Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is there a real literary framework behind the Framework View?

The Framework View on creation days is an acceptable view within the OPC. That does not mean that it is beyond critique. Tolerable error is still error after all. And the best way to actually critique a view is to look and see whether the text of Scripture actually supports the view.

The Framework View's purported strength is its perception of the literary parallels within the creation account itself. Framework proponents such as Henri Bloecher and Meredith G. Kline call attention to the seeming parallels between the two triads of the creation days: Days 1-3, and Days 4-6. The two triads supposedly parallel each other in literary form, as follows:

On the surface, the days of Genesis 1 do seem to lend itself to support the Framework view. Thus, it seems that the framework idea is proven, for how can one argue against what seems to be actually present in the text of Scripture? The Framework view also does not preclude someone from holding other views, so technically one can be Framework and YEC, or Framework and Theistic Evolutionist, so what's the big fuss anyway?

It is here that we take a closer look at the actual text of Scripture, and especially in the Hebrew. Once we start looking deeper, all manner of problems begin to emerge. It must be remembered that the claim made by the Framework proponents is that there is a literary framework of the 2 sets of triads. "Literary" refers to words, and it must be a neat fit. One cannot claim a literary framework then suddenly there are lots of exception clauses to the parallels founds in them.

In a critique of the Framework View, perhaps the strongest critique I have read so far is by Andrew Kulikovsky, and he has placed his critique online here. The first problem with the Framework view is that Day 5 does not actually parallel Day 2. The birds of Day 5 are flying על פני רקיע השׁמים (Gen. 1:20), which is literally translated as "upon the face of the expense of the heavens." In other words, the birds are not actually in the raqi'a, the expense. Yet in Day 2, it is the expense that is mentioned, not just its face. How can the birds be said to "rule" over the expense, if they are not even in it?

The parallels between "kings" and "kingdoms" thus so far have one glitch. If we speak concerning the expense, the only thing(s) stated as being in the expense are the luminary bodies (sun, moon and stars) so the parallels should actually be Day 2 (expense) to be mapped onto Day 4 (luminary bodies in the expense).

But wait, the problems with the triads have just begun. The sea creatures in Day 5 are to populate the waters of the seas, in contradistinction to the dry land. But the seas are only created in Day 3, not Day 2. So now we have another different mapping, that of Day 3 (seas) to Day 5 (sea creatures). The next glitch in the triad scheme is that of Man, who are to rule over the land animals (Day 6), the land (Day 3), the birds (Day 5) and the sea creatures (Day 5). How can Man in Day 6 be merely mapped to Day 3 land, and not also the birds and lan and sea creatures? If it is objected that the land implies all that are on them, then what about the birds, which the Framework proponents linked with the expense? So in the triads (assuming the mapping of birds to Day 2), dominion over the birds would map Man in Day 6 not just to Day 3 (Dry land and seas) but also the expense of Day 2!

The close analysis of the biblical text therefore has shown us too many "exceptions" and cross-mapping of the elements of the various days of creation. As such, the two sets of triads cannot be seriously maintained. It is an artificial construct, an appearance of parallels that proves to be a mirage. Now, that of course does not mean that the Genesis 1 account has no literary elements, but only that the major supposed literary elements claimed by the Framework view are arbitrary and non-existent. The real literary element of Genesis 1 is not some contrived sets of triads, but rather the framing of each single creation day of God's creative word bringing about fulfillment. To the question of the title therefore: No, there is no real literary framework behind the Framework view.

Framework Hypothesis, the analogical view and the idea of analogy

Earth, the visible cosmos, was made to mirror the invisible world of heaven. The lower, terrestrial register was so designed that it contained replicas of realities in the upper register Glory-realm, including likenesses of the God of heaven. Nor was the visible world alone the scenes of such ectypes. Heaven too was filled with images of the God of Glory in the form of the angel "sons of God," like Elohim their Creator-Father and accordingly also called 'elohim, "gods" (Ps. 82:1).

—Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 31

The Framework Hypothesis states that the Genesis creation account is a literary retelling of the historical creation of the world. The various elements of Genesis 1 are basically literary, almost like how a poem expresses truth in a manner that has literary embellishments attached to it. Thus, while it is wrong to say that the Framework Hypothesis is merely figurative, yet it is correct to say that the elements of the Genesis 1 accounts in the Framework Hypothesis are not historical. Genesis 1 as a whole is historical, while the particulars are not.

One way of how the Framework Hypothesis works is to postulate the idea of the two registers. The upper register has to do with the heavenly realities, while the lower register has to do with earthly realities. Using a two-register cosmology, Genesis 1 is seen as being true for the upper-register, thus it is God's "historical understanding" of creation from the viewpoint of the upper-register. If one follows M.G. Kline in embracing the two-register cosmology, then one could attempt to say that even the particulars of the Genesis 1 account is "historical," since it is historical according to the Upper Register. However, does this two-register cosmology actually work?

Kline utilizes the language of archetype and ectype. In the Reformed tradition, Franciscus Junius explicated the archetype/ectype principle to denote the qualitative difference in knowledge (epistemic-ontologically) between God and Man. God in se has archetypal knowledge, which is qualitatively different from Man's knowledge. God has His own ectypal knowledge, which is a true reflection of His archetypal knowledge. God's ectypal knowledge is then transmitted to Man by revelation. What Man can know is therefore purely ectypal. We only know that there is an archetypal knowledge, not what it actually is.

As it can be seen, this archetypal/ ectypal distinction seems to be distorted by Kline in the two-register cosmology. For in Kline's system, we CAN know the upper register archetypal knowledge. Genesis 1 is now archetypal, not ectypal; upper register, not lower register. But it may be objected, Kline does not mean by "archetype" what the Reformed scholastics mean by "archetype." If so, what does this upper register refer to, if it is neither actually archetype nor is it truly "ectype"? A true ectypal system (epistemologically) is given to Man for revelation, and thus it must be "lower register." If however the difference is spatial not epistemic, with the "upper register" being the heavenly realm populated by angels, then Genesis 1 cannot be "upper register" either, for the location of the creation events is not the realm of angels but planet earth! Either way, Kline's two-register cosmology does not work.

The idea of analogy, just like Kline's postulation of the two-register cosmology, just cannot work. The issue is this: Is Genesis 1 archetype or ectype? We must say it is ectype. But if it is ectype, how can it be considered an analogy from God's point of view? How can we speak about "God's work week," since the only record of God's work week is the Genesis 1 account of God "working" 6 literal days and resting on the 7th day? But if we deny the plain reading of Genesis 1, then there is no other area in Scripture in which there is the portrayal of God working 6 days and resting on the 7th, ectypally. If we actually hold to the archetype/ ectype distinction, then Genesis 1 cannot be God's analogy, but rather Man's side of the analogy — an actual historical 6+1 days which functions to show us the 6+1 pattern of our work week.

The whole idea of relegating Genesis 1 to mere analogy therefore is flawed from the beginning. While this does not preclude the Framework Hypothesis, it does preclude the Two-register cosmology that is held to by Kline which he had added to his Framework view.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ritual and ritualism

Ritual is the repeated outwards performance of an act. Religious rituals provoke the senses. In Roman Catholicism, as in many non-Christian religions and sects, the smells and bells offer worshipers with an encounter, a mystical encounter, with the divine. Protestant Christianity has or had rightly rejected the mysticism in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and it's only due to the infection of Liberalism that a focus on liturgy has returned in the apostate mainstream denominations.

Since Christianity is a revealed religion centered on the Word, true Christians should be highly skeptical of ritual. Ritual and liturgy in apostate Christianity has become a substitute for Christ and His revelation. Like the strange fire in Lev. 10: 1-2, such "rituals" and "liturgies" are abominations before God since they violate God's commands on how Man is to approach him. Since the Creator-creature gulf is so great that God must condescend to His creatures in order for us to know Him, such man-made will-worship does not bring any person to a true encounter with the true and living God.

Yet there is no escaping from ritual and liturgy. No matter how one organizes a worship service, one cannot change the order of service from week to week, or all would be chaos. Such a fixed pattern is indeed a liturgy, even though it is not called one. The stuff done are also rituals, although they may be called "cool." The "contemporary" church has its own liturgy all right, even though they do not call it one.

The reason why [older] liturgies are rejected while people flock to the "contemporary church," or whatever type of church they might fancy, is basically a matter of taste. The newer low-church liturgies are appealing to them in ways that the "old-fashioned" ones aren't. But what they embrace is still a liturgy. In "contemporary" megachurches, the usage of CCM, strobe lights, smoke machines etc are high-tech versions of the smells and bells of "old-time" religion, and similarly their usage is meant to create an environment where worshipers can have a mystical encounter with God. It is ironic therefore that we have come full circle. To those in "contemporary" churches, why is it that they have no problems with their modern rituals, but are highly skeptical of ancient rituals? And just to show that rituals are not just in "contemporary" megachurches, why is the ritual of the altar call sacrosanct?

Ritual and liturgy is unavoidable. So the question is: What ritual(s) and liturgy(ies) should be adopted? On this we consider that precisely because we should be skeptical of ritual, therefore we should only do the rituals/liturgies that are necessary, and what is necessary is commanded by God (Regulative Principle). The skepticism of ritual should bring us to be skeptical of all rituals that God has not ordained. And through our skepticism, we come to find out that God has condescended to us even in our senses. While proscribing all other forms of smells and bells, God condescended to the weakness of our flesh in giving us His two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper, in which we receive the grace of God through the Spirit. In the simple act of sprinkling, pouring or immersion in the triune name, we are visibly named as part of the people of God. In the simple act of eating the bread and drinking the wine corporately in remembrance of Christ, we partake of Christ's body and commune with Him spiritually. These two sacraments are the only two "rituals" that involve more of the senses, and are God's condescension to us.

Biblical Christians ought to be skeptical of ritual, and not just ancient but modern rituals. It is precisely this antipathy towards ritual that guards against ritualism. At the same time, precisely because we are skeptical of ritual therefore we must strive to follows those which Christ has ordained, for otherwise we would just have swapped the ancient or modern rituals for "non-ritual rituals" of our own designs.

The Caner scandal only grows

Dr. James R White has an update on the situation here. The entire conduct of Ergun Caner, even just his lawsuit against Jason Smathers contrary to the biblical commands of 1 Cor. 6: 1-8, is despicable.

Ray, Robbins and Congregationalism

The commands which Christ gave in Matthew 18 similarly involve discipline by the majority: Go to your brother first. If he will not hear you, take a witness. If he still does not listen, tell it to the church. If he will not listen to the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. The church does not mean the church leaders: It means the entire assembly.

Moreover, this procedure applies to all Christians, not just to laymen. There are no special courts set up for judging the clergy. All Christians are brothers, and to establish separate judicial procedures for leaders and for laity is unbiblical.

— John W. Robbins, "The Church," Trinity Review Sept/Oct 1989: 5

In my previous post, the recalcitrant slanderer Charlie Ray posted totally inane comments showing his inability to actually understand the issues being discussed. One of his points was that Robbins is Presbyterian, so any idea of Congregationalism is out of the picture. One wonders whether Ray has ACTUALLY READ Robbins' article, or maybe he doesn't even understand church polity. Just to give one (THE LAST ONE) instance of why it is futile to engage Charlie Ray, I would show that Robbins is actually promoting Congregationalism in his article.

What is Congregationalism? Congregationalism is church governance by the entire congregation. Congregational church governance does not mean there are no pastors or elders in a church, otherwise that would be anarchy. Rather, it just means that the congregation has the ultimate authority on all matter of church governance and policy. Pastors, elders and deacons are mere servants of the church without any ruling power. In other words, the church is a democracy, where every member has a say in the operating and governance of a local church.

The alternatives to Congregationalism are Presbyterianism and Episcopacy. Presbyterian church polity is a representative church polity. A local church elects (ruling) elders and deacons, and calls a minister(s), and it is those office bearers who represent the entire church in governing the church. Authority and decision-making in Presbyterian church polity is invested in the office bearers of a church, not the congregation per se. Episcopal church polity on the other hand is a hierarchical church polity. Local churches are under the authority of vicars, who are in turn under the authority of others in a chain of hierarchy with bishops (and even archbishops) at the top.

Now, understanding the differences between the 3 main church polities, let us look at the excerpt from Robbin's article again. To which church polity does Robbins' statements conform to? Congregationalism of course. There is no idea of any idea of representation in Robbins' article. Why does it even matter that Robbins was once a Presbyterian (PCA)? Does attending a Presbyterian church necessarily means that the person must be Presbyterian in conviction? Just as being in MacDonalds does not make one a hamburger, so attending a Presbyterian church does not mean that one is necessarily Presbyterian in conviction. Presbyterianism believe in special office bearers who represent the whole church (as per apostolic witness in Acts 15:6-21); Robbins does not. Presbyterianism believe in church discipline by these same office bearers; Robbins does not. So in what sense can it be said that Robbins is still a Presbyterian?

Whether Congregationalism is biblical or not is not the point of this post. But it should not be denied that Robbins is promoting Congregationalism in his article. As such, Robbins most certainly is not Presbyterian, and his view of the church is not the same as that of Gordon H Clark.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Clark versus Robbins: On the Church

[This is in response to a question from a friend]

The September/October 1989 Trinity Review by the late John Robbins has an article on it simply entitled The Church. In this article, Robbins writes concerning what a church is and should do. As Robbins is supposed to be Gordon H. Clark's successor (although I have no idea how such non-apostolic succession is supposed to be calculated), the impression may be given that such is the Clarkian position on the church. However, is that really the case? In this post, I will like to summarize Robbins' view of the Church, put forward Clark's view of the Church, and analyze Robbins' view closer.

Robbin's view of the Church

Robbins' view of the Church is extremely simple. According to Robbins, "If once we understand what the purpose of the church is, all the rest of the doctrine of the church falls neatly into place. But if we do not know what the purpose of the church is, then we cannot understand how the church is to be organized and operated" ("The Church," 1). In other words, what the church is is determined by its purpose and that only. Teleology governs ontology. The purpose of the Church is education in the truth. Utilizing 1 Timothy 3:15 as proof-text, Robbins states that the church is the pillar of the truth and thus that is her purpose and goal, citing John Calvin's commentary on that passage with approval. Another text utilized by Robbins is John 21:15-17, with Robbins remarking that feeding the lambs is "figurative language for educating them in the truth" ("The Church," 2). Robbins rounded up his tour through the Scriptures by looking at Matthew 28:19-20, noting the focus on teaching. Apologetically, Robbins next launched into a polemic against those who attacked the idea of propositional truth and thus use "idolatry, ritual, invitations, dance, drama, and music" as instruments to convey truth ("The Church," 3).

Having established in his article what the Church is, Robbins then moved to apply this theory of the Church to particular situations. Robbins excoriated single elder churches and hierarchy among teachers, the latter aimed specifically at the distinction between teaching and ruling elders in Presbyterian circles. He advocates for the election of teachers from within the local church, rejects women leadership, attacks the idea of excommunication, promotes the idea of all the elders having a part-time secular job outside, and calls for sermons discussions after sermons so that believers could be edified after the service instead of the sermon being a mere monologue. All of such is to be done for the purpose that there would be much teaching within the Church.

Clark's view of the Church

For Clark's view, I have chosen to look at his book What do Presbyterians believe? The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Forever (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 1965, 2001). Now, the material for this work was written earlier in Clark's life and career, and I do not discount the possibility that he might have changed his views since then, although I have no reason to believe that had happened. This book is Clark's brief commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, and serve more to illuminate Clark's understanding of the Confession than what the Confession itself teaches.

Here are some citations from the book which illuminate Clark's understanding of the Church:

The local congregations, of course, exist chiefly for the purpose of public worship and at all regular meetings should engage in prayer, praise, reading and preaching the Word, as well as at stated intervals administering the sacraments. … (p. 198; Commentary on Chapter XXI Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-Day)

The invisible Church, or more accurately a part of it, becomes the visible church as those who confess Christ, together with their children, are organized into congregations. … (p. 220; Commentary on Chapter XXV Of the Church)

In opposition to Rome the Presbyterian and Reformed churches without compromise exalt the Word rather than the sacraments. In fact, it may be said that the Word is essential and the sacraments unessential. Let there be no superficial misunderstanding here: God’s commands to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper ought to be obeyed. Any theory that omits the sacraments from the regular observance of the church is not Biblical. And any individual who refuses or neglects to participate in the sacraments is in open rebellion against God. The sacraments are means of grace, instituted by Christ for our spiritual advancement. Only at our own risk and our own loss can we despise them. At the same time, if by reason of necessity, like the thief on the cross, or even if by reason of unjustifiable carelessness, a person is not baptized and does not eat of the Lord’s Supper, this omission does not render his sincere faith of none effect. Fortunately, God forgives the sin of neglecting the sacraments, as he forgives other sins. But the forgiveness is granted to those whose faith is sincere; and faith can come only by hearing the Word. (p. 235; Commentary on Chapter XXVII Of the Sacraments)

It can be clearly seen that Clark does not write about the Church like Robbins does. Clark has the public worship of God as the central focus of the Church (p.. 198), which is gathered together for confessing the faith (p. 220). Clark prioritizes the Word, or the preaching of the Word, above the Sacraments, for a person does not need to partake of the sacraments to be saved. However, Clark does believe that the sacraments are necessary for the Christian life, and are means of grace for our spiritual advancement. Neglecting or despising the sacraments of God is "rebellion against God," not just a lifestyle choice. Elsewhere in the book commenting on the issue of church censures, Clark agrees with the necessity of church discipline even up to excommunication from the church (pp. 252-5).

Clark as such is an orthodox Presbyterian, with the ministry of the Church focused on both Word and Sacrament. Comparing Robbins' view of the Church to Clark's view of the Church, does anyone think the two look even remotely the same? I would hope not! How then can Robbins claim to be a Clarkian and yet promote such views? It is most likely that Robbins pick up on Clark's main focus and made it the main point. Clark to be certain was often engaged in controversy. In the growing anti-intellectual climate of his time, Clark's emphasis has always been on recovering the rationality (note: I did not say rationalISM) of Christianity. The importance of doctrine and teaching within the Church are thus bound to be emphasized over and over again, and it is likely that Robbins picked up on this emphasis and ran away with it to create an entire system of thought. What was one of the motifs in Clark's view of the Church was taken, blown way out of proportion, and made THE central motif of one's doctrine of the Church


The problems with Robbins' view are present at the very beginning. Robbins first assumes that teleology determines ontology; the purpose of the Church determines the nature and activities of the Church. Such however is a premise not taught by Clark, neither is it found in Scripture. Teleology is not ontology, and that is why for example, on a completely different topic, I reject the idea of dominion being part of the Imago Dei. Teleology does of course have bearings for the activities of the Church, and something to say concerning the nature of the Church, but it does not determine both the nature of the Church and all the activities of the Church.

Secondly, Robbins is a reductionist. Yes, one purpose of the Church is teaching, but does it therefore mean that the Church has only ONE purpose? Such a reductionistic understanding of the Church runs throughout Robbin's entire article, and everything is funneled through that one lens. It is however illuminative that Robbins managed to make some logical leaps in his application, for it is not evident how having only the one purpose of teaching necessitates the denial of hierarchy among leaders, or even that there should be no paid full-time ministers. The applications Robbins make seem at times to be a logical leap from his idea of the Church to Robbins' personal opinions of what a church should look like. Robbins' attack on the distinction between teaching and ruling elders for example does not flow from his one purpose of teaching, for ruling elders do teach, just in general not preach. Also, the idea that elders do not require seminary training and should all have secular jobs suffer from too low an estimation of the demands of what pastoring a church actually requires. Not all elders know Greek and Hebrew, or have the time to study and prepare sermons and write articles for the flock. Yes, seminary training is not required, if by that it is meant that one does not need to undergo an ontological elevation to become a "seminary grad" in order to preach and teach. But it is required, if by that it is meant that training in exegesis and theology is necessary for the vocation of the ministry. It is certainly possible for someone not a seminary grad to study exegesis and theology and church history etc by oneself, but highly unlikely.

Another application Robbins has made concerns the election of teachers from within the local congregation. The problem with Robins here is not that it is not good if someone within the local congregation rises up to be the pastor, but that Robbins sees this as the only acceptable practice. This application does not flow from his doctrine of the church, and does not even flow from his exegesis of Acts 14:23 and Acts 6 in the paragraph where he discussed the matter. It is a logical leap to move from the claim that office bearers are elected by a show of hands, to asserting that office bearers must come from within the local congregations. Even more fundamentally, Robbins merely asserts without argumentation that the congregation elects first before the apostles appointed the office bearers, instead of things happening the other way around. This application of Robbins is thus without any basis and does not even need to be taken seriously.


Clark versus Robbins. As I have shown, Robbins' view of the Church is not the same as Clark's view of the Church. Robbins' view is severely lopsided and based upon a single truth blown way out of proportion. Yes, there ought to be teaching in the Church. But teaching is not the be all and end all of the Church. As Clark said, the local congregations "exist chiefly for the purpose of public worship" which includes administration of the sacraments. The ministry of the Church is Word and Sacrament, not just mere intellectual teaching and learning of doctrine. On the doctrine of the Church, it is Clark versus Robbins, and the Scriptures and the Reformed tradition side with Clark on this one. Clark 1 Robbins 0.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Psalms in worship

O Wherefore do the Nations Rage

O wherefore do the nations rage,
And kings and rulers strive in vain,
Against the Lord of earth and heav'n
To overthrow Messiah's reign?

Their strength is weakness in the sight
Of him who sits enthroned above;
He speaks, and judgments fall on them
Who tempt his wrath and scorn his love.

By God's decree his Son receives
The nations for his heritage;
The conqu'ring Christ supreme shall reign
As King of kings, from age to age.

Be wise, ye rulers of the earth,
And serve the Lord with godly fear;
With rev'rent joy confess the Son
While yet in mercy he is near.

Delay not, lest his anger rise,
And ye should perish in your way;
Lo, all that put their trust in him
Are blest indeed, and blest for aye.

[Hymn 314, from the Trinity Hymnal]

Christians should sing psalms, together with hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). I am certainly for the singing of psalms, but I am also for the singing of all songs with comprehension. One issue I typically had is that the psalms I have previously looked and heard were hard to comprehend, and the tunes were either hard to grasp, or re-used tunes that were previously matched to other hymns which resulted in cognitive dissonance (since I associate words and songs with tunes).

I had given an exhortation on November 3rd, and us interns had to choose songs for the service. One of the songs I chose was Hymn 314 seen above, which is a psalm based upon Psalm 2. The reason why I chose it was that the theme matched the dissonance I wanted to create in contrast to the beginning song which was about the kingship of God, and the tune was in a minor key which does possess the dissonance feeling. The words are not overly complex and archaic, and Psalms 2 (besides a few others like Psalm 1, 8, 119, 139 etc) is straightfoward in meaning, thus a slight paraphrasing is sufficient .

The issue I'm driving at here is that I, as I suspect with many others, are not against the utilization of Psalms for singing. But I am against terrible renditions of psalms, and against the idea that just because it is God's Word therefore God's people should be forced to sing them. I am not even necessarily for using modern musical tunes for the psalms; gravity after all is important to be maintained especially for psalms of lament. Rather, I am for the simplification of the psalms, having modern wordings, and the usage of appropriate unused tunes (Do not reuse tunes!). I am sure that would make psalm-singing much more desirable.

The service is a covenantal drama, a meeting of God with His covenant people. If we believe that the Psalms embrace the whole range of emotions, it shouldn't be hard for the minister to integrate appropriate psalms into the liturgy, and by that I don't mean just the context of the psalm, or its mere wording. A good psalm should be one with not just appropriate words, but with the appropriate tune. For example, I doubt I would have chosen Hymn 314 if not for the minor key tune. And instead of having one psalm with two tunes or many tunes to choose from, which would certainly create all manner of dissonances for people like me, why not rework the lyrics for two or more different songs? It is interesting to me that certain CCM are based upon parts of psalms and many songs could be made, so I would think that many variations of a psalm could be composed and set to appropriate original music.

Perhaps, instead of attacking those who use hymns and CCM, it would be much better for psalm-singers to win the rest of believers over with psalms and songs based upon the psalms that are just as singable and much more centered upon the Christian faith than hymns and CCM. I honestly do not believe that believers hate the psalms. Attract believers aesthetically, and I am sure they would sing them.

CCM and worship

An argument against CCM is that it cannot be used for worship apart from a worship band. Perhaps that may be the case for some CCM and for some people, but it is astonishing to me when I know that some of them could certainly be used in personal worship, a capella even. It seems to me that, no matter what one's position on CCM is, the argument that it cannot be used apart from a praise band needs to be thrown out.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Imputation, nominalism and extrinsicism

The imputation [of Christ's righteousness] — according to the Reformers, a forensic declaration — was external or nominal in nature

—Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: the weaving of a sacramental tapestry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 92

Among certain segments of Christianity, like the (misguided) "Protestant" appropriation of the Roman Catholic Nouvelle Theologie, the accusation is made that the whole idea of imputation is a nominalist or extrinsic notion. In Boersma's thought, nominalism is one of the bogeyman that caused the crisis of secularism. Frankly, I don't see much of a crisis, and reject the rosy primitivist picture Boersma is painting of a (general) golden age of the "Platonist-Christian synthesis." I don't see much appeal in the "glory days" of superstition, ascetic practices and the promotion of celibacy as a higher form of Christian life (which flow out of any "synthesis"), but if Boersma loves those, I guess he is certainly entitled to his preferences.

The question here however concerns the doctrine of imputation. Boersma makes the claim that the imputation of Christ's righteousness, being forensic, was by nature external or extrinsic, or nominal. Presumably therefore, rejecting nominalism should imply that the imputation of Christ's righteousness should be jettisoned as well. Is imputation therefore considered extrinsic and nominal?

For something to be "extrinsic" means that it pertains to the external circumstances, touching only the surface of a thing, not its nature. For something to be "nominal" means that it is so merely by fiat or naming (hence "nominal"), not by nature. But how does the Scripture portray imputation to be? Imputation touches the nature of a person's relationship to God, and it not a mere change of nomenclature but a true change in one's relationship to God and Christ. If a judge were to acquit someone of a crime, will we say that the acquitted is still "by nature" guilty since the forensic judgment is merely "extrinsic" or "nominal"? Of course not!

The problem with those claiming imputation to be merely external (extrinsic) and/or nominal is that they confuse nature (ontology) with ethics (relations). The two are not the same, nor is one subsumed under the other! A change in one's ethical relation to God is real even though one does not change in nature. Why do people focus so much on "being" (ontology)? The issue with Man has never been principally with being, but with sin (ethics). Yes, punishment for sin in God's curse upon creation does corrupt creaturely being, but as consequence not as cause! Being is never primary in Scripture. The emphasis on Scripture is always ethics (sin), then epistemology (illogicity and ignorance), and then it deals with being only by positing three types of being: Creator, Man, and the rest of Creation.

Imputation is thus not external or nominal in nature, because it is an ethical term, not an ontological term. It has absolutely nothing to do with "being," and unless we start differentiating ethics from metaphysics, we can never truly understand imputation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Roman Catholic ressourcement and the limits of reform

The prophecy of the prophetic spirit in the church [for reform] takes place within the structures of the church's life. It presupposes this ecclesial structure and is only exercised within the limitations of this structure. (p. 188)

This means that the Augustinianism of Augustine and the Augustinianism of Jansenius, even if they are materially same in their details, are nonetheless formally different [because they did not remain in communion with the whole church]. (p. 234)

I said earlier that one of the fundamental errors of Jansenism was to take its inspiration from the texts of St. Augustine without maintaining sufficient docility towards the concrete life of the contemporary church (p. 261)

...the church does not like the via facti. ... But there is also a via facti that does not usurp the place of authority. It does not undermine the church's structure, but rather acts in and for ecclesial life. (pp. 277, 280)

— Yves Congar, O.P., True and False Reform in the Church (Translated with Introduction by Paul Philibert, O.P.; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011)

The Nouvelle Theologie is a movement within Roman Catholicism which triumphed in the Second Vatican Council. It is supposedly a return to the patristics (ressourcement), followed by an updating to present times (aggiornamento), and then development for the future. Yves Congar's book True and False Reform in the Church in the original French was influential for the calling of Vatican II, a council which rather radically changed Roman Catholicism.

The idea of ressourcement (a French term) seem to be similar to the Reformation principle of ad fontes (in Latin). The concepts are similar in their going back to the original sources and to the patristics. But there ends the similarity.

If there is any excitement over the Roman Catholic idea of ressourcement, the excerpts from Congar should crush it. We see here that the concept of ressourcement categorically ruled some areas out of bounds for reform, i.e. ecclesiology. In fact, Congar's idea of reform and ressourcement deals only with the practical pastoral matters, not doctrinal issues per se. It's all about expression and pastoral care, not about substance. The substance has already been decided dogmatically by the Magisterium, and it is not up for debate, or at least it seems. Blurring the lines between doctrine and pastoral care though is Congar's dissection of the Jansenist movement, a Neo-Augustinian pro-papal Roman Catholic movement in the 18th century that attempted a via media between Calvinism and what they perceive to be the Pelagianizing tendencies of the Jesuits. In a surprising statement, Congar claims that the Jansenists were wrong because they were not in communion with the whole church even though their doctrines were materially the same as Augustine. In other words, in the Nouvelle Theologie of Congar, doctrines are relativized and subsumed under expression and pastoral care.

In this light, any such reform thus cannot challenge the already pre-determined parameters. Even if through looking at the sources it is found that the papacy is not in the early church, that cannot by fiat be part of ressourcement. After all, ecclesiology is not within the operational parameters of ressourcement.

Roman Catholic ressourcement is thus not the same as the Reformation ad fontes. Unlike the Nouvelle theologians, we should not go back to the sources with preconceived notions and parameters concerning what we are looking for. Unlike them also, the Scripture are taken as the infallible primary source through which all other primary sources are evaluated, patristics or otherwise. Roman Catholic "reform," being restrictive, will never actually recover the church fathers, for they come to the project already with colored glasses.

Is being a Christian sufficient?

The way of salvation is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that person will be saved (e.g. Acts 16:31). So in that sense, to be saved one must be a Christian. However, is being a Christian sufficient? Surely trusting in Christ for salvation is enough, isn't it?

The question however goes deeper than what it seems to be asking on the surface. Rather, the question can be phrased thus, "Is bearing the name 'Christian' sufficient?" In other words, should we say that the name "Christian" is enough, and thus we should all just be Christians alone?

The problem with that approach is that it is idealistic and cannot work in the real world. The problem is not with the term, but with Man. People appropriate the label "Christian" all the time when they have no actual right to the term (i.e. liberals like John Shelby Spong). Even for those who seem to be "Evangelical," whatever THAT terms means, does the mere term "Christian" suffice for all of the Christian life? I would say not!

Historically, the Stone-Campbell Movement beginning in the early 19th century was one such movement that wanted to unite all believers who are then just known as Christians. In fact, the early Stoneites called themselves "Christians" with no modifiers attached, and their churches "Christian Churches." Barton Stone was of course extremely shaky on the doctrine of the Trinity (to put it as charitably as possible), and to be honest ought not even to be ordained in the Kentucky Presbytery of the PCUSA, if not for the New Side pastors who focus on experience more on doctrinal fidelity. Stone desired greater unity between all denominations, and the tent revivals on the then American frontier (the most famous being the Cane Ridge revival) was the place where Baptists, Methodists and others can mix and mingle and worship together, united by their pursuit of revivals complete with proto-Pentecostal manifestations. After the union with the "Reformers" headed by Alexander Campbell, the Stone-Campbell movement soon split into the northern Disciples of Christ and the southern Churches of Christ around the time of the Civil War. They were split over issues like instrumental music and the presence of mission boards and other denominational agencies for the Stone-Campbell pseudo-denominations, the anti-institutional institutions.

The history of the Stone-Campbell movement only shows that the idea of just being a Christian is not possible. For what does being a "Christian" mean not seen through the narrow scope of salvation, but also about the church and ministry? Before the CMA, there were Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Their desire of uniting Christians, and in that time they only had to deal with Protestants who had a stronger link to the Reformation past compared to us, could not be fulfilled. Trying to form a umbrella gathering of all Christians, they only succeeded in creating another new denomination, which then became two denominations. If we are to learn from history, shouldn't it evident that "being a Christian" is manifestly insufficient for the Christian life? If Stone and Campbell cannot pull it off, and neither could subsequent restorationist movements, we shouldn't think any of us could succeed where they fail, this side of heaven.

That is why denominations are necessary. The only alternative to denominationalism is the chaos and faux unity that can be found in the present-day Roman Catholic communion (where there is "unity" between liberals and conservatives), or the splintering into groups ("tribes") based around central dogmas, personalities, parachurch organizations and any other sociological factors (e.g. ethnicity). Far better to have some measure of imperfect ecclesiastical unity, than to have its alternatives.

"Being a Christian" is insufficient for the Christian life. Only "being a Christian" creates more problems than it supposedly solves, is unworkable, and thus we should not be a biblicist in this regard. For example, I am not just a "Christian," but a Christian who is a confessional Presbyterian.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quote on tongues

Cross-cultural investigations have shown that a glossolalic utterance is drawn from the basic sounds of phonemes of a speaker’s native language. Those phonemes erupt, not at random, but in patterns that resemble the phonological patterns of that language … Unlike all known languages, living or dead, glossolalia has no grammar. Nor does it have any semantic value, because the “words” are unrelated to the stock of public meanings within the speech community (although they may have a private meaning for the speaker, or a purely connotative meaning for the hearer)

— Grant Wacker, “Playing for Keeps: The Primitivist Impulse in Early Pentecostalism,” in Richard T. Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 211

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Debate of Micheal Brown and Sam Waldron over the continuation and cessation of the sign-gifts

Some time back, Dr. James White moderated an online Skype-facilitated debate between the Charismatic Dr. Micheal Brown, and the Reformed Baptist Dr. Sam Waldron. The debate can be seen as follows:

It seems to me that there is a much better way to deal with the issue of tongues and prophecy — return back to the Old Testament. What is the biblical theological understanding of language, and what is the biblical theological understanding of prophecy? Far too often, Charismatics think they know what tongues is, and what prophecy is, without any idea of how the themes are developed in the Scriptures. God does not just do the miraculous for a capricious show of power, but everything is done for a reason. Instead of challenging the Charismatics using various proof texts, the better way IMO is to show that the Charismatic idea of tongues and prophecy are not biblical. Tongues did not just leap out de novo on the Day of Pentecost, neither did prophecy begin in the book of Acts.

Reformation and the restorationist principle

In America, the Restoration movement is normally linked with the Stone-Campbell movement. Consisting of a merger between the followers of Barton Stone and of Alexander Campbell, the Stone-Campbell movement with its biblicism strove to remove all forms of accretions not found in Scripture, and go back to, restore, the New Testament church. Subsequently of course, other restorationist groups sprang up, all claiming to restore the Church back to its New Testament "glory" days. Probably the one with the greatest following today is Pentecostalism and its step-daughter the Charismatic movement. Both movements claim to restore all the gifts of the Spirit back to the Church. How Pentecostals and Charismatics interpret church history of course varies, yet regardless of how one strains to find precedents throughout church history, it cannot be denied that before the Azusa Street revival, at least most of the professing church did not hold to the continuing validity of the sign-gifts.

The restoration principle is best defined by Richard T. Hughes as “a reversion undercutting both Catholic and Anglican appeals to a continuity of tradition, to the first, or primitive, order of things narrated in the Protestant Scriptures" [Richard T. Hughes, "Introduction," in Richard T. Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 2]. How does that compare however to the Reformation principle of Ad Fontes, going back to the sources? The two certainly seem very similar to its appeal to the Scriptures and the New Testament Church. Its similarity can be seen in the fact that in that same book edited by Richard T. Hughes, Thomas H. Olbricht claimed that the New England Puritans were engaging in primitivist/ restorationist thinking (the two terms are not differentiated in the book). But are the two the same? No they are not. The Restorationist principle is largely ahistorical. It ignores history, and skip over history since what matters is to return back to the "pristine New Testament church." The Reformation principle of ad fontes however goes back to the historic Christian Church through interaction and engaging with others, acknowledging the fact of time and history and our distance from the original events. We can never go back to the New Testament Church, for we cannot go back in time. As Mark Noll makes plain the distinction between primitivist Christianity and historic Christianity, in historic Christianity "the Bible was a book to be studied with the history of the church, not against it" [Mark Noll, "Primitivism in Fundamentalism and American Biblical Scholarship," in Ibid., 125].

The issue of history divides the Reformed tradition from any and all restorationists. We affirm history and the need to wrestle with history. Restoratinists minimize history, even if they may not outrightly deny it. History to them is not to be regarded as real temporal progression but rather a mere passing of time which leaves concepts and ideas and everything else more or less intact. That is why Pentecostals and Charismatics think that the mere repetition of 1 Cor. 14:39 is sufficient to deal with the topic of whether the sign-gifts have ceased. There is a strong strain of the denial of the historical situatedness of the Word of God in its current ectypal expression, making the Bible into a Systematics textbook instead of the ectypal expression of God's Word that is situated in history.

The Reformation principle and the Restorationist principles therefore are not the same. Historical development has proven that history does play a key role in theologizing. In other words, everyone has traditions. The Stone-Campbell restorationist movement is radically different from the "restoration" by Joseph Smith, which is different from the restorationist movements of the Seventh-Day Baptists and Adventists, and all of them are different from the restorationist movement known as Pentecostalism. As Henry Warden Bowden, after surveying all these various restorationist movements, claimed, "'the restoration ideal' is truly a protean concept" [Henry Warden Bowden, "Perplexity over a Protean Principle," in Ibid., 176]. All the various restorationist movements have proven that it is impossible to situate oneself outside of time and history, and thus "restoration" is a mirage. It is a myth that one can go back to the New Testament Church, and thus Restoration itself is not only errant but absolutely impossible.

Is faith a condition for salvation?

Among certain circles that tend towards or are hyper-Calvinistic, there is a denial that faith is a condition for salvation. After all, if salvation is truly free, then Man cannot contribute anything to his salvation. Faith is something exercised by the individual, and thus it is something the individual has and does. So, if Man cannot contribute anything to his salvation, and faith is a human act, faith therefore cannot contribute anything to the individual's salvation. The reality of faith is not denied, but faith itself is not seen as a condition for salvation.

Now, of course, this seems strange, or it should. Scripture does after all calls us to believe and be saved. Putting both claims together however seems to be pitting the Bible against Systematics. Is the straightforward reading of the Scriptures wrong then, or perhaps more likely there is a serious problem in the Systematic theological understanding of those who deny faith as being a condition?

The main issue at hand is what do we mean by the term "condition"? Does condition mean that the thing conditioned upon would contribute to the process? Such however is not what the term "condition" mean. For the term "condition" is a mere logical term. It describes logical propositions with an "if, then" clause. If X is a necessary condition, then the proposition is simply "If not X, not Y." Conversely, if X is a sufficient condition, then the proposition is simply "If X, then Y." Therefore, when the claim is made that faith is a necessary condition for salvation, we are merely saying "If a person has not faith, then that person is not saved." When we claim that faith is a sufficient condition for salvation, we are merely saying "If a person has faith, that person is saved." Expressed in propositional form, it should be self-evident that the Bible teaches that faith is both necessary and sufficient for salvation.

To this, our objector can of course repeat the claim that having faith as a condition compromises the free grace of salvation. To that, we can reply that our logical propositions are not interested in that issue at all. In other words, saying that faith is a condition says absolutely nothing about whether salvation requires a work of Man in faith (as if faith is a work of Man in the first place!). Monergistic salvation is only compromised if we claim that faith is a purely human work. But isn't faith something done by individuals? Yes. And yet still it is God's doing. Ephesians 2:8-9 claims that the salvation by grace through faith not of works, the whole deal, is a gift of God. But how then can faith be a human action and a gift of God at the same time? Our response to that would be, "Why not"? What exactly about the proposition, that faith is both a human action and a gift of God, is problematic? Wherein lies the contradiction? To claim that there is a contradiction is to claim that God's actions necessarily preclude (genuinely free) human actions, but why should that be the case? Since God does not operate on the same level as us, He being God, why are we trying to flatten the plane of action such that God and Man must compete to see what percentage of actions belongs to God and what percentage to Man?

The problem with using partial truths of systematic theology, abstract it from other parts of Scripture, and then use that new "central dogma" to read Scripture is that it distorts the truths of Scripture. The "central dogma" of God's absolute sovereignty when taken up by the Hypers create all sorts of heretical nonsense. It sounds nice when the statement is made that we want to defend the sovereignty of God in all things. But what is the practical implications for denying the conditionality of faith? It means that those two statements, being expressive of faith's conditionality, must be wrong. In other words, the statements "If a person has not faith, that person is not saved" and "If a person has faith, that person is saved," cannot be true. Ironically, denying faith's conditionality could lead to either (Calvinistic) Universalism or Inclusivism. Faith being decoupled from salvation means salvation is now purely a matter of election. Depending on how one wants to interpret and discern election, that could mean anything from universalism (God elects everyone), inclusivism (God elects some, who may or may not express faith, and thus may or may not be Christians), to Hyper-Calvinistic particularism (God elects some, and how we know who He elects is through them believing in the right doctrine as we do - knowledge being the expressive of election). In all these, there is a unholy desire to peer into God's archetypal knowledge and discern truths that God has not seen fit to reveal to us.

Faith therefore is a condition for salvation. The Reformed tradition of course has qualified it by stating that it is the instrumental condition, since faith does not contribute to our salvation but merely grasps and receives Christ. Yet, it is still a condition, and we should all agree to that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Charismatic Movement and the Two-Thirds world

One claim about the Charismatic movement is that it has resulted in revival and renewal in churches especially in the Two-Thirds world (the primarily non-Western world). Phenomenologically, the claim seems to be true. "Dead" churches have been revived and renewed by the Charismatic movement as it spread throughout the world, resulting in renewed vibrancy and evangelism and witness. Yes, the Word-faith movement and the New Apostolic Reformation have shipwrecked the faith of many, but it seems on the surface that, at least in many parts of the world, the Charismatic movement has actually been a force for good.

It must be noted that where the Charismatic movement initially began, and where its growth has been. It began in the mainline churches in America, churches that were mostly apostate already. Its influence spread to the half-dead and dead liberal churches around the world, moving them away from Liberalism towards some version of Evangelicalism. The Charismatic movement has little if any influence on the churches that are the most biblical, the Reformed churches. That itself should give us some pause. Why is that so?

Now interpreting providence is always tricky, so obviously my view may not be right. One could of course interpret providence by stating that the origin of Charismatism is within apostate churches and its spread in other apostate churches proves that Charismatism is another form of apostasy, being derived from false doctrine. Or one can claim that the Reformed churches were "old wineskins" not able to "hold the new wine."

Coming from a Reformed perspective, and understanding the Gifts of the Spirit to be linked with the purpose for which they are given, which is for the foundation of the Church, it seems to me that one could very well hold to the fact that God does work through the Charismatic movement to reach the dead and dying churches, as using a crooked stick to draw a straight line. The Charismatic movement in some measure may have a bit of the foundation gifts only because of how far they have fallen. They are the condenscension of God in mission settings and in churches so far gone in darkness. In other words, the possible possession of the Sign-Gifts are a mark of immaturity and given for a time to aid believers in their dire need. The problem of course comes when the new believers grow and continue to think that the one or two exceptional manifestations ought to be normative for all time. The pursuit of experiences which God did not promise as normative may result in them going astray, or that they may later grow up and become cessationists.

Speaking from personal experience, I experienced the regenerating work of the Spirit in the church I grew up just as it was influenced by the Charismatic movement. The church I grew up in was a mainline Presbyterian church in Singapore, and thus much of the denomination is infected by Liberalism. I was a Charismatic and being young and naive, wandered towards the New Apostolic Reformation. In God's mercy, I was brought back and am now a cessationist.

So yes, I am willing to grant that God uses the Charismatic movement to reach people. But then, God also used Balaam's donkey, so being used by God proves nothing at all. I am willing to grant that God may in His condescension grant some measure of the Gifts temporarily, but ultimately they will not last. They are a sign of immaturity, and thus, as it is seen in church history, a more mature church will not receive them.

The Strange Fire conference and painting with a broad brush

One of the main critiques of the recently concluded Strange Fire conference is that John MacArthur and the Conference paint with a broad brush and thus tar everyone in the Charismatic movement including those that are more orthodox like Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Phil Johnson has spoken tangentially on the issue in his conference presentation Is there a baby in the Charismatic bathwater? here:

After the conference, Johnson addressed the issue of the broad brush in his blog article on the GTY website The Broad Brush here, making the claim that the orthodox party are covering up for their heretical friends, and thus questioning whether the brush was actually so broad at all since the difference between the orthodox party and their heretical ministry partners doesn't seem so great. The exact point being driven at is succinctly put forward in Tom Chantry's blog post that "any Charismatic belief engenders a lack of discernment, enabling the worst sort of Charismatic excess," a point confirmed by Phil Johnson:

So what are we to say about this? If the issue is the Charismatic movement as a whole, it is true that MacArthur is painting with a broad brush without sufficient nuancing and distinctions. If however the issue is how Charismatism results in little or no discernment, the conduct of Michael Brown and Sam Storms seems to go out their way to prove Johnson's point. Now, I do know Charismatic friends who warn against the charlatans in their movement. The problem is that they are nobodies in the movement. The leaders of the "Reformed Charismatics" like Sam Storms and Wayne Grudem have lent their credibility to heretics like Rick Joyner and Paul Cain. For those who claim to be more spiritual with the gift of speaking in tongues, their lack of discernment is rather telling I would say.

So in conclusion, if Phil Johnson's point is that Charismatism engenders a lack of discernment, the behavior of the "Reformed Charismatics" merely proved his point. In fact, I'm really interested to find any prominent Charismatic that actually warn against all of the charlatans associated with the Third Wave, including those less known like Randy Clark, John Arnott and Steve Hill.

Friday, October 25, 2013

DL: Dr. James White on cessation of the extraordinary charismata

In today's Dividing Line (Oct 24, 2013), Dr. James White helpfully interacted with the contents of the conversation of a caller calling in to Michael Brown on his Line of Fire show, as it deals with the issue of the Charismatic movement and John MacArthur's recently concluded Strange Fire conference.

Dr. White's manner of dealing with the sign gifts is definitely the way to go about doing it. More often than not, Charismatic (reformed or otherwise) treat the subject of the gifts atomistically, which is to say they isolate the question of the continuation of the gifts and deal with that question without situating the question within the larger context of redemptive history; within the whole issue of the purpose behind and function of the gifts. Those questions are not addressed holistically with the issue of the continuation of the gifts, but rather the Bible is treated ahistorically like a Systematics textbook just on THIS issue. It would really advance the argument if Charismatics can began to actually start addressing the Reformed Cessationist arguments instead of trotting out the same old rationale of there being no explicit mention of the cessation of the (extraordinary) charismata (I do note that some have tried, just not the rank and file "apologists").

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The 1949 denunciation of the New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) by the Assemblies of God

The New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) is a restorationist movement from within Pentecostalism which veered sharply away from orthodoxy. It is the forerunner and ancestor of today's New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). In its 23rd General Council, the Assemblies of God rejected the entire movement as being unbiblical with an overwhelming majority of delegates voting to sustain the findings of the committee producing the report. The minutes of that General Council would thus be illustrative especially if one were to compare what it condemns to the current craziness in the NAR.

“The New Order of the Latter Rain”

Resolution No. 7 was read by the Chairman of the Resolutions Committee as follows:

WHEREAS, We are grateful for the visitation of God in the past and the evidences of His blessings upon us today, and

WHEREAS, We recognize a hunger on the part of God’s people for a spiritual refreshing and manifestation of His Holy Spirit, be it therefore

RESOLVED, That we recommend to the ministers of the Assemblies of God and to churches affiliated and associated with us, that we set our hearts to seek for a continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit founded upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, and be it further

RESOLVED, That we disapprove of those extreme teachings and practices which, being unfounded Scripturally, serve only to break fellowship of like precious faith and tend to confusion and division among the members of the Body of Christ, and be it hereby known that this 23rd General Council disapproves of the so-called “New Order of the Latter Rain,” to wit:

  1. The overemphasis relative to imparting, identifying, bestowing or confirming of gifts by the laying on of hands and prophecy
  2. The erroneous teaching that the Church is built on the foundation of present-day apostles and prophets
  3. The extreme teaching as advocated by the “New Order” regarding the confession of sin to man and deliverance as practiced, which claims prerogatives to human agency which belongs to Christ
  4. The erroneous teaching concerning the impartation of the gift of languages as special equipment for missionary service
  5. The extreme and unscriptural practice of imparting or imposing personal leadings by the means of the gifts of utterance
  6. Such other wrestings and distortions of Scripture interpretations which are in opposition to teachings and practices generally accepted among us

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we recommend following those things which make for peace among us, and those doctrines and practices whereby we may edify one another, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith.

The motion was made and seconded that this resolution be adopted. After brief debate it was adopted with an overwhelming majority.

— Assemblies of God, Minutes and Constitution with Bylaws, Revised: The Twenty-Third General Counci (Seattle, WA: Assemblies of God, 1949), 26-7

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Disowning a homosexual son?

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Mt. 10:37)

The homosexual activist group FCKH8 has recently published a letter by a grandfather to his daughter, who has disowned her son after he said he was "gay," and the news has since been picked up by news outlets. What are we to make of this news?

First of all, there is no context whatsoever given for why and how the woman disowned her son. We are not told why she disowned him (besides that he claims to be gay), whether she has tried to talk him out, or whether the son defiantly pursued his "lifestyle" despite the pleas of the mother. All we have is the spin by the homosexual activists that the woman, Christine, disowned her son Chad because he claimed to be a homosexual, which may or may not be the full case.

The questions therefore are (1) Are there grounds for a parent, any parent, to disown their child?, and (2) Does this meet the criteria for legitimate disowning?, and (3) Does the grandfather have any right whatsoever to write that letter?

The first question is an interesting one. But let's look at a few hypothetical scenarios. If a son were to leave his parents destitute, would that be grounds to disown him? How about if a son were to assault his own parents? What about selling the parents into slavery? I would guess that it seems to be the case that heinous crimes could merit possible disowning of children by their parents.

The question then arise as to whether this case provides sufficient grounds for the daughter to disown her son. Again, we are here not provided many details about the case. So it is possible that the daughter was wrong to disown her son. The bigger question however is whether it is possible for any parent to disown his or her child because of homosexuality, and to that I would certainly say yes.

It must be stated that homosexuality is a heinous crime against God. It is first of all, a sexual sin, and secondly, it violates natural law to a great degree. Homosexuality (together with pedophilia, beastiality and necrophilia etc) are considered extremely debased sins (cf Rom. 1:24-27), worse in degree compared to other sins like theft. Now of course, we admit that all sin is sinful before God. Yet there are graduations of sin. For example, it is definitely better to lust than to engage in rape, although both are sinful. Likewise, it is better to covet than to commit a robbery. The failure to understand that there are horizontal graduations of sin is what gives us the generic "evangelical" eisegesis of Mt. 7:1, and the false idea that no one can judge sins (yet ironically they judge the one who judges as committing a worse sin). It gives rise to the specter of the sinner coming before God and praying, "Dear Lord, I thank you that I am not a judgmental person like those Pharisees. I sin openly and proudly, since I know that your blood covers my sin, unlike those self-righteous, narrow-minded and bigoted people."

If parents are to be parents, they are to rear their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Sin has to be reproved and discipline meted out. Homosexuality is a most grievous and wicked sin, and parents ought to discipline any child who moves in that direction. Certainly, discipline has to be meted out with compassion, but it is discipline nonetheless. But what if the child does not listen? The parent should probably continue trying and praying to God for his deliverance. But let's say all avenues have been exhausted. I would then suggest that the parent may have to apply the last measure of discipline: disowning their son/ daughter. Note that I am not saying that parents MUST do that, but they MAY do that. Disowning a child in this instance is analogous to excommunication in a church. Just as the family is like a little church, so likewise to a persistently rebellious child, the only way forward may be disowning the child, and handling the child over to Satan so that his soul may, in God's mercy, be saved. (1 Cor. 5:5).

Now, what is established is that the parent, after exhausting all available avenues, MAY disown their child. This does not necessarily be applicable in this particular case. What is established is that having a recalcitrant unrepentant child who has decided to become a homosexual is a legitimate grounds for disowning. This brings us to the issue of the grandfather.

A nuclear family unit is the basic family unit in Scripture. In Gen. 2:24, it is written that both the man and the woman will leave their families and become one flesh. This does not mean that suddenly, either the husband or the wife is cut off from their parents and have no obligations to them. What it does mean is that the new family unit is in itself subject directly to God. This is a change in the relation between parents to their married child, as compared to their relation with their unmarried child. As a family unit before God, the husband is to protect his wife, EVEN from his mother (her mother-in-law). Parental authority over their children functions in a similar paradigm. Parents have the primary responsibility to raise up and discipline their children, not the grandparents. This does not mean grandparents can't help, but they are not the parents and should not be. Grandparents are also not to usurp the parents' authority by contradicting express instructions given by parents. If parents tell their children, "No sweets before dinner," the grandparents should NOT insist on giving them sweets before dinner. Of course, such things do happen, but the point is: they shouldn't.

In this case, we see the grandfather is giving his daughter a dressing down regarding her decision to disown her son. Here is a blatant case of usurping of parental authority. The grandfather has absolutely no rights to tell his daughter how to parent; he has the same rights as any other person i.e. advice. Of course, what is more grievous is that the grandfather by his actions is promoting immorality. He has the right to take in the grandson, as he has the right to take in anyone off the street into his house if he so pleased. But to castigate his daughter for an action that he has no authority to dictate to her about, and then disown her for disowning his grandson, is preposterous. If he says that disowning is wrong, then he himself shouldn't disown his daughter, otherwise he would just be doing the exact action he claims is wrong. If however he says that disowning is wrong because he thinks that homosexuality is normal, then the problem is in his view of morality. By promoting homosexuality, the grandfather is promoting wickedness in his family. He is one of those stated in Rom. 1:32 who gives approval to those who practice wickedness. So besides his grandson, the grandfather is the one who brings shame upon the family, just as all homosexual activists who promote gross wickedness in the land do to their own families.

In conclusion, there is nothing inherently wrong with disowning a homosexual son or daughter. Parents MAY disown recalcitrant rebellious children; doesn't mean they should but they may. And if any Christian thinks otherwise, let him meditate on Mt. 10:37 and 1 Cor. 16:22, which reads: "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!" Fidelity to God requires privileging our love for God above all others including familial ties. Whoever does not do so, is not worthy of Christ.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Mark Noll and his tirade against Creationism

In Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is basically a New Evangelical polemic against elements deemed undesirable by the New Evangelicals (Who said New Evangelicals were irenic and tolerant?), Noll inveighed against a couple of issues chief of which are Dispensationalism and Creationism, seeing them both as symptoms of "anti-intellectualism." I must say it is amusing that a point in Noll's general critique is that these views are anti-intellectual because they are mocked by the establishment, which according to the Bible signifies nothing.

Noll tries hard to link Creationism with Dispensationalism, as if to smear the former by linking it with the latter. As with other evangelicals like Del Ratzsch (in this book The Battle of Beginnings), the systematic tarring of the YEC position began from attacking its history, linking it with the Seventh-Day Adventist movement. The problem however is that such is a logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, as if temporary sequence implies logical consequence. The argument can be more plausibly made that non-YEC positions come into place post-Darwin, so does that mean that they necessarily are caused by Darwinism as a logical consequence? It is simply surprising that Noll the promoter of Evangelical intellectual thought would commit a logical fallacy right at the start.

In the book, Noll claimed that "Creationism could, in fact, be called scientific dispensationalism, for creation scientists carry the same attitude towards catastrophe and the sharp break between eras into their science that dispensationalists see in the Scriptures." (p. 195) In response, it must be mentioned that Scripture does speak of catastrophes, EVEN IF one discards the "inconvenient truth" of Creation and the Flood. Christian theology admits of the Fall, the Cross, the Red Sea Crossing, and the Second Coming of Christ. Aren't these all catastrophes in some sense? Or is Noll desiring to impose uniformitarianism upon Scripture too, so that all of Scripture have no catastrophes? Noll's argument therefore commits the fallacy of association. One wonders just how much of the history of interpretation of Genesis 1-11 does he know. When he claims that the YEC position is a novelty in the history of the Church, this only proves he has not read any commentaries on the passages by pre-Enlightenment exegetes on the issue.

The attack on the YEC position continues with Noll accusing its advocates of "Manichean attitudes towards knowledge about the natural world" (p. 196). One wonders what world Noll inhabits. His accusations of creationists as using Baconian induction is strange since none of the professional creationists affirmed their affinity with Baconian induction. In fact, the positivist, hypothetico-deductivist model of science embraced by most scientists today is already outdated. The 20th century has given us Popper's falsification model, Kuhn's scientific paradigm model, and Feyerabend's Dada-ist model. So, what world does Noll actually inhabit? Or is he attacking the YEC position based upon hearsay and conjecture, since he evidently didn't do a good job of representing them? Last I know, misrepresentation is not a virtue of scholarship, so here we have the irony of a historian misrepresenting his object of criticism, and calling them anti-intellectuals?! You should pardon me for not buying that type of inane reasoning.

As with many many people, Noll incessantly confuse "science" with "evolution." All those who reason like him in thought live in the pre-Kuhnian world, a world in which "science" is assumed to be this impersonal enterprise which scientists come and work in, and they are then "dragged" or led through the superior results of experimentation to embrace certain absolutely objective theories of fact "because that's what the experimental results objectively prove." Claiming naivete of creationists who, like the reviled Dispys, read only the "plain" reading of the Genesis account, Noll and those like him have fallen into a more sophisticated naivete regarding the nature of science, in their blindness to the paradigm(s) they function in. They unquestioningly bought into the entire naturalistic paradigm hook, link and sinker, seeing no qualitative difference between "historical science" and "normal operational science." Pressed, they might admit of quantitative difference between the two, just as critics of Kuhn's philosophy of science tried to do the same with Kuhn's category of "paradigmatic science" and "normal science," but the differences are merely quantitative of amount, instead of qualitative, of kind, which they actually are. Noll of course trumpets the "sophisticated" interpretations of Old Testament scholars like Bruce Waltke. Without going into the specifics of Waltke's argument, which Noll did not provide, the question is: Does anyone think Jesus or Paul would have held to such an interpretation of Genesis? None of them lived in an era in which there is such a thing as a fact/ value dichotomy. Postulating that Genesis might not be historical while claiming that it is useful for the ancients imposes upon the ancients philosophical, linguistic and semantic categories of which none of them would have a name for. The goal of biblical exegesis is to understand the meaning of the text in its original horizon as best as possible, not impose foreign categories into the text!

Noll's tirade against the YEC position is therefore, groundless. For a book that claims the terrible state of the Evangelical mind is a scandal, the parts of the book on Creationism is indeed a scandal of the "Evangelical mind."

Ominous Omen: Norman Shepherd

The Federal Vision did not drop out of the sky. Rather, when we peer back into time, we see the seeds of the Federal Vision already in the Shepherd Controversy. Once shrouded because of denominational politicking, the Shepherd Controversy has been revealed to the world through O. Palmer Robertson's book The Current Justification Controversy (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 2003). Here are some choice quotes written by Norman Shepherd in 1978 at the height of the controversy, from his Thirty-Four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works:

20. The Pauline affirmation in Roman 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compared Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25)

21. The exclusive ground of justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Christ, but his obedience, which is simply the perseverance of the saints in the way of truth and righteousness, is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification (Heb. 3:6, 14)

22. The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14)

23. Because faith which is not obedience faith is dead faith, and because repentance is necessary for the pardon of sin included in justification, and because abiding in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5, 10; 1 John 3:13, 24) are all necessary for continuing in the state of justification, good works, works done from true faith, according to the law of God, and for his glory, being the new obedience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer united to Christ, though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification (Rom. 6:16, 22; Gal. 6:7-9)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The stated aims of the original New Evangelicalism

[A]s outlined in Ockenga,

  1. Evangelicals want to see a revival of Christianity in the midst of a secular world which, because of its loss of contact with God, is facing imminent destruction.
  2. Evangelicals want to win a new respectability for orthodoxy in academic circles. This requires the production of dedicated scholars who will be prepared to defend the faith on the intellectual’s own ground.
  3. Evangelicals want to recapture denominational leadership from within the larger denominations rather than completely abandon these denominations to the forces of contemporary liberalism
  4. Finally, evangelicals want to make Christianity the mainspring in societal reforms that it once was and that it ought to be.

— Ronald H. Nash, The New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1963), 177

The New Evangelicalism began with lofty aims and a sincere desire to promote the Christian faith. Sadly, history has given us the disastrous record of the New Evangelicalism, a movement which spiraled out of the control of its original founders. In his book, Ronald Nash put forward the agenda of the New Evangelicalism with its lofty goals. Yet as we examine these goals, we see that they are all flawed from the start, and thus the seed of the failure of the New Evangelicalism was present from the very beginning.

Goal number 1 is laudable, and certainly all of us should desire to see Christ's name lifted up and the Christian faith esteemed in the world, with many turning to Christ for salvation. The problem with the New Evangelicalism is how it goes about trying to achieve its goal. Can a movement convert a world? Perhaps, but certainly not the Christian faith. The Christian faith works through the means ordained by God, through the Church. Without a biblical doctrine of the Church, how can the goal be attained? How can Christianity be revived when the leaders do not have a proper doctrine of the Church in the first place?

The second goal is really sad, only because it is not possible. It is possible to be scholarly, and Christian theologians should be scholarly. But being scholarly does not necessarily mean that orthodoxy would be "respected" by unbelieving scholars, since the ground of rejection of the Bible's teaching is not intellectual but spiritual. As 1 Cor. 1:18 states, the wisdom of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It matter not how scholarly one is. The unbelieving Academy will not accept the teachings of Scripture no matter how scholarly it is presented. Now certainly Christians theologians ought to be scholarly, but to think that just being scholarly will get one respected in the Academy is a fool's dream. Nash's further proposal to do that "on the intellectual's own ground" is astonishing. What if their ground is one of unbelief? Should we be asked to adopt materialism before we can even began the conversation? What if the "intellectual's own ground" is that "there is no God"?

The third goal is to recapture denominational leadership from the larger denominations. This betrays a naive view of reform as well as a forgetfulness about the recent past. What do people like Nash think happened in the PCUSA that led to the defrocking of J. Gresham Machen? If the liberals stand their ground (which they do) and block all reform actions, should the New Evangelicals wait (forever) for the dream that the Liberals would perhaps one day hand them the denominational leadership?

Lastly, the fourth goal showed the New Evangelical nostalgia for the Old Evangelical social activism, an activism that however has no basis in Scripture.

The New Evangelicals have good motives. However, good motives are never enough. As it has often been said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." By not following the biblical manner for reform and revival, the New Evangelicalism was doomed from the start, although outwards success was phenomenal for a time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evangelicalism: What is in a name?

[Previous: Reformed and Evangelical?]

Historically, Evangelicalism as a movement began only around the time of the First Great Awakening. In the deconfessional era and with the slow erosion of orthodoxy in the churches, those who believe in the Bible began to see fellow compatriots across denominations. Pietism with the emphasis on one's personal spiritual walk broke down the link between corporate and individual spirituality, which enables believers to see the former issues that divide them as being of lesser importance compared to their shared conversion experiences in the faith.

Evangelicalism (with a capital "E") therefore seems best defined as a social, as opposed to a theological movement. It is a social movement centered around certain experiences (i.e. conviction of sin, assurance of salvation, burden for the lost) with a claim to follow the Bible; a social movement with a theological claim(s). In other words, the Evangelical claims unity around certain theological truths, whereas it actually is more centered around certain experiences assumed to be consonant with those theological truths.

In his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, D.W. Bebbington claimed 4 distinctive characteristics of Evangelicalism. They are (1) Conversionism (a focus on the necessity of each person to individually turn to Christ in faith for salvation), Activism (a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission in the world), Biblicism (a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith), and Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins). In light of historical realities, it is better to elaborate these points as follows (with the underlined parts added for clarification):

  1. Conversionism, a focus on the necessity of each person to have a decisive act of turning to Christ in faith for salvation
  2. Activism, a commitment to participate with God in his saving mission by identifying all manner of causes to which Christianity has possible implications for and promoting these causes through the agency of trans- and non-denominational agencies
  3. Biblicism, a devotion to the Bible as the Word of God written for all of faith with a minimalistic understanding of what the Bible teaches and a naive view of exegesis and hermeneutics, with a corresponding rejection of any authority of creeds and confessions, and an emphasis on individual spirituality at the expense of the corporate dimension
  4. Crucicentrism, a focus on Jesus Christ and the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sins without a necessary soteriological framework which shows why the Cross is meant to be central and thus a weak assertion of its centrality.

As it can be seen, each of the underlined parts indicate a particular tradition or practice Evangelicalism has either subconsciously (mostly) or knowingly adopted. The first tradition is revivalism, which emphasized the conversion experience over the reality. Profession of faith is insufficient in this system; one must have the conversion experience in order to be considered a true "born-again" Christian. The difference between the older Evangelicalism and the post-Finney Evangelicalism is in whether the experience is man-made and able to be perceived as to the very day and hour, or whether it is not so.

The second tradition is the continuation of Constantinism as seeing the Church is in some sense intertwined with Society and thus bearing moral obligation upon the church qua church to get involved in all manner of causes. The Pietist tradition elevated the value of godly behavior above doctrinal fidelity, while deconfessionalism eroded the value of theology in general. The last two resulted in the perception of commonality between "evangelicals" from different denominations to come together, instead of them trying to reform the churches or split off from apostate denominations to join orthodox denominations.

The Romantic impulse behind the elevation of experience over doctrine resulted in a denigration of "dead" theology and thus resulted in biblicism, "me and my Bible in the woods." Lastly, Pietism and Deconfessionalism resulted in minimalizing doctrine to its supposed "essentials" which is "the Cross" (whatever that means), leaving the entire soteriological framework behind as being "technicalities."

Evangelicalism is thus more than just a movement that focuses on the Gospel. Implicit in the movement is an entire framework of theology for faith and life which is antithetical to true Christianity. One can be a Christian and be an Evangelical, but one cannot be a biblical Christian and continue to be an Evangelical, for its worldview and praxis are not in line with Scripture.

Reform and Ecclesiology

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (Jas. 2:18)

Evangelicalism (both Old and New) as a movement came about partly as a pietistic reaction to deconfessionalism and growing liberalism. Its piety is by and large a scrubbed-down renovated version of Medieval spirituality, defanged of its worst elements. Yet by and large the Platonic dichotomizing between Spirit and Matter remains in some form, and such Platonism when applied to the life of the church has resulted in a separation of individual from corporate spirituality, and thus a downplaying of the visible church.

The downplaying of the corporate dimension of the Christian life is pervasive among Evangelicals, and it is being further encouraged by the radical individualism found especially in Western cultures. How many times do we see the emphases being placed upon one's "personal relationship with God," and the focus is in self-renewal and sanctification? Even the study of doctrines become a personal affair, as if the study of Christian doctrines have no bearing whatsoever on corporate life in the church. Why otherwise would evangelicals in Liberals church bodies like the PCUSA in the 20th century refuse to separate themselves from their apostate church? Or why would evangelicals like John Stott continue being in fellowship with all the rank liberals in the Church of England? Closer to home, why would people who claim to hold to Reformed doctrines have no problems continuing their membership in non-Reformed churches? Isn't it the case that there is a dichotomizing of individual from corporate spirituality — that as long as one is biblical, it is almost irrelevant what church one attends? After all, the reasoning goes, there are no perfect churches (as if Reformed churches claim to be perfect!) and the most important thing is not one's church membership but one's standing before God.

Theology however is not mere head knowledge. True theology works its implications out in the lives of those who actually believe it. Those who use theology as a mere academic exercise do not actually believe that theology they claim to hold to. This after all is how faith works. Faith does not consist of a mere assenting to propositions, but a true assent that throws one's trust upon the object of those propositions. Likewise, believing the true theology of the Christian faith will necessarily result in the person acting on that theology he claims to believe in. In other words, one's actions "betray" one's actual theology.

Individual and corporate spirituality in Scripture are intricately linked but not the same, distinct but not separate. A person holding to Reformed theology will sooner or later desire to be in a Reformed church. If one believes in Reformed truth, one cannot tolerate the rank errors permeating Evangelical churches on issues like the charismata, worship, church governance, and most certainly piety. Sure, one should try working for reform if possible, but what happens if the church (probably most churches) resist any effort at reform? What if they claim that their view is actually biblical, but it actually is not? If one cannot agree with the leadership on these issues, and they will not bulge, how can one fulfill the command to obey your leaders in Heb. 13:7?

In our lives on this world, works are important. But in Reformed theology, the "works" are not necessarily the "works" looked for in the Pietists. The Evangelicals and Pietists have an unbiblical view of "godliness" — defined as almost synonymous with being civil and kind and being the ideal Victorian lady and gentleman. We discern fruits as being those who act upon the teachings of Scripture, who submit to God and His Word. Those who look humble, kind and outwardly devout, yet reject the teachings of Scripture, as far as the Scriptures are concerned have evil deeds. Such "godliness" is the "godliness" of Man, which stink like filthy rags before an all-holy God. The only "godliness" acceptable to God is the "godliness" of those with true faith, as they place their trust fully and wholly on Christ and His imputed righteousness to them and to us.

The Reformers did not have such a pietistic view of spirituality, and because of that, we have the Reformation. Those who claim to be Reformed must likewise reject Evangelical ecclesiology and aim for consistency between doctrine and life.