Saturday, June 21, 2014

Separation overdue: The PCUSA and homosexuality

This year's (2014) General Assembly of the mainline PCUSA has produced a "church" body that has decided to endorse homosexual "marriages." The news is very sad, but what else can we expect from a denomination that has long turned its back on the Word of God?

The issue I have is with the conservatives (relatively) who had remained in the PCUSA all these years. How much longer can they take this sort of behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit? You speak about reform, yes, it would be great if the denomination repents of all their sins for the last 100 years or so, in sackcloth and ashes. But how long should you wait before you become guilty of dragging God's name through the mud through abetting their crimes?

Ever since the unbiblical defrocking of J. Gresham Machen, there have been people like Clarence Macartney (a conservative PCUSA minister at the time of Machen) who have decided to stay in the PCUSA to reform her. Now that by itself is fie; there is nothing inherently wrong with staying in a denomination to reform it. But the task of reformation implies action, and the sad fact is that these conservatives in the PCUSA weren't actually doing much to reform the denomination at all. Unlike Machen, they did not continually press charges against heretics or speak boldly and loudly against the compromises around them. Instead, they kept rather silent. But let's ignore what they have done to attempt to reform the church. The more important question is: How long have the conservatives been waiting, while the situation in the denomination has only gone from bad to worse? 100 years of growing apostasy, and there has not been even one reversal towards orthodoxy. What does this tell us?

Those who are relatively conservative in theology are normally a majority. They are just moderates in terms of a optimistic view of reforming the church. But if all of them leave the church, it's unlikely the liberals will be able to survive financially for long. In other words, it's the (relative) conservatives who prop up the church. Does this not make them liable to the charge of abetting the liberals?

I'm all for church reform, but give me one reason why heresy should be tolerated in the name of "reform," because I don't see that in Scripture.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Reformation and Missions

In the 16th-Century Reformation, the essentials of biblical theology were recovered but the Reformers did not develop a biblical missiology. Sadly, they also did not address the need for a structural reformation and they retained many of the distorted forms of the past. Monasticism was rejected and for 300 years no missions structures were set up to replace it for the churches of the Reformation. The Reformation was, in fact, a structural "deformation." [Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP), 225]

It is almost a common caricature in "Evangelical" circles that the Reformation was anti-evangelistic. This book by missiologist Patrick Johnstone is no different, repeating that same tired canard like a truism. But for those who desire to know the truth, this common caricature of the Reformation is false. The historical perception by Evangelicals come about because of collective amnesia of these normally ahistorical Evangelicals, where the Christian faith is predicated upon the psychological experience of being "born-again," thus resulting in an false understanding of the Church and thus a false judgment of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

In this otherwise informative book, Johnstone writes about the history of the Church in regards to missions and religious changes, with many graphs and colorful charts. Yet in all of these, he praises Roman Catholic and Eastern (Assyrian, Persian, Nestorian) missions, and makes no distinction between Early, Medieval, Late Medieval, and Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism. The focus is purely on the Evangelical "born-again experience" — having a personal relationship with God. Thus, we see talk about "Evangelicals" within Roman Catholicism, and to a much smaller extent, among Eastern Orthodoxy, as if biblical Christianity could flourish there.

The inclusion of Roman Catholics and Easter Orthodox as in some sense true Christians is what allows Johnstone to make such ridiculous claims about the Reformation. The Reformation was a time of great missions, except it was mostly missions to Roman Catholics to bring them to the true faith. For Evangelicals like Johnstone, such missions are anathema or at the very least not deserving of the term "missions." Geneva trained many missionaries and sent them to France, where many were martyred for the faith, but for those like Johnstone who accept RCs as Christians, I guess that does not really count. Yes, it is true that Roman Catholic missions were sent earlier to the New World and also to places like India and China, but that was because of the naval prowess and reach of Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. The Protestant churches were struggling for survival, and the nations that supported the Reformation did not have the navies to reach those far-off areas that Spain and Portugal could reach, so should we blame the Reformation for not sending more overseas missionaries?

Johnstone is partially correct in speaking about the lack of missions structures, if by that he means something like para-church organizations or its equivalent. The difference is that in the Reformed churches, it is the denomination or local churches in general that does missions. No doubt that is less efficient than specialized mission agencies, yet at the same time, such Evangelical missions have created almost as many problems in the receiving nations as they have in blessing them with the Gospel. Look at the state of doctrinal degeneration in the churches around the world. When Evangelicals think of only proclaiming the Gospel while having little to no doctrine of the Church, and an extremely shallow understanding of the Gospel too, the converts will not be any better. And since doctrines DO have consequences, and false doctrines thus create trouble within the churches, we see the bad fruit of Evangelical missions all around the world — proliferation of all manner of false doctrines, syncretism, and the inability of these believers to articulate a rigorous faith. The spread of Pentecostalism, while bringing in many people outwardly into the Church, creates a faith so grounded in the experiential that one has no idea whether the professing Pentecostal is truly saved, or is actually believing a false religion of emotions, or of health and wealth. Is that something to be celebrated? The Evangelical world seems to think so, since their one criterion for "being saved" is that one has the Evangelical born-against experience, and so experience trumps everything in the final analysis. Why else would there be an inability of Evangelicals to exclude those on the far left like Jim Wallis or Roger Olsen, for upon what basis can one deny the authenticity of another's "born-again" experience?

Johnstone gives a rather rosy report of progress in missions and evangelism. But if one removes from the equation Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and non-confessional Protestantism, and all forms of "indigenous Christianities," the outlook is actually rather grim. In fact, the state of Christianity and missions is just like the Late Medieval Era before the Reformation, and there is a lot of work to be done for the Christian faith to be spread throughout the world.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Simon Chan and the assault upon the sufficiency of language

... The very being of the church cannot be understood apart from the narrative of the God who reveals himself by sending Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit

This point needs to be reiterated in our postmodern context. The problem is particularly acute for postmodern theologians who, having quite rightly done away with a positivistic view of doctrines as universal timeless truth, end up without any particular truth claims to make. (p. 12)

Perhaps Kevin Vanhoozer's idea of doctrine as drama provides a better way of understanding the relationship between the scriptural text and the ecclesial community that uses the text. According to Vanhoozer, "Doctrine is not merely a proposition, or an expression, but a prompt; a spiritual direction for one's fitting performance of the script."... (p. 13)

To use a different analogy, Scripture sets the initial trajectory for the subsequent development of doctrine in the Christian tradition. There is no separation between Scripture and tradition since Scripture is apostolic tradition. ... (p. 14)

As we have seen in the previous post, Simon Chan follows formally in the footsteps of the Roman Catholic Nouvelle Theologians in the way he goes about interacting with Scripture and tradition. We have a hint already in the manner by which he will discount Sola Scriptura through his framing of ressourcement as not just return to the past but creative engagement with those sources, or in other words interaction without necessary agreement with anything the sources say. All of this comes about through the postmodern linguistic skubalon Chan embraces.

Chan's philosophy of language is nihilistic to the core. He start off by denying doctrinal propositional truths through an attack against "positivism" as stating "eternal, timeless truths." First of all, propositions are not necessarily eternal or timeless, and they might not be true (there are after all false propositional statements). Chan and Vanhoozer and those like them doesn't even seem to understand what propositions are. Propositions are merely statements with a truth claim, which could be contingent or timeless. Chan's book is made up of all manner of propositions, like the statement quoted from Vanhoozer "Doctrine is not merely a proposition, or an expression, but a prompt; a spiritual direction for one's fitting performance of the script." Technically, it is four different propositions in one sentence. It is simply ludicrous when Chan attacks propositions when he is using propositions to do the job. Or does he even understand what the definition of "proposition" is?

As I have written, logic is epistemologically prior to even God, for one cannot even begin to say a single word without presupposing the basic laws of logic. Call me a "rationalist" if you so desire, but that is a fact. The minute you open our mouth or write a single word, you are already presupposing the rules of logic. Likewise, the mere act of refuting propositions requires the writing of propositions to do so. Even if one does not attempt a refutation of propositions, the mere act of stating what one believes uses propositions. Only postmodern linguists are so blind to what they are doing that they commit linguistic suicide over and over again. Chan, while disavowing postmodernism, does not seem to realize that he is doing the very same thing they do when he attacks propositions.

So yes, Scripture has poetry, and drama, and others. But all of these are conveyed using propositional sentences. Propositions stand behind the literary genres as the means through which they are expressed. The failure to recognize this is the fault of all who attack propositional truths, and as such deny the sufficiency of language to convey truth. Behind it all is the devil who first did the same when he questioned, "Has God said?".

"Asian theologies" and the Nouvelle trend

Singapore Nouvelle theologian Simon Chan has written a book on Asian "Grassroots theology," which I have just began to read. Right at the beginning we already see the beginnings of a shipwreck and the clear influence on this man's theology. Let me quote a bit from the beginning:

...Putting it another way, any healthy theological development requires holding together two processes in a healthy tension: ressourcement and aggiornamento. Ressourcement is not merely a return to the past; rather it is a creative engagement with earlier sources, the fountainhead of spiritual life. Only in this way can we begin to engage in the work of aggiornamento, or adaption and updating in light of the new situations in which the church finds itself. Without the prerequisite of ressourcement, aggiornamento could easily end up with the church capitulating to the spirit of the age. (p. 8)

Tradition implies a community with a history. For Christianity, the history of the church is a continuation of the history of Jesus Christ. ... Church and tradition, therefore, need to play a more critical role in the development of local theologies. We can no longer speak in terms of sola scriptura, at least not with qualification. (pp. 11-12)

— Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the faith from the ground up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014)

The terms ressourcement and aggiornamento are terms derived from the Nouvelle Theologie, a theological movement especially within northern European Roman Catholic (especially France) that seeks a new way of doing theology in the turn of the 20th century. It was censored by the Roman curia for a long time before it triumphed at Vatican II. The terms themselves look sound: Ressourcement is a French word which roughly means return back to the (past) sources, especially patristic sources. Aggiornamento is an Italian word which simply refer to the updating of theology, based upon the insights gained from ressourcement. Who doesn't like the idea of going back to the original sources and reforming the church accordingly? But all is not as it seems. As I have critiqued before, ressourcement is not the same as the Reformational principle of ad fonts. Rather, this sort of "return" and "reform" is a back door for smuggling all sorts of philosophies into both Scripture and the patristic and medieval writers through the back door, under the guise of reading these original sources.

We note here that Chan rejects the basic Christian principle of Sola Scriptura. This is despite the fact that the patristic sources held to the principle both formally and materially (See David King's and William Webster's three-volume work Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith), and that the necessity of Scripture necessarily leads to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. To claim otherwise is to say that the Scripture themselves were wrong when they proclaim its own sufficiency. So what kind of ressourcement is this when one claims to return to the Patristics yet deny what they teach?

We note also the absolute nonsense that "for Christianity, the history of the church is a continuation of the history of Jesus Christ." This is a blatant denial of the change in redemptive-historical eras between the apostolic times and our times. The closing of the canon and the cessation of special revelation implies a change in redemptive-historical eras. The Church is not Christ, the Church does not incarnate Christ, and the "body" language is federal language, not physical or essential language. The believer's union with Christ is mediated by the Holy Spirit, not an essential (i.e. esse, being) identification. In the times between the already and the not-yet, there is a real absence of Christ, so that believers yearn for the return of Christ. Maranatha (Our Lord come)! (1 Cor. 16:22) It is not "our Lord is already here." So much for Chan's ridiculous and unbiblical idea of tradition.

This attack against Scripture can only come about primarily by an attack on the sufficiency of language to convey truth, which is what I will discuss in my next post.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Human mortality and the Fall

A typical assertion of many forms of Theistic Evolution and "Progressive Creationism" is that Man before the Fall was already mortal. But is that substantiated by the Scriptures?

It must be noted that biologically, there is no reason why Man could not be immune from the problems of old age. Barring external threats to life (i.e. decapitation, major blood loss through severing arteries, severe burning by fire etc.), it is not clear why Man cannot constantly regenerate his cells and live forever, if the genetic makeup especially concerning telomerase is different. Bacteria after all could last for an extremely long time if not killed. An accelerated healing factor like that seen in Wolverine (X-men) would function the same way of course, and while the efficiency of Wolverine's healing factor is probably a stretch too far, I do not see why something analogous to it is not somehow plausible given the right genes. Creatures like the lizard for example regenerate its tail.

Scripturally, if one were to accept Genesis 1-11 as real history (and there is no reason from the text why Genesis 1-11 is not history while 12-50 is history), then one must reckon with the saying in Genesis 2:17 that Adam would surely die if he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unless one wants to say that God was lying, then death must surely be the consequence of sin, which Romans 5:12 states. So what kind of death is God speaking of in Genesis 2:17? Surely some would say "spiritual death," and that is true. But is it merely spiritual death? It is to be noted that in the OT, there is no real dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. Spiritual death is correlated with physical death or the descent into Sheol (e.g. Ps. 16:10, 18:5 etc). So if God's command threatens death, it cannot be just limited to spiritual death, as if the threat is purely spiritual without a physical or material component.

It is thus better to read Genesis 2:17 as threatening both physical and spiritual death, as congruent with the way the OT frames life and death. That Adam and Eve were not immediately killed shows the mercy of God and a partial covering for sin, typified in the shedding of blood in the provision of clothes of animal skins (Gen. 3:21, which in Hebrew is merely "skin" pointing towards substitutionary death of Christ). Yet just because the sentence is not immediately carried out does not mean that it is false. Adam and Even, and their descendants after them, still physically die. Presumably, the faithful among them continued to offer up sacrifices (like Cain and Abel and the line of Seth did), yet they still die.

Thus, if physical death is indeed part of God's punishment, it makes no sense for there to be human death before the Fall. After all, what kind of threat is it when death was already part of reality before the Fall? Especially if Theistic Evolution was held to, the threat of spiritual death wouldn't make much sense either, since hominids of any sort (Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus etc) have been dying for ages, and which stage of human evolution did the hominids began to have a soul which would go to hell (or do hominids by default go to heaven until they began to have a "sin nature" and which stage of evolution did that come into being)?

Yes, Adam and Eve in the garden are not glorified creatures. Yet there is no reason why they cannot have conditional immortality (before the Fall) of the sort that they could potentially not die if they weren't killed by external forces, since biologically such is possible. God's threat of death therefore would make better sense if humans did indeed have conditional immortality before the Fall, a threat that would make no sense in Theistic Evolution, and to a lesser degree, in Progressive Creationism.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Ancient cosmology" - The 3-tiered universe?

Philippians 2:6-11 is a beloved passage in Scripture. ... The apostle Paul concludes the hymn in verses 9-11:

Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
that at the name of Jesus every name should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.

When singing this hymn, we do not often think about the phrase "under the earth." Yet if we examine the original Greek, it is a translation of katachtoni┼Źn, which is made up of the preposition kata meaning "down" and the noun chthonios referring to the "underworld" or "subterranean world." ... In other words, Paul is referring to an ancient understanding of the structure of the cosmos known as the "3-tier universe"...

... Is the purpose of Philippians 2:6-11 to reveal science and the structure of the universe [3-tier universe]? Most Christians would say no...

... The Greek word katachtoni┼Źnin verse 10 refers to the underworld, and it clearly indicates that Paul accepted the 3-tier universe.

— Denis O. Lamoureux, "No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View," in Matthew Barrett, Ardel B. Caneday (eds.), Four Views on the historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 47-49

A major point Dr. Lamoureux made against all forms of creationism and against a historical Adam is the issue of "ancient science" and "ancient cosmologies." Since the ancients were clearly not moderns, we need to think of them in terms of their ancient cosmologies. One aspect of ancient cosmologies, so thought, was the model of the 3-tier universe, of which a most bizarre photo is shown, which looks something like this

It is here that Lamoureux makes his argument. From Philippians 2:9-11, he "shows" that Paul affirms this 3-tiered universe, and rhetorically asks if this means that Scripture is lying, since most certainly there is no actual 3-tier universe present today. The obvious answer is no. The ancients use ancient phenomenological language, "ancient science," "ancient cosmology" and "ancient biology" (i.e. animals producing after its kind) which looks true on the surface, but are not actually true. So reading the ancients with this distinction between "message" and "incident" allow us to claim that all the Bible states about cosmology and science are true "on the surface," but might not be true (in fact mostly false) actually.

If one stops the knee-jerk reaction, one can see why this might seem plausible, and how it seems to do some justice to the Bible's claims without sacrificing inerrancy. The main error with Lamoureux's proposed solution comes through a false idea of how the ancients think, which is a failure to let Scripture determine its own cosmology before dealing with the empirical data of the ancients. It is in other words eisegesis, not exegesis, because it allows ANE studies to dictate the context of the Bible instead of using ANE studies as guides to the context of Scripture.

I have previously written on the problems of ANE studies with its Enlightenment ideas. What I want to focus on is this particular assertion of the 3-tiered universe. Lamoureux claims that the 3-tiered universe is most certainly wrong. In response, I would most certainly agree if one means, by the phrase "3-tiered universe," that ridiculous picture of ancient cosmology. However, is that the only way to understand the three tiers of Philippians 2:9-11? Of course not!

Decoupled from such silly pictures, can we hold that there are 3 parts of the universe, namely, (1) heaven, (2) earth, (3) underworld? I should hope so. Christians believe in a heaven, the earth, and hell for starters. Yes, Hades or Sheol is not really hell, but the point is that the biblical testimony shows at least three tiers. In other words, for Lamoureux to be able to claim to remain orthodox, he must hold to the realities of heaven, earth, and hell EVEN today in our modern age. He should not think of them as mere appearances which are actually untrue, the way he takes "ancient cosmology." So why then must we take the biblical data and use it, some of it interpreted in the most literalistic sense, to construct some ridiculous cosmological pictures that the ancients probably might not even own as their own? Lamoureux did place in his sections ancient pictures, but he ruled out a priori any considerations that they are corruptions of the original word-description of the actual creation account passed down faithfully to Moses. Since the creation account is transmitted in the form of words, it is not surprising if the pagan descendants of Noah were wrong in their interpretation of the oral or written account as they drew their pictures.

As I have written, just because something is not scientific does not mean that it is not true. That is the problem with the false dichotomy created by the debate over concordism. A pox on both their houses! All of the "ancient science" and "ancient cosmology" of the Bible are true, if one interprets them correctly, not as interpreted as like some ridiculous so-called "ancient cosmological picture." To Lamoureux's challenge on the 3-tiered universe, I would state that I affirm three tiers in the universe in this modern age, but NOT his false understanding of them.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Reformed ecclesiology and the doctrine of separation

In my relation with Evangelicalism, I have of necessity thought about ecclesiology in the aspect of inter-church relations. The doctrine of separation is normally associated with more Fundamentalist circles, yet does it mean that it does not exist in Reformed circles?

After much thought, I have come to realize that the doctrine of separation is more a function within Evangelicalism only because of how the movement construes the Church. In Evangelicalism, both the Old and the New and any version of it, the default setting is one of unity, and therefore the doctrine of separation is the severing of the unity that exists due to the compromise of the other party. In Reformed churches however, the default setting is one of separation. The denomination is meant to be the union of Christ's churches on earth. Therefore, what is required with other church bodies is ecumenical relations. In Evangelicalism, it is a separation of the "unity" that was. In Reformed ecclesiology however, the focus is on uniting with those that have been separated. Reformed ecclesiology, properly construed, does not need a doctrine of separation per se since the default is separation. It sounds unloving, but properly construed Reformed ecclesiology as a matter of principle starts by declaring all churches not in communion with the Reformed Church(es) as being de facto and de jure separated from the Visible Church.

In the modern times of course, there needs to be an understanding of the doctrine of separation, not as an addition to Reformed ecclesiology, but as a foil to understand Reformed ecclesiology as opposed to Evangelical forms of ecclesiology. We are not Evangelicals, and the more I think and mature on the issue, the more I would not consider myself to be one.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Phil R. Johnson, Singapore, and the sanctification debate

Phil R. Johnson, the execute director of Grace to You, was recently in my home country Singapore, and he tweeted two tweets which seem to tie in the current sanctification controversy within the Reformed circles in USA with Joseph Prince in Singapore.

With all due respect to Mr. Johnson, he does not know what he is talking about. The two issue are not even close, not one bit. Whether Pastor Tullian is actually an antinomian I have yet to be convinced of either way as of now, but the issue with Joseph Prince is a flat-out denial of the validity of the Law as to its third use. As Dr. R Scott Clark has said, and I had his verbal assent to tweet it (but that tweet has been lost in time), antinomianism is the rejection of the third use of the Law. Prince denies the third use of the Law (in just one of his many heresies). Not only does he deny the third use of the law, but he attributes the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting Man of sin to the Devil. (According to Prince believers are to be "righteousness conscious," not "law conscious"). Those in Singapore who are influenced by JP have no reason whatsoever to watch the controversy in the Reformed circles closely, for there are no parallels between the two on sanctification. JP denies the third use of the Law. Pastor Tullian at least in the interview with Chris Rosebrough affirms it. Regardless of who "wins" the sanctification debate, JP is still an antinomian, and he still preaches a false gospel which affirms men in their sin.

It is regrettable that Phil R. Johnson is misled as to this issue. I seriously doubt he knows what JP actually teaches, and I also wonder whether he knows what people like Dr. Mike Horton teaches. In the book by Horton et al Christ the Lord, Horton et al corrected some of John MacArthur's carelessness in the Lordship controversy. According to the foreword, Pastor MacArthur accepted the corrections by Horton et al and amended subsequent editions of his book. Did Mr. Johnson read Horton's book? MacArthur presumably did, but I sometimes wonder if MacArthur's increased clarity of thought has actually been passed on to his followers, or rather it might have been lost in transition.