Friday, March 29, 2013

Even an atheist can see through Biologos

The drive to adjust one's interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis to the evolutionary paradigm and promote such a synthesis to Evangelicalism has been the raison d'etre of the Biologos foundation. Such a move is perceived to help the church to be not seen as dinosaurs, and thus help the church to reach the culture. Many who reject a 6-day creation narrative see holding to such an "outdated" view as wrong, and a major stumbling block to the church reaching out to modern Man. However, are holding variant views that are more accommodating to the prevailing evolutionary paradigm actually helping to reach people for Christ?

Recently, the Biologos Foundation has teamed up with the Templeton Foundation for funding Biologos'"Evolution and Christian Faith" program, a program to research how holding to evolution can function while holding on to some form of historic Christian orthodoxy. However, the atheists do not seem to be impressed. An atheist has lambasted Biologos' program as accomodationism which seeks to yoke two incompatible systems together. As he mocked,

These projects, but especially the one above [on stating that God must be hidden and utilize gradual creation in order to accomplish His purposes], are an insult to rationality. How can these scholars look in the mirror each day knowing that they’re taking money for such ludicrous projects? I can imagine Dr. Muller [sic], while shaving, telling himself, “Okay, today I’m going to make up more reasons why God is hidden.”

The translation of the above is that God should create gradually (i.e., through evolution) so that we can still remain naturalists about most stuff while the shy deity remains hidden. But God could still have done that by creating everything instantly and then leaving it unchanged. After all, we don’t have to have evolution to remain naturalists. And if God works miracles with Jesus, virgin births, and so on, doesn’t that dispel naturalism, too?

It’s amazing to me that, rather than interpret the “hiddenness of God” as evidence against God, theologians twist their brains into knots trying to explain why God would actually want to remain hidden.

As Delos McKown said, “The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike.” Much as projects like this anger me, they make me even sadder, for it shows an irremediable credulity of some humans, who waste their valuable time on this planet trying to explain why an interventionist deity can’t show Himself too obviously.

Unbelievers are not stupid. Unbelief is a moral defect, not an intellectual defect. And on some issues, unbelievers see more clearly the truth of the issue. No matter how much one tries to parse it, there is simply no way to logically accept both evolution and the Christian faith. As the atheist implies, it is ridiculous "why an interventionist deity can't show Himself too obviously," or better phrased, it is ludicrous to say that a God who says that He creates in a certain way leaves behind evidences that show that no one was creating in any way as stated in the Scriptures.

People can see when Christians are denying or redefining what our Scriptures itself teaches, in order to be more like them, and they despise such compromisers. Why then do we want to tone down what the Scriptures teach? Instead of amending the plain teaching of Scripture, we should take the fight to them, and attack their false idol of evolutionism at its core as having a defective epistemology, a defective philosophy of science, and defective science.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thomas Nagal the heretic from naturalism

This article at the Weekly Standard on Thomas Nagal is interesting on a lot of levels. An excerpt:

Last fall, a few days before Halloween and about a month after the publication of Mind and Cosmos, the controversial new book by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, several of the world’s leading philosophers gathered with a group of cutting-edge scientists in the conference room of a charming inn in the Berkshires. They faced one another around a big table set with pitchers of iced water and trays of hard candies wrapped in cellophane and talked and talked, as public intellectuals do. PowerPoint was often brought into play.


PCA viewpoint: An Open Letter to James Kessler and the National Partnership

Over on the Aquila Report, TE Andy Webb has posted an open letter in response to the idea of a "National Partnership" that was being floated. The letter speaks for itself, and I will just highlight one portion of it here.

Let me give you just one example of that; the debate over creation. Most confessional conservatives are literal 6-day creationists and believe that should be the position held by the denomination. And yet, in 2000 the PCA General Assembly adopted a statement that allows for a “diversity of opinions” on creation to be accepted as long as they affirm the “historicity” of the creation account. The four views of creation that were to be considered acceptable were Literal six day, Framework, Day/Age, and Analogical.

At the time, everyone on the liberal/moderate side of the denomination arguing for diversity affirmed that theistic evolution would never be considered acceptable within the PCA, but 13 years later, Biologos, an organization that confesses they “believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent” regularly meets at the offices of Redeemer PCA in Manhattan. PCA pastor Tim Keller is being quoted in Christianity Today as saying that it is “the job of pastors” to create a Biologos (Theistic Evolution) narrative.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Confessionalism: Unity in Diversity, and Diversity in Orthodoxy

[Previous post here]

There are two extremes in the Christian life with regards to the handling of doctrine in the life of the church. One is to so emphasize one's doctrinal rightness that soon the person becomes a church of one, because no two thinking people will agree on every single detail of doctrine. The other extreme is to de-emphasize the importance of doctrinal correctness, in favor of either the consensus view, or the view of submitting to the church leaders always on doctrine. The first extreme breeds the tyranny of the individual, while the second extreme breeds the tyranny of the many, or the tyranny of the (ecclesiastical) elite. The former can be seen in Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism with its many church splits, while the latter can be seen in broad evangelicalism (both types), the house church movement (tyranny of the many), and traditional hierarchical polity churches and also many charismatic churches (tyranny of the elite). As it can be expected, the pendulum almost always swing from one extreme to the other. The house church movement for example react against the tyranny of the elite, and end up having the tyranny of the many. Others reacting against anarchic church settings as seen for example in the house church movement move towards hierarchical settings, preferring the order of the one over the chaos of the many. Still others reacting against the anti-intellectual slant move towards the individualistic side, thus moving towards the tyranny of the individual.

To this mess, Confessionalism presents an alternate solution. Instead of making the individual, or the many, or the leader/elite as king, the Scriptures as interpreted in a Confession of Faith is king. The Confession of Faith functions as the constitution of the church, and sets forth the boundaries of what the Church thinks are orthodox, what is necessary to be believed, and what is not mentioned as being necessary to be believed. While dividing the local church or denomination from others who disagree with the church's confession, it unites all who hold to it as a true interpretation of the Christian faith.

In dealing with handling doctrine in the life of the church, being confessional means that whatever the Confessions teaches as necessary for the faith has to be believed. Thus, there is a true unity of faith among believers in a church. There is therefore an objective standard for measuring doctrinal issues, not a subjective and fluid standard as that of the individual, the many, or the elite. At the same time, what the Confession does not take a position on people are free to hold on to divergent views on the topic, without having the need to contend and split over the issue. If at any time, any person thinks that such and such a view ought to be proscribed by the church's Confession, then one could discuss amending the Confession of Faith the church holds to.

Now, of course, being confessional does not solve all problems. The system could be perfect, but Man is not. Nevertheless, such will work towards preserving unity in the church while allowing legitimate diversity in it, while minimizing tyranny of one sort or the other from taking root in the churches. Such unity in diversity, and diversity in orthodoxy, holds truth and love together, without trying to elevate one over the other, and thus makes for a healthier church.

On diverse tunes to be used for worship

In conservative circles which use psalters and hymnals, there is a tendency to use the same tunes to sing different psalms/ hymns. In one church, which I shall not name, the psalms weren't even tagged with any single tune. Rather, based upon the meter, a tune is chosen with the same meter as the verses to be sung, from a selection of tunes matching that meter.

Singing is an activity which engages the emotions, or at least it should. Worship should be from the mind, of the will, and then with emotions arising from the heart caused by the truths sung. We are after all to love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk. 12:30), and while the intellect and will are primary, yet emotions are not therefore to be neglected. In this light therefore, matching different tunes to different psalms and hymns is actually a better practice. If music is to help us to praise God, then having a fixed tune to a fixed psalm/ hymn would make it easier for us to remember the particular psalm/ hymn/ song, and through this, it would be easier for believers to match them and so remember the psalms /hymns/ songs. After all, shouldn't the goal be for believers to internalize them so they can praise God throughout the week, and not just on Sundays since they can't remember the words and tunes of the psalms/hymns if there aren't holding psalters or hymnals with them?

During the Reformation, the Reformers compose new tunes to go along with their psalters. The new tunes were to facilitate the worship of God. Strangely, some of those in conservative circles cease to compose new tunes, but instead there is a tendency to reuse old tunes for new psalms or hymns. I have even heard of reusing hymn tunes for singing psalms. Historically, even the stricter Reformers who advocated for exclusive psalmody composed, or had someone composed, new tunes for the psalms to be sung in worship. This preference to reuse old tunes is strange, especially since it is not using an old tune which is no more in use, but using a tune for multiple songs.

While there is nothing inherently wrong about using one tune for two different songs, it is much better in my opinion to have one tune to one song. Such will make it easier for believers to own the psalms/hymns/songs as their own, and use it to worship God throughout the week.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Worship and Psalmody: Some thoughts

[Previous articles: Worship and the RPW?, Exclusive Psalmody, Ipsissima Verba and singing the name of Jesus]

Biblical theology - Systematic theology - Practical theology
Psalms - Hymns - Spiritual songs

Over on Twitter, I have been engaging in some sort of dialogue with my prof Dr R.Scott Clark, on the issue of Psalmody, or the singing of psalms. The issue is not about the singing of psalms, as I am for singing psalms. Rather, what irks me is the promotion of psalm-singing by elevating it as the summit of (true) worship, and/or to the denigration of hymns and spiritual songs.

While not wanting to denigrate the Psalms, for they are indeed God's Word, I would like to put forward and clarify from my previous posts on this issue one reason why elevating psalmody above other genres of worship is not in line with biblical truth, and can be extremely unhelpful in practice.

As I have said, paraphrase of the psalms is inevitable, in order for it to be sung in worship. No Exclusive Psalmodist (EP), no matter how much of a purist, ever sang the psalms as they are, but at a minimum they are arranged in metrical form. Some sort of interpretation therefore is always necessary, no matter how minimal the EP makes it out to be. Here I would like to add to my previous argumentation. If we say that the psalms have to be interpreted and paraphrased now in light of the fuller revelation of Christ in redemptive history, that would add more layers of interpretation to the psalms, with the addition of words and phrases not originally there in the psalms if we are to expound the fuller message of the psalms.

To be able to convey the meaning, and the fuller meaning of the psalms, would require even more paraphrase and interpretation. We must not forget that the psalms are more than 2000 years old, around 3000 years old. Such a historical gap cannot be easily bridged even if we translate the Hebrew with modern English (which is not the case with many Psalters). In order to bridge the distance, so that Christians can understand the fuller meaning of what they sing, hymns and spiritual songs should be composed based upon Bible passages like the Psalms to enunciate the fuller meaning of the psalms. Can Christians come to understand the fuller meaning just from the Psalms themselves? We certainly answer yes, for the Scriptures are perspicuous. But such takes time, lots of time.

It is probably a blind spot from those promoting EP, or its cousin the Scripture-only (S) position, for certainly many Christians today will be in no position to adequately comprehend psalms if they are sung in the form they currently are. I myself sometimes struggle to understand the psalms when they are sung, not that I cannot comprehend them given enough time, but singing does not give you the time to reflect on the words and understand what they are saying. Essays and papers do that, but in singing one is supposed to get the meaning of the words and phrases straight away, so that one can move from the cognitive stage to the doxological stage. How am I supposed to worship God with the Psalms when I don't speak like this, and neither do I mention 20 or more different concepts in two sentences like the two verses of the psalm? The reader is to understand that I am considered rather theological astute (not that I wish to boast) compared to quite a few Evangelicals. How would you expect THEM to read this, understand this and immediately sing this in praise to God from the heart, if I myself struggle at times? Those growing up in Reformed circles, or some conservative circles, have the privilege of being inculcated in this manner of worship. For them, singing the psalms is second nature. I ask you however to step back and think of those of us who are not from such traditions. Will you, in your zeal for psalmody, make me mouth words I may not understand? Such happened to me in a church I visited in Singapore for a few months that used a 17th century Scottish Psalter. Of what use is the promotion of psalm-singing, when such comes at the expense of understanding and thus true worship?

Now, I am appreciative of psalm-singing, and have no problems singing a Capella psalms if I visit such a church. But the problems of relaying the meaning of the psalms is still the main problem for me. I would rather sing a "praise song" based upon two verses of any psalm, and be able to understand and praised God through it, then to sing the entire psalm with a blurred understanding of its meaning. And such is why I placed the 2 triads at the beginning of the post. Singing the psalms is not enough, for the same reason that biblical theology by itself is not enough. The truths of the psalms need to be expounded (hymns) and applied (spiritual songs). Christians need to see what the psalms teach, and praise God for that. If we can preach an entire sermon on one psalm, why do we expect believers to be able to comprehend and praise God by singing that same psalm in under 5 minutes? And how can we praise and worship God without comprehension?

I would like to put here the lyrics to a song, "A Broken Spirit," based upon Ps. 51:17. I could sing this with understanding, but it is sometimes not possible to say this for some psalms which covers all of the verses or most of them in one go. Note the application of the biblical truths of that verse to us.

A broken spirit and a contrite heart
You will not despise, You will not despise
You desire truth in the inward parts
A broken spirit and a contrite heart

Lord my heart is prone to wonder
Prone to leave the Lord I love
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Your courts of love

Monday, March 11, 2013

Some Chinese Christian terms

Here are some Chinese theological jargon:

  • Definition of Chalcedon: 迦克墩信经
  • Nicea/Nicene: 尼西亚
  • Docetism: 幻影说教
  • sacrament: 圣礼
  • reprobation: 遗弃(旨意)/(预旨)
  • decree: 旨意 /预旨
  • atone: 赎罪
  • propitiate: 和解
  • hypostatic union: 本质联盟
  • nature: 性质
  • catholic (adj.): 大公
  • will (n): 意志
  • [Christ's] humiliation: 降卑
  • exaltation: 升高
  • intercede: 代求/祷
  • depravity: 腐败
  • effectual calling: 有效的恩召
  • assurance: 确信
  • prologue: 序言
  • commandment: 诫命