Original Sin (Part 1/3): Introduction

A. Original Sin Defined
Society is in a mess. Evil abounds. It’s manifestation ranges from cases of small time swindlers cheating gullible investors in Ponzi schemes to big corporations exploiting helpless workers. Evil is magnified when terrorists massacre defenseless villagers and the authorities abuse the law to punish innocent citizens. The list goes on.

The Christian doctrine of Original Sin explains that evil entered human society during the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God’s command at the Garden of Eden. The result is that every descendant of Adam has become morally corrupt and stands guilty before God. We are powerless to rehabilitate ourselves. Only God can rescue us from this moral quagmire.

The scope of the doctrine of Original Sin includes : 1) the guilt of the first sin in Adam, (2) the corruption of human nature resulting from the first sin, and (3) actual transgressions or sinful actions which result from corruption of human nature. Continue reading “Original Sin (Part 1/3): Introduction”

Why Confessional Faith Must be Vigorously Defended Against Liberal Theology

Sometimes people wonder why I choose to highlight the danger of liberal theology when Christians are expected to be polite and tolerant nowadays. The concerns of these people is that polemical debates are counter-productive. Good Christians should be nice and polite and avoid any semblance of being quarrelsome. We should engage in “conversation” rather in debates.

We should be courteous in defending our faith. But is it not the case that critical thought entails serious debates, if not polemics? This is especially true when the stakes of the debates are high, as they pertain not to secondary customs and practices, but to the central truths of Christian salvation.

J. Gresham Machen, the author of the classic book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923) understood the stakes of the debate better than any of his contemporaries. I strongly recommend every church leader read his clarion call to church leaders to be faithful in discharging their duty to hold fast to the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus and guard the good deposit that is entrusted to them (2 Tim. 1:13-14). Continue reading “Why Confessional Faith Must be Vigorously Defended Against Liberal Theology”

The Concept of Heresy Arises from the Fellowship of the Church and not From a Lack of Love (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 4

If ‘sex’ was the impolite word which should not be raised in Victorian cocktail conversations, ‘heresy’ is the unmentionable word among ‘progressive’ Christians today. [Re: Post on ‘Progressive’ Christianity Beware*] Perhaps this is a reaction to the spirit of dogmatism, authoritarian and legalism found among leaders who are defensive about their faith when they perceive the Christian community to be a besieged and embattled minority. Doctrinal defensiveness is the outcome of a “Christ Against Culture” manifestation of Christianity. It is easy for these leaders to become unnecessarily alarmist as there could be genuine doctrinal disagreements which should not be stigmatized as departures from orthodoxy. Not every doctrinal or theological error is a heresy. Continue reading “The Concept of Heresy Arises from the Fellowship of the Church and not From a Lack of Love (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)”

Sheep Dog Alert: Beware of ‘Progressive’ Christianity?

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 3

I feel a sense of ambivalence whenever I read Roger Olson. His expertise in historical theology is beyond doubt. He is an excellent communicator which is not often found among theologians. But I find him rather intemperate and lacking measured judgment in his polemics against Reformed theology.

Surprisingly, I find myself nodding my head in hearty agreement when I read Roger Olson’s post on the subtle dangers of so-called ‘progressive Christianity.’ Surely, there must be truth when a Calvinist is in agreement with an Arminian! I invite my readers to ponder carefully some of Olson’s observations on ‘progressive Christianity’ given below:

Nine Signals of Liberal Protestantism Disguised as “Progressive Christianity.” Continue reading “Sheep Dog Alert: Beware of ‘Progressive’ Christianity?”

Class on Christology by Malaysia Bible Seminary and Kairos Research Centre

CLASS ON CHRISTOLOGY – 19 March-23 March 2018
The Person and Work of Christ: Classical and Contemporary Christology
Lecturer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Course Description
This course begins with an examination of the foundations of Christology found in the portrayal of the Jesus Christ as the God-Man in the gospels, and as the crucified but risen Lord in the Pauline epistles. It then analyses how the doctrine of Christ developed as the early church responded to heresies like Gnosticism and Arianism which culminated in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. Further attention is given to the subsequent Christological controversies that include Apollinarism and Nestorianism and the doctrinal resolution at the Council of Chalcedon. Continue reading “Class on Christology by Malaysia Bible Seminary and Kairos Research Centre”

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”

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?”