Wednesday, December 06, 2023

John Damascene on energies

For activity is the natural power and movement of each essence. (St John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 147)

ἐνέργεια γάρ ἐστιν ἡ φυσικὴ ἑκάστης οὐσίας δύναμίς τε καὶ κίνησις (pp. 147-8)

And again: Natural activity is the innate movement of every essence. It is therefore clear that those things that have the same essence have the same activity, and those things that have different natures also have different activity. For it impossible for an essence to be without a natural activity. (p. 148)

Natural activity, again, is the power that makes each essence manifest. And again: Natural and primary activity is the ever-moving power of the intellectual soul, that is to say, its every-moving reason flowing out naturally from it. Natural activity is the power and movement of each essence; only non-being is without it. (p. 148)

One should know that the second way embraces both potentiality and actuality, for on the one hand, the latter is in potentiality, on the other, the former is in actuality. (p. 148)

Χρὴ οὖν γινώσκειν, ὁτι ὁ δεύτερος τρόπος κοινός ἐστι τοῦ δυνάμει καὶ τοῦ ἐνεργείᾳ, δεύτερος μὲν τοῦ δυνάμει, πρῶτος δὲ τοῦ ἐνεργείᾳ (p. 148)

Far from the static view of the classical God, the Eastern tradition has preserved a more dynamic view of God through its preservation of the difference between "essence," "energies," and "acts." In John of Damascus' work, all essences must have energies, and part of these energies includes the actions being do. However, the main focus of "energies" is to manifest the essence, not the actions themselves. Actions are part of the energies, but are not all of the energies. That is why actions are discussed later, after discussions of the "natural and primary activity" of the intellectual soul. We note here that discussions of "actuality" and "potentiality," where the same term is used for "actualities," should be taken to mean that "actualities" is a subset of "energies," rather than the two being the same.

God is thus not the "unmoved Mover," but rather He constantly "moves" yet never changes. The Father loves the Son, yet neither change despite the dynamism of the relationship. God has His own movement, and it is we who are blessed because of it.

John Damascene's view on the will

One needs to know that here is a faculty naturally implanted in the soul that is appetitive of what is in accordance with nature and embraces everything that is essentially characteristic of nature. This is called the capacity for willing (θέλησις, thelēsis). For the essence of being and living and moving, both mentally and sensibly, has an appetency directed towards its own natural and full realization. For that reason, this natural will (θέλημα, thelēma) is also defined as follows: Will is a rational and vital appetency that depends solely on what belongs to nature. (St John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 144)

Θέλημά ἐστιν ὄρεξις λογική τε καὶ ζωτικὴ μόνων ἠρτημένη τῶν φυσικῶν (Ibid., 143)

Actual willing or wishing (βούλησις, boulēsis) is a natural capacity for willing of a particular kind, that is to say, a natural and rational appetency in relation to some specific thing. For there lies within the human soul a faculty of reaching out in a rational manner. Therefore when this rational appetency in relation to some specific thing is set in motion in a natural manner, it is called wishing. For wishing is an appetency and yearning for some rational specific thing. (p. 144)

One needs to know that the capacity for willing (θέλησις, thelēsis) is one thing and actual willing (βούλησις, boulēsis) is another, and that what is willed (τὸ θελητόν, to thelēton) is one thing, the faculty of volition (τὸ θελητικόν, to thelētikon) is another, and the agent of willing (ὁ θέλων, ho thelōn) is another. For the capacity for willing is the simple power itself of willing. Actual willing is the direction of the capacity of willing towards something. What is willed is the matter that is subject to the will, namely, that which we will. (For example, appetency is oriented towards food. Appetency on its own is a rational capacity for willing but when appetency is directed towards food it is actual willing, and the food itself is what is willed.) The faculty of willing is that which possesses the power to will, such as a human being, and the agent of willing is the one who exercises the capacity for willing. (p. 147)

Much has been made over whether God has one will or three wills. When one look at the Church Fathers on the issue, one of course know that they insisted that God has one will and that will is tied to nature not to the persons. But why is that the case?

When one reads carefully what they are saying, it is clear the Father are definining "will" in a very specific way. They are defining it not as how most of us today think of as a will. No. According to them, "will" (το θέλημα) is the "rational and vital appetency that depends solely on what belongs to nature." Put it another way, "will" is capacity. One does not "will" (θέλω) to do anything, but rather one chooses (βουλομαι), thus a distinction is made between "actual willling" (βούλησις) and "the will" (θέλησις).

The distinction works in its own way of course, and if one holds to these definitions, then most certainly God has one will, the Father and the Son do not have different wills but merely different βούλησις. If one wants to holds to Patristic terminology, then one should be able to say of the Trinity that there is one θέλησις, three βούλησεις. The problem of course is that the new classical theists do not go there even though that seems to what John of Damascus is moving towards.

That said, I would gladly hold to the technical difference between θέλησις and βούλησις, but not to calling θέλησις "will" as belonging to the nature. That is because that is not how the Enlish language works. "Will" is a dynammic term in modern parlance, not a static term in later patristics/ early medieval thought. Rather, it stands to reason in the modern context that we should translate θέλησις as "disposition" and βούλησις as "will," so as to better appreciate their use in the texts.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Confessions of a former Strict Confessionalist (Consolidated, with footnotes and conclusion)

I have completed my personal reflections on strict confessionalism and my time in it. The whole article with footnotes and conclusion can be read here. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion:

The promise of Reformed Confessionalism is to plot a path between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, to not pick fights on minor issues while keeping fidelity to the Christian faith. Evangelicalism has failed in its fiduciary duty to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Fundamentalism has failed in its duty to love others, especially those of the household of the faith. Sadly, strict Reformed Confessionalism is no different from Fundamentalism, just more scholarly, more organized and institutionalized, and thus more powerful as they weaponize theology against their opponents.


So, what's next? What's next is for me to continue in my Christian faith, free from the lies I had believed in. I need to focus on my walk with God, and to serve wherever I can. God will judge the wicked-doers; it is my call only to warn any who would listen to avoid the strict Reformed confessionalists, for the good of their souls.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Confessions of a former Strict Confessionalist (Part 4)

The failure of strict confessionalism: Theological lies and the failure to tell the truth

It is not a secret that the American Reformed churches are extremely divided. After studying Reformed theology, it is my opinion that many divisions are not warranted and driven more by ego and the need to “prove oneself.” For example, the whole republication (of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant) controversy, while interesting and worth of discussion, is in more opinion not worth the amount of heat and ink it generates. Readers can read the OPC report on this issue themselves and ask if the amount of sophistication is worth actual bickering and fighting over.

Now, it is true that some things are worth fighting over. John Gresham Machen was right to fight liberalism for example. But the amount of stuff American Reformed Christians fight over is shocking given the small proportion they have among professing believers.

This idea of fighting to establish themselves was brought to the fore in 2016, when first Todd Pruit and then Carl Trueman lobbed theological grenades accusing those who promote a doctrine called “Eternal Functional Subordination” (EFS) or “Eternal Submission of the Son” (ESS) of heresy. This set a firestorm that continues to have its embers even today. Now, charges of heresy are serious charges, and the first step of proving any doctrine is heretical is to actually represent it correctly. If one misrepresents what one is critiquing, then it does not matter how eloquent and how biblical one argues. One is engaging in a straw man and nobody should take what is said seriously.

The 2016 ESS controversy caused me to read up on the topics raised, and the more I read the more disturbed I feel. The initial feelings were one of astonishment and anger that these prominent pastors and theologians are hypocrites when they engage in the sort of slug fest that they deplore and attack in others. Evidently, when pastors and theologians told their congregants not to attack other Christians, or not to fight online, they mean only THEY can engage in attacking other Christians, and fight online. You see, only Reformed pastors and theologians can engage in the type of conduct other Christians should not engage in. For normal Christians to do so is sin I guess, but the clergy have privileges the laity do not!

As I read into the topic, I start to feel disturbed because what the critics are saying is not what the proponents of ESS are saying. Many critics are insisting that ESS necessarily imply this and that, which are heretical. But they do not prove this point, instead taking such implications as a given. This is just for the more honest critics. Then you have militant polemicists who just want to tar ESS any way possible, like Matthew Barrett who attacks ESS as tritheistic, Sabellian and Subordinationist. Barrett’s dishonesty is seen in his attacking ESS as both tritheistic and Sabellian. Just as something cannot be A and not A at the same time, something cannot be both tritheistic and Sabellian, given tritheism holds to three gods, while Sabellian holds so closely to the unity of the one God the persons are mere “appendages” or “manifestations” of the one unitary God.

Ironically, while it is among the hardcore anti-ESS “Reformed Confessionalists” that truth has gone missing and hatred festers, it is among the egalitarians that charity continues. Glen Butner, while a critic of ESS, is fair in his critique, and makes some points that ESS proponents should address. In my engagement with Butner on social media, I have found him charitable and willing to engage, while my engagement (where there is any) with Reformed Confessionalists has been either absent, or rude and condescending, just shy of hurling anathemas.

Just stand and ask yourself: From a human point of view, who would you be predisposed towards: a rude and condescending Reformed Confessionalist, or a supposed “biblicist”? I have interacted with Bruce Ware as well as Owen Strachan, and they have been extremely courteous. They have also consistently denied the positions attributed to them. Just on the issue of optics, which side is anyone more predisposed to think is in the right?

Of course, truth is one thing, and conduct another. This is where my reading comes in. In my own personal reading, while I do not think everything said under the banner of EFS is biblical, I find it to be not the monster, the heresy, that Reformed Confessionalists accuse it of being. Again, it means a big deal when these polemicists are busy burning straw men. Lying about one’s opponents, even after being called out on it, is a sure sign that one is probably in the wrong. The sheer venom that these Reformed men spit against “biblicists” and “Arians,” while lying over and over again about their opponents, does not endear me to them. But then, who cares perhaps, since I am a non-white and a non-American, so I am nobody to them?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Machen does not hold to the modern Ressourcement view on the "Great Tradition" of the church

If we could imagine all the creeds of Christendom as having been suddenly wiped out of men’s memories, so that we should have to start all over again in our understanding of the Bible and in our summary setting forth of what the Bible teaches, I believe in tie the necessary creeds of the church would again be built up. It might take another nineteen centuries – if it be God’s will that the present age shall remain that long; it might take twice that time. But sooner or later it would be done. The Bible is the really essential thing; it is the foundation. The creeds of the church are the superstructure. Take away the foundation, and all is lost. But take away the superstructure, and the superstructure can be built up again if the foundation remains. (J. Gresham Machen, Things Unseen, 332)

If we were to remove all creeds and confessions of the Church, the Church would face a setback in understanding God's truth, but it would not be lost. The "Great Tradition," even if one can agree on it that it is true and beneficial, according to Machen is not essential for the Church.

Machen on creation

The book of Genesis seems to divide the work of creation into six successive steps of stages. It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in the first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty-four hours each. We may think of them rather as very long periods of time. But do they not at least mark six distinct acts or stages of creation, rather than merely six periods in which God molded by works of providence an already-created world? [J. Gresham Machen, Things Unseen: A Systematic Introduction to the Christian Faith and Reformed Theology (Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2020), p. 228)

On the other hand, to the person who does not share those naturalistic presuppositions, that leap from the actual evidence to the evolutionary hypothesis will seem to be a reckless leap indeed. To the person who does not believe that Jesus Christ was a product of evolution, but who believes that he came into this world by a stupendous miracle, the testimony to an equally supernatural origin of the first man will seem to be overwhelming. Such a person will say with great confidence not that man is a product of evolution but that God created man. (Ibid.,p. 234)

As it can be seen, Machen is agnostic over the issue of 6-24 creation, but appears to hold the Day-Age view of creation days. On the issue of creation versus evolution however, Machen emphatically rejects any form of evolution with regards to humans. Machen would thus have rejected Theistic Evolution if it was present at his time.

Confessions of a former strict Confessionalist (Part 3)

The failure of strict confessionalism: Racism and the failure to love

Racism and the Reformed Tradition

With the main expression of the Reformed tradition currently in North America, the Reformed tradition unfortunately has to struggle with American history, specifically the history of slavery and racism. Americans in the late 19th century fought a civil war to end slavery, but ending racism proved more elusive.

During the American civil war, it is undeniable that Southern Presbyterian theologians like Robert Lewis Dabney promote racism under the Reformed banner. While I am not one of those who will reject everything someone says merely because of gross sin and wickedness, Dabney’s racism still needs to be called out and rejected. Unfortunately, Dabney continues to be promoted without qualification, and his ideas live on in the movement called “Kinism,” mediated by people such as R. J. Rushdoony, the father of the right-wing fringe movement Christian Reconstructionism, with which kinists have a natural affinity to. While not disagreeing with everything that the movement advocates for, the fact of the matter is that the Reformed tradition has a problem with racism from the right.

“Kinism” can be stated as the view that the “races” of the world are ordained by God to be kept separate, and thus the mixing of peoples and most definitely inter-racial marriages (miscegenation) are sinful. Spoken or not, it comes with the view that the “white race” is superior and should not be led by the “lesser races,” a view that permeates parts of Reformed Christianity in the US, even those not overtly kinist, despite it being verbally denied. In my experience, while one can certainly be members of and serve in Reformed churches, if one is not white ‘culturally,’ it is almost impossible to be treated equally and to be taken seriously. The “white man’s burden” continues to be a problem in many American Reformed circles, and the idea that non-whites are to be patronized instead of treated with respect as equals is something I have personally experienced.

American racism from the left

If one thinks right-wing racism is bad, the left-wing version is even worse. After all, society has made right-wing racism unacceptable in much of modern society. Embraced by liberals who believe they are really open-minded, loving and tolerant, and most definitely against racism, left-wing racism became popular as Critical Race Theory erupted into the scene after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States in 2016. It seems that the key to solving the real problems of racism, the consequences of racism, and the Democrat mismanagement of America’s major cities, was to blame “white supremacy,” attack “whiteness,” demand reparations and affirmative action, and call for all forms of special treatment of “People of Color” (POC), which they interpret through Marxist lens to apply only to non-whites who are “oppressed” (so ‘Asians’ do not qualify). All of a sudden, you have those more liberal-minded Christians in the Reformed camp embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory and calling for the need for “racial justice.”

As with most theories, Critical Race Theory can be critically analyzed and engaged with, not rejected outright. However, the essence of Critical Race Theory is racist and antithetical to biblical Christianity. Critical Race Theory sees everything in racial categories, and attacks the very notion of “color-blindness,” the idea that one should not discriminate on the basis of one’s skin color and thus ethnicity. Many woke advocates see “color-blindness” as a rejection of their innate racial differences, which is a false interpretation of “color-blindness” – a rejection of innate racial differences only in the sense that they should not be used for discriminatory purposes. Color-blindness is a rejection of what racism is – discrimination based on one’s skin color and ethnicity, and thus a focus on our common humanity, all humans being equal in the eyes of God.

In my experience interacting with Americans as wokeness enveloped their nation, I was shocked at how people can be previously outwardly friendly yet react so vehemently when their embrace of left-wing racism was called out. Right-wing racism sees non-whites as “inferior races” to be patronized, as “converted heathen” who should be grateful for the “white man” bringing the Gospel of salvation to them. But if you think left-wing racists treat non-whites with respect, you would be sorely mistaken. In fact, it almost seems that left-wing racism allows one to suddenly vent one’s repressed racism in a socially acceptable way.

For the next section, it will be mostly anecdotal evidence, based on my “lived experience” (to use one of those neologisms), especially since I did not take snapshots of the incidents.

My personal encounters with left-wing racism were certainly eye-opening for me. One such encounter was back in 2018, as the staff at the White Horse Inn veered towards promoting “racial justice” issues. On one tweet on the Modern Reformation Twitter account back then, I had responded to it with a ping to Michael Horton pleading for him to stop promoting such trash. The response from whoever was behind the Modern Reformation Twitter account then was nasty, to say the least. Of course, I unfollowed the account after some attempts at communication.

On another incident on Facebook, I had attempted trying to get a former acquaintance from my seminary to veer away from such nonsense, to no avail. What made it sadder was that of another acquittance who mocked my comments, making it seem I am just calling wolf “to the left.”

That same acquaintance subsequently claimed I am too tightly wound, evidently thinking racism is no big deal and that the correct response was to do “triage” and ignore left-wing racism. He subsequently managed to block me before I could unfriend him, but this episode shows that for many white Americans, even those that call themselves Reformed (or for those who went full steam into the woke movement, “formerly called themselves Reformed”), racism is evidently not a big deal.

The failure to excise racism and American narcissism

What does this mean for Reformed Confessionalism? On the one hand, nothing. The failure of individual Reformed Christians, even Reformed Confessionalists, is the fault of the persons and not any one doctrine or movement. On the other hand, it matters a lot, because Reformed Confessionalism in its strict form claim to move Reformed Christians to being biblical in both faith and life, and to unity in the bond of Christ. For a movement that promised right living, is toleration of various forms of racism acceptable? What is the use of being “Truly Reformed” if one remains a racist? Jesus says that a good tree bears good fruit, and you will know them by their fruits (cf. Matt. 7:17-20).

In R. Scott Clark’s book Recovering the Reformed Confessions, he mentioned Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Herman Bavinck, and J. Gresham Machen, who he claims would be excluded by a boundary marker that makes 6/24 creation necessary for orthodoxy. In his own words, “any boundary marker, however, that includes the Adventist and excludes Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, and Machen should not commend itself to confessional Reformed folk as a way to mark out Reformed identity.” Well, many Reformed pastors and theologians in the past were racists, like RL Dabney, so I guess any boundary marker that includes the liberals and excludes Reformed theologians like Dabney “should not commend itself to confessional Reformed folk as a way to mark out Reformed identity”? Presumably, Reformed Confessionalism according to Dr. Clark can exists side by side with racism, although one can still assert that racism is a sin. But well, so is gluttony, which many Americans are guilty of, so I guess: What’s the big deal anyway? As one liberal I used to interact with (in a different context) used to say with regards to the presence of neo-Nazis, “Well, there are neo-Nazis everywhere, so what?”

The failure to excise racism shows the American captivity of the American Reformed churches, from which strict Reformed Confessionalism has emerged. This American narcissism is seen most clearly in my last experience on this topic I am sharing here. I had a friend who is doing church planting in the Chicago area. For whatever reason, he leans into the social justice movement while claiming that he rejects Critical Race Theory. When he had posted a video promoting the TGC AND campaign trying to seek a “middle way” embracing both Christianity and “social justice” concerns, I responded to it in a blog post. I pleaded with him not to promoted this kind of racist trash, but was rebuffed. One of the points I had conveyed was how promoting such racial stuff would cause problems in other countries including my home country of Singapore. In his response, he essentially told me that what such woke stuff does in other countries is not his concern. In other words, screw the world, as long as ‘Murica has “justice.” The fact that Christina Edmonson, wife of OPC pastor Mika Edmonson, was promoting racist trash without repercussion is indeed a serious point of concern, all while they were at one time serving in the Chicago area, a point I also made in response to him, without avail.

Strict Reformed Confessionalism, or basically Reformed Confessionalism in the hands of white American theologians, has proven itself unable to excise racism from her midst. Strict Reformed Confessionalism is also culturally bound to America, despite its claim to be just Reformed, and partakes of all the malaise infecting American society, including her narcissistic view of the world. In other words, strict Reformed Confessionalism is American, and not truly Reformed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Confessions of a former strict Confessionalist (Part 2)

Into strict confessionalism

Reformed theology is rigorous, and precisely the type of spiritual food that appeals to one starved of biblical truth. It was not fast before I encountered what I now recognized as strict confessionalism, particularly as mediated by one of its foremost proponent R. Scott Clark.

In his book Recovering the Reformed Confessions, Clark argued for his idea of confessionalism, utilizing his expertise in historical theology to buttress his claims. According to Clark, situating the Reformed churches (in the United States) in the sideline denominations, the divisions in the Reformed churches comes about because people are tempted towards two errant paths: The “Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty” or QIRC, and the “Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience” or QIRE. QIRC is “the pursuit to know God in ways he has not revealed himself and to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable.” QIRE is the “quest to experience God apart from the mediation of Word and sacrament.” Utilizing these motifs, Clark addressed the issues of 6/24 creationism and theonomy under the motif of QIRC, and revivals and emotive worship under the motif of QIRE. The main point of Clark’s argument against 6/24 creationism is not whether it is right or wrong, but that the issue is not an issue addressed by the Reformed tradition in a way that excludes other views. In other words, with the Reformed confessions as boundary markers, we must not draw boundaries more tightly than them, leaving room for disagreement. Clark points out the diverse ways Reformed theologians have addressed scientific issues in the past, in order to buttress his assertion that 6/24 creationism is not a proper boundary marker but one imported from rationalistic fundamentalism.

Clark’s view of confessionalism, where the Scriptures are foundationally the ultimate source of authority, while the Reformed confessions became the secondary standards norming our faith, practice, and life, sounds indeed like that of confessionalism proper, and indeed it mostly is. Strict confessionalism is however lurking behind the scenes, when one reads between the lines, something I failed in my earlier days. For example, it sounded charitable to not want to draw narrow boundaries on the issue of 6/24 creation, which both the OPC and the PCA Creation Reports agreed upon. It seemed helpful to warn against moralism, and call for Christians to return to historic Reformed worship. The problem comes however when we question the use and breadth of these categorizations (QIRC, QIRE) and how it relates to differences among the Reformed who hold to the Reformed confessions as well.

On the issue of 6/24 creationism for example, Clark gives the impression that those promoting 6/24 creation are using these as boundary markers to throw Christians out of the church if they do not hold to 6/24 creation. There does not seem to be any discussion of the diverse ways one can or cannot hold to a belief in 6/24 creation and its application in the church context. In fact, on this issue, Clark shows a shocking ignorance of the modern creationist movement, citing Ronald L. Numbers’ false history asserting a Seventh-Day Adventist origin for modern day creationism. He then asserts that “proponents of 6/24 interpretation have been unable to explain the theological reason for making the 6/24 interpretation a standard of orthodoxy.” That Clark has not seen even one theological reason for such shows his ignorance of the writings and teachings of Young Earth Creationism. One can agree or disagree with these reasons, but for Clark to claim that there has been no theological reason ever given for making the 6/24 interpretation a standard of orthodoxy is a bad sign.

My focus on 6/24 creation is not to litigate whether 6/24 creation should be placed into the category QIRC per se, but rather to make it clear that there is no real discussion over whether the categories apply to any one thing and thus how one should place anything in any category. In other words, QIRC and QIRE are broad categories that Clark can use to place anything he disagrees with as long as he can link those doctrines or teachings to something resembling “rationalism” or “pietism.” The categories function as a rhetorical sleight-of-hand enabling Clark to discount anything he does not like as either QIRC or QIRE, hoping that the smear or association is enough to tar whatever he dislikes with the label of being contrary to the Reformed Confessions, without any argument over why that is so.

In my time over at Westminster Seminary California, Dr. Clark was a major topic of discussion among the students. While strict confessionalism calls for charity towards others who are Reformed, calling for unity around the Reformed confessions, one starts to suspect unity was not the goal here. Clark had asserted in his book that “it is not a belief that the Bible is true which makes one a fundamentalist; rather it is the belief that one’s interpretation of Scripture is inerrant which qualifies one as a fundamentalist.” Interacting with Dr. Clark, one gets the impression that he views his own interpretation of the Reformed tradition as inerrant, which qualifies him as a “Reformed fundamentalist” I guess. Dr. Clark absolutely detests Douglas Wilson, John Frame, and who knows how many other enemies he has. This is not to say that Wilson or Frame are right or wrong, but I find it really strange that the idea of returning to the Reformed Confessions can go hand in hand with such vitriol and hatred.

The suspicion that strict confessionalism is something separate from and going beyond confessionalism is seen in the book On being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity. In this book, Chris Caughey and Crawford Gribben wrote an essay essentially arguing that there is no such fixed identity of being “Reformed” in such a way that certain “Truly Reformed” (TR) people can use to exclude others from the Reformed tradition. Rather, there is indeed a Reformed tradition, but one that proceeds as branches of a tree throughout history, a “theological family tree” as it were. In their response to Caughey, Gribben [and Matthew Bingham], [R Scott] Clark and [D.G.] Hart argued that there is a real Reformed tradition and identity that is determined not by scholars but by the churches, and therefore Reformed identity is real and what they see as attempts by the other scholars to deconstruct the Reformed tradition have failed.

The problem with reading such a book is that there are valid points all around, and certainly Clark and Hart are correct in claiming the Reformed tradition is real and Reformed churches are the living legacy of what it means to be Reformed. But on the other hand, there is a deeper problem at play here, which ties in with one of Caughey and Gribben’s main point: the diversity among those that call themselves Reformed. If “Reformed” just refer to the body of Reformed teaching in the Reformed tradition, and “Reformed” is determined by the church, why not “Reformed” as defined by the PCUSA? After all, they are a church with a “Reformed” tradition of sorts. Of course, we can assert that the PCUSA has apostatized and so on, but those are not part of the criteria given by Clark and Hart. If the argument is made that they deviate from the “substance” of the Reformed faith, how do we find this substance as a canon within the Reformed “canon” of its own tradition, without at the same time assuming this “substance” to be truly its substance? Clark’s and Hart’s rejection of theocracy as part of the “substance” of the Reformed faith, for example, presupposes that theocracy is part of ethics instead of part of the third mark of the church (right discipline), a position which I personally agree but which has not been proven by either of them. After all, would Calvin or the Magisterial Reformers hold that theocracy is merely an ethical issue? I sincerely doubt it!

All this is to say that arguments for a “Reformed” identity, as defined by Clark and Hart, argue in a circle. Something is or is not “Reformed” because it is or is not part of the substance of the Reformed faith. Something is or is not part of the substance of the Reformed faith because it is traced to the Reformed Confessions. Something in the Reformed Confessions is part of the substance of the Reformed faith because it is traced to the Reformed churches and tradition. Something that is traced to the Reformed churches and tradition is Reformed, but other teachings or practices traced there are not, because … it is or is not “Reformed”? It can be seen here that attempts to claim a “Reformed” identity in the manner Clark and Hart do, even if they are correct, cannot work.

This is not to claim that confessionalism is wrong, but rather that this book makes clear Clark and Hart’s project of strict confessionalism, even if and where they get various things correct, does not work. Strict Confessionalism asserts definite ways of being confessional, promises unity and biblical fidelity around adherence to said principles, yet in the end it does not deliver.

[I have decided to put the footnotes in a consolidated document which will be published after this is done]

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Confessions of a former strict confessionalist (Part 1)

[I am currently busy with work commitments and preparing for my next phase of life, so updates here will be sporadic]

My life has been quite a journey, and with my current progress in the Christian life, I thought it would be helpful to tell parts of that story here.


How does one relate to God in this world? To the church? What should a Christian do in order to glorify God? All of these are questions that I struggle with, especially after I have been awakened to the things of God by the Spirit of God. Having brought up in staid traditionalism, I was exposed to Charismatic influences. It is admitted that there are many biblical problems with the Charismatic movement, and the particular strain that I was eventually exposed to, the Third Wave New Apostolic Reformation, is heretical. Yet, for someone raised in staid traditionalism, this was a breath of fresh air. In particular, it cannot be denied that, through focusing on the imminant and the practical, Charismatic Christianity preserve an important aspect of Christianity, which is that Christianity has to be practiced and not relegated to mere cognition. Christianity is a whole person faith. The idea that one can be Christian in mere intellect is not biblical, but more on that later.

As a biblically deficient movement, Charismatic Christianity left me feeling dry over time. God graciously led me to Reformed teaching and Reformed theology. Through seeing the latitudinarian approach in much of Singapore Christianity, I was led to reject New Evangelicalism, which I see as the movement allowing false teaching like the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) to infiltrate the church. In a sense, I became a Fundamentalist, Fundamentalist in approach not in doctrine. If New Evangelicalism is marked by toleration of false doctrine under the guise of charity and respectful disagreement, then the reaction is to be strict on doctrine. Laxity of doctrine is spiritual adultery, leading to spiritual destruction applauded by those going to heaven under the guise of charity. It was evidently clear that New Evangelicalism is a movement of spiritual negligence on the part of its pastors at best, so the way to combat it is to be its opposite.

I notice quickly of course that Fundamentalism does not work, noting the problems and church wreckages it has caused. If everything is important and one must separate from other Christians on almost every doctrine, then everyone will eventually form a church of one. Yet it is evidently clear that New Evangelicalism does not work either. The so-called triage method promoted by Albert Mohler, when I heard about it, does not work either. "Triage" presumes that one can rank doctrines in order of importance, but where is this ranking found? Who gave us this ranking list, and upon what basis should we grant that list authority? "Triage" is basically an intellectual version of New Evangelical compromise, allowing pastors to feel less guilty or not guilty while being indifferent about other people going to hell.

The Promise of Confessionalism

New Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are a dialectical pair, with the one feeding into the other. Those who reject New Evangelicalism veer Fundamentalist, while those reject Fundamentalism veer New Evangelical. It is a zero-sum game either way, and in no way is Christ's church and Christians properly served. Believers are destroyed by false love and unity under the banner of triage or whatever term New Evangelicals use. Christ's sheep are broken by fundamentalist attack dogs slashing the sheep they were meant to protect, guide, and feed. While wresting with this dialectic, I came to hear of Confessionalism, which holds itself to be a third way in the dialectic.

What is the allure of Confessionalism? Confessionalism asserts that the problem with evangelicalism is that it does not have a true center of unity. Evangelicalism fails in its struggle to be coherent and proper because it is in some sense a false construct. By rejecting the historic creeds and Christian confessions, and trying to create a pan-"Protestant" movement, Evangelicalism cannot truly function as a Christian church. "Evangelicalism" as a movement must be deconstructed, argues historian D. G. Hart, because it has become a "seemingly large and influential religious body, but it lacks an institutional center, intellectual coherence, and devotional direction." [D.G. Hard, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 176]. Hart in that book was focusing on the New Evangelicals, but the issue of a true center of unity or lack thereof affects the Older Evangelicalism as well. The only difference is that Old Evangelicalism had denominational legacy and thus had a more stable identity despite their trans-denominational slant. The dialectic between doctrinal separation and doctrinal compromise exists because there is no real substantive center in evangelical churches. All claims to be centered on the "Gospel," whether of the older evangelicalism, the New Evangelicalism, or the New Calvinist version (e.g. TGC) have failed because the words "the Gospel" have no substance in themselves. Over time, as it has been shown time and again, a unity "around the Gospel" results in either doctrinal splits or doctrinal compromise and eventual apostasy. The former comes as one group found to their astonishment that error and heresy lies within the camp, and sought to eradicate it, as for example Charles Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy, and the various modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the early 1900s. The latter is seen in the evangelical moderates collapsing to the forces of Liberalism in the PCUSA and other mainline denominations. It is seen also in the modern horror story that is TGC, as it is currently capitulating to the anti-Christian lies of LGBTQ+ and wokeness.

Confessionalism's promise therefore is to re-orientate doctrines around a core, forming something that looks like "triage" without the triage. Instead of asking questions about what doctrines are core and what are not, believers are to understand the form of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13) and link themselves to the historic Christian faith. Christians link themselves to the historic Christian tradition, choosing the historic Confession that they hold best approximates to that tradition, the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Christians unite around a common Confession of faith and the historic creeds of the church. What the Confession states is core; what it does not there is room for disagreement.

Of course, this does not solve every problem. There is a sense in which we argue from the Confession for logical deductions from that Confession. There is a sense in which inferences from the Confession partake in the derived authority of the Confession for us, yet are less authoritative than the Confessions themselves, especially when the inference is not direct. Nevertheless, the promise of Confessionalism is an escape from the dialectic between New Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. In it, the believer can rest, more assured in the truths of Scripture and protected from wolves.

[to be continued]

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Once more on the word "biblicism"

What is "biblicism"? Matthew Barrett has found an early work from 1827 that uses the term "bibicism," probably the earliest known use of that word in the English language. Does this somehow imply that the word "biblicism" has that meaning used by its first author Sophei Finngan? If we go strictly by the "first use" principle, then certainly "biblicism" would have the same meaning as what Finngan meant by the use of that term. But should it?

When we examined Finngan's book (as found on Google Books), it can be easily seen that Finngan is an Irish Roman Catholic priest writing a polemical work primarily against the Protestants of England. "Biblicism" by Finngan is a wicked idolatry that uses the Bible wrongly and breaks the unity of the Roman Catholic church. In other words, Finngan's "biblicism" is a derogatory slur against the Protestant practice of Sola Scriptura. Finngan did indeed use the term to attack rank heretics like Spinoza whom he claims as springing from within Protestantism, but he does not see this as a wrong use of the Protestant interpretation of Scripture (as what Barrett and company wants to make it into), but rather as proof that atheism and all manner of heresies have their origin in Sola Scriptura.

Since, I hope, that supposed Protestant Great Tradition men want to insist that they hold to Sola Scriptura, Barrett's reliance on Finngan's use of the term "biblicism" is an own-goal. If one agrees with Barrett and Finngan, then the logical conclusion is to abandon Sola Scriptura altogether. This raises the important question whether Barrett actually checked the primary source here, as relying on anti-Protestant polemics to attack "biblicism" only serves to undermine the Reformation, even if Finngan had a valid point, which he did not. As with many polemics written in church history, reason and rational arguments are far from its pages, and the goal is to rile up the masses with mass accusations and guilt by association arguments.

Shoud we therefore consider that "biblicism" is a word that has many meanings then? Or is the term redeemable in some fashion? Dr. James White has been talking about the term "Reformed biblicism" as his way of approaching the Scriptures. The issue of word usage then is: Who gets to define the word? Or if there is none, should anyone be allowed to define the term in any way they wish? I would suggest not.

As I have mentioned time and again, I see church historian David Bebbington's usage of the word "biblicism" to be normative. Even with this current revelation that the word was used in the 19th century by a Roman Catholic priest, my position remains the same. Finngan had used the term, but few people caught onto the term as it was then used. What has caught on however is the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which remains an important element in the study of Evangelicalism. In other words, it is Bebbington's use of the term that is prevalent in the academy and the study of the history of Evangelicalism. The current bastardized use of the term by Great Tradition polemicists is a more recent invention, and one that plays off the established meaning of "biblicism" while eviscerating it of its historical meaning.

It is this more established use, a neutral historical use, of the word "biblicism" that makes me uncomfortable with Dr. White's attempted appropriation of the term in "Reformed biblicism." "Biblicism" has a certain use and meaning in the history of Evangelicalism. Unless Dr. White's hermeneutics is indeed similar to that of 19th century Evangelicals, he should not utilize that term of his hermeneutics. Dr. White does engage in systematic thinking, is not afraid of dealing with matters of church history, and holds to the historic creeds, so according to Bebbington's meaning of the term, Dr. White is not a biblicist.

For me therefore, it is the desire to be able to talk about Evangelical church history that drives me towards Bebbington's use of the word "biblicism." I have no desire to throw out an entire work of study on the history of Evangelicalism, just to appease recent doctrinal extremists. They are the ones who should stop their ignorant prattle, instead of spewing nonsense and creating their own sects.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Tim Keller (1950 - 2023)

World renown pastor Timothy J. Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, NY, and a giant within certain segments of Evangelical and Reformed circles, has passed away on May 19 2023. While I am sure he has a positive influence on many, he leaves behind a very mixed legacy.

On the positive side, he has run the race and kept the faith. His works has positively impacted the lives of many. Yet, on the other, he is a known theistic evolutionist compromiser, he obfuscates on basic Christian morality like the wickedness of homosexuality, and his promotion of "contextualization" corrodes biblical orthodoxy among the less informed. While perhaps the positive legacy is of those won to Christ through his ministry, yet how many I wonder will fall away from biblical orthodoxy because of these three compromises of his?

Obviously, Keller plays little part, if any, in the development of my Christian faith. Let us thank God for his ministry, while rejecting the problematic aspects of his legacy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

God and Time: The aeon and the pre-aeonial state

Before the formation of the world, when there was no sun dividing day from night; there was only the aeon that is coextensive with the things that are eternal like some temporal movement or interval. In this sense there is a single aeon, in according with which God is said to be aoenial, but also pre-aeonial, for he himself also made this aeon. (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, 97-98)

What is before creation? It seems that, in the history of Christian thought, the idea of "time" before creation was explored in the concept of the "aeon" (αἰων), a Greek term normally translated as "age." John of Damascus explored this concept of the "aoen" as God's first "creation" (in Section 15) before the actual creation of the universe in Section 16, which were followed by discussions of the "invisible world" (Sections 17 and 18), the visible creation (Section 19), then the various frames and elements of the material world as understood at that time (Sections 20 to 24b). Therefore, the idea of "time" before creation, even an eternal "time" before creation, was held at least by John of Damascus. The "aeon" is made by God, yet it has a derivative "eternity" not linked to the essence of the eternal God.

It is this manner of talking that is interesting for our modern times, if only for the fact that much of the polemics coming from modern classical theists imply that anything that is eternal must be linked with God's essence. Yet, as we can see, this does not seem to be the view held to by John of Damascus, who is considered one of the later church fathers. We can speak of an "eternity" that is "aeonic" in nature, and this is not a heretical or heterodox position but a perfectly orthodox one.

Apophaticism and the limits of human reason

The divine, being incomprehensible, is also necessarily nameless. [St John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith: A New Translation of An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (Popular Patristics Series 62; trans. Norman Russell; Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2022, 88]

… [God's essence - DHC] it is superessential and beyond beings, beyond the divine, beyond the good, beyond fullness, and is set apart from all principles and classes as a whole, and is superior to every principle and class, since it is more than essence, life, word, and concepts; it is light itself, goodness itself, life itself, essence itself, since it does not have its being, or anything in the category of existents, from another, being the source itself of the being of that which exists, of the life of that which lives, of the rationality of that which participates in reason, .... (Ibid., 71)

… ὡς ὑπερούσιον καὶ ὑπὲρ τὰ ὄντα οὖσαν, ὑπέρθεον, ὑπεράγαθον, ὑπερπλήρη, τὰς ὅλας ἀρχὰς καὶ τάξεις ἀφορίζουσαν καὶ πάσης ἀρχῆς και τάξεως ὑπεριδρυμένην ὑπερ οὐσίαν καὶ λόγον καὶ ἔννοιαν, αὐτοφῶς, αὐτοαγαθότητα, αὐτοζωήν, αὐτοουσίαν ὡς μὴ παρ' ἑτέρου τὸ εἶναι τοῖς οὖσι, τοῖς ζῶσι τῆς ζωῆς, τοῖς λόγου μετέχουσι τοῦ λογου , … (Ibid., 71)

Apophatism is the manner of deriving truths about God through negation. God is stated as being "not X." Apophatism comes about through influence from Neo-Platonic philosophy as it meditates upon the one "beyond (or above) being" (ὑπερούσιον). Simply stated, Neoplatonic philosophy finds the inadequacy its philosophy to comprehend the One, which is appropriated by Christians as the one God.

There can be many things that a Christian can find problematic about apophaticism, since it seems to make God unknowable. Absolute apophaticism seems to imply agnosticism on the one side (we cannot know anything about God since "we cannot say anything true about God") and mysticism on the other (we cannot know anything about God so we must bypass the mind and approach God through mystical encounter). Or we can go the "classical theist" route and use apophaticism to reject any ideas or implications of cataphatic ("positive") theology that we do not like. Thus, in the case of much of "classical theism," certain dogmas of what they deem to be orthodoxy is maintained to be true. But if pressed and if any contradictions are shown, they retreat to "mystery" and apophatic language, claiming that the objector is being a "rationalist" and embracing "univocity," thus evading any examination of their system by attacking the opposition.

There is therefore a prima facie reason to reject apophaticism. But if one thinks about the issues, there is another way to embrace apophaticism despite its questionable legacy, and despite its origin in Neo-Platonism. If one sees apophaticism as the realization of the finitude of human reason and human philosophy to truly grasp the nature of God, thus needing the revelation of God to truly reveal who He is, then we can embrace this form of apophaticism. We can say that God is "beyond being," meaning by that He is beyond all philosophical discussions of ontology. God is thus sui generis in this sense: Any discussion of God and His being must be from Scripture, and Scripture alone. All objections based upon Man's philosophy are necessarily corrupted, including those found in "classical theism," a system which is very much Aristotelian in its philosophy. This is not to deny that we can "spoil the Egyptians" of their philosophical riches, both Platonism and Aristotelianism, but to deny that any one philosophy should be considered definitive for the Christian doctrine of God, and that includes both Plato and Aristotle.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

The London Lyceum Symposium on "Christian Platonism"

Back in 2022, the London Lyceum did a symposium of sorts on the issue of "Christian Platonism" as promoted by Craig Carter - what it is and is it a helpful term. The posts are as follows:

  1. Paul M. Gould, “On Classical Christian Platonism: A Philosopher’s Reply to Carter,” (August 1 2022), here
  2. Willemien Otten, “Christian Platonism: Some Comments on Its Past and the Need for Its Future,” (August 3 2022), here
  3. R.T. Mullins, “Craig Carter’s Christian Platonism,” (August 5 2022), here
  4. Grant Sutherland, “Is Arius a Christian Platonist?,” (August 8 2022), here
  5. Hunter Hindsman, “Plato is not the point: A Critical Defense of Craig Carter’s Proposal,” (August 10 2022), here
  6. Jordan Steffaniak, “Whose Plato? Whose Platonism? Summarizing the Christian Platonism Symposium,” (September 2 2022), here

After reflecting on the issues and reviewing Carter's book promoting "Christian Platonism," I can more clearly understand the issues, and agree with the main thrust of the articles. That said, I still find it illuminating how people like Steffaniak continue to think there is one metaphysic at Nicaea, or that Classical Theism is necessitated by Nicaea or even Chalcedon.

Fanciful history and Dubious Hermeneutics: A review of Craig Carter's Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition

Craig Carter is one of the foremost proponents of the ressourcement happening in current Reformed and Evangelical circles. His books on the subject have been promoted as showing us the way forward towards embracing Classical Theism and 'Great Tradition' exegesis. I have finally gotten around to review his book on exegesis, and it has been a real doozy. Here is my review of Craig Carter's book Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis, laid out in three main sections interacting with his narrative of church history, his idea of "Christian Platonism" or "Ur-Platonism," and his hermeneutics or embrace of the medieval Quadriga. An excerpt:

How does one interpret the Scriptures? In Craig Carter’s view, the correct way to interpret the Scriptures is to read them the “premodern” way. Taking us on a tour through the history of exegesis, as retold by Carter, we are told a history of the rise and fall of good exegesis. There was a ‘golden age’ of premodern exegesis based upon ‘Christian Platonism,’ which at the advent of the Enlightenment caused the downfall of this glorious age of exegesis into the broken shards of unbelieving scholarship. The way back is to recover the ‘Great Tradition’ based upon ‘Christian Platonism,’ and in so doing we learn how to interpret Scripture alright. In Carter’s words, “academic theory needs to be reformed according to church practice when it comes to biblical interpretation.”


Monday, May 01, 2023

The history of modern science and the revisionist view of the history of modern science

Since the awe-inspiring rise of modern technological science based on the so-called hard sciences, including physics, chemistry, and biology, many other academic disciplines have aspired to be regarded as objective sciences. One way they have sought to do so is by imitating the methods of the empirical sciences in what Andrew Louth (following George Steiner) referred to as “the fallacy of imitative form.” So historians have tried to model their methods as far as possible on those of physics, which has led to historians adopting a modern, neopagan set of metaphysical beliefs (Epicurean naturalism), whose prestige depends on its association with modern technological science, even though that association is merely accidental. Modern science did not grow out of. Epicureanism. It grew out of a medieval Christian worldview in which the doctrine of creation made it plausible to think two things about the world: (1) that events in nature are not random, purposeless, or temporary but rather reliable, purposeful, and permanent; and (2) that the human mind is capable of grasping the laws of nature that govern events in the world because the same Logos by which the universe was created is part of our minds insofar as we have been created in the image of God. Epicurean metaphysics undercuts both of these assumptions. The identification of philosophical naturalism with the success of technological science is therefore unwarranted and the result of Enlightenment propaganda rather than clear thinking. (Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis, 218)

Unfortunately, in the early stages of modern science, the goal of technological control of nature was seen as being hindered by the existence of teleology in nature. Teleology is a bedrock assumption of Christian Platonism. But if things have inbuilt natures, and if they flourish only when those natures are fulfilled, then there are definite limits to how far we should go in manipulating nature (including human nature). The problem was that such limits were seen by early modern science and philosophy as undesirable constraints to be shaken off by the triumphant and sovereign will of the autonomous individual. So teleology was out, and so was the Christian Platonism of the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy. Scientists sawed off the branch on which science was perched, although the full implications of this move did not become visible right away. (Ibid., 219)

The history of the world, and the history of ideas, is often messy. There is always a tendency to simplify and over-simplify narratives, and we can see such narrative construction at work in Criag Carter's retelling of the history of the Western world:

A long time ago, the Christian faith conquered the Roman Empire. With the rise of Emperor Constantine and his heirs (with the exception of Julian the Apostate), Christianity became the favored, and eventually, the only tolerated religion. In the 2nd century, the Alexandrian school had figured out the natural affinity of the Christian faith with Platonism. Now, with the legalization of Christianity in the 4th century, Christian theologians have more time to consider philosophical issues, and they discovered that Platonism showed the natural revelation of God in nature. The subsequent centuries saw the widespread adoption, adaptation, and synthesis of Christian Platonism with the Christian faith, resulting in the formation of the Great Tradition, manifesting a glorious time of Christian civilization.

Sadly, all this would fade away. Late medieval nominalism had assaulted the metaphysical foundations of the Great Tradition, but thankfully they were not successful in destroying it. However, the successor movement of the Enlightenment came onto the scene. Beginning in the 18th century, the Enlightenment was a time of great abandonment of the Great Tradition and of Christian Platonism, resulting in the devastating collapse of the Christian faith, most clearly seen in the rise of theological liberalism (Carter, 85-9). The churches have been a veritable desert of feeble pietistic platitudes from the advent of the Enlightenment until the early 21st century. Now, at long last, post tenebrax lux! Thanks to the actions of scholars like Craig Carter, we have sought theological retrieval and have recovered the Great Tradition which we have lost. Now, we can finally Make the Church Great Again!

Alongside Carter's simplistic history of Christendom is his reframing of the rise of modern science. According to Carter, modern science has its origin in Christian Platonism (the "medieval Christian worldview"). However, in "the early stages of modern science," Christian Platonism was rejected and science was placed onto a "neopagan" route, where the branch of modern science was "sawed off" from its foundation. Modern science has therefore lost its way, and must be re-oriented towards "Christian Platonism" in order to be truly science.

As with his simplistic retelling of the history of Christendom, this history of science is an exercise in fiction. The whole idea that scientists came around and malevolently cut off science from its true Platonic roots because they wish to be fully autonomous with a will triumphant over nature is ludicrous. There was indeed a shift away from teleology, and thus a rejection of the medieval view of science, but that is where the actual history of science diverges from Carter's imaginative retelling of its history.

Now, Carter is right to state that modern science has its roots in medieval natural philosophy [See James Hamman, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2011)]. However, modern science has its roots not in Platonism but in Aristotelianism, and the focus of science was discovery, not any specific fidelity to any one philosophy. We note that what allowed modern science to progress: the regularity of nature, and the fact that nature is not divine and thus open to investigation, are specficially Christian premises, not Platonic or Aristotelian premises. Carter is therefore in error to state that the foundation of modern science is Christian Platonism, for the medieval worldview is broader than "Christian Platonism."

In the history of science, what is known as the "Scientific Revolution" coincides with a shift from the deductive method of science to the inductive method of science, as pioneered by Francis Bacon. This shift basically sounded the death knell for any Platonic or Aristotelian view of science, because the issue of "final causes" or teleology cannot be discerned with the inductive method. Thus, "Platonism" or "Aristotelianism" was "sawed off," not because of some malevolent actors at work but purely because of a shift in how science is done.

If science is the discovery of the workings of the world, then deductivism is limited to things which we can deduce from prior knowledge. Inductivism however expanded the range of things available for investigation, and allows for scientific experimentation to be done alongside much hypothesizing of scientific theories. Teleology is dropped because teleology cannot be discovered inductively. Furthermore, since deductivism is done from a larger metaphysical system, the question is asked why any one system should be adopted to make sense of the natural world.

Carter's last attack on modern science is to call it "neopagan" and based on "Epicurean naturalism." Given that no scientist in their role as scientists are explicitly calling for a return to the gods, and given that no scientists is trying to resurrect "Epicureanism" as a true philosophy, this attack by Carter is mere guilt by association. First, any similarity to Epicureanism is found in the radical "New Atheists" and "Scientific materialist" camps, not "modern science," which in itself takes no position on metaphysical entities. Therefore, besides the radical materialists, it is false to claim that "modern science" is "Epicurean naturalism." Speaking of which, Epicureanism is not the only materialistic philosophy around, so it is false to claim that scientific materialists are necessarily "Epicurean" just because both scientific materialism and Epicureanism are materialistic in nature.

Carter's history of the modern sciences therefore is revisionist in nature. It is false that modern science stems from Christian Platonism. It is false that modern science explicitly cut itself from its own roots, although he would be correct if he applied that to naturalistic modern science. It is false that modern science, even scientific materialism, is "Epicurean naturalism." And lastly, Carter is false to assert that there is a malevolent rejection of "Christian Platonism" in the history of science, which causes its "fall." In short, Carter shows ignorance of the actual history and development of science, in service of his grand project of promoting what he holds to be "Christian Platonism."

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Craig Carter on John Calvin

Another Christian Platonist, John Calvin, makes a very similar point in the opening lines of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” (Acts 17: 28). For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God.

Here we see the linking of the true knowledge of ourselves with the true knowledge of God; advance in one brings advance in the other, while mistakes in one cause mistakes in the other. Calvin sees our being as subsisting in God, and contemplation of ourselves occasions thoughts of God; for the entire Great Tradition, this explains why no human being can ever be neutral with regard to God, oceans of Enlightenment sophistry notwithstanding.

[Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018), 134-5]

Craig Carter is one of the prime architects of the entrance of Platonism into Evangelical and Reformed circles, mediating the false retreival of history through the Roman Catholic ressourcement, as mediated through radical orthodoxy proponents like John Millbank. Whatever the merits of his ressourcement project or lack thereof, a disturbing pattern can be seen in his reading of historical sources. One such reading can be seen in how Carter reads the Institues of John Calvin.

In pages 134-5 of his book on reading the Scriptures, Carter cited John Calvin to promote his vision of "Christian Patonism." Citing the first part of the Institutes where Calvin argued that to know ourselves and to know God are two intricately connected things (Institues, 1.1), Carter latches onto one part of Calvin's sentence, to claim that John Calvin teaches that "our being [subsists] in God, and contemplation of ourselves occasions thoughts of God." In context, Calvin was making the statement that we know from God's gifts that our being subsists because of the one God. Notice that "subsistence in the one God" does not necessarily mean "our being subsists in the one God." The former merely state that our being depends on God for its subsistence, without stating how this dependence relation works. Carter however reads Calvin as a Platonist, and therefore excludes any other type of dependence relationship man has with God.

We can see immediately that Carter's manner of interpreting historical sources is to interpret the "good sources" as Platonists, rather than let the historical sources interpret themselves. That is most certainly not the way to actually interpret historical sources. Whether Calvin is a Platonist or not is irrelevant for the topic at hand, because firstly there is no such thing as one type of "Platonist," so even if it were granted that Calvin was a "Platonist" in some aspects, it does not mean he is a "Platonist" in certain other aspects. Secondly, one must focus on the context and what Calvin was trying to convey in 1.1 of his Institutes. The text builds towards a thesis, certain conclusions, and that is the "authorial intent" of the passage. Even if Calvin were a Platonist on the issue of the "subsistence" of the soul, this is most certainly not what he was driving at in 1.1 of his Institutes, which is focused on the knowedge of God and driving home our dependence upon Him for our very being, not on the Platonic view of being (whichever version Carter has in mind; probably the Christian Neo-Platonic view of being).

Carter's hermeneutics on historical sources in the case of John Calvin is flawed, and we look at this source from John Calvin because it has been read and studied so many times, and this is the first time I have read anyone try to claim that Calvin is teaching a Christian Neo-Platonic ontology in this passage. Carter's manner of reading texts is disturbing, but probably perfectly in line with the ressourcement's way of interpreting historical sources, as texts addressing ecclesiastical concerns instead of historically-situated documents.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

We have the prophetic word made more sure: Natural Theology, Hermeneutics, and Sola Scriptura

It has been some time, but I have completed my response to Jordan Steffaniak's article in Modern Reformation on Natural Theology and Sola Scriptura, and have decided to just publish it on my website, here.

At a time when the term "biblicism" is thrown around as a term of derision, and where Reformed confessionalists have veered hard towards Roman Catholicism in her fascination with the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, it is hard for those of us who are Reformed and still hold to the Reformed Confessions to stand on the truths of Scripture. I offer this response here therefore as a way forward between the "biblicist" position and the new ressourcement position, which I am convinced is bringing the churches back towards the epistemic position of Roman Catholicism, and a rejection of Sola Scriptura for a position that can be described as "Scripture Plus": Scripture is supreme, but we also need X or Scripture cannot be properly interpreted.

Here is an excerpt from my paper, entitled "We have the prophetic Word made more sure: Natural Theology, Hermeneutics, and Sola Scriptura":

It is along this trajectory that Jordon Steffaniak, co-founder of the website The London Lyceum, wrote an article for Modern Reformation arguing for the use of Natural Theology in reading and interpreting Scripture. Steffaniak’s main point is that there is an errant view of Sola Scriptura within Evangelism, a “disordered variation,” called “biblicism.” As opposed to “biblicism,” the correct view of Sola Scriptura is one that must utilize external sources like Natural Theology as a guide to understand Scripture, although Scripture remains the “supreme source” of the Christian faith.

Steffaniak contrasts what he claims to be the true Sola Scriptura with biblicism’s supposed distorted view of Sola Scriptura. But is Steffaniak’s contrast legitimate? How does one rightly interpret the Scriptures? ...


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book Review: The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin

Some time back, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) had a free PDF book giveaway of Rebecca McLaughlin's book The Secular Creed. I therefore came to possess a book that I might not have read. I have recently finished the book, and while the book is orthodox in the positions taken, there is much here that is disturbing and undermines those same biblical positions. I have therefore decided to write a review of the book, which can be found here. An excerpt:

How should the Christian Church think about the various movements happening in the Western world in late modernity? In her book, Rebecca McLaughlin seeks to address five movements, five claims, in the contemporary American context: “Black Lives Matter” (On BLM and racism), “Love is Love” (On homosexuality and the supposed validity of all love), “The Gay-Rights Movement is the New Civil-Rights Movement” (On Intersectional Political LGBTQ+ movement), “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” (Feminism), and “Transgender women are women” (Transgenderism). McLaughlin attempts to deal with these issues from what she sees as the biblical perspective, and is supported in this endeavor by The Gospel Coalition (TGC), which published this book and promotes her work.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The American captivity of the Reformed Church

Those who think that they have no traditions, are often the ones who are most blinded by tradition. In the same way, those who think they are above culture, are often blinded by their own cultures.

While working on and completing a project, this tweet by Craig Carter, Mr. "Great Tradition," alongside the promotion of Christian Smith's understanding of "biblicism" in The Bible Made Impossible by Josh Sommers, has been fascinating, if only for the fact that the current crusade against "biblicism" has taken on a life of its own. As opposed to dealing with the term academically, the term has become a proverbial slur by certain Reformed people against the inferior "evangelicals" who are obviously "so stupid" they have no idea how to actually read the Bible correctly. An honest analysis of the term "biblicism" must deal with the term impartially. However, in the hands of certain "Reformed" and especially ressourcement polemicists, the term has become a slur in a culture war waged by the ressourcement "historical Christians" versus the rubes in what they see as "modern American Evangelicalism."

It is certainly a major blind spot, but it is surely illustrative that, in a time when cultural analyses of "evangelicalism" is in vogue, little attention is paid to the cultural elements of the war against "evangelicalism." This is not to suggest that "evangelicalism" is spotless. Rather, it is to make the claim that the reaction to "evangelicalism" however defined has also its cultural elements, and this particular reaction is very American. Of the various cultural movements in American Christianity, perhaps nothing is more tied to culture than that of the current ressourcement movement, influenced by the Roman Catholic impetus of ressourcement, mediated by Hans Boersma to Craig Carter, and fueled by Richard Muller's disciples. It is also noted that the animus against "Evangelicalism" is mostly centered in America, where a backlash against "Evangelicalism" driven partly by partisan American politics provides the impetus to inweigh against "Evangelicalism" in America. In other words, it has become cool to be against "evangelicalism" in America.

Now, there is nothing wrong to analyze American Evangelicalism and notes its flaws. There is certainly nothing wrong with analyzing "biblicism." But it is surely revealing that the critiques of Evangelicalism and of "biblicism" in the American Reformed churches nowadays are less about doctrine and history, and more about cultural animus. "Evangelicals" and "biblicism" are attacked, misrepresented, and spat on with vitriol, showing forth that, for all the vaunted ideas of being "historical," "scholarly" and "churchly," many parts of the Reformed churches in American are in fact under cultural captivity, unable to see things objecticely and totally ignorant of global Christianity.