Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ Category.

Is Barth’s Understanding of Atonement Evangelical? An Excursus and Indulgence in theologizing

Comment from a reader: I hope to see in a subsequent post the question answered as to whether Barth has a place within orthodoxy if he denies that God moves from wrath to grace in the history of the believer.

Response: Ah, Barth reminds me of my previous life when I wrote my doctoral thesis on him 30 years ago. Sadly, I have not continued my engagement with Barth since coming back to Malaysia. I just simply could not find someone who is interested even to survey the imposing theological Alpine Mount Blanc (yes! Barth was a Swiss, not German) from a distance using a telescope, much less climb its treacherous cliffs and dizzying heights. No one can theologize alone. Hence not much Barthian rumination in my life for the last 28 years. Pastoral necessity forced me to stay in the lowly valleys and grasslands of theology. To theologize Barth would indeed be an indulgence. But then why not once again for a change? Maybe just a quick shot at the problem?

Barth sounds like an evangelical when he talks about the cross. He deploys words like judgment, wrath, representation and substitution. He writes, “the Son of God fulfilled the righteous judgment on us men by Himself taking our place as man and in our place undergoing the judgment under which we had passed. That was why He came and was amongst us.” (Church Dogmatics CD 4.1.222). Barth adds, “His doing this for us, in His taking to Himself – to fulfil all righteousness – our accusation and condemnation, in his suffering in our place and for us, there came to pass our reconciliation with God.” (CD 4.1.223) But then in his usual and confusing dialectics he differentiates his position from that of Anselm’s satisfaction theory. Continue reading ‘Is Barth’s Understanding of Atonement Evangelical? An Excursus and Indulgence in theologizing’ »

Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?

I received a question from a reader of my previous post, “Only Saving Faith Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience.”

Question: “I would like to humbly request for further clarification with regards to the idea that “only right doctrine promotes saving faith”. “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved.” The reason I ask is because this is the argument raised by church X that salvation is based on doctrine rather than on a belief in the person of Christ…However my concern is more for those who have a simple child-like faith and who are ignorant either because they happen to be unknowingly stuck in a church that deprives them of sound doctrine or because they happen to be uneducated. Do these people have saving faith without “right doctrine”?

Answer:

Many church leaders have the impression that doctrine entails argument over abstract propositions that distracts Christians from focusing on more important spiritual exercises which build faith and relationships. To correct this false impression I pointed out MLJ’s insistence that doctrine is practical and that “there is an inseparable link between doctrine, spiritual experience and Christian obedience.” I was hoping that MLJ would add weight to my post which was written in a “rah-rah” spirit to get church leaders excited about doctrine.

I am aware of the possibility that the title of the post could be misread. Hence, your question, “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved” does not come as a surprise to me. May I suggest that we read the title for what it affirms positively, “Right doctrine promotes saving faith” without implying the negative possibility, “No right doctrine means no saving faith”?

Some clarifications is in order:

First, while it is our duty to defend right doctrine, nevertheless, we should refrain from drawing definitive conclusions about someone’s salvation simply because of doctrinal difference. That is to say, our focus should be on critiquing wrong doctrine and not on judging people. Ultimately, to judge whether someone is saved or not is the business of God alone. We should humbly leave this matter to the holy God who is not only a God of truth and justice, but who is also a God of mercy. Continue reading ‘Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?’ »

Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience

Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, but doctrinal perversion. Liberal theology which was vanquished and banished from the Malaysian churches in the early 1980s now finds a ready audience among younger Christians who are not properly taught the faith of their forefathers. It is indeed what the Apostle Paul foresaw when he wrote, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Timothy 4:3)

Rather than giving an exhaustive list of new heresy that will one day become new orthodoxy in the Malaysian church, I shall just share the so-called “Apostate’s Creed’. Continue reading ‘Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience’ »

Calvin-Reformed Tradition Is Inappropriate Today; It Also Lacks Humility & Grace?

In response to some concerns expressed by a reader:
Calvin’s system is inappropriate as a model for engagement with contemporary postmodernism.
– The “liberty” and grace you mention sometimes to me is not apparent when speaking to those of the Reformed persuasion.

———-

First, the 22 volumes (22,224 pages) of Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible and Calvin’s multi-volumes sermons show that that Calvin is more a bible scholar and preacher than a builder of a rigid theological system. Not surprisingly, Calvin’s Institutes is replete with scriptural references. Calvin was a man of his times. It would be ridiculous to uphold him as someone who has ready answers for Christians who are grappling with different questions in different social contexts.

Calvin’s insights may be appropriated for our times only insofar as they are in congruence with the teachings of the Bible. For example, even though the arguments given by Calvinists to support paedobaptism may be admirable, I remained unconvinced on grounds that its exegetical support is insufficient.  In any case, Calvin would approve of Christians who insist that his teaching should be judged by its fidelity to Scripture.

Second, Calvin was not the rationalist that he is made out to be, by both his over-zealous followers and critics. Continue reading ‘Calvin-Reformed Tradition Is Inappropriate Today; It Also Lacks Humility & Grace?’ »

“SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty

The acronym TULIP is used widely to describe the essence of Calvinism and Reformed Theology:
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

The TULIP acronym portrays a pretty blossom, but its artificiality betrays a lack of delicacy and fragrance of a real living flower. This would please critics of Calvinism who have judged Calvinism to be dark and distasteful, much like barren soil unfit for spiritual cultivation, which, not surprisingly, could only produce an artificial ‘flower’. Calvinism has been used as a term of abuse. Calvinists, like the early Christians have also been accused of causing social tyranny and cultural oppression. Hence, the celebrated American journalist, H.L. Mencken famously placed Calvinism next to Cannibalism in his “cabinet of horror”!

The essence of Calvinism described by TULIP comes across as an abstract construct that is driven by cold and remorseless logic. It was no accident that Calvinists prefer to use the phrase “marrow of Calvinism” rather than the “essence of Calvinism” since “marrow” describes the inner substance of the bone that produces blood cells, and hence typifies strength and vitality.

Calvinism as a Practical Spiritual Discipline
A good start to address these widespread prejudice and stereotypical distortions of Calvinism would be to highlight the comprehensive vision and dynamic spirituality of Calvinism which has bequeathed the world a lasting legacy in free and public education (Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities were founded by Calvinists). Continue reading ‘“SUPER” & “TULIP”CALVINISM: A Joyful Vision of God’s Supremacy and Sovereignty’ »

Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 2

Related Post: Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1

II. Inerrancy was Affirmed Throughout Church History
Michael Bird refers to a recent historical thesis advocated by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim who assert that inerrancy is a recent a recent development which emerged from conservatives when they reacted defensively to the challenge of the Enlightenment. However, the truth is that the doctrine of inerrancy is not recent phenomenon as it has been affirmed throughout church history. The careful documentation and thorough study by John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Zondervan 1982) demonstrates conclusively that Rogers and McKim’s historical thesis is flawed as it is based on skewed handling of historical sources. Woodbridge confirms that while inerrancy was not a major feature in the development of doctrines, nevertheless the Church has always affirmed inerrancy as a matter of fact. Continue reading ‘Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 2’ »

Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1

I. Clarification of Terms

E.J. Young provides a precise definition for each of the terms “inerrancy” and “infallibility” of the Bible:

Infallible: “By the term infallible as applied to the Bible, we mean simply that the Scripture possesses an indefectible authority. As our Lord himself said “it cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It can never fail in its judgments and statements. All that it teaches is of unimpeachable, absolute authority, and cannot be contravened, contradicted, or gainsaid. Scripture is unfailing, incapable of proving false, erroneous, or mistaken.”
Inerrant: “By this word [Inerrant] we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with the truth.” [E.J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 113]

For our purpose, we shall use Paul Feinberg’s celebrated definition of ‘inerrancy’:  “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1979), 294.

However,  some Western theologians who no longer believe that the Bible is inerrant  prefer to describe the Bible as “infallible”. In the process, they use the word “infallibility” as a short-hand for “limited inerrancy”, that is, the view that the Bible contains historical and scientific errors while remaining infallible in matters of faith and salvation. Unfortunately, this redefinition is a departure from classical theological discourse when the word ‘inerrancy’ meant the Bible does not err, and “infallibility” meant the Bible cannot err.

In contrast, Article XI of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) emphasizes: “We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.” The two terms ‘infallible’ and ‘inerrant’ are, in context, inextricable. In short, inerrancy and infallibility affirm that the whole of Scripture is true and not only parts of it. Finally, the focus of inerrancy is not limited to issues of factual accuracy in Scripture. It is primarily concerned about the authority of Scripture. Thus, CSBI begins in Article 1, “We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.” Continue reading ‘Inerrancy of the Bible: Defined and Defended. Part 1’ »

Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 2

Related Post: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 1

Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 1
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 2

Engaging NPP with Pastoral Concerns and Confessions of Faith
Someone suggests that we should ignore controversial scholarship represented by N.T. Wright and NPP if deprives us of our child-like faith. We should instead focus on more productive matters like evangelism. But, surely wrong teachings must be corrected as they distort our understanding of faith and invariably give rise to wrong practices. For example, NPP claims that Paul could not be addressing legalist perfectionism since first century Judaism, described as ‘covenantal nomism’ was not a legalistic religion. If NPP is correct, it will be necessary to discard the Reformation understanding of justification as God’s answer to the futility of seeking righteousness through works of the law.

Evangelicals cannot simply retreat into a safe cocoon of faith that is indifferent (and possible afraid of) to genuine scholarship. Evangelicals may not simply appeal to authority to settle theological controversies as final authority rests on Scripture alone. This being the case, evangelicals must work hard to master the primary sources, offer constructive criticism of NPP scholars, and publish robust exegesis to demonstrate why the evangelical doctrine of justification provides a more coherent reading of Scripture than NPP. Continue reading ‘Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 2’ »

Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 1

For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19)

Definition: Justification may be defined as that legal act of God by which he declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Related Post: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 2

Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 1
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 2

I. Righting What is Wrong in Wright’s Teaching of Justification

Someone emailed to KrisisPraxis a question:
“Do you have a view of N.T. Wright’s view? My own take is that it is also not correct to limit our view of Paul’s writings to only through the eyes of Luther or Reformation theology – why should we be filtered or limited or “Lutherised” in our view of the Gospel and only understand Paul the way Luther and the reformers understood Paul? As much as I respect these great spiritual giants, they need not and should not have the last say.  We should be allowed and encouraged to go back and find new jewels from Paul’s own words and discover new truths that can give us even more answers for today’s questions.

First, let me stress that I do not critique the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) because I slavishly follow the Reformers. In actuality, my understanding of Paul is based on careful exegesis of Scripture /1/ which takes into account the shifting positions of N.T. Wright and James Dunn in the course of the debate on NPP. I shall presently focus on the Wright’s controversial view of justification. Continue reading ‘Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 1’ »

Inspiration, Scripture and Reason: An Appreciation of J.I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God

1. For a defence of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I first go to B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible because of its solid exegetical analysis. Next, I turn to E.J. Young Thy Word is Truth for its engagement with modern criticism. Finally, I refer to John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God for a sober and theologically integrated formulation of the doctrine that meets headlong the latest theological assaults on the authority of Scripture. However, for an engaging read, I recommend J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Eerdmans reprint, 1977).

Packer describes ‘fundamentalism’ as “maintenance in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs such as the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of protestant Christianity.” [p. 29] **See below for a longer discussion of the definition of fundamentalism, liberalism and evangelicalism. Continue reading ‘Inspiration, Scripture and Reason: An Appreciation of J.I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God’ »