of history do not hear. The Gospel in this sense is particular, focusing on a select group in history (those who believe Jesus), and not applicable to those who do not (for whatever reason whatsoever).

Recently, certain Baptists (Bethelem Bible Church) have posted this innuendo on Twitter:

The allusion is made that there is a link between Federal Visionist Douglas Wilson, who denies the Law-Gospel distinction, and those who reject Classical Theism, and that both are of course leading believers down a cliff. But that there is such a link is a mere assertion. I for one am against the Federal Vision, reject Douglas Wilson, hold to the Law-Gospel distinction, and yet also reject Classical Theism. But more than just personalities, a greater problem for such people is that there is a logical inconsistency between the Law-Gospel distinction and those who are broadly on the Classical Theism Ressourcement project: namely, their downplaying of the universality of natural law while promoting the idea of Natural Theology.

What is Natural Law and what is Natural Theology? Natural law is the law revealed in nature concerning the created things. It is a branch of philosophy/ ethics whereby what is good and ought to be done is understood from what is seen in nature. Natural Theology on the other hand is a much more contested concept. According to David Haimes, Natural Theology "is that part of philosophy which explores that which man can know about God (His existence, divine nature, etc.) from nature alone via man’s divinely bestowed faculty of reason, unaided by special revelation from any religion, and without presupposing the truth of any religion" (David Haimes, Natural Theology, 12). Jordan Steffaniak of the London Lyceum however rejects this definition for "the task of utilizing natural means via our renewed reason (i.e., the light of nature) in service of theological construction under the authority of Scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the context of the church." However, as I have pointed out in my response, Steffaniak's version is not the definition most people would probably have when they see the term "Natural Theology." Haimes' definition, on the other hand, would be the definition most people would run with.

Placing the concepts alongside each other, it is clear that Natural Law corresponds to the "Law" in the Law-Gospel distinction. Natural Theology on the other hand is a misfit. Haimes' Natural Theology asserts the ability to gain certain true knowledge of the true God by all men regardless of religion, whereas the Gospel gives true knowledge of the true God only to those who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ. In other words, Natural Theology attempts to gain something that can only be true given the Gospel (knowledge of God) in a way that is through the law (from creation apart from any religion). Natural Theology is thus a mongrel of Law and Gospel, violating the Law-Gospel distinction in its very essence.

It is therefore inconsistent for someone to hold to the Law-Gospel distinction and at the same time subscribe to the Ressourcement project in its recovery of Natural Theology. For sure, one can be a Classical Theist without being part of the current Ressourcement project, but that is certainly not the case for many of the current crop of "Great Tradition" converts. Many of them are in love with the "Great Tradition," including the "recovery" of Natural Theology, and thus the growing inconsistency between their soteriology and theology proper will increase.

Ressourcement and the downplaying of the universality of Natural Law

With regards to the critique on Douglas Wilson, one curious thing is their attack on Wilson's vision of a Christian society. Now, it is perfectly leigitimate to criticize Wilson's view of a Christian society, but I find it interesting that the same group of people who are attacking Wilson on this are also advocating for or at least staying silent on the withdrawal of Christian witness on the issue of the Natural Law (under the guise of a rejection of the "Religious Right"). The Law is universal and is binding on all humans regardless of ethnicity, language or religion. Natural Law especially is the law of creation, and therefore ought to be implemented in society regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality or religion. But the same people trumpeting the Law-Gospel distinction, teaching that the Law is universal upon all peoples, are also the same people who downplay the universality of the Natural Law. There is a downplaying of what the Natural Law demands as it pertains to the correct moral response to things like Drag Queen Story Hour and the LGBTQ+ agenda as a whole. If Natural Law is so universal and binding, then why is it that those who trumpet the Law-Gospel distinction neuters the Law at precisely the point where it is binding on society? Why are American Christians in general having morals like David French who asserts that one should have the freedom to violate Natural Law? If Natural Law is true, then LGBTQ+ in all its forms should be criminalized, period! Gross violations of Natural Law should never be permitted in any society, and the Reformed tradition has always understood that to be the case.

Ressourcement and the promotion of epistemic "G-law-spel"

A polemical angle of the Law-Gospel distinction is that one should not mix Law and Gospel together into a tertium quid - "G-law-spel." The Federal Visionists including Douglas Wilson do this, denying the Covenant of Works and moving works into the Fiducia element of faith. But if that is true, then the Ressourcement project is mixing Law and Gospel in the epistmic sense, creating this mongrel called "Natural Theology," which is not truly natural and yet not supernatural. In Natural Theology, God is known truly in nature in part, and then the other part of that knowledge of God comes in the Gospel. If the mixing of Law and Gospel is an error, then likewise this epistemic mixture called Natural Theology is in error as well. Since God is necessarily Father, Son and Spirit, those who reject the Son do not have the Father (1 Jn. 2:23). Even as God revealed His truth through Creation (Rom. 1:20, Jn. 1:4), it did not result in knowledge of God, for the mind of sinful man is the darkness that does not know or understand the light (Jn. 1:5, 10)

According to Haimes, "it is natural theology which provides us with the truths necessary for the proper functioning of the principle of appropriate predication" (Haimes, 21). In other words, Classical Theism without Natural Theology is deficient, because Natural Theology provides the tools necessary for Classical Theism to function. Now, other Classical Theists can dispute this assertion of Haimes, but it seems clear that parts of the Ressourcement community can only function if Natural Theology is accepted as true. If that is true, what does this tell us about the assertion that attempts to associate Douglas Wilson and those who reject Classical Theism, except that it is attempting guilt by association, attempting to pass off anyone who rejects Classical Theism as no different from Federal Visionists? However, as we have seen, a belief in the Law-Gospel distinction actually undermines a key component of the Ressourcement project. NoCo radio's slander notwithstanding, it is clear that a true belief in the Law-Gospel distinction would result in a rejection of Natuural Theology, and thus undermine much of the push towards Classical Theism especailly in its Thomistic variant.


The Law is given to all, demands from all, and is revealed in nature. Natural Law is of nature, available to all and reflects God's order ruling creation. Natural Law corresponds to God's Law. The Gospel on the other hand is not unviversal but particular, supernatural in nature, for a people elected by God for saving faith in Jesus Christ. True Christian theology therefore is likewise not universal but particular, supernatural in nature, the epistemic property of the elect of God who gain true knowledge and wisdom by faith in Jesus Christ.

Natural Theology, partly by nature, partly by grace, is the analog of the Glawspel. It is just as illegitimate. But just as it is integral to some for the working of Classical Theism, thus a consistent application of the Law-Gospel distinction would undermine some defences of Classical Theism. Would NoCo Radio therefore repent of their slander against those of us who reject Classical Theism? I doubt so, but one can always hope.

The nature of "submission" in general

As it pertains to the word "submission," Western Christianity in particular seem to have an extremely negative reaction to the word. For some strange reason, "submission" is treated like a cuss word even in supposed Christian circles, a fact very strange in the light of biblical commands for various peoples to submit to others.

Is the word "submission" really a "four-letter" word? What does "submit" mean? According to Merriam Webster, the word "submit" has the meaning of "yield to government or authority." In other words, the word submission is an act or disposition towards someone over the person. Christians are to submit to God and to the governing authorities, and therefore "submission" should not have negative connotations for the Christian.

That said, is "submission" necessarily tied to a differential of authority? For the secular world, perhaps that is almost always the case. Yet, for the Christian, that is not true. An obvious example would be the call for "mutual submission" in Ephesians 5:21, which even egalitarians must admit that there is no differential of authority or hierarchy in it. But if there is no hierarchy in Ephesians 5:21, then it must be the case that "submission" does not have to be associated with differential of authority or hierarchy. Therefore, when wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18), then one should not presuppose there is any necessary differential of authority of hierarchy in the relationship between husbands and wives. One should likewise not read any form of hierarchy in any use of the word "submission" as it pertains to the Son either, for "submission" in the Bible is not necessarily the "submission" of the world.

But if Christian "submission" is not necessarily due to differential of authority or hierarchy, then what does "submission" mean in the context of the Christian faith? I would suggest that Christian submission is to be seen in the life of the man Jesus Christ. Christian "submission" therefore is to follow the leading of another, just as Jesus obeyed the Father fully during the incarnation. There is no hierarchy between the Father and the Son, yet the Son submitted to the Father and followed His leading. Therefore, as opposed to the secular "submission," Christian "submission" should be seen as a "disposition to follow the leading of another." In other words, while the world's definition seem to require hierarchy or differential authority, this definition does not require either, keeping at its core meaning the idea of following another's lead. The world requires the one submitting to be inferior to the one leading, while the Bible does not require this to be the case.

This has many implications for how we live our Christian lives. On the issue of husbands and wives, it means that husbands should not be bossing their wives around. Husbands lead by love, patience and self-sacrifice, not by demanding their wives to act subservient to them. The submission expected of wives is one done out of love for the husband who leads them in love. It is a true act of submission ("putting oneself under") not because one is truly beneath the other in being, but because that is how one acts in love. Needless to say, any husband using the Bible to browbeat his wife into "submission" needs to be rebuked. Women are not second-class citizens, and are to be cherised and loved.

Likewise, in the doctrine of God, to say that the Son submits to the Father is merely to assert that the Son follows the Father's leading. The Father initiates, the Son does likewise after the manner of the Father. The Father has authority over the Son in the sense of leadership, but there is no differential in authority in the sense of forcing one will over another (a most repugnant image). It is an act of who initiates, and who follows; not an act of the demands of a king forcing his subject to obey. Any authority or submission in the Godhead is therefore economic, in the internal acts of the Father, Son and Spirit as they interact with each other in eternity and from eternity.

Christians therefore ought to recover a biblical view of "submission." While there is nothing necessarily wrong with hierarchy and differential authority, "submission" exists independent of these created things. All Christians are to live lives of submission, because none of us have the right to be the Head. Within our lives of submission, some take the lead over others in various roles and vocations, but they never stop being submissive to God. "Submission" should never be seen as a cuss word, or a word that only applies to women and children, as if men do not need to submit to anyone! Let me just put it bluntly, the man who will not submit to anyone is a wild man in sin, and woe is any woman who is married to that wild man!

Monday, September 12, 2022

Side B theology, "nature" and "will"

Over in the degenerate country that was once a long time ago a godly nation, Christianity Astray Today back in December 3 2021 had published a opinion piece promoting the ideas of "Side B Christianity." "Side B Christianity" teaches that one can legitimately be or identify as homosexual, LGBTQ+, as an expression of one's struggle with these sexual sins, and at the same time call oneself a Christian. As opposed to "Side A" which celebrates the goodness of homosexual acts and LGBTQ+ sex acts, up to and including "marriage," "Side B" claims they agree with the Bible that these sex acts are sins. Therefore, as Christians, they would not engage in these acts, yet they continue to assert their identity as LGBTQ+ and assert they are in those "communities."

As LGBTQ+ acts are gross sexual perversions, Side B followers are most definitely to be lauded for treating these as sins and refusing to engage in these sins. At the same time, their continual identification with gross sin as an identity marker goes against everything Christ died for in purchasing us to be holy in His sight, which excludes identifying with our sins. One argument that a Side B advocate might advance though is a favorite of the LGBTQ+ lobby, that they are just "born this way." In other words, by nature, they were created with this LGBTQ+ orientation. Therefore, just as one born a man identifies as a man, one borns Hispanic identifies as Hispanic, so likewise one born LGBTQ+ should identify as LGBTQ+.

Now, there are various ways to adddess Side B theology and show how it is contrary to Scripture. I however would like to approach it alongside the issue of "will" and "nature." When we tell someone that LGBTQ+ is wrong, we are asking them to "will" to not engage in it, to "will" to not identify as that. In classical metaphysics however, "will" is a property of "nature." But if "will" truly is a property of "nature," then what does this imply for the issue of Side B theology? If by nature they are LGBTQ+, then they would be unable to will to be something else. In other words, under classical metaphysics, Side B proponents would be justified in claiming LGBTQ+ as their identity, even while they do not engage in the sex acts themselves.

Christians of course would point out that in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, as new creation, our identity is now in Christ and not in our past sins. They are correct in their response. However, that is an insufficient response when one understandings how classical metaphysics interact with Side B theology. If in classical metaphysics, the "will" is a property of "nature," then having a new nature in Christ means having a new "will." However, as Reformed Christians, we hold that grace does not destroy nature but rather renews it. In other words, the new nature we have in Christ does not nullify the created nature. The old, sinful nature most certainly would slowly pass away. However, the old, sinful nature is not necessarily the same as the created nature. Side B proponents could claim that LGBTQ+ identity is just like being male or being Hispanic, and therefore is not part of the old, sinful nature. If that is the case, then being a new creation does not remove the LGBTQ+ aspect anymore than being a new creation makes a Hispanic man not a man and not a Hispanic. Of course, there are a couple of spectacular claims made here, all of which I do not believe are defensible. The point here is that if such a claim is made, then classical metaphysics has been used in the service of Side B theology. Since "will" is a property of "nature," then it is wrong to attempt to make a LGBTQ+ "Christian" change his "will" on this matter, as he can no more change that than a human become a cat.

The good thing about rejecting classical metaphysics is that we do not have to worry about what one's nature is. The fact is that God commands us to be such, therefore everything else is wrong. Side B theology is wrong because it matters not what their natures may or may not be; whether they are "born this way" or not is irrelevant. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and all are to repent of what God calls sin regardless of their "nature" or feelings about the matter. It matters not whether your nature allows you to reject LGBTQ+, because God has commanded therefore it must be done.

A Response to Glen Butner's 2017 journal article on EFS

In 2017, Glen Butner wrote a journal article in the Priscilla Papers, the academimc journal of the egalitarian promoting "Christian for Biblical Equaity" (CBE), attacking the doctrine of EFS (Eternal Functional Submission), primarily claiming it undermines the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. For those who are interested to read the article, you may search for it as follows: D. Glen Butner Jr., “Against Eternal Submission: Changing the Doctrine of the Trinity Endangers the Doctrine of Salvation and Women,” Priscilla Papers 31 No. 1 (Winter 2017): 15-21.

Butner's arguments are weighty, and so I have decided to analyze and respond to them. You can find my response here. An excerpt:

This journal article by Butner has given us weighty arguments against the doctrine of EFS. However, upon examination, Butner’s arguments are seen to be based upon faulty premises and thus unsound, based as they are on faulty philosophy. Regardless of one’s position on EFS, one should be wary of adopting Butner’s arguments and manner of argumentation.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Reformed Arsenal and defective reading comprehension

Whoever the Reformed Arsenal is, it is clear that his reading comprehension is defective. It is sad when a framework is imposed upon what others are saying, because one just *knows * that the other side has committed such and such errors, and therefore everything must be read in that manner. After all, where in what Scott Aniol has said mentioned anything about creeds and confessions?

On a side note, I have noticed that both the soft wokies and the internet Thomists seem incapable of comprehending what others are saying. I have never seen such appalling reading comprehension from learned men, with reading comprehension levels on par with secondary (Middle and High school) students that I have taught. Evidently, university and seminary have not improved their reading comprehension skills one bit!