Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ Category.

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’ »

Who is an Evangelical? Part 2: Supplementary Notes

Related Post: Who is an Evangelical? Part 1

Some of you looking for a sweeping historical account of evangelicalism may want to read the five-volume “History of Evangelicalism” co-edited by David Bebbington and Mark Noll and published by Inter-Varsity Press.

In volume 1, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys, Mark Noll offers a panoramic view of the origins of evangelicalism. He begins by agreeing with the significance of the Reformation.

Martin Luther, the first great Protestant leader, proclaimed an ‘evangelical’ account of salvation in Christ over against what he considered the corrupt teachings of the Roman Catholic Church…In the heat of conflict, the positive and negative connotations of ‘evangelical’ multiplied rapidly:
•    it stood for justification by faith instead of trust in human works as the path to salvation;
•    it defended the sole sufficiency of Christ for salvation instead of the human (and often corrupted) mediation of the church;
•    it looked to the once-for-all triumph of Christ’s death on the cross instead of the repetition of Christ’s sacrifice in the Catholic mass;
•    it found final authority in the Bible as read by believers in general instead of what the Catholic Church said the Bible had to mean; and
•    it embraced the priesthood of all Christian believers instead of inappropriate reliance upon a class of priests ordained by the Church. [p.14.] Continue reading ‘Who is an Evangelical? Part 2: Supplementary Notes’ »

Who is an Evangelical? Part 1

In 1971, Fidel Castro was reported to be confused and famously exclaimed that “theologians are becoming communists and communists are becoming theologians” [Jose Bonino, Christians and Marxists (Eerdmans, 1976), p. 15.] Today, one would be even more confused when one is repeatedly told by the media that many evangelicals are strong supporters of Donald Trump in the 2016 American presidential elections, as Trump’s lifestyle is evidently contrary to Biblical values.

It seems that the word ‘evangelical’ has become a convenient, but misleading sociological category. Surely, this is a sign of evangelicalism lapsing into some form of ‘culture-Christianity’. However, this cultural shift is merely a symptom that lags behind an earlier theological shift. Indeed, there were already various questionable hyphenated evangelicals before the emergence of ‘Trumpian-evangelicals’. Sadly, given the present adulteration of the term ‘evangelicalism’ one may be tempted to abandon the term ‘evangelical’ and identify oneself simply as a ‘gospel-Christian’.

Perhaps there is no need to jettison the term ‘evangelicalism’ given its historic role in the growth of Christianity.  It is fashionable for American historians to link Evangelicalism to the Great Awakening revivals in the USA in the 18th century. Others want to push the origins of Evangelicalism to the beginnings of Christianity. After all, the word ‘evangelicalism’ is derived from ‘evangel’ which simple means ‘the gospel’ or good news (euangelion). Continue reading ‘Who is an Evangelical? Part 1’ »

Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Fulfilment of Isaiah’s Prophecy

I. Theological Preliminaries
1. Strictly speaking, it is wrong to describe the birth of Jesus as a miracle. The birth process was normal; so normal that Mary made a sacrificial offering required by the Mosaic Law as a woman was considered ceremonially unclean after giving birth. The miracle refers not to the birth, but to the conception of Jesus outside any sexual relations. The caveat duly noted, I shall continue to use the phrase “virgin birth” in accordance with convention.

Modern critics argue that belief in the virgin birth undermines Christian faith as it precludes the full humanity of Jesus. Rather than refuting hypothetical possibility with other hypothetical possibilities (mystere pour mystere), I shall presently focus on the Biblical testimony that the virgin birth does not compromise the full humanity of Jesus (Hebrew 2:14, 17). Likewise, Jesus sharing of our full humanity that includes a normal birth (and human temptation) does not undermine the sinlessness of Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). Continue reading ‘Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Fulfilment of Isaiah’s Prophecy’ »