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)”

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”

The Council of Nicea Rap Battle

The Council of Nicea (AD 325)

The Nicene Creed is arguably the most succinct statement of the doctrine of Trinity. It is the Christian ‘Diamond Sutra’* that cuts through the deception of the slogan of Arian heresy/illusion about Jesus Christ, “There was when he was not”.

*[“Sutra”: In Sanskrit literature, a rule or aphorism, or a set of these… expressed with maximum brevity (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). The comparison is about the quality of sharp, incisive and acute critique of the Creed rather than about ’emptiness’ of all phenomena.]

Arianism asserts that  (1) the Son must be a creature, (2) the Son must have a beginning, (3) the Son can have no communion with, or direct knowledge of, His Father, and (4) the son must be liable to change and even sin.

Hence, the Nicene Creed declares, Continue reading “The Council of Nicea Rap Battle”

God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 1)

Part 1: God and Humanity in Islam & Christianity

Thesis: Ultimately, the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the former views the relationship between God and man within the field of power. The Divine-human encounter becomes a contest of strength where human submission is a matter of expediency in the face of sheer dominant power. In contrast, Christianity views the relationship as one that is moral: God, despite his sovereignty, treats human beings as persons with inherent dignity (since they are created in His image). God seeks allegiance from man based not on expediency but as a grateful response to a God who passionately cares for his welfare (c.f., pathos in Abraham Heschel’s work).  Man may fail to perceive the depths of divine pathos. Without a personal revelation from God, man can only be dimly aware of divine pathos in pale and fragmented forms, described as divine sorrow, pity, wrath, and compassion because of his psychological limitations, although divine pathos must be perfect and complete within the divine Trinity. However, these partial perceptions of divine pathos are fully revealed and experienced as divine love when manifested at the cross. Hence the glorious declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:19 – in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself. Continue reading “God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 1)”

Limits to Logical Analysis in Doctrinal Debates

Only a handful of critics go beyond merely asserting the charge of incoherence of the Trinity and provide logical arguments to support their claim of incoherence. . . In any case, the task of logical demonstration is not so straightforward. Note that we assume that the propositions are clear and unambiguous. For example, we assume that the particular statement P or Q adequately and accurately and precisely represents essential aspects of God. But the fact is, we do not have any clear account of human nature that has gained consensus, let alone an account of divine nature. In reality, propositions P and Q are read differently (though implicitly) by different protagonists in logical debates.

Limits to Logical Analysis in Doctrinal Debates

Only a handful of critics go beyond merely asserting the charge of incoherence of the Trinity and provide logical arguments to support their claim of incoherence.

In general, a logical demonstration of incoherence may include the following steps: Given propositions P and Q, one may demonstrate a contradiction between these two propositions by positing another proposition R (which is presumably true) such that Q and R taken together will lead to a fresh proposition S which clearly contradicts P. Conversely, one may claim that P and Q are coherent if S is evidently coherent with P. For examples of such an exercise, I refer to my earlier articles

In any case, the task of logical demonstration is not so straightforward. Note that we assume that the propositions are clear and unambiguous. For example, we assume that the particular statement P or Q adequately and accurately and precisely represents essential aspects of God. But the fact is, we do not have any clear account of human nature that has gained consensus, let alone an account of divine nature. In reality, propositions P and Q are read differently (though implicitly) by different protagonists in logical debates. Continue reading “Limits to Logical Analysis in Doctrinal Debates”

Augustine Model of the Trinity

Krisis & Praxis is back online,after three days of service interruption due to breakdown of the server at Streamyx. That it took Streamyx three days to fix the computer problem in the 21st century says a lot about the expertise or seriousness of Streamyx. I am reminded of Augustine’s words that there is no difference between kingdoms (regna) and bands of robbers (latrocinia). I guess Augustine would also put monopoly in the business of computer service provider at the same level with kingdoms and robbers.

Anyway I post here a full exposition of Augustine’s Model of the Trinity, as promised:

Augustine’s goal is to not to prove the doctrine the Trinity given his presupposition that faith precedes understanding and that understanding must inform faith. His ‘De Trinitate’ represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

Augustine on the Trinity

I) Persons as Relations
Augustine’s goal is to not to prove the doctrine the Trinity given his presupposition that faith precedes understanding and that understanding must inform faith. His ‘De Trinitate’ represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

For Augustine the doctrine of Trinity is already revealed in Scriptures but it may be clarified using an adopted philosophical framework which in his case is Neo-Platonism. He assumes that man is made in the image of God on the basis of Scripture. He proceeds to explain how the Trinitarian structure of the inner man illuminates our understanding of the Trinity. His approach is arguably circular, but this is acceptable so long as we accept that his end goal is to explain the Trinity rather than to prove the Trinity. Continue reading “Augustine Model of the Trinity”

Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – Preview Trailer

Summary Diagram of Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – On the Relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Following the grand tradition of the media industry that takes delight in teasing its audience with ‘trailers’, I have decided to post one of my own. This should be natural since I am introducing our own theological superstar whose fame and popularity has endured 1500 years. Of course, I am talking about none other than Augustine.

I give below a diagram that summarizes his doctrine of the Trinity Continue reading “Augustine’s Model of the Trinity – Preview Trailer”

T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)

Torrance wants to go beyond the category of substance and applies the term perichoresis (πε�?ιχώ�?ησις, co-inherence, inter-penetrating and mutual indwelling) to highlight the dynamic, spiritual and intensely personal relationships in the Trinity. We are reminded of the model of indwelling love proposed by Augustine. Perichoresis refers to that eternal love between the Father (lover) and the Son (beloved) and the Holy Spirit (Spirit of love that binds both the lover and the beloved).

T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)

Ng Kam Weng

It may be noted that Nicene probably was focusing on the generic meaning of ousia (substance) or homoousia(of same substance) since its immediate concern was to refute Arianism which asserted the Son did not share the same nature/substance as the Father. But theologizing beyond the Nicene context requires a deepening of the term to include the dimension of numerical identity for the term homoousia. Such was what Athanasius discovered when he sought yo draw out the theological significance of Nicene in framing an adequate doctrine of Trinity. Continue reading “T. F. Torrance on Perichoresis (Mutual Indwelling of Persons within the Trinity)”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

Notes on Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)
Ng Kam Weng

A more succinct discussion on Substance (ousia) and Object (hypostasis) is given by G. L. Prestige in his book Fathers and Heretics.

The terms have a similar meaning but are not identical [cf., etymologically, the Latin substantia is an exact translation of the Greek hypostasis.

“‘Substance’ means an object consisting of some particular stuff; it has an inward reference to the nature of the thing in itself, expressing what logicians call a connotation. ‘Object’ means a substance marked off as an individual specimen by reason of its distinction from all other objects, it bears an outward reference to a reality independent of other individuals, and expresses what logicians call a denotation.” (FH 88)

To clarify further let me give an illustration inspired by Prestige’s discussion. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 2)”

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)

My earlier essays on the Trinity focused on demonstrating logical coherence rather than conceptual clarification. Admittedly, discussion of logical coherence is appealing, but such discussion can also be beguiling. The discussion maintains an appearance of austere logic, and follows the suggestion that once the logical structure of the argument is unpacked, there will be agreement.

That agreement seldom happens is because the philosophers covertly smuggle in their own meaning of the terms deployed. This in turn results in different criteria of logical coherence. Inevitably, even the best minds fail to resolve the logic of doctrinal agreement.

It is imperative that we should at least be clear about what we mean if we want to use the terms to analyse of the doctrine of Trinity. In this regard, we need to go back to the original formulation of the doctrine in the early Church.

Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)
Ng Kam Weng

Trinity – “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence” (BB Warfield)

Substance – That by virtue of ‘what it is’. ‘What it is’, as distinguished from something else [essential characteristic) in contrast to accident.

Accident – \What has no independent and self sufficient existence but exist only in another being. What may change, disappear and be added while substance remains the same.
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The simplest way to determine meaning of technical Greek terms is to refer to standard lexicons such as Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker) and Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon. Continue reading “Greek Trinitarian Terms in the Early Church (Part 1)”