Archive for September 2007

The Emperor’s Clothes

September 29, 2007

Earlier this year I can across an excellent article by the late philosopher, Karl Popper, The Problem of Induction. Induction is a topic that continues to plague science, even if few seem to care. After all, what difference does philosophy make? Science works and you know what they say if it ain’t broke. Well, Popper wasn’t so naive and his insights into the epistemological limits of science are invaluable for reasons I’m sure he never anticipated and few Christians seem to grasp.

According to Wikipedia (so you know it has to be true) Popper

… held that scientific theory, and human knowledge generally, is irreducibly conjectural or hypothetical, and is generated by the creative imagination in order to solve problems that have arisen in specific historico-cultural settings. Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single counterexample is logically decisive: it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false

. . . Popper sought to explain the apparent progress of scientific knowledge—how it is that our understanding of the universe seems to improve over time. This problem arises from his position that the truth content of our theories, even the best of them, cannot be verified by scientific testing, but can only be falsified.

Long and short:  the conclusions of science are never final, always tentative. Science is useful for solving problems and making things that work, but as far as a means for discovering truth, science is a complete failure. What’s frustrating is how many Christians, even those interested in apologetics, have failed grasp the import of Popper’s observations. Doesn’t science tell us that ax heads don’t float (2 Kings 6:5-7), seas can’t part (Exodus 14:20,21), and the dead don’t come back to life (see John 11:14ff, not to mention the accounts of Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead). Doesn’t science tell us that “miracles” are a fiction; quaint and foolish fairytale for unenlightened minds? Plus, if any miracle recorded in Scripture actually occurred it must have a natural explanation, right? Hasn’t science proven once and for all that what “appears” to be a miraculous violation of a mundane natural “law” simply cannot happen? Shouldn’t we feel sorry for those ignorant flat earth bible believing fools? You can almost hear the choir singing “amen” as the army of postmodern sophisticates bow their heads in reverence to the New Age priests in white lab coats.

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The Clark Controversy With Feet On It . . .

September 26, 2007

What appears to be a debate over at De Regno Christi on the so-called “Federal Vision” seems to be plodding along for anyone interested. I have to think that the only real advantage for these so-called “Federal Visionists” to continually debate, explain and defend their theological “distinctives” over and over again, what some of us call, at least when we’re feeling particularly winsome, dangerous anti-Christian soul-destroying novelties, is that they must glean a sense of respectability from these exchanges. “See, we’re Reformed Christian men after all. Everyone takes us seriously, and, besides, the PCA report on our doctrines even referred to us as ‘brothers,’ not the heretics and false teachers our vitriolic critics charge.”

Well, for once James Jordon has found the nail head and actually hit it. Concerning the debate over the FV he said:

“It’s the Clark controversy with feet on it.”

That is exactly right and on so many different levels I have to guess Jordon doesn’t even realize he has only scratched the surface.

For Doug Wilson, Andrew Sandlin, Jordon and other FV’ers batting it around on De Regno Christi, believing is synonymous with doing and it is this combination that saves a man. Of course, this view of faith is not even remotely Christian, but these men have been able to wrap their nonsense in so much Christian and Reformed sounding jargon and historic confusion (in this case confusion over how faith is understood and defined) that even solidly grounded elders and pastors can’t even seem to see past their facade. Had they listened to Gordon Clark years ago on the question of faith my guess is that my brothers wouldn’t be looking so foolish now as they attempt to rid their denominations of these neo-liberal/legalist heretics. Of course, I’m not even sure they want to rid their denominations of these FV’ers at all, but I would suggest that perhaps the main reason they’re having so much difficulty dealing with these false teachers is that they are in fundamental agreement with them on such basic questions as what constitutes and defines faith.

Andrew Sandlin asserts:

Justifying, and not merely sanctifying, faith (as if there were a difference!) is penitent, obedient, submissive faith. In short, we basically agree with [Norman] Shepherd on this . . . What you will not find (to my knowledge) as such a distinctive is the definition of justifying faith as penitent, obedient, submissive. In fact, the majority of these denominations have now make painfully clear that they do not hold this view.

Thank goodness for the “majority of these denominations.” Notice all the things justifying faith does; it repents, it’s obedient, it’s submissive, it does. These are, in case you missed it, just part of the conditions that must be met in order to make faith saving. This is no mere assent to the understood propositions of the gospel that saves a man, but it is a faith that works. Wilson bangs the nail home when he concurs by adding; “I would take the idea of mere passive faith as the innovation.” Notice again, it’s not belief APART from works that saves a man, but justifying faith does things. Faith that simply rests and receives what Christ has done completely outside of us and apart from anything we do is an “innovation.” Mere belief alone in the truth of the gospel and the finished work of Christ doesn’t justify. Can these men be any clearer. You want to be saved, well, you’re going to have to work for it.

Again, Jordon swings his hammer cleanly:

. . . Faith becomes presuppositional rather than intellectual-propositional. A baby’s trust in his mother’s arms becomes the primary analogy for faith, as Jesus taught. As we grow, our understanding matures, and we expect mature faith to have lots of notitia and assensus; but fiducia is the foundation.

Faith or belief (these words are interchangeable since they’re both derived from the same Greek word pistis) is not “intellectual-propositional.” Simply believing the message of the gospel is inadequate to save sinners, rather what we need is to make faith “presuppositional,” whatever that might mean in Jordon’s evolving FV lexicon. While it’s not important to understand what he means by faith being “presuppositional,” what is important to understand is what faith is not (or, more specifically saving faith), and it is not mere belief in the gospel alone.

The Price of Fraud . . .

September 26, 2007

Leviticus 19:36,37: Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.

Prov 20:23: Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, And a false scale is not good.

Micah 6:9-13: The voice of the LORD will call to the city– And it is sound wisdom to fear Thy name: “Hear, O tribe. Who has appointed its time? Is there yet a man in the wicked house, Along with treasures of wickedness, And a short measure that is cursed? Can I justify wicked scales and a bag of deceptive weights? For the rich men of the city are full of violence, Her residents speak lies, And their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. So also I will make you sick, striking you down, Desolating you because of your sins.”

The “Two Book” Theory of Knowledge

September 24, 2007

For those who haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to get your hands on the latest issue of Trinity Review; The White Horse Inn: Nonsense on Tap. Many will read the piece and probably dismiss it as an attack on the White Horse Inn and its executive producer, Shane Rosenthal. Unfortunately those same people will miss the point of the piece which is a refutation on multi-source theories of truth and knowledge. Many Christians, and not just Shane Rosenthal, believe that while the Scriptures are necessary and sufficient for certain truths, they are not a source for all the truths that can be known. Most Christians believe, almost reflexively, that there are many other truths that we learn and know quite apart from those limited to Scripture or even their necessary inferences. While all Christians would agree that the Scriptures are true, most reject the idea that the Scriptures have a monopoly on truth. While all agree that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” most assert and believe there are other sources by which we might come to know the truth quite apart from Scripture.

What interests me about the piece are the objections raised to the long held notion that general revelation is somehow cognitive and that we come to knowledge – even knowledge about God – through sensation and observation. In reaction to the idea that there are “two books” of knowledge, specifically general and special revelation, Dr. Robbins observes:

All defenders of epistemological pluralism play with words. If truth is a property of a proposition, and only a proposition (which it is), then what is the meaning of the statement that “general revelation contains truth”? When Rosenthal looks at the sky, do the stars spell out English sentences for him? Perhaps Greek and Hebrew sentences . . . When Rosenthal examines an oak leaf, does he find there the opening verse of Genesis, like opening a fortune cookie? If not, then Rosenthal is equivocating on the word “truth.”

Since the literal meaning of “general revelation contains truth” is ludicrous, what does the statement actually mean? It means that natural men, using natural means, can derive truth from nature. How they do this, Rosenthal does not explain. He merely asserts it. And that is what Scripture denies, as we have already seen. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. They are not open to inspection except by those to whom Christ reveals them. The world through wisdom did not and cannot know God.

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Last Call At the White Horse Inn

September 21, 2007

It appears that the latest edition of Trinity Review, The White Horse Inn: Nonsense on Tap , critical of Inn barkeep Shane Rosenthal, has gotten the boys over at The Puritan Boards into a bit of a self-righteous flutter.

Evidently the review, or a portion of the review, was posted by a board member and was immediately denounced by Dr. R. S. Clark who accused Dr. Robbins of “theft” for publishing text from a private email. Then the post, along with Dr. Clark’s public charge against Dr. Robbins, was  mysteriously removed from the boards. According to one of the board owners, Rich Leino, the thread was pulled from public consumption citing, “. . . [The Trinity Review] was, in essence, a violation of the 9th Commandment in the way that Robbins took offhanded remarks from Rosenthal.”

Oh my, Dr. Robbins is guilty of violating both the 8th and the 9th commandments all in that one addition of Trinity Review according to the divines over at the Puritan Boards. I wonder if they look harder what other sins they might uncover? Stay tuned. Now, perhaps board owner Leino has gotten his commandments mixed up, or maybe the folks over at the Puritan Boards can’t figure out what Dr. Robbins should be charged with? So I asked Dr. Robbins how he would answer the charge that he was responding to a private correspondence or that Rosenthal’s remarks were somehow “offhanded,” whatever that’s supposed to mean, and were not intended for public consumption? Here is his reply:

1. Rosenthal was speaking in his official capacity as producer of WHI. He was not speaking as a private person.

2. Rosenthal was responding to a listener explaining the policies of the WHI. He was not discussing personal or private matters. He was responding to a member of the public.

3. If you read Rosenthal’s words carefully, he speaks in the plural: “we [referring to the barkeeps at the WHI] did not feel it necessary” and ” we had two United Methodists” and “our”: “our conversations,” “our discussions,” “our use of these men” etc. The plural pronouns occur throughout his essay, by my count about 20 times. It is not until the very end, when he is wrapping things up, that he uses “I” or “me.” Rosenthal is clearly expressing views held by the principals of the WHI.

4. Rosenthal is not speaking “offhandedly,” for he says near the end that “I have enjoyed thinking through these issues in our correspondence.” This is a “thought through” explanation of the WHI philosophy.

5. The accusations against me, of course, deliberate evasions of the issues I raised. It is typical of those who cannot give a coherent answer.

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
The Bible alone is the Word of God.

I have to agree. Shane Rosenthal, the executive producer of The White Horse Inn, was trying to justify having Roman Catholic Vampire novelist Anne Rice on their radio show without, in the words of one concerned listener, “any rebuttal, clarification, or warning.” Rosenthal was attempting to assuage the concerns of this listener who was “about to part ways with the White Horse Inn after listening for 10 years.” This listener then shared Mr. Rosenthal’s comments with Dr. Robbins and asked him to respond. Seems fair game to me. Am I missing something?

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Demonic Theology

September 17, 2007

James 2:17-20: Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

Gordon Clark in his book, What is Saving Faith, defined faith as an assent to understood propositions and saving faith as an assent to the understood propositions of the Gospel. Yet, the perennial objection raised by Clark’s detractors (or even by those who simply don’t know any better) is what about the demons? Above we have a situation addressed by James of believing devils who while believing are not saved.

As someone recently wrote:

“If “assent to propositions” is a synonym for “belief,” and belief is a synonym for “faith,” [don’t you end up] with saying that the kind of faith the devils have (“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”) is the kind of faith that is saving for people? That is so clearly contrary to what James is saying that I expect I’m not understanding.”

Well, is it contrary to what James is saying?

First, belief and faith are both derived from the same single Greek word pistis. As Gary Crampton points out:

In the New Testament, there is only one word for belief or faith, pistis, and its verb form is pistein, believe. There is no separate word for faith, and those who wish to say that faith is something different from and superior to belief have no support from Scripture. Gordon Clark once remarked that the Bible’s English translators could have avoided a lot of confusion if they had not used the Latin-based word “faith” and had instead simply used “believe” and “belief” throughout the English Bible, as the writers of the New Testament use pistis and pistein throughout the Greek Bible.

Second, it should be clear that the above reaction, which has become almost knee jerk whenever Clark’s definition is mentioned, simply ignores the passage in James. James is arguing that belief in God alone and even that God is one (i.e., monotheism) is not enough to save a person. The demons also believe in God and that He is one, and, while they’re not wrong for doing so, belief in monotheism is not saving. Apostate Christians, Jews and Muslims to mention just three all believe in God and that He is one, but for a person to be saved they must also believe the Gospel. Further, even if demons believed the Gospel (and James doesn’t say they do), it doesn’t follow that they too would be saved. For one thing Jesus didn’t die for demons but for sinful men, so the message of the Gospel does not apply to demons.

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A funny thing happened to me . . .

September 6, 2007

A funny thing happened to me at another blogsite. I summed up the Federal Vision (FV) theology espoused by Doug Wilson as follows:

Contra the Confession, Wilson & Co. makes our salvation contingent upon our doing, our ongoing “covenantal faithfulness.” One is brought into a conditional relationship with Jesus Christ in baptism (all baptized persons are then brought into the same relationship with Christ via baptism) and as they persevere in fulfilling the obligations imposed on them by virtue of this sacrament they will be finally saved or justified on the last day. That’s the theory anyway and that is RINE in a nutshell.

To which Doug Wilson replied:

Sean, do me a favor. Find me a quote in anything I have written that even remotely resembles your summary in your third paragraph. Begin with a “, end with a “, and give the citation. This will be hard to do since I deny that position as you summarized it, and I do so from soup to nuts.

Have you ever noticed how advocates of the so-called FV can never seem to “see themselves” in anything written by their critics, including in the PCA’s FV report as if the doctrines examined and refuted were pulled from the sky or some other dark place. After awhile people start to catch on that FV men like Wilson have many different faces. Of course, some of us realized that a long time ago.

So, where to begin? There is so much in Wilson’s public writings, not to mention his diatribe against the Christian faith, Reformed Is Not Enough, that supports the above brief but accurate summary that I confess it’s hard to know where to start. So, why don’t we dissect my brief summary above complete with supporting citations from Wilson . . .

1. Wilson makes our salvation contingent upon our doing, our ongoing “covenantal faithfulness.”

According to a piece that appeared 1/3/2006 on Wilson’s blog dealing with the idea of “to justify”in Paul and James, Wilson writes:

The solution of the whole problem is provided by Paul himself in a single phrase. In Gal. 5:6, he says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.” “Faith working through love” is the key to an understanding both of Paul and James. The faith about which Paul has been speaking is not the idle faith which James condemns, but a faith that works. It works itself out through love. And what love is Paul explains in the whole last division of Galatians. It is no mere emotion, but the actual fulfilling of the whole moral law. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Gal. 5:14). Paul is fully as severe as James against a faith that permits men to continue in sin. The faith about which he is speaking is a faith that receives the Spirit who gives men power to lead a holy life.

Notice the faith that saves is a “faith that works.” A faith working through love is what justifies. Salvation by faith and works could not be clearer. The prelates of Rome would be proud and from the Romanists coming out of the woodwork and around the blogosphere in defense of the FV (newly converted or otherwise), they are.

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