Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson and the Race Thing in a Nutshell




An abundance of issues may be (and have been) extrapolated from the Ferguson calamity, never minding the few predominant ones immediately arising from this event. And one of the topics is, of course, race and more specifically black on blue or blue on black contact (blue is Law Enforcement if you are unsure) and the various points of either conflict or potential conflict (real or imagined).

Among Christians in the Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist world, the Ferguson matter has been written about and discussed like a slow train wreck. Thabiti Anyabwile, a member of The Gospel Coalition, has lost himself, as it appears to me, to racial narcissism in transcribing a number of recent posts which are absent of any consistent objectivity.  Ultimately, as I read, he simply reduces the matter, in essence (along with the larger considerations of race, Christianity, theology and socialism), to emotionalism and racial sentimentality while formulating what arguments he does make with a very selective use of the information available. You can read about it here.

In another place you can scan a classic example of a man whose whiteness has him groping around in the dark (pun intended for those of you able to handle it, if not, pretend it doesn’t exist), flailing away at ghosts either he has invented or has received via a large body of racial political correctness always looming over such matters. It got so bad at one point he simply quit permitting comments because he attempted to set up codes for who should say what and how they must think about the issue and on and on, never minding the flood of objections to his clearly patronizing piece. He is able to be found here and is worth checking out if not just to learn how the disease of racial political correctness and false white guilt infects someone's thinking resulting in a catastrophic inability to discuss such topics objectively.

I could continue pointing to all the wrong steps but that is not necessary seeing they are quite apparent in the online world of Christendom. What is difficult to find however, is an honest and frank assessment of the relative Ferguson issues among Christians.

The Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist world of Christianity, as I see it, is so afraid of being labeled something or so busy with self-aggrandizing patronization and so fixated on crusadershipism and racial campaigns of sensitivity that nothing real may be said, that is, nothing that can possess solutions. Because in order to offer solutions the problems must be identified and as long as we tippy-toe around the problems, restricting speech either by code or by assigning to various racial groups what they may and may not say and how they must say what they do say, we are left with nothing but gusts of wind in every direction.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. I cannot recommend in any greater way that you go to The Gospel Coalition and read what Pastor Voddie Baucham wrote. His article (click on the article title and it will take you to his essay), Thoughts on Ferguson, is a tremendously conscientious and practical approach to the issue(s) of race, justice and law enforcement which have emerged. You will not regret the visit.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

John 1:13: “Not by the Will of Man” - Does God Suggest that Human Will is not involved in a Person Believing the Gospel? A Simple Exegetical Lesson



Over at SBC Tomorrow, the blog of a leading personality and Pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, Peter Lumpkins, I interacted in the comments section under one of his recent articles, Did Jesus tell Nicodemus he must be born again so he can believe the gospel?

What it revealed was an ongoing mentality which represents Christians who have chosen a sycophantic adherence to all things Calvinistic as opposed to all things exegetical and allowing the results be as they may, to determine one’s theology. I am not going to rehash or re-post what you can read but I recommend you visit the blog and observe the sottish reasoning by one particular commenter.

I used to be a Reformed Calvinist and argued so on many occasions but my arguments were trained to be exegetical, as all theological arguments ought to be in their foundation. Fortunately, the very tools given me in order utilize exegesis were what brought me out of the boundaries of Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist Theology.

It is important you understand what is going on here in the comments section of this particular article. It is not only Calvinists who have this problem but numerous others, believers and unbelievers, as a way of coping with facing overwhelming rebuttals to their belief system.

People often make great ego-investments early on with matters only to discover they have bought in to something they did not fully vet and which contains problematic values and properties. Unfortunately, a significant number of such people also become demonstrative in their ego-investment and when their conscience pricks them on a matter,  they are too far pronounced in their allegiance to become circumspect and retest what they believe and instead, as the Scriptures impart, they see the flaw in the mirror but as soon as they turn away, they forget about it. Why? It is simple, to save face within themselves and with others.

I have said this often and repeat it now, do not invest your ego in your theology, invest your soul in humility and the person of Christ and be ready to learn and correct your errors. You will get to a place of dogma and certitude over years and years of study but to do this too soon, before you have truly vetted and substantiated a comprehensive system, is to invite into your life the role of a theological fool.

Now, on to my treatment of the material which I am copying and posting from the comments section I shared at Peter Lumpkins’ blog. I have modified my response a bit for more general readership but have retained addressing a few personal points, so if it reads as if I am speaking to someone specifically, I was.

John 1:13: Examined

John makes a clear point. We are born again:

1. not of blood
2. not the will of the flesh
3. not the will of man
4. but of God

The expressions are understood as negatives in comparison to the real source of our regeneration.

Not of blood - (technically plural, "bloods") that is, by means of biological inheritance or lineage. This was a very critical point regarding the Jews with some misunderstanding that their blessings from God, which were based on their genetics (i.e., being a Jew), incorporated the promise of eternal salvation merely by being born a Jew. And expanded in application, this implicates any human pedigree if, being a Gentile, one imagines their human royalty is of some aid in the cause of God regenerating them.

Some suggest it could refer to the various sacrifices, pre-Christ, and if this be correct it still stands as a testament that it is only by means of Christ's righteousness and not the former sacrifices. I believe this is the weakest of the interpretations but still, I mention it just to cover the base and ultimately does not steer either of us in another direction since this is not the disputed portion.

Not of the flesh - this has been and still is, widely accepted with respect to its use in the Bible and outside of the Bible in contemporary literature of the period, a reference to life being the result of sexual intercourse. In other words, one is not born of God by means of human procreation, it is something greater and outside of that (which lays to rest the idea that babies are born regenerated and only die spiritually and gain a sin nature after they willfully sin at some point past their birth).

Included in this is the propensity among the Patriarchs to have many wives thus, increasing their seed and enlarging their covenantal benefits which our Lord is passively addressing; that while they might have succeeded in doing so via human procreation for geographical, political and agricultural blessings, the blessing of the covenant of eternal life will not and cannot come by this means.

Not by the will of man - interestingly the Greek word here for man is (ἀνδρὸς) andros and not (ἄνθρωπος) anthropos. Anthropos refers to all human kind without respect to gender (in general, though it can denote or connote a limited number of people or specific group depending on the context) which is not used here, rather, andros is the word used which is definitively for males. Why? What was our Lord referring to here?

He was addressing the view of the Jews and society which understood it was the husband or the authority who headed both the home and social structure. It was via the male authority that children were conceived, received, circumcised, given social status, and decreed what they will be with respect to their family and society. In other words, while human authority could and did decree many things, this event, regeneration, will not and cannot come by way of human authority or human decree.

Ultimately God is rebutting all human efforts which might claim the ability to regenerate one's self or claim/decree such.

Thus, this reference to the, "will of man", grammatically, is disqualified from referring to all human kind (anthropos) since its definitive/grammatical property alone limits it to only males and its contextual use further binds its meaning to being limited to males and with respect to their role as authority.

Thus, the use here by the Calvinist as arguing that the human will is eliminated as an element of the process of our being saved is invalidated since such an argument is with respect to all humankind and the exercise of their will in believing the gospel which would not only require anthropos to be used but as well, a different context and never minding what I just presented, the use of andros which is limited in its definitive/grammatical property and further, its contextual use which ultimately nullifies this particular Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist interpretation and application which, again, would require anthropos (Yes, I am being a bit redundant in my last paragraph but it seems redundancy is necessary, at times). 

Regeneration, Itself

Regeneration is from the Greek word, palingenesias (παλινγενεσίας) which is found in Titus 3:5 (also, Matthew has a reference). Even though John 3:3 does not use palingenesias it does refer to it with the phrase, “being born from above” using γεννάω (born or to bring forth) ἄνωθεν (from heaven or from the source of origin). Regeneration, as explained in Titus, is not merely the spiritual enlivening or resurrection of the human spirit but it is also the sanctification or washing from sin (Titus 3:5) by God the Holy Spirit. And this comes, how?

From believing the gospel as Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved..."

So in one sense you are right. Our regeneration is not by our will, that is, being born again. No one is arguing with that. God, through his third person, God the Holy Spirit, washes us and enlivens us by resurrecting our spiritual state lost in Adam from which we are born congenitally dead until we believe and are born again.

However, God regenerating us and our believing are not synonyms though they are very closely related in chronology and one is the consequence of the other. Here, Christ is speaking of the regeneration process itself (that it is by the power of God and specifically via God the Holy Spirit per Titus 3:5) and not why someone believes the gospel which results in regeneration. That is another issue and not contained in what Christ addresses here and is only imposed or imported via eisegesis.

It is true that the language of Christ, here, leaves many questions but that is just the point of many things our Lord said and did, to provoke genuine and further discovery by those who wanted the truth.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Must All Christians be a Calvinist or Arminian? The Infelicitous Assertion by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary’s Bill Combs or When Devotion to a School of Theology Leads to Impoverished Reasoning



Most of us have seen it in one form or another. Evolutionists are a good example. I am speaking of the case in which a man or woman becomes trapped, if not enslaved, by a particular school of thought, so much so that they lose the virtue of good reason, no matter what is presented to them. Everything and anything is filtered through this school of thought. Ultimately, it (this school of thought) becomes the dictate over the rational and logical processes of a person to the point that the obvious becomes the enemy and exaggerated obscurities and unwarranted minimization become the bewildering merchandise offered as justifications for the sycophant's enigmatic intellectual/apologetic crusades.

If you are uncertain of my aim, allow me to be precise. Over at Theologically Driven, a blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (who are self-identified Baptist Fundamentalists), one of the seminary professors, Bill Combs, posted an article, Why You Must Be a Calvinist or an Arminian (and this did not stand alone, it actually augmented an earlier post by another professor, Mark Snoeberger who made a related assertion). This may seem but a blip on a radar but then a plane crashing into a building is, too. Thus, I want you to stop and consider the degree of concern which this warrants, if you consider yourself a Baptist Fundamentalist, a Christian who identifies with Calvinism via DBTS style, someone who intends on attending DBTS or simply a Christian interested in the issue, itself.

I posted a response to Bill Comb’s post at Theologically Driven which was up for a while but then taken down. Nothing rude or personal was contained in the rebuttal. I do think, however, that it shed a rather embarrassing light on Comb’s assertion(s) and consequently Mr. Combs and DBTS who would endorse such an idea, thus, its removal.

I certainly expect binary or black/white thinking to abound in Calvinistic acolytes such as this group, here. However, for a seminary professor who has demonstrated capacity for more considerate paradigms and whose profession ought to reflect it, there is a reason for real concern, especially for his students and those in his sphere of influence. Therefore, I have made this rebuttal post at my blog for all my readers and beyond because this issue is critical in how it is framed and how it affects theological discourse in the Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian community

Comb’s Assertions

Generally, Bill Combs formulates his argument somewhat the way Snoeberger did in his earlier post at Theologically Driven, namely, by way of circular reasoning combined with selective (should I say elective? – pun intended) logic. Basically put it is:

  • God saves us without help from ourselves (he uses this phraseology which is with reference to monergism, while actually referring to election)
  • Calvinism believes this
  • Whoever agrees with this is a Calvinist
And the same paradigm Combs uses for Arminian assignment with a bit of a qualifier. Basically he asserts that to disagree with his construct, which he claims is a Calvinist construct based on the U (unconditional election) of the Calvinist TULIP, is to be Arminian. Case closed, either you are an Arminian or Calvinist and no other possible taxonomy can exist (he expressly says with regard to this that it is, “the only other possibility”).

On the face of things or as Latin lovers like to say, prima facie, most people’s instinct is correct, that this is very narrow, prejudiced and inconsiderate thinking. Multiple flaws in this thinking instantly come to mind and here are but a few of them.

Quick Rebuttal Points to the Infelicitous Binary Taxonomy

Lutheranism - Let’s first consider Comb’s claim that there cannot be a third way. Enter, Lutheranism, more precisely, Martin Luther. Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses when John Calvin was an 8 year-old boy. In fact, it was not until ten years before Luther’s death that Calvin published his Institutes. While it is a significant body of work, it is quite a matter of history and now plain to see that Luther did not gain his views from Calvin. Thus, the absurd taxonomy Combs and others wish to impose on Lutherans and Christianity is laughable.

Is he not aware of this? Does he not know a large body of Lutherans and their Book of Concord, which articulates Lutheran doctrine so clearly and which was born before Calvinism, exists in robust form today? And he asserts there can only be Arminians and Calvinists? Dear Professor, how embarrassed do you wish to be?

Calvinism is more than a single postulate – Calvinism, in its true theological science, is a body of belief with all of its parts integral to one another for its rationalistically based theological system to function. All of its parts combined make up its proprietary theological identification and system.

Holding to a single postulate that a Calvinist may hold to does not make a person a Calvinist no more than agreeing with a Democrat or Republican on one point makes a person one of them. This is just as true in so many things in this world.

A good example of this simple truth is martial arts. Many schools share various movements, both offensive and defensive, but they are distinguished by their unique developments and specialized or proprietary combat techniques and so on. And in these communities most adherents have the common and good sense to respect such distinctions.

As well, computers share common parts but also have proprietary elements which separate them. One is not the other because of what they have in common but what they have which is not common. Combs completely ignores this reality or irresponsibly dismisses it through reductionism.

Calvinism is, in reality, Augustinianism – Many of the proponents of the oversimplified binary taxonomy proposed by Combs and DBTS, argue that the two labels are warranted because of historic identification. In other words, because historically, Calvinism (at least in their minds) and Arminianism both stick out in opposition to one another, they must be the two polar ends and exist as a reasonable means for identifying others.

Wrong, and for the most obvious reason.

First, Calvinism is not even five-hundred years old while the church is two-thousand years old. If we are going to talk about history and labels, Calvinism is in the last quarter section of a two-thousand year long line.

Secondly and related, Calvin was deeply and admittedly influenced by Augustine who preceded him and dominated theology for over a century before Calvin. In truth, if we are going to argue theological history, Calvin is an Augustinian thus, are all Calvinists and if historic labels are so important then how about a bit of integrity, eh?

Everyone is now a Catholic and Dispensationalist – By way of Combs’ magical thinking in which circular reasoning rules his consideration on this matter, we now are permitted to assert the preposterous, namely, that every Christian is a Catholic and Dispensationalist (Why do I hear someone insisting, "No, really, that is a good point."? UGH).

If someone shares one point in a theological system they clearly warrant being labeled as adherents to such and all Christians share at least one or more points of Catholic theology (the Trinity to name one).  And for dispensationalism, specifically,  most every Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist agrees that we are no longer under the protocols of the Theocracy of Israel. Of course, readers can see the absurdity of this which is exactly the point.

The conspicuous absence of the pursuit of this taxonomy by non-Calvinists – Have you ever noticed who is almost exclusively attempting to force this binary theological taxonomy for all Christians? Right, Calvinists. This easily informs the average person that something conspicuous is going on. Why is this effort so exaggeratedly present with Calvinists but absent with non-Calvinists?

There are a number of possibilities but I suspect the most common one is behind much of this, namely the desire to minimize, isolate or ill-defined those with whom they disagree in order to expedite the dismissal of them in order not be forced to deal with them as peers in arguments they cannot sustain in a debate.

This is done all the time in society. If we label someone or something we or our community considers objectionable, we are then justified in dismissing them and not engaging with them or at least when we engage with them, we may hold them in contempt as inferior students, thus always wrong from the start. We are the correctors and they the correctees, always.

Why would a Calvinist want to do this?

Ego-Investment - The truth is, this is not unique to Calvinists. It happens quite often where there is ego-investment in one’s thinking. When a person buys into an idea or concept they often invest their person or ego, as well. That is a mistake in many ways and for many reasons. Not that we cannot invest our egos, at times, but such an investment must be made for the right reasons.

Theological systems are attractive to people, intellectually and then, theologically if not spiritually as well. Many systems contain many right things. but further, they appear to have all the answers or at least most of them. They do a great deal of thinking for people, thinking for which many people do not have time or capacity. Thus, when they encounter a detailed body of theology such as Calvinism or Lutheranism (just to name a couple but certainly not just these), people can be deeply impressed and mistakenly identify it as so superior to their own considerations that to all of its tenets, they must yield and further, pledge allegiance lest they offend the God who enlightened such a soul or souls who formulated and articulate a grand theological system. Thus, they buy in lock, stock and barrel without ever making the necessary effort to vet and test its major or essential views, rather their energy is spent simply validating them.

Conclusion

I have no doubt Professor Combs desires to please the Lord and serve him and it is demonstrated by his life in many ways as one can view publicly. However, impoverished reasoning is not one of those ways, particularly by one who has been academically and theologically trained to avoid such restricted considerations. It comes across naïve and reckless and ultimately needlessly marginalizes him and DBTS in the Christian community.

And as to theological taxonomies, we ought to find a generous paradigm which both identifies larger schools and their influence while respecting other schools with their own proprietary views and development. I prefer to use and articulate a global theological taxonomy, a three-dimensional one, which I do understand some might have trouble picturing in their brain. However, just get out a globe (if you still have one) and use that as your method of developing a taxonomy or map. In the meantime, when you encounter this kind of thing, deal with it for what it is, which isn’t much other than a gimmick for constructing theological arguments to the Calvinist’s imagined advantage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Real Reason behind Victoria Osteen’s “Happy” Doctrine: Christian Hedonism and John Piper?



What I am about to propose to you should not shock you nor come as a surprise, though it will not be what you might suspect regarding an opinion as to why Victoria Osteen, the wife of the very well-known Pastor Joel Osteen (actually Co-Pastor seeing that both husband and wife are the Pastors), said what she said recently about the Christian’s happiness, doing good and God’s relationship to it all. If you are not familiar with assertion or have not even heard of the event, here is what Victoria Osteen recently proposed as proper Christian doctrine and practice:

Victoria Osteen

When we obey God, we're not doing it for God...we're doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we're happy. Do good 'cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God, really. You're doing it for yourself because that's what makes God happy.
 
Now my title is rather plain in its giveaway but that is fine. I am not going to do a great deal of elaboration, rather a comparison. Think about what she said and consider how it parallels to many of the statements by John Piper, the originator of the novel theological heterodoxy, if not heresy, he calls “Christian Hedonism”.

  1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
  2. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
  3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God.
  4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it expands to meet the needs of others in the manifold ways of love.
  5. To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.

By Christian Hedonism, I do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian Hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God - that's what makes Christian Hedonism controversial.

Hmmmm.....has Victoria been reading John Piper’s books?  You cannot “please God” if you don't pursue happiness, says John Piper while Victoria says when you make yourself happy this makes God happy. Granted, they aren’t identical statements but they are kissing cousins at least and so far this is the most plausible explanation I can think of as to where Victoria got her errant pleasure orientation doctrine.