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]