Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rome, authority and Argumentum Ad Infinitum

An objection, however, is often made to the doctrine of infallibility, in limine, which is too important not to be taken into consideration. It is urged that, as all religious knowledge rests on moral evidence, not on demonstration, our belief in the Church's infallibility must be of this character; but what can be more absurd than a probable infallibility, or a certainty resting on doubt?— I believe, because I am sure, and I am sure, because I supposed. Granting then that the gift of infallibility be adapted, when believed to unite all intellects in one common confession, the fact that it is given is as difficult of proof as the developments which is to prove, and nurgatory therefore, and in consequence improbable in a Divine Scheme. The advocates of Rome, it has been urged, "insist on the necessity of an infallible guide in religious matters, as an argument that such a guide has really been accorded. Now it is obvious to inquire how individuals are to know with certainty that Rome is infallible... how any ground can be such as to bring home to the mind infallibly that she is infallible; what conceivable proof amounts to more than a probability of the fact; and what advantage is an infallible guide, if those who are to be guided have, after all, no more than an opinion, as the Romanists call it, that she is infallible?" 81.1

This argument, however, excepted when used, as is intended in this passage, against such persons as would remove all imperfection in the proof of Religion, is certainly a fallacious one. For since, as all allow, the Apostles were infallible, it tells against their infallibility, or the infallibility of Scripture, as truly as against the infallibility of the Church; for no one will say that the Apostles were made infallible for nothing, yet we are only morally certain that they were infallible. Further, if we have but probable grounds for the Church's infallibility, we have but the like for the impossibility of certain things, the necessity of others, the truth, the certainty of others; and therefore the words infallibility, necessity, truth, and certainty ought all of them to be banished from the language. But why is it more inconsistent to speak of an uncertain infallibility than of a doubtful truth or a contingent necessity, phrase which present ideas clear and undeniable? In sooth we are playing with words when we use arguments of this sort. When we say that a person is infallible, we mean no more than that what he says is always true, always to be believed, always to be done. The term is resolvable into these phrases as its equivalents; either then the phrases are inadmissible, or the idea of infallibility must be allowed. A probable infallibility is faith and obedience towards a person founded on the probability of his never erring in his declarations or commands. What is inconsistent in this idea? Whatever then be the particular means of determining infallibility, the abstract objection may be put aside. 81.2 [John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essays on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 58-9]

Before there was Catholic Answers, there was John Henry Newman, the apostate from Anglicanism. On the issue of the infallibility of the Roman Church, there is surely some continuity between the two. Protestants, in response to Roman claims on the infallibility of the Church, rightly ask how one can be infallibly certain of that. Newman's response is to say that this same argument can be used against the infallibility of the Apostles and the Scripture, the former probably as a polemic against Anglicanism and the latter against Protestantism as a whole. Since the same argument can be used against other views, either one has to abandon all usage of the words "infallibility, necessity, truth and certainty," or the argument is to be discounted altogether.

Newman's move, while an interesting play on his part, does not actually solve the problem. One can use the same argument to argue for the infallibility of the apostles or the infallibility of Scripture, or basically any authority. Put that (X is infallible) as the thesis, then when one's opponents inquire how one knows that (X is infallible) is true, then claim that either the thesis X is infallible (e.g. Scripture is infallible) is true, or that these words (infallibility, necessity, truth, and certainty) have no meaning whatsoever. Once the form of the argument is recognized, we see that Newman's argument is begging the question. It works only to the extent that his thesis is seen to be the default by which all others are to be judged, but since the thesis itself is questioned, one cannot claim that as the default.

So Rome's claims of authority is circular, and in the end it is no more certain than other claims. That it is circular does not necessarily make it wrong, but it must be admitted that the reason why Romanism is right is because one bases one's faith on the claimed authority of the Roman church (i.e. Sola Ecclesia). The major problem for Romanism now is the inconsistency of its authority figure. Ever since Vatican II, the Roman church has been ever shifting in its positions on all manner of Christians doctrines. Where once heretics and schismatics were anathemized, now Protestants are regarded as "separated brethren" and Muslims and Jews part of the plan of God (Vatican II Document Lumen Gentium). If one's authority is ever shifting, how can it function as the axiom of one's system?

Against Laudian Anglicanism, it is impossible to see the Church Fathers as being authoritative for understanding the Christian faith, since one does not have the entire corpus of Patristic writings and there is always the possibility, and indeed there are, divergences between the various church fathers. As for apostles, the only way we know what the apostles have taught is in the Scriptures. Supposed apostolic tradition mediated to the church fathers always have the question how much is actual mediation, and how much is addition, and thus one cannot appeal to the church fathers as necessarily indicative of apostolic tradition.

Scripture alone can stand as its own authority. The canon of Scripture is fixed and it is closed. Textual variants, because of the multitude of textual evidences, can be evaluated and the original text more or less arrived at. We therefore can know what Scripture teaches and it wouldn't change from age to age, pace Rome, and there wouldn't be problems of incompleteness and divergences, pace Laudian Anglicanism. Scripture is autopistos, authenticating itself as the supreme authority. Can one be "infalllibly sure" of the authority of Scripture? No, in the same way as one cannot be infallibly sure of anything. But one can be sure of its infallibility, while one cannot be sure of the infallibility of any others.

So this Romanist apologetic fails because (1) it cuts all ways, (2) the authority contradicts itself often, (3) Only Scripture is autopistos, while the rest are not. We do not have to fear Rome's promotion of Sola Ecclesia, for it is a broken reed wounding all who rely on it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

5 things we wish "gay Christians" knew about Christianity and the Church

A friend of mine posted a link to this, and so here is my response:

Here are 5 things we wish "gay Christians" knew about the Christian faith they claim to believe in:

(1) We know you didn't choose to have homosexual temptations, but it's your choice whether you are "gay."

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor. 10:13) It is one thing to be tempted, another to give in to temptation. When you claim that you did not choose to be gay, you are speaking of your desires. But you do not have to give in to them, for it is your choice whether to act according to or against what you desire.

(2) Homosexuality is sin, and you are broken

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Regardless of how you might have wished that to not be the case, homosexuality is universally judged in the Bible as sin, as wickedness, and that is an objective truth. Nothing any minister or "minister" of the Gospel, nothing any theologian say, can alter that fact. You are not broken because you "are gay." You are broken because of all your sins and unrepentance, of which homosexuality is a grievous sin but not the only grievous sin.

(3) Christ welcomes sinners, but He never condones sin

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”(Jn. 3:18-21) That you are a sinner does not preclude you from going to church. You will always be welcome to biblical churches, but you will not be comfortable there. Jesus welcomes all to Him, but He was never once content to leave them in their sins. Jesus was sorrowful as the rich young ruler went away, but He never soften His message of calling all to repentance.

The Church allows for divergent views on various issues, but it cannot do so on what Scripture plainly teaches. On this issue of homosexuality, it is disingenuous that you claim to want to be a part of the church but refuse to realize that what you think is rejection is rejection of the sin you need to part with (see point 2). As per point 1, you are not supposed to be defined by your temptations.

(4) Christ forgives the sins of all who believe, but those who are hardened in their sin show evidences of being unbelievers.

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 Jn. 1:8-10) Christ welcomes sinners, as believers are, but Christ never condones sin. Likewise, there is forgiveness of sin offered to all who believe in Him. Yet, those who refuse to reject their sin, those who claim that homosexuality for example is not sin, make God out to be a liar and "His word is not" in them.

In this light, it is utterly blasphemous to say that you are proud of your sexuality and wouldn't want God to change it, seeing it even as a blessing. No Christian will ever say that he is proud of his lying, or proud of his adultery, or that he is proud of his stealing. To say that is to call evil good, and to claim sinlessness of what is truly in fact sin is self-deception and to make God out to be a liar, which casts doubt on whether the person has actually truly repented of his sin unto faith in Christ.

(5) Mortification of the old man is always hard, but necessary

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Col. 3:5) One cannot claim what Scripture claims is sin as a "blessing." Just because the temptations are strong is not a reason to conclude that one is "born that way" and therefore what cannot be beaten must be embraced. Scripture tells us to mortify, or put to death, the old man ("old self"), and nowhere in Scripture are we told that this process of mortification is an easy one. While we do not wish to make it appear near impossibly difficult, as if only super spiritual "saints" could do so, Scripture tells us that it is oftentimes a difficult process involving much suffering and pain (c.f. 1 Peter 2:20).

So just because temptations might be strong does not mean that one should conclude such desires are natural and should be embraced. Mortification of the old man is necessary, and to be done regardless of whether one sees progress even throughout one's life time.

The twisting of love in homosexuality

The Legend of Korra is a "children's show" with lots of adult themes interwoven within it. It is interesting also in that it is set in a universe based upon modified Eastern metaphysics (i.e. Western Liberal appropriation of what they think is Eastern metaphysics), although I note with amusement that "reincarnation" has been redefined from an actual reincarnation of the person into merely of the "animating principle" of a person. The recent ending has been controversial since it alluded to a lesbian relationship between the hero (Korra) and her former love rival, then friend (Asami Sato), and then it was confirmed by co-creator Bryan Konietzko.

Now the animators and story-tellers can do whatever they wish with the story. The Legend of Korra after all has way too many killings (e.g. on-screen political assassination, murder-suicide) and adult themes (e.g. social inequality, gender roles, anarchy, fascism) to be a children's show anyway. What they wish to do however is the slow mainstreaming of homosexuality into children's cartoons, which is another issue altogether (the blurring between children and adult shows really doesn't help here).

As the liberal culture pushes their agenda, Christians are under tremendous pressure to compromise. The hypocrisy of the Left is so blatant that it is only willful blindness on their part on how bigoted and intolerant they are of anyone who thinks differently from them. "Openness" and "Tolerance" applies to all who believe the same things as them, while others are *by definition* "bigoted," "intolerant," and "hateful." It comes to the stage that even libertarian atheists have to side with Christians in the "culture wars," signs of how bigoted and intolerant the Left has become.

Such cartoons and anime like The Legend of Korra repeat the homosexualist portrayal of homosexuality as being something beautiful, for love after all is beautiful. But what exactly is love? The underlying premise behind this, and basically the propagandist view of homosexual "love" (not its actual reality), is that love is a beautiful feeling towards another person. So if two girls or two guys feel romantically attached to each other, how can anyone be against such "love"? "Love" is beautiful, "love" is good, and thus it is hateful to be against the "love" two people (of whatever gender permutation) have for each other.

What we have here is a fundamental distortion of the nature of love. Love in this modern/ post-modern 21st century is all about "feels." It is all about what one feels towards another person. Now while one can include the physical elements of desire and sex, the propagandist view focuses on what seems "purer." For some "couples," this might actually be their reality, although such is certainly not the case for those who engage in group orgies regularly, which I might add constitute a significant portion of those who identify as LGBTQ. But let's just focus on the "purer" version which is how they generally portray homosexuality in the media.

The issue is this: Is "love" primarily an emotion, about feelings? For most, that is probably their definition of love. Yet for Christians, love cannot be primarily about emotions. God is love, yet He is impassible. For God at least, "love" is a volition. But then of course what about humans? We are after all not God.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (Jn. 15:13)

So we return to the question: What is the nature of love? I think we see something of the nature of love in John 15:13, where love is manifested in self-sacrifice for the other person. What this shows is the more generic principle of focusing on the good of the other person. It is after all absurd for someone to sacrifice of oneself to inflict evil on the other, and call that "love." So, in other words, the nature of love is to desire the betterment of the object of that love. Love in this sense is first and foremost volition (an attitude), before it is emotion. That is the biblical view of love, and it is such a general truth that it is revealed also in General Revelation, in the consciences of Man and Natural Law.

For all the sensate people, that love is actually primarily volitional is something that they suppress, as seen in that most of them are not consistent with their sensual definition of love. For if love is all about romantic feelings (i.e. "falling in love"), then do those same people promoting LGBTQ "equality" promote the idea of incestous "love" IF consensual (brother-sister, father-daughter, and any permutations thereof)? How about "inter-generational love," which in the case of grown men and boys is otherwise known as pederasty? How about threesomes or more, otherwise known as "plural marriages"? What aren't they promoting those pairings, since love is after all defined purely on the basis of emotions? If a mother wants to marry her daughter, I should expect the LGBTQ promoting crowd to applaud it, or how about a mother, her two daughters and one teenage boy? If they all feel romantically attracted to each other, why not? You oppose it? What a bigot!

Even excluding the discussion of LGBTQ, let's talk about adultery or extra-marital affairs. If one develops romantic feelings for someone who is already married, or if one is married yet develop romantic feelings towards another person, should one feel free to pursue those feelings? Let's even assume that the interest is reciprocated. If love is defined primarily as an emotion, then surely we should consider it loving if the two adulterers pursue their relationship? After all, they "love" each other, so upon what basis can "love" be denied? Isn't one supposed to be for "equality," which means "equality" for adulterers too? So ok, if you agree that adultery is wrong, then was that actually "love" in the first place, if for example a married man and his female colleague desire to sleep with each other? If "love" is primarily an emotion, then surely we must say that the two actually "love" each other, even if one was to hold that adultery is wrong.

Mind - Will - Emotions

Love should not therefore be defined as an emotion, but as a volition. Emotions may come, but they are accidental to love. Mind, will, emotions. Christians are to renew their minds (Rom. 12:2),and then they are asked to live life accordingly (choices, will). While wrong emotions are certainly sin, yet I do not see the same emphasis on emotions in the Bible, probably because the focus is from the mind to the will and then the emotions. This is how Christians are to live in the world, not according to sensate experiences. Since love is for the betterment of the object loved, therefore we must say that adultery is not love, neither is LGBTQ love. One can have "feelings" of love which are actually lust, and lust does not have to be physical but it can be emotional as well.

Therefore, if one for whatever reason has "romantic" feelings towards someone of the same sex, or a married person or any other person that one should not have feelings towards, what one is feeling is not love. It matters not how much one THINKS it is love, or even if one sacrifices for the other, for in the end what one desires is illicit and works towards the destruction of the other person (nevermind oneself). The consequences of one's decisions are based upon the objective reality of whether that supposed relationship betters or harms the other person, and are independent of the purity of motives or lack thereof. Just like denying the reality of gravity is irrelevant as to the reality of gravity, so likewise denying the real ethical consequences of one's actions does not result in their erasure. One might have the purest motives (from one's perspective) in seducing a married woman, but it's still wrong regardless of one's motives.

There are people who struggle with all manner of temptations, but temptations are just that... temptations. Temptations are not orientations, but are to be resisted. The problem is that many people rather give in to the flesh. It is understandable for those without Christ to do so, but it is an abomination for those who claim the name of Christ to give into the flesh and claim they have a "homosexual orientation." Those who lie do not have a "lying orientation," those who commit adultery do not have an "adulterous orientation," so why must those who struggle with homosexual temptations be said to have a "homosexual orientation"? The struggle is hard, but you know what? Struggling against sin IS hard. Struggling for holiness is hard. We do not need to make it harder than it already is, but neither should we make it easier than it already is. As for relationships, is it hard to reject someone one might be attracted to because the other party is an unbeliever, or is doctrinally confessionally too dissimilar? It could be. Is it hard to keep one's thoughts pure in the midst of a desensitized, pornographic generation? Yes. Is it hard to struggle with singleness and loneliness? Yes, and articles like these don't help. So? Struggles are struggles, but the issue is this: Unless you really love God and His honor more than yourself, it will be impossible to stand strong for what is true. If you cannot deny yourself, crucify your emotions, then how are you able to stand against the tide? Emotions are fickle and irrational, and not to be trusted. One can re-orient the mind and train the will to some extent, but emotions like the tongue are flames of fire, to be bridled and kept on a short leash.

So LGBTQ "love" is not true love at all. However, by now all of us know how most of those "tolerant" liberals argue. Shouting down the opposition, screaming charges of "bigotry" and "hatred" while showing us through their attitude who is the real bigot and hater, ignoring the real argument for sob stories, none of those interested in promoting the LGBTQIA agenda actually are interested in the truth. They are essentially fascists in their conduct, shutting down the opposition and behaving with the Nietzschean idea of "might makes right." So while I welcome interaction from those who disagree, it is a qualified welcome because I know what to expect from most of them who are hooligans. Ironically, it is the conduct of the homosexualists that prove that their "love" is only good for propaganda, as we see it absent in practice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

John Walton and the blurring of creation and providence

The Bible to some extent offers the idea that creation is ongoing and dynamic. So theologian Jürgen Moltmann believes that God's creative work is not just the static work of the past, but that it is dynamic as it continues in the present and into the future. This suggestion merits consideration, but key to the discussion is the extent to which what happens after the beginning could still be called creation, or if it is something else (e.g. "sustaining"). ..

I contend that there is a line between the seven days of Genesis 1 and the rest of history, making Genesis 1 a distinct beginning that is located in the past. If we see this as an account of functional origins, the line between is dotted rather than solid as the narrative of Genesis 1 puts God in place to perpetuate the functions after they are established in the six days. In this way, day seven, God taking up his rest in the center of operations of the cosmos, positions him to run it. This continuing activity is not the same as the activity of the six days, but is the reason why the six days took place. ...

... Maintaining relates to the material and the physical existence. Sustaining relates to the functional and operational. Consequently, when we take the functional approach to origins and the theological position of God's continual sustaining work, both originating and sustaining can be seen as variations of the work of the Creator, even thought they do not entirely merge together. Genesis 1 is in the past, but the continuing activities of the Creator in the future and present are very much a continuation of that past work. In contrast to the first extreme [of seeing creation as finished -DHC], creation is not over and done with. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 120-2]

One of the beliefs that Christianity has almost unanimously held is the belief that creation is finished. God is not creating ex nihilo anything today, for creation is complete and God now is operating through providence. It is almost such an axiomatic belief that I can't even think of anyone in church history who has ever claimed that God is still continually creating.

Enter OT Professor John Walton, who has decided to change terms to his liking. Redefining creation to be "functional," Walton reasons that there is no reason to restrict creation to the past. In his own words, while the "seven days of Genesis 1" are separate from the "rest of history," the line is "dotted rather than solid." In other words, there is not a phase of history called "creation," and the other phases that are clearly not creational. Rather, for Walton, the difference between the "seven days of Genesis 1" and "the rest of history" is quantitative not qualitative, a matter of degree rather than of kind.

In one sense, Walton, because of his redefinition of creation as being "functional," is not promoting a continuous "material" creation today. However, in another sense, this blurring between creation and providence is extremely problematic because God's role of Creator is cast almost as purely "functional" and thus, while the material is not denied, it is as it were erased from sight. Since when we looked at the issue philosophically, we see that the term "functional ontology" is nonsensical, the correct nature of Walton's thesis is that God is only the God of teleology and not ontology, or at the very least we are agnostic about God's creation of ontology. (And for consistency's sake, Walton should interpret all creation passages including the one in Colossians 1 as speaking of "functional ontology.") So after Walton has interpreted Genesis 1 as speaking about "functional ontology," upon what basis can he claim that God is the God who has created all matter ex nihilo? How is he able to refute (or does he refute) a person who claims that God does not create matter but rather mould what is already present? In other words, if someone claims that matter is eternal and that God is only in charge of moulding it into functional things, where in Scripture can (or will) Walton go to refute that?

The blurring of creation and providence should naturally flow over into the line of new creation, or the Eschaton. If biblical creation concerns function while being agnostic about matter, then recreation or the Last Day should be about function as well and also similarly agnostic about matter. Since the difference between pre-creation and creation in Genesis is the communication of function, then the line between the present time and the new creation in Revelations should also be the communication of function, not material changes. If Walton is consistent with his "functional ontology," then the Eschaton should be interpreted likewise, especially since Revelation is in the apocalyptic genre. At the return of Christ, there is no real burning up of the elements by fire (2 Peter 3:12), for that ought to be interpreted "functionally" not "materially." The new heavens and the new earth is merely functional modification of the current existing heavens and earth, which means Walton shouldn't be expecting a paradise without earthquakes and human death by natural disasters in the new heavens and earth. And the parallels can go on, for the difference must be quantitative only not qualitative.

Such is the logical conclusion of Walton's reinterpretation of Genesis 1 as being about "functional ontology." If Walton does not go there, that is only because of blessed inconsistency, not because his theory does not lead there. One must apply the same hermeneutical principles consistently to the text, so if a text that has the form of historical narrative is interpreted as being about "functional ontology," there is no reason why passages that are parabolic (Prov. 8) or hymnic (Col. 1) should be interpreted "materially." While certainly I have no reason to doubt Walton's sincerity, his hermeneutic and "exegesis" runs contrary to the Christian faith and must be rejected.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Examples of Ignorance of YEC

John Walton has proven that ignorance of basic teachings of YEC are endemic throughout the academy. Misrepresentation of YEC doesn't seem to be an offense in academic circles it seems, whereas I would think that misrepresentation of any other topic would be rather severely punished.

...everything we know logically repudiate the absence of death at any level prior to the Fall. Day three describes the process by which plants grow. The cycle of sprouting leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds is one that involves death at every stage. This system only functions with death as part of it. Likewise with animals: we need not even broach the topic of predatory meat eaters to see that the food chain involves. A caterpillar eating a leaf brings death. A bird eating the caterpillar brings death. Fish eating insects brings death. If animals and insects did not die, they wold overwhelm their environment and the ecology would suffer. Furthermore, if we move to the cellular level death is inevitable. Human skin has an outer layer of epidermis—dead cells—and we know that Adam had skin (Gen. 2:23) [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 99]

RESPONSE: YECs believe that there is a difference between biblical death, and biological death. Regarding animal death, see my review of Ronald E. Osborn's book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, here.

For example, they [YECs - DHC] typically account for the visibility of the stars by suggesting that light was created in transit (Ibid., 107-8)

RESPONSE: I have no idea whether the "light-in-transit" theory has ever been embraced by any creationist scientist. I know that sometime in the 1980s(?), a theory of light-speed decay was proposed. Russell Humphreys then in the early 21st century thereabouts came up with his white-hole cosmology. More recently, John Hartnett came up with an entire alternate cosmology using the cosmology developed by Moshe Carmeli. Given that Walton's book is published in 2009 not the 1980s, his ignorance of modern creationist thought is sad.

Creation, the "Cosmic Temple" and the flow of typology

First in line is the curious fact that the number seven appears so pervasively in temple accounts in the ancient world and in the Bible. Thus the seven days of the Genesis account of origins has a familiarity that can hardly be coincidental and tells us something about the seven-day structure in Genesis 1 that we did not know before and that is not transparent to modern readers. That is, if Genesis 1 is a temple text, the seven days may be understood in relation to some aspect of temple inauguration. What would days of inauguration have to do with creation? What is the connection? If Genesis 1 were an account of material origins, there would be no connection at all. But as an account of functional origins, creation and temple inauguration fit hand in hand. Given the relationship of the temple and the cosmos, the creation of one is also the creation of the other. The temple is made functional in the inauguration ceremonies, and therefore the temple is created in the inauguration ceremony. So also the cosmic temple would be made functional (created) in an inauguration ceremony.

We must draw an important distinction between the building of a temple and the creation of a temple. ... The temple uses that which is material, but the temple is not material. If God is not in it, it is not a temple. If rituals are not performed by a serving priesthood, it is not a temple. If those elements are not in place, the temple does not exist in any meaningful way. A person does not exist if only represented by their corpse. It is the inauguration ceremony that transforms a pile of lumber, stone gold and cloth into a temple. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 86-7]

Flowing from his postulation that the Genesis account is about "functional ontology," Walton states that it is focused on the inauguration of the cosmic-temple, using analogies from other ANE temple accounts to make his case. Now, we have already established that Walton's main argument collapses because of his philosophical confusion. Thus, applying the correct categories and discounting the idea of "functional ontology," we will say that the ontology of a temple consists of a building, sacred object(s), priest(s), and ritual(s) to connect with the divine. Its telos is to function as a site for religious devotion. As such, the inauguration of a temple completes it by adding the elements necessary for its ontology. Now of course, an empty temple building is still called a "temple," but that is to focus on the building with the understanding that the other elements are supposed to be present there. A "temple building" without those elements has a temple architecture, but it is not in fact a temple.

Concerning the ANE, the supposed seven days in the ANE temple accounts might parallel the seven days of creation, but we can say that it is expected if we hold that the ANE accounts are corruptions of the true religion. More serious is the supposed parallel between the Genesis creation and the temple accounts themselves. But here, we must ask ourselves, why do we assume that the temple inauguration is not meant to reflect something, instead of the other way seeing the creation account as a reflection of temple inauguration?

Here, we come to the issue of typology, which is to say that there are types and shadows throughout the Bible where the type prefigures what it intends to portray. If we start with creation, then it seems clear that temple accounts are meant to reflect the creation of the universe, especially the first garden-temple of Eden. In other words, creation comes first, and the temple accounts were meant to typify it in their worship. This is in contrast to the approach taken here, and taken by those like Peter Enns, that make the creation texts typify the ANE and Israel in her religious life. That approach is wrong because it makes a primary theme of Scripture (i.e. creation) into a type of a secondary theme (the cultic element, which prefigures Christ and the salvation He purchased). Both Walton and Enns reverse the flow of typology in this area, and thus they are in error in how they read these texts.

Genesis, "Ancient Cosmology" and "Functional Ontology"

In this book I propose that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system. Here I do not refer to an ordered system in scientific terms, but an ordered system in human terms, that is, in relation to society and culture. In this sort of functional ontology, the sun does not exist by virtue of its material properties, or even by its function as a burning ball of gas. Rather it exists by virtue of the role that it has in its sphere of existence, particularly in the way that it functions for humankind and human society. In theory, this way of thinking could result in something being included in the "existent" category in a material way, but still considered in the "non-existent" category in functional terms ... In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not "exist" if it has not become functional ... Unless something is integrated into a working, ordered system, it does not exist. Consequently, the actual creative act is to assign something its functioning role in the ordered system. That is what brings it into existence. Of course something must have physical properties before it can be given its function, but the critical question is,what stage is defined as "creation"? [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL, 2009), 24-5]

Q: Why can't Genesis 1 be both functional and material?
A: Theoretically it could be both. But assuming that we simply must have a material account if we are going to say anything meaningful is cultural imperialism. We cannot demand that the text speaks to us in our terms. Just as we cannot demand a material account, we cannot assume a material account just because that is most natural to us and answers the questions we most desire to ask. We must look to the text to inform us of its perspective. In my judgment, there is little in the text that commends it as a material account and much that speaks against it. (Ibid., 170)

On the issue of origins, John Walton has came up with a variant reading of the Genesis creation account, one which he claims is the natural reading of the text as interpreted in its ANE (Ancient Near-East) context. Whereas others have interpreted the Genesis account either as literal, analogical, or framework, Walton claims that the actual interpretation of the Genesis account is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the material creation. Rather, it depicts the inauguration of the cosmic-temple of the world, the world's "functional ontology" rather than its "material ontology." Walton has one major argument to support his thesis: Ancient cosmology, and Genesis, thinks in terms of function not matter. But does his thesis actually stand up to scrutiny?

I have posted on the issue of ancient cosmologies before. As I have said, there is a certain idea of the ANE as one of general backwardness, in the sense of the ancients creating myths to explain the world, myths which are not based on true transcendental truths but just created to explain what they had experienced. Now, at least some historians will hasten to add that the ancients do believe those myths to be in fact true, but it only compounds the problem of people creating fiction, and then believing the fiction they have just created to be true. The only religion that fits this idea of "myth" is Scientology. Other religions claim some measure of transcendentality, whether they be true or not is besides the point as to how they see their claims as squaring with reality.

Right from the start therefore, there is prima facie evidence to distrust any sort of "ANE context" that supposedly changes the teaching of the Genesis account that has been held to for most of the history of the church. We agree that the modern world is very much different from the pre-modern world, such that the difference between Europe in the 15th century to the modern world is much much greater than the difference between that 15th century Europe and the ANE, but just because the modern world is different does not necessarily means our understanding of what constitutes a plain reading is suspect; one has to prove and not merely assert a qualitative hermeneutical difference between ancient and modern times, and not assume that just because there is a real qualitative difference between ancient and modern times. In fact, since ANE studies are most modern, one has to wonder which view is actually imposing an alien hermeneutic on the text. Josephus for example is no modern person, yet his interpretation of Genesis sounds nothing like the supposed "ANE contextual" interpretation that those like Walton proposes. Surely Walton isn't going to accuse Josephus of engaging in "cultural imperialism"?!

So now we go into Walton's argument itself. Walton claims that the Genesis account is about functional existence, not material existence. Creation is all about purpose, not just the bare fact of a thing existing. First of all, I really want to know where this language of "functional ontology" comes from. The goal or purpose of a thing is its teleology, not its ontology. "Ontology" is the nature of a thing, what a thing IS. To speak about a "functional ontology" seems to me to be a conflation of separate philosophical concepts. If Walton has in mind the distinction of creating something for a purpose as opposed to creating something without a purpose, then the former ("functional ontology") is merely ontology with teleology, while the latter is dysteleological ontology. Ontology exists independent of teleology, for water is still ontologically water whether it sits in a basin, or whether it is used ("functionally") to wash a wound.

As part of his promotion of of his category of "functional ontology," Walton asks what the ontology of a curriculum is (p. 23). Since a curriculum has no "material ontology," but is created for the purpose or function of teaching, therefore he states that there is such a category as "functional ontology." But ontology is not just about "material things," but just "things." The ontology of a curriculum consists of a lesson plan, student handouts and a list of materials (e.g. books) for students to acquire, while its teleology is for the purpose of guiding a student's education. Looking at another example, the ontology of a committee is a group of men and women gathered with a telos, and that telos is to have a meeting to deal with indicated subject(s) of interest. Walton seems absolutely confused over philosophical concepts, and limiting ontology to material things is one of the most egregious errors in this regard.

So the modified question raised by Walton concerns not whether the Genesis account is about "material ontology" or "functional ontology," but rather whether an account of something being created for a purpose precludes a material creating. In other words, can one describe only teleology without ontology? First of all, as a modified supralapsarian, I believe that God does EVERYTHING with a purpose, including the ordering of the divine decrees. Thus, to state that God has created something with a purpose does not prove anything, for everything God has created has a purpose. Therefore, Walton, in proving that the Genesis text speak about how everything has a telos doesn't prove that the text is speaking only about teleology and not ontology, since for God, all created things have a telos.

Back to the question: Can one describe only teleology without ontology? Theoretically, I do not see any reasons why one cannot do that. But saying this does not mean that Walton is vindicated, for he has shown us no proof that the Genesis account ever intends to be not about ontology. Since I have stated that all things to God have a purpose, proving that God has a purpose in creating, or just that the created things have purposes period, proves nothing. Literarily, the material parts and the function parts are both found in the Genesis account, thus there is no reason whatsoever to say that the Genesis account is purely teleological and not also ontological. As with regards to the other ANE stories, there is no reason likewise to think they are sincerely believed fictions instead of stories sincerely believed to correspond to reality, which brings us to the problems with seeking an "ANE cultural" context — it seems to be most modern rather than pre-modern in construction.

Walton's arguments therefore falls flat at its source, his ignorance of philosophical concepts showing. Since the historic Christian view speaks of ontology WITH teleology, it is the onus of those who disagree to prove their alternate hypotheses, like saying that Genesis is about teleology apart from an ontology. With all the ontological features mentioned in the biblical text, that does seem a most unlikely hypothesis.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Some thoughts on ANE for OT background

The biblical view of reality ... is paralleled by the pagan worldviews [ANE worldviews -DHC], which both predate and postdate the Bible. The ancient world understood that there was a supreme God,with whom all things originated and who held all authority and yet was relatively inactive in human affairs. But they also understood that there was another god, the storm god, who was indeed active among both divine and human affairs. A constitutional monarchy may present an analogy, in which the monarch theoretically holds authority and instructs the prime minister to form a government, but it is the prime minister who is truly active, who "gets things done." So it was in the ancient world with Enlil, Baal, Zeus, and Jupiter. ... In any case, the parallel that concerns us now is that which obtains between the pagan divine assemblies and the biblical assembly of angels, or "sons of God" (Job 1-2 RSV). Holy angels refuse human worship (c.f. Rev. 19:10), but fallen angels clearly do not, as Moses and Paul have indicated. It seems reasonable to agree with these biblical writers, and such agreement leads us to understand that the common pagan theological structure presented above is a theological counterfeit not only endorsed by all ancient pagan thought, but imposed upon the ancients by the misleading inspiration of fallen angles (or, to use Paul's words to Timothy, "doctrines of demons," 1 Tim. 4:1 RSV). [Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008), 180-1]

From the time of German liberal Hebrew scholars like Hermann Gunkel and Friedrich Delitzsch, the discovery of the ANE (Ancient Near-East) has undermined the faith by postulating that much of the Old Testament historical narratives (especially those that deal with "pre-history") are myths borrowed and contextualized from the other ANE cultures surrounding Israel. Similarities between for example the Gilgamash Epic and the Biblical Flood account have been pointed out and used to undermine the truthfulness of Scripture. Even more subtle are the comparisons between storm imagery in the Psalms with the Ugarit Baal Epic, in an attempt to link OT spirituality with Canaanite/ Phoenician religion.

Yet the similarities are indeed present, and anyone dealing with the OT need to wrestle with that issue. German liberal scholars of course took it to mean that biblical sources borrow the myths of their neighbors, but certainly that should not be the only option possible. Great antiquity of a written source only establishes that the myth (e.g. Gilgamesh) existed at that time, but it does not establish that the "younger" tale was not present then, especially once we understand that oral culture was much more present and important in the ancient world. In other worlds, assuming priority based upon antiquity of a written source is ultimately an argument from silence, for there is no way to disprove the biblical account was present but unwritten back then.

In his book on ANE themes in biblical theology, Jeffrey J. Niehaus went through the parallels between the ANE cultures and religions with OT culture and religion. Niehaus basically postulated that the parallels are due to common grace to the pagan nations (pp. 29-30), thus God uses these common forms to instruct Israel in true religion. At the same time, Niehaus argues that it is the distorted inspiration of demons that lies behind the pagan religions (pp. 180-1). It seems to me that the two given reasons do not cohere with each other. Are the pagan religions part of God's common grace, or demonic deception? And why should God utilized demonic forms, as it were, to instruct Israel in true religion?

It seems to me that, if one takes a presuppositional approach, that we see true religion as being there from the beginning. As such, the false pagan religions of Sumer, Egypt, Babylon, Ugarit and others, are demonic distortions of the religion they once had. In other words, it is not as if they were grasping in the dark and had "evolved" their religions to this "higher" level. Rather, theirs were a devolution of the original religion they had learned from Noah. Therefore, similarities are due not to borrowing of Israel from her neighbors, but rather because paganism devolved from the true religion of Noah. Israelite religion, being a divine restoration and also an advancement of true religion, would therefore look similar to the ANE religions, since they both historically were from the same source.

Thus, instead of seeing Israel as borrowing from her pagan neighbors, it is better to see Israel as preserving the truths that the pagan religions have distorted. That includes the storm imagery, while the primal gods of paganism were probably originally meant to represent the true God before various cultures distort what they knew about the Noahic religion into paganism.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why I am most certainly unconcerned over charges of racism

Racism is a sin. Yet, the charge of systemic racism and the supposed problems of racism in America struck me as odd. I self-identify as a Christian first and foremost. Culturally, I consider myself Singapore Chinese, not "Asian." My ancestors did not take part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and thus I think that qualifies me as a third party.

My problem with such issues is very practical. In my time in America, I will say that the Caucasians I have met have generally been nice and welcoming. Blacks too of course. But let's just focus on someone who has posted on this issue on the Reformation 21 blog: Leon Brown. Leon was my senior in WSCal back when I began my first year. He was extremely vocal about many things, but one particular episode stuck in my memory: There was a time when there was some discussions between him and some of the other freshmen or something, and a question I asked him was ignored. For some reason, despite the fact that sometimes the two of us were in the same place or event, we did not talk. Now, I am not saying that he was intentionally antagonistic towards me, and I don't bear a grudge, but I'm bringing this up merely to illustrate one simple point.

Now, I understand there might be reasons, some even legitimate, that might cause some blacks or minorities to build up resentment and anger towards the dominant white majority. While I do not want to discount that, I find it strange that none of them ever shine the light upon themselves. My example of Leon Brown is to show that he himself did not seem to act according to his idea of equality. Just like this episode involving a black pastor, I find it strange that people do not think that blacks can be racist. I mean, when they express their outrage, my question is: Are they truly against racism, or are they only against racism because they are the victims? After all, we have seen throughout history what happens when the oppressed turn the tables against their oppressors: they oppress their former masters. Likewise, are they only against racism when they are the victims, while they have no trouble with racism IF they become the dominant race?

As I have said, I have found the Caucasians I have interacted with nice and welcoming, in general. I have no problems with many of those of other ethnicities also. Unfortunately, using Leon as an example here, I could have said that Caucasians in general are more welcoming towards me. Do I therefore cry "racist" if a black person slights me? Oh, but that wasn't his intention, but isn't that the PRECISE issue? Is it the intention, or the feeling of being slighted, that counts, when all the rage start boiling out? What if I were to start nursing any slights, real or perceived, that others of other ethnicities, have "committed" against me? If a white person were to offend me, I will chalk it to ALL whites. If a black person were to offend me, then can I chalk it up to all blacks as being anti-Chinese? I should hope not! But why not?

"They" want "equal treatment." You know, it would be helpful when they actually practice equal treatment - to "Asians" and whites too. When black pastors like Bryan Crawford Loritts can stop playing the race card to defend the heretic T.D. Jakes, that would be a real marked improvement.

P.S.: I have addressed real racists before, for example here. Cado Odac is a true white racist. The issue here is not whether individual racists exist, but the sweeping charge of systematic racism and the ungodly bitterness within certain segments of the black and minority populace (note: I did not say "community," because it overgeneralizes and categorizes people according to what they supposedly are).

Phillips, Craig and Dean: "Only Jesus" and Oneness Pentecostalism

Philips, Craig and Dean have been controversial over their background in Oneness Pentecosatlism, a heretical movement that denies the Trinity for belief in "Jesus only." For a while, they have been ambiguous over their stance concerning the Trinity. But their latest song "Only Jesus" should prove beyond a doubt their adherence to Oneness Pentecostalism in its denial of the Trinity. I refuse to embed their heretical song, but here's the link if anyone is interested.

In terms of the lyrics, one might think the song is about the exclusivity of Jesus , as over against the syncretism of the age. And to the extent that the first and second stanzas focus on Jesus' work during His incarnation, that seems fine, but then we arrive at the chorus:

Holy, King Almighty, Lord
Saints and Angels all adore
We join with them and bow before
Jesus, Only Jesus

We see here that according to the chorus, it's not just that we are to worship Jesus because of His work, but that the person to worship is "only Jesus." Contrast what is stated here with Revelations 4, and the difference would be more obvious. We do not join saints and angels together to adore and bow before "Jesus, only Jesus" but before the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, 3 persons 1 essence. God the Father is not named "Jesus," neither is God the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, which is why it's wrong to say that we worship "only Jesus."


Ref21, and the Uncommon Compromise of Richard Mouw

Reformation 21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. While generally theologically sound, sometimes one read stuff that makes one cringe. The recent piece by Sean Lucas is one such example, as he praised Richard Mouw and his "uncommon generosity."

Who is Richard Mouw, you may wonder? Mouw was at one time the president of Fuller Seminary, the New Evangelical institution that decided to jettison their initial stance on biblical inerrancy to allow for toleration of heresy. Now, it is admitted that Fuller is not a church, yet it claims to be a Christian institute, so it should be reasonable to expect it to keep within the pale of orthodoxy. Thus, while it would be rather unreasonable to expect a generic Christian institute to take a position on e.g. the validity of infant baptism, I think it is reasonable to expect a professing Christian institute to actually be, like, Christian. While Mouw was president of Fuller, was there any attempt for Fuller to actually behave like a Christian institute? Judging by their continual tolerance of "partial inerrancy" and other kinds of false teachings, I guess not!

Even more pertinent to our concern here is Richard Mouw's endorsement of Mormonism as being a legitimate expression of Christianity, as documented by Dr. James R. White (here is one example). The problem with Mouw is not that Mormons believe that God the Father is supreme, but that Christianity is monotheistic, not henotheistic or polytheistic. It astonishes me that Lucas can say that Mormonism "has historical roots within evangelicalism." If by "historical roots," it means the founder was nominally from an evangelical religion, then almost every cult can claim that, including presumably Satanism. That phrase could however mean that Mormonism, because of its historical connection, can claim some form of commonality with evangelicalism, and that is patently false. Thus, it is easy for this phrase to be an equivocation which is technically correct in the first sense yet serves to mislead people into thinking Mormonism is close to the evangelical religion (in the second sense).

The fact is that in both these instances, Richard Mouw has compromised the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. It is inconceivable to me that Reformation 21 could allow Lucas to write such a piece praising Richard Mouw for his "uncommon generosity," which is more like uncommon compromise. Mouw's actions are not the actions of the apostles, who anathemized those who proclaimed another Gospel (Gal. 1: 6-9) and who call for clear separation from false teachers (2 Jn. 10-11). Mouw has compromised the Faith, and it is a travesty that any biblical Christian would even think that he is being "generous," unless one thinks "generosity" equates to apostasy, like in Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Mortification of Spin (MoS): The spin of the "YRR establishment"

The most recent Mortification of Spin (MoS) podcast dealt with the issue of the Mark Driscoll fiasco and the response of the "YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) establishment." Carl Trueman dealt particularly with John Piper's interview concerning whether he regretted promoting partnering with Mark Driscoll, and expressed astonishment at Piper's statement that he has "no regrets." Trueman voiced my exact thoughts concerning this issue. Here are some choice morsels:

I think it goes to the whole structural problem in the whole young, restless and reformed thing, and that is, the guys at the top decided who was going to be allowed to make criticism, who they were going to listen to, and who they were going to ignore, and you end up, when you decide that, right at the start, you end up with a terribly, terribly potentially corrupt system. .. The truth is so rarely actually spoken into these guys' lives -Carl Trueman (10:45-11:14)

It [issuing a note of repentance] shows a leadership of discernment, a leadership that's willing to make hard decisions, and takes responsibilities when it's gone off the rails. ... My respect for the leaders of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement would be much greater than it is if they had just once, in all of the crises that have engulfed the movement over the last two or three years, just once, they had expressed some regret - just once they had taken some responsibility for these disasters. But in actual fact what we get time and time again is the spin machine in operation trying to get everybody off the hook. And then turning around and saying, "Why didn't anybody tell us?" Well, people did tell you, but not people that you care to listen to,... -Carl Trueman (14:20- 15:12)

... when it's the top men just talking to the top men, and they forgot the ordinary people that actually get bruised and damaged by the decisions they made -Carl Trueman (16:01 -16:14)

I absolutely agree. It is extremely disturbing that the "YRR establishment" does not even ONCE says it is wrong, that it has sinned. Instead, it's all spin, and none of them are interested in listening to biblical advice, rebuke and correction.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Christianity and inconsistent evolution

Modern evolutionism has created great difficulties for Christians, not so much because it tells us that we are genetically related to orangutans and chimpanzees, but because it insists that fundamentally we are not very different from them. In theory, say evolutionists, it would require only a few small genetic changes in those animals to turn them into human beings like us, and it is assumed that some millions of years ago all of us evolved out of a common ancestor. Without denying this possibility completely, Christians are obliged to make two observations about it. First, such an evolution was not and could not have been spontaneous. There is little evidence to support the theory that one species can evolve naturally into another by a process of random trial and error, and none to say that this happened to produce the human race. Orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees still exists, but how is it that all the intermediate species have died out leaving little or no trace behind them? Logically, one would expect to find them around somewhere, but although it is sometimes claimed that proto-human bones have been dug up, the evidence is controversial and it must be concluded that such "missing links," as they are called, have never been convincingly identified. [Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 246]

One major problem with Christians who want to "avoid" where possible the issue of science in origins is that they end up either with little to say about actual cosmic origins (relegating the Genesis account to a framework or something), or when they try to relate it with the "current scientific consensus," what you get is terrible science and even worse theology. In this section by Gerald Bray, we see some really bad science and bad reasoning on the topic of origins.

In the paragraph, Bray shows an ignorance of science when he states categorically that "such an evolution [of humankind] was not and could not have been spontaneous." Bray probably means by "spontaneous" the concept of naturalistic causation, since it is remarkably stupid to suggest any evolution is "spontaneous" in the sense that it must take a few generations, 100 years or even 1000 years. Evolutionary theory posits the accumulation of small incremental changes over long periods of time (Gradualism), unless of course one wants to hold to Punctuated Equilibrium which is the alternate theory. Regardless, when Bray asserts that human evolution cannot be "spontaneous," the question is: why not? Isn't this an instance in which the tail is wagging the dog? If one is committed to evolutionary theory, why stop at humans? One already acknowledges the grand narrative of evolution, so why are those like Bray keeping human evolution out of the picture, as if every other species can evolve but humans are somehow exempted from scientific consideration?

Worse still is the next line: "There is little evidence to support the theory that one species can evolve naturally into another by a process of random trial and error." Excuse me while I wonder if he realizes that evolution through random mutations and survival of the fittest IS the standard evolutionary mechanism. In evolutionary theory, all mutations ARE random, and it is the job of the environment to select for the organisms that have good mutations. The "fittest" survive and pass on their beneficial genes to the next generation, and the cycle continues. When an organism approached a certain point of time, they might branch off into two separate sub-groups, which over time have evolved into two separate species. So when Bray make such statements while claiming that he "does not deny the possibility [of evolution]," how is that not being duplicitous? Does he or does he not allow for the theory of evolution, including human evolution? How can we say that one is open to the possibility of evolution, while claiming in the next breath that there are no evidences for the mechanisms of evolution when it pertains to humans (as opposed to animals)?

Bray brought up the paucity of transitional fossils, which is an interesting apologetic method to be sure. Yet, it is strange to me that he utilizes the argument only to cast doubt on human evolution, or at least naturalistic human evolution. The same problem of transitional fossils plagued all supposed instances of major evolutionary transitions, so it seem it is brought up just for the issue of distancing humans from evolution. Again, it is profoundly unscientific to claim that humans are somehow exempt from the same processes and same mechanisms that supposedly apply to all other living beings, especially when one is agreeing with the supposed high degree of similarities in the genotypes of humans with apes for example.

Unless one wants to speak about the actual beginning of the Cosmos, Christians who try to "avoid" the issue of origins typically do a bad job in science, and nothing screams that more when one sees believers who hold to some form of evolutionary theory yet refuse to endorse human evolution.

P.S.: The argument Bray uses is known as the god-of-the-gaps argument, and it is philosophically untenable as much as it is scientifically untenable.

Sin and death

Do suffering and death have any legitimate place in the natural order? The Bible makes it clear that death entered the world because of sin, but this must be interpreted in context. Sin is a spiritual rebellion against God,which means that the death it brings is also spiritual. ... That physical death is a part of the natural life cycle within the created oder seems obvious, since if it were not, none of us would be able to eat anything. The "food chains" in the animal world remind us that many species could not exist without the death of other creatures, and there is no reason to think that this state of affairs came about as a result of the fall of man. ... [Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 234]

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom. 5:14)

The issue of death before the fall it seems is something taken almost as fact in some Christian circles. Coupled with that is near total ignorance of YEC arguments, and here in this section of his book, Bray proves that in many parts of the academy, questions relating to origins are done in an echo chamber without the need to actually interact with what others have said.

Bray's arguments about positing death before the Fall consists of (1) construing the consequences of the Fall as being about spiritual death, (2) arguing that ecosystems require death due to the existence of food chains. The latter argument shows ignorance of the YEC thesis that biblical death that does not exist before the Fall pertains only to the nephesh chayyah while other plants and animals do "die" in the biological sense of the term. Moreover, food chains are not set in stone, but rather they change as animals adapt to their environments. Just because current food chains involve death of the nephesh chayyah does not necessarily mean that it was always the case, so Bray's argument from the existence of food chains does not prove his case.

The former argument is rather interesting, because it is true that the primary focus of the consequences of sin is spiritual death. Yet here, we see that Bray is not true to Scripture. We read in Romans 5:14 that death reigned from Adam to Moses, which is stated to be a mystery why that is happening since they did not have the Law which informed them what sin is. If we interpret this as speaking about spiritual death, are we saying that spiritual death reigned over Adam to Moses? That suggests that from Adam to Moses, all of them died without being saved, and presumably everyone from Adam to Moses are now in hell, a conclusion which we should reject. Rather, we should keep to the traditional interpretation that the death here is physical death, or rather physical death that conveys spiritual realities. Those from Adam to Moses died physically as proof that they have sinned, and thus they have the Law in some form, which is the thrust of the rhetoric of Romans 5:13-14.

Biblical (physical) death therefore cannot exist prior to the Fall. To affirm that there is death before the Fall undermines one's doctrine of sin, the Federal headships of Adam and Christ, and thus the Gospel itself. While one can inconsistently hold to death before the Fall and the Christian faith, one cannot consistently hold to any version of death before the fall and remain a Christian.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Common grace and ultimate ends

One of the polemical arguments by the PRCA crowd against the doctrine of Common Grace is that, since all things work together for the damnation of the reprobate since they wickedly abuse without thanksgiving the gifts of God in this world, therefore whatever good things given to them will result in their damnation. Therefore, if the ultimate end is damnation, how can we say that whatever God gives is indeed gracious, since damnation is certainly not gracious?

The problem with this argument is that it confuses ultimate ends with penultimate goals. What do I mean by this? Let's take the issue of evil for example. The Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over evil. All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28). That means evil in the ultimate scheme of things is "good," in the sense that it results in the good of God's people. But do we therefore say that evil is good simpliciter? NO! Evil is evil. When someone does a wicked deed, that deed is indeed evil. God meant it ultimately for good for the elect, true, but that doesn't diminish its wickedness. So here we see that evil is penultimately evil, even though God intends it ultimately for our good.

Likewise in the issue of common grace, what the orthodox version of the doctrine of common grace (there might be other versions of "common grace" that I think are unbiblical) states is that God's kindness is indeed genuine, in the same way as evil is indeed evil even when God meant it for good. God's kindness is genuine even though ultimately the abuse of God's gifts will result in greater damnation. It is a genuine kindness, in the penultimate this-worldly sense. It is God's universal benevolence from His status as the Creator, and manifests His goodness to all He has made.

The myopia surrounding the PRCA's discussions concerning "covenant"

Forward by Pastor Andrew Lanning

In the following article, Prof. Hanko explains the doctrine of the covenant. The truth of the covenant is one of the most precious doctrines to learn, because it describes the relationship of fellowship between God and His chosen people in Jesus Christ. Even our earthly relationships are precious to us; how much more precious is the covenant relationship we have with God! Therefore, an article explaining the truth of the covenant is a welcome sight in this special report by the Salt Shakers.

However, not everyone is agreed on what the covenant is. There has been controversy for many years over important covenant issues. For example, who actually belongs to the covenant and enjoys fellowship with God? Only adult believers, or also infants of believers? All baptized church members, or only those chosen by God eternally in election? Or, for another example, how does the covenant relationship between God and man function? Does God sovereignly establish and maintain the relationship so that it depends on God alone, or must man cooperate with God in order to continue receiving the blessings of the covenant?

Different answers to these questions have produced two distinct camps. On the one hand, there are those churches that teach a conditional covenant. On the other hand, there are those that teach an unconditional covenant. The difference between these two camps is as vast as the difference between Arminianism and the Reformed.

In this essay, Prof. Hanko ably defends the Reformed doctrine of the unconditional covenant. He traces the history of the development of the doctrine, and then critiques the unbiblical doctrine of a conditional covenant.

An article such as this is timely for the church today. In our day, a gross covenant heresy called Federal Vision is sweeping Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The Federal Vision uses the conditional covenant as its platform for denying all of the major tenets of the Reformed faith. Eternal election, justification by faith alone, and Christ’s meritorious good works on our behalf all fall prey to the Federal Vision’s conditional covenant teaching. Reformed churches today that hold a conditional covenant, or those churches that wonder whether the doctrine of the covenant is all that important, do well to read this article and see where the teaching of a conditional covenant necessarily leads.

By God’s grace, may the Salt Shakers, as well as CERC and the Protestant Reformed Churches, continue to teach an unconditional covenant of grace. Our prayer is that God will use this article to establish his church in the truth of his sovereign, covenant grace.

[Andrew Lanning, "Foreword," in Herman Hanko, "The History of Reformed Covenant Theology — Conditional or Unconditional?" Salt Shakers: Special Report II (Nov 2014): 3-4]

Salt Shakers is the magazine (also an E-zine) produced by the youth of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC) in Singapore. Throughout the years, CERC has been growing progressively closer to the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America), and it has now called a PRC minister in the person of Pastor Andrew Lanning. The PRCA of course exports her hobby horses wherever they go, and her redefinition of the word "covenant" is exported around the globe.

In this foreword to a succinct article written by Herman Hanko, Lanning puts forward the typical framework the PRCA works with with regards to the concept of "covenant." Either one must hold to a "conditional covenant," or one holds to an "unconditional covenant." The "conditional covenant" is linked with Justification by faith plus works, Arminianism and such "heretical" doctrines like "common grace" and is the error behind the Federal Vision. The "unconditional covenant" of course is THE truth, at least according to PRCA polemicists.

The problem here is that the PRCA is myopic in its discussion of the concept of covenant. Traditional Reformed Covenant Theology is bi-covenantal in structure, believing in a Covenant of Works AND a Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Works IS conditional ("Do this and you shall live" c.f. Lev. 18:5, Gal. 3:12), while the Covenant of Grace is unconditional ("The righteous shall live by faith" c.f. Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). The Covenant of Works- Covenant of Grace schema mirrors the Lutheran distinction (note: NOT separation) between Law and Gospel. Therefore through this bi-covenantal structure, both conditionality and unconditionality are encompassed. Conditions (excepting instrumental ones) are linked to the Covenant of Works or Law, while the free (unconditioned) promises are linked to the Covenant of Grace or Gospel.

The myopia of the PRCA lies in its refusal to deal with the traditional Presbyterian and Reformed understanding on its own terms. It refuses to understand what bicovenantalism actually means or entails, while it continues in its naivete in its sub-conscious defaulting to mono-covenantalism. As I have stated before, and will continue to state this, the difference between the PRCA and Federal Vision is that the former is Monocovenantal Antinomianism ("Unconditional covenant") and the latter is Monocovenantal Legalism ("Conditional covenant"). In my honest opinion, both sides deserve the other; they are opposite sides of the same coin. Both sides deny the Covenant of Works, the former by making it gracious, the latter by seeing works and putting it into the supposed gracious Adamic administration.

The issue is easy to discern: Hosea 6:7 speaks of the covenant God made with Adam, and that Adam broke the covenant. If Adam broke the covenant, does it mean that the covenant is conditional? The FV says yes, and thus the covenant of grace (which was already in the Garden) is breakable and conditional. The PRCA denies that the covenant is really broken, even though the text clearly says the covenant IS broken. This she does by making the covenant made only with the elect and no person visibly. But this raises a whole host of problems, for none of us know who the elect are. The main problem however is that one cannot break a covenant one is not a party to, and so logically the PRCA must state that there are no such persons as covenant breakers. Those who break covenant only seem to be doing so, but since they have not actually been part of the covenant, they did not break any covenant when they left the faith. Whereas for those in the [One] Covenant, nothing they do will ever remove them from the Covenant, thus the Antinomian slant.

In contrast, traditional Reformed Covenant Theology with its bicovenantalism speak of covenants as both breakable and unbreakable. Adam transgressed the Covenant of Works, and likewise in the arena of Duty-Faith, people can externally transgressed the Covenant of Grace. There is a real breaking of the Covenant of Grace, externally. Yet internally, the Covenant of Grace is unbreakable, being conditioned on the full satisfaction of Christ alone. True believers therefore can never break the Covenant of Grace. But note here the difference: In the PRCA view, covenant breakers do not actually exist (or at least logically should not exist). In the traditional Reformed view, covenant breakers do exist as partaking only of the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace, and thus they fell away from that. There is a real sense in which someone in the Church can fall away if they are not substantially partaking of the Covenant of Grace, while that is not possible in the PRCA scheme.

Another pet peeve of the PRCA is to attack the idea of "covenant" as being an agreement, with a swipe at the Latin translation of foedus. Perhaps the PRCA want to deal with the Greek diatheke instead? Instead of attacking the concept of covenant as contract because of the Latin word, perhaps they wish to actually deal with how the word diatheke was used by the Greeks, and also the ANE background behind Genesis 15. One does exegesis before theology, or rather one ought to do exegesis before theology. To do theology and then to insist that covenant is not agreement because of its supposed theological implications is to be put the cart before the horse.

Perhaps one day the PRCA will stop beating a dead horse and actually interact with what others are saying, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.

The technical view of "myth"

But many forms of narrative (including some that claim simply to recount what actually happened) are in fact governed by symbolic modes of organization. As Herbert Richardson says of myth, a significant form of narrative for our purposes, "mythical discourse rises at the level of the total story, the most complex level of linguistic utterance. The linguistic unit appropriate to myth is not the single word nor even the sentence, but the story." Thus, the truth of a narrative in this sense does not arise from the "correspondence" of its words or sentences to "reality," but from the coherence of the story as a whole. Just as a poem cannot be paraphrased conceptually without irreparable loss, neither can such narrative be. [Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), 32-3]

When it comes to telling big stories about the order of existence, then, even if they are scientific stories, they will have religious implications. It is better to face this fact head on than try to deny it. ...

... myth is not science. Myth can be true, but it is a different kind of truth from the truth of science and must be judged by different criteria, ... . I would argue that the myths told by the ancient Israelite prophets, by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, by Confucius and Mencius, and by the Buddha, just to stay within the purview of this book, are all true myths. ... they are all worthy of belief, and I find it possible to believe in all of them in rather deep but not exclusive ways. (Ibid., 47)

Myth is a profoundly ambiguous word, so it would be well to be clear what Donald means by it:

Mythical thought, in our terms, might be regarded as a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors. The mind has expanded its reach beyond the episodic perception of events, beyond the mimetic reconstruction of episdes, to a comprehensive modeling of the entire human universe. Causal explanation, prediction, control—myth constitute an attempt at all three, and every aspect of life is permeated by myth.

(Ibid., 134)

In the evolutionary view, which I might add informs ANE (Ancient Near-East) studies, the mythic stage is where stories are created for the purpose of understanding the world. These stories are existential in purpose, where the goal is that the person can feel some manner of coherence in the world. As stories, they have no actual correspondence to reality, and do not need to have any. As long as a story can fulfill its existential function, it is successful. In this light, "true myth" merely means that the story is coherent, but it does not need to have any correspondence with reality, because "myth is not science."

In colloquial terms, "myth" signifies that something is fictional and thus false. In the technical discipline of the history and philosophy of religion, "myth" is stated to be "a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors," which when boiled down still means that it is false in the colloquial sense of the term, in the sense that there is a true correspondence to reality. It is in this sense that Christianity can never be said to be a "myth" or even a "true myth," for Christianity proclaims historical, philosophical and scientific correspondence with reality. Christianity is first and foremost truth, before it deals with the existential problems of Man.

It is here that I think Christians need to be careful about the unspoken premises in ANE studies. ANE studies, while most definitely not fully wrong, are not neutral with regards to their presuppositions. The turn to the narrative might sound nice and "warm" for those rejecting Modernity, but it comes with baggage that is antithetical to Christianity. Plus, unless you are a Charismatic, one shouldn't decide on a theory based upon how one feels, but upon what is true according to Scripture, even if one feels no warmth in the truth.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Language, Mimesis and Myth

In trying to describe such an evolutionary order, I have found Merlin Donald's scheme of the evaluation of culture particularly convincing. Donald shows how, in the coevolution of biology and culture, three stage of human culture—mimetic, mythic, and theoretic—developed over the last 1 or 2 millions years. The evolutionary process starts from the baseline of episodic culture, which we share with other higher mammals—that is, the capacity to recognize what episode the individual is in and what happened before in similar episodes that might give us a clue as to how to act now even though lacking what is called autobiographical memory in which the episodes are strung together in a larger story. We then proceed to mimetic culture, possibly as long as 2 millions years ago with such species as Homo erectus, in which we use our bodies to enact past and future events as well as gesture for communication. Mimetic culture, though primarily gestural, was by no means silent, and in all likelihood involved music as well as some beginning of linguistic capacity, though very simple ones. Dance may be one of the earliest forms of such mimetic culture, and dance is basic to ritual in almost all tribal societies, so, thought we can only imagine what it was like, some kind of religion may well begin in those early days. What is important to remember about Donald's scheme is that though he speaks of stages, earlier stages are not lost, but only reorganized under new conditions. Thus even in our highly verbal, and, to a degree, abstract culture, gestural communication remains basic, not only, obviously, in intimate life but in public, in our grand spectacles of sport or politics.

Sometime between 250,000 and 100,000 years ago full grammatical language developed, making complex narratives possible. Perhaps fully developed autobiographical memory depends on grammatical language and narrative and so emerged only then, or perhaps it was already foreshadowed in the mimetic stage. Donald calls the new stage mythic. Myth greatly extends the capacities of mimetic ritual in terms of what it can enact, but it does not replace it. All cultures that we know of have narrative culture intertwined with mimetic culture. I have tried to illustrate religions that are primarily mimetic and mythic under the rubric of tribal religion, being fully aware of how treacherous the word "tribe" is. But even when religions move to include a theoretic dimension, mimetic and mythic culture in reformulated ways continue to be more central; humans cannot function without them [Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), xviii-xix]

But it appears that what provided solidarity before the appearance of modern language was also more than language. Donald uses the metaphor of "language piggybacking on culture" to suggest that the appearance of language required the prior development of a complex culture in terms of which the move to language would make sense. It is the development of mimetic culture over a long period of time that in Donald's view provided greatly increased cognitive resources including the solidarity that grooming no longer, and language has not yet, provided.


Donald describes mimesis as an increase in conscious control over action that involves four uniquely human abilities: mime, imitation, skill, and gesture. Mime, he says, is the imaginative enactment of an event. Although apes have a rudimentary ability to mimic, mime involves acting out a sequence of events as in the pretend pay of children, a form of action that breaks with the here-and-now concreteness of episodic action. ... (Ibid., 124-5)

"... Modern humans developed language in response to pressure to improve their conceptual apparatus, not vice versa." Myth is a profoundly ambiguous word, so it would be well to be clear what Donald means by it:

Mythical though, in our terms, might be regarded as a unified, collectively held system of explanatory and regulatory metaphors. The mind has expanded its reach beyond he episodic perception of events, beyond he mimetic reconstruction of episodes, to a comprehensive modeling of the entire human universe. Causal explanation, prediction, control— myth constitute an attempt at all three, and every aspect of life is permeated by myth.

(Ibid., 134)

Religious reality is a realm of experience, to be sure, but it is also a realm of representation. In fact, experience and representation belong inexorably together. George Lindbeck has described the current major alternative theories of religion in ways that will be helpful to our exposition. The first theory of religion he describes is what he calls propositional. It sees religion as consisting of a series of propositional truth claims, stated conceptually. ... I believe that Lindbeck is right in arguing that the propositional theory of religion is inadequate as a major approach to religion and largely abandoned by scholars today. To identify religion with a set of propositions whose truth can be argued would be to make it into what more accurately should be called philosophy. ...

Lindbeck's second theory of religion is the widely influential experiential-expressive approach. This view assume that there is a general human capacity for religious experience that is actualized differently in different religious traditions. The experiential-expressive view in its modern form Lindbeck traces to Friedrich Schleiermacher, and in recent times it was widely propagated by Paul Tillich. The emphasis on B-cognition and the felt-whole in the discussion so far largely belong in the category of the experiential-expressive theory of religion. In one understanding the deep structure of religious experience exists generically in the human psyche. Particular religions are the surface manifestations of this deep panhuman experiential potentiality.

Lindbeck, however, opts for a third theory as most promising, what he calls the cultural-linguistic theory. The cultural-linguistic theory, which derives from cultural anthropology, particularly from Clifford Geertz, takes symbolic forms as primary, seeing them not so much as expressions of underlying religious emotions, but as themselves shaping religious experiences and emotions. I would agree that the cultural-linguistic approach is a valuable corrective to the experiential-expressive approach, but I don't think we have to choose between them. It seems to me that we can view them as coordinate approaches and that we need to move back and forth between them to understand the phenomenon of religion. Thus when I characterize widely different expressions as examples of Being cognition, I am not arguing that there is a subsistent reality of Being experience that simply comes out in different forms on different occasions. Rather, I am recognizing that there are some common human experiential potentialities that have recognizable similarities, but are inchoate until given shape by symbolic form. Once so shaped, their similarities are always qualified: the difference may be crucial. I am also in full agreement with Lindbeck that cultural traditions not only shape, they even call forth, emotional experiences. In short, we can see them as equally essential, like the Aristotelian notions of matter and form, and do not have to choose one approach as primary. (Ibid., 11-12)

Using evolution as the grand narrative, language, culture and religion have to evolve into existence, for apes do not really have either of these (and no, communicating via grunts while it might be basic communication is not language). According to Bellah, language follows after culture, and religion and culture flow from ritual, which comes from the mimetic stage of human development. Language is therefore a human element invented for the purpose of grasping the reality perceived. Flowing from mimesis and mythos, language consists of symbols invented by Man to attempt to grasp a perception of the world. Language is thus sensate from its beginning, and abstract thought arose only later in an attempt to go behind the already existing symbols.

It is therefore unsurprising that Bellah, when discussing Lindbeck's taxonomy of theories of religion, rejects the propositional approach and chooses and combines the theories of religion being experiential-expressivist and of it being cultural-linguistic. After all, in the evolutionary framework, religion is purely a human development stemming from ritual. It is a questing for meaning in the dark, a totally subjective search for a story to make sense of the world (i.e. myth). While religion is somewhat "denigrated," philosophy (as theoretic thought (p. 240)) fares slightly better, since of course philosophy is the precursor of all sciences to some extent. Yet even philosophy is merely a human effect to grasp at reality, a reality that has no relation whatsoever with words. Rather, we create a relation through symbolism, such that words symbolize what we perceive reality to be.

Religion therefore is not concerned with reality per se, but rather reality as symbolized in story. Philosophy is concerned with reality, yet it does so through the use of symbolic language. Both can never achieve the truth, because of the limitations of language, although it can be argued that philosophy, or rather science, is seen to approximate reality well enough for most secularists.

From a Christian point of view, there are of course a lot of problems with this evolutionary picture. Christianity claims to be an objective revelation from the God outside creation, outside of our creaturely points of view (extra nos). If the foundation of Christian knowledge is revelation, then the evolutionary picture painted here by Bellah cannot apply to Christianity. Either Christianity is false and Bellah right, or Bellah is wrong and Christianity right, on the matter of Christianity. Concerning other religions, the Christian faith have always viewed them as idolatry so it is relatively irrelevant whether they stem from ritual or not.

Principially, if Christianity is true, then revelation is true. If revelation is true, then language cannot be mere symbolics, a "piggyback[ing]" on culture (p. 131). In the beginning, God speaks. Language comes from the God who speaks, and therefore language is composed by God to be an adequate vessel of describing reality, not just signifying it. The God who composed language(s) and gave it to Man is the God who creates all things and thus the Creator and the Composer of language are one and the same Being. Language actually corresponds to reality, and abstract language do correspond to abstract objects. Does this mean that language is infallible? No, because sin distorts our use of language as well. But distortion is not destruction, and therefore language while not infallible is nonetheless still adequate. Does this mean that language connects us to God? Language is ectypal not archetypal and therefore, while perfectly suited for us, does not establish an ontic continuity between Man and God.

We see that the Christian view of language totally contradicts the evolutionary view of language. Christianity is a top-down religion, with God as the revealer from the top, while in evolution Man is the discoverer from the bottom. Naturally, a discoverer is always limited to approximation since he does not have full knowledge, whereas a revealer knows all things and therefore there is true correspondence. Humans of course do not know all things, but we are using the tool by the God who knows all things, and thus we "discover" knowing that the tool given is not a mere approximation.

Perhaps an analogy here would help. The evolutionist would have humanity like a man trapped in a huge maze without maps or tools. Such a person would blunder along trying to figure out the workings of the maze. Man under His creator however is like a man in the maze with a device that, because it has been programed with the maze layout, can show the man the way out, yet it shows only the direction not the entire map. So while the man in the evolutionary scenario can only approximate a way out (until he finds a way out i.e. gains complete knowledge), the man under His Creator knows the way out, yet He does so step by step (i.e. without complete knowledge). The competency of language therefore is not because of Man, but because of God who composes it.

Going back to Lindbeck's theories of religion, it is evident that the rejected first option must be the Christian option, though certainly it is not in line with the supposed "established" theory of evolution. Christianity is propositional, though not merely made of propositions (a common straw-man). Language, culture and true religion did not arise from play or ritual, but rather are all given by God to Adam and Eve in their created state in the Garden of Eden.