Monday, May 31, 2010

New Calvinism considered

Over at the Wanderer, Jeremy Walker has posted a very perceptive article on the "New Calvinism". He lists down 21 general characteristic of the movement, not all good and not all bad, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. Have a desire for the glory of God
  2. Have a deep-rooted joy
  3. Possess missional zeal
  4. Emphasize the gospel of grace and grace of the gospel
  5. Complimentarianism, to the extent it has almost become a sine qua non of the movement
  6. Return to biblical masculinity
  7. Promotion of the family as basic unit of church and social life
  8. Charismatic convictions regarding the spiritual gifts
  9. Calvinist soteriology, with some departures and aberrations
  10. Generally thoughtful ecumenism
  11. Often pragmatic ecclesiology (i.e. multi-site campus church)
  12. Neo-Kuyperian view of culture
  13. Doctrinal if not practical Antinomianism (primarily related to embrace of some form of NCT or New Covenant Theology)
  14. Practice contemporary worship
  15. Driving force of several key personalities
  16. Ready embrace and employment of new technologies
  17. Concentration of a younger and more urban demographic
  18. Desire to be big and have a seat at culture's table
  19. Have an ambivalent relationship to church history
  20. Sensitivity to the judicial and social aspects of the gospel at work in society
  21. Americocentrism, or largely influenced by American culture

Point 5 is what I have seen earlier on as I have stated in my Credo500 paper on the New Evangelical Calvinism. While complimentarianism IS important, the disproportionate stress on it is unhealthy. As I have stated in that paper, "what make this flashpoint [doctrine] more worthy of contending for as compared to the other doctrines and practices of Scripture"? I am not advocating for a more latitudinarian approach to doctrine, but a more robust view of the other doctrines which are similarly important.

An example of point 13 is the case of John Piper, who leans towards New Covenant Theology. While NCT by itself is not technically antinomian (except with regards to the 4th commandment), there is such a tendency in it due to a strong division between the Old and New Covenants to the extent that it approaches Dispensationalism in its view of Law and Gospel.

Besides these 21 points, the overt triumphalism of the movement irritates me to no end. One benefit of facing severe trials in life is that you learn and grow much quicker and inherit a strong dose of realism. The idealism of youth has been burned out by the harsh reality of this wicked world, and it thus irritates me when these people around or slightly younger than my age are so naive in their view of the world and ministry. Yes, we can "change the world", but change in God's plan comes from faithfulness to His Word, not youthful passion and bull-headed rashness. The use of cliches like "Gospel-centered" for example is one area whereby the youth of the movement is showing itself. The Young, Restless, Reformed crowd really need to grow up, seriously.

The world is a broken world in many respects. The Church is called to proclaim the Gospel and live that Gospel in the midst of this broken and sin-soaked world. We need pastors and leaders who are mature in their thinking, not hot-heads where their way of doing church changes as the years go by, as seen in the example of Mark Driscoll. That is incidentally why pastors are to be knowledgeable about many doctrines of Scripture and to have thought through them deeply. What kind of shepherd would we call those who know little of the Scriptures and thus cannot apply them in a mature manner? Do we for example want pastors who believe in a Episcopal system one day, and within one month later is convinced of Independency, and within the next month convert to Presbyterianism? While certainly pastors and leaders can and should change their beliefs and practices if it has been revealed to them that they were wrong according to Scripture, such should be done in a thought-out manner based upon mature thinking, not flippantly based upon a book here and an article there.

Unless the YRR movement matures into a geniune biblical movement, all of such characteristics would cripple it. And that would be rather sad indeed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Family, Community and Communitarianism

[continued from here and here]

What should be the emphases in church life? How are people in churches to live together? Of course, we are to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord (Rom. 12:10), but what are the specifics of church life beyond that?

The House Church model promoted by anti-institutionalist Frank Viola in his book Reimagiing Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO, USA: David C. Cook, 2008) promotes a communitarian way of doing church, as based upon his idea of the Social Trinitarian analogue which we have previously discussed. Viola states the link explicitly as follows:

As we have already established, the church envisioned in the New Testament is an ecclesial community that's modeled after the triune God. Father, Son and Spirit are all related. Their familial fellowship is both the source and the goal of the church (1 John 1:1-3)

The Godhead lives in everlasting reciprocity with each of its members. For that reason, the church is called to be a reciprocal community above everything else. Or in other words, a family.

Because we are made in the likeness and image of God, we are only truly human when we are living in community. ...

(p. 108)

The church, then, is not only to proclaim the gospel, but to embody it by its communitarian life (p. 147)

In Viola's view therefore, Christian "body-life" is to be lived in a communitarian manner. Viola further charged the "church in the West" to be "dominated by individualistic, anticommunal forces" (p. 147), which are clearly in his view unbiblical.

The most explicit picture (literally) of what communitarianism means in the life of the church is painted vividly by Viola in his book as follows:

[Narrated by a lady who shared with Viola what had happened in her house church]

This Valentine's Day, the brothers put on a grand hoopla for us sisters. They told us to dress up formally and wait for them at one of the sisters' homes. This would turn out to be an elegant occasion. Three of the brothers showed up. They were dressed formally with suits and ties. They brought a vase full of white tulips. They gave each of us a white tulip to hold. They told us how we represent the tulips. The white was for the purity of Christ; the green stem was for the life of Christ in us.

Then they took a picture of all of us so we would remember this evening. They escorted us to another house. We waited outside. What would happen next was a surprise. We had no idea. They told us that there was an artist in town. And he has opened up his art gallery to us. Finally, the doors were opened and we walked in. There was a tour guide who escorted us into the house. The first stop was an exhibit: a tree in a potted plant. It had on it a poem that talked about what each of us sisters represented to the Lord. The poem equated us to different parts of the tree. We found pictures of each of us sisters on the leaves. It was very moving.

At each exhibit, several of the brothers were role playing, telling each other what the exhibits were about. They stayed in character the whole time. They were in an art museum.

The next exhibit was a collage of brothers holding together pieces of a sign. Each sign contained a word. The words together spelled out a romantic poem that expressed Christ's love for His church.

The next exhibit was a heart put in a frame. A big red heart. Cut out in the middle of the heat was a man and a woman holding hands. Inside the man were all the brothers' faces in the church cut out to make a collage that made up the image of the man. Inside the image of the woman were all the sisters' faces cut out to make a collage. ... (p. 113-114. Bold added)

Communitarianism in this case can be clearly seen in the imagery of the art exhibit, as described in bold text aboe. All the brothers are corporately identified as one and the sisters likewise, and both groups make up the one [centered] community.

Preliminary analysis

Before we analyze the subject, what exactly is communitarianism? Communitarianism comes from the word "community", and thus it focuses on the community as the center of life/decision making/truth etc [1]. To put it simply (as much as I can simplify it), the community however defined (defined differently depending on the context) is the center as opposed to the individual. Sociologically, it can be said to be a third way between the individualism in Capitalism and the collectivism in Communism

Social communitarianism as espoused by Viola is the theory that a social unit of a community, in this case a "church community", is the center of the church. The individuals making the community are not individually important but corporately important, for since the community is the center, the community is what that matters. Individuals only matter insomuch as they make up the community, but they are not treasured for their own individuals' sakes. What this all means more concretely will be shown in due time when we consider the differences between the Biblical model and the Social communitarian model.

The first preliminary critique to to state that the opposite of an error may not necessarily be true, in the same way as the opposite of legalism (salvation by keeping laws) which is antinomianism (against the keeping of laws) is not true. Viola may rightly deplore the radical individualism of the West, but the opposite of collectivism in Communitarianism is not by elimination necessarily true either.

Secondly, there is no basis for the Social trinitarian analogue which is the foundation for the surface anti--authoritarian Communitarian theory put forward by Viola. While communitarianism may be true, Viola's argument for it is most definitely not since it is based upon an unbiblical theory invented by apostates.

With this settled, we will look more in depth into the issue. But in order to do that, we must see what is the biblical teaching of relational praxis in the church.

Biblical teaching

Firstly, the foundation for any teaching about people within the church must start with soteriology or the doctrine of salvation, for people are saved into the church. Even infants who are baptized into the church are baptized based upon the promises of God for the salvation of covenant children (Acts 2:39), not that they are just placed into the church regardless of whether they are or are not saved at some time in their life. Soteriology therefore is prior to ecclesiology, and we must thus look at soteriology first to inform us about the relational praxis that should be in the church.

All people that are saved are saved individually by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Believers are individually and personally elected and chosen unto salvation (cf Rom. 9:13, Eph. 1:4-11), personally adopted by Christ (cf Eph. 1:5). Salvation therefore is an individual affair dependent on the person's faith, and faith cannot be forced on a person as it is an inward attitude and not mere external compliance.

Salvation involves adoption into God's family the church. We are first and foremost saved individually, then placed as individuals into God's family. Yet though we are individuals when saved, God saves through the covenant line, and thus the creational and redemptive aspects meet in the believing covenant family (Eph. 6:1-4).

The ordering of relations for a Christian therefore is firstly, between God and man one-to-one, then secondly, between man and his covenant family (if any), and then thirdly, between a man/woman and the church. This is the priority in relational praxis that is taught by Scripture

Secondly, the model for relational praxis is clearly taught by Scripture in typology. Christ is the head of the church as the husband is the head of the wife (cf Eph. 5:23). Christ is the bridegroom of the church analogically to the relation of the husband to his wife. That is the analogy Scripture has made, and the celebration of marriage and the emphasis on the family is central to all of Scripture. The focus on relational praxis in the church therefore should similarly prioritize families as taught by Scripture

Critical Analysis of Viola's Communitarianism

The first critique that can be immediately made of Viola's Communitarianism is that it violates the biblical ordering of relations. Biblical Christianity starts off with the relation between God and the individual one-to-one. In this sense, Christianity IS individualistic. In God's eyes, believers are first loved and saved individually logically (not temporally) before they are placed into the church. Individuals then make up the community of believers. Communitarianism with its center on the community logically prior to individuals reverse the relational order that is found in the redemptive order. (It also violates the creational order too since men are made by God in His image (Imago Dei) logically before being born into society, but I am not dealing with political communitarianism here!)

Community therefore is not, contrary to Viola and his Emergent friends, the focus of Scripture. While church is a community of saints, it is first and foremost a community of saints before being a community of saints, which is incidentally why the fact of fellowship itself is to be grounded upon absolute objective Truth (cf Jn. 17:17,19) and not the other way around.

The second major critique is that communitarianism embraces the wrong model for relational praxis and therefore trivializes the family and God's love for His church. The model for relational praxis within the church is the one stated explicitly in Scripture — the relation between a husband and wife to form a family unit. A husband is to love his wife in a way that reflects the love that Christ has for His church. While community is important, it takes a backseat to the family unit which is not only the foundation for the creational order, but for the redemptive order too within the church.

As Christians, we do not believe in any sort of polygamy or generically polyamory (multiple "loves" or partners). Yet the communitarian view moves towards such albeit on the emotional level. In Viola's fan's narrating of her house church Valentine's Day's event, the picture of the brothers being likened to an individual man while all the sisters being likened to an individual woman trivializes the marriage typology by opening what should be a special love within the couple into indiscriminate "deep" love within the church. There is a reason why love within the marriage relationship is to be special and not shared with others. If such love is made common, it is emotionally polyamory and thus adulterous in nature. While sharing is often a virtue, this does not apply to love within a marriage. Whoever does not believe that is welcome to try to see whether their spouse would be happier if their special marital relationship is opened up to include more parties. After all, isn't it good not to discriminate and "share the love"?

By trivializing the special love within a couple and making that into deeper relationships within the church body, Communitarianism takes what should be a special love between a husband and a wife and desecrates it in forming a "deep" church community. In practice, such community churches extol the idea of "deep sharing" of everything to all within that particular church community, and decry any form of reticence to share as being contrary to Christian love. I have previously personally visited one communitarian church myself, and was astonished at the plea for greater "transparency" and sharing from the pulpit, as if trust is an inherent right to be demanded and not earned. Not to mention the sheer naivete that goes into the statement as if all members and visitors to that church are all perfected saints who would not backstab them.

Another practical problem with Commuitarianism in desecrating and making vulgar the special love between a couple is distorting the manner by which our emotional needs are to be fulfilled. Being initially intended within a family, profaning such love makes the emotional component of marriage superfluous if done perfectly. It furthermore serves to at least partially satisfy the emotional needs of especially single men and women that are to be sought in marriage. Such is a violation of God's plan for His people, and such people would be emotionally dependent in the wrong way as such is not God's plan for them.

The answer

The biblical answer to Communitarianism is Covenant Theology, with its proper balance between the individual's personal relationship to God and the idea of Covenant headship whereby we are seen also in light of the covenant. God condescends to save us by making Christ our representative head of the Covenant of Grace He makes with us corporately, yet our entrance into the Covenant of Grace is through the individualistic notion of personal faith in Christ. We are saved through our corporate union with Christ (cf Rom. 5:15-20, 6:1-11), yet this union is achieved by grace through personal faith in Him (Eph. 2:8-9).

In like manner, Covenant Theology puts everything into proper perspective. The amorphous "community" is not the center for human relations but the family is. That is where God would be greatly glorified when the family functions as God has designed it to do. While church community is important, we move from us as individuals to families to the church, not the other way around as Communitarianism does. We do love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but such love cannot be the type of "deep" indiscriminate love to all in the church.


In conclusion, communitarianism is an error which should not be embraced by the church. While subtle and seemingly minute, it leads to church life praxis that is poles apart from what Scripture actually teaches on the subject. May we not hear the siren call for "deep" fellowship and in so doing create false dependencies which are not commanded by Christ. Friendship and fellowship with the brethren may be deep for we all do make close friends (and some more than others), but it should never be indiscriminate and profanely given to all merely because they are Christians.


[1] For more technical information on Communitarianism, check out the article "Communitarianism" from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here (

Two articles

I have just finished formatting two articles for my website, which were previously blog posts here. They can be accessed now as follows:

Scripturalism and the Canon of Scripture

Why the Global Day of Prayer does not conform to Scripture

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A dispute over the doctrine of Union with Christ

In the excellent book edited by Burk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine, Doxology & Doctrine (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), I find it amusing that two different writers who focus on two different topics end up with two conflicting views regarding the relation between justification and union [with Christ].

Philip Graham Ryken , focusing on the theme of Union with Christ, wrote Chapter 16 in the book entitled The Believer's Union with Christ. On page 196, he quoted from Calvin's Institutes 3.11.1 as follows:

Of all the blessings that come from being united to Christ, [John] Calvin emphasized two that are distinct yet inseparable: "By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blameless, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life." (Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1) To put this in theological terms, by virtue of our union with Christ we receive the double benefit of justification and sanctification.

Ryken later writes on the same page:

As important as it is in its own right, Calvin's doctrine of justification finds it proper context in his doctrine of union with Christ. The blessing of justifying righteousness becomes ours when we are united to Christ by faith.

Our second author is Michael Horton. Focusing on the theme of justification, Horton wrote Chapter 17 in the book which is entitled The Principal Article of Salvation.

On pages 211-212, Horton wrote:

Regardless of whether union temporally preceded justification, Calvin is clear that the latter is the basis for the former: "Most people consider fellowship with Christ [Christi esse participem], and believing believing in Christ, to be the same thing; but the fellowship which we have with Christ [participation quam habemus cum Christo] is the consequence of faith [fidei effectus]." 42 Union with Christ does not provide a basis for God to discern in us a righteousness imparted; rather, on the basis of justification we are made partakers of Christ's vivifying life. The same act of faith that constantly looks to Christ alone for justification looks to Christ alone for sanctification and glorification.

Thus there are not two sources of the Christian life: one that is forensic and found in Christ alone, and another that is moral and found within us. Forensic justification through faith alone is the fountain of union with Christ in all of its renewing aspects. We are justified through faith, not through union with Christ. ... Imputation and union with Christ are, rather, two inseparable aspects of one and the same divine grace: the one is not possible without the other." 43

Therefore, Calvin speaks of a "double grace" in fellowship with Christ:

Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blameless, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.44

This double grace entails a "twofold acceptance": Our persons are justified apart from works by the imputation of Christ's righteousness received through faith, so that or works can be justified or accepted by the Father not as meritorious but as the fruit of justification and union with His Son.45

[42] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker 2003), 262

[43] [Francois] Wendel, Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought [trans. Philip Mairet (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1987)], 258

[44] [John] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.1

[45] Ibid., 3.17.4-5

It can be seen that both authors quote almost the same passage in Calvin's Institutes, through for different purposes. Ryken utilized that quote to mention that union with Christ is the foundation for both justification and sanctification. Conversely, Horton utilizes that same quote to show that both imputation and union are fruits of justification through faith. Ryken states that union precedes justification, while Horton states that justification precedes union which is the other side of the coin of imputation.

In line with this difference in views, Prof R. Scott Clark has kindly highlighted on his blog an interesting paper on "The New Perspective on Calvin".

Monday, May 24, 2010

Viola's restorationism and the Social Trinitarian analogy problem

[continued from here]

In his book Reimagining Church, Frank Viola in his promotion of his house church model (not to be confused with China's house churches which are so by necessity) utilizes (small "r") restorationist rhetoric to establish his anti-institutionalism. One main point which underlie his idea of "organic churches" however is his understanding of the Trinity and its application to church life. Following the ideas of Barthian Miroslav Volf and postmodern theologian Stanly Grenz, Viola has decided to recast the idea of the Trinity as being foundational to church life — in the sense that the Trinity is an analogy of church community. In Viola's own words,

The biblical teaching of the Trinity is not an exposition about the abstract designs of God. Instead, it teaches us about God's nature and how it operates in Christian community. As such, it shouldn't be relegated to an endnote to the gospel. Rather, it should shape the Christian life and inform the practice of the church.(p. 34)

Viola quotes Kevin Giles also as saying that the Trinity is the

model on which ecclesiology should be formulated. On this premise, the inner life of the divine Trinity provides a pattern, a model, an echo, or an icon of the Christian communal existence in the world (Kevin Giles, What on Earth is the Church? (London, SPCK, 1995), p. 222. As quoted in Viola, Reimagining, p. 36)

This idea of the social analogy of the Trinity to church life, which can be termed the Social Trinitarian Analogue (for lack of a better term) is ubiquitous throughout Viola's book. In fact, it is a fundamental premise behind Viola's recasting of the Church into an egalitarian community without offices, ministers and institutions. Remove it, and Viola's vision is severely crippled.

As Bible-believing Christians, we hold to the principle of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. Only what is biblical is true — either explicitly stated in Scripture or what can be deduced from sound reasoning or "good and necessary consequences", as the Westminster Confession states so beautifully:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. ... (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I: Of the Holy Scripture, Para 6)

When we come therefore to this teaching of the social trinitarian analogue, we are to examine it according to Scripture and not accept it just because theologians taught it. To argue that the majority teaches it means nothing at all, for truth is not determined by majority vote. Furthermore, the majority of "theologians" deny such doctrines as the exclusivity of Christ, the necessity of the blood atonement, and the inerrancy of Scripture for example, so majority in academia means nothing at all.

We should have reason to suspect this teaching however, as a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Mt. 7: 18b). As I have shown in a previous post, unregenerate people cannot accept the truth of God and thus will not teach them as truth. Volf is a student of Jurgen Moltmann, while Grenz is a student of Wolfhart Pannenberg. With such "illustrious" teachers who do not believe in the Gospel, we would have reason to be suspicious of these teachers. Our suspicion should increase when we see how ideas from Moltmann, Pannenberg and Grenz contribute to the train wreck that is the Emergent church movement, as shown in the excellent book The Emergent Church: Undefining Christianity by Pastor Bob DeWaay. This of course does not mean that we can now infer that the social trinitarian analogue teaching is definitely wrong as a sort of guilt by association tactic, but it should make us cautious and give us pause before accepting it uncritically.

The first question we should ask therefore is this: Does Scripture ever mention that the fact of the Trinity is to function as an analogy in anything at all? The answer is an adamant NO! The Trinity is not even mentioned in Scripture explicitly, but is a truth that is deduced from Scripture. Such conjectures of analogies where none are mentioned is at best the speculation of theologians outside the texts of Scripture, and at worst a perversion of the teachings of Scripture.

Nevertheless, can this teaching be an application of Scripture, not a teaching of Scripture? The problem however is that the Trinity is a fact that we are not told to emulate in any way. When Scripture talks about the intra-Trinitarian relationship, it shows us that Jesus as the Son always submit to the will of the Father, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds out from the Father and the Son (Jn. 15:26). The only analogy made of the intra-Trinitarian relationship is that seen in 1 Cor. 11:3, where the headship of God (the Father) over Christ is analogous to the headship of the husband over the wife, a fact which Viola denies by fiat because it violates his strong egalitarianism (cf Reimagining, p. 295). Besides this, Scripture makes no such analogy between the relationships between the persons of the Trinity and us human beings. And if Scripture makes no such analogies, then we who are bounded by Scripture should not either, for no one has the liberty to add to God's Word, or face the curse of Rev. 22:18 (cf Prov. 30:6).

Viola further violates the Creator-creature distinction by embracing something that sounds like theosis. He states: "The church is an organic extension of the Triune God" (Reimagining, p. 35). In page 109, Viola further states that "it [the church] has been introduced into the dance [perichoresis - divine dance within the Trinity] as a new partner". Theologically, the Bible doesn't teach anything of that sort. The biblical picture of the church is that of a bride prepared for marriage to Christ the bridegroom. God the Father is not the bridegroom, and neither is the Holy Spirit, for the three are three distinct persons. It is not a dance that the Bible teaches for our account, but the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9)

Philosophically, the first statement is simply appalling. God is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent etc, while the church is most definitely finite, created, not omnipotent, not omnipresent. How therefore can the church be considered "an organic extension of the Triune God"? Furthermore, for God to "grow" an "organic extension" where previously none exist is to make God mutable contrary to the plain teachings of Scripture on the subject. Similarly, the second statement is logically impossible, for finititude can never become infinite, or created eternal, or limited limitless. Man can never become "god" in any sense of the term. When the Church as the bride marries the bridegroom, she is still a separate entity from the bridegroom who is Christ, in the same way that a husband and wife though they are "one flesh" are still nonetheless two distinct persons no matter how long they remain married.

The social trinitarian analogue is to be rejected by Christians. Firstly, it is not taught in Scripture. Secondly, it is not even an application made available by the Scriptures, who teach other analogies — with the closest one in 1 Cor. 11:3 giving the wrong pair (Christ/God- Wife/Husband) needed for the social trinitarian model. Thirdly, it violates the Creator-creature distinction and leads to all manner of philosophical incoherence. Though it is taught by "theologians" of sorts, we are to reject it as errant and unbiblical.

We now go back to Viola's restorationism. While certainly much more can be said to show the many errors in his book, I would like to focus on one other aspect which Viola mentioned as an advantage of his house church model: that of protection from heresy.

On page 235 of Reimagining, Viola wrote:

When every church is autonomous, it's difficult for an ambitious false teacher to emerge and seize control over a cluster of churches. It's also virtually impossible for a "pope-life figure" to emerge. ...

The irony of it all is that a "pope-like figure" has emerged, and it is Frank Viola. Viola may be humble, but that is irrelevant for it is his teachings more than anyone else's that has created the House Church movement. If one disagrees with Viola on his teaching on the anti-institutionalism that is foundational to the house church model, one wouldn't be in a house church anyway! So yes, it is impossible for any false teacher to seize control over a cluster of "house churches", unless that teacher has the endorsement of people like Frank Viola. It is in this regard that there is not much difference between Viola's movement and denominations. A non-denominational or even anti-denominational denomination is STILL a denomination in the way it behaves.

The greatest irony of all is that through Frank Viola, anti-institutionalism and the teaching of the social trinitarian analogue enter the house churches. Both of them are serious errors in ecclesiology (and the latter in theology proper as well), and therefore the house churches fall together with Frank Viola. It is impossible to repudiate these errors and still remain as a house church (as opposed to a church that merely meets in a house). There is therefore no protection from heresy in Viola's movement when the concepts behind the movement itself are not orthodox.

In the next post, we would look at the concept of communitarianism, and contrasts this with the biblical concept of family and community.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Truth and Regeneration

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Cor. 1:18-20)

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. ...

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2: 6-7, 14-16)

In many circles in professing Evangelicalism, the idol of academic intellectualism holds sway. In the world, unregenerate "biblical" scholars produce "scholarly" academic theological articles and books. The viewpoint of the Bible is sneered at as being anti-intellectual, backward and outdated. While it may be possible for them to condescendingly look kindly on those from a former era who hold to these views, Christians who do so in this so-called mature era are sneered at as idiots and fools, no different from flat-earthers and those who continue to hold on to Ptolemaic astronomy.

What does Scripture say however to the world of unbelieving academia? In the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, we can see that Scripture categorically denies that those who are not of Christ can accept the truths of Scripture. They most certainly can cognitively understand biblical truths, but they cannot accept them as true, instead seeing them as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18, 2:14). It should come as no surprise to us therefore when unregenerate academia treats the biblical viewpoint as being unscholarly, outdated and foolish. The Bible has already told us that such would be the case, so we shouldn't be too surprised when the Bible proves itself true.

The passages in 1 Corinthians go on to show the reversal engineered by God. The wisdom of the world God would show to be actually foolishness in His sight (1 Cor. 1:20). All the accolades and applause by the world's elite would mean nothing when the scholarship of unbelieving academia is tested and shown to be found wanting in real scholarship as judged by the King of the universe. They are instead exposed to be nothing but intellectual trash, fit to be burned in the fires of hell where they have originated.

Conversely, for those who humbly believe in God, their seeming foolishness is actually heavenly wisdom (1 Cor. 2:7, 16). Building upon the axioms of the revelation of God's Word, they have a firm foundation which is Christ the eternal Word (Jn. 1:1, 14). While not many believers have the capacity to build vigorously on the foundation to produce scholarly material, their lot is much better than any of the unregenerate biblical scholars. After all, a small non-discrete house built on a strong foundation would stand, while a giant edifice complete with ingenious designs rivaling anything the world has ever seen would not stand if such was build on a foundation of sand.

Unregenerate scholarship, being alienated from Christ and thus bereft of the mind of Christ, cannot produce anything of spiritual truth, for no one produces any work which they themselves think is foolish. Therefore, they have nothing to contribute to true theological reasoning. Their only contribution can only be in areas that are not doctrinal in nature like languages and ancient cultural studies, but they have absolutely nothing to contribute in terms of the doctrines of the church. From Schleiermacher to Barth/ Brunner/Bultmann to Wright and Pannenberg and the Torrances, because they are not of Christ, they have nothing to say to the church with regards to doctrine. Intellectual trash is still trash no matter how academic it sounds, in the same way fallen humans are still depraved no matter how "cultured" they are brought up to be.

As Anselm of Cantebury states: Credo ut Intelligam — I believe so that I may understand. Faith which comes by regeneration is required before eternal truths can be properly understood and accepted as the heavenly truth that they actually are. It is because of this that the truths of God are "secret" and "hidden" (1 Cor. 2:7), not that God is actually hiding something but that the spiritually blind cannot see the truths even when they are placed directly in front of him. As it is written:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4)

Unbelievers are blinded to God's truth and cannot perceive them. The only way to perceive God's truth therefore is by faith which comes about by regeneration as God opens the eyes so that the spiritually blind may see.

We therefore should not give credence to these so-called scholarship from those who are clearly unregenerate. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. In the same way, unregenerate scholars will always produce unsound teaching. A leopard can never changed its spots (Jer. 13:23). What truths these scholars have is occasional, in the same way as a broken clock shows the correct time twice per day.

Let the New Evangelicals continue to worship the idol of academia. True Christian scholarship is determined by the Scripture, not by the elites in academia. By all means, let them mock, for they know not what they are doing. In actual fact, their scholarship viewed in light of God's Word is simply laughable, as seen in for example the so-called "Documentary hypothesis" — a fantasy that liberals invent out of the wildness of their own imaginations that is riddled with all manner of logical and reasoning fallacies.

In conclusion, let us not give credence to these false teachers with academic degrees. Rather, let us rather respect teachers of God's Word who earn their academic degrees through building on the foundation of Scripture. An MDiv from bible-believing seminaries like Westminster Seminary California for example is of much more spiritual value than a PhD in theology from Yale or Harvard. In fact, I would venture to say that degrees from these places are of no true worth at all, and the churches should despise these degrees as being essentially worthless for true Christianity. Such degrees have as much spiritual value as PhDs in other religions, since liberalism is in fact another religion altogether anyway, which is why John Gresham Machen entitled his book Christianity and Liberalism, thus showing even in the title that Liberalism is NOT Christianity.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why the GDOP does not conform to Scripture

Tomorrow (May 23rd 2010) would be the Global Day of Prayer 2010. Tomorrow, millions of professing Christians from many denominations and sects (including apostate Roman Catholicism) would come together supposedly to create a spiritual wave of prayer. Tomorrow, the forces of hell would be laughing at the mass delusion of these millions of Christians who are unwittingly acting out in preparation of the growing darkness of the New Apostolic Reformation. On Pentecost Sunday the darkness of hell grows as a spiritual tsunami that had begun almost 10 years ago picks up force.

Started by South African businessman Graham Powers in 2001, the Global Day of Prayer (GDOP) event has spread to all corners of the globe. Based as it is on the heretical doctrines of the Latter-rain cult (being denounced by the Assemblies of God in 1949 as heresy), the event is part of the idea of "transformation", in which the supposed Dominion Mandate [1] would come to pass as the new apostles exercise their supposed apostleship over the seven mountains or spheres of society. Though the supposed power of prayer, the GDOP event hopes to "pray down" the kingdom of God and bring heaven down to earth through the power of intercession, thus bringing about societal transformation for the better. [2]

The terrible reality however is that the entire GDOP event is not of God and is in fact an abomination before Him. The New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) are heretical groups that are way off from any semblance of biblical Christianity, as Pastor Bob DeWaay has shown [3]. The roots of the GDOP are therefore rotten. Such doctrines as the Manifest Sons of God heresy (based upon the phrasing of Rom. 8:19 in the KJV), and the idea of the "Joshua generation", the "Elijah Company" and "Joel's Army" are concepts utterly foreign to Scripture and so repugnant that to believe them would almost destroy one's spiritual life, as this present author can testify to.

As it has been implemented, the travesty of ecumenism and compromise pervades the entire event. According to Dr. Robert O. Bakke, executive director of GDOP North America in the year 2006, Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ghana came together to "pray for the first time" [4]. The blood of the martyrs against the antichristian system of Rome cries out against such compromise of the Gospel. While there may be true believers in the Romish system, the system itself is antichristian, with Rome anathemizing the Gospel in the Council of Trent. and as such preaches a false gospel of faith plus works righteousness (Gal. 1:9-10).

As if that wasn't bad enough, the 2005 event held at Dallas, Texas saw the Sabellian Modalist T.D. Jakes, who denies the Trinity and as such is not a Christian, participating as one of the event speakers. So not only is the Gospel considered optional, even belief in the true Triune God is considered optional for the GDOP!

Some believers may hold out the idea that they join the event for the idea of prayer only, not endorsing the event even in part. However, even that itself is compromise. Prayer is not a magic bullet that works ex opere operato [5] — that is to say, it works by sheer fact of its being acted out. God is sovereign and we are not. In Ezekiel 14:12-23, we can see this principle at work. For even IF the three righteous men highlighted by God — Noah, Daniel and Job — were in a wicked city which God destined for destruction in judgment, God would still not spare the city on account of these three righteous men, but only they themselves would be saved. From this passage therefore, we can see that in prayer, although we have the privilege and are in fact commanded to humbly submit our requests to God, ultimately God is sovereign and He does not always have to answer 'yes' to our requests made to Him.

Prayer is furthermore not inherently virtuous. As it is written:

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Prov. 15:8)

The parallelism makes it plain that whatever the wicked offer up to God even their sacrifices or prayers are abominations to God. Therefore, even "Christian" prayer in and of itself has no virtue before God, unless it is done in Christ, through Christ and according to Christ's commands in His Word.

Therefore, going for the GDOP event for the prayer, being a violation of God's command to be separate (2 Cor. 6:14-18), is displeasing to God. God is not pleased by the mere "fact" of prayer, but treat such prayers as the abomination that they actually are; a stench in His nostrils.

The GDOP therefore is manifestly not of God and is to be avoided like the plague. May God have mercy upon the deluded masses going for the event and save them from it. Amen.


[1] C. Peter Wagner, Dominion How Kingdom Action can Change the World (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Chosen Books, a division of Baker publishing Group, 2008). A review of this book can be found at

[2] Sarah Leslie, The Global Day of Prayer (

[3] Bob DeWaay, The Roots and Fruits of the New Apostolic Reformation, Critical Issue Commentary Issue 103 - Nov/Dec 2007. Available at

[4] Personal email correspondence received between the author and Rev. Alfred Yeo, email dated May 2nd 2006.

[5] Daniel H. Chew, On the Efficaciousness of Prayer — Does Prayer operates Ex Opere Operato?. Accessed at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ergun Caner and the exposure of the Evangelical celebrity zeitgeist

I am sure many of my American readers would have known about the Ergun Caner saga, in which Liberty University president Ergun Caner has been outed for having embellished his testimony and biography at the very least, as serious contradictions have emerged from conflicting dates in his biography, exposed initially by a Muslim by the name of Mohammad Khan, whose Youtube account has since been deleted through pressure tactics from certain *ah-hem* 'Christian leaders'. The "evil bloggers" are here to stay as they attack... call Caner to come clean regarding the many contradictions he has made on various subjects.

The New Evangelical flagship magazine Christianity Today has proven itself again in its spin on the situation in an article by John W. Kennedy entitled Bloggers target Seminary President, where the typical New Evangelical spin machine worked overtime to cast the entire issue as one of the "nasty unaccountable bloggers" who have a personal grudge against poor Ergun Caner, persecuted by those who are supposed to be fellow Christians, a fact that Dr. James R. White (certainly no *mere blogger*) pointed out. Gene Clyatt aka "Squirrel" likewise pointed that out in his blog post addressing the biased CT article.

Since then, this story has been picked up the Huffington Post. With that the issue has now been gotten out of supposed Christian circles, and little good would come out of this mess.

Prof. R. Scott Clark over at the Heidelblog has posted an excellent piece addressing the Evangelical sub-culture of revivalism behind the entire Caner fiasco. The distrust in God's sovereignty in salvation and evangelism, the maturation of the [Charles G.] Finneyist Pelagian paradigm of salvation being brought about by the mere proper usage of natural means, and the emphases on the importance of strong antithetical conversion experiences and testimonies (a sharp contrast between the "before" and "after" of Christian conversion experience) — ideas that lie at the foundation of revivalism — has brought about the fertile soil necessary for the celebrity cult and the embellishment of Christian testimonies to come about. Caner is merely the person caught in the act this time around; the victim and perpetrator of the entire revivalist tradition that is sadly strongly based in the New Evangelical movement and has influenced others outside it as well.

On the other side of the Evangelical sub-culture, the celebrity cult and the lack of doctrinal teaching and discernment has created the vicious culture of "pastor/leader-worship" where defenders of Ergun Caner have decided to attack all have even the audacity (according to them) to raise questions about their hero. The entire cultic mentality prevalent in various segments of so-called Evangelicalism shocked Dr. White who posted quite a few of these responses that are basically variations of the theme "my hero Ergun Caner right or wrong". One person, Craig Daliessio, has even decided to personally attack and insult Dr. White (with profanity included), in a email message worthy of the AODmers — those self-styled watchblog of watchblogs.

The point in bringing up that particular sub-culture is that this is the prevalent "culture" in many unorthodox churches. Try criticizing the Antinomian Joseph Prince and his supporters react EXACTLY the same way, a fact I have personally experienced. Try criticizing the Word-faith movement, the NAR or whatever groups that are probably not on the radar screens of ill-informed Reformed folks and you would have stirred up a hornet's nest in their followers. Unfortunately, the effeminate Evan-jellyfishes have embraced more and more of this sub-culture, exacerbated by them having embraced the postmodern zeitgeist also. Is it any wonder that we find a significant number of such professing Christians around?

May God have mercy on us as the New Evangelical movement, and even it seems her sister the New Evangelical Calvinism, accelerates at full throttle towards destruction.

Add: TE (Teaching Elder) Brain Carpenter over at Scott Clark's post posted an excellent sarcastic comment on this issue as follows:

Not to go off on a tangent, but….

He was outed by bloggers. This is more proof that blogging is evil and “blog” is a four letter word! It is imperative that we throttle the flow of information and restore the information monopoly that those in power have always enjoyed. How else can we get anything strategically planned?

Anything less than a total return of information dissemination to those in power is to violate the Ninth Commandment, to engage in “blogsip”, and be unloving and just plain not nice. Especially if they’re Calvinists

Absolutely hilarious!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A review and dialogue on Frank Viola's book Reimagining Christianity

I have finished Frank Viola's book Reimagining Christianity. To put it nicely and succinctly, the book is radical Anabaptist and restorationist piety reboiled and rebranded as a "new move" and "new way" of doing church.

Over at Ben Witherington III's blog quite a while back, Witherington has reviewed Viola's book rather extensively, Viola responded to the review, Witherington wrote his epilogue and Viola has the last word, as follows:

Frank Viola's Reimagining Church — Part One

Frank Viola's Reimagining Church — Part Two

Frank Viola's Reimagining Church — Part Three

Reimagining Church — Part Four

Reimagining Church — A Frank Response Part One [Frank Viola responds]

Reimagining Church — A Frank Response Part Two [Frank Viola responds]


A FRANK CODA [Frank Viola responds]

Witherington's review is extensive, though that is achieved by not being able to focus on particular issues in depth. But Witherington focuses on the main issues in contention, and drew blood where it counts, although Viola does not seem to get it.

I especially the part where Witherington deals with Viola's screed against denominationalism in his book.

pp. 235-36 [in Viola's book] can only be called a rant against denominationalism, which is even called a heretical notion antithetical to orthodoxy and dividing the body of Christ. I find it truly ironic that Frank thinks the notion of individual autonomous house churches is somehow less divisive of the body of Christ, than having denominations. Wrong Frank, you’ve just divided it up into even smaller tiny autonomous pieces in this approach!

A non-denominational denomination is STILL by definition a denomination, as it calls itself a body of Christ yet is not part of the other denominations. It is indeed supremely ironical, and hypocritical on Viola's part, to attack denominationalism by introducing yet another denomination.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

House churches?

A good friend of mine who quite obviously has a gift of love for people has lend me his book by Frank Viola entitled Reimagining Church, a book which he has read but is still rather ambivalent about. I am looking forward to discuss the book with him tomorrow Lord's Day after service.

From what I have read so far, Viola's book is historical revisionistic, postmodern in philosophy, neo-liberal/neo-orthodox in theology and communitarian in sociology. In this post, I would like to address the gathering place of the church, a point of contention in Viola's book as he adamantly in Chapter 4 insists that churches ought to meet in homes and not other buildings. Viola is thus not for meeting at homes per se but against meeting anywhere but in homes.

The problem for Viola is his neglect of the biblical text itself. We can grant that many churches meet at homes, but that is besides the point since we have no problems with churches meeting in homes. In the biblical view of things, the place where believers meet for church is adiphora (matters of indifference). It is only in Viola's mind that gathering places are so essential that anywhere but homes are suspect as being pagan, a contention which Kevin DeYoung has said in his book Why we love the Church as being "much ado about nothing" (p. 121)

With this in mind, and not addressing the facts that houses at that time could accommodate many people, we can see in Acts 19:9 that the Apostle Paul used the "hall of Tyrannus" (certainly far from a home) for church services and he did that for two whole years. This counter-example from the Scriptures itself should show us the error of Viola's teaching., a teaching which has its roots more in a postmodern rejection of modernism than with true biblical teaching on the subject. The fact of the matter is that early Christians treat gathering places as adiphora, and thus they meet in houses, in lecture halls and, during the times of persecution, in the catacombs. It is simply silly to make this matter into a major issue of contention, which Viola and the house-church movement unfortunately do.

In an attempt to get around this passage, Viola in his book on page 95 astonishingly makes the claim that the meeting in the hall of Tyrannus was temporary! First of all, to remark that they were temporary and discontinued after Paul left is to argue from silence. Secondly, two years of church services is not a short time and to call it temporary is stretching the term a bit. There is simply no analogy available to the "special seminars, workshops, and conferences of our day" for they are most definitely not done more than a few Sundays, nevermind two years.

In conclusion, Viola is in error in his promotion of the "house church model", not because meeting in home is wrong but because the topic is adiphora and there is nothing in inherently better or worse to meet in homes. By making it THE only acceptable method for biblical churches, Viola embraces legalism in this regard. Seeing his contempt for the institutional Church which Christ established (notwithstanding his spin), Viola is a schismatic and is to be treated as one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

GDOP, the doctrine of separation and the fear of Isolationism

A New Calvinist friend of mine who is also a pastor have decided to promote the GDOP (Global Day of Prayer) 2010. His reasons for doing so were/are that they or the church are not officially endorsing the event, and that they are just coming together for prayer. He followed up with a remark that he "doesn't want to be an isolationist", a remark made with some firmness of tone to be sure.

Readers of my blog will have known that a group of us Reformed Christians have came together last year 2009 for prayer, held concurrently with the Global Day of Prayer yet separate from it. In my sharing then, I shared with the group my (and our) stand on the GDOP and why we are doing what we were doing. That the GDOP is an abomination before God is a fact, that prayer is good too is a fact, ... provided it is done properly. In my sharing, I have made reference to Eze. 14:12-23, a passage which those who are promoting the inherent virtue of prayer should seriously consider. Prayer does not work ex opere operato! Prayer is not inherently virtuous, but its virtue wholly depends on the object and subject and content of prayer. As it is written:

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him (Prov. 15:8)

The parallelism makes it plain that whatever the wicked offer up to God even their sacrifices or prayers are abominations to God. Therefore, even "Christian" prayer in and of itself has no virtue before God, unless it is done in Christ, through Christ and according to Christ's commands in His Word.

That being said, what shall we say to the fear of being "isolationist"? The problem here lies in from whence we get our approval, and where we get our doctrine of Christian fellowship from. If we truly maintain that the Scripture is the ultimate authority for all of life and doctrine, then whatever it teaches we are to obey. If Scripture teaches an "isolationist" attitude, then we are to likewise follow, for that is what the term "ultimate authority" means. Of course, anyone can wish not to follow that authority in that case, but then in that case Scripture ceases to be your ultimate authority — your ultimate standard of what is right and proper.

As I hopefully will get to discuss soon (in a future article), the focus of Scripture is on truth, not isolation or non-isolation. The entire focus of the separatist agenda is wrong because they separate for separation's sake, and are trigger happy in this regard.

My friend's firm concern therefore for not being "isolationist" belies a problem in his understanding of truth and unity. That is the wrong concern and sentiment to have. Our concern should not be with separating/isolating etc but about glorifying God. If in order to glorify God I have to be separate and be considered "isolationist", then so be it! Why do we bother about the sayings of men? Is our desire for popularity and maintaining our "Christian network" so important that we try as much as possible not to give offence even when such offence needs to be given? Do we fear men, or fear God?

It is most definitely tempting to be nice and be friends with everyone. In point of fact, if I want to be popular like Tim Challies, I would most certainly do the same and save myself being the target of "AODMer watchblogs". But at what cost? We Christians are not called to be likable, but godly. We will be persecuted for righteousness' sake (cf 2 Tim. 3:12); slandered and demonized even from within the visible Church (Jn. 16:2). Let's put it this way: If you desire to be loved by the world, to be well-liked, then don't even think of being a Christian, much less a minister/office bearer or aspiring minister of God's Word.

Christians in the early church were not killed as martyrs, but as enemies of the [Roman] state. They were ridiculed as cannibals, despised by the populace for their non compliance with the cultural practices of their day especially the pagan feasts. The worry of being "isolationist" was a non-existent luxury for them, for they already ARE "isolationists" by virtue of them not participating in the pagan rituals.

But you may retort: that only refers to the pagans, not between professing Christians. Such ignore the truths of Acts 20:29-30, 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 2 Jn. 9-11 among others like them. Imagine if Athanasius was to exhibit that type of facile reasoning in the face of professing Christians who were actually Arians, and join them in prayer to the one Savior eh... archangel Michael?

The resolution not to be "isolationist" therefore comes from the fear of men, whether knowingly or unknowingly. People who focus on the Word should not even be concerned about such matters. Rather, they would be more concerned about the glory of God and the magnification of His truth and then grieve over the sorrowful state of the Church, than He would be trying to gain the respect of backslidden churches and ignorant and deluded Christians. You don't affirm lost people, you seek to draw them to Christ who is the Truth. Similarly, you do not affirm backslidden churches, but grieve over them and seek to draw them to the true Christ and the true Truth. If they reject you because they are offended by the biblical message you bring, it is not because that you are "isolationist" but that they have rejected the Word of God.

My friend is thus sadly in error at this point. Knowing him, he is rather unlikely to change on this issue, but it is my hope that the Spirit will do what I can't do in this regard.

P.S. If you know who it is, please do me a favor and don't name the person.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Problems with Funcational Equivalence in the translation of sarx

In the book How to Read the Bible for all its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, the authors attempt to aid the ordinary layperson in reading the Bible. For all its good intentions however, the book is a mixed bag, and problems creep in when the authors decide to confuse guidance with interpretation.

In Chapter 2 on the need for a good translation, Professor Gordon Fee attempts to guide Christians through the plethora of English Bible translations available on the market. The problems however arise when translation and interpretation become confused. Fee in this book heavily promotes the TNIV, a much more liberal version than the NIV (which can be termed the Nearly Inspired Version), and it is in this aspect that we see in sharper detail the error of Functional Equivalence.

I have addressed the issue of Bible translations in the past briefly, and it is my view that "Functional Equivalence" translations mostly are not functional and are most definitely not equivalent. Prof. Fee provides us with an example which I would like to look at: the Greek word σαρξ.

On page 43, Fee compares the translations of the phrase κατα σαρκα (kata sarka) in 2 Cor. 5:16 and made the claim that the TNIV/NIV correctly translate the verse. However, is that really so?

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer (2 Cor. 5:16 - NASB)

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (2 Cor. 5:16 - ESV)

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (2 Cor. 5:16 - NIV)

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (2 Cor. 5:16 - TNIV)

Ὥστε ἡμεῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν οὐδένα οἴδαμεν κατὰ σάρκα: εἰ καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν κατὰ σάρκα Χριστόν, ἀλλὰ νῦν οὐκέτι γινώσκομεν (2 Cor. 5:16 - UBS 3rd Ed.)

The two literal translations (ESV and NASB) have translated the phrase κατα σαρκα literally as "according to the flesh". The NIV and the TNIV however have decided to translate this as "from a worldly point of view". Fee and other advocates of Functional Equivalence (F-E) believe that this is the best conceptual interpretation of the phrase "according to the flesh" since they deem that phrase incomprehensible to the majority of people today.

Let us discuss the translation for the moment, ignoring the philosophy behind it which I have discussed before. According to the F-E own standards, does the newly minted phrase "from a worldly point of view" is even the meaning taught in 2 Cor. 5:16? The answer is sadly no. The "flesh" in Scripture has nothing to do with "sinful nature" or "worldly point of view". In fact, the "flesh" refers merely to the idea of physical humanness — that which is physically of humans. The entire contrast in 2 Cor. 5:16 is not about God and the world, but about true reality and the the appearance conveyed by our physical bodies. 2 Cor. 5:16 therefore can be better interpreted to teach that we regard no one as seen from their physical status, and that though we had once judged Christ based upon the physical appearances, we do so no longer.

The NIV and TNIV mis-translation for this particular verse with its rendering into the term "worldly" subtly introduces the idea of worldliness and evil into the text. The "flesh" however as used in Scripture is not necessarily sinful but just the physical nature component of men, for otherwise Christ himself would be sinful (cf 1 Tim. 3:16). In like manner, 2 Cor. 5:16 does not say that the flesh is necessarily worldly or anything of that sort, but is is merely stating that we are not to regard people according to their human characteristics and physical appearances. Such mis-interpretations of sarx have more in common with Gnostic ideas about the evil of physical bodies rather than that of biblical Christianity.

The NIV/TNIV translation of 2 Cor. 5:16 is in error. According to F-E's own criteria, the NIV/TNIV translation fails. In a bid to "simplify" and "clarify" Scripture, the F-E translators have instead become the de facto new Magisterium by which they interpret Scriptures on our behalf (sometimes wrongly too as in the case of sarx). Even if one follows their own stated Bible study method of using multiple translations, by virtue of the fact that the F-E translations claim to translate the "sense" of the passage means that their interpretations would be regarded as the default and even best interpretations of the text, which may not be the case.

In ending, the rest of the book suffers from a similar problem. Fee in his chapters frequently conceptually interprets where exegesis should be done, promoting his characteristic doctrines as he move through Scripture. This became intolerable when he starts pontificating on controversial topics such as his promotion of Egalitarianism in pages 82-86, contrary to the biblical position of Complementarianism. While we can respect his desire to promote his position on this topic in his egalitarian books, it is morally repugnant that he does so in a book that is supposed to be teaching Christians how to read Scripture, as if his interpretation of Egalitarianism is THE way to read Scripture and all others are not. It is for such conceptual interpretations which permeate sections of the book that this book is not recommended for young Christians wanting to know how to read the Bible, a pity since such books would be really helpful.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Crosstalk on the 'New Apostolic Reformaton'

About 1-2 days ago, Ingrid Schlueter in her Crosstalk show did a radio interview with Sarah Leslie regarding the New Apostolic Reformation, or rather deformation. The excellent radio talk show can be accessed here.

The issue of the NAR is rather close to my heart because of its (and the Shepherding/G12 movement) pervasive influence in the churches in Singapore. Many professing Evangelical Christians are deluded by the false teachings heavily promoted in "Christian" bookstores here, with Cindy Jacobs, George Otis, Ed Silvoso, C. Peter Wagner, Rick Joyner etc being almost household names here.

It wasn't very long ago since God delivered me from that mess through Reformed theology, a mess brought about my naive embrace of the Third Wave theology then brought in by my former church (which I why I tend to distrust spiritual leaders nowadays). While grateful to God for His liberating grace, I continue to have a burden to reach those who remain in darkness within the clutches of the NAR and its satellite bodies. It definitely wasn't a nice experience facing the cold-hard silence from God due to my sin (sin in ignorance is still sin) while I was part of the NAR, and I am convinced that true believers in these movements would be tortured day and night in their souls as they face the cold silence from heaven for their continued participation in such heretical movements.

It is my hope that this interview can be used by God to bring believers out of the bondage to these movements. The taste of true freedom and the communion of the Holy Spirit is so much sweeter than any power and influence these movements can offer. For me personally, I wouldn't go back to such darkness for anything in the world; Christ is more than enough for me. What exactly is so enticing about having "spiritual authority" over others to the extent of near total control? Can the goal of spiritual power — of being able to raise the dead — compare with the reality of knowing Christ and to be known by Him? What is the possibility of worldly power in the "church" and the power to "prophecy" and give "words of knowledge", as compared with the joy of serving my King?

May God have mercy and save many from the darkness that is the NAR and its sister movements. Amen.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

An analysis of Eternal Jusfication

I have finally finished my paper on Eternal Justification. While I do not claim to know everything on this issue, it is my hope that this paper would cover at least the main points regarding the issue of contention, which is indeed of importance with regards to the defence of the Gospel.


The doctrine of Eternal Justification is the theory that the Elect are justified before God from eternity. For adherents to this doctrine, the decree to justify the elect is from eternity, and so therefore from eternity the elect of God are considered as being justified, and this fact they term Eternal Justification. This is distinguished from the Justification that occurs in time which is by faith. Eternal Justification adherents typically believe in a two-fold justification, one active and objective which is by God from eternity, and the other passive and subjective which happens by faith[7]. As stated by Gill[8]

Justification is an act of God's grace, flowing from his sovereign good will and pleasure; the elect of God are said to be "justified by his grace"; and as if that expression was not strong enough to set forth the freeness of it, the word "freely" is added elsewhere; "Being justified freely by his grace", #Tit 3:7 Ro 3:24. Justification is by many divines distinguished into active and passive. Active justification is the act of God; it is God that justifies. Passive justification is the act of God, terminating on the conscience of a believer, commonly called a transient act, passing upon an external object. It is not of this I shall now treat, but of the former; which is an act internal and eternal, taken up in the divine mind from eternity, and is an immanent, abiding one in it; it is, as Dr. Ames expresses it, "a sentence conceived in the divine mind, by the decree of justifying."

There are therefore two kinds of justification being discussed: a "justification from eternity" which is an "immanent" (internal and eternal) act of God and a "justification by faith" which is a "transient" (acting externally in time) act. As Gills continues,

Now, as before observed, as God's will to elect, is the election of his people, so his will to justify them, is the justification of them; as it is an immanent act in God, it is an act of his grace towards them, is wholly without them, entirely resides in the divine mind, and lies in his estimating, accounting, and constituting them righteous, through the righteousness of his Son; and, as such, did not first commence in time, but from eternity[9].

In other words, because God is eternal and so timeless, his decree of election is the same as his electing of his people, as his decree of justification is the justification of them. God being immutable cannot change and thus his immanent decree originating from Himself cannot change either. According to this reasoning therefore, since God decreed to justify His people from eternity; it is an act of God and thus active; this decree must be immanent and therefore eternal. God being timeless therefore means that His decree must equate to the actions being "done" in God's perspective.


A manifestation of the common spirit behind the AODMers

Over at his blog, Dr. James R. White is amazed at the spin and politicking on CT (Christianity Today), Liberty University etc, and the attack in the CT piece on "bloggers" in their defence of the indefensible. For those who have seen the disgusting anti-Christian spirit behind the AODMers, this is nothing new. Truth is not much more treasured by those in the New Evangelical and New Evangelical Calvinism camp anymore than in non-Evangelical and Emergent circles. Slightly more, but not by much. Rather, as Dr. White says, "for many in evangelicalism, truth is only important when it is expedient".

Monday, May 03, 2010

Homofascism in Britain

Homosexuality: a sexual attraction to (or sexual relations with) persons of the same sex

Homosexual Agenda: A movement which seeks to make homosexuality not merely tolerated but accepted and even celebrated, and for all dissenters (especially Christians) to be silenced

Fascism: a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism)

Homo-fascism: a socio-political theory/movement advocating the authoritarian enforcement of the homosexual agenda by force, especially through the abuse of legal means in the government

Over in Great Britain, the homofascists have struck. As part of their immoral agenda to force everyone to if not celebrate at least accept their depravity, a homosexual police officer has thrown a Christian preacher into prison because he had mentioned that homosexuality is sin. Please pray that God will be with Dalph McAlpine and comfort him, and that He will have mercy upon that police officer and save him from his wickedness and sin.

Oh Lord, come quickly.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Satire: Rick Warren and the Dark Knight

Over at Calvinistic Cartoons, Eddie Eddings has posted a satirical cartoon satirizing Rick Warren's statement to John Piper of his reading of the works of Jonathan Edwards.

[HT: Christian Research Net]

Baptism and the Great Commission

The topic of Baptism and especially Infant Baptism is not an easy one to tackle, and thus I have not previously really mentioned much of it. Certainly, it is not one that can be addressed after reading one or two books on the topic, and I have always been extremely wary of those who after a few weeks have dogmatically made up their minds on the issue and attack the other side as being at best heterodox and at worst heretical (an action which shows the extreme naivete and profound ignorance of the person involved on this topic). The background for discussion of this topic requires a rather in-depth knowledge of Covenant Theology, and especially the relation between Salvation and entrance into the Covenant. This is especially so since Baptism is at least a sign of the Covenant, a position held to by both [Covenantal] Credobaptists and Paedobaptists.

That said, I think I have read and heard enough to make some informed critique regarding the topic, instead of merely previously saying that the points raised by others do not actually prove their position. I am aware though that it will be some time before I am able to formulate my viewpoint in a way that is satisfactory to me and which will sufficiently address the topic.

In this post therefore , I would address two passages which are used to prop up Credobaptism: Mt. 28:18-20 and Acts 2:39-39.

In Fred Malone's book The Baptism of Disciples Alone (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2nd. Ed. 2007), Malone in Appendix E on pages 242-243 refers to the Great Commission text (which he has done so previously in the main body of his book i.e. p. 41). In his view as articulated previously in page 41, the Great Commission states that we are first to make disciples, and then to baptize these disciples, and therefore the Great Commission teaches Believers' Baptism.

In pages 242-243, Malone returns to this passage in this review of the book The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism compiled and edited by Gregg Strawbridge. In chapter 3 of that book, Joe Beeke and Ray Lanning were stated to have said that ""repent and be baptized" are coordinate commands, not indicating temporal order (p. 60)" (cited in p. 242). Malone countered that "the coordinate conjunction does not negate the temporal argument that repentance should precede baptism". (p. 243) To prove his case, Malone cites passages such as Jn. 4:1-2 where repentance is stated to have clearly preceded baptism.

The problem however with Malone's attempted rebuttal is that he has unwittingly committed eisegesis at this point. Beeke and Lanning's contention that the twin commands of repentance and baptism are coordinate commands not indicating temporal order fits the immediate context very well. Malone in appealing to passages such as Jn. 4:1-2 cites passages outside the immediate context of Mt. 28:18-20. The immediate context says nothing about temporal order within the twin commands of repentance and baptism. It just states that we are to call all men to both (1) repent, and (2) to be baptized. Mt. 28:18-20 therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of Infant Baptism, and Malone in this instance is reading into the text here.

The other passage is the famous text in Peter's sermon in Acts 2:38-39, which is as follows:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Malone interprets the passage as saying that the phrase "everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself" is the condition circumscribing the entire promise; the "ultimate condition of the reception of the promise; the effectual calling of God, not parental connection" (p. 129). Therefore, while the promise is "for you and to your children and for all who are far off", all these groups are limited by the condition of election in the later part of verse 39. Therefore, the promise is not an "indiscriminate assurance" of promise, but rather this ""promise" is given only to those "of faith" "(p. 128), citing Gal. 3:22 to this effect.

This argument seems to be a staple in Covenantal Credobaptist argumentation, seeing as it is used by Dr. James White in his baptism debate with Dr. Bob Shishko (a debate which can be bought from the Aomin website) and also by Alan Conner in his book Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? (Owensboro, KY: RBAP), p. 75. It sounds rather reasonable, until you examine it in detail.

The first problem with this interpretation is the use of Gal. 3:22 to interpret Acts 2:38-39. The book of Galatians was written for a particular reason for the proclamation of the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone apart from any form of works and sacraments. The Law/Gospel antithesis is at the forefront of Pauline thought in the entire epistle to the Galatians, and it is this that the book is focused on. To use any part of this book therefore to interpret other parts like Acts 2 where the context is different is to commit eisegesis. The fallacy that Malone makes is to assume that the concept of "promise" in Gal. 3:22 is the same as the concept of "promise" in Acts 2:39. In order to do that, he must depend on a certain Baptistic view of relation between salvation and covenant, a view which he does not so much defend as assume. (Which is why as I have said the topic requires one to really understand Covenant Theology!)

The second problem with the Credobaptist position can be illustrated by the diagram as follows:

The Credobaptist position it seems seek to make the phrase "Everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself" a condition circumscribing who the promise is made to, even bringing the concept of election into the picture. The first problem however for such an interpretation is that the very concept of election is not found in the text. The Apostle Peter was giving a Gospel message and a Gospel call; an offer of the Gospel, and no mention of election was even mentioned at all apart from this contested verse, so why would we think that Peter was talking about election in the middle of this Gospel call?

If we were to read the verse in context however, we can see that Peter's Gospel message was portrayed as a fulfilment of the prophecies to Israel. Citing Joel 2 and stating that these prophecies were being fulfilled in these last days, the idea of fulfilment of the promises made to Israel is prevalent throughout the message. Such fulfilment of Messianic prophecies would bring to mind passages such as Is. 54 especially verses 1-3, Mal. 1:11, Is. 19:16-24 among others, where the promise that all peoples would come to know God is made.

It is in such a context that the promise of Acts 2:38-39 is given. The promise seems to be moving outwards, from (1) you, to (2) your children, and to (3) all who are far off. The logical flow therefore is to see that the phrase "all whom the Lord our God calls to Himself" is the fourth sphere of promise, covering all and everyone on this earth as an expression of the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies. Instead of being a [limiting] phrase about election, the phrase is an expansion phrase, bringing about the promise of the Gospel message as a universal offer of salvation to all men without distinction.

The question that may arise from this interpretation then concerns the struggle Peter, the Apostolic and the early church had with the problem of Gentile converts. Why did Peter struggle with the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity? Why was the Jerusalem council needed, and the Epistle to the Galatians also, not to mention the epistle to the Hebrews? The problems and struggles as one sees through the lens of Messianic prophecies came about not because Gentiles were not included in the Messianic prophecies, but rather because the Gospel message moves beyond the sphere of Judaism in demolishing ethno-religo boundaries. Peter and the Apostolic Church probably have the concept in mind that Gentiles in order to become Christians (who were after all the true Jews in their minds and in fact) must become Jews first through proselyte baptism. The shock Peter had in the case of Cornelius was that God accepted Cornelius and his household as Gentile converts and not that they were to become [Messianic] Jews. In moving beyond the ethno-religious boundaries of Judaism, the Holy Spirit led them to see that the Gospel message was not about making Jews of all nations [albeit "Messianic Jews"], but of making Christians of all nations. The New Covenant rightly speaking is new with respects to the time-bound Mosaic Covenant, and thus not limited to the people of physical Israel. Rather, it is a fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant with its blessing to all peoples (Gen. 12:1-3), a fact mentioned in Gal. 3:16-18.

In conclusion, we have looked and see that these two passages, Mt. 28:18-20 and Acts 2:38-39, do not in fact promote the Credobaptist position. Rather, when properly interpreted, they are either neutral to it (the former), or decidedly against it (the latter). Acts 2:38-39 continues to be a strong proof-text for the paedobaptist position, and also in fact a good text for the universal offer of the Gospel.