Saturday, January 30, 2010

It Takes Courage to Be Truly Reformed

"It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant. After all, millions have done so throughout the West. They are not in any peril. To live by the truths of historical Protestantism, however, is an entirely different matter. That takes courage in today's context."

David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant

Friday, January 29, 2010

Finney's Fiendish Formula: Immunity to the Gospel

I used to belong to a group where the preacher would speak on something (usually with a lot of jokes cracked in-between and rarely, if ever, expositional) and afterwards invite anyone who has not "received Jesus" to come forward and enunciate a prayer—all without even having presented the gospel! This got to the point when I couldn't stomach it anymore, so I left.

Perhaps the snippet below is worth some careful reflection:

"Altar calls are not the right way to draw the net in. Altar calls started with Charles Finney in the 1830s. Finney, who was trained as  a lawyer, and who became an evangelist shortly after his conversion, relied heavily on emotional manipulation and other psychological  tools to get people to come forward to what he called 'the sinners bench' where further pressure was applied to get a decision for  Christ. Such methods usurp the work of the Holy Spirit and ought to be abhorrent to all Reformed believers. Finney believed that  decisions for Christ were guaranteed if you just used the right method. Reformed believers who understand that they should not have  altar calls in church, should not...want to do them in living rooms either. Also, the results of evangelism should not be measured in  decisions made, but rather in disciples made, baptized and taught all the things Christ has commanded.

One of the best things that laymen can do to bring people to Christ is live winsome and attractive Christian lives. The Apostle Peter  tells us we  are a 'royal priesthood' and fulfill that priesthood, in part, by living 'such good lives among the pagans...that they see  your good works' 1 Peter 2:9-12. Christians should invite their friends and neighbors to church where they will hear the Gospel  proclaimed by the King's herald. Scattering pamphlets to people who don't know you may bring in one out of a thousand. There is nothing  inherently wrong with such a method, but it is hardly an effective use of time or pamphlets. It is better to give them to people who are  impressed by the character of your Christian life because you visited them when they were sick or in prison or because you lent a  helping hand when they were in need."

Rev. Ralph A. Pointer, 'Evangelism in the Local Church (An Evaluation of Evangelism Explosion)',  Ordained Servant, Vol. 8, No. 3, July 1999

Arguably, the greatest danger inherent in this practice of "altar calls", "the sinner's prayer", and overall Finneyism is this:

"Giving assurance of salvation to someone who has demonstrated no repentance (actual turning from sin to new obedience, not just a few  moments of tears) is wrong and reaps a bitter fruit. It can inoculate people against further calls to repentance and faith." (emphasis mine) — idem.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Fallacy of Influence

"For a long time, I have felt that the cause of biblical Christianity has been undermined in our time by sincere people who engage in unbiblical activities for the sake of being an influence. The sad and ironic result of those actions has been harm to the cause of Christ and little or no good influence has actually occurred. The myth of influence seduces Christians into believing that by compromising important theological truths more people can be influenced for Christ.

Now I am not opposed to the idea of trying to be an influence. The Christian community should not isolate itself from discussion with anyone or from common action with non-Christians where the faith is not compromised. Christians should hope, pray, and work to be a godly influence wherever they can in this world. Christians need to recognize that certain kinds of compromise can be appropriate. Christians and non-Christians can unite to oppose abortion, for example. And Baptists, Reformed, and Lutherans can join the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to promote some basic truths of the Reformation.

The danger comes, however, when Christians adopt a notion of influence derived from the world of politics or business. That world sees influence in relation to power, money, numbers, and success. Compromise, cooperation, and intentional ambiguity are all methods used to achieve influence in this world. But should Christians adopt strategies and set goals that compromise basic elements of their faith in the name of influence?"

W. Robert Godfrey, The Myth of Influence

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christ As "Imperfect" Without the Church

Interestingly, Calvin also sees that God himself has a need, in some way, for union with us. Commenting on the church as Christ's "fullness" in Eph 1:23, Calvin boldly asserts that it is "the highest honour of the Church, that, until he is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect...not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete!" Not that this strictly challenges his self-sufficiency or aseity as such, but rather it is "as if a father should say, 'My house seems empty to me, when I do not see my child in it.' A husband will say, 'I seem to be only half a man when my wife is not with me.'"

Lee Gatiss, The Inexhaustible Fountain of All Good Things: Union with Christ in Calvin on Ephesians, Themelios 34.2 (2009), p. 43

Saturday, January 23, 2010

More Machen: Lip-Service Liberals

"The modern liberal preacher reverences Jesus; he has the name of Jesus forever on his lips; he speaks of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God; he enters, or tries to enter, into the religious life of Jesus. But he does not stand in a religious relation to Jesus. Jesus for him is an example for faith, not the object of faith."

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Doctrine and The Worst Sin of All

"For Machen, however, the Bible contains truth, and as such is ineradicably doctrinal. Indeed, one overarching concern in Christianity and Liberalism is simply the vital importance of Christian doctrine to the church: doctrine, he makes clear, is the very heart of Christian testimony. Claiming to honor the Bible without synthesizing the Bible’s teaching into doctrine, into systematic theology, is not really honoring the Bible at all, for the Bible teaches truth, truth which is coherent and can be articulated; and regarding with indifference those things which the Bible clearly sees as important is, in some sense, the worst sin of all."

Carl Trueman, The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read, Themelios 33.2 (2008).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Old Man and The Two Ages

The other day, as I was on my daily commute to work, an old man happened to sit on the aisle across mine in this jeepney that was among the many jeepneys that ride the route I usually take. His face was marked by deep furrows, he was bent, almost emaciated, and was coughing all throughout the trip. I was moved to pity. The undignity of the sight overcame me, and I thought to myself that this man, perhaps, is a husband, a father, and was once the pillar of his family; but in his present state, all sturdiness and notions of strength and dependability have all but faded. He reminded me of the harsh and grim realities of the present age and the glory and redemption of the one to come.

In the present age, every human being is subject to the winding down of the clock. Though modern culture exalts youth and the illusion of longevity in its many manifestations (even in so-called Christianity!), it is but the rebellious reaction of fallen man to the curse that he finds himself an heir to. Many huff and puff while in their prime, seemingly immortal, oblivious to the dirt and worm that await to reclaim their own.

But then I am taken to the child of God who has aged in the hope of the future age. He has not spent the meat of his days trying to curry the world's favor, with its symbols of youth, power, and prestige. He has not counted it as loss to be held in disesteem by his peers for his disinterest in their shallow pursuits, even those who supposedly are his siblings in the faith but worship at the altar of Mammon. No, this old man lived as though he was a pilgrim, making his way uneasily through this life of pain, disease, sin and temptation, looking forward to his true home, the abode of righteousness. He has lived his days in the reality of the glory that is the heritage of the saints, having sought to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ through everything he has put his hands on, in honest, hard work, and in communion with other faithful pilgrims who share his passion for the things of God.

In a very real sense, the old man in Christ is possessed of a greater blessing than most of us who have yet to advance in years for he is almost there, ready to leave this present age to be with his Chief Desire. And though he may not look quite dissimilar from the man I saw in my commute, the old man of Christ and the old man of the world could not be any more different.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Trueman—Goldsworthy Debate (Biblical Theology and Epistemology)

I was in the midst of doing software applications deployment work at the office last night when, while waiting for my colleagues to wrap up, I came across the Trueman—Goldsworthy debate. Finding out that two of modern Christian orthodoxy's pillars—both of whom I highly esteem—had some words to say to each other really got me excited, to say the least. Though the debate occurred many years ago—year 2002, I think—the issue that was tackled seems to be possessed of a timeless nature and certainly has relevance even to the present time; the subject being biblical theology—its nature, potential dangers, and relationship to the other theological disciplines, especially systematic theology.

Carl Trueman gave vent to what he perceives as the danger of biblical theology's usurpation of systematic theology's place in the church's theological discourse. This he likened to a "revolution" in which the element that once was the "outsider" or the "rebel" now has become the "establishment", thereby wielding the greater influence if not the only. He rightly lamented the uncouth implementation of biblical theology by some of its proponents wherein if Christ is even made to "leap from the page", it is an unbiblical Christ that ends up flopping on the floor. He also raises the concern that an overemphasis on biblical theology has the potential of making the church lose sight of what its forefathers labored hard for, namely, the systematization of biblical doctrine in the forms of its catechisms, creeds, and confessions, thereby eroding the ground on which its faith is based as these systematics adhere to Scripture. This he calls a forsaking of "ontology" for "economy", i.e., a giving of too much import to the saving acts of God over the being of God. Finally, he calls for "balance" between biblical and systematic theology, making an appeal for the reclaiming of the ground that systematic theology supposedly lost to its biblical cousin.

Graeme Goldsworthy responds in his classic lucid, and yet very much erudite, fashion (if you've read any of his books, you know what I mean). He observes Trueman's statement of the problem as bordering on exaggeration, and that it has the potential effect of sowing a misunderstanding of the function of biblical theology in church life. In this he challenges the claim of the "establishment" status that biblical theology supposedly currently enjoys. While assenting to the possibility of the various errors (Trueman's "mediocrity") that are open to the implementation of biblical theology, this he states is not inherent to the method itself but to the improper actualization of it. And with regard to the charge that biblical theology is overshadowing systematic theology's rightful place in the theological milieu, and that there is the distinct danger of losing the heritage of the church's catechisms, creeds and confessions, with the neglect of the "ontology" of theology over its "economy", Graeme makes the case that biblical and systematic theology have never been in such a relationship of mutual exclusivity. In fact, he claims, the biblical writers, along with all of the divines of church history, utilized biblical theological method in coming up with their systematizations in what apparently is a relationship that is best described as the hermeneutical spiral. He categorically goes against the proposal of a "balance" between the two paradigms, seeing that such a balance is not to be found in Scripture or is propounded by it. Instead he advances the notion that the relationship between biblical and systematic theology is perichoretic, in that while each carries its own distinctions, an inter-penetration exists that makes the realization of one impossible without the other.

I was deeply impressed by Graeme Goldsworthy's treatment of the matter at hand, and sorely disappointed at Carl Trueman's hasty generalizations. Goldsworthy actually made an appeal to the nature of knowledge (epistemology) in his defense of biblical theology. One cannot know about categories, abstractions, and absolutes without coming to grips with particulars, specifics, and instances, and vice-versa. Scripture makes plain that the created order (particulars) bears testimony to God and His many divine attributes (abstraction), though not in a salvific way. Conversely, God's moral will (abstraction) shows us why the Decalogue, with its imperatives (particulars), is good and is to be obeyed and lived out. The relationship between induction and deduction is perichoretic. With that said, let me leave you with this wonderful quote from Goldsworthy's response:

" will never be a good biblical theologian if you are not also striving to be a good systematic and historical theologian, and you will never be a good systematic theologian if you ignore biblical and historical theology. Between the various theological methods (we could add pastoral theology) there is not balance but the perichoresis of the hermeneutic spiral." — Graeme Goldsworthy

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hidden Treasure

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matt. 13:44).

I liken my having embraced confessionally Reformed theology, piety, and practice to the circumstance of the man in the parable of the hidden treasure. Both of our experiences entail having found riches beyond the worth of everything we possessed at the time, a consideration of the ignoble nature of our lot, a refusal to allow the chance of gain to escape, and the giving up of garbage for gold.

Make no mistake about it, the process was not easy. It could not have been. As the selling of everything the man had involved utmost joy, so must it have been laced with pain—pain brought on by the stepping out of his comfort zone, pain through the chastisement of the people in the periphery who thought that perhaps his sanity had taken a leave of absence, all sorts of pain. And yet it would have been a lot more painful had he not seized the prize! The heart had been captured and relenting was not an option.

Many in broad evangelicalism, and most of these of the younger ilk, are finding the expression of the Christian faith in their churches to be barren, hollow, shallow, and devoid of faithfulness to Scripture, especially after having come into contact with the historical and confessionally Reformed one. Even though raised in that consumer-driven paradigm, the allure of truth is stronger and they now find themselves at a crossroads. The man in the parable of the hidden treasure has much to say to them. Sell and buy! Leave error and enter into truth! Though it may cost you your comfort and the esteem of family and friends, leave that apostate church for the confessionally Reformed one. If it is the treasure of a catholic faith rooted in the doctrinal integrity reclaimed by the Reformation that you seek, this you shall find.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Christomonism and Prayer

Do you find yourself praying almost exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, then you are unwittingly committing the error of Christomonism.

What is Christomonism? It is a de facto denial of the Trinity by virtue of the ignorance of the distinct roles that each Person of the Godhead plays in the economy of redemption. In the area of prayer, it manifests in the ignorance of the ramifications of the biblical model of prayer as outlined by Christ in the aptly named "Lord's Prayer".

Scripture reveals in its hallowed pages that prayer is chiefly directed to God the Father, through God the Son, and enabled by God the Spirit. There are only three instances in the whole of the New Testament that prayer was addressed explicitly to the ascended Christ, and these were peculiar cases, namely: Stephen's response to the vision of Christ just before dying a martyr's death (Acts 7:55—60), Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4—6), and John in an apocalyptic vision (Rev. 22:20).

Now, I'm not categorically stating that it is wrong to pray to Christ or to the Holy Spirit, for praying to One is also to be in touch with the Others since God is united. But if we are to be faithful to Scripture, we must pattern our prayers after its clear teaching on the matter. Consider this: every true believer is united to Christ by faith, is part of His body, and is even now seated with Him in the heavenlies. Christ, as the one and only mediator between God and man, intercedes for us, as this is part of His role as the Redeemer of the elect. It is then the Holy Spirit's role to enable us to pray and to do so in accordance with the will of God by leading us to Scripture and illuminating our spirits to its truths. And it is the Father, whose ultimate will it was to enact the plan of redemption, who receives the glory in all of this.

This puts into clearer focus the intercession of Christ as it makes us see that the only kind of prayer that is acceptable to the Father is the kind made by His Son, and since we are in Christ, it is as if our prayers are Christ's prayers, hence we pray "in His Name". Of course, it is plain enough to see how ludicrous it would be for Christ to pray to Himself. Such is the wonderful, magnificent and awesome nature of His identification with His people.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some Eschatological Morsels from the "Avatar" Movie

Sure, Avatar reeked of pantheism, mysticism, gnosticism, and many of the stuff that makes the Emerging/Emergent "church" movement sickening. But there's this aspect of the movie that resonated with me, and perhaps even more so than for other people given that I am a lover of animals: it's the ability of the Na'vi to establish soul link-ups with the animals of Pandora by virtue of these tubular appendages that both of them possess. The movie portrayed the attempts of the Na'vi to "connect" with these creatures as life-threatening in most instances, but once the link is forged, the animal is their bondslave for life. The prospect of enjoying a Siberian Tiger in the same way appeals to me very much, and I don't think it would be stretching the text beyond its bounds to believe that it is a distinct possibility in the New Earth.

Think of the Earth as it is now, with all the sin, evil, destruction, disease, decay and chaos, purged pure by fire. It would still be recognizable as the Earth but, minus the Curse, the glories and wonders of God's creation could now be enjoyed fully by glorified man in what has become the New Earth. Indeed, Christ's life, death, and resurrection—the Gospel—accomplished much more than secure our right standing with God. It also negated the Curse that the Fall of Man brought upon the universe, as the wrath of God was propitiated by Christ's penal-substitutionary death, with the reality of this negation taking effect in the age of glory to come.

This coming age is physical, as Christ now is physical. There would be much work, but fruitful work, without the proverbial "thorns and thistles", as man now fulfills his destiny—forfeited by the first Adam but redeemed by the Second One—to rule the Earth under the Sovereign Lordship of Christ.

I want ten of them cats. Hehehehe.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Covenant Theology and Prayer

All true prayer is predicated upon the unilateral and gracious purposes of God in establishing a covenant with man. Indeed, before time, the Triune God covenanted with Himself in the Covenant of Redemption, whereby it was determined that God the Son would descend (and condescend) upon the earth, to live, die, and rise again, to redeem a people for Himself, to the glory of the God the Father.

In the creation of man, God covenanted with him in the Covenant of Creation (Works), whereby God promised eternal life in His presence provided that perfect obedience was rendered. The Fall of Man is man's defaulting on this covenant, thereby ushering in death and alienation from God, with the whole of the created order subjected to the same curse. This Covenant of Works was republished in the Sinaitic Covenant, taking on a theocratic, geopolitical significance for the nation of Israel, promising prosperity in the land on the condition of obedience to the covenantal stipulations. Of course, after the Fall, failure was inevitable and the Exile was the aftermath.

This Old Testament covenantal economy consisted of types, shadows, and prefigures of the True Israelite, the Second Adam, God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was to come and fulfill all the requirements of the Covenant of Works, thereby bringing to the fore the Covenant of Grace. In this new economy, all the elect would be deemed as righteous in the sight of God—i.e., having perfectly fulfilled all the stipulations of the Covenant of Works—by virtue of the imputation of Christ's merits procured in the aforementioned obedience.

As you pray, therefore, remember all these things, taking to heart the truth that God is a covenant-making God, and that in Christ, united to Him in faith, we have all the promises and blessings of the covenant at our disposal, to the praise and glory of His wonderful Name.

"It perhaps needs to be said that knowledge of the God of the covenant can be quite minimal for some Christians. The covenant implications of the basics of the gospel may be little understood by a new convert, but it must never be said that such a newcomer has no true knowledge of God. To grasp the basic truth, 'Jesus died for my sins and I trust him for salvation,' is to grasp, without realizing it, the central truth of the covenant. The death and resurrection of Jesus fulfil the covenant promises and, thus, reveal the God of the covenant. But to remain at such a basic level without a growth in understanding, to deny oneself the richness of the revelation of the covenant in the Old Testament as well as in the New, is to stunt our knowledge of God and to deny ourselves the spiritual health of wisdom and assurance. Such a state of affairs will inevitably stifle prayer, leaving it undernourished and vulnerable. Above all, in this part of the Old Testament under consideration, we see the way prayer is a response to the covenant commitment of a gracious God. Even in the face of human failure, he is faithful and shows mercy to those who seek him and call upon his name."

- Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, ch. 7, pp. 125—126.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Epistemological Certainty and Prayer

Secular philosophy has offered up various epistemologies that have sought to explain why and how the universe is what it is. Going about the task without a prior knowledge of God and His self-revelation, it is an understatement to assert that they have failed miserably, and culture is now left with the ruins of postmodernism—a not very good set of spectacles to look through at the world. The self-centered, pleasure-seeking, and despairing zombies that now walk the earth is a sufficient attestation to this fact.

"True knowledge is based on the revelation of God. The interpretation of every fact that mankind has discovered, or will discover, in this universe is dependent on this special revelation from God. The reason is simple. Only God has true and exhaustive knowledge of every fact in the universe and, consequently, only he can know the ultimate significance of every fact. This is not only because he knows everything, but because he determined and created every fact. The implication of the biblical view of the creation is that it is a unity within which all the diverse elements relate in some way to all others. They do so in accordance with the sovereign and creative will of God who is the Lord over all. He alone can interpret any given fact in relation to all other facts. The significance of this for prayer, as a response to the revelation of God in his word, should be obvious. If prayer is to be more than a groping in the darkness, it must be enlightened by God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. We must know the God to whom we pray, and be in fellowship with him."

- Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, ch. 7, pp. 109—110.

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