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John Piper – Heading For the Cliff

October 11, 2017

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John Piper has doubled down on his doctrine of justification by faith and works.  John Robbins first alerted the world about Piper’s rejection of the law/Gospel distinction in his review of Piper’s abysmal Future Grace back in 2002.  Today, Tim Shaughnessy and Timothy Kauffman, the team over at Bible Thumping Wingnuts, have raised the alarm again citing a very recent piece where Piper answers the question, “Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?”  Anyone familiar with John Robbins’ review of Future Grace should not be surprised that Piper answers this central question of the Christian faith in the negative. Piper writes:

In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us. … In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. (emphasis Wingnuts)

It is important to understand that Piper is not talking about some future reward bestowed on believers on the day of judgment (see Mathew 25:23 and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). It’s also not as if Piper is saying that we are saved so that we might do good works as Paul explains in Ephesians 2:10.  Piper is crystal clear.  We do good works so that we might be saved.  Our eternal blessedness hangs in the balance. Adding the word “finally” to salvation doesn’t change the math. Belief or faith starts the process of salvation, but works done through faith finish it.  Piper attempts to draw a distinction between being accounted as righteous though belief in Christ alone in justification and being made fit for heaven on the basis of our works.  But, what good is the justification we receive through belief in Jesus Christ’s finished cross-work if our salvation ultimately rests on our works as well? What has Jesus’ life and death really accomplished? It seems for Piper Jesus only enables us to be saved.  He didn’t accomplish it.  For that, we must all do our part.  I am hard pressed to see the difference between the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith and works with the one being advanced by Piper … as the Wingnuts correctly explain.

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On Hurricanes, Karma and the Providence of God

September 15, 2017

If you don’t already subscribe to Steve Matthews’ blog, Lux Lucet, you definitely should.  A great mix of politics, religion, and theology. – SG

Lux Lucet

HurricaneSurvivalGuide“I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt (sic) care about them.” Thus tweeted sociology professor Ken Storey shortly after Hurricane Harvey had ravaged Texas. This raises the question, just what were the sins of Texas that called for such dreadful punishment? Apparently, it was the voters of Texas’ decision to support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Shortly after his unfortunate tweet, Storey was fired from his teaching position at the University of Tampa.

As a Christian, I reject the mechanistic concept of Karma. But I do find it supremely ironic that, even as I write this post, Hurricane Irma is ravaging the gulf coast of Florida, the very region where the city of Tampa is located and, presumably, where Ken Storey makes his home. But unlike the good professor, I take…

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Reflections on the Christian Apologetics of Gordon H. Clark – E. Calvin Beisner

August 31, 2017

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[This paper was originally delivered as a lecture at an apologetics conference at Branch of Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Torrance, California, October 23, 2015.]

I’m going to focus today pretty exclusively on Gordon Clark’s epistemology. Clark believed Christian apologetics must address not only matters of theological prolegomena (the existence and nature of God, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the historicity of Biblical persons and events, especially of Jesus Christ and His bodily resurrection, etc.) but also the implications of the Christian faith—that is, the teaching of Scripture on—every aspect of human life, private and public, personal and social. For he believed that Scripture does have implications for all aspects of life, and that because it does, it is important to defend those implications against attacks just as it is to defend what most would see as its more prominent doctrines. He wrote over 40 books (including a systematic theology the manuscript of which was only discovered in about the last year, which his grandson now hopes to get published and which I expect I shall read with great relish), many articles, and many lectures, addressing every branch of philosophy, plus history, various divisions of natural science, economics, ethics, politics, and more, and though I personally find everything he wrote fascinating, it would be impossible to treat the broad spectrum of his thought even tolerably, let alone well, in a single short lecture.

For this lecture, therefore, I think it most profitable to confine ourselves to his epistemology, which is probably the aspect of his thought that has been the most divisive in broader Christian circles because of his presuppositionalism, and in narrower Reformed circles because of his disagreements with and critiques of the epistemologies of Herman Dooyeweerd and, more prominently and importantly in American Reformed circles, Cornelius Van Til.

I will not try to document all or even many of my descriptions of Clark’s thought by specific quotations from his work. I’ve written this lecture as one who studied Clark intently for about fifteen years, from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, but whose attention has for the last dozen years or so been on quite different matters. So instead what I’ll give you here is more what I as a serious student of Clark perceive on reflection at some distance to have been the most important epistemological lessons I learned from him. It is entirely possible, therefore, that some of what I say might more accurately describe his impact on my thinking than his own thinking per se. If that is so, it won’t be the first time a great thinker’s disciple has succumbed to some revisionism—not even the first time for a disciple of a famous Reformed presuppositionalist.  (more…)

Bible Thumping Wingnuts

April 27, 2017

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Yep, that’s their name and this is their interview of Doug Douma, author of the new Gordon Clark biography:  CLICK HERE

 

Faith is Intellectual Assent … Faith is Belief

March 24, 2017

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Doug Douma, the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher – The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, has put together a short article demonstrating from personal letters culled as far back as 1939 that Gordon Clark has always rightly and consistently held to the position that faith is intellectual assent to understood propositions and that faith is belief; nothing more, nothing less.

Douma’s little stroll down memory lane reminded me how Clark had pointed out that Latin, from which the word faith is derived, has not served the church very well.  In his monograph The Johannine Logos (now included in the volume What is Saving Faith Clark writes on the question of faith:

“The Latin language has not been an unexceptionable advantage to theology. Dikaioo was translated justus facere; and thus the New Testament word for acquit or pronounce righteous was taken to mean make righteous. The result was a theory of infused grace that obscured the method of salvation until the time of Luther and the Reformation. So too it would have been better if the King James Version had omitted the word faith and emphasized the root meaning of belief.”

I would probably go further and say that the Latin language has been a bane on the church. One can think of the use of Latin by Rome’s priestlings as a means to keep the masses ignorant of God’s word. Let’s face it, it is hard to be like Paul’s “noble Bereans” when you can’t understand what someone is saying which is exactly how Rome likes it. Historically Latin has also been the language of the religious class, again as a means of elevating and separating themselves from the man in the pew. Further, I think the word faith is a poor choice not only because it is ambiguous, and it is, but because outside of specifically religious discussions and Christian circles no one uses it. The one exception might be when someone wants to disparage Christian belief as irrational. Not that this isn’t without some justification given that since Aquinas faith has been thought of as something that is in addition to and beyond reason. According to Thomas’ two-fold theory of truth, there are truths that can be discovered through reason and philosophy and other truths (i.e., those revealed in Scripture) that surpass “the whole ability of the human reason.” This two-fold definition wasn’t lost on the Existentialists either who similarly thought faith was a leap requiring leaving reason and the laws of logic behind. Even Webster’s defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Faith in the minds of most is something that is irrational and, because of this, actually hampers rather than enhances evangelism because it distorts the fact that truth is one, and more importantly, that God’s truth is all truth. As Clark demonstrated through his many volumes there are simply no truths that can be known apart from the revelation of God in His Word. Further, and according to the Westminister Confession, the truth of God’s Word is evidenced by the logical harmony or “consent” of all the parts of Scripture. Rather than reason being opposed to faith, faith when properly understood and applied to Scripture is the height of rationality.

Instead of being a means by which the Gospel might be understood so as to be believed, the word faith has become a stumbling block. That’s because we simply don’t use the word faith in general discussions outside of the church. It has become just more religious jargon. We may say that someone has a belief in science, or belief in evolution, or a belief in the evidence, whatever that might be, but we generally don’t say they have faith.

Also, as Clark pointed out, faith was a poor translation of the Greek noun pistis because it has no verb form.  For example, we don’t say Christians are “faithers.”  We say Christians are believers because of their belief in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.

It is even worse among Christians as the word faith means many things to many people and for most, it doesn’t mean anything very specific at all. Faith for many is sort of a mushy amalgam of sentimental feelings where the head is forever separated from the emotive heart. People simply attach their own often vague meaning, or, worse, their feelings, to the word and we end up talking right past each other. On the other hand, there is no confusion over the word belief, yet some, mostly elders and the seminary trained, think justification by belief alone is somehow heretical.  This lack of clarity and even confusion over the word faith is the reason why otherwise well-meaning Reformed men have done such a poor job defending the biblical doctrine of justification against the heresies of Rome and, closer to home, the false soteriology of the Federal Vision and the so-called “New Perspectives on Paul.”

You can read Douma’s article here.

David Engelsma reviews “The Presbyterian Philosopher”

March 14, 2017

cigar-c-cExcellent review by David Engelsma of Doug Douma’s biography of Gordon Clark. Strong stuff. Here’s a sample:

In 2017 one can discern the further adverse consequences of the OPC’s decisions and actions in the matter of Gordon Clark. The OPC committed itself to “paradoxical” theology, abandoning, if not condemning, logical thinking (in fact, this is an abandonment of thinking; illogical thinking is an oxymoron; if it is still thinking at all, it is thinking that is unintelligible). A leading instance was the OPC’s virtual adoption of the theology of a common grace of God, consisting of a desire of God for the salvation of all humans, at least all who hear the gospel (cf. Murray and Stonehouse, “The Free Offer of the Gospel”). The contradiction of this universal grace by the doctrine of predestination, reprobation as well as election, which is creedal for Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession, is not for the OPC an argument against universal grace. Rather, the contradiction is accepted and defended as an aspect of the “paradoxical” nature of doctrinal truth. Over the years, since the 1940s, this honoring of universal (saving) grace as a glory of its “paradoxical” theology has weakened the OPC’s testimony to all the doctrines of (particular) grace. Invariably, indeed necessarily, the truth being, in fact, rigorously logical, the doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the “paradox” drives out the doctrine of particular, sovereign grace.

Recently, its “paradoxical” theology has opened up the OPC to the covenant theology of the federal vision. In the just judgment of God, this grievous departure from the gospel of (covenant) grace has had its origin at Westminster Seminary, with Prof. Norman Shepherd, vigorously supported by Prof. Richard Gaffin. Expelling Gordon Clark largely by the efforts of Westminster Seminary, at Westminster Seminary the OPC received Norman Shepherd. Under the influence of Westminster Seminary, the OPC has approved a covenant theology that expressly denies all the doctrines of grace of the Westminster Standards, including justification by faith alone, with special reference to the children of believers. Such is the theology of the federal vision.

When confronted by this theology’s contradiction of the doctrines of the Reformed faith in the Westminster Standards, the Westminster professors and their supporters in the OPC argue that truth is “paradoxical.” The logic of biblical revelation finds no favor in the OPC. Therefore, the illogic of heresy gains entrance.

The Gordon Clark case is unfinished business in the OPC.

A Place for Thoughts

[To appear in the Spring 2017 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. Reproduced here by permission.]

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Douglas J. Douma. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2016. Pp. xxv + 292. $37.00 soft. Reviewed by David J. Engelsma

“Oh, the damnable politics in the church of Jesus Christ,” someone has exclaimed, and rightly. No church is free of the evil. Ministers cripple or destroy their fellow ministers out of jealousy, or out of fear for their own prominent position in the church. The sin of the politics is not only the injury that is invariably done to one’s brother and colleague. But it is also the damage that is done to Christ’s church. The politics deprives the church of the gifts of the minister who is marginalized, or even driven out of the church. It is not…

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The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark – A Review

February 22, 2017

clarkDoug Douma has done a masterful job.  This book is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in discovering one of the greatest minds Christianity has ever produced. That’s not hyperbole.  According to John Robbins; R. C. Sproul was once asked what 20th-century theologians people would be reading in 500 years, and he answered, ‘Gordon Clark.’ I have it on tape.”  Perhaps the section that will interest most readers is the one dealing with the controversy that arose between Clark and Cornelius Van Til and assorted faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary who, unsuccessfully, attempted to block Clark’s ordination in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Douma carefully and extensively documents the entire sordid affair from start to finish and corrects the record regarding some of the fairy tales that have come out of the Van Til camp over the years (I have to think he’s going to take some heat over this).

As an extra bonus, pay close attention to the article Douma includes by Clark in the appendix; “Studies of the Doctrine of The Complaint.” Clark does a great job showing that even the Van Til faction’s lukewarm attempt at a concession after their complaint was denied and Clark exposed the group as un-Reformed epistemological skeptics, was no concession at all.  Even in their backpedaling, Clark destroys his opponents a second time so thoroughly that only the frank and open admission that Clark was right and the Van Til faction was completely wrong would have sufficed. It should not be surprising that when it comes to Van Til and his many followers through the years that what they often give with the one hand they take away just as quickly with the other. That’s because when someone believes as Van Til did that (all) Scripture is paradoxical and contradictory propositions can, in fact, both be true, it’s easy to justify speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth.

The one possible and admittedly very small bone I would pick with the author is that I don’t see the passage cited from Van Til’s; An Introduction to Systematic Theology (161) as providing any genuine agreement between Van Til and Clark. Instead of Van Til “almost coming around to Clark’s position,” what I see it as a subtly worded evasion of the force of Clark’s devastating critique of The Complaint.  As far as I can tell Van Til provides nothing more than a restatement of Acts 17:28 while conceding absolutely nothing.  Consider these passages from An Introduction to Systematic Theology in light of the question of the incomprehensibility of God and whether or not there is any point of contact or coincidence between the truths known by God (all truth) and the knowledge possible to man (some truth):

“For man any new revelational proposition will enrich in meaning any previous given revelational proposition. But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind . . . There could and would be an identity of content only if the mind of man were identical with the mind of God. It is only on the assumption that the human mind is not the mind of a creature but is itself the mind of the Creator that one can talk consistently of identity of content between the mind of man and the mind of God (270,271).”

“[Man] never has and never can expect to have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind (295).”

“. . . the Christian position with respect to man’s not knowing at any point just what God knows is based upon the presupposition of the self-contained God of Scripture. And this presupposition is the death of both rationalism and irrationalism. It is the death of both because it alone maintains the full dependence of the mind of man upon the mind of God . . . To say therefore that the human mind can know even one proposition in its minimal significance with the same depth of meaning with which God knows that proposition is an attack on the Creator-creature relationship and therewith an attack on the heart of Christianity. And unless we maintain the incomprehensibility of God as involved in and correlative to the idea of the all-controlling power and knowledge of God, we shall fall into the Romanist and Arminian heresy of making the mind of man at some points as ultimate as is the mind of God (297, 298).”

This minor caveat aside, this really is an outstanding biography of really a wonderful elder brother in Christ and one of the greatest minds of any generation. The book nicely captures a sense of the man and not just the controversies that often defined his life. Clark’s dedication to painting later in life, albeit ever so badly, really speaks to Clark as what was once called a true “Renaissance” man. The sadness expressed at the loss of his wife Ruth was particularly touching. It was also interesting and sad that his only seeming respite from controversy was during his long tenure as the head the philosophy department at a Butler University, a secular university. I suppose the blessing is that leaving the ugliness of ecclesiastical politics aside Clark was able to focus on writing and leaving his ever-expanding number of eager students with plenty to read and digest.


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