Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Survival blogs

[Note: This is a random thought and the closest link to anything is here]

"Survival blogs" is the informal name given to blogs (or whatever other more contemporary social media platform) in which someone who has suffered some measure of abuse or neglect, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise, within the context of any particular movement or institution (e.g. church), decided to vent out the hurt and frustration he or she has suffered on that media platform. The whole idea of "survival blog" is to air one's grievances and hopefully able to form an online community of fellow sufferers, such that there will be catharsis in the sharing of one's grievances and a feeling of community and solidarity with "fellow sufferers." Such communities by their very nature exists around their common grievance, to the extent that such is their raison d'etre. Remove the grievance, and the community as such ceases to exist.

As we can see in the description, "survival blogs" exists for nurturing grievances against those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to wrong them. Emotions tend to run high since the abuse (if there is) is taken very personally. Objectivity tend to fly out of the window in "survival blogs," regardless of how objective the participants attempt to be. For how can anything positive be said about the object of such anger? With the removal of objectivity comes the demonization of anything related to the object of contempt. If the abuser defends X, X must therefore be wrong. If the abuser attacks Y, Y is probably correct. If the abuser promotes a speaker Z, Z must be evil in like manner as the abuser, and so on and so forth.

Now, "survival" communities might claim that they are examining the errors of those that critiqued. And certainly we cannot commit the genetic fallacy and claim that their critiques are always wrong. Even more than that, we cannot claim that criticism itself is wrong, for polemics (rightly done) is merely contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To make the situation even more complicated, just because someone has been abused and wronged does not imply that the person function as part of the "survival" community, for not everyone who is hurt is out to focus on one's grievance leading to bitterness. How then does one discern who is a "survivalist" as opposed to someone just engaging in biblical apologetics and discernment, since none of us are privy to the hearts of Man?

One way of discerning between the two lies in the focus of their respective writings. A "survivalist" focuses on airing one's grievances. Thus, a central preoccupation lies in their personal grievances and against those who are seen to have abused them. In solidarity with other "survival blogs," they might pick up the grievances of others and vicariously take offence against these other abusers. The tone of their writings is overwhelmingly negative and bitter. Those which stoop to ad-hominem arguments immediately manifest themselves as "survival blogs," but even those that do not stoop to that level are not any better. Christian "survival blogs" are not truly interested in wrestling with the theological issues involved in theological topics (e.g. ESS, Gender issues), but rather in a classic tale of the tail wagging the dog, the theology of those who practice what they deem to be abusive behavior (real or imagined) is definitely wrong, and whoever puts forward as much as a semi-coherent critique gets their immediate support. Plus points for accusations of heresy against the "bad guys."

Therefore, if a blog is (1) overwhelmingly negative in tone, (2) focused on only a few issues which correlates to the issue held by the main persons the participants have negative feelings towards, (3) possibly manifested in ad-homenem arguments, or (4) putting forward shallow argumentations, coupled with (5) a refusal to wrestle with the actual theological topics, then one has just found a "survival blog." Of course, one should not fall into the genetic fallacy and discount them outright, yet knowing that such blogs and persons are of the "survival" type, one should be extremely cautious of anything they say, as there is a very high chance they are wrong in whatever they are writing about. This is of course not to mention that these people are sinning in their actions. Even if their grievances are legitimate, they are supposed to deal with it biblically, and not give in to anger and bitterness, much less trashing around and wounding other sheep in the process.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One clarification concerning Vincent Cheung

[Note:This post was written in response to someone with whom I am having a conversation. I have no wish to deal with Vincent Cheung any more than I already have. Those who have no idea who Vincent Cheung is, you are strongly encouraged to not read this].

My criticism of Vincent Cheung and his (essentially) hyper-Calvinism can be read in the following articles:

God, the Author of Sin and Metaphysical Distanciation: A Brief Rebuttal of Vincent Cheung's Theodicy

Vincent Cheung and 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism

Some practical problems with Cheung's heresies

These initial criticisms of Cheung have mainly dealt with the substance of Cheung's teaching, but I have realized that there is a need to deal with the form of Cheung's teaching as well, on this topic, so I would like to take this opportunity to be as clear as I possibly can in my criticism of Cheung's hereises.

The first deals with the issue of form. Many people have pointed out that Cheung defines "author" differently from traditional Reformed definitions. According to Cheungians, Cheung's definition of "author" is merely a claim that God is the ultimate cause behind everything. God is the "author" of sin in the same way as a writer "authors" a novel. Just as an "author" decides everything in the novel, including wicked acts by the antagonists while not endorsing the wicked acts, so likewise God is the "author" of sin in that he controls how sin works in the world. Therefore, it is argued, since Cheung defines "author" differently, God can indeed be the said to be the "author of sin." To deny that to God is to claim that sin is outside the sovereignty of God altogether.

To this, my response is the following: (1) Yes, such a definition of "author" is orthodox, but (2) Cheung has no right to redefine a technical term "author," for otherwise anyone can redefine "sin" to actually mean "righteousness" for example, and more importantly, (3) Cheung is teaching more than "God is the ultimate cause of sin." Thus, in form, Cheung is not actually heretical but rather subversive of established terminology, which he has no right to redefine as he wishes. With that hopefully out of the way, we can go on to the actual content, and not be waylaid by the refrain "But, but... Cheung defines 'author' differently." Yes, I do know that, and I am here putting this objection to bed! Cheung's redefinition of "author" is divisive, but it is not what makes him a heretic.

When Cheung calls God "the author of sin," he is claiming more than God is the ultimate cause of sin. Rather, Cheung is claiming that God is the only real cause of every thing that happens. As I have shown in the first article critiquing his idea of "metaphysical distanciation," for Cheung any agency or second causes is under the direct control of God. Cheung does not deny the existence of second causes, which is another statement people seem to think that I have made. No, Cheung affirms the existence of second causes BUT he denies their actual agency as second causes. For Cheung, "second causes" are mere instruments. As an analogy, let us assume that there is an android which I have programmed to think in a certain way, utilizing a complex code for it to function almost like a human being. In this scenario, the coder is like God, the android is like Man, and the program God's sovereign control. When the android (Man) does something, it does so because the coder (God) has told it to do so, even though the coder (after coding) has no direct control over the android. Cheung's view of "secondary causes" is like this scenario, whereby Cheung's god codes sin into the programming, but because the coder (God) does not actually commit the sin, he should not be said to be evil.

For anyone looking into the scenario, it is rather obvious that the coder is in fact evil, because the program causes the android to do evil. The android has no agency of any kind, and cannot do otherwise on any level. One will seek in futility for any reason why the coder should be exonerated from any crimes committed by the android, when the android does commit a crime.

The orthodox teaching of Scripture is that Man has real moral agency. Man makes real decision and real choices, which God did not make neither did He make through Man as instrument. Man is not some automaton controlled by a puppet master after all! Rather, Man has real creaturely freedom, wherein he is constantly exhorted to choose God, to choose life, and to reject sin. Thus, I maintain that Cheung does affirm "second causes," but not as to their function as "second causes." It is almost like how Cheung redefines "author," so likewise he redefines "second causes" and rob them of their agency.

Therefore, materially, in the content of what Cheung teaches, Cheung actually teaches the error rejected by the Reformed orthodox that God is the "author of sin." While formally, he redefines the term in a way that seem orthodox, materially he teaches the exact error that the Reformed orthodox rejected. This is why Cheung is a heretic, and it is not because he adopts the term (formally), but because he teaches materially the error the Reformed orthodox rejected.

The Reformed orthodox teaching is that there is real creaturely freedom and real moral agency of human beings. But God's sovereignty super-intends everything, so that all things will come about as God has decreed (c.f. Gen. 50:20 among others). How is that possible? We are told from Scripture that this is the case, and the task of theologians is to attempt to comprehend that. The way that is traditionally done is through appeal to "mystery," which is good as far as it goes but it makes no progress on the topic at hand. The way that I have done this is through the analogy of appealing to multiple dimensions, as I had done in my article dealing with metaphysical distanciation. Creaturely freedom and human freedom are not fighting each other in a tug-of-war. But rather, they operate on different planes. If you ask me if this solution is "biblical" (i.e. proof-texted from Scripture), then you are missing the entire point of this exercise, which is to help make sense of what God has already revealed in Scripture. We can see in Scripture that God's ways are different from ours (Is. 55:9), and thus to use them to springboard into a theory of different planes of working is helpful for us to understand how both divine freedom and human freedom can both be true, yet God is fully and absolutely sovereign. With the position of different planes or dimension of operation, we can make a beginning in understanding how God is the ultimate cause of every thing but yet not the Author of Sin, something which the Scriptures teach.

Thus, in conclusion, Cheung is a heretic for teaching the material error that God is the "Author of Sin," not for formally claiming that God is the "Author" of sin. This point needs to be made clear, because it seems that for some Cheungians, the mere fact that Cheung redefines "Author" means saying God is the "Author of Sin" is right and proper. EVEN IF there was no material heresy in Cheung's teaching, it is not right to redefines terms and use them in (essentially) an equivocal fashion, sowing confusion and dissension among fellow believers.

Dealing with the problem of improper judging

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, I had mentioned the problem of improper judging which the Corinthian believers were engaging in. The solution to the problem of improper judging, of which suing other believer in court over trivial matters is one such manifestation (not the only manifestation) is to deal with conflicts within the church, with formal church courts being the final means of mediation and arbitration of conflicts. The first step of dealing with conflicts is to engage in the procedure laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, which states:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The first step is to approach the person who has offended you, personally, one on one. The next step is to take two or three other believers to arbitrate the conflict (not to gang up on the offender). Only if that fails then formal church proceedings can take place ("tell it to the church"). That is the process which Jesus set up, and which we should rightly follow.

Now, I confess that I am not faultless in violating this process. It is very easy when you have something against your brother (or sister) to gossip behind their backs. And it is very easy to desire to have the offender punished then to be reconciled to your brother. So I am most certainly not saying this because I have already arrived. In fact, far from it. But this is what God's Word teaches, and I myself have to endeavor to submit to it. Where I have fallen, I must repent.

The sad reality is that improper judging, much more frequently than wrong doctrine, causes much conflict within the church. While we must correct wrong doctrine, it is also imperative on us who name the name of Christ to also strive to deal with our interpersonal issues in a way that glorifies our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Is anyone of us faultless in this? I doubt it. But speaking as one who has failed in this many times, let us not be comfortable with our failures but to strive to do better. Because the fact of the matter is that we are already saved. We are already washed with the waters of regeneration in baptism, we are already set apart by God to be holy, and we are already justified and stand guiltless before God (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore, we can and must work on our walk with God and with each other in the community of faith, in the constant struggle of seeking holiness before God.

Sermon: The Judgment of the Church (1 Cor. 6:1-11)

The sermon I had preached on December 3, 2017, entitled "The Judgment of the Church" and based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, can be heard here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Resurrection and Union

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:4)

τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (Rom 1:4 BGT)

Union with Christ is the description of the reality that believers are united with Christ and share in all his benefits. It is not a step in the Ordo Salutis, the logical ordering of the steps by which God accomplishes and applies the benefits of Christ to us who believe, and which can be seen in part in a passage like Romans 8:28-30. Rather, Union with Christ describes the entire reality of Christ's work for the believer, from election to glorification. It is a descriptive term, not a procedural or action term. For as an example, we are united with Christ, in his burial and resurrection, in baptism (Col. 2:12), a glorious truth that describes what happens during our baptisms, with the action word being "baptism," not "union."

With that said, the descriptive truth of Union with Christ is the thing that bridges what God has done in Christ, with what we ourselves benefit from Christ. The whole of Scripture is about Christ (Lk. 24:26), not us. Therefore, how does the Scripture aid us? It aids us through the fact of union, because then in union with Christ all of what Christ does is done and given for us and our benefit.

How does Christ's resurrection, Christ's kingship, benefit us? One way of answering this question is to speak about how the atoning work of Christ merited salvation for the elect, through our justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Another way to speak about it is the biblical-theological manner of union. In Romans 1:4, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power ... by his resurrection from the dead. Christ's resurrection is not just done because a person who is God cannot actually die (which is true). But Christ's resurrection also is the declaration of His Kingship over the world. Romans 1:4 is not after all talking about God becoming the Son of God in power after his resurrection, because Jesus was already God the Son and the Son of God prior to his death and resurrection. Rather, in Romans 1:4, Jesus is now becoming the "Son of God" in a new sense, as King of the cosmos by merit (rather than by right as God). As the God-Man, he now sits enthroned as King over all, both as Creator and now also as representative of creation.

As the representative of creation, Jesus in His humanity is king. Being united with him now, we also partake of the benefits He has merited for us. In the King's victory, we are victorious. In the King's glory and riches, we share in that especially at the end of the ages. And through this union, we partake of all of Christ's benefits as we submit to our King.

Most of the time, we focus only on Christ's death on the cross, which is important. But Christ's resurrection is also important, in its own way. He is resurrected, for us, and thus as we look and meditate upon this truth, we can be assured that Jesus is our King who merits all good things for our good. Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon: The Triumph of the King, for us

This is the video of a sermon on Psalm 21 that I had preached last Sunday, Dec 10, 2017: