John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4

John Calvin Speaking at the Council of Geneva 1549

A Maligned Social Reformer
John Calvin’s theology was forged in the cauldron of social conflict. Although Calvin as an exile in Geneva would have cherished his new found freedom from the tyranny of the king of France and from deadly attacks launched by militant Catholics, no one can downplay the trauma of his social dislocation after fleeing from France. For Calvin, theological reflection in exile became a desperate intellectual mechanism to secure a sense of harmony and well-being for one who was now a stranger in a strange land. Calvin’s plight was exacerbated by the fact that Geneva, his new ‘home,’ was a city of contentious factions competing for power as the city groped for ways to maintain order and security after breaking away from the Duke of Savoy in 1535. One may say that for both Calvin as an alienated exile and for the Genevans, finding the right balance between their precious freedom and preserving their precarious social order assumed an existential intensity.

Calvin had to contend with Genevan citizens who jealously guarded their newfound freedom (the Libertines) and resolutely rejected any semblance of social regulation which they regarded as a regress to the old oppressive order. He forcefully opposed the Anabaptists to prevent irresponsible libertarianism which would result in lawlessness and endless disputes. Finally, Calvin had running battles with the civil authorities of Geneva – the elected Council and its liaison committee working with the pastors (the Consistory) – to limit the jurisdiction of civil authorities in the ordering of church life. Continue reading “John Calvin’s Social Theology in Context. Part 1/4”

Liberal Transformers vs Evangelical Translators of Theology

It is possible to conclude from the last paragraph of my previous post, “Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology,” that I am suggesting that evangelical Christianity has no interest in becoming relevant to contemporary society. This misunderstanding should be set aside as evangelicals seek to present a Gospel that is not only relevant to society, but also faithful to Biblical revelation.

Historically, liberal theologians ended up transforming or rather trans-mutating the Gospel to accommodate its teaching to the sensibilities of society and culture. In contrast, evangelical theologians engaged in translating the unchanging revealed truths of the Bible as they present a Gospel which confronts society and culture. In short, the issue between liberal and evangelical theology is whether the truth of Christian revelation has been preserved or transformed in the process of making Christianity relevant to modern society.

Millard Erickson gives a helpful contrast between evangelical translation of the Gospel and liberal transformation of the Gospel: Continue reading “Liberal Transformers vs Evangelical Translators of Theology”

Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology

Some of my readers wonder what I have in mind when I refer to liberal theology in my discussions. It is indeed challenging, if not problematic when we try to define a ‘movement’ that does not accept authority (including biblical authority), rejects defining creeds and doctrine and displays an amorphous social mission. As Gary Dorrien aptly explains in his authoritative 3-volume work, The Making of American Liberal Theology (Westminster Press, 2001-2006),

The essential idea of liberal theology is that all claims to truth, in theology as in other disciplines, must be made on the basis of reason and experience, not by appeal to external authority. Christian scripture may be recognized as spiritually authoritative within Christian experience, but its word does not settle or establish truth claims about matters of fact. [vol.2. p.1]

Daniel Day Williams offers a classic definition of liberal theology,

By ‘liberal theology’ I mean the movement in modern Protestantism which during the nineteenth century tried to bring Christian thought into organic unity with evolutionary world view, the movements for social reconstruction, and the expectations of ‘a better world’ which dominated the general mind. It is that form of Christian faith in which a prophetic-progressive philosophy of history culminates in the expectation of the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. [ Gary Dorrien, vol.1, xix.]

This definition anticipates that liberal theology evolves with its evolutionary worldview.  Gary Dorrien complements Williams’ definition as he captures the intellectual presuppositions that drives the evolving agenda of liberal theology: Continue reading “Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology”

A Reforming Catholic Confession: Continuing the Reformation to Attain Unity of the catholic (universal) Church

I. The Reforming Catholic Confession (RCC) in Context
One criticism of the Protestant Reformation that is often raised is that it splintered the universal church in the 16th century. The sectarian spirit of the Reformation not only undermines ecclesiastical authority; it also engenders a rebellious spirit resulting in radical individualism and secularization of of modern society. The proliferation of Protestant denominations only confirms the perception that the Reformation is a tragedy to Christianity.

It is therefore appropriate that recently, more than 250 Protestant leaders and theologians published “A Reforming Catholic Confession (RCC) –A “Mere Protestant” Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.”

The RCC begins by setting the diversity of Protestant denominations in proper perspective.

Not every denominational or doctrinal difference is a division, certainly not an insurmountable one. We dare hope that the unity to which the Reformers aspired may be increasingly realized as today’s “mere” Protestants, like Richard Baxter’s and C. S. Lewis’s “mere Christians,” joyfully join together to bear united witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to its length, depth, breadth, and width – in a word, its catholicity

The RCC lays out a set of eleven carefully and precisely formulated doctrinal statements [D] under the following headings: Triune God, Holy Scripture, Human Beings, Fallenness, Jesus Christ, The Atoning Work of Christ, The Gospel, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, Baptism and Lord’s Supper, Holy Living and Last Things. This is accompanied by an explanatory document, Explanation. A Historical and Theological Perspective: Why we say what we say

I shall give only a few abridged statements of the RCC as a sample to provide a sense of its precise formulation accompanied by an irenic spirit. Continue reading “A Reforming Catholic Confession: Continuing the Reformation to Attain Unity of the catholic (universal) Church”

Should Homosexuals be Accepted into Christian Fellowship and Holy Communion?

A Question posed by a reader: “I think the most challenging lowest denominator for me is when a Bible believing Christian says “when I read the Bible sincerely I find a God who accepts same sex marriage but of course it must be monogamous and there should be no infidelity in that marriage (such infidelity would be a sin). I also accept accountability for all other sins including pre-marital sex”. My challenge is even though I disagree with this brother or sister on his/her view of same sex marriage, should I accept him/her into the fellowship of the church and the Lord’s table? Tough one for me.”

Answer: The short answer is that persons who feel same sex attraction, but choose sexual celibacy and abstinence from homosexual practices out of obedience to the teaching of Scripture should be accepted into the fellowship of the church, including the Holy Communion. Indeed, the church should learn to love and give support to encourage such believers to grow in the Lord (The question of the reparative therapy is a matter to be discussed separately).

First, rather than reinvent the wheel, I shall quote Stanley Grenz  from an earlier posts:

Homosexuality: Biblical Perspectives and Pastoral Concerns. Part .1
Homosexuality: Biblical Perspectives and Pastoral Concerns. Part .2

Continue reading “Should Homosexuals be Accepted into Christian Fellowship and Holy Communion?”

Support for Homosexuality Logically Leads to Support for Polygamy

It is fun to read satire, but I usually avoid sharing links to satirical websites as many internet readers are too lazy to follow through with a few additional ‘clicks’ on the menu to double check the background info needed to ferret out genuine from mischievous satirical websites.
 
Remember, the Devil once tempted the Lord with the opening remark, “It is written.” Nowadays, he has a temptation-software-upgrade – “It is written in the Internet.”
 
But the ironic observation of Babylon Bee (a satirical website) is right on target about the biblical view of marriage and family of the Nashville Statement:

Continue reading “Support for Homosexuality Logically Leads to Support for Polygamy”

Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality: Different Takes by Robert Gagnon and Michael Bird

Related Post: Nashville Statement (2017): A Coalition for Biblical Sexuality

[If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. The Apocryphal Martin Luther]

The Nashville Statement on Biblical sexuality does not answer all the questions that have arisen from the homosexual controversy. It is certainly not a complete, much less a perfect Statement. The purpose of any public statement is defined and delimited by its time and context. Like the historic creeds, it does not aim at full exposition of doctrine as to define the core beliefs and the boundaries of reflection.

Some evangelicals would like to suggest ways to sharpen what is basically an excellent statement. Others express concerns that it is not sufficiently pastoral. Still others, are worried that young people may misunderstand and therefore are put off by the Statement since the media has been effective in convincing many young people that being ‘gay’ does not necessarily suggest a promiscuous lifestyle. These are legitimate concerns. However, public statements have to navigate the fine balance between being concise and being comprehensive. We also need to keep in mind the central goals of the statement and its intended audience. Continue reading “Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality: Different Takes by Robert Gagnon and Michael Bird”

NASHVILLE STATEMENT (2017): A COALITION FOR BIBLICAL SEXUALITY

Statement on Biblical Sexuality by CBMW.Org (The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As many young people are adopting homosexual freedom as the defining cause of their generation, it is good that Evangelical leaders begin the NASHVILLE STATEMENT (2017) with the following affirmations:

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God

 

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

To read, download or sign to affirm the original statement NASHVILLE STATEMENT (2017)  by CBMW.Org (A coalition for Biblical Sexuality) and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

You may note that many of the original signatories of the Statement are outstanding Evangelical leaders.

Continue reading “NASHVILLE STATEMENT (2017): A COALITION FOR BIBLICAL SEXUALITY”

Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)

In response to many requests, I am posting the print edition of an article written when I was much younger, “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ,” Transformation (1998), pp. 10-15. Ah, how time flies and I don’t seem to have grown wiser.

To download the pdf version of this print edition:

Pluralism Particularity Salvation Christ Transformation1998

Throughout this paper, it is my assumption that Christianity promotes and practices social tolerance and affirms plurality. What I dispute is the contention that social tolerance is possible only if Christians embrace a prescriptive form of religious pluralism. I shall further address the issue of prescriptive pluralism, henceforth referred to as religious pluralism within the framework of Christian discourse, and analyze the logic under-girding religious pluralism. In particular, I shall argue that religious pluralism is not only internally incoherent but that in seeking the least common denominator, pluralism offers a religious faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs. Finally, religious pluralism entails the abandonment of the central beliefs that historically define Christian identity such as normative revelational truths and the historical particularity of the incarnation of God in Christ. As such religious pluralists represented by major thinkers like John Hick and Paul Knitter have no basis to speak on behalf of Christianity….

 

…But why should God need to intervene in the human predicament in the first place? How does the Christian teaching of the Incarnation of Christ fit in? Following White I would like to propose the “Criterion of Moral Authenticity” as a means to shed light on this issue. To begin with, estrangement between God and man is overcome not by special knowledge but by a demonstration of perfect love. Given the magnitude of the human predicament, surely such a revelation demands a costly love which does not compromise God’s holiness. It has to be costly love to win over human sin and rebelliousness. But as White asserts, “Unless and until God himself has experienced suffering, death, and the temptation to sin, and overcome them, as a human individual, he has no moral authority to overcome them in and with the rest of humanity.”[Vernon White, Atonement and Incarnation (CUP 1991), p. 38] Continue reading “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)”

FAQ on Muslim Questions – Christian Answers (Updated)

 

“Come now, Let us reason together, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18).

Muslim polemical literature against Christianity is readily available in bookstores around Malaysia. Their polemics gain media attention when institutions of higher learning organize forums to perpetuate false information about Christianity. For example, in 2014, the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Shah Alam, organized a seminar on “Seminar Kalimah Allah & Kristology Nusantara (“The Word ‘Allah’ and Christology in the Malay Archipelago”), purportedly “to defend the dignity of Muslims in the country and also to give them an understanding as they are being confused by this issue.”
-“UiTM Warns Students About The Threat Of Christianity In “Allah And Christology” Seminar
-Gospels are ‘Fake’ as Jesus was ‘Human Slave to Allah’, Don Claims [The Malaymailonline 6 May 2014]
-Books Warning Muslims About ‘Christian Agenda’ Distributed at Allah Forum in University

Several seminar speakers were reported to have mocked at Christianity as they posed rhetorical questions that suggest the grounds for Christian beliefs are fundamentally flawed. For example, in a forum “Christianisation vs Islamization”, the speakers answered pre-prepared questions that included “Did Jesus really die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins?”, “What is the Trinity?”, “Why did Jesus cry ‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani’ (Aramaic for “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”) while on the cross?”

Another speaker claimed that the parts of the Bible based on his teachings should simply be called “Tales of Jesus” instead of the “Gospel”. The books in the Bible were written by Christ’s disciples such as Matthew, Mark, and Luke were considered hearsay and similarly should not be considered the Word of God. The so-called gospel is only Jesus’ words, speech, hence should not be called gospel. He asserted, “The Christian gospel is a fake gospel.”

These speakers were trying to confuse Christians with fabricated lies. Instead of clarifying confusion among Muslims, they were promoting prejudice among Muslims against Christianity. Christians are justified if they feel offended. However, they are mindful of the divine exhortation given in their Holy Book on how to respond peaceably to faultfinders, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

Instead of reacting to these Muslim polemicists, Christians are more interested in reaching out to other Muslims who are sincere when they raise questions about Christianity as these Muslims genuinely believe in constructive dialog. To these sincere Muslims we would like to offer “FAQ: Muslim Questions – Christian Answers” as a modest contribution to promote interfaith understanding. Hopefully, the two FAQs given below will assure Muslim inquirers of the intellectual integrity and peaceful intentions of the Christian community.

Continue reading “FAQ on Muslim Questions – Christian Answers (Updated)”