Monday, February 27, 2017

Turretin on the relation of God to His decrees

X. The decrees of God can be regarded in two ways: either subjectively (if it right so to speak, i.e., on the part of the internal act in itself and absolutely); or objectively, extrinsically and relatively with respect to creatures (respectively). In the former manner, they do not differ from God himself and are no other than God himself decreeing. But in the latter, they do differ because they may be conceived as many and various (not as to the thing, since God has decreed all things by one single and most simple act, but as to the objects), even as the knowledge of God is conversant with him innumerable objects without detriment to his unity.

XI. The decrees of God are free, not absolutely and as to the principle, but relatively and objectively and as to the end. For there could be no external object necessarily terminating to the divine will, for God stands in need of nothing out of himself. Therefore they could be and not be. But this does not hinder them from being called necessary as to the principle and internal act because the act of intelligence and will could not be absent from God at all. He could not be God without intelligence and will. They are necessary, therefore, as to internal existence, but free as to external relation (schesin) and habit. Nor can the will of God be said to cease absolutely, but with respect to the external object on which it is terminated.

What is the relation of God to His decrees? On the one hand, it consists of God decreeing something freely, and thus they seem to be on the side of God ad extra. On the other hand, they are the expression of God's mind and will, which are constitutive of God ad intra. But certainly nothing can be both internal and external to God at the same time, can it?

As Turretin states, the decrees, coming from God's "intelligence and will" is internal to God. But the decrees, as they are freely done by God, is free in its external relations (schesin). But what does this actually mean?

Perhaps to re-phrase for the intention of clarification, we can think of the decrees as being a thing X, which exists. The existence of X comes about from mind and will, and thus it is eternally timeless, partaking of the eternity of God's mind and will. The quiddity (or "what-ness") of the decrees, of the thing X, is internal to God, for God's mind and will necessitates it.

At the same time, the content or relation of the decrees, the thing X, is external to God, for it terminates upon the things decreed. Thus, the decrees are truly free in this sense, towards things external to the being of God. Thus, the decrees as to its reality is internal to God, God ad intra, yet the decrees as to what they refer to are external to God's being, God ad extra.

Therefore, the decrees of God are one, in the being of God, for God is simple and indivisible. When we speak therefore of the decreeS of God, we have already moved to the ad extra aspect of theology proper. The decrees of God in its one simple ad intra form we know that it exists (quiddity), but not as to what it is. When we inquire into what it is, what they are, we only see the decrees as they are of God's work, in a manner we can understand.

If there's no God...

"Imagine there's no heaven ..."

… For if there were no God, no republic, no society in the world would be safe. Without virtue, without religion, nothing can be safe. If here were no God, there be neither virtue nor religion. What would the world be but a mere den of robbers in which license would be each one’s law, no such thing as right or wrong, no right of government, no necessity of obedience—the most abandoned, the superior and the most powerful, the master? No check would be placed upon the oppression of rules and the rebellion of subjects. Each one would follow the bent of his own inclination. Again, if there were no God, no mortals would even for a moment be safe or secure from violence, fraud, perjury, slaughter of blood. Every hour everything would have to be feared. Take away the barriers of divinity and what would become of confidence and innocence? What license or violence would not be witnessed? As to human edicts (besides the fact that they cannot change the mind for the better, but on the contrary make it artful and intent upon all the arts of deception), what place would there be for human laws, if (the sense of deity being removed) the conscience would shake off all relations of justice and injustice?

[Turretin, Institutes, 3.I.21]

On papal infallibility pre-Vatican I

V. … Now such a judge can be found nowhere else than in the church where they erect four tribunals from which there is no appeal: (1) the church; (2) the councils; (3) the fathers; (4) the pope. But when the votes are properly counted, the pope remains solus (alone), to whom they are accustomed to ascribing that supreme and infallible judgment.

VI. That such is this opinion this passage from Andradius (who was in the Council of Trent) proves: “This high authority of interpreting the Scriptures we grant not to individual bishops, but to the Roman pontiff alone, who is the head of the church, or to all the chief offices collected together by his command” (Defen. triden. fidei, lib. 2+). “That judge cannot be the Scriptures, but the ecclesiastical prince; either alone or with the counsel and consent of the fellow bishops” (Bellarmine, VD 3.9*, p. 110). “The Roman pontiff is the one in whom this authority, which the church has of judging concerning all controversies of faith, resides” (Gregory of Valentia, Analysis fidei catholicae 7 [1585], p. 216). Still this is not the opinion of all. For although they who exalt the pope above the council ascribe this authority of a judge to him, yet they think differently who hold the council to be above the pope finally. Others, to reconcile these two opinions, think the pope (in the council) or the council (approved by the pope) is that infallible judge.

[Turretin, Institutes, 2.XX.5-6]

Revisiting the issue of discernment and discernment ministries

Back around the time when I first started this blog (2006), Christian blogs were proliferating and the notion of Discernment ministries was just forming. For good or for ill, I became involved with the discernment movement, which, as all movements are, are a mixed bag. The proliferation of discernment ministries, good as it may seem to be, ignores the fact that sin pervades all our thoughts, our actions, and even ministries. The Christian blogosphere became like the Wild West, totally unregulated, where everything goes. In the highly decentralized, naturally anti-authoritarian, radical egalitarian Western (especially American) societies, who has the right to tell another that he or she is not called or not qualified for discerning truth from error?

Thus, what was to be a good thing did not turn out as well as it should. There was almost zero QC (Quality Control), and, as we sinners are tempted to do, personal emotions get into the mix and tempers flare. It is not uncommon especially in the anti-ODM (Online Discernment Ministries) blogs to see flame wars happening non-stop. As much as there was light, there also seem to be much heat.

Many of the original Discernment bloggers however take the high road. My friend Mike Ratliff has recently posted an article Discernment and Slander". I do not know the exact reason why he posts this, but it shows the high road that those of us who are or were involved in the Discernment movement in the beginning aspire to.

So why have I did a short reflection on something that, in Internet time, is centuries ago? I did it not because "discernment" has (unjustly) gained a bad rep, although that is true. But I see the same dynamic continue to be in play when certain second or third generation "discernment bloggers" are, to put it nicely, sloppy in their research. Others react by attacking "discernment" and "discernment bloggers." The whole sordid affair that is seen in the episode of Tim Challies' article against discernment, which he published in 2009, just repeats itself, again! It's almost like nobody learns from the past! What is to be gained from making blanket generalizations and demonizing an entire group, just because perhaps your opponents are currently the most "prominent" among that group? Is that helpful? What do such blanket condemnations hope to achieve, besides slandering those in the group who are innocent?

If, just because certain Reformed Baptists sinned against me, it is right for me to attack ALL Reformed Baptists as wicked people? If an Arminian were to meet five self-declared "Calvinists" who taught Hyper-Calvinism, would it be justified for that Arminian to assert that ALL Calvinists were Hyper-Calvinists? But if we do not like broad generalizations when we ourselves become implicated because of the sins of others, why do we think it fit to inflict such a travesty on others?

Some of the Online Discernment Ministries continue, but the movement has mostly passed. What was good in it did benefit the Church, and what was bad was ugly, to be repented of. Yet one should not make broad generalizations against it all, especially when one was formerly a contributor to the team blog that one has now become so bitterly opposed.

The relation of God to the Pactum Salutis

What is the relation of God to the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption? Some people might think of the Pactum Salutis as being predicated of God in Himself, God ad intra. But is that how we should be thinking of the Pactum?

When we think of God, we think of God in relation to Himself (ad intra) and God in relation to those external to Himself (ad extra). We think of God in His being, and God in His works. There is the immanent Trinity, and there is the economic Trinity. All of these distinctions are meant to clarify our thoughts concerning who God is, and distinguish the nature of God from what God actually does. God is immutable, and thus His nature is immutable. To predicate something about God ad intra, about His being, the immanent Trinity, is to predicate immutability to it. As God is simple, something predicated about God ad intra is predicated of His attributes, for God is His attributes.

Another philosophical/ theological category that is important for this discussion is that of necessity and contingency. Something is necessary because it cannot be otherwise. Something is contingent when it could be otherwise. Thus, for example, a man necessarily has a human genotype. But having the XY genotype is contingent for a man, because some men due to mutations do not have the XY genotype (e.g. XXY, XX with SRY gene attached).

In theology, God is a necessary being, because God cannot not exist. God's love to Man however is contingent, because God does not have to love anyone if He so chooses not to. God is necessarily omnipotent, because God cannot be not all powerful. Likewise, God is necessarily good, because God cannot ever be evil. Yet God's creating the world is contingent, because God does not have to create the world.

As we look at those examples, we can notice a pattern. Whatever that is of God's being, of God ad intra, of the immanent Trinity, is necessary. Whatever that is of God's works, of God ad extra, of the economic Trinity, is contingent. That must be the case, because God who is simple and necessarily existing implies that everything about the essence of the one God must be necessary. Conversely, the God who is sovereign does not need to do any of the works He has done (or could do), and therefore all of them are contingent.

So how should we think about the Pactum? Well, is the Pactum necessary or contingent? Does God have to make the Pactum, or does he not have to do so? Let's think for a moment. If the Pactum is predicated of God ad intra, then by virtue of simplicity, it must be necessary (and eternal, and immutable and so on). If it is necessary, then God cannot not make the Pactum. Since the Pactum speaks about created realities like "the cross," "death," and so on, even though they are spoken of in the abstract (since the world has not yet been created), then the concepts of these created realities must exist eternally. Moreover, the atonement of Christ then is necessary and eternal. Justification also becomes eternal, since justification is part of the Pactum (that the Son will save a people by justifying them). Also, since as we have mentioned many times, God is simple, that means God is to be identified with concepts of created realities, the atonement of Christ and justification!!?!

From this reductio ad absurdum, I hope it can be clearly seen that predicating the Pactum of God ad intra is untenable, at least not if one wants to be orthodox. The Pactum therefore must be predicated of God ad extra, and most definitely it must be contingent. If we maintain that God does not have to save anyone, then it must be the case that God does not have to provide salvation for sinners either, otherwise is God necessarily saving a set regardless of whether anyone is in it? But if salvation is a free (as opposed to necessitated) act of God, then by definition, it could be otherwise. And thus the Pactum as a free act of God must be able to be otherwise also.

The Pactum therefore must be and only can be predicated of God's works, of God ad extra, of the economic Trinity. But... the Pactum is made in eternity? And that is why we speaks of submission of the Son from eternity, understanding this "eternity" not as the timeless eternity predicated of God's being, but of the everlasting eternity predicated of God's works. From my perspective, if one is to be consistent with the various facets of one's theology, there is simply no way to make the Pactum as speaking of the immanent Trinity without creating the type of absurdities (eternal forms of created realities, eternal atonement, eternal justification; in the being of God) that we have shown.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The problem with wanting a "practical" faith

What is Christianity? Many people, even Christians, see Christianity as many things. Christianity is a religion. Christianity is about being spiritual. Christianity is about going to heaven after death. But not all these conceptions of Christianity are correct. Having a wrong conception of Christianity might just undermine the faith one professes. After all, a deficient understanding of Math for example might cause one to lose money in commercial transactions. A deficient understanding of Christianity would certainly cause one's faith to be stunted. Since the Christian faith is for the salvation and comfort of the saints, having a deficient understanding of Christianity would undermine one's faith in God and undermine the comfort and joy God gives to His people.

True Christianity starts and ends with God, not with Man. True Christianity does not come to "offer" Man help. It offers Man salvation, that is true. But the offer is not for autonomous Man to add one more asset to his portfolio, but rather for autonomous Man to surrender his autonomy altogether. God is not an addition to life, or merely for the afterlife. God does not exist for us! The question has never been, "Is God relevant for my life?" Rather, the question is, "Am I relevant in God's unfolding drama?" God is primary, and as such, God's desires and will takes precedence over us the creature. In salvation, God calls us to give up on ourselves, thus to deny ourselves, not in an ascetic manner, but in a worldview manner. God does not need my fasting, neither does he need my money, nor even my life. We are to be subsumed into God's story, not God into our story.

The problem therefore with wanting a "practical" faith, when voiced by various people, stems from a view of Christianity that does not place God front and center of everything, regardless of what one professes. After all, one does not ask what God wants, what God desires, but rather what I feel is deficient in my life that I think God ought to fulfill. It is the "therapeutic" aspect in the modern day Evangelical religion of "moral therapeutic deism," where professing Christians are not interested in doctrine and theory but rather in practice. But if God is truth, and it is only through Scripture which is made up of propositional truth that believers can come to know God, then how can any Christian say they are not interested in doctrine and truth? One might as well say he has no interest in God, because the only way to God on this earth is through Scripture which is given to us in words! Scripture is sufficient for us (c.f. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) for all things, and through Scripture, believers' minds are being renewed (Rom. 12:2).

Scripture is of course truly practical, in that it addresses the problems we face. BUT that is not the primary focus of Scripture. It is only through doctrine and the knowledge of God's Word that we can follow the imperatives of Scripture correctly. The direction has always been from doctrine to practice, never the divorce of doctrine from practice.

The uniquely cultural conditioned problem of "practicality" in Singapore is due to the embrace of cultural notions of knowledge in Singapore, which the Church ought to reject and to teach against. In Singapore, knowledge is just for the purpose of getting a degree, a cert that can be nicely displayed so as to get a respectable and good paying job. In Singapore, the entire culture is all about learning to be "exam smart," and thus knowledge is not treated as knowledge but as mere words of fact. This transfers into the Singapore church culture such that doctrines and Bible study are treated the same way. Is it then not surprising that Singaporean Christians can seem to know so much yet they actually truly do not know a lot? Administer a doctrinal test on paper, and many Christians might excel. But ask them to think outside the box, to reformulate what they know using different terms, or to apply what they know in concrete situations, and their actual lack of knowledge becomes manifest. What is the point of such "exam smart" theology? Such "exam smart" theology is not the knowledge God demands for us to have. From such an "exam smart" theology, it is not surprising that those having such "theology" cannot see the practical point of it all. They can score a 100% even on a exam on the Westminster Confession, but such "exam smart" knowledge is of no use at all. [In point of fact, "exam smart" knowledge on any non-STEM subject is of no use at all.]

Those who desire to have a more "practical" faith apart from doctrine need to examine themselves as to whether they are using God instead of surrendering to God. Are they starting everything with God? Who are they actually worshiping? If they are content with worshiping a generic "God" and a generic "Jesus," without understanding the Triunity of the one true God, are they then actually worshiping the one true God? Are they learning so as to get a bunch of propositions ("exam smart theology") without actually understanding them? If so, they ought to repent. The problems they have is not because the sermons or Bible studies do not seem to be "practical" enough, but rather they have a wrong view of the faith and ought to repent of that. Scripture is supremely relevant, but only because we are subsumed into God's story. As long as we think of ourselves from a therapeutic mind-set, we will never see the true relevance of true Christianity.

What is Christianity? Christianity is God-centered; it is Christ-centered, and it exalts Christ not just in theory but in practice. Since God is the "star," therefore every sermon has to exalt God and Christ, and every Bible study has to do likewise. It is in our worship before the Almighty God in everything we do that our needs will be met. Christianity will thus be seen as practical, as long as we do not make it practical but Christ-exalting. The more we want to make Christianity practical, the more actually impractical it will be, because God and Christ will be out of our supposed "practical" solutions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Vulgate, the King James Version, and the natural propensity towards venerating a single Bible version

II. True, there are varying opinions among the papists as to the sense of this decree [Council of Trent, Session 4, Decree 1 –DHC]. Some maintain that no comparison is made between that version and the source, but only with other Latin versions then in use; … Others maintain that it is absolutely declared to be authentic (so that there is no better) and is to be preferred to all editions in whatever language and, even by it the original codices (as corrupt) must be emended; as Cano, Valentia, Gordon, Gretser, Suarez and others. But whoever attentively considers the words of the decree will easily perceive that it leads to the latter opinion. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elentic Theology, 2.XV.2]

It is interesting to note here that Tridentine Roman Catholicism suggests correcting the original codices (Greek and Hebrew) according to the Latin Vulgate. Such a move is what we see today in Fundamentalist King James Version Only (KJVO) circles. Evidently, it seems to be a human impulse that shifts from treasuring the Bible in the translation one knows or studies, into venerating that particular translation as being THE only Bible, even to the extant of correcting the ancient manuscripts according to the Bible version one is elevating, be it the Vulgate, or the King James Version.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Turretin on Theology and Philosophy

I. On this subject men run into two extremes. Those who confound philosophy with theology err on the side of excess. This the false apostles formerly did who incorporated various unsound philosophical opinions with the Christian doctrine and are on this account rebuked by the apostle (Col. 2:8). … They sin in defect who hold that philosophy is opposed to theology and should therefore be separated from it, not only as useless, but also as positively hurtful. The fanatics and enthusiasts of former ages held this view and the Anabaptists and Weigelians of the present day (who seem professedly to have proclaimed war against philosophy and the liberal arts) retain it.

II. The orthodox occupy a middle ground. They do not confound theology with sound philosophy as the parts of a whole; nor do they set them against each other as contraries, but subordinate and compound them as subordinates which are not at variance with, but mutually assist each other. …


Philosophy is not against theology when it functions as a handmaiden to theology. Those who pit philosophy against theology as being absolutely contrary to the Christian faith are anti-intellectuals and heirs of the Anabaptists.

Turretin on reason and theology

III. The question is not whether reason has any use in theology. For we confess that its use is manifold both for illustration (by making clear divine mysteries from human and earthly things); for comparison (by comparing old things with new, versions with their sources, opinions of doctors and decrees of councils with the rule of the divine word); for inference (by drawing conclusions); and for argumentation (by drawing forth reasons to support orthodoxy [orthodoxian] and overthrow heterodoxy [heterodoxian]). But the question is simply whether it bears the relation of a principle and rule in whose scale the greatest mysteries of religion should be weighed, so that nothing should be held which is not agreeable to it, which is not founded upon and cannot be elicited from reason. This we deny …

IV The question is not whether reason is the instrument by which or the medium through which we can be drawn to faith. For we acknowledge that reason can be both: the former indeed always and everywhere; the latter with regard to presupposed articles. Rather the question is whether it is the first principle from which the doctrines of faith are proved; or the foundation upon which they are built, so that we must hold to be false in things of faith what the natural light or human reason cannot comprehend. This we deny.

What is the Reformed view on reason? Is any emphasis on reason (and logic) "rationalism" which we ought to reject? To hear some of the charges against the whole idea of systematic theology today, one would think that rational thinking along the line of foundations (axioms) and syllogisms is unbiblical. But was that what the Reformed tradition historically taught?

The Reformed Orthodox used syllogisms, plenty of them. After all, Logic was important to them for the process of intellectually rigorous thinking. Even those who reject Aristotle for people like Ramus are merely attempting to substitute one system of thinking for another, not eradicating reasoning altogether. Who were those who reject reason? It was the mystics who rejected reason for the idea of an unmediated direct encounter of the soul with God, through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Such was found in Medieval and Tridentine Roman Catholicism, as well as major segments of Anabaptism, but they were not a hallmark of the best of the Reformed tradition.

The rise of rationalism with the Socinians was a threat to the Reformed Orthodox because they use reason to argue against the doctrines of the faith. But the Reformed Orthodox do not therefore throw out the baby with the bathwater. Turretin distinguishes between the instrumental use of reason and the foundational use of reason (1.VIII.7), ascribing the former to true Christian theology and the latter to the error of the rationalistic Socinians. Reason, which is probably better termed "logic" since "logic" describes the laws and processes of reasoning, is meant to be used as a tool, not to create new propositions from thin air (the foundational view). Rather, the propositions are Scripture, and reason merely infers from them to their consequences.

Does human sin and human depravity therefore means that any focus on reason as an instrument is a compromise of the doctrine of total depravity? Does it mean that one must argue for a "qualitative" difference between the truth known by God (ectypically) and what we can come to know as truth as revealed to us? Turretin would not have agreed with such arguments. Rather, this is what Turretin wrote:

VIII. The darkness of the human intellect does not hinder sound reason from judging of the truth of connections and so contradictions. We allow indeed that it cannot judge of the truth of propositions (as ignorant of it per se and which it must seek from the law and testimony). But it does not follow from this that it cannot judge of the contradiction of the expositions, opinions and interpretations which men give of these mysteries. [1.X.8]

'Sound reason' seems almost to be autonomous and unaffected by the Fall, but that is because it is not the human faculty of reason Turretin speaks of here, but rather the laws of logic, which are laws and not human faculties. The transcendent law of non-contradiction for example does not care whether the human seeking to utilize it is sinless or fallen, as long as it is used properly. The problem with our human minds that are affected by total depravity is not that the laws of reason have been altered, for these laws are outside of us, but rather that we are unable to properly use these laws correctly all the time. Just like Pharisaism distorts the revealed holy law of God, so rationalists distorts the laws of logic. Pharisaism and the Judaizers did not cause the holy law of God to be unholy, for the fault is with them not with the law! Likewsie, the many forms of rationalism are not manifestations that reason is totally corrupted and unfit for spiritual uses, but rather the fault lies with the users (Man) rather than the instrument of reason.

Thus, in the Clark-Van Til controversy, Turretin's position will be much closer to Clark's. Turretin is of course clearer in teaching that we cannot comprehend God, and the archetypal/ectypal distinction is clearly maintained, BUT on the main issue of the place of reason, he stands with Clark on the instrumental use of reason and the possibility of sound reason even in depraved minds (whether depraved Man wants to use sound reason is another question altogether).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Francis Turretin, "Natural Theology," and General Revelation

II. The question is not whether natural theology (which is such by act as soon as a man is born, as the act of life in one living or of sense in one perceiving as soon as he breathes) may be granted. For it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae). Rather the question is whether such can be granted at least with regard to principle and potency; or whether such a natural faculty implanted in man may be granted as well as put forth its strength of its own accord, and spontaneously in all adults endowed with reason, which embraces not only the capability of understanding, but also the natural first principles of knowledge from which conclusions both theoretical and practical are deduced (which we maintain).

III. The question is not whether this knowledge is perfect and saving (for we confess that after the entrance of sin it was so much obscured as to be rendered altogether insufficient for salvation), but only whether any knowledge of God remains in man sufficient to lead him to believe that God exists and must be religiously worshipped [sic].

V. We find in man a natural law written upon each one's conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards or punishments. ...

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1. III. 2-3, 5]

Francis Turretin was the last of the great Reformed Scholastics, and the last leader of the Reformation in early modern Geneva, Switzerland. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology bears the fruit of much Reformed thought over the many years since the Reformation, and should be required reading for all pastors and theologians who consider themselves Reformed.

In his Institutes, which I am slowly going through, Turretin has an interesting take on "natural theology." It seems that for Turretin, "natural theology" corresponds to what we would today call "General Revelation." The knowledge of God available to everyone informing them of God's existence and the basics of His moral law is ubiquitous to all. All men have this revelation. Even the suppression of the truths of General Revelation does not negate that fact, because they must be actively suppressed, for what can be known about God IS plain to them, for God has made it plain to them (Rom. 1:19).

Such truths however do not make up any form of natural theology, which is the idea that Man can come up with a true coherent theology of God purely from the truths of Nature. There is a gap between knowing there is a God and knowing some of His moral laws, and being able to produce a partial but correct doctrine of God from Nature. This gap is the gap between cognitive coherent and intuitive inchoate knowledge. The former I deny to General Revelation while affirming the latter. I would like to note here that any theology of General Revelation produced by Christians always appeal to axioms that make sense only within a Christian theistic framework. That is why I will gladly affirm General Revelation while denying Natural Theology, because I just do not see how one can derive a coherent albeit partial doctrine of God from Nature alone apart from Scripture and its framework.

Do Turretin and the Reformed scholastics endorse Natural Theology? They certainly use the phrase "natural theology" positively, but, as I have shown, Turretin uses it only in the sense of General Revelation. While I certainly cannot rule out the possibility of any of them endorsing Natural Theology, I do not see Turretin doing so in this particular instance. I am therefore not convinced that Turretin or any of the Reformed Scholastics would have approved of Natural Theology, and any argument to that effect needs to not just appeal to the approval of the phrase "natural theology," since it is rather clear that Turretin means by that phrase something different from how the term is used today.

Eschatology precedes soteriology

My latest sermon, preached at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in Singapore, was on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, and it can be heard here. In that sermon, one particular emphasis that I made was on the Christian hope, the revealing (ἀποκαλυπσις) of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, which ought to re-orientate the way we live our lives. It is when we keep our eyes on this hope that the priorities in our lives will be ordered properly, in a way that glorifies God, and also in the way we were made to live.

It is this latter point that I attempt to elucidate when I introduced the phrase "Eschatology precedes soteriology." These three words encompass a very important concept in biblical theology. Eschatology, the doctrine of the last things, precedes soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, not because we ought to focus our attentions on one's view of the millennium or the rapture, but rather because the main points of Reformed eschatology (as oppose to Dispensational eschatology) concerns the breaking-in of God's glory, where God tears open the fabrics of the heavens (metaphorically and phenomenologically of course) and the glory of God, the knowledge of the glory of God, floods the earth as the waters cover the sea (cf. Hab. 2:14). (Reformed eschatology, whether of the pre-, post-, or a-millennial varieties, all have this as their focus, as opposed to the Dispensational predilection for dates, timelines and literal fulfillment of biblical figures of speech). This focus of Reformed eschatology precedes soteriology primarily because of our understanding of Adam and the Covenant of Works, and therefore those who deny the Covenant of Works can never have this full-orbed understanding and comfort in the Christian hope.

The traditional Reformed understanding of the Covenant of Works, which is confessed both in the Presbyterian and the (European) continental Reformed churches, is that Adam was bound by God a short time after his creation. In this covenant, God bound Adam to perfect and perpetual obedience to His commands, as expressed in the one explicit command given to Adam (and Eve) not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By divine fiat, the fruits of this one tree was forbidden to Adam and Eve, our first parents. If Adam and Eve were to obey God's commands as they are focused on this one simple prohibition, God promised eternal life to them. If however they were to disobey God, they would merit death and surely die.

In Hebrews 2: 5-9, the author of Hebrews cites Ps. 8:4-6 and expounds on it in relation to Christ. The context of Psalms 8:4-6 concerns how God has glorified Man in creation and crown him with glory and honor. In Man's original creation, Adam was a great priest and king before Creator God. But of course, we know Adam failed the test and fell from his glorious estate. Hebrews 2:5-9 brings up this motif to show us how Jesus fulfilled what Adam was tasked to do and bring us believers to the state of glory that Adam was meant to have brought about. In other words, the goal of the Eschaton, that of God coming down from heaven in all of His glory, was the intended telos of Adam's probation. The Fall interrupted that goal however, for now where God's glory was to be made manifest upon the earth, now sin pollutes all of God's creation. Eschatology precedes soteriology because the telos existed (in time) before even the Fall. We are saved from sin in order to get us back to the intended telos of creation. Salvation follows upon the interruption of the telos of the world, and serves the restoration of all things when Christ comes again, and therefore eschatology precedes soteriology.

As a short excursus, it is of course true that God's plan has always been for the Fall to happen and for Christ to die for the sins of the elect, from a Systematic Theological point of view, whether ones takes an infralapsarian or supralapsarian perspective. But the truths of God's plan on the vertical transcendent plane does not negate the truths of God's plans acted on along the horizontal plane of redemptive-history. So it is true that God decrees the Fall to happen and that Christ would die for the sins of the elect, but it is also true that the Fall interrupts the intended telos of the in-breaking of the glory of God upon the earth if Adam had obeyed. Those who desire to pit Systematic Theology against Biblical Theology and make one prior to the other have a stunted view of God and His glory, as if God is limited to one plane of operation. Both are true, as such both show us different facets of God's plan and God's glory.

Eschatology precedes soteriology. The in-breaking of the full glory of God upon this earth has been interrupted by the Fall, and it is this that is our hope, when Christ will come again from heaven with glory to cleanse the creation and restore it and bring it to its glorified state. This very public revelation or unveiling of God is the blessed hope for the Christian, the one who puts his hope and trust in Jesus Christ. We are not just saved from hellfire, as if Christianity is merely a hell insurance policy. Rather, we are being saved towards the intended goal of all creation, so that we might revel in the manifest glory of God and in communion with our Lord. So Maranatha, come Lord Jesus! Come!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

On Michael Brown's interview with Joseph Prince

In the mainstream Singapore evangelical and charismatic scene, charismatic author Michael Brown's (of the Brownsville Revival fame) interview with Joseph Prince caused quite a bit of a stir. Prince of course is in my back yard so to speak in Singapore, and he has deceived thousands of Christians, so of course I cannot keep silent. At the same time, I have said many many things already about Prince, exposing his main error. I would prefer not to comment more on Prince if not for the fact that believers will be confused after looking at the interview, as Prince seems to have exonerated himself over his critics. Was Prince merely misunderstood, they may wonder. Maybe Prince is not an Antinomian as charged, and those like me are wrong in criticizing him.

We criticize Prince not based upon personal animosity, but out of love for God and His truth. There is nothing happier for me than to see Prince repent of his heresies. So if I am indeed wrong about Prince, I will admit I was wrong and rejoice that he actually is leading people to God. This must be written only because there are many people who refuse to read any of my criticisms charitably and think I just love to find fault. This is properly basic and I shouldn't have to say this almost like a disclaimer, but it has to be said so that people hopefully do not go around judging me for judging others (which is ironic since if judging is wrong, why are they judging me in the first place?)

So back to the main issue! Let's just put it upfront: Even if Prince was exonerated on the charge of antinomianism, there are still many major errors he holds to that undermine the Gospel, chiefly among them the Word-faith prosperity name-it-claim-it shtick, which is another gospel altogether. Or we can go to how he blasphemes the Lord's body and blood by making the Holy Communion a healing medicine for the sick! So even if he is exonerated from the charge of antinomianism, he is still a heretic because of his Word-faith errors among others.

But let's look at the charge more closely. What exactly is "antinomianism"? "Antinomianism," or "against-law-ism," is the error that Christians are totally free from the law. It says nothing whatsoever about whether Christians should be or shouldn't be sinning. Rather, regardless of what one's view of "sin" is, one is or is not an "Antinomian" based on how one thinks about the law. Antinomianism is not just lawless sinning, which is practical antinomianism, but also in theory denying the law, as seen in the doctrinal antinomianism of someone like Tobias Crisp.

The fact of the matter is that apart from the law, sin cannot be known as sin (Romans 7:7-25). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states it so beautifully:

Q14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

So now that we have a better understanding of what "antinomianism" is, let us look at the interview. We see that Prince says that sinning is wrong, which is good, but what exactly is sin in such a scenario? After all, I have not accused Prince ever of saying sinning is right. Prince is very clear that the one under grace should not be sinning, which is true but hardly answers our main concern. The main concern is what does Prince has to say about the law and its relationship to Christians? And here we see a fudging in the interview, with Prince stating:

The Law, as designed by God, exposes our sin and brings us to the end of ourselves, thereby bringing us to the foot of the cross where grace and mercy flow. Not only so, but "when God's people are under grace, not only do they fulfill the letter of the law, but they also exceed it or go the extra mile"

That is a good understanding of the first use of the law, its pedagogical use, to bring us to Christ, which Prince has always taught. But are Christians under the law as a guide, which is the third use of the law? Orthodox Christianity says yes, but does Prince believe in that? We see nothing in that interview that would indicate to us that he does.

In a linked blog article on Prince's website, Prince states the following:

If someone is leaving his wife for his secretary and tells you he is under “grace,” tell this person that he is not under grace but under deception! Go by the authority of God’s Word, not what this man says. Romans 6:14 states, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” If this person were truly living under grace, he would not be dominated by such a sin. And no one living in sin can legitimately use grace as an excuse to sin, because it is antithetical to God’s holy Scriptures.

This is all well and good, but why? Why is that action of adultery sin, since we are not under the law? Prince does not answer this except to say it is against "God's holy Scriptures," but what does "God's holy Scriptures" teach? Can someone say he is "under grace" and engage in polygamy, because David, beloved of God, had many wives? Or can someone "under grace" marry a woman and her sister, a la Leah and Rachel?

The problem with Prince is that he is a doctrinal antinomian. As I have said, for Prince the problem is not sin as an objective problem, but condemnation due to sin as a psychological problem. Sin is wrong because it leads to condemnation under the law, not because it incurs the wrath of a holy God. To be righteous is to know one is now not under condemnation but under "grace," which through naming-and-claiming one's righteousness, sin will disappear. That of course is a form of perfectionism, which is another problem. But the key thing here to note is that, while Prince is against sin, he has no real basis for claiming something is sin or not sin, and appealing to "God's holy Scriptures" apart from an appeal to the law says nothing about whether polygamy for example can be done "under grace." Prince therefore is still a doctrinal antinomian, and nothing in that interview or his blog article has changed that fact.

So how, you may ask, does this doctrinal antinomianism play out in practice? How this plays out in practice is that, absent a real objective standard, the standard of what constitutes "not sinning" defaults to the culture, or rather, the church's sub-culture as it interacts with the general culture. Therefore, why Prince is against adultery is because adultery is considered sin in the Singapore Christian sub-culture. But Prince is not against greed (perhaps he might be against "excessive" greed) because greed is not considered sin in the broader culture. In other words, by defaulting to the lowest common denominator of sin as determined by culture, Prince will seem to be not "lawless" while he tolerates what the late Jerry Bridges called "respectable sins." Absent a true objective standard, Prince will never be able to hold up the strict holiness of God, which is why he will never call people to repent of their sins of greed, violating the Sabbath, neglecting the poor and other "respectable sins."

In conclusion, we must say that Joseph Prince has not said anything in this interview to disprove our charge that he is an antinomian. That the charismatic Mike Brown wants to play the PR game in the interview says more about him than about Prince, who has not changed. Prince remains an antinomian, a Word-faith proponent, a doctrinal perfectionist, and thus a deceptive heretic. Christians ought to avoid him and his false gospel and turn instead to the true Gospel of justification by faith alone, but NOT by a faith that is alone.

The ESV and Genesis 3:16

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16 ESV 2016)

The ESV committee has recently, last year, proposed an amendment to Genesis 3:16 that caused quite a bit of an uproar among those who see the changes as being not driven by the text but for ideological reasons. The insinuation, being that the change came temporally after the bulk of the EFS (Eternal Functional Submission) controversy, was that it was to prop up some version of EFS. How should we deal with this text and, more broadly, what should we make of the ESV?

Concerning the text itself, the changed text is one possible translation of the original Hebrew, that interprets the preposition ל as "contrary to," which is A possible interpretation. For me, personally, I prefer the more ambiguous translation "to." That said, since the amended text is A possible translation, based upon Susan Foh's interpretation in her WTJ (Westminster Theological Journal) article, that translation is plausible and thus there is no reason at all to kick up a big fuss over the issue.

The only reason why certain segments of the Reformed world kicked up such a big fuss over the issue is because it came upon the heels of the EFS controversy. The hysteria in certain segments the Reformed blogosphere over the changes in the ESV (here's one example) is really a sad thing. For those of us who are interested in the truth, there is no reason to subscribe to such hysteria, especially since those who attack EFS continually misrepresent their opponents. Since that is the case, the question concerning the ESV is this: Does the change in Genesis 3:16 compromise the translation of the original Hebrew? I would say not. At the same time, by making it less ambiguous, the change makes the ESV less literal. For those who want to study the Bible deeply, this change is one strike against the amended ESV. But for pastors and preachers, such changes are less important to us since, after all, we are supposed to be focused on the text in the original languages, and amend the English versions in our preaching as and when the occasion arise. Pastorally, such amendments should not be done too often lest we undermine the congregation's trust that they have the Word of God in English, which is why a more literal translation is preferred. But one amendment in Genesis 3:16 is not going to be a lot. As long as we are not correcting every other word in the Bible translation, which is why we need to use a good faithful English translation in the church's corporate worship, the people's trust in their Bibles will be preserved. The interpretation of one preposition in Genesis 3:16 does not take away from the fact that the ESV is still a good faithful translation of the text, and thus there is no reason why it should not continue to be used by English-speaking Christians.

As for me, I will continue to use and to support the use of the ESV as an excellent bible translation in English. I also hope that the Reformed world will not succumb to hysteria and continue using this translation. For me also, my ESV Bible app on my smartphone continues to give the original translation of "to" while my printed ESV bible is of the older version, so I do not have to deal with this issue for the foreseeable future, and hopefully never will.

Acts 18:17

ἐπιλαβόμενοι δὲ πάντες Σωσθένην τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον ἔτυπτον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ βήματος· καὶ οὐδὲν τούτων τῷ Γαλλίωνι ἔμελεν. (Acts 18:17 BGT)

Ἐπιλαβόμενοι δὲ πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες Σωσθένην τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον ἔτυπτον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ βήματος. Καὶ οὐδὲν τούτων τῷ Γαλλίωνι ἔμελλεν (Act 18:17 BYZ)

And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Act 18:17 ESV)

Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. (Act 18:17 KJV)


Textual note:

πάντες: p74 א A B itc, dem, p, ph, ro, w vg, copbo.

πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες: D E Ψ 33 181 614 945 1175 1409 1739 1891 2344 Byz [L P] ...

πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι: 36 307 453 610 1678

I have recently preached a sermon on Acts 18:1-17, which can be accessed here. In this text, one thing that I had to do was to decide how to deal with the textual variants in the text. There is one other textual variant that alters the meaning of the text in verse 5, but I judged it was not worth going into that. For Acts 18:17 however, the variant does seem important enough that I had to make a short note in the sermon at least concerning the variant, although I don't know if anyone in the congregation was interested in it.

The textual variant here concerns who was it that beat up Sosthenes the chief ruler of the synagogue (τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον). The Critical Text that is mostly preferred by most modern translators only has the ambiguous word πάντες ("all"). The King James and New King James versions follow the Majority Text and have the words πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες ("all the Greeks"). Not reflected in any translation (and rightly so) is the variant πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ("all the Jews"), which is stated as being found only in 5 miniscules.

It is a caricature that modern translators are blind devotees to Westcort and Hort, two early British textual scholars. It is however true that modern textual criticism prioritizes earlier manuscripts over later ones, regardless of the number of manuscripts under consideration. After all, it is not the number of copies that matter, for one manuscript copied numerous times in later manuscripts is still considered as one text for the sake of determining the correct reading of the Scriptures. In this case, the critical text reading is supported by many earlier manuscripts, not just Codex Sinaiticus (א) but also at least one papyrus (p74), whereas the Majority text reading has only three majuscules (D, E, Ψ) and a plethora of later miniscules. Thus, the critical reading is to be preferred here because of better and earlier attestation.

When one looks at the variants, it is also easier to understand how the variants can come about if πάντες is the original text. The verse in the Critical Text and in the ESV is ambiguous because we are still left wondering who is the "all" that is beating up Sosthenes. It is not a surprise if later scribes would add in the phrase οἱ Ἕλληνες ("the Greeks") as an explanation first, which was then inserted into the later miniscules. The fact that 5 miniscules have the alternative phrase πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι shows us that at least some Byzantine Greek scholars understood the "all" to be predicated of the Jews, and thus amend the text accordingly. It is therefore easier for us to understand how the variants could come about as Byzantine scholars attempt to understand who are the "all" referred to in Acts 18:17.

It should not be too surprising that this variant is important because it affects how we are to understand Acts 18:17, and what exactly is happening in this narrative. If it were the Greeks assaulting Sosthenes, then one exegetes the passage differently than if it were the Jews that were assaulting Sosthenes. While taking the ambiguous text, it seems to me that the overall sense of the text is to interpret it as referring to the Jews, thus "all" equals "all the Jews." For, first, we see in the return to Gallio's reaction in the later part of verse 17 that the beating up of Sosthenes is related to the charge against Paul and the fact that Gallio threw out the case. Therefore, second, while the action of Greeks beating Sosthenes is plausible, for Greeks to beat up Sosthenes because of charges against Paul is rather implausible. Thirdly, the beating up of Sosthenes was meant to provoke Gallio, and therefore the later part of verse 17 tells us that Gallio decided not to be provoked. How would the Greeks beating up Sosthenes provoke Gallio after Gallio had declared the charges against Paul a purely internal matter? It is only if we read it as the Jews beating up Sosthenes then we see some division among the Jews being stirred up, coupled with assault, in an attempt to provoke Gallio into action on internal Jewish matters, which he had earlier declared he had no wish to be judge in. And thus, fourthly, interpreting the "all" as "all the Greeks" would make Gallio's inaction to the beating of Sosthenes senseless and even cruel, as if Gallio was totally heartless and indifferent to the Jews. This contradicts Gallio's explicit statements that the reason why he refused to adjudicate on the charges against Paul was because he did not want to judge on what he perceived to be internal religious matters. It is only if we see Gallio's inaction as a refusal to be provoked by Jews beating up their fellow Jew Sosthenes that Gallio's actions makes sense.

From both a textual and contextual perspective therefore, Acts 18:17 is speaking of "all", that is all the Jews, beating up Sosthenes. The Majority Text reading is therefore in error here, and therefore sermons that are preached based upon the King James and New King James rendering of Acts 18:17 will be in error. This is most certainly an argument against using the King James version today, but, more importantly, the importance of proper exegesis from the original languages for pastors and preachers of the Word.