Saturday, January 20, 2018

WHI, racist "anti-racism" and practical Christianity

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live yon all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (Acts 17:26)

In light of the recent racist post by White Horse Inn under the Core Christianity brand, I thought it would be good to put more thought into the issue of how to deal with issues of race. Now, in Singapore, color-blindness is institutionalized in our national creed, where we confess to being "one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion," and it is seen in the social engineering that our governing party (for many decades) have done in basically forcing everyone to mix and live in harmony. This does not mean that the methods of the social engineering process is good, or bad. But the engineering has been done, and the results are that Singapore has survived as a multi-ethnic nation where people by and large live harmoniously in peace, without the formation of ethnic ghettos. That does NOT of course imply that everything in society is perfect, for as long as sin remains in the hearts of men and women, no social program implemented by anyone can totally eradicate all manner of racism and racial discrimination. But if we make perfection the enemy of imperfection, then we run the risk of jettisoning a good workable theory and practice for something that destroys society in pursuit of the mirage of utopia. That is why Marxism fails at its core, not because equality is a terrible thing, but rather that the methods of pursuing a utopia of equality leads to misery and death, and inequality has not ultimately been eradicated, as we can see in the history of the USSR.

As Christians, how we ought to deal with issues of race is to look to Scripture, not to social science. If we believe in Sola Scriptura, then Scripture Alone has to be our ultimate authority. Scripture of course is not a social science textbook, or science textbook, or any textbook on any subject. But rather Sola Scriptura implies that Scripture is the foremost and ultimate authority. Theology is to be the queen of the "sciences" (in its historic meaning of knowledge; Regina Scientiae), which means that, while social sciences are not to be rejected, whatever Scripture says must trump whatever the social science say. Social sciences can only aid as a servant in discussion on topics Scripture teaches, not to over-ride Scripture on anything. Unfortunately, those like Mika Edmonson and Timothy Cho (Operations Manager(?) of WHI) do not abide by this principle of Sola Scriptura in their dealings on issues of race, but rather take their cue from culture and society, as they embrace Critical Race Theory, a theory taught nowhere in Scripture.

How does Scripture deal with issues of race? Scripture of course does not directly speaks about "race," but rather it deals with different people groups, of which the foremost division lies between Jews and Greeks. We know that the focus of passages like in Galatians 3:28 is to focus on the eradication of differences between Jews and Greeks as pertaining to the ceremonial distinctions between Jews and Greeks. In that sense, Galatians 3:28 is not a good passage to talk about issues of race, because the thrust is more on removing the wall of Jewish ceremonial distinctions, and only secondarily about race. A better passage where we see the issue of ethnicity dealt more explicitly lies in Paul's speech to the Athenians in Acts 17.

The Greeks of that time, especially the Athenians were cultural supremacists. They believed that Greeks were superior above all other races, and Greek culture superior to every other culture. There were the Greeks, and there were the uncivilized barbarians. This superiority was ethnic and cultural in nature, not religious, as opposed to the differences between Jews and Greeks.

How then did Paul addressed the Athenians at the Aeropagus? If we are to follow Edmonson and WHI, Paul ought to have told the Athenians they should respect the different distinctions among different cultures. After all, isn't that how Edmonson and WHI think racism ought to be combated? But what did Paul actually do? Paul addressed the racism and cultural supremacy of the Athenians by pointing them to creation and the fact that God had made all men from one man, Adam. Paul referred the Athenians to the common humanity they share with other men (Acts 17:26), including those they scorn as barbarians, especially the Scythians (Col. 3:11). Since all Man is derived from Adam as our common forefather, there ought to be no room for hatred, for racism, or for any form of supremacy over another man. The biblical method of dealing with racism is to focus on our common humanity, not to focus on tribal distinctions. In this, we can easily see that Paul embraces the idea of color-blindness (anachronistically speaking), since he advocates treating all Man as equals, not to distinguish and divide Man into different groups and social constructs each to be treated differently.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, racism is defined roughly as follows:

Racism, also called racialism, any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial worldview—the ideology that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioral features; and that some races are innately superior to others. ... (Source)

Racism is theoretical, but racist actions is racism put into practice. Thus, racism in act does not necessarily need to have the ideological component of some races being superior to others, but rather racism in act is the action of treating races differently because of something inherent in the races. According to basic definition therefore, those who advocate for treating people differently because of their immutable ontological characteristic of race are promoting racism. The intention does not matter, for being racist out of what perceived of as a good intention is still being a racist. That is why those promoting Critical Race Theory are racists, even though they promote it out of a sincere desire to combat racism. But since when is combating racism an excuse for using racism to fight racism? As long as one promotes treating people differently because of race, by focusing on racial distinctions, one is essentially promoting racism.

But, it is protested, what about distinctions between people and ethnicities? As I have said, human beings are not ethnic, religious, or class social constructs. We are individuals, each one of us unique in his or her way. That is the problem with much of social sciences, because they reduce individuals to social constructs they can study and make generalizations and control. But the fact of the matter is that each of us is different, even within the same ethnic group. Distinctions are to be dealt with in everyday life, as we deal with people, even people of the same "race." Distinctions have nothing to do with race per se, but of people. Those who claim that color blindness eradicate distinctions have a rather strange view of distinctions. Perhaps they only stay in a particular intellectual ghetto where all their peers think like them and have the same values as them? But for those of us who actually interact with people and do not stay in social "safe spaces," we realize that people are not the same, even within the same "race." The balkanization in American politics (which has unfortunately seeped into WHI) is such that all those who think differently are delegitimized and considered "evil," "deplorables," and "Nazis," all done so as to deny that actual distinctions exist within the same "race," such that Critical Race Theory with its idea of racial distinctions among racial construct entities is legitimized as THE ONLY way one should think about distinctions. Critical Race Theory, at least in the popular leftist version, cannot exist in a universe whereby distinctions are acknowledged as legitimate within "races," or "classes" or whatever construct they slot people into. That is why American Liberals demand that all women must vote for Hilary Clinton, for example, since women must all conform to the "woman" social construct they have created, and all those who refuse to conform to their social construction are considered "traitors" to their gender as women.

Does this mean that there cannot be talk about racial differences and discussion about inequality among people of different races per se? No, it does not. But rather, any such discussion must proceed upon the foundation or axiom of the ontological equality of the various ethnicities or color-blindness. Color-blindness must be presupposed as the basis and the uniting force against racism. Without this foundation, any discussion about distinctions between individuals and groups of individuals of different races will surely result in tribalism and racial antagonism at best, and racial warfare at worst. Even from a pragmatic viewpoint, what good is it to combat "racism" if the consequence of one's tactics in combating racism is tribalism and antagonism among the races?

Back to White Horse Inn and Mika Edmonson, it is supremely ironic that, while they talk a big talk about celebrating "distinctions," I do not see them actually recognize the actual distinctions that exist within the races. In all their talk about "racial reconciliation," where is the part about celebrating the differences they have with, e.g. Trump supporters? After all, aren't they supposed to be big about "diversity"? I do not see them celebrating ideological distinctions with people who reject Critical Race Theory. I do not see them recognizing the arguments posed by people who are different from them ideologically, and interacting with them intelligently. Rather, they just parrot the Liberals in their social theories of race, and refuse to acknowledge or interact with their detractors. What "diversity" is there and what celebration of "distinctions" are there for Edmonson and the folks at WHI?

Last but not least, the main problem with WHI is that they are taking a political position in what is supposed to be a push for theological reformation. But, they claim, it is not political to be against racism. True, it is not political to be against racism, provided you are not taking up a political position while attacking racism. But that is what they have done, in siding with the (post-) liberal left! The whole premise of "Core Christianity" and the Campaign for Core Christianity was to promote a return to biblical Christianity and a rejection of American "Christianity." That was what I had supported and why I had followed them in Twitter and Facebook. But now, with the publishing of that article, the call to biblical reformation has been muddied by a partisan political piece, in a false association of biblical reformation with siding with the political left. There is nothing wrong of course with having a personal conviction that the left is right, but one should not mix one's politics with one's Christianity in such a manner. Instead of the "Campaign for Core Christianity" being about a return to biblical Christianity, now it has degenerated into a "return to biblical Christianity and an embrace of Critical Race Theory." Is Dr. Horton agreeable that Critical Race Theory be seen as an integral part of his idea of a "return to biblical Christianity?" Is Justin Holcomb fine with the conflation of politics and religion in this manner? What is "Core Christianity" now, since the waters have been muddied? We must remember that the Campaign for Core Christianity is meant to be non-political but focus purely on Scripture, not to be the platform for a few people's social justice crusade based upon their social and political views, or at least that was what it was supposed to be. But I guess it has gone to waste now. The Campaign for Core Christianity has now become partisan, and can no longer be seen to be promoting Core Christianity in the same way as Jim Wallis does not promote Core Christianity either.

As for the people who deign it right to write and publish such unbiblical nonsense, it is my hope that they will repent of falsely claiming the support of Scripture for their position. As a social theory, they are free to hold to it (even though I think it is trash), but to promote it as biblical is a violation of the third commandment. I would hope they will keep their socio-political nonsense out of the equation, but at the very least stop claiming biblical support where none exists.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why Critical Race adherents cannot be trusted

In the current day and age, Critical Race Theory has been put to use to supposedly correct "white privilege" and advocate for minorities. But in the quest to correct what they had perceived as a problem, half of which are legitimate and the other half an internalization of Marxism, they pushed for "affirmative" action and constant attacks against who they perceive as the "privileged" class. For now, the devil is the straight, white man, so presumably non-whites can rest easy, or can't they?

The problem with race and class warfare is that it is unjust to judge people according to their race and class, as if they ARE (ontologically) their race and class. But even if we ignore the injustice of it all, as a practical concern, nobody should be supportive of Critical Race Theory and trust their advocates. After all, today it might be the straight, white man's turn to be treated as scum. Tomorrow, who will be the next target? A system that attacks people based upon their supposed "privilege" can turn on anyone and everyone on an instant. For those who remember history, remember that the Reign of Terror followed upon the French Revolution, and the previous supporters of the revolution became the new target of the secular inquisition. So, even if Critical Race Theory benefits you as a minority, what makes you so sure that the wheel will not one day turn and you will suddenly become the target for scorn and derision because of your "privilege"?

That is why those promoting Critical Race Theory as fact cannot be trusted. It does not matter even if you are of the race and class they are currently promoting. Once a system is in place for some measure of racial discrimination (call it whatever name you want: "affirmative action," "social justice," "racial justice," "Black Lives Matter"), there is an erosion of a belief in our common humanity and the fact that all humans regardless of race is actually one human race. Tribalism will start to set in and society will begin to balkanize. It does not matter how nice Critical Race adherents may be in person, because by their words they promote poison. It does not matter how much they say they are against racism, because they combat racism with (the "correct" kind of) racism. And therefore, they cannot be trusted to treat you with respect as a human being. They are treating you as an ethnic, gender, social class construct, not an individual. Today, it is the white man's turn to be mocked and ridiculed. Tomorrow, it might be the Chinese's turn. And the next day, it might be the Africans. After all, in America, "Asians" are routinely ignored already, so the mere fact that Asians tend to work high and consistently churn out good academic results might result in the next "new thing" being complaints about "Asian privilege," if it hasn't happened already.

The right way, and the Christian way, is to stress our common humanity, and to not judge people based upon the skin of their color or ethnicity. This is however mocked and ridiculed by Critical Race adherents, and that is why none of them cannot be trusted. I personally will not trust anyone who holds to Critical Race Theory, because I know they can turn on me and discriminate against me in a flash. After all, "Chinese privilege," right?

The immoral assault on color-blindness

[This is a write-up in defence of my claim that this article is essentially racist.]

What is color-blindness? Well, what does it mean to say that justice is blind? It means that all men should be treated equally before the law, regardless of status, wealth, race, religion or any other factor. Color-blindness therefore is the theory that one should treat everyone equally regardless of the amount of melanin in their skin. As a theory that rejects racial segregation and racial discrimination, color-blindness is a theory about fairness. It is a theory about equal treatment, but it is not a theory about rendering everyone equal. Treating everyone equally has to do with fairness, while expecting everyone to be equal is Marxist. The former has to do with actions, the latter being. Under Marxism, any inequality of result of any kind is considered inequality and injustice. Thus, racial Marxism is the idea that all races or ethnicities must be equal, and that any inequality, even if there is no inequality of treatment, IS "injustice."

Racial Marxism is solidly entrenched in today's "social sciences," in the form of Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theorists decry inequality among the races, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, part of Critical Race Theory is their insistence on "systemic racism," and the "proof" for "systemic racism" is found in inequality among the races. Note here however the Marxist slant, whereby any form of inequality is necessarily evil. But is there proof of actual acts of racism, i.e. the older (and truer) ideas of what constituted racism? Well, in America, besides pointing to the pathetically small minority of true white supremacists, and pouncing on the (truly deplorable) racist rhetoric found among the Alt-right and current president Donald Trump, which is a lot of bark but no bite, what proof do they have for actual racism (the real racism, not the Marxist redefinition of the term)?

Color-blindness is a theory of non-discrimination. It focuses on the ACT of treating people fairly, without having double standards towards others of other races. Color-blindness is NOT an exhaustive theory of how one should interact with anyone. The very idea that color-blindness MUST mean that one interacts with a person as a "generic human" is a caricature that no one who embraces color-blindness holds to. In fact, this caricature betrays a Marxist mindset, because in Marxism, the individual is reduced to the collective, and thus all theories must be reduced to speaking about people in collective terms.

It is at this point that we will see what is wrong with Edmonson's article. We note immediately the caricaturing and misrepresentation of Color-blindness, which should alert us to a possible SJW viewpoint. The Marxist slant is cemented when we start to read this sentence:

Race, class, and gender are the fault lines of sinful disparity and division that pass from the world right into the church.

The focus of the article then deals a lot with classes of people in the form of distinctions. But, as I have pointed out in another post, we deal with people as individuals, not races. We are not our race, but ethnicity constitute a part (not the whole) of us. The association of personal distinctions with sociological categories like race points us to a collective view of humanity and racial groups. After all, the only reason why race must be mentioned as "distinction" is because race is definitional of all persons of that ethnicity, or at least it should be, and this distinction trumps all distinctions within people of the same ethnicity (assuming of course the same gender and same social class, because... intersectionality!). You are, in essence, your race, AND gender, AND class. Any talk of distinction is focused only on your race, gender, and class. And since there is, in the contemporary social sciences, as many genders as one can conceive of, the art of perceiving distinctions has just gotten much much harder, but I digress.

If Edmonson were just to mention distinctions of race, gender and class, and the need for us to acknowledge them, then we can say that there is a strong Marxist slant but still since these distinctions are indeed present in people, we cannot say with certainty that it is necessarily Marxist. But Edmonson is unambiguously clear in his racial Marxism when he attacks Color-blindness. In his attack on color-blindness, he repeats the misrepresentation pushed by the Critical Race Theorists. Through the attack on Color-blindness, he makes his racial tribalistic view of society very clear. To the extent that his article promotes a Critical Race Theorist viewpoint on dealing with distinctions, to that extent it is racist, because Critical Race Theory is a racist theory.

How should we deal with distinctions? How do you deal with differences you have with your biological brother or sister? Or, how would you deal with differences you have with your friend of the same ethnicity? Likewise, so you ought to deal with distinctions with others, in getting to know them personally, and not as a racial entity. Ethnicity is just one of many things that constitute an individual. When one plays identity politics and tribalism, beware lest you get burned. For if you promote better treatment for your "race" on the basis of Marxist inequality, you stir up tribalism from other groups as well. The stage is then set for balkanization and ethnic strife, even possible total warfare of entire ethnicities against each other. So this error is not merely a theoretical one, but it has ghastly practical consequences, as we have seen in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But even if we couldn't care less about society, is it biblical to treat people differently according to their ethnic group, since we need to "preserve" distinctions? Or rather, should we treat people according to who they are individually, of which their ethnicity is merely one facet of their persons? I would suggest that the Christian way is to NOT treat people differently just because they are of different ethnic group. And just for the record, racism in action IS treating people differently because of their ethnic distinction. The only difference it seems between Edmonson's view of distinction and a traditional racist's view of distinction is that Edmonson affirms distinctions (positive discrimination) while a traditional racist denigrates distinctions (negative discrimination). The problem however with this is that if someone is positively discriminated for, then the rest who are not of that tribe is by definition discriminated against.

Color-blindness IS the Christian ideal, for we are to treat everyone equally as human beings NOT as tribal groups. The assault on color-blindness by Edmonson is therefore unbiblical, and socially immoral, given what we know of how such theories when put into practice results in the sundering of societies at best, and genocide at worst. While this is most certainly not what Edmonson wants, or what he explicitly teaches, yet his article is dangerous precisely because the Critical Race Theory hidden in it could cause major damage to the practice of the faith, and to the social fabric of entire societies and countries. As such, while I do not believe Edmonson is a racist, his article is racist, in essence.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On Postcolonial theories and (liberal) indigenous theologies

The quote below is specifically focused on Third World or Indigenous Theologies and hermeneutics, but I do think the principle here is generally applicable to many "Postcolonial" theories in any discipline.

Accordingly they are unafraid to criticize global South Christians for “making the same Bible an uncaring, mean-spirited and cruel book by using it uncritically,” while simultaneously asserting that “the imposition of one’s culture on others is plainly unacceptable.” Yet others can ask of the postcolonialists, Is not their Western form of religious pluralism as institutionalized in academic culture an imposition upon those who do not wish to see the Bible “as an entertaining narrative devoid of its ecclesiastical and dogmatic functions”? Postcolonial theory is therefore in a blind: useful in helping Christians to recognize human finitude and fallenness in our theological understanding, but tending to assume the normative absence of divine revelation—ironically a sort of intellectual colonialism. (Daniel J. Treier, “Scripture and Hermeneutics,” in Kelly M. Kapic and Bruce L. McCormack, eds., Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction (Grand Rapid, MI: Baker, 2012), 90

Monday, January 01, 2018

Contra Scott Price on Arminianism

Scott Price, who runs a blog and FB page promoting supralapsarianism, recently posted on his wall, and re-posted a note in the FB group "I am a Supralapsarian" that seems to run in a certain errant direction. Now, I have not been following the controversy over the supposed "free will debate" between Sonny Hernandez and Theodore Zachariades on the one side, and Leighton Flowers and Jonathan Pritchett on the other side, and I didn't even hear in full the two hour dissection Dr. James White did on his Dividing Line show. Generally, I have little interest in interactions where the side I am supposedly on holds to false teaching concerning the Gospel and is selective in their understanding of church history. This post by Scott Price follows at least a similar line of reasoning as Hernandez and Zachariades. Whether or not Price holds the same view as Hernandez and Zachariades on the topic, the similarities are just too common and disturbing, and I have decided to respond to the issue here.

The most disturbing section from the note is seen in these two paragraphs:

Those who are well-read, well-studied, with lettered credentials behind their name are who I blame for the most toxic spread of fake gospel-news by their endorsement of the false gospel of Arminianism. It is simple and very clear how this is done. They call Arminians their brothers. They imply it is merely error or inconsistency on the Arminian’s part, but we know that adding conditions or works to grace perverts the gospel of grace (Rom 11:6).

The Arminian, Semi-Pelegian and Pelegian preachers are guilty of preaching and teaching the false gospel for the hearers to believe it in the first place. That is bad enough, but those who should know better are the educated ones who claim to believe the free and sovereign grace who snuggle up to the false gospel and legitimize it by calling the Arminain their brother. They are the ones who spread the Fake News of Conditionalism being a legitimate gospel used to convert in God’s salvation. Arminianism is BAD NEWS, which conditions salvation on the sinner and displays a failed, false christ. This means the compromising Sovereign Grace, Calvinist, Reformed are promoting the same false gospel in the very spirit of anti-Christ.

Now, I have no wish to defend anyone and everyone who calls himself "Sovereign Grace, Calvinist, Reformed." In fact, I probably have no wish to defend more than 60% (an arbitrary estimated figure) of those who self-identify as such. My standpoint is as one from the creedal and confessional Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. That is my stance, and that is the ground upon which I will begin my interaction with the problematic views being promoted here.

Historical Theological critique

My first point of critique is the ahistorical and arbitrary manner of how Price determines what is or isn't heresy, coupled with a simplistic view of church history. It is rather insufficient to cite the Canons of Dordt, because citing Dordt without understanding or contextualizing what is happening at Dordt is to do to church history what eisegesis does to the biblical text in the disciplines of exegetical and biblical theology, i.e. proof-texting out of context. Yes, Dordt proclaimed Ariminianism as heresy. In fact, in Canons of Dordt (CD) 2 Rejection of Errors 3, the divines at Dordt charge the Arminians as those that "summon back from hell the Pelagian error." But what does this mean in the CONTEXT of early 17th century Dutch religious life and to what extent it applies today? It is not as simple as just to say, "Dordt claims Arminianism is heresy. Here in the 21st century we find some Arminians. Therefore they are heretics." Whoever argues this way shows they have not even begun to think correctly about historical issues and judgments, and whether on the "right" or "left" (whatever they mean when taken out of their normal political context), such mishandling of history is reprehensible.

The Arminians at Dordt were a scholarly group of theologians who knowingly and willfully rejected the Reformed faith. Quite a number of these classical Arminians turned "liberal" in their theology, with Conrad Vorstius rejecting the Trinity and dying a Socinian, while Hugo Grotius gave us the moral governmental theory of the atonement. And within a generation or two, Philip Limborch expressed the total apostasy of Remonstrant Arminianism by turning them into a rationalist movement, a fact which even the modern-day Arminian Roger Olsen acknowledges even as he tries to rehabilitate the original Remonstrants [Roger E. Olsen, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), 23]. Thus, historically, the Remonstrants were not some hillbillies pratting about things they do not know. Rather, they were evil men knowingly promoting error that leads to greater apostasy in due time from the truth.

Much of modern Arminianism especially in the English-speaking world comes to us from the line of John Wesley, and his version is what is called "Evangelical Arminianism." As I have written in an article, Evangelical Arminianism is not the same as Classical Arminianism. And it is not just that Evangelical Arminianism affirms Total Depravity whereas Classical Arminianism obfuscates on total depravity, but rather that Evangelical Arminianism inconsistently couples an idea of prevenient grace sufficient for Man to respond to God with the idea that Man cannot respond to God's grace apart from God working in Man. In other words, Evangelical Arminianism is self-contradictory, and that actually saves it from being heretical like Classical Arminianism. This Evangelical Arminianism in its various permutations and reduction in intellectual sophistication for a popular audience is what we see in modern-day 21st century popular evangelical Arminianism.

Therefore, in light of the facts of church history, it is an error today for anyone including Scott Price to claim that the Arminianism that was judged as heretical at Dordt is necessarily the same as the many ArminianismS that populate the modern day Evangelical churches. This of course is not to say that no version of Arminianism is heretical, but it is to make the perfectly legitimate statement that not everything that terms itself as "Arminian" or "Arminianism" is heretical. There must be actual examination of the person's beliefs instead of mere sloganeering, and most definitely no blanket statement condemning ALL Arminians as necessarily heretics, which brings me to my next point.

Confusion of the Gospel

What is the Gospel? And how is anyone saved at all? According to Scripture, we are saved purely by faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 10:9-10), and the key description of faith is "trust." Salvation comes about when people repent of their sins and put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When they do that, they are truly saved.

The reason why heresies are called "heresies" is that their teachings in some way impedes a person from believing the Gospel unto salvation. For example, the heresy of Modalism when believed causes a person to believe in a false god, which means that he cannot put his trust in Jesus Christ, for his "Jesus" is not the true Jesus the Son of God. Likewise, the heresy of Pelagianism when believed cause a person to not put his trust in Christ, but rather trust himself to be holy. The heresy of Classical Arminianism likewise causes a person to not put his trust in Christ, but rather to look at his faith, as what saves is his faith justifying him before God.

Therefore, heresies are heresies because they prevent a person from believing the Gospel. Otherwise, false doctrines which do not prevent a person from believing the Gospel is just that, a false doctrine which a believer might hold to. Belief in false doctrines is a sin, but it is hardly damning. For just as one is not perfect in holiness of life while on this earth, how can one expect any and all believers to be perfect in holiness of doctrine while on this earth? Sanctification is a process, and perfectionism is a false teaching that causes harm to all who hold to it. Thus, belief in false doctrines is not cause for utilizing the "heresy" label, unless one is a perfectionist, an error which I may add is taught by the Evangelical Arminian John Wesley AND the Pelagian Charles Finney. If one claims to be a "very pure" Calvinist, surely the mere association with the likes of Wesley and Finney would be detested!

In his attacks on Arminianism, Price asserts that Arminians themselves are not saved and therefore cannot be called "brother." What Price is doing therefore is elevating Arminianism into a heresy. But, as we have mentioned, the reason why any heresy damns is because it prevents a person from repenting of their sins and putting their trust in Jesus Christ. But what impediment to this action of repentance and faith do modern-day popular evangelical Arminianism pose? Price suggests that Arminianism denies Sola Gratia (Grace alone) and thus make salvation dependent on faith and work (using the idiosyncratic term "conditionalism" to that end). While that is the logical conclusion of Arminianism, this is not the teaching of Wesley's Evangelical Arminianism and most devolved strains of popular ArminianismS. Upon what basis are we to say that a person cannot be inconsistent? Price seems to suggest that we are to judge a person based on the logical conclusion of his (incoherent and contradictory) beliefs. But is it possible for anyone to be inconsistent? Again, are we perfectionists? Yes, a person OUGHT to be consistent. Yes, a person OUGHT to be fully biblical. But OUGHT is not IS. Just because something OUGHT to be does not make it the case.

Thus Price errs in claiming that Arminians are "adding conditions and works to grace." Most of them do not do so, and just because they logical OUGHT to do so if they are consistent does not imply they have done so. Again, one should discover what any self-professed Arminian actually believes before consigning them to hell, and disowning them as brothers, and one should not be hasty in doing either! Likewise, Price errs in claiming that those who are willing to call an Arminian a brother is saying that the "false gospel of conditionalism" is a "legitimate gospel." First, there is no such term as "conditionalism," neither is there a need for that term, so stop making things up. Second, the Gospel is not primarily about right doctrine. Right doctrine protects and informs the Gospel, while false doctrine diminishes the Gospel and heresies impedes the Gospel. There is no such thing as a "Gospel of Calvinism" neither is there a "false gospel of conditionalism." Third, nobody is saying that Arminianism in any variety is true, so such statements made by Price is a straw man, and I really really detest straw men!

Conclusion

As I have said, I have no wish to defend anyone or everyone who self-identifies as "Calvinist, Reformed etc." But I do not believe that Price is telling the truth in charging that many Calvinists are endorsing a false gospel. Again, what is the Gospel? It seems that for Price, either he believes that the Gospel is belief in Calvinism (therefore non-Calvinists are damned), or that he holds to perfectionism in doctrine, so that one is NOT allowed to be inconsistent and still be saved. Either option is wrong. The former is the error of Hyper-Calvinism, and the latter perfectionism. But Arminanism is heresy, you say. Well, Classical Arminianism is heresy, but Evangelical Arminianism is not. And just because a teaching is heresy does not mean that those who identify as such are consistent. Due to these reasons, most Calvinists have always held that we can call Arminians "brother," save those that hold to Classical Arminianism. And due to these reasons too, Price is in error in his attack against those of us who disagree, and in error against his brothers who are not Calvinists but yet have put their full trust in Jesus for their salvation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Survival blogs

[Note: This is a random thought and the closest link to anything is here]

"Survival blogs" is the informal name given to blogs (or whatever other more contemporary social media platform) in which someone who has suffered some measure of abuse or neglect, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise, within the context of any particular movement or institution (e.g. church), decided to vent out the hurt and frustration he or she has suffered on that media platform. The whole idea of "survival blog" is to air one's grievances and hopefully able to form an online community of fellow sufferers, such that there will be catharsis in the sharing of one's grievances and a feeling of community and solidarity with "fellow sufferers." Such communities by their very nature exists around their common grievance, to the extent that such is their raison d'etre. Remove the grievance, and the community as such ceases to exist.

As we can see in the description, "survival blogs" exists for nurturing grievances against those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to wrong them. Emotions tend to run high since the abuse (if there is) is taken very personally. Objectivity tend to fly out of the window in "survival blogs," regardless of how objective the participants attempt to be. For how can anything positive be said about the object of such anger? With the removal of objectivity comes the demonization of anything related to the object of contempt. If the abuser defends X, X must therefore be wrong. If the abuser attacks Y, Y is probably correct. If the abuser promotes a speaker Z, Z must be evil in like manner as the abuser, and so on and so forth.

Now, "survival" communities might claim that they are examining the errors of those that critiqued. And certainly we cannot commit the genetic fallacy and claim that their critiques are always wrong. Even more than that, we cannot claim that criticism itself is wrong, for polemics (rightly done) is merely contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To make the situation even more complicated, just because someone has been abused and wronged does not imply that the person function as part of the "survival" community, for not everyone who is hurt is out to focus on one's grievance leading to bitterness. How then does one discern who is a "survivalist" as opposed to someone just engaging in biblical apologetics and discernment, since none of us are privy to the hearts of Man?

One way of discerning between the two lies in the focus of their respective writings. A "survivalist" focuses on airing one's grievances. Thus, a central preoccupation lies in their personal grievances and against those who are seen to have abused them. In solidarity with other "survival blogs," they might pick up the grievances of others and vicariously take offence against these other abusers. The tone of their writings is overwhelmingly negative and bitter. Those which stoop to ad-hominem arguments immediately manifest themselves as "survival blogs," but even those that do not stoop to that level are not any better. Christian "survival blogs" are not truly interested in wrestling with the theological issues involved in theological topics (e.g. ESS, Gender issues), but rather in a classic tale of the tail wagging the dog, the theology of those who practice what they deem to be abusive behavior (real or imagined) is definitely wrong, and whoever puts forward as much as a semi-coherent critique gets their immediate support. Plus points for accusations of heresy against the "bad guys."

Therefore, if a blog is (1) overwhelmingly negative in tone, (2) focused on only a few issues which correlates to the issue held by the main persons the participants have negative feelings towards, (3) possibly manifested in ad-homenem arguments, or (4) putting forward shallow argumentations, coupled with (5) a refusal to wrestle with the actual theological topics, then one has just found a "survival blog." Of course, one should not fall into the genetic fallacy and discount them outright, yet knowing that such blogs and persons are of the "survival" type, one should be extremely cautious of anything they say, as there is a very high chance they are wrong in whatever they are writing about. This is of course not to mention that these people are sinning in their actions. Even if their grievances are legitimate, they are supposed to deal with it biblically, and not give in to anger and bitterness, much less trashing around and wounding other sheep in the process.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One clarification concerning Vincent Cheung

[Note:This post was written in response to someone with whom I am having a conversation. I have no wish to deal with Vincent Cheung any more than I already have. Those who have no idea who Vincent Cheung is, you are strongly encouraged to not read this].

My criticism of Vincent Cheung and his (essentially) hyper-Calvinism can be read in the following articles:

God, the Author of Sin and Metaphysical Distanciation: A Brief Rebuttal of Vincent Cheung's Theodicy

Vincent Cheung and 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism

Some practical problems with Cheung's heresies

These initial criticisms of Cheung have mainly dealt with the substance of Cheung's teaching, but I have realized that there is a need to deal with the form of Cheung's teaching as well, on this topic, so I would like to take this opportunity to be as clear as I possibly can in my criticism of Cheung's hereises.

The first deals with the issue of form. Many people have pointed out that Cheung defines "author" differently from traditional Reformed definitions. According to Cheungians, Cheung's definition of "author" is merely a claim that God is the ultimate cause behind everything. God is the "author" of sin in the same way as a writer "authors" a novel. Just as an "author" decides everything in the novel, including wicked acts by the antagonists while not endorsing the wicked acts, so likewise God is the "author" of sin in that he controls how sin works in the world. Therefore, it is argued, since Cheung defines "author" differently, God can indeed be the said to be the "author of sin." To deny that to God is to claim that sin is outside the sovereignty of God altogether.

To this, my response is the following: (1) Yes, such a definition of "author" is orthodox, but (2) Cheung has no right to redefine a technical term "author," for otherwise anyone can redefine "sin" to actually mean "righteousness" for example, and more importantly, (3) Cheung is teaching more than "God is the ultimate cause of sin." Thus, in form, Cheung is not actually heretical but rather subversive of established terminology, which he has no right to redefine as he wishes. With that hopefully out of the way, we can go on to the actual content, and not be waylaid by the refrain "But, but... Cheung defines 'author' differently." Yes, I do know that, and I am here putting this objection to bed! Cheung's redefinition of "author" is divisive, but it is not what makes him a heretic.

When Cheung calls God "the author of sin," he is claiming more than God is the ultimate cause of sin. Rather, Cheung is claiming that God is the only real cause of every thing that happens. As I have shown in the first article critiquing his idea of "metaphysical distanciation," for Cheung any agency or second causes is under the direct control of God. Cheung does not deny the existence of second causes, which is another statement people seem to think that I have made. No, Cheung affirms the existence of second causes BUT he denies their actual agency as second causes. For Cheung, "second causes" are mere instruments. As an analogy, let us assume that there is an android which I have programmed to think in a certain way, utilizing a complex code for it to function almost like a human being. In this scenario, the coder is like God, the android is like Man, and the program God's sovereign control. When the android (Man) does something, it does so because the coder (God) has told it to do so, even though the coder (after coding) has no direct control over the android. Cheung's view of "secondary causes" is like this scenario, whereby Cheung's god codes sin into the programming, but because the coder (God) does not actually commit the sin, he should not be said to be evil.

For anyone looking into the scenario, it is rather obvious that the coder is in fact evil, because the program causes the android to do evil. The android has no agency of any kind, and cannot do otherwise on any level. One will seek in futility for any reason why the coder should be exonerated from any crimes committed by the android, when the android does commit a crime.

The orthodox teaching of Scripture is that Man has real moral agency. Man makes real decision and real choices, which God did not make neither did He make through Man as instrument. Man is not some automaton controlled by a puppet master after all! Rather, Man has real creaturely freedom, wherein he is constantly exhorted to choose God, to choose life, and to reject sin. Thus, I maintain that Cheung does affirm "second causes," but not as to their function as "second causes." It is almost like how Cheung redefines "author," so likewise he redefines "second causes" and rob them of their agency.

Therefore, materially, in the content of what Cheung teaches, Cheung actually teaches the error rejected by the Reformed orthodox that God is the "author of sin." While formally, he redefines the term in a way that seem orthodox, materially he teaches the exact error that the Reformed orthodox rejected. This is why Cheung is a heretic, and it is not because he adopts the term (formally), but because he teaches materially the error the Reformed orthodox rejected.

The Reformed orthodox teaching is that there is real creaturely freedom and real moral agency of human beings. But God's sovereignty super-intends everything, so that all things will come about as God has decreed (c.f. Gen. 50:20 among others). How is that possible? We are told from Scripture that this is the case, and the task of theologians is to attempt to comprehend that. The way that is traditionally done is through appeal to "mystery," which is good as far as it goes but it makes no progress on the topic at hand. The way that I have done this is through the analogy of appealing to multiple dimensions, as I had done in my article dealing with metaphysical distanciation. Creaturely freedom and human freedom are not fighting each other in a tug-of-war. But rather, they operate on different planes. If you ask me if this solution is "biblical" (i.e. proof-texted from Scripture), then you are missing the entire point of this exercise, which is to help make sense of what God has already revealed in Scripture. We can see in Scripture that God's ways are different from ours (Is. 55:9), and thus to use them to springboard into a theory of different planes of working is helpful for us to understand how both divine freedom and human freedom can both be true, yet God is fully and absolutely sovereign. With the position of different planes or dimension of operation, we can make a beginning in understanding how God is the ultimate cause of every thing but yet not the Author of Sin, something which the Scriptures teach.

Thus, in conclusion, Cheung is a heretic for teaching the material error that God is the "Author of Sin," not for formally claiming that God is the "Author" of sin. This point needs to be made clear, because it seems that for some Cheungians, the mere fact that Cheung redefines "Author" means saying God is the "Author of Sin" is right and proper. EVEN IF there was no material heresy in Cheung's teaching, it is not right to redefines terms and use them in (essentially) an equivocal fashion, sowing confusion and dissension among fellow believers.

Dealing with the problem of improper judging

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, I had mentioned the problem of improper judging which the Corinthian believers were engaging in. The solution to the problem of improper judging, of which suing other believer in court over trivial matters is one such manifestation (not the only manifestation) is to deal with conflicts within the church, with formal church courts being the final means of mediation and arbitration of conflicts. The first step of dealing with conflicts is to engage in the procedure laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, which states:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The first step is to approach the person who has offended you, personally, one on one. The next step is to take two or three other believers to arbitrate the conflict (not to gang up on the offender). Only if that fails then formal church proceedings can take place ("tell it to the church"). That is the process which Jesus set up, and which we should rightly follow.

Now, I confess that I am not faultless in violating this process. It is very easy when you have something against your brother (or sister) to gossip behind their backs. And it is very easy to desire to have the offender punished then to be reconciled to your brother. So I am most certainly not saying this because I have already arrived. In fact, far from it. But this is what God's Word teaches, and I myself have to endeavor to submit to it. Where I have fallen, I must repent.

The sad reality is that improper judging, much more frequently than wrong doctrine, causes much conflict within the church. While we must correct wrong doctrine, it is also imperative on us who name the name of Christ to also strive to deal with our interpersonal issues in a way that glorifies our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Is anyone of us faultless in this? I doubt it. But speaking as one who has failed in this many times, let us not be comfortable with our failures but to strive to do better. Because the fact of the matter is that we are already saved. We are already washed with the waters of regeneration in baptism, we are already set apart by God to be holy, and we are already justified and stand guiltless before God (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore, we can and must work on our walk with God and with each other in the community of faith, in the constant struggle of seeking holiness before God.

Sermon: The Judgment of the Church (1 Cor. 6:1-11)

The sermon I had preached on December 3, 2017, entitled "The Judgment of the Church" and based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, can be heard here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Resurrection and Union

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:4)

τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (Rom 1:4 BGT)

Union with Christ is the description of the reality that believers are united with Christ and share in all his benefits. It is not a step in the Ordo Salutis, the logical ordering of the steps by which God accomplishes and applies the benefits of Christ to us who believe, and which can be seen in part in a passage like Romans 8:28-30. Rather, Union with Christ describes the entire reality of Christ's work for the believer, from election to glorification. It is a descriptive term, not a procedural or action term. For as an example, we are united with Christ, in his burial and resurrection, in baptism (Col. 2:12), a glorious truth that describes what happens during our baptisms, with the action word being "baptism," not "union."

With that said, the descriptive truth of Union with Christ is the thing that bridges what God has done in Christ, with what we ourselves benefit from Christ. The whole of Scripture is about Christ (Lk. 24:26), not us. Therefore, how does the Scripture aid us? It aids us through the fact of union, because then in union with Christ all of what Christ does is done and given for us and our benefit.

How does Christ's resurrection, Christ's kingship, benefit us? One way of answering this question is to speak about how the atoning work of Christ merited salvation for the elect, through our justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Another way to speak about it is the biblical-theological manner of union. In Romans 1:4, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power ... by his resurrection from the dead. Christ's resurrection is not just done because a person who is God cannot actually die (which is true). But Christ's resurrection also is the declaration of His Kingship over the world. Romans 1:4 is not after all talking about God becoming the Son of God in power after his resurrection, because Jesus was already God the Son and the Son of God prior to his death and resurrection. Rather, in Romans 1:4, Jesus is now becoming the "Son of God" in a new sense, as King of the cosmos by merit (rather than by right as God). As the God-Man, he now sits enthroned as King over all, both as Creator and now also as representative of creation.

As the representative of creation, Jesus in His humanity is king. Being united with him now, we also partake of the benefits He has merited for us. In the King's victory, we are victorious. In the King's glory and riches, we share in that especially at the end of the ages. And through this union, we partake of all of Christ's benefits as we submit to our King.

Most of the time, we focus only on Christ's death on the cross, which is important. But Christ's resurrection is also important, in its own way. He is resurrected, for us, and thus as we look and meditate upon this truth, we can be assured that Jesus is our King who merits all good things for our good. Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon: The Triumph of the King, for us

This is the video of a sermon on Psalm 21 that I had preached last Sunday, Dec 10, 2017:

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Reformation 500: The Five Solas

I have compiled the posts into one single article, entitled Reformation 500: The Five Solas, which can be accessed here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#Reformation500: For the glory of God alone

[continued]

For the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

At the end of the day, who gets the glory for salvation? Who gets the glory for the work of God and the church in this world? The Reformers proclaimed that only God gets the glory, all of it. Since salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, there is absolutely no boasting of human effort whatsoever, whereas the rejection of these principles in the late Medieval Catholic Church allowed for some measure of boasting of human effort in salvation, and thus the glory of God is compromised. The principle of Soli Deo Gloria after all is the conclusion after the other four Solas, and concludes the polemics of the Reformers against Rome

As the conclusion of the Reformers' polemics, it must be admitted that this by itself does not express a substantial difference between the Reformers and Rome. After all, the motto of the Jesuits, an order founded in the Counter-Reformation, is "Ad maiorem Dei gloriam" or "For the greater glory of God." The late Medieval Catholic Church, and the Tridentine Roman Catholic Church that succeeded her, valued God's glory very highly. Even though from the Reformers' point of view, Roman Catholicism compromised the glory of God, from the Roman Catholic point of view, it was the other way around. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, was passionate about God, and his desire to overthrow the Reformation stemmed from his conviction that the Reformation was a sacrilege to God. His misguided zeal caused much trouble to the Reformation, but his motive was pure. Just like Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, Ignatius thought he was actually serving God in forming the Jesuit order.

What then should we learn from this Reformational principle, since passion for the glory of God is not unique to the Reformation? We ought to learn that God's glory is an objective reality independent of what we humans think, say or do. First of all, God's glory is the goal of everything, our entire existence and salvation, and we ought to live and order our lives to bring glory to God. Secondly, and most importantly, since God's glory is an objective reality, we ought to examine what we do to ensure it really is giving glory to God. Ignatius Loyola thought he was giving glory to God in his zeal on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, but he ended up glorifying a corrupt institution and bringing disgrace to the cause of Christ. Likewise, the Anabaptists thought they were glorifying God with their re-baptisms of adults, and in their sedition against secular authorities, but they were in fact bringing disrepute to the Reformation which they claimed to be a part of. It is not sufficient to desire to bring glory to God, but rather we ought to examine everything according to Scripture to discern if what we do does in fact line up with Scripture and is done according to faith in Christ.

For our modern times, this principle especially calls us to re-orientate our lives and our thoughts. Much of modern life is secular, which means as pertaining to this age. While we continue to function in this life, in study, work and society, our orientation in life should be one geared towards honoring and glorifying the God who made us and saved us from our sins. We live in this age, but we are citizens of another, the age to come. Therefore, even while it is normal to be concerned about the things of this world, we must remember that all of these, though important, is temporary. We are pilgrims in a foreign land, awaiting another.

What does this mean for believers practically? It means that believers ought to orientate their lives in the way God has commanded us. That implies paying heed to God's pattern of time in honoring the Sabbath for example, which is the fourth commandment. God has called believers to remember and honor the Sabbath, and one way of showing we actually desire to glorify God is to keep the Sabbath holy. We are to faithfully attend to what the Reformers call the means of grace: preaching, sacraments and prayer (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q88), for doing so shows our obedience to what God has commanded and provided for us. We are not to think ourselves more spiritual than God, like the mystical Anabaptists, but rather obey God in the ordinary means of grace. How can we say we want to glorify God while disobeying His direct command to honor the Sabbath?

It is of course true that the means of grace are not only all God has commanded us to do. Thus, we should seek also to be godly and grow in obedience to God in all things, in order to glorify God. Yet, here I focus upon the means of grace only because this is the more pertinent topic for us today in a culture of Evangelicalism. It is surely illustrative that for many, desire for godliness is purely a matter of internal piety, while the highly visible and ecclesiastical practices of piety are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. But if one truly desires to grow in godliness and holiness, the first step should be the external practices of piety. It might sound easy to do, and perhaps for some it truly is easy to do, but it may not be as easy for some as for others.

In conclusion, we ought to live our lives for the glory of God alone. All of the other Solas have that as its goal, for we believe what we believe and do what we do only because we are passionate for God and His glory. Let us therefore, in view of God's grace and mercy to us, live our lives in such a manner as to glorify Him, as we learn from and extol the biblical truths taught in the other 4 Solas of the Reformation. Amen.

[THE END]

#Reformation500: Scripture Alone

[continued]

Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)

"Bibel, Bubel, Babel." Such was the theology of the German enthusiast and radical Thomas Müntzer, in mockery of Luther's (and by extension the Reformers') view of Scripture and Authority. Theirs was the spirit of the word, as opposed the "dead letter." And in such an early mockery of Luther, we see the difference between the Reformation view of Scripture and one Anabaptist view of Scripture.

As the Reformation burst onto the scene, the question being asked about Luther is, "Who does he think he is?" Centuries of slow corrosion had given rise to the illusion that the Medieval Catholic Church was the mere continuation of the early apostolic church, and that there was no essential differences between the two. What was present in the late medieval era was nothing more and nothing less than what Jesus and the Apostles had always taught, or so it was believed. Who was this small German monk from an obscure town to question the Church, to question Christ and the Apostles? How dared he questioned what was always believed (or so it was thought) to be true? Who is Luther compared to the many scholars of the Church who had themselves studied the Scriptures, giants such as Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, or the theologians of the Sorbonne? How could Luther be so confident he is right and the scholars wrong?

Thus, the question of authority came up as Luther faced the late medieval church. That is why the formal principle of the Reformation is the principle of Scripture Alone or Sola Scriptura. The question has never been whether tradition, creeds or the writings of theologians could be appealed to, but rather what was the final authority on matters of faith. Was it Scripture, as the Reformers taught, or was it Scripture and Tradition in some manner (the relationship of the two changed between Trent and Vatican II)? It is after all a common misunderstanding that the medieval Catholic church did not read Scripture. The common people did not, but the learned theologians of the medieval church did read Scripture, and commented on it. Luther's opponents appealed to Scripture as well, but Scripture as understood by the church. For us today, we should not think it as a major improvement (since Vatican II) that the Roman Catholic Church promotes the reading of Scripture, since the issue was never the reading of Scripture per se, but rather how one is to read Scripture.

Against the late Medieval Catholic Church, Luther puts forward Scripture as the final authority on all matters of faith. Thus, at the Diet (pronounced "dee-AT") of Worms of 1521, when asked to recant before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Luther refused, uttering his famous words,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

For Luther and the Reformers, the formal principle of Scripture Alone implies that Scripture is the ultimate authority. Creeds, confessions and tradition are important but are not the ultimate authority. If they conflict with Scripture, they are to be discarded as false. Fanciful gymnastics of trying to square the circles of Scripture and Tradition are thus rejected as a matter of principle.

Over and against the Reformation principle of Scripture Alone arose three distinct principles derived from the Anabaptists, who rejected both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The three principles are: (1) Solo Scriptura, Scripture only, otherwise known as biblicism; (2) Spirit above Word, or enthusiasm; and (3) Reason above Scripture, or Rationalism. The first principle was held by many Anabaptists and is the default view of modern-day Evangelicalism. The second principle was held by the mystical Anabaptists like the Zwickau prophets (or whom Thomas Müntzer was one representative), and is held to today by Charismatics. The third principle was held by the rationalist wing of Anabaptisms, or the Socinians, and is held by theological liberals today. All three principles are a distortion of Sola Scripura and should be rejected by those of us who are the heirs of the Reformers.

The first Anabaptist principle of Solo Scriptura rejects the use of all forms of creeds and tradition. It describes the phenomenon of "me and my Bible in the woods," where the perspicuity of Scripture is misunderstood to mean that everyone's interpretation of Scripture is equally valid. It is not surprising therefore that many of the Anabaptists were those with a little knowledge of Scripture, having enough knowledge to be dangerous and not enough knowledge to know what they were talking about. They read Scripture, and, refusing the aid of others, thought that they alone were the first ones to truly understand Scripture. The Swiss Anabaptist brethren were kicked out by the city council of Zurich after losing a disputation with Ulrich Zwingli, yet they refused to acknowledge their errors but continued to perpetuate their ignorance wherever they went.

The Reformation principle of Scripture Alone rejects the distortion of Solo Scriptura, as it acknowledges the benefits of creeds, confessions and tradition to help one understand Scripture. These are not the ultimate authority but they are to be taken into account as one interprets Scripture. In our rejection of Rome's distortion of biblical truth, we should not swing to the opposite extreme of rejecting tradition altogether, for rejecting its ministerial (as opposed to magisterial) use is dangerous, not because Scripture is insufficient, but because we humans are not infallible in our interpretations of Scripture. That is why the Reformers in their controversy with Rome did not just quote Scripture, but also cited the early church fathers against Rome, not to pit one "tradition" against another, but to express the ministerial use of tradition by the Reformers.

The third Anabaptist principle is the principle of the anti-Trinitarian rationalists known as the Socinians. Their elevation of reason above revelation implies that Scripture is dethroned into a subordinate authority, something which Rome does not even do (Rome has Scripture and Tradition as equal authority (Trent), or Scripture as authority and Tradition as authoritative interpreter (Vatican II)). According to the rationalists both past, present and future, and which is seen in theological liberalism today, reason is king over Scripture. Needless to say, this option is not even an option for anyone seeking to follow God and His Word.

The second Anabapist principle, as alluded to at the beginning of this section, is the "mystical" method of the mystical Anabaptists. Against Luther's focus on the Word of God, the Zwickau Prophets focused on the supposed "spiritual" meaning behind Scripture, leading Luther to declare that he would not listen to them even if they had swallowed the Holy Spirit "feathers and all." We are not Gnostics, and we do not think ourselves more capable to discern God's truth than the God who inspired the words of Scripture to us.

The Reformation principle of Scripture Alone therefore rejects this mystical principle of interpretation as well, and thus we should reject the charismatic view of revelation. God has given us His Word, and we have no right to think there is something behind the words, which only the "spiritual" can decipher. No, Scripture alone is our authority, and we ought to reject the thinking that pits God's Word against God's Spirit, as if the Spirit who inspired the Word (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:21) will contradict what He Himself had inspired!

As we remember the Reformation on this 500th anniversary, let us remember what the Reformation has given us in grounding the authority of our faith in Scripture, and treasure the Word of God to us. Let us not veer into unbiblical paradigms of interpretation, and let us reject all three principles of Anabaptism, in addition to the principle of Rome herself. Amen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

#Reformation500: Christ Alone

[continued from here, here, here]

Christ Alone (Solus Christus)

Who is the mediator of God's elect? According to 1 Timothy 2:5, there is only one mediator between God and Man, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus stands in the middle, as the bridge between God and Man. God blesses us in Christ, and we pray to God in Christ's name. Through Christ, God communicates with us, and we with Him.

In ancient times, as like the time of the Ancient Near-East (ANE) and in fact ancient societies in general, mankind had the primeval understanding (the remnant of the revelation to Noah) that not any Tom, Dick or Harry could have access to God or the gods. That is the function of priests, who mediate between the people and the divine. It was because the common people could not have access to the gods that they came to embrace lesser deities as household gods. Still there was a general understanding that not anyone could come before the gods as and when they please. Sacrifices had to made, rituals done, before the worshiper could come before the divine, through the mediation of the priests who did all these on his behalf.

In the first century AD, Christianity came onto the scene with its strict monotheism, proclaiming that the office of priests were obsolete (both Jewish and pagan) since Christ is the only mediator that anyone needs to approach God. Old habits die hard however. After Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, many who had undergone a surface conversion saw God as remote and perceived the emerging cult of saints to be a viable alternative as a way of mediation with Christ who is God. Fast forward to the 16th century AD, and we see Mary and the saints treated as lesser mediators, to mediate between the people and Christ, who in turn is supposed to mediate with God the Father for them. Mary, who is both feminine and the mother of Jesus Christ, was seen as the best mediator due to the association of compassion with femininity and her closeness to Jesus. Now, in the 16th century AD, Mary had not yet been declared to be born sinless (that came at Vatican I), yet her exalted place for devotion was already present.

In light of such a corruption of biblical mediation, the Reformation proclaimed that Christ alone is our mediator. Over and against Mary and the saints, the Reformers insisted with 1 Timothy 2:5 that there is only one mediator, who is Christ. Mary and the saints do not mediate anything for anyone, for they themselves are sinners saved by God's grace, and have no right or merit to usurp Christ's office as priest.

In response, a common argument from Roman Catholics is that Mary and the saints are just intercessors, and asking them to pray for us is no different from a person asking his friend to pray for him. But that is to misunderstand what is actually going on in devotion to Mary and the saints. When someone asks his friend to pray for him, he does not pray to the friend to pray for him! He does not give devotion to that friend either. Thus, the mere fact that devotion is given to Mary and the saints imply that such is no mere asking for prayer, but rather the devotee is treating them as lesser mediators, so that they can mediate between him and Jesus.

The Reformation call of Christ Alone has implications beyond Roman Catholicism. If Christ is the only mediator, then that implies that Christianity is the only way of salvation, through the atoning work of Christ. But there is another implication for us today, an implication which was seen against the Socinians, the radical rationalist wing of Anabaptism.

The Socinians were a group of unitarians and Arians, who deny the Trinity and see only the Father as God. Jesus was just an exalted man in their system. But if an exalted man is the mediator, then that implies that mediation is not really necessary. In fact, their rationalism itself is a denial of mediation, in that Man does not need God to gain knowledge. Instead of having many mediators, and a hierarchy of mediation as in Roman Catholicism, Socinians reject mediation altogether. And if mediation is unnecessary, that means that God is not necessary for living life. God might be present, his law still is useful, but Man can through his own effort work on his own betterment, and attain the good life on his own.

It is here that we see another relevance of the principle of Christ Alone for us today. Today, it is not the Roman Catholic view of mediation that has won. Rather, it is the Socinian view of mediation that rules the world. Even in many Evangelical churches, worshipers think that God must accept them just as they are. There is no sense of a need for mediation, that they can come and worship God only because Jesus mediates between them and God. Especially in the Third Wave Charismatic circles, there is the strange idea that one can "encounter God" just because one is a Christian, presuming upon God's grace and Christ's mediation without the attitude of godly fear that one is coming before a holy God, and that any meeting with God (if any) should not be taken for granted. God is God, not a genie in a bottle for our enjoyment, and it is very sad when professing believers treat God no different from how a genie is to be treated.

As we remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold firm to the principle of Christ Alone, not just for the exclusivity of Christ, but also in recognition that mediation remains necessary. The modern world has lost its concept of mediation and has rejected the notion of priests. Christians do not have priests, but we do have one great high priest in our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us attend to the things of God reverently, and remember we are still creatures living dependently before Almighty God. Amen.