Sunday, December 22, 2019

Evangelicals, and social and political issues

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8)

In light of Christianity Astray Today's nonsensical editorial (see here for example for a rebuttal against leftist politicking), it is pertinent to go back to the principle of Christian social and political engagement. Engaging in social issues, and sociopolitical issues, it is asserted, is a way to not bifurcate the Christian faith and act in obedience to Micah 6:8, to "do justice." The church ought to be engaged in justice in social issues, it is claimed. But how should we engage with social issues? One pastor in Singapore has asserted that when it comes to social issues, the key thing under consideration is whether something is "biblical" or "not biblical," not whether something is "left" or "right." The funny thing is that if that is the case, then why is he advocating for leftist issues while refusing to engage in "political right" issues? Why is "political right" issues seen as "imposition" while "political left" issues are not seen likewise as "imposition"?

As it should be evident from someone who looks at "Evangelical" sociopolitical interaction, "Evangelicals" are basically naive and ignorant on this issue. The whole idea that one can be focused only on "biblical" and "not biblical" categorization is, quite frankly, un-Christian. Both the "Religious Right" and the "Religious Left" claim that their social engagement is "biblical" and their opponents' social engagement is "doing politics." Just like everyone has a default tradition, so likewise everyone has a default sociopolitical tendency. The way to be biblical and not bound by tradition is to understand one's tradition and be critical of it. The way to be biblical and not bound by one's sociopolitical tendency likewise is to understand one's sociopolitical tendency and be critical of it. Otherwise, what happens when "Evangelicals" want to engage social issues is that they baptize whatever sociopolitical tendencies they have imbibed from their environment. Those brought up in a political right environment will assert that their political right approach to social issue is biblical, while those brought up in a political left environment will assert that their political left approach to social issues is biblical.

The assertion has been made that Evangelicals after the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy have lost the practice of social activism they were engaged in prior to that controversy, and thus Evangelicalism today has a truncated faith. That might be true (depending on how one understands the genesis of Evangelicalism), but how should one engage social issues? If one really wants to be biblical in social engagement, then one has to be critical of one's sociopolitical tendency, a trait which is seldom seen, if at all, in Evangelical social engagement.

It has been argued by Mark Noll that the scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there is no real mind in Evangelicalism. Likewise, I will assert that the scandal of Evangelical social engagement is that there is no mind or real social engagement in Evangelical social engagement. Evangelical social action cannot even be categorized as "biblical," or "non-biblical." Rather, the real categorization of Evangelical social engagement is "worldly," or "reactive." From Jerry Falwell to Tim Keller, Evangelical social engagement is anti-intellectual, anti-reflective, and more about emotions than propositions.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

On Gender Roles and Society

The problem with Miller’s approach is there are no such thing as “man-actions,” and “woman-actions.” Both genders can do any action depending on the context! The nature of men and women are not dependent on what action they are currently doing, especially when the same action word can mean different things for both men and women. For example, the leadership of Deborah was one that seek to encourage a man to take up leadership (Barak; Jdg. 4:6-7), while the men in leadership in Israel do not do so. By focusing on actions instead of the manner of how things are done, Miller gives the impression that there is no essential difference (besides biology) between men and women in their natures, which is essentially the egalitarian position. [-DHC, from my review of Rachel Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission]

The crushing normalcy of egalitarianism pervades modern culture today. Egalitarianism is the air that we breathe, so much so that it take tremendous effort to not think in terms of egalitarian terms. That is likely why Rachel Miller is a social egalitarian, because the church focuses (as it should to a certain degree) most of her efforts on the church and less on how the Bible orders how men and women ought to reflect the glory of God in Creation. The Church rightly teaches concerning Redemption, yet its teaching on Creation is sorely lacking, which is why so-called "soft complementarianism" has emerged in supposed orthodox Reformed circles.

As I have alluded to in my review of Miller's book, I agree that there are no "men" and "women" actions, but that the manner of doing such actions are to be informed by nature which includes gender. (For general purposes, I treat "sex" and "gender" as interchangeable terms.) Some people may think that this implies that a woman can do anything a man can. But such is not what I am asserting. Rather, I am saying that men and women can do all actions, which is different from saying they can do all things interchangeably. The case in point is the action of leading, where I contrasted the action of leading of Deborah to the action of leading of any male leader in Israel. Deborah's leading is a deferential leading, a leading because of a lack of leadership. The correct way of understanding Deborah is not that she wants to lead, but she leads because there is no competent male judge at that time, and Barak refuses to take the lead even after being asked to do so.

Thus, there is a distinction between an action, and the context and persons involved in the action. Unlike many complementarians, I do not like to give concrete applications of what a man can or cannot do. Application of what God has taught concerning gender is a matter of wisdom, not law. The principles however should be taught concerning gender roles, and who one is in his or her nature ought to influence how one acts and behaves in life, including in society. Having said that, there are some issues of which we should have no ambiguity over. To have women in the armed forces in combat vocations is definitely wrong, for how can one think that having the potentiality of women dying in wars to defend the country is ever acceptable? Or how about women being the top ruler(s) in a country? All of these are contrary to the principles of Creation ordered by God, and thus should be rejected by Christians.

In today's fallen, non-Christian world, such things and more have become increasingly common, under the so-called push for "equal rights." As Christians living in secular countries, we submit to the ruling authorities no matter how wicked they are. That does not however mean that we endorse what is happening as something good. Christians must submit to female prime ministers, but we should not think that is a good thing, and we must agree that such a person if she were in our churches should be investigated for possible church discipline. We live as dual citizens. As earthly citizens, we submit to earthly authority, but as heavenly citizens, we testify to the evils of the earthly kingdom, including its violation of the Natural Law given by God.

On the one hand, we must acknowledge the ethical equality of men and women, On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ontological inequality of men and women. Men and women are not the same and will never be the same, no matter what nonsense the world says in her wickedness. All of these we must not only hold intellectually, but also practice as best as we can, living as counter-cultural witness to the Kingship of God in this world, not just in Redemption but also in Creation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: Beyond Authority and Submission, by Rachel Green Miller

I have finally managed to find the time to read the book and write a review of Rachel Green Miller's book Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society. The review can be seen here. An excerpt:

The Church in the West (which bleeds into the Global Church) is currently facing many challenges without and within the church. In the later half of the 20th century, Christians in America reacted against radical feminism and re-asserted the biblical teaching of complementarianism, with its flagship organization being the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Its opponent within Christendom is egalitarianism, held by many who have been influenced by feminism. ... [more]

To summarize one critical part of my review, Miller's book is promoting social egalitarianism while holding on to a weak form of ecclesial complementarianism (male-only ordination). Her book is disingenuous in her portrayal of those she disagrees with, and her citation of sources is unscholarly and less than acceptable for someone who has been given an oversized platform to promote her aberrant views.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cinedoc: By What Standard?

The Cinedoc produced by Founder Ministries is finally released, and it can be watched here. Although it deals mainly with issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States, the issues will spill over into other churches and denominations in this globalized world.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Errant doctrinal points of the Federal Vision

The Federal Vision started out as a biblicist reformed program. Over time, it began to systematize its thoughts, and the final document (at least that I know of) that showed its main doctrines is the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession. So what exactly does the Federal Vision believe? While there are various elements of Federal Vision, here are some key points of the Federal Vision that are contrary to the Christian faith:

  1. Election is immutable and the elect will always be saved. However, not everyone who is in the Covenant of Grace is elect and will be saved. Some in the Covenant are truly and really in the Covenant of Grace, but they chose to apostatize from the faith and thus are not truly elect.(Decretal/Covenant Dialectic)
  2. Apostasy is a true falling away from a real participation in the Covenant of Grace.
  3. The visible church refers to all professing Christians who may or may not be elect. However, all in the visible church are in the Covenant of Grace (unless they apostatize). The invisible church is currently not present, but will be manifest at the end times (invisible is eschatological), where it will be manifest who in the visible church have shown themselves to be truly elect because they did not apostatize from the faith but are faithful to the Covenant. (True faith is a 'living faith'))
  4. There may be a Covenant of Life with Adam (some FVists deny this). But even if there is a Covenant of Life with Adam, all of God's covenants have essentially the same form. There may be different parties, different conditions, and different rewards. However, all of God's covenants have the form: "Believe in God, be faithful, and you will live" (Monocovenantal Legalism)
  5. There is no Law-Gospel hermeneutic. All of Scripture can be Law to those who do not believe. All of Scripture will be Gospel to those who believe.

You will note that I did not once mention the word "baptism" in those errant points. This it not because baptism is not important in Federal Vision, because they (in common with the orthodox Reformed) see baptism as the rite of covenant initiation, but rather their error lies in their view of the covenant, while the issue with baptism is merely the outworking of their doctrinal errors in practical church life. That is why I have said that Baptists can be Federal Vision, because the Federal Vision is all about their view of the nature of God's covenants, not the nature of baptism.

[See also: For those just turning in: What is the Federal Vision?]

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Why Douglas Wilson remains Federal Vision, and is wrong

It seems the article by Brandon Adams has caught the attention of the biggest name in Federal Vision, Douglas Wilson, who has responded in his article entitled with a slight against R. Scott Clark (RSC). Wilson claims he is orthodox, and denies that he holds to any of the five points of Federal Vision summarized by Dr. Clark.

For me, I have no desire to interact with Wilson on the issue of RSC's five points, which are simplified summaries of Federal Vision. Rather my point is note the following: Wilson remains Federal Vision, and his Federal Vision is biblically wrong.

First, Wilson is and remains Federal Vision. In his supposed "recanting" of Federal Vision, Federal Vision No Mas, Wilson wrote the following:

This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe. ... I would still want affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement, ...

In other words, Wilson does not want to be called Federal Vision because he does not want to own everything that is under the umbrella of Federal Vision. That for sure is fair enough. Wilson does not want to be lumped in with people like Leithart or Jordan. What he believes is what he believes, and others do not speak for him. However, what did he say he believes? He states that he would still "affirm everything ... in the Federal Vision statement," referring to the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession, which I have shown to be in error here. In other words, Wilson remains Federal Vision, as he has not recanted signing the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession.

Second, Wilson's version of Federal Vision remains heretical. As one reads Wilson's article, note that nothing in the article precludes the Federal Vision understanding of salvation. We must remember to read it using the dialectical pairs of decretal versus covenantal, and invisible/ eschatological versus visible/ present. Wilson claims he is following the WCF when he states that faith is a living faith, but here he misquotes WCF 11.2, whereby the part of the living faith is mentioned only after what faith is has already been described in the first part of WCF 11.2. A living faith is living as a consequence of faith, not because obedience is necessary for faith itself, but because faith necessarily leads to obedience. Thus, Wilson is still a neonomian despite his protests to the contrary.

What is most illuminating in Wilson's article however is where Wilson shows his FV heresy in his comment to Adams, as follows:

Brandon, thanks. Not a contradiction. There is a difference between the condition of the covenant itself and the condition for keeping the covenant. The central aspect of the first covenant was to believe what God said about not eating the fruit. The central aspect of the second covenant is to believe what God said about the resurrection of Jesus. But men, always and everywhere, must believe God. Right?

As it can be seen, for Wilson, the Covenant of Works has the condition of believing God by not eating the fruit. The Covenant of Grace has the condition of believing God by believing in the resurrection of Christ. What is the condition for the first covenant? Faith. What is the condition for the second covenant? Also faith. In Wilson's view, the Covenant of Works is not "Do this and live" (c.f. Lev. 18:5), while the Covenant of Grace is not "believe and you will live." No, rather, both are "believe and do to live." That obedience is necessary for salvation is seen in a subsequent comment, where Wilson said, in reference to God's covenants, "One of the common characteristics on our side is that all of us would have to do what He says. We would have to comply, or be obedient."

One of the reasons why I called Federal Vision monocovenantal legalism is that it is monocovenantal, where the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace have the same form (not necessarily the same content). It is legalism because in both covenants, obedience is necessary to the covenant. Whereas in orthodox Reformed Covenant Theology, obedience is necessary for the Covenant of Works, but our obedience is absolutely unnecessary for the Covenant of Grace. Our evangelical obedience comes AFTER the covenant has been established, AFTER salvation has already been determined. Once someone is in the Covenant of Grace, there is nothing that can cause the person to fall away, and nothing means nothing including disobedience. That is what perseverance of the saints actually teach, that even the person saved cannot "undo" his salvation. Again, this is not to say obedience is not important for the Christian. But it has nothing to do with the basis for salvation, under the Covenant of Grace.

That Wilson see obedience as necessary for both covenants to be saved proves he is still an unrepentant Federal Vision heretic, and therefore should be avoided as someone who pays lip service to Justification by Faith Alone yet undermines it in the very next breath.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Again: Can Baptists be Federal Visionists?

[Previous posts on this here and here]

In his article, Brandon Adams wrote an analytic overview of the issues concerning the White/Wilson/ Clark kerfuffle. One major issue is whether Baptists can become or be influenced by Federal Vision (FV). Adams argued that Baptists cannot become Federal Visionists, but they can become influence by it to become neonimians.

On the question as to whether Baptists can be Federal Visionists, my response would be, "How do you define Federal Vision?" Does being FV imply full assent to every single proposition in the 2007 Joint FV Statement? Or is it affiliation with CREC (Confederacy of Reformed and Evangelical Churches)? Or something else? Certainly, if Federal Vision is taken in its fullness, then sure, Baptists cannot be Federal Visionists. But are there certain core aspects of Federal Vision that Baptists can assimilate into their beliefs? Most certainly.

The core belief of Federal Vision that should be the most concerning for Christians is the issue of the nature of faith. Look again at the Joint FV Statement on the topic of Justification by Faith Alone:

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

As I had written, the Joint FV Statement redefines fiducia from a passive reception of Christ into an active faithfulness. That is why it is claimed that the parts of faith are "assent, knowledge and living trust." That faithfulness is understood as being of the nature of saving faith is seen in its chapter on apostasy, whereby it is affirmed that apostasy is a real cutting off that is not "merely external." That means that the person who once had faith but was cut off was indeed a true Christian. Yes, he is not "decretally elect," but that is because there is a dialectic at work here between decree and covenant. The "decree" is eschatological, not actually present in real time in full. That is why a person who come to have faith is treated as covenantally of the elect (because covenant is the category in time), whereas whether he truly is "decretally" elect must await final confirmation without apostasy at the last day.

The question then is can Baptists adopt these dialectical pairs (decretal/ covenantal, visible/invisible church) without at the same time adopting the FV view of children. I do not see a reason why not. But if that is the case, can those Baptists be called FVists? Honestly, the label is not that important to me (whether FV or Neonomian). But why I think FV is a better label for that error is that neonomianism itself does not have these dialectical pairs. Neonomianism in itself merely states that obedience to the law is necessary (antecedent) for a Christian's salvation. Whereas these dialectical pairs come about through a more holistic view of biblical and covenantal theology. What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from adopting a dialectic between decree and covenant, or between the visible and invisible church? What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from holding faithfulness as necessary (antecedent) for salvation?

Can Baptists be Federal Visionists? Not if you think Federal Visionists must included inclusion of children in the covenant. But since it is possible to reject that while agreeing with the other parts of the FV theology, Baptists can indeed be "credobaptist FVists."

[P.S.: Yes, while the Joint FV Statement was not written to be "a confessional statement by any ecclesiastical assembly or body," yet it can function as a legitimate expression of FV theology]