Archive for April, 2013

Carl Trueman on the Dangers of the Free Press

April 30, 2013

Professor Carl Trueman has some less than positive comments on the expanded freedom of the press that has occurred in the Internet age. Per Trueman:

Yet even as this increasing freedom is to be welcomed, it is not without inherent problems. In the past, if I wanted to tell you my views on subatomic physics, the best an idiot like myself could have done was to self-publish a book on the subject; and as soon as bookstore managers and journal editors noticed that the book was published by the `Carl R Trueman Center for Really Very Complicated Scientific Inquiry’, no mainstream bookshop would stock it and no reputable organ would review it. These days, however, I could simply start my own webpage or blog, and somebody out there – probably a bunch of my own besotted but unqualified and incompetent disciples – would take it seriously, flag up my works, surround my blogs and articles with praise, and make me look like a credible player in the internet world of subatomic research . Credible, that is, to anyone who took the web at face value and did not know anything about the subject or my own lack of any qualifications in the relevant field.

Of course, a similar problem occurred with the introduction of paper (reducing the cost of hand-copying manuscripts) and especially the introduction of the printing press (reducing the cost of reproducing text).

Trueman’s nostalgia of the golden days before the Internet are mistaken, however. First, there was plenty of tripe that was carried by bookstores and published by publishers (obviously, in the opposite order). Why was it published and carried? Because the owners thought they would profit from it.

Second, the firehose of the Internet has its own mechanism for sorting out the tripe. There are reasons that certain sites get more traffic than others. Sometimes the mechanism is as simple as the economic mechanisms that drove bookstores in the pre-Internet era. It costs time and/or money to run a good website, and it costs time and/or money to drive visitors to one’s website.

Sometimes the mechanism is the vox populi. The reason that certain blogs are popular is because people know writing that they like when they see it. Doug Wilson is a prime beneficiary of this effect. Likewise, a few blogs appeal on the basis of their substance, such as specialty blogs on niche topics.

There can be other effects as well, but the bottom line is that not all the millions of blogs get the same amount of shelf space in the Internet supermarket of ideas. Big, well-funded and well-filled sites get lots of space, and poorly funded and poorly managed sites get hardly any space.

So, having read my fair share of worthless e-pologetics (and perhaps my critics will say I’ve contributed more than my fair share), I still think that Trueman’s concerns overlook the credibility signaling that does exist within the Internet. The same problems that existed before the Internet still exist – the additional problems are just a result of having more quantity of material now than ever before.

It’s as though your favorite bookstore moved into a large warehouse, and now can stock even the most obscure self-published books. Actually, it’s rather like what places like Amazon.com and BN.com have become.

-TurretinFan

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How to Answer the Fool – Sye Ten Bruggencate

April 30, 2013

American Vision and Sye Ten Bruggencate have collaborated to provide “How to Answer the Fool.” I had the pleasure of listening to the presentation for free, courtesy of Crown Rights Media, who were also involved. The presentation was about 85 minutes long, and is focused on the apologetic method. I did not see the study guide.

The video provides a presentation of the apologetics approach in which the revelation of Scripture has preeminence (often called the “presuppositional” approach). The analysis is critical of the evidentialist approaches, using examples from folks like Lee Strobel, John Lennox, Frank Turek, and William Lane Craig. There is also criticism of Rick Warren and his “give Jesus a try” approach as well as a brief criticism of Pascal’s wager.

It is not just a lecture on apologetic methodology. There are some examples of open air apologetics applying this approach. Still, there is an explanation of the methodology and with the problems with rejecting the methodology.

One of the most interesting parts of the video come from an interview that began as a discussion with atheists, but had a surprising twist, which pointed out how the methodology does not need to be limited to those who call themselves atheists.

I really loved the video. As Sye emphasizes in the video, the methodology’s big advantage is that it drives you back to Scripture. Certain distinctive aspects of the methodology are emphasized (precisely because they are distinctive), so people may come away with the idea that all of the discussion is just asking one or two easy to ask questions. Still, he takes care to point out that it is more than that.

Cinematically, the presentation is developed with an intentionally “gritty” feel. While those techniques are not my personal favorite, they convey the point that this presentation is intended to be for the streets, even though it is skillfully produced. The elements of the presentation flow well, and even the rap in the credits time of the video is on point.

At one point in the video, one might come away with the idea that Sye does not consider himself accountable to anyone but God. I suspect that this point was not clarified because of a desire to focus on the topic at hand. There are subordinate authorities, of course, including the overseers in the church, family authority, and the civil authorities.

-TurretinFan

Disclaimer: as noted above, I did not pay to see this video, but was instead permitted to view the video without charge.

Calvin as Tyrant?

April 29, 2013

R. Scott Clark has some antidote to the oft-repeated slander of Calvin as Tyrant (link).

-TurretinFan

The Real Francis Turretin on Faith and Reason

April 25, 2013

The question is not whether reason is the instrument by which or the medium through which we can be drawn to faith. For we acknowledge that reason can be both: the former indeed always and everywhere; the later with regard to presupposed articles. Rather the question is whether it is the first principle from which the doctrines of faith are proved; or the foundation upon which they are built, so that we must hold to be false in things of faith what the nature light or human reason cannot comprehend. This we deny.

…If reason is the principle of faith, then first it would follow that all religion is natural and demonstrable by natural reason and natural light. Thus nature and grace, natural and supernatural revelation would be confounded.
…A ministerial and organic relation is quite different from a principial and despotic.
…We must observe the distinction between an instrument of faith and the foundation of faith.
…The Lutherans falsely object to us that we hold reason to be the principle and rule of demonstration in controversies because we sometimes draw arguments from reason, and argue from reason against the ubiquity of Christ’s body. For we assign to reason only a ministerial and instrumental, not a principal office. And if, in compound questions, we use reason for the purpose of proof, it bears the relation not of a principle but of means from which the theologian argues; and the are not with us primary arguments, but only secondary and auxiliary forces. Besides, while the theologian uses arguments drawn from reason, he does it rather as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. As to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, we reject this doctrine both philosophically and theologically, because it is absurd and contradicts the first principles of theology and philosophy.

(cited as Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.8.4, 5, 6, 24 at this link)

Paradigm Puzzle for Jason Stellman

April 25, 2013

Jason Stellman has claimed that one of his attractions to the Roman religion was that allegedly the Biblical authors said things that someone with a Reformed paradigm would not say. Actually, he’s being anachronistic. There are certain things Reformed pastors wouldn’t say, because of heresies that have arisen since the time of the apostles (such as papalism) and because of misinterpretations of Biblical passages, such as those related to perseverance.

I’m persuaded that Stellman will perceive particular passages to be puzzling for his present paradigm.  For example, I’m sure Stellman realizes that in Roman Catholicism the Eucharist is central. For example:

Eucharist and Priests: The Eucharist is central to the ministry of priests and it is by means of the Eucharist that “they are in communion with Christ the head, and leading others into this communion” (Ad Gentes, 39). The missionary activity of the Church is about the extension of communion through the building up, day by day of the body of Christ.

(source)

This should be obvious as well from the title of the blog of Stellman’s pals, “Called to Communion.” But what is the central aspect of the ministry of Christian elders? Check out the description in Acts:

Acts 6:2-4
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

The word and prayer are the central aspects.

And again, in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:17
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Here the emphasis is on word and doctrine, as well as on administrative ability.

And again, in Titus 1:

Titus 1:1-9
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; to Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Notice again the emphasis on the word and doctrine, as well as the emphasis on moral rectitude.

And again in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Again, teaching aptitude and administrative ability (together with exemplary moral status) are the focus.

In fact, while the Lord’s supper (and Baptism) are important, they are not closely linked with the roles of bishops/elders in Scripture. While typically these sacraments are administered by elders in Reformed churches, this is not because the Scriptures require it. It is a matter of order in the church, rather than a matter of absolute necessity. For example, Philip (one of the proto-deacons) baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

In Roman Catholicism, the priests/bishops must administer the Eucharist, because they are priests. That is not the paradigm of the New Testament. The elders/bishops are never referred to as priests. Indeed, in the New Testament properly the only priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, we are all priests, but properly it is only the Lord. He is the only mediator between God and man, which necessarily excludes a priestly class.

But Stellman claims that the Roman Catholic paradigm better explains the New Testament. I’m not persuaded.

-TurretinFan

The Real Francis Turretin on the Church in Relation to the Trinity

April 24, 2013

The church is the primary work of the holy Trinity, the object of Christ’s mediation and the subject of the application of his benefits.

(cited as Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T Dennison (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub., 1992), 3:1, at this link)

"It is not Possible to find Jesus Outside the Church"

April 23, 2013

Pope Francis in today’s homily stated (Vatican Radio translation):

And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.

I want you to note that line, “it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church.” There we have an exclusivistic note that we have not noticed in the past few pontiffs.

I can’t predict whether this statement will be qualified to death, or not. However, taking the statement as stated, how can there be “separated brethren”? Are they “brethren” who are separated from Jesus? If so, in what sense are they brethren? Likewise, if people are potentially saved “outside the church,” then are they not saved through Jesus?

Francis’ statement seems to fit better with traditional thought than with the modern inclusivisitic statements we’ve heard from a variety of cardinals. Recall Cardinal George talking about how Mormonism and Roman Catholicism have a “common ground” in Jesus (link). Likewise, recall Cardinal Pell suggesting that hell may be empty or nearly empty (link). Neither of these ideas fits well with what Francis is saying.

I will say this, Francis and Paul VI would be right on the point where he is quoted, if “church” were properly understood as the visible church (composed of all gospel-preaching churches) and if this were described as the general rule. In other words, our love of Christ should lead us to unity with the brethren in the churches. However, except those of us who grow up in the church, we come to faith in Christ outside the church and therefore join ourselves with the churches.

Moreover, Jesus is found in Scripture. The church ought faithfully to proclaim the Scripture and particularly the Gospel, but Jesus can be found and has been found by many outside the visible church, through the work of the Spirit opening their eyes, ears, and heart to the proclamation of the Gospel.

-TurretinFan

Binding and Loosing – a "Matter of Interpretation"?

April 23, 2013

Roman Catholics have the burden of establishing that there is some rule of faith outside Scripture.  One typical appeal (and one I recently heard) is an appeal to the binding and loosing mentioned in Matthew 16 and 18.  The problem with such an appeal is that “binding” and “loosing,” do not refer to defining dogma.

There are at least two main ways of looking at them.  One way is looking at them in terms of church discipline.  Another way of looking at them is in terms of the proclamation of the gospel.  But the Roman Catholic apologist’s way of looking at the text as supposedly conferring a power of infallibly defining dogma is different from either of those.

At this point, the RC apologist said, “… now we’re down to a matter of interpretation.”  Yes, it’s a matter of interpretation as opposed to say a matter of one person just blatantly saying, “because my church says so.”  Yet matters of interpretation are often still resolvable based on the text, context, and so forth.  So, just labeling something a “matter of interpretation” is not really an out for our friend.

The problem for this particular RC apologist (and others like him) is that his own church, in her official teachings, interprets “binding and loosing” as related to discipline (all quotations from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church):

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.”

1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.

979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? “If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives.”

980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church:

Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.

981 After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:

[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit’s action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.

982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.

Now, my Roman Catholic friends know very well that disciplinary decisions are not accorded the charism of infallibility in Roman Catholic theology. Yet they argue as though the verse teaches that the power to bind and loose implies infallibility. There’s a third way between between their church’s view and their view, as mentioned above.

As William Webster has explained, the keys of the kingdom of heaven were entrusted to the apostles in the form of entrusting them with the gospel message to proclaim.  Thus, the binding and loosing there refers to the proclamation of the true gospel.

Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 

Luke 4:18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

After all, the gospels are the keys that unlock the gates of hell, allowing the church (all believers – all those who confess that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God) to be resurrected unto eternal life. Those who do not follow the true gospel will not enter into heaven – those who do, will.

The apostles have handed down (traditioned) that gospel to us in the writings of the New Testament.  It was once delivered and remains the same today as it was when the apostles delivered it.

– TurretinFan

The Real Francis Turretin on Faith and Reason

April 23, 2013

He does not therefore mean to take away reason entirely because grace does not destroy, but perfects nature. He only wishes it to serve and be a handmaid to faith and as such to obey, not to govern its mistress; that it may be in subjection and not entirely discarded, that it may be not the foundation, but the defender of faith and embrace, contend for and adorn the faith already established.

(cited as Turretin 1.1.9.15 at this link)

C.S. Lewis on the Vatican Website – Priestesses and a Fourth Trinitarian Person?

April 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis, in an article at the Vatican website, states:

The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost ‘a fourth Person of the Trinity.’

(source)

Wondering why an article by C.S. Lewis is being posted on the Vatican website? The topic of the article is “Priestesses in the Church?” It was written in opposition to the introduction of priestesses into the Anglican church.

Are his arguments sound or usable by Roman Catholics? I think they are not:

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost ‘a fourth Person of the Trinity.’ But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla [Behold the handmaid of the Lord]; she is united in nine months’ inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all ‘prophesied,’ i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in the old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

a) There has been a big push within Roman Catholicism to describe Mary in terms of being a mediatrix or “co-mediatrix,” which places her in a priestly role.
b) Mary was absent from the Lord’s Supper, but only the Lord is the Priest of the Supper, the apostles were beneficiaries not priests.
c) Moreover, women are free to participate as beneficiaries even though Mary was not at the supper.
d) There doesn’t appear to be anything particularly priestly about the distribution of extraordinary gifts at Pentecost. After all, the sign gift of prophecy also came to Philip’s four daughters.
e) Prophecy doesn’t necessarily involve preaching. We’re not given any details about what kind of prophecy the daughters of Philip had. It may have been simple seeing, as with Agabus, who foretold Paul’s bonds. On the other hand, it may have been like Huldah’s prophecy:

2 Chronicles 34:23-28
And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.
And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.

That communicates a lot more information, and comes closer to preaching, although it is obviously not preaching in the sense of expounding or exhorting in a derivative way.

-TurretinFan


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