Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lies Arminians believe...

Over at the "Classical Arminianism" blog, William Birch has done a hit piece on John Owen's book A Display of Arminianism. It seems that there are a lot of modern Arminians who, like Roger Olsen, feel free to revise history in order to make the Classical Arminians into a respectable evangelical group, ignoring clear historical evidence to the contrary. Who do you think knows the Classical Arminians and their doctrines better: their contemporaries like the scholar John Owen, or modern Arminians who are ~400 years removed!

I will have to go into this one in the next post on my series on Classical versus Evangelical Arminians, but it is extremely revealing that these revisionists insist that Classical Arminianism believes in Total Depravity. That must one of the most popular myths floating around it seems. The whole reason for the TULIP acronym was that 'T' represented Total Depravity over and against the Remonstrants' view of Partial Depravity! Classical Arminianism NEVER once believed in Total Depravity. They may use language that seem to suggest that, but then their doctrine of prevenient grace erase original depravity in toto, leaving behind only a "sinful nature".

Just because Birch and supporters do not agree with the view of the Classical Arminians as stated by Owen do not give them the right to call him a liar. Instead of thinking that Owen lied about the Arminians, why not see that Classical Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism are simply two different systems of thought altogether? Thus, Birch et al as Evangelical (hopefully) Arminians should see that Owen was addressing Classical Arminianism, of which they do not seem to believe in.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Roger Olsen, Classical Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism

They [the Methodists] call themselves Arminians; but it is perfectly obvious that their theology differs widely from that of Limborch, and Whitby, and Warburton, and all the recognized Arminian divines of Holland and England ... They differ widely and radically in principles and in results; whereas when we hear the gospel preached by a Methodist, we feel that it is the very same to which we love to listen, and are accustomed to hear as Presbyterians. ... Man's ruin by the fall, his native depravity and alienation from God, his absolute need of a Saviour, and utter inability to save himself, the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, justification, not by works, but by faith alone in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, the free offer of the gospel to every human being without money and without price, the necessity of holiness, not to merit heaven, but to become meet for it — these articles constituted the very burden of their preaching.

[Review of Annals of the American Pulpit (Methodist), in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, vol. xi (London, UK: Nisbet, 1862), pp. 301-2. As cited in Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (Carlisle, PA, USA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), p. 156]

The Remonstrant controversy was a battle of giants. In its earnest grapple, the movement tentatively begun by Arminius tended rapidly toward its level in a distinctively Pelagian anthropology and Socinian soteriology. But in the great evangelical revival of the last century, the Wesleyan leaders offered to the world an Evangelicalized Arminianism. The rationalism of the Remonstrants, they affirmed, was not due to their Arminianism but to their Humanism. The essential elements of Arminianism, they asserted, were in no wise inconsistent with the great Evangelical doctrines of sin and atonement. On the contrary, they declared, the Arminian construction alone gave their full rights to the catholic doctrines of the condemnation of all men in Adam and the vicarious satisfaction for sin in Christ. An Arminianism zealous for these doctrines might well claim to stand on a higher plane than that occupied by the Remonstrants

[B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield II, ed. John E. Meeter (Phillipsburg, N.J., USA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), p. 314]

I have been reading Roger E. Olsen's book entitled Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. As a description of modern Evangelical Arminianism, it is indeed helpful. What is not helpful however is his view of Classical or historic Arminianism, which seems to be more of the historical revisionism done by certain Wesleyan Arminians contradicted by primary sources from people of that era.

A few years back, Pastor Gary L. Johnson, of the Church of the Redeemer in Mesa, AZ, USA, did a three part guest post on the Pyromaniacs blog reviewing Olsen's book and showing forth the flaws in Olsen's reasoning and thesis. They can be found here, here and here. What is pertinent for our post can be seen here:

As I read through the book, however, I began to notice that with the exception of Warfield's review of Miley, the Calvinists Olson chooses to engage are his contemporaries ...

Missing from Olson's book is any mention, much less interaction with, the standard Calvinistic critiques of Arminianism. Surely Olson is aware of these. Why did Olson not engage the great John Owen and his A Display of Arminianism (in volume 10 of his works)?

Nor does he mention Pierre du Moulin's The Anatomy of Arminianism (English trans; London, 1620). This is regarded as the best early Calvinistic response to Arminius and his early followers. Why did Olson by-pass this?

Likewise, Olson fails to interact with Jonathan Edwards' classic work, The Freedom of The Will, making only a passing reference and dismissing Edwards's concern by restricting the kind of Arminians that Edwards had in mind, calling them "Arminians of the head."

Augustus Toplady, John Wesley's arch-foe, wrote extensively on Arminianism of the Wesleyian type. Why no mention of his works? (Toplady's Complete Works in one large volume was reprinted a few years back by Sprinkle.)

John Gill, the acclaimed Baptist theologian and one of Spurgeon's predecessors (he pastored the congregation that later moved to New Park Street), produced a lengthy critique of Arminianism entitled The Cause of God and Truth. Why was this ignored?

The noted Southern Presbyterian theologian of the nineteenth century, John Girardeau, deserves special mention. His very substantial book on the subject, Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism: Compared as to Election, Reprobation, Justification and Related Doctrines (reprinted by Sprinkle, 1984), specifically addressed what Olson likes to call "Arminians of the heart." This would have been a perfect foil for Olson. ...

Finally (and this is purely the passing observation of a student of the Calvinist/Arminian conflict), Olson omits from his discussion two of the greatest champions on the Arminian side. The noted puritan Arminian John Goodwin (whom Owen considered a worthy foe) and the highly respected Scottish exegete James Morison, whose labors in Romans my mentor S. Lewis Johnson (who taught through the Greek text of Romans for over thirty years) considered the best Arminian treatment available.


Johnson focused more on the fact that Olsen did not interact with the critique of Arminianism by earlier Calvinists, which is in fact a legitimate criticism. What my focus however will be is on Olsen's failure to read the Classical Arminians in their own light, instead of assuming some form of historical continuity of beliefs between the "early Remonstrants" and the "evangelical Arminians". As the quotes given by Iain Murray and BB. Warfield should have shown, there is a distinct difference between "Classical Arminianism" on the one hand and "Evangelical Arminianism" on the other, a theme which I shall explore in more detail in the next post.

Olsen's thesis of differentiating between the "early Remonstrants" and "later Remonstrants" however hits a snag from a tiny bit of historical datum: the case of Conrad Vorstius (1569-1622), the premium Arminian theologian of his day who was appointed to be professor at the University of Leiden in 1609 upon the death of Jacobius Arminius, before being kicked out for political reasons in 1612. Besides Johannes Uytenbogaert and Simon Episcopius, Conrad Vorstius was one of the leading figures of the Armininan party and was definitely one of the "early Remonstrants", being contemporarous with Jacobius Arminius himself [1]. Olsen suprisingly, or perhaps not-so-surprisingly, ommitted this important Remonstrant figure, for the simple reason that Vorstius just before his death in 1622 worked out his Arminianism into full blown Socinianism.

The case of Conrad Vorstius thus constitutes a blow to Olsen's thesis of the difference between the "early Remonstrants" and the "later Remonstrants". Vorstius being contemporarous with Episcopius and Uytenbogaert and Arminius himself means that no such distinction can take place. No doubt Arminius, Episcopius and Uytenbogaert did not embrace Socinianism, but the fact remains that Classical Arminianism has nothing evangelical (both capital and small 'e') about it. Just because later Evangelical Arminians starting with John Welsey can extract excerpts of orthodoxy from the works of Arminius etc does not make Arminius or the early Remonstrants evangelical. Heretics are seldom 100% in error. As the Church matures, no heresy that wants to pass itself off as the truth will appear as truly errant, or even slightly errant if possible. Errors creep in best when mingled with lots of truth, and it should not surprise us that the writings of Arminius etc contain much truth in them.

In the next post, we would do a brief contrast between Classical Arminianism and Evangelical Arminianism, according to authoritative sources instead of 'quoting from Wikipedia'.

[to be continued]


[1] Simon Kistemaker, Leading Figures at the Synod of Dordt, in Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dordt 1618-1619 (Grandville, MI, USA: Reformed Fellowship, 1968, 2008), pp. 69-71

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Barth and his critique of the decretum absolutum

Barth deals with the Canons [of Dordt] in his doctrine of election [1]. During the discussion he refers several times to them. Right at the beginning he praises them for the fact that, in spite of the inclusion of reprobation in their doctrine of predestination, they formulated election itself in such a way that it really had "the character of evangelical proclamation." [2] This is particularly true of the formulation of Canons I,7.

Yet Barth has a very serious objection against their doctrine. He believes that in the Canons we find of a decretum absolutum, just as in the theology of all the reformers. Although they all maintained that our election is an "election in Christ" and spoke of Christ as the speculum electionis (Calvin) [3] or the liber vitae (Formula of Concord), [4] yet this "in Christ" was not the final word. Actually it referred only to the ordo salutis (Christ as the mediator and executor of our salvation). Behind this "in Christ" there was still deeper ground of election and reprobation: God's eternal decree, by which, in sovereign freedom, he decreed to save some in and through Christ and to leave others in their sin and perdition. The Arminians saw this serious defect, and over against the Calvinists they stated that "Christ, the mediator, is not only the executor of the election, but the foundation of the very decree of election." [5] Unfortunately their own understanding of the election was very faulty. ... Over against them the Calvinists of Dordt were altogether right, when they maintained that our salvation is wholly a matter of divine election. Unfortunately they maintained this by taking recourse to the decretum absolutum idea. In this same connection Barth criticizes Canons I, 7 , which before he had praised so highly. [6] Although Jesus Christ is mentioned, he is mentioned after the decision about election and reprobation has already been taken.

In all this we touch upon the very nerve of Barth's criticism. Again and again he returns to this point. ... Although at this point the Synod "almost exclusively" referred to "Jesus Christ, the Word of God and his promises," yet the doctrine could not work properly, as appeared rather soon after the Synod, because the decretum absolutum remained the last background. ...

Yet it cannot be denied that in the Canons this central aspect of the biblical doctrine of election [election is in Christ] does not receive the emphasis it deserves. Because [Canons of Dordt] I,7 is preceded by an article that speaks of a general double decree of election and reprobation, in which the "in Christ" aspect is altogether missing, the conclusion that there is a decretum absolutum behind the election-in-Christ could be drawn, ...

[Klaas Runia, Recent Reformed Criticisms of the Canons, in Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dordt 1618-1619 (Grandville, MI, USA: Reformed Fellowship, 1968, 2008), pp. 196-197, 199]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II, 2 p. 3-506

[2] Op. cit., 17/18.

[3] Calvin, Institutes, III, xxiv, 5

[4] Formula of Concord, Ep. XI, 7.

[5] C.D., II, 2, 67

[6] Op. cit., 69

In this interesting analysis of some critiques of the Canons of Dordt from those professing themselves to be Reformed, the late Klaas Runia in one section of his chapter interacted with the criticism that the Neo-Orthodox Karl Barth aimed against the Canons of Dordt. Runia's response to the Neo-Orthodox is to say that Dordt itself taught that election was done in Christ; that "the "in Christ" qualifies the act of choosing" (p. 198). Runia similarly opposes the idea of a decretum absolutum "behind the election-in-Christ" as being part of "later deterministic misunderstandings" which "have plagued and still are plaguing large sections of the Reformed community" (p. 199).

What are we to make of Barth's criticism of the Reformed doctrine of election as being voluntaristic, being build upon the foundation of decretum absolutum instead of in Christ (εν χριστω)? Is Runia's response to Barth a good one? While certainly the fact that Dordt does understand Christ to be the foundation of election is correct, is Runia correct in attacking the idea of a decretum absolutum "behind the election in Christ" as being part of "deterministic misunderstandings" plaguing the Reformed community?

To answer this, we must come to understand what the decretum absolutum concept means. How does God relate to His decrees? The manner in which Barth attacks the notion of God's decree seems to make them ontologically independent of God. However, is that really correct?

The decretum absolutum (Absolute or eternal decree), is the eternal decree of God in which He determines all that will happen. If God is sovereign at all, then the decretum absolutum must exist. The objection raised by Runia however it seems is whether this decretum is the foundation of election, assuming that Runia has no problem with the decretum existing in some sense.

The objection to making the decretum absolutum the foundation of election is that by so doing, the foundation is said to be no more on Christ. However, is that the case? What exactly does it mean for our foundation to be "in Christ"?

The first error in such an objection is a divorce or separation of the person and his thoughts, or in this case God and His thoughts. The thoughts (and decrees) of God precede from God and are distinct from Him. Ontologically therefore, God precedes His thoughts. However, as our God is the reasoning God, the Logos (cf Jn. 1:1-14), God cannot exist without His thoughts; neither can God's thoughts exist without Him. God and His decrees therefore can be distinguished, but they should never be separated.

In this light, to say that the foundation of an action (election) is based upon God's decrees (the decretum absolutum) is merely to say that the reason why God did an action is because He chose to do so. God chooses, but it is also a fact that it IS GOD who chooses. To say that the foundation of election is God's decrees is merely to say that it is in God, from whence these decrees originate.

The second error of such an objection is a confusion regarding the Trinity. The Trinity is one God in three persons, and the Christian God is always triune. Christians do not believe in a generic 'God' but only the triune God. The three persons of the Trinity are different in their roles (economically) and their "being" (the Son eternally begotten, the Spirit eternally proceeding). Yet, they are one God, not three Gods. The idea of a decretum absolutum talks about God's decrees, and therefore this refers to the triune God as a whole, undifferentiated. Therefore, it is in a sense God the Father's decrees as well as God the Son's decrees as well as God the Spirit's decree, though since it is not said of any particular person of the Godhead we should just humbly accept that it is true of the Godhead and each person as part of the Godhead, and not try to peak further into things which God has not revealed to us.

What this means is that it is not wrong to say that the foundation of election is in Christ and the foundation of election is in God, and from there go on to the idea of the decretum absolutum. To say that the foundation of election is God's will is to say that it is because of God, and therefore such is inclusive of Christ.

There is of course a special sense in which Christ is said to be the foundation of election as stated in Eph. 1:4. This is a federal union with Christ founded upon the eternal Covenant of Redemption the God the Father made with God the Son in eternity. However, this aspect of Covenant Theology is distinct from the idea of the decretum absolutum previously discussed, and the two must not be confused. The decretum is the epistemic foundation, while the Covenant motif refers to the working out of God's will in eternity and then in time. The former answers the 'why', the latter 'how'.

There is thus no error in saying that the foundation of election is the decretum absolutum. It is perhaps the case that Runia did not distinguish between the 'why' (epistemic) and 'how' (ontological) that discussion on the issue has been muddied. Barthians and their allies on this topic often accuse the decretum as making God voluntaristic. However, why that is a problem has never been proven conclusively. Is it because we do not LIKE the idea that God is God and His decisions are not subject to our vetting and approbation? As Paul replied to his imaginery objector on the same topic of election:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom. 9:20-21)

God is sovereign and free, and He is answerable to no one (In fact, all of us are answerable to Him!). The Barthians and their allies might not like and thus reject the answer given by Paul and Scripture, but they do not have the right to claim that Scriptures has not weighed in on this topic at all. Similarly, they can claim that they reject the non-separation of a person's thoughts and his person, but to continue on as if nobody has challenged their faulty ontology is a serious error on their part. In point of fact, it would be interesting to see anyone attempt to prove either Hegelian Idealism or Kantian Transcendental Idealism (the radical separation of the noumenal — das Ding an Sich — and the phenomenal), essentially any form of Idealism, from Scripture.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Modern "Biblical" Scholarship

While thus in the orthodox camp the literal sense of Scripture was duly recognized as being the only true sense of Scripture, orthodoxy was not willing to divorce the Old Testament from the New was done within the circles of the Arminians. A renowned example of the Arminian approach to Scripture is Hugo Grotius. In the year 1644 Grotius published an exegetical work entitled: Annotata ad Vetus Testamentum (Annotations on the Old Testament). Grotius seeks to "protect" the Old Testament against any intrusion on the part of either the New Testament or dogmatic theology. ...

There was, of course, a formal similarity between what Grotius was trying to do and that which the reformers had done in their handling of Scripture. Calvin and also Luther in most of his commentaries, has broken with the idea of a multiple sense in Scripture, as this had been held during the Middle Ages. The reformers insisted that the literal sense was the only sense. ... Yet the difference between Grotius on the one hand and the translators of the Staten-Bijbel [Dutch Bible translation] on the other was a fundamental one, as fundamental as is the modern difference between those who still adhere to the Reformed principles of interpretation and those, who, while claiming to do justice to the Reformation principle of the literal sense, are nevertheless separated by a deep abyss from the real Reformation understanding of Scripture.

Kraus points out that the approach followed by Grotius is informed by the principles of humanism. His hermeneutics is historico-anthropocentric. The authority of the speaking God has been eliminated from Grotius's "exegesis." Grotius not only opposed the orthodox concept of Scripture-inspiration. He not only sought to guard against undue encroachments from the realm of dogmatic theology. He also effectively withstood the possibility that in these texts God himself would be speaking. Kraus correctly indicates that this is the great division of spirit that humanism has brought about.

Today we see the full fruition of the position that Grotius so ably developed. The authority of the speaking God who speaks in and through Scripture does not enter meaningfully into the study of the Bible as presently conducted. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, all are said to have equal access to the primary sense of Scripture. While the need for a faith commitment is recognized by some, and while others speak of the inevitability of some ideology influencing the biblical scholar, all these admissions are carefully prevented from affecting the actual work of "biblical" scholarship.

[Marten H. Woudstra, The Synod and Bible Translation, in Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619 (Wyoming, MI, USA: Reformed Fellowship, 1968, 2008), pp. 132-134. Bold added]

The task of interpreting the Scriptures is a sacred task, since the Scriptures are the very word of God, being breathed-out by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16). In his chapter in this monumental scholarly masterpiece on the great Synod of Dordt, the late Rev. Woudstra spoke of this humanistic fruit of Arminianism in the area of biblical scholarship. Instead of recognizing the truth of 1 Cor. 1:18- 2:16, the trajectory of the humanistic slant on biblical scholarship started by Hugo Grotius resulted in the modern idea of "biblical" scholarship whereby unbelievers are thought to know and understand the Scriptures as well as believers. While certainly the Scriptures are perspicuous, yet because the truths of Scripture are foolishness to those who perishing (1 Cor. 2:14), the unbelieving "biblical scholar" constantly rejects the true meaning of the text of Scripture as being foolish even though such is the plain meaning of Scripture, their rejection being a moral and spiritual one instead of a cognitive one.

The main line of division between Christianity and "Christian" humanism as propounded by Grotius, as Woudstra has pointed out, is that Christianity begins with the presupposition of faith even on the topic of hermeneutics, while Grotius and the humanists after him starts with the presupposition that the [naturalistic, humanistic] idea of a speaking God must be withhheld from the text even if such was truly the case. Therefore, the text of Scripture is approached by these humanists as purely a human text, with the divine element regarded at best as inconsequential. It must be noted that Grotius and the Remonstrants were professing Christians (and orthodox with regards to their view of God - Chalcedon trinitarianism). Therefore, it is not necessary that a person formally rejects the Christian faith, or even rejects the idea that God is speaking in Scripture, to be a humanist. Rather, it is the trajectory whether theo-centric or anthropocentric that determines the case.

"Modern biblical scholarship" utilizes the "historico-anthropocentric" hermeneutics, better known as the historical-critical hermeneutic methodology. In opposition to the historical-grammatical method, historical-critical hermeneutics follows Grotius in treating the Bible as a human work and relegate the divine element as inconsequential even if correct.

There are therefore two forms of theology in this world, and two types of biblical scholarships. The orthodox, evangelical and Reformed position is that of faith seeking understanding (credo ut intelligam), while the modern form in unregenerate academia is that of humanism whereby understanding is sought apart from the necessity of true faith. Faith may be extolled in the system, but it is not necessary at all in the unregenerate theological enterprise.

Whether they be liberal, neo-liberal, post-liberal, post-conservative, neo-orthodox etc, the issue of hermeneutics will expose the foundational orthodoxy or unorthodoxy of many Christian and/or biblical scholars. The question for us is always the same: Will we believe that God has revealed Himself in His Word? Note that we are not asking whether God is revealing Himself using the medium of the Word (the Neo-Orthodox position), but whether God has revealed Himself IN His Word.

Faith or Unbelief; Truth and Error; Christ and the World. These choices must be made even within so-called Christian academia. May we choose to build our theology upon faith, rather than upon the autonomous reason of men.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Phil Johnson on confidence in doctine and the idea of humility

In the book Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway Books, 2008), Phil Johnson has written something especially pertinent for our times, in his chapter, of the idea of confidence in God's Word and the idea of humility. In this post-modern world, it is sadly the case that "humility" is defined in the context of a "chastened epistemology" whereby one cannot proclaim anything for sure as being absolutely true. Being confident of the truth of your position in this post-modern age is to be "arrogant", while "humility" is defined as the willingness to accept another's position as being right and one's possibility of being wrong.

It is to this post-modern Zeitgeist that Johnson wrote the following:

In biblical terms it is anything but humble to imply that God's Word is not sufficiently clear — as if we can't possibly know for sure what the Bible means and as if we should never be so "arrogant" as to defend its truths against the enemy's relentless attempts to twist and subvert what God has said. ...

No one would argue that everything in the Bible is crystal clear. ... We're not to imagine, however, that most of the Bible is sheer mystery — so lacking in clarity that every interpretation and every opinion about every doctrine deserves equal (or automatic) respect.

(p. 218)

In a footnote on the following page (p. 219, note 17), Johnson raised the issue of Open Theism (a theory which denies that God is sovereign and knows the future) as an example of how the post-modern mindset and doctrinal indifference works:

After lengthy debates about the issue [Open Theism], the Evangelical Theological Society issued a statement in 2002 disavowing Open Theism. Yet three years later the Society declined to remove [Clark H.] Pinnock and [John] Sanders [both Open Theists] from membership, in effect embracing theologians who deny the foreknowledge of God and who regard inspired prophecy as merely "probabilistic." ... The evangelical movement's leading periodical quickly heralded the development as a triumph for "grace and truth" See David Neff, "Open to Healing: Anxieties and Attack Turn to Grace and Truth at ETS Meting" (Christianity Today, January 2004, 21-22). The title and tenor of that article reflect contemporary evangelicalism's deep-seated discomfort with the thought of any polemical defense of the faith (p. 219, n. 17)

"Humility" and "grace" are sadly terms that the New Evangelical movement and her descendants have taken over and redefined. Biblical humility is defined by submission to God and His Word. If the Bible is clear on a certain topic, then is supremely humble to proclaim that truth with boldness, while pride is to question God's Word and to hold the truths of Scripture lightly.

In interaction with others therefore, we must align ourselves with the biblical standards. To insist somebody is wrong and you are right is not arrogance per se, if you are indeed right according to the Scriptures and the necessary consequences derived from it. As for grace, is it really "gracious" not to prosecute heretics and thus endanger the flock? Is it gracious to assume the salvation of Roman Catholics for example when the official teachings of Rome runs contrary to the Gospel? I think not!

On blogging and J.I. Packer

I'm amazed at the amount of time people spend on the internet. I'm not against technology, but all tools should be used to their best advantage. We should be spending our time on things that have staying power, instead of on the latest thought of the latest blogger-and then moving on quickly to the next blogger. That makes us more superficial, not more thoughtful. — J.I. Packer

@Phil_Johnson Dissidens answers JI Packer: "Blogging is not the problem. The problem is much, much larger than that."

Over at the Remonstrans blog, Dissidens have shown why J.I. Packer is wrong when it comes to blogging.

J.I. and his ilk have not given to my generation a very compelling example of a serious world of letters. Had they done that, bloggers would not have an audience.

You won't sell many rhinestones to people who already have diamonds.

Sorry, Dr. Packer, but it must be asked: have you been in a Christian bookstore in the last 20 years? Have you read the books your own publishers have marketed? Have you taken a fair sampling of the magazine that now quotes you?

Blogging is not the problem. The problem is much, much larger than that.

Let us be serious for just a moment, shall we? If you leave us a world full of Dan Rathers, don't be amazed to find bloggers; amazement is unbecoming.

There is not a place for us to look in this wide world where we don't see falsehood, hypocrisy, idolatry, and pretense. There is hardly a show, a commercial, an advertisement, a church ad, a magazine article, a religious publication, or weather report that isn't superficial about race, gender [sic], religion, beauty, happiness, piety or truth. In fact, yours is the generation above all others that has "branded" the truth. Why should you dare to be amazed that there is a reaction to this state of confusion?

My own advice is to see blogging for what it is: a necessary, an inevitable, and even a reasonable reaction to the shambles that was left us. Could blogging be done better? Of course it could; and I wish it were. We follow some blogs that are travesties of reason and crimes against language. But let's recognize blogging for what it is; when blogging is done right, it is a conversation where there was none. And I'll put some blog conversations I have seen up with anything found in the Letters Section of most magazines, certainly the religious magazines that have made your name well known.

Imagine a blogosphere populated with men like Swift, Pope, Milton, Herbert, Eliot, Chesterton, Muggeridge, Charles Williams, Barfield.... The fault is not with the blogging, the fault is the deformed and flabby Evangelicalism you left us. The real problem is a superficial Christianity.

Blogging is very much the unflattering consequence of your negligence toward "things that have staying power".

Imagine if Packer was to really invest in the Gospel instead of compromising with Rome and her false gospel...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Understanding essential to faith

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, (Heb. 10:39) wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17-19) and Word of God, (Rom. 10:14-17) whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, (Jn. 1:12, Acts 16:31, 10:43) and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation (Phil. 3:9, Acts 15:11)

(Westminster Larger Catechism)

Over on the meta of the post on the further compromise of J.I. Packer, a comment has been made on the salvation status of Roman Catholics in general and Mother Theresa in particular. In order to defend that, a statement has been made to the effect that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". However, is that so?

When we come to the Scriptures, we can see the motif of faith and belief (basically based upon the same root word in Greek - pistis) being essential to salvation. Salvation is by believing in Christ - by having faith alone in Christ apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:4-6). Works have no part in saving us, though of course salvation would manifest itself out in good works (Eph. 2:10, Jas 2: 14-26), but the two must be distinguished and not confused.

However, what exactly is faith? Our distractor has said that faith excludes a level of understanding. However, is that really biblical? Is faith a leap in the dark like what the existentialist Soren Kierkegaard has maintained? Or is it something else?

In traditional Reformed parlance, faith is said to be made up of three parts: cognitio (knowledge), assentia (assent), and fiducia (trust). While there is dispute over the usage of the third term fiducia, a look at Gordon Clark's book The Johannine Logos (Jefferson, MA, USA: Trinity Foundation, 1989), pp. 99-117, would show that the contention is more with regards to psychology than the actual meaning of faith itself. Regardless, our focus here is the idea of cognitio, which means understanding of the propositions of the faith. In the area of salvation, this would of course mean understanding of the propositions of the Gospel. Is understanding of the Gospel essential to salvation?

As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, faith is "being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, (Acts 2:37, 16:30, Jn. 16:8-9, Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:1, Acts 4:12) not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, (Eph. 1:13) ..." Faith thus includes the idea of cognitio, or understanding the propositions of the Gospel, as the proof-texts also show. There is thus absolutely no way to be saved without knowing and understanding the Gospel, which is part of faith itself. Since that is so, it is anti-intellectual and blatantly unbiblical to say that "Prescribing a level of understanding for salvation is in fact salvation by works". To be saved, one must have a level of understanding of the Gospel, and such is not works but the way in which faith is expressed in the believer.

Some may attempt to refute that by saying that faith is belief in Christ, not believe in propositions. But what exactly is "belief in Christ"? In Jn. 11-14, the Word was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, thus belief in Christ IS belief in the Scriptures. To separate the Logos theopneoustos (the Inscripturated Word) and the Logos ensarkos (the Incarnate Word) is thus a grievous error.

Faith thus include belief in the propositions of the Gospel. As such, we can know for sure that all who do not believe in the Gospel, much less those who had not heard of it, cannot be saved. It is supremely irrational and unbiblical to state that those who have not heard the Gospel in false churches can be saved, of which the Roman Catholic church is the epitome of false teaching, with the Pope being the Antichrist (WCF, Chapter XXV Of the Church, Paragraph VI).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The link between divine immutability and divine impassibility

After reviewing Dennis Ngien's chapter promoting divine passability, I engaged in some form of interaction with him (though that was not my idea and I did not initiate it). We left it cordially as a stalemate, but I left more convinced than ever that divine impassibility is indeed biblical. In this short post, I would like to show why the doctrine of divine impassibility is a necessary consequence in light of the doctrine of divine immutability. Therefore, a denial of the doctrine of divine impassibility should logically cause a denial of the doctrine of divine immutability as well (modus tollens). Of course, if divine immutability is denied, then God is no more God, as it would be shown later.

Divine impassibility is defined as saying that God does not have passions, not that God does not have emotions. By emotions, we mean the affections of God. By passions, we mean "the state of being acted upon or affected by something external" ( The difference between emotions and passions therefore lies in the fact that passions are reactions to something external. whereas emotions are merely affections (which are more generic in their scope).

In this light, if God is passible, that is to say that he has passions and thus reacts to external stimuli, then God in his internal affections experience change in time. If God truly experience change in se, even if it is merely in his affections, then He has changed in some small way or another in time. If God has changed in some way or another, no matter how small, then he is mutable by definition. Therefore, if God is passible, then He must be mutable.

Once one denies immutability, then the Pandora's Box is opened. If God is mutable, then why can't He change to become not God? If it is objected that certain divine attributes cannot be changed, upon what basis can we say that? If we say the Scriptures (which is true), then which passage should take precedence over another? The doctrine of divine passibility if embraced can only be proven from the narrative portions of Scripture. Therefore, with this precedent, what is there to stop us from interpreting anything predicated of God (that God does not repent cf Num. 23:19) and "clarify" it according to the narrative portions which show God "repenting" (ie. Deut. 9: 13-29)?

It must be here recognized that orthodox Christians have never denied that God has emotions. God is not the Hegelian Ideal Principle, or even the unknowable and impersonal Logos of the Greek philosophers. God after all is love (1 Jn. 4:16) and He genuinely loves His people. What makes God's emotions different from passions is that they are immutable and eternal. God is always love, and God always loves His people, even from eternity in electing us for His glory (Eph. 1:4-6). Likewise, God is always just, and therefore God's Moral Law can never change. God's wrath in this respect is His alien work, as an application of God's love expressed in hatred towards the violation of His justice as manifested in the Moral Law.

In conclusion, divine impassibility and divine immutabiity are linked. Deny one and you deny the other. Ngien is thus in error in denying divine impassibility.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Perry Noble, New Spring Church and the deplorable tactics of some AODMers

It seems that some AODMers or rather anti-Christian ODMers have manifest their conduct as being worse than non-Christians. Dr. James Duncan, Associate Professor of Communication at Anderson University, is said to have been viciously slandered, harassed and intimidated by *pastors* and other members from New Spring Church, which is headed by Purpose-Driven pastor Perry Noble. So what exactly is his crime? According to him, this was due to criticizing New Spring Church's "innovative" sexual ads promoting their church and "sermon" series on sex (yes, in church), as well as highlighting the antics of others like Steven Furtick and Gary Lamb.

In his blog post, Holy Rage at the 'Spring [Warning: Extremely unedifying adult content present in quotes from supposed "Christian" AODMers], Dr. Duncan detailed the persecution he has to endure from professing Christians.

I’m about to tell you how NewSpring insiders attempted to corrupt my family, sabotage an adoption, destroy my career, and ruin my reputation. This campaign, which became the subject of a police investigation, was conducted with the knowledge and encouragement of NewSpring’s senior leadership.

Things got so bad that the whole thing is now part of a police investigation, and Dr. Duncan is seeking USD3 million in damages.

This is one more bad fruit of the Purpose-Driven paradigm, and exposes the criminal elements present in parts of the AODMer camp. How despicable can a person be to impersonate another person (identity theft is not only a sin, it is a crime), and subscribe the person for gay porn magazines and other such depraved stuff? To impersonate the person, forged a resignation letter (crime of forgery) in an attempt to make the other person jobless? To shadow the other person's activity and post it online to threaten the safety of the other (criminal intimidation), as well as other confidential information? Sadly to say, at least some AODMers have been seen to be guilty of such not only unChristian but criminal conduct. Dr. Duncan should file suit against all of these people and seek millions of dollars in damages to teach these people a lesson. Such should indeed put a chill on the AODMers so that they would be less inclined to take part in such criminal behavior to "silence their critics", unless of course they don't mind being investigated by the police and sued under the law of the land (Internet anonymity is no protection against police investigation just in case those people do not know it yet)

[HT: Christian Research Net]

Friday, December 04, 2009

J.I. Packer and further compromise

Dave Doran (Senior Pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and the President of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary) has recently read J.I. Packer's afterword in the second edition of his book Rediscovering Holiness, in which Packer endorses the Roman Catholic Mother Theresa as a true Christian, an action which is very very disappointing to say the least (though not surprising). As he has said,

To cut to the chase, Packer wants to address the “problem of felt abandonment by God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, within the frame of full commitment to God: in other words, the desolation and seeming desertion of the deeply devoted” (italics original, p. 249), and he believes that Teresa’s struggles can be helpful for all of us—even to the point of thanking God “for Mother Teresa’s example, which points the way ahead for us all” (p. 263). In case you are unaware of her struggles [sic], Packer informs us that “after two decades of constant joyful intimacy with Christ, from 1948 on—that is, for 49 years, during the whole time of her leadership of the Missionaries of Charity — felt abandonment was the essence of her experience. Behind all the cheerful, upbeat, encouraging, Christ-honoring utterances that flowed from her during these years in a steady stream lay the permanently painful sense that, quite simply, God had gone, leaving her in aching loneliness, apparently for all eternity” (p. 250).

Packer bases the entire afterword on the premise that Teresa is a genuine believer, in spite of her devotion to Roman Catholic teachings. Packer tries to explain how she could experience such darkness and begins by explaining away several options:

  • “This was not an experience of doubt …. She was always sure of the historic Christian faith and of the grace that flows from Jesus, particularly as she believed through the Mass; she had no doubt about the administrative procedures of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church; she had absolute confidence in the love of the Lord Jesus for herself and for everyone else, including the poorest of the Indian poor, whom Hindu society wrote off as valueless; she was totally convinced that she was called to take the love of Christ to them; and she was ever a human dynamo in furthering this project” (p. 261).
  • It was not “passing through the dark night of the soul as Catholic tradition conceives it; for that darkness, however similar while it lasts to Teresa’s, is temporary, leading on to experiential union with God, whereas Teresa by her own testimony had known experiential union with Christ in particular for 20 years before the pain of inner darkness became her permanent condition” (p. 261).
  • “Nor, again, was she undergoing an experience of detection, God sending her pain to alert her to issues of repentance and obedience that she had evaded. Quite apart from the fact that the inner darkness spanned her whole half-century of leadership, it is safe to say that there were no problems of that kind in Teresa’s life” (p. 261).

This is so mind-boggling that I am not sure where to start. How Packer can conclude any of this is beyond my ability to understand—he is prepared to look into her soul and assure us that she had no doubt, that she truly experienced union with God, and that she had no problems with repentance or obedience? I know Packer is much more intelligent than I am, but I don’t think even he can see inside a soul with such clarity.

And his conclusions fly in face of sound theology. How can she not have doubt when her salvation is based on the administration of the Mass rather than the finished work of Christ? I’ve seen no evidence that Teresa believed the gospel of grace and significant evidence from her own words that would suggest that she didn’t. Packer seems to ignore the possibility that her devotion to Jesus was not gospel-based, or that it might not have even been the Jesus of whom Paul preached (cf. 2 Cor 11:4).

Another day of compromise in the world of New Evangelical Latitudinarianism. Is it any wonder that the Church is in such dire straits, when defence of the faith is frowned upon and ungodly ecumenism lauded by Christian leaders? The majority of such leaders would not be tolerated during the Reformation and early Post-Reformation era, not to mention the early apostolic and post-apostolic Church either who fought heresy regularly (as seen in the Christological controversies during that period).

[HT: Christian Research Network]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Misquoted verse: Hab. 2:14

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14)

It seems that this verse is used in Dominionist propaganda, as can be seen in the Domininist GDOP (Global Day of Prayer) vision statement. Through concerted efforts via prayer movements and other such gimmicks, the New Apostolic Reformation through the promotion of prayer enlists unsuspecting pastors and churches to bring about the kingdom of God here in this world, having as their vision their interpretation of Hab. 2:14 — which is to bring about the coming of God's Kingdom on earth such that justice would be done, people turn to Christ, crime would decrease etc. This would be achieved through concerted unified intercessory prayer (which is what the Global Day of Prayer is about), in order to bring about synergy which "somehow" works for the advancement of God's kingdom here on earth.

It must of course be stated that the goal of making society a better place is indeed laudable, and prayer is a good thing. I have addressed the problems with the GDOP in a previous blog post, and as such would not be talking about it here, rather focusing on one of the prooftext used to promote its Dominionism, Hab. 2:14.

Hab. 2:14 is situated in the prophetic books, and the verse comes in the middle of a prophesied judgment on the Chaldeans/Babylonians. Judgment is prophesied and will fall on the enemies of God. It is in this context that Hab. 2:14 can be found.

In context, the glory of God is indeed manifested in God's judgment on the Babylonians. This act of God manifest God's glory by making known His act of judgment of the wicked Chaldeans throughout the world. Through knowledge of this mighty act of God, the knowledge of God and His glory would thus fill the earth everywhere — as the waters cover the sea.

Hab 2:14 therefore teaches the mighty acts of God bearing witness to the knowledge of God's glory everywhere. In context, it applies only to the judgment of the wicked Chaldeans. In its application, it can only be used to tell us that the knowledge of God's glory will be seen in the mighty acts of God, and therefore to promote God's glory we are to proclaim the greatest act of God in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nowhere do we see or can find any context whereby Hab. 2:14 is said to teach that we are to bring God's glory down in this place. The Dominionist interpretation therefore fails on three counts: 1) It makes the fulfilment of this verse dependent on Man instead of God, 2) It fails to see that the glory of God is manifested in the proclamation of God's mighty acts, and not "social transformation" done by us, 3) It makes the eschatological fulfilment of this verse happen in the heaven-on-earth kingdom which they are attempting to bring down now, instead of at the final judgment.

In conclusion, Hab. 2:14 is a verse misquoted by the New Apostolic Dominionists to promote their Dominionist agenda. Instead of proclaiming the mighty acts of God as they should be doing, such people embrace the lie that they can build heaven on earth and subtly change the form of the Gospel into a message of "salvation unto social transformation (and eternal life as an add-on)" instead of salvation unto eternal life in Christ.

P.S. I have nothing against working for social improvement, but that is neither the Gospel nor a work of the Gospel! That should be rather placed under the Creation Mandate which all men Christians or not participate in, not the Great Commission.

Misquoted verse: Jer. 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

In context:

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. ... “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jer. 29:1, 10-14)

Jer. 29:11 has been used as a prooftext for so long, to indicate God's blessings to be with the person addressed, that it may seem strange to indicate that it has been often misquoted. In fact, precisely because it is used and abused so often that when its abuse is pointed out, those who do so seem strange and even wrong. However, reading it in context would show us the true meaning of this verse, and the glaring error in utilizing it as a general text of blessing.

The first thing we can and must see immediately is that it is addressed to Israel. It is not addressed to everyone in general but to the people of God in the Old Testament. Therefore, Jer. 29:11 cannot be a general blessing formula to be indiscriminately given to all, but only applicable to God's people.

Logically, we can see God's purposes of judgment on the wicked (Prov. 16:4) and his judgments on various nations and peoples throughout history. Can we say that there is a general blessing: that God has a good plan for all people? Not unless we believe in a God whose plans can be frustrated, contrary to the express teachings of Scripture in this regard (Ps. 115:3, Dan. 4:35).

The context of Jer. 29:11 is Jeremiah's address to the Israelite exiles in the country of Babylon. God has judged Judah for her wickedness, and sent King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to eliminate Judah as judgment for her wickedness. The exiles are in severe hardship in their captivity in this hostile land, and it is in this situation that Jeremiah addresses the people.

The promise of God's blessing and favor upon the exiles in verse 11 thus comes in the midst of severe hardship, and thus is meant to comfort God's people of God's love and favor which is still upon them. Yet from this, we can immediately see that it is an untruth that God's people will not suffer merely because we are His. God indeed has a wondrous plan for His people, but that does not preclude suffering, as the life of Job demonstrates.

In conclusion, Jer. 29:11 is a verse of comfort to Christians, especially to those in affliction, that God has a plan for them for their good. It is however not for those who do not believe in Christ, and neither is it a verse to promote the health-and-wealth heresy, as this promise does not preclude suffering in this life.

Misquoted verse: Gal. 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

In context:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3: 23-29)

Gal. 3:28 is indeed a precious verse when understood correctly. Misinterpreted, however, and it becomes a tool for devastating the Faith, as has happened in the hands of the feminists and their egalitarian allies.

Gal. 3:28 is located in a discourse in Galatians on the topic of salvation. More specifically, the topic is with regards to the historical unfolding of the Gospel of promise which bring an end to the former era of Law (capital 'L') in redemptive history. In Paul's view, the era of the Law placed the people of God under bondage which is necessary to create the ground for the Gospel to take root, the Law functioning as our pedagogue (v. 24) to lead us to Christ through our being justified by faith.

It is in light of the dawning of the Gospel promise that the Apostle Paul make this amazing statement in Gal. 3:28. Traditional Jewish culture tends to look down to women, yet Paul here makes the clam that men and women are alike as to salvation (which is the immediate context). Through the use of merisms, Paul states that all of humanity is encompassed in God's plan of salvation through the promise of the Gospel. Gal. 3:28 therefore functions to proclaim the universality of the Gospel promise unto any and everyone who believes and are thus made one in Christ.

As it has been seen, this verse has to do with the equality of all people in salvation. The feminists and their egalitarian allies, in their attempt to wrest this verse to promote the abolishments of any differences in roles between men and women are thus reading a concept alien to the context (and alien to Scripture too) into the verse. The feminist and egalitarian misuse of this verse to promote their errant theory is thus wrong.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Misquoted verse: 2 Cor. 3:6b

For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:6b)

In context:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:4-6)

In mystical and especially charismatic circles, 2 Cor. 3:6b is used to promote their anti-intellectualism. Equating the letter with the written words of Scripture or the "logos Word", these mystics contrasts those "dead words" with the living Holy Spirit or the "rhema Word". Therefore, the important thing is to keep close to the Spirit, and not to allow "dry" doctrines and theology to interfere with the Spirit's voice. Coupled together with this theory is the assertion that the sin of the Pharisees was that they were too knowledgeable and doctrinal, conveniently omitting Scripture such as Jn. 3:10 for example that shows that the Pharisees were actually spiritually ignorant.

The words logos and rhema has been shown to be essentially the same with huge semantic overlap between them [see Gordon H. Clark, The Johannine Logos (Jefferso, Maryland, USA: Trinity Foundation, 1989), p. 46, 51, 57], thus the charismatic confusion on this matter is lamentable. Yet, the focus here is not so much refutation of the charismatic position but rather the interpretation of 2 Cor. 3:6b.

When we look at the context, it should be immediately seen that the words "letter" and "Spirit" are not just referring to themselves. The whole context of 2 Cor. 3 is on the New Covenant, and in contrasting the Old Covenant with the New. Following from verse 5 and 6a therefore, we can see that the "letter" is analogous to the Old Covenant that was fixed and rigidly carved on stone, while the "Spirit" is analogous to the New Covenant with its fuller reality of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the phrase should better read thus:

The Old Covenant kills, but the New Covenant gives life

Far from it therefore for the "letter" to refer to "soulish" doctrines and theology, while the Spirit represents the "spiritual" knowledge given by the Spirit. The verse is actually contrasting two covenants, and thus two ways of life. We should not be living by the "letter", as that would be to go back to the Old Covenant, but we should be in the New Covenant, and thus living by the Spirit.

In conclusion, 2 Cor. 3:6b in context is actually on soteriology, not mystical knowledge. Doctrines are indeed good and necessary, and we should never think of divorcing the Word and the Spirit. Amen.

Misquoted verse: 1 Cor. 9:22

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:22)

When it comes to the issue of contextualization, this particular verse is the most utilized verse for prooftexting. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with trying to reach out to others, or presenting information in an understandable way, or removing stumbling blocks to belief? What does this verse actually teach, and can it be used to promote contextualization, however defined?

The context of this verse outlines what Paul did in reaching out to the Jews who are under the Law, and the Gentiles who are outside it. In other parts of Scripture, the Law with its rituals and ceremonies have been stated to be abrogated with the coming of the New Covenant (cf Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 5:2-6, Heb. 8:13), and therefore participating in these rituals are rendered not necessary at all. However, it is not sin to take part in these rituals per se.

In contrasting being "under the law" and "outside the law", we must realize that the Law here refers especially to the ceremonial aspect of the Jewish religious law. Paul is thus advocating accommodation on something which is not necessary for salvation or the Christian life. Among the Jews, he continues keeping the form of these rituals so that he would not needlessly antagonize them. Among the Gentiles, he lives like a non-Jew who do not observe the Jewish religious laws, since they are not necessary anyway. In both of these scenarios, Paul brings himself to their level by adopting either neutral lifestyle which are both spiritually proper.

In light of this, the type of accommodation and "contextualization" that is biblical is one in which the options are ethically and spiritually neutral. Whatever options made can never violate the biblical rules of conduct — that we should be holy as God is holy (Lev. 11:44-45, 1 Peter 1:16). Paul is manifestly not an antinomian, and it is a mistake to interpret the word "law" as meaning anything other than the religious code of the Old Covenant. Neither is the phrase "by all means" meant to be taken as an absolute, as if prostitution is also a legitimate means (To win prostitutes, you should be one as well?), but the phrase is to be understood in context as referring to all valid means possible.

In conclusion, 1 Cor. 9:22 teaches that we should as much as possible find ways to relate to others. However, such does not give us license to compromise the Christan faith and message, or be a pragmatist who thinks that the ends justify the means. Contextualization that compromises the Christian faith and message cannot therefore utilize 1 Cor. 9:22 as a prooftext, for the context does not lend itself to such an abuse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Misquoted verse: Acts 5:38-39

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, (Acts 5:38-39)

In context:

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:34-42)

Acts 5:38-39 is often used as a prooftext for Neo-Evangelicals and others like them to "counsel" people against refuting error. Following the advice of Gamaliel, they call on such "hotheads" to cool down and let things run its course. After all, shouldn't we trust in the sovereignty of God? As Gamaliel states so clearly, if the movement, plan or undertaking is of man, it will fail, but if it is of God it will thrive. Worse still, we would have been found to be going against God Himself! However, does this verse actually give us this advice?

In context, it can be seen that the Apostles were arrested for preaching the Gospel in public by the High Priest and the Sadducees, and brought to trial before the religious council, the Sanhedrin. When commanded not to preach the Gospel (v. 28), Peter and the apostles openly defied them and say that they will in fact do so, thus making the Sanhedrin furious and murderous.

It is in this light that the counsel from Gamaliel was given, which defuses for a time the anger of the Jewish leaders against the apostles' manifest defiance of their commands. Through an appeal to the sovereignty of God, Gamaliel persuaded the Counsel not to go ahead with their intentions to murder the apostles there but to release them, letting God do the judging instead.

Now, it is a sure fact that in God's providence, Gamaliel's advice did in fact save the apostles at that time. It is also true that God is sovereign and that He is in control, thus nothing can happen without His permission. In all this, Gamaliel was in fact quite right. However, do all these facts therefore make Gamaliel's advice right?

An understanding of God's revealed will (His precepts) and God's sovereign will would be of great help here. God commands various things in line with what would be pleasing in His sight, yet we all know that not all and in fact most of them do not come to pass. God is against sins of any kind, yet we all know that men sin everyday. Thus, it can be seen that God's will of command is often frustrated, and thus not come to pass.

If God is indeed sovereign however, then all that He desires to come to pass will be indeed accomplished (cf Dan. 4:35 etc). In this we speak of God's sovereign will or His will of desire. Nothing can ever thwart God's desires, for such is the very essence of what it means to be totally sovereign.

Knowing this, we can see that Gamaliel's advice alludes merely to the sovereignty of God or God's sovereign will. However, are we to follow the commands of God or the sovereign decrees of God? God summons us to obey His commands (for that is the very definition of the concept of 'command'), while His sovereign will is not our domain to discern and attempt to accomplish (cf Deut. 29:29). God calls us to obey His Word and we are to do them. In the case of exposing errors, that is the command of Scripture especially in Jude 1:3. Therefore, we are to follow God's commands in this respect instead of attempting to discern God's will based upon the successes or failures of any person/ ministry.

One other error in misquoting such a verse to teach fatalism is that it assumes that God will in fact do such and such. In the biblical context, is it always the case that a plan of God will succeed while a plan of men will fail? If such is the case, then isn't Islam the true religion, after all having conquered the heartlands of ancient Christianity (by the sword) and now being well on its way to overrun Europe in the near future? Who or what determines failure and success? Biblically, without the full revelation of Scripture, did the plan of God fail when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian Empire? Was the Davidic Covenant made void when the last king of Judah was executed with his sons? It would certainly seem that way for the people living at that time.

God sovereignly allows things to pass that may not be what seems good to us, for example the captivity of Judah. Therefore, Gamaliel's advice, while it may be generally correct, is flawed. Further proof can be obtained if we were to think what is actually involved if such a fatalistic attitude were to be implemented in all of life and not just ministry: Vaccines are not necessary because if you are destined to fall sick, you will regardless of whether you have the vaccine or not and vice versa; Medicine do not need to be taken too to cure an illness, since the disease may be from God and vice versa; etc. Gamaliel's advice is therefore absurd when applied to "practical" life issues, so what more spiritual issues that are more real than the present world?

In our actions, we are to obey God's commands in everything (not just in the area of discernment), and not to attempt to "follow God" through deciphering God's intention through providence or any other ways. Even if God had actually decreed a certain evil end, it is right and proper for us to follow God's commands in Scripture to work against that evil end. For how do we know God's intentions — that He may use us as an instrument to halt that evil? Our actions are to be guided by the precepts of Scripture, not garnered through sinful enquiry into what God is actually going to do or not to do!

In conclusion, these two verses are merely descriptive of Gamaliel's advice which was useful providentially, but they are not prescriptive for God's people. Gamaliel's advice is therefore not biblical, and we should therefore treat it as the narrative it actually is rather than grounding our conduct on it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

R. Scott Clark debunks the myth of "final justification"

R. Scott Clark has given an exposition on the ninth point of Synod Schereville, which states:

Therefore Synod rejects the errors of those:


9. who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).

[HC: Heidelberg Catechism; BC: Belgic Confession]

The audio file of this exposition can be found here. The teaching of the existance of "final justification" is indeed error. "Final justification" is a legal fiction which does not exist, contra the heresies of the New Perspective and the Federal Vision, as Scott Clark makes that very plain.

[HT: Heidelblog]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The God who suffers? Evaluating Dennis Ngien's arguments for divine passibility

In his book A Faith Worth Believing, Living and Commending by Dennis Ngien (Eugene, OR, USA: Wipf & Stock, 2008), chapter 2 is entitled The God Who Suffers: An Argument for God's Emotions. In this chapter, Ngien attempts to argue for the position of the passibility of God; or in other words, that God has emotions ad intra and is affected by them.

Having previously addressed the error of Open Theism and also touch on the error of Process Theology in another book review some time back, I am saddened to see Evangelical scholars moving in the same trajectory. The doctrine of the impassibility of God is historically believed and a confessional standard of the orthodox catholic (small 'c') Protestant, Evangelical and Reformed faith. As the Westminster Confession puts it (which is repeated almost ad verbatim in the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration):

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

(WCF, Chapter II Of God and of the Holy Trinity, Paragraph I)

And as stated in the 39 articles of the Church of England:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this God-head there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

(39 articles of CoE, Chapter I Of Faith in the Holy Trinity, Paragraph 1)

That God is without passions is a confessional statement of the Reformed and Presbyterian, Baptist and the Anglican faith. Although the continental confessions do not have it (being written earlier in the fires of the Reformation), yet such is a likely inference from their references to God's simplicity and His incomprehensibility and unchangeability (Belgic CoF, Article 1 The Only God).

That said, does the Scripture itself teaches that God has passions? Does God suffers? Let us evaluate the Scriptural basis for the confessional position, and then evaluate Ngien's argument for divine passibility.

The Scriptural basis for divine impassibility

The scripture passage given to support the Westminster position is Acts 14:11,15, which states:

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11)

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (v. 15)

And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: (Acts 14:15 - KJV)

καὶ λέγοντες, Ἄνδρες, τί ταῦτα ποιεῖτε; καὶ ἡμεῖς ὁμοιοπαθεῖς ἐσμεν ὑμῖν ἄνθρωποι, εὐαγγελιζόμενοι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τούτων τῶν ματαίων ἐπιστρέφειν ἐπὶ θεὸν ζῶντα ὃς ἐποίησεν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς: (Acts 14:15 - NA26)

The phrase "of like nature" in the ESV is homoiopatheis (όμοιοπαθεις), better translated as "like passions" as in the KJV (homoio-: similar; -patheis: passions, affections). The passage states as a fact that God does not have the same or even similar emotions than us, since 'same' (homo-) is a subset of 'similar' (homoio-) as what is same is definitely similar. While it does not rule out God having emotions, the fact of the matter is that God does not have our type or kind of emotions.

When seen in context, Paul and Barnabas were presenting this against the idolatrous worship offered to them by the people of Lystra who thought of them as gods, or rather that the gods have come down in the likeness (homoioōthentes) of men. In response, Paul and Barnabas protested that God is most emphatically not like men; the vain things are not like the living God.

While it may seem a stretch to base an entire doctrine on one verse, the fact of the matter is that this is merely the most explicit verse on the topic. Scripture abound with proclamations that God is not like us humans, the most famous being of course Is. 55:9, where God states how much infinitely higher his ways and thoughts are compared to us. Given the (humanly) unbridgeable gulf between God and men, men can never approach God except if God condescends to us in revelation through the twin truths of the logos theopneustos (Jn. 1:1; 2 Tim. 3:16) and the logos ensarkos (Jn. 1:14); both sides of the same aspect of God's revelation, one epistemic and the other ontological.

Since God is unlike us humans at least with regards to emotions, ways and the type of thoughts, God being immutable cannot have passions, since passions are ever-changing and reacting to the environment. Our God is not a Process theological deity who changes with the times, neither is He an Openness deity whose thoughts are ever reacting and changing with the choices of men.

As God does not have passions, whatever emotions He must have (if He possesses them) must be self-determined and independent of the environment whether of heaven (the angels and saints) and of the world (the earth and the universe). In other words, God's emotions must be self-expressed through His will (volitional) ad extra rather than any reactions to the environment ad intra.

Gordon Clark, in commenting on the Westminster Confession on this topic, sums it up nicely:

"What is meant by saying that God has no passions? Is the word passion used in its contemporary romantic sense, or does it have a broader meaning Is an emotion a passion? If it is, shall we say that God has no emotions? Do we ordinarily consider it a compliment when we call a man emotional? Can we trust a person who has violent ups and downs? Is it not unwise to act on the spur of the moment? Would then an emotional God be dependable? How come God have emotions, if he is immutable?

But someone says, God is love, and love is an emotion, is it not? Well, is it? Or., better, is what we call love in God an emotion? For that matter, is our love for God an emotion? In common conversation we do not think it makes much sense to command one person to love another. We are inclined to think it unreasonable to demand that a man should get emotional about something that happens to please us but does not please him. Love cannot be commanded. Yet God commands our love. He issues an order: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. Is this a command to become emotional? To have ups and downs, sudden surges and ebbings? Oh, No! someone replies. Our love should never ebb. But it never ebbs, it cannot surge. Without a down, there can be no up. We agree, do we not, that our love for God should be steady. And we agree that God's love for us is unchangeable. Then is not such a mental activity or attitude better designated a volition than an emotion?

[Gordon H. Clark, What Do Presbyterians Believe? (Unicoi, TN, USA: Trinity Foundation, 2001), pp. 29-30]

[HT: Joel Tay]

Scripture therefore teaches the impassibility of God. God does not have like passions as us, and His "emotions" are objective volitional ones void of instability and changeability like ours.

Examining Ngien's position

In this chapter of reasonable length, Ngien tried to prove the passibility of God. Although the subtitle is an argument for God's emotions, what is proved is not merely whether God has emotions, but that such emotions are passions ad intra, a real God who suffers. Ngien goes on to even state that "If God is devoid of passions, we would have to re-write the Bible" (p. 14), certainly a strong statement on the topic of divine (im)passibility.

The first section saw Ngien immediately and explicitly stating his opposition to the traditional doctrine of divine impassibility, in which he defines divine impassibility as "the notion that God cannot suffer since God stands outside the realm of human pain and sorrow" (p. 12), a much more narrow definition of the doctrine than previously stated above. It is with astonishment that Ngien has decided to call the doctrine of divine impassibility "a Greek idea". As I have incidentally addressed in my response to Open Theism,

One major problem [with the Open Theists' position] ... is that to postulate that the concept (not just the language) of immutability and impassibility as applied to God as being Greek concepts and not Christian concepts, it must be the case that in Greek thought there must be only one concept of God in these aspects. In other words, there cannot exist in Greek thought concurrently the concept of God being immutable and that of being mutable, or being passable and impassable. If that were to be the case, then either way Christianity can be said to imbibe on Greek thought either way, since both logically contradictory positions are covered by Greek thought. And this is what we will see to the case in Greek culture. The gods present in the popular Greek religion are mutable and passable, whereas the philosopher's Ideal or idea of God is immutable and impassable. Since this is the case, how then can Sanders prove his position? We could say that the Open Theists view is actually the Christianization of Greek popular religion, and that would be even more accurate, since the worldviews of both the modern age and during the times of the Greeks are very similar.

The link to Greek philosophy is simply an example of the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Worse still is the fact that Greek popular religion have gods that are mutable and passible. So whichever position we take on the topic, there is simply no way to get around the charge of "borrowing from the Greeks". Ngien's charge of the Hellinic hijacking of theology is indeed erroneous. Furthermore, if such were the case, is Ngien suggesting that the Church in her 2000 years of history have gotten this most basic concept wrong?

Ngien must be commended for honestly noting his opposition to the established orthodoxy of the Church, and states his opposition stems from the teachings of Scripture. Most definitely, tradition does not determine truth, and it is right to follow Scripture instead of tradition when they differ. However, is Scripture really on Ngien's side?

The two main objections raised by Ngien against the teaching of God's impassibility are: 1) Can an unfeeling God love?, and 2) Was God present at the Cross?, which are also the titles of the sections in this chapter dealing with the topic.

Ngien's first objection lies in what he thinks is the nature of love. In his own words, "love implies vulnerability", and therefore "the traditional understanding of God as impassible makes it impossible to say that "God is love" (p. 13). Quite a few anecdotal evidences of his mother's love for him etc were given, but the main line of evidence is that without vulnerability and the ability to fell pain with us, God's love cannot be true love. In Ngien's own words, "God's goodness means that he loves us with a completely unconditional love, involving himself with us even in our pain" (p. 14).

It can be immediately seen that no exegesis of Scripture is offered for this objection to divine impassibility. Rather, philosophy is utilized. While philosophy per se is not wrong, philosophy must serve the truths revealed from Scripture. If Scripture teaches doctrine X, then no amount of philosophizing should remove doctrine X. As we have seen, the impassibility of God is taught in Scripture, and it can be deduced from the doctrine of God's immutability, a closely linked doctrine.

Ngien offered this objection based upon the love of God. But what exactly is God's love? As quoted by Gordon Clark earlier, is God's love an emotion or a volition? Or put in another way, is God's love a subjective reaction to the environment or an objective choice of His Will? Ngien in possibly reacting to a stoic understanding of God has swung to the other side. Certainly, Ngien is correct to say that "God is not emotionally unstable and cannot be manipulated by humans" ( p. 14). But how does his proposal of God being vulnerable make Him not emotionally unstable and non-manipulatable by humans?

The basic error in Ngien's argument is to wrongly equate love to vulnerability, and to think of divine love as being the same or even similar to human love. But God's love is not human love. As Clark said, God commands love, yet no human can ever commands love. Human love is analogous to divine love, not similar. God's love is an action of His will creating "emotions" ad extra (outside of the being of God). We cannot relate to God as a mere human to human contact, for God is God and we are not. With regards to God having sympathy for us, it is precisely in light of this problem that passages such as those in Hebrews exist.

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2:17-18)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

It is in Christ that we can find someone who can sympathize with us. Certainly, that would be a strange thing to say if God Himself can sympathize with us on a human level? Why would Jesus as the High Priest be said to be able to sympathize with us, since the human high priests at their best certainly could sympathize with God's people as well? Such texts could only be understood as saying that in the person of Jesus God could sympathize with us, not otherwise.

Ngien's second line of reasoning is even stranger. In his own words, "If the attribute of impassibility is ascribed to God, there can be no real incarnation of God in Jesus" (p. 14)! The orthodox teaching of Jesus being 100% God and 100% Man does not seem to be factored in here. In the Incarnation, God in Christ took on human flesh (Jn. 1:14) and thus a human nature. Ngien continues to state that this manifests itself in the early church fathers separating "Jesus' humanity from his deity, thus in effect making each nature an independent person, as the Nestorian heresy does" (p. 15). This is wrong on many counts. The orthodox Chalcedon teaching on Christology states that Christ is

recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ (Definition of Chalcedon)

The two natures of Christ can be distinguished but not separated. When Christ suffered and died on the Cross, he suffered and died as a person, not as natures, for they cannot be separated as Chalcedon maintains. In opposition to Ngien, Chalcedon stresses that we cannot separate the two nature of Christ. It is Christ as a person who died, not the natures that die. So therefore, while the early church fathers can distinguish the two natures and say that Christ's human nature is the one that really suffered and died (certainly it would be blasphemy to said that God has actually died), the fact of the matter is that we cannot separate the natures and confuse nature and persons. The sufferings of Christ is indeed real and for our behalf because Christ did it as a person for us, and this should be enough for us.

So Christ could indeed really suffer for us, and thus His person on earth and His human nature has passions. Yet, it is a stretch to ascribe that to His divinity, and then form there extrapolate that to the Godhead Himself; it is a total logical non-sequitur. God thus suffer for us in the person of Christ, while still remaining impassible as to His essential being. Ngien's objection here therefore does not take into account Chalcedon's formulation of the difference between nature and person, and in fact falls into the error of separating the natures.

With this covered, Ngien's objections against the doctrine of divine impassibility are groundless. What then of the practical aspect?

In the practical application of Ngien's doctrine, Ngien called the church to be the "church of the suffering Christ", suffering for Christ in this world. While certainly, we will suffer for the Gospel and are to help those who are suffering, yet this it seems is taking the whole idea too far. Suffering is what will happen, but our goal in this life is not suffering. The goal of our lives is the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), not suffering per se. Ngien's emphasis seems misplaced here. The Christian is not here to proclaim that Christ suffers for His people and that He suffers when they suffer. The Christian is here to proclaim the Gospel message of Justification by Faith Alone, and that human suffering is the consequences of sins, whether ours or not. The solution is not that Christ suffers with us, but that Christ has paid for the most important penalty (damnation) for us by dying on our behalf. THAT is the gospel.

In conclusion, Ngien's arguments for divine passibility are therefore seen to be without biblical basis, and should thus be rejected as errant.

As a side note, Ngien in this chapter quotes from liberals such as Jurgen Moltmann and Kazoh Kitamori, and I wouldn't be surprised if the German liberals and neo-orthodoxs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer are in the background as well, seeing the similarity in language as well. This is extremely disturbing, as there is nothing evangelical in the teachings of such people. As long as German theology continues in this trajectory absent of the true Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone (not their misunderstanding of Luther's theology) and the centrality of the Gospel and of Scripture, "theology" no matter how brilliant if it is not Word-centered and God-centered is spiritually useless. Just a brief glance at the descriptions of the theology espoused by for example Jurgen Moltmann is enough to see that philosophy plays a vital role in their "theology", while God's Word is reduced to playing second fiddle. I will reconsider this judgment when I can find the Hegelian dialectic taught anywhere in the Scriptures, not to mention Kantian Idealism or any other of the philosophical theories they espouse!

ADD: See also Phil R. Johnson's excellent article on this topic God Without Mood Swings here.

ADD: Check out the original article by Dennis Ngien here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Why We Love the Church

Kevin DeYoung, the pastor of University Reformed Church, has came out with an excellent book entitled Why We Love the Church — In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. It is an excellent book which refutes the Emerging/Emergent redefinition of the church, as well as the nonsense coming from the "American House-Church" movement of George Barna and Frank Viola. The review can be found here.

This book is the second of its kind co-written by Pastor Kevin DeYoung and his church member Ted Kluck. The first, Why we are not Emergent (By Two Guys who should be), was indeed a great book written in a very engaging format. For obvious reasons, I like the section by DeYoung more since he deals with the theological issues while Kluck deals more with the experiential aspect. This book is no different. Although I am sure Kluck's portion are good and could be of help to some people, I unfortunately cannot appreciate his sections much, and thus will mainly stick with DeYoung's sections in the book.

In his fight for organized religion, the main antagonists DeYoung faces are the decentralists and anti-institutionists found especially in the American house-church movement, with the main spokesmen being the emergents, the pollster George Barna and house church leader Frank Viola. In the introduction, DeYoung outlines for us this new anti-institutional house-church phenomenon, and the way he would address the issues involved.