Monday, July 29, 2013

Pope says "Who am I to judge Gays?"

Thought this was coming, but it was quicker than I would have guessed.  This will of course lead to corruption in society, but also to the purification of Christ's Church, as many will now see their choice is between their Pope and God's word.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review - Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall

The book begins with a brief but helpful account of the life and times of Jacob Arminius, but points readers to Bangs work for a more detailed biography (Bangs, Carl.  Arminius – A Study in the Dutch Reformation.  Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998).  Then it dives into the foundation of Arminius’ theology - his explanations of God’s attributes.  On the simplicity of God, Aquinas taught God’s attributes are distinct only in the way we think about them, but are really united in God, but Arminius disagreed and rather followed John Dun Scottus who taught God’s attributes really are distinct in God even though they are absolutely inseparable.   On omniscience, Arminius followed Luis De Molina in affirming middle knowledge – and this book is the first I have seen to acknowledge that Arminius’ view of predestination is based on God’s middle knowledge of faith rather than so called simple foreknowledge.  Then in a rare low point in the book - Arminius is accused of denying Christ aseity (i.e. denying passages like John 8:58), but the accusation is based on what the authors see as the implications of Arminius beliefs even though Arminius denies the implication.   The chapter closes with Arminius’ view of creation; which Arminius sees as God’s freely communicating His goodness to whatever He creates.  Thus the idea that God creates people for hellfire troubles Arminius.

Arminius sees God’s providence as meticulous.  God provides for what He created through preservation, concurrence and governance of all that happens.  God permits rather than causes sin – Arminius is concerned with making God the author of evil.  Arminius holds to what we call libertarian free will and offers a free will defense similar to Plantinga’s account (Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil.  Eerdmans Publishing, 1974); using middle knowledge to reconcile God’s plan with man’s freedom.

On predestination, Arminius’ main opponents (Gomorus & Perkins) said that election logically precedes the fall (i.e. supra-lapsarian Calvinism).  Arminius is concerned that this doctrine wasn’t taught by the Church Fathers or in the early councils.  Arminius sees supralapsarianism as contrary to God’s justice, wisdom and love, since God subjects the innocent to hell.  This also removes man’s free will and makes God’s offer in the gospel insincere.  Rebellion against God isn’t really rebellion if God wants it to happen and acts to make it necessary.  Grace is resistible and it restores man’s nature in a way suitable to accomplish God’s purpose in creation: for us to know and love God.  Supralapsarianism subordinates Christ’s election to ours – making Him just the means rather than the foundation of election.  It implies Christ didn’t die for all, which is unbiblical.  Arminius sees Jacob and Esau in Romans 9 as types for justification by faith and pursuing righteousness through works.  Arminius sees predestination as Christocentric and conditional on foreknowledge. This harmonizes with God’s love us His own justice and His love of us and it wards off overconfidence and despair.

Arminius held that God permitted the fall and Adam was able to avoid sinning.  He understood Adam to be the recipient of grace, which God removes after the fall.  All of mankind received all the penalties Adam received, leaving us unable to think will or do anything truly good, including believe.  Without grace we are free from external and internal necessity, but not from our slavery to sin. God must take the initiative through prevenient grace, and if we don’t resist, through subsequent grace.  God’s grace is sufficient meaning He gives us everything we need to be able to respond.  Romans 7 describes a pre-regenerate state.  Both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith.  Final apostasy is possible but Arminius denied teaching that it ever actually happens.  Arminius disagreed with Calvin that assurance is part of the definition of faith.  Arminius had pastoral concerns that Calvinism leads to overconfidence and despair.  

Overall, I really enjoyed the book.  The authors made good decisions on what to include and provide a wealth of footnotes and references for further study.   It joins Bang’s bibliography, Stanglin’s first book on Arminius and Assurance and Muller’s God, Creation and Providence in the thought of Jacob Arminius as one of the premier accounts of Arminius and his theology.  

Friday, July 5, 2013

James Arminius on the Aseity of the Son

I recently was reading a book that accused James Arminius of a Trinitarian heresy:  denying Christ’s aseity (self existence).  This relates to the “auto-theos” controversy in which Arminius denied a specific sense in which Christ is God “from Himself”.  (Works of James Arminius.  Apology Article 21)  That is to say, Arminius defended the doctrine in the Nicene creed: ”And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds , Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father”. In short, Arminius defended the Father’s eternal generation of the Son.  In this post, I will briefly provide the biblical basis for eternal generation and then defend it from a specific charge: that affirming the eternal generation of the Son implicitly denies the aseity of the Son.

1 John 5:18 says “ We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

The “he who was born of God” is Christ.  The Son truly is a Son in relation to the Father, in that in some sense the Son is born of the Father.  This is not to say the Father/Son relationship is in every respect like a human Father/Son relationship since they are Divine and perfect and we are not.   So the Son was eternally generated – there was never a time when He was not. 

Likewise, John 6:57 says “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

Since the Father eternally generated the Son, the Son lives because of the Father. 

We also have passages saying the Father is the Son’s God: John 20:17, Revelation 3:12, Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:17, Colossians 1:3.  This is a non-reciprocal relationship.  The bible never says the Father was born of or lives because of the Son or the Son is the Father’s God.

Arminius strongly establish this is how the Early Church Father explained the scriptures by quoting Basil The Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustine, and  Hilary in his letter to Hippolytus (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).

Now none of this detracts from the ideas that Christ is God and one with the Father (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1, John 5:17-18, John 10:30-33, John 14:9-11, John 20:28, Philippians 2:5-7, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:8-9).  And this is because the Son eternally receives the Father’s divine essence.  This is what the Nicene creed means by “being of one substance with the Father”.

More to our purpose, the Son’s divine nature has aseity, as He claims explicitly:

John 8:58 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

This is so because the Son’s divine nature is not derived from anything outside itself.  This was Arminius assertion of the Son’s aseity as well, when he said: "Because the essence of the Father and of the Son is one, and because it has its origin from no one, therefore, in this respect, the Son is correctly denominated Autoqeon that is, God from himself."  (Works of James Arminius.  Volume 2.  Letter to Hyppolytus).  Mysterious as it may be; God is one in nature and three in persons.  Indeed, were we to deny this and affirm three divine natures each with their own aseity, we have arrived at tri-theism. 

In the end, I fear Arminius was collateral damage in the battle for feminism.  Some deny eternal generation, because they believe submission in roles implies inferiority in nature.  The Son had to be able to choose not to submit to the Father, so wives can choose not to submit to their husbands.  But the argument is completely unsound - eternal generation is the very basis of the Son’s aseity rather than being contrary to it.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Obama on Faith and Reason

Obama argues we should keep Christ out of politics in the ironically titled The Audacity of Hope.  The following is a block quote from chapter 6 on faith, interspersed with my responses.

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason.

This is ambiguous.  Is Obama saying democracy demands Christians drop our values in politics or just drop them to be more persuasive?  On the one hand, the government does not demand that we drop our values - it grants freedom of religion.   (Notwithstanding the fire religious freedoms comes under from time to time, like the US government's seeking to deport a German family on the grounds that homeschooling is not a religious freedom (link) - generally the government grants religious freedom).  So I doubt Obama means the government is demanding Christians to drop our values.

On the other hand, if quoting scripture is simply unpersuasive, why doesn't Obama just let us continue with our unpersuasive tactic?  It's hard to believe Obama is just offering some friendly advice on how Christians can better defeat his policies on abortion and homosexuality.  That would make his statement a sort of  cry for help – “please stop me”. 

More likely he just wants us to put down our weapon that's been giving him so much trouble.  Christianity is not just amenable to reason – God Himself is the foundation of reason. It's painful all-around to be reminded that your opposing God.

If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This assumes Christianity is unreasonable – that God’s commands are not a valid and persuasive point about what’s right and wrong.  But God's word is powerful.  Abortion is immoral because it violates God’s law of “thou shalt not kill” and unless someone completely hardens their heart, they know or can know abortion is wrong. Romans 9:11 calls Jacob and Esau children while in Rebecca’s womb - so unless you like the killing of kids, vote against abortion. If you don't like that answer, take it up with Him.

The problem isn't access to God's laws, but rather accepting them and submitting to them.  Wisdom calls out loud and clear, but if we refuse to listen, she will abandon us even when we seek her.  (Proverbs 1:20-30) Now I am not saying we can think up the Trinity through natural theology alone, but I think we can figure out we are not suppose to kill kids.    

For those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do, such rules of engagement may seem just one more example of the tyranny of the secular and material worlds over the sacred and eternal. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Almost by definition, faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth.

Different domains?  Both faith and reason tell us murder is wrong, so they are on in different domains.  My faith and my reason are under the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How can Obama say the world is sovereign and tyrannical over Christ?  He made the world and He came to save the world.  If you believe the world popped into existence out of nothing, you might as well live for nothing and have the audacity to hope you return to it when you die.

Scripture calls those without faith both wicked and unreasonable. (2 Thessalonians 3:2).  It’s unreasonable not to believe God exists and that He created and upholds the world and has given us His commands and has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.  There’s no other way to account for the origin of the world, the basis of morality, or scriptures unified message about who God is.  

Reason—and science—involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding—the “belief in things not seen.”  When science teachers insist on keeping creationism or intelligent design out of their classrooms, they are not asserting that scientific knowledge is superior to religious insight. They are simply insisting that each path to knowledge involves different rules and that those rules are not interchangeable.

Evolution is not science; it’s bad theology.  No one observers one species evolving to another or the world popping into being.  Those are examples of science trying to pry into theology.  But theology alone explains origins.  That’s why it’s the prince of the sciences.   Scripture says atheists are fools and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Descartes, after reasoning "I think therefore I am", says His knowledge of God is more certain than his observations, because God must have created him and put the idea of God in him.  (Descartes.  Meditation 3) Indeed, scientific observation alone (watching apples fall) cannot ascend to a general principle (gravity) without first believing in a God who holds things together.  Without knowing God is the origin of gravity, you are left post hoc fallacy of deriving causation from correlation. 

In a pluralistic democracy, the same distinctions apply. Politics, like science, depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. Moreover, politics (unlike science) involves compromise, the art of the possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It insists on the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime; to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Obama equivocates between moral and logical impossibility.  There's nothing absurd or self-contradictory about God's standards, even if we can't be morally perfect in this life.  Obama says God's laws are dangerous; he knows better than God what is good for people. But of course, the real danger is ignoring rather than obeying God's laws.

Science doesn't depend on our ability to persuade each other. It's an organization of what we learn through repeatable observations.  Science describes objective reality; whether others are persuaded to believe it's claims or not.  Evolution is spread through persuasion rather than observation, showing yet again that it's not science.  

The story of Abraham and Isaac offers a simple but powerful example. According to the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his "only son, Isaac, whom you love," as a burnt offering. Without argument, Abraham takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded. Of course, we know the happy ending—God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute. Abraham has passed God's test of devotion. He becomes a model of fidelity to God, and his great faith is rewarded through future generations. And yet it is fair to say that if any of us saw a 21st century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would call the police; we would wrestle him down; even if we saw him lower the knife at the last minute, we would expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away and charge Abraham with child abuse. We would do so because God doesn't reveal Himself or His angels to all of us in a single moment. We do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, understanding that a part of what we know to be true—as individuals or communities of faith—will be true for us alone.

Islam says Ishmael, not Isaac, was placed on the alter.

God tested Abraham.   We do hear what Abraham heard, because it's recorded in scripture.  There's no reason to believe that anyone within earshot of Abraham wouldn't also have heard God's voice or have seen the angel.  God ensured that everyone who need to hear the message did hear it. It's true and billions know it's true; it's not true for Abraham alone.  It's surprising to hear Abraham as grounds for denying absolute truth and for moral relativism - where's the connection? 

It's true some receive more revelation from God than others. But this is generally true of Christian doctrine rather than morality.  We all have a God given conscience; everyone knows it's wrong to kill, steal or lie.  

As for child abuse, according to Josephus, Isaac was 25 years old.  (Antiquity of the Jews Book 1, Chapter 13)  So we need not think of Isaac as an impressionable 4 year old - scarred for life dispute being rescued in the end. While it's true we shouldn't legislate God's tests, that's because tests are not normative, not because moral relativism is true (or false or true-false or whatever nonsensical truth status moral relativists assign to moral relativism).