Archive for November, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium – the BBC Has Overstated the Pope’s Liberal Leanings

November 26, 2013

BBC News has the headline: “Pope Francis calls for power to move away from Vatican” and the opening line: “Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican, in the first major work he has written in the role.”

The document in question, Evangelii Gaudium (“Gospel’s Joy”) purports to be an apostolic exhortation. The document does state, at section 32, “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” I cannot find anywhere in the document the idea of actually removing power from the Vatican. There are several favorably mentions of the Second Vatican Council, but nothing opposing ultramontanism even to the extent that the Second Vatican Council attempted.

There are some other interesting aspects to the document. For example, it was interesting to see Garry Wills’ point about the power of the ministerial priesthood arising from the Eucharist. Section 104 states: “Its [the ministerial priesthood’s] key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people.” Wills would, I think, respond that the power to administer the Eucharist naturally progresses into a power of domination, particularly when the power is discretionary.

Sections 147 and 148 are also interesting in terms of their relationship to exegesis:

147. First of all, we need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

148. Certainly, to understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church. This is an important principle of biblical interpretation which recognizes that the Holy Spirit has inspired not just a part of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole, and that in some areas people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience. It also prevents erroneous or partial interpretations which would contradict other teachings of the same Scriptures. But it does not mean that we can weaken the distinct and specific emphasis of a text which we are called to preach. One of the defects of a tedious and ineffectual preaching is precisely its inability to transmit the intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.

It is interesting to hear Francis’ comments. He seems to be acknowledging that literary analysis is legitimate for figuring out the meaning of the text in section 147. In section 148, Francis is careful to add the qualifier “as handed on by the Church” (presumably modifying “teaching” not “Bible”). Still, fundamentally Francis seems to be recognizing that while people can misunderstand the text, they can use literary analysis to figure out what it means. This means that even if a “church” is helpful in analyzing the text, it is not necessary — the text has intrinsic power and self-demonstrating meaning.

Section 22 similarly acknowledges the superior power of the word to the church:

22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.

It’s great for Francis to make these concessions, and it helps to undermine the traditional error of Roman Catholicism in treating “the Church” as a necessary gatekeeper and mouthpiece for the Word.

The RC pope may not be as liberal as the BBC portrays him, but he expresses a position a lot closer to “Protestantism” than some of his predecessors.

-TurretinFan

Keep it Simple: STUPID

November 19, 2013

TULIP is a great acronym for the doctrines of grace. But it’s not very American. Here’s another that may be easier to recall, next time people tell you that election, predestination, or Calvinism is “stupid.” You can respond, yes:

Sovereignty: God is in charge – we are not. All things happen according to his foreordinate counsel – from the death of Christ to the last hair on our heads.
Total depravity: In Adam we fell and our natures became corrupt, so that we do not obey the law of God and are not able to.
Unconditional election: God has chosen some of humanity for himself, based only on himself and his love – not based on us and our merit.
Perseverance of the saints: God will finish the work of salvation that he begins at justification, saving to the uttermost those who approach Him in faith.
Irresistible grace: God’s grace acts directly to convert the heart, change the will, and make a new creature, who then responds. God’s grace does not have to wait for the creature’s will, in order to effect a change.
Definite atonement: Christ’s death was particularly intended to bring about the salvation of the elect: his sheep – those that the Father gave him out of the world.

-TurretinFan

Elected for the Non-Elect

November 12, 2013

My friend, Dr. James White, recently reviewed a portion of a sermon by Eric Hankins, in which Pastor Hankins tried to argue that the elect were chosen for the non-elect. There is a certain intuitive appeal of that position: Christ is the Elect One, and Paul and Jeremiah were chosen for service. It doesn’t do full justice to passages like Romans 9, though.

Was Jacob chosen for the benefit of Esau? Or was it written, “the elder [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob]”? Surely the latter.

Was Moses chosen for the benefit of Pharaoh? Or was it almost the reverse? Again, the latter seems to be the case.

Hankins tried to say that God never gives up on anyone. But is that really true? Did God never give up on Pharaoh or the Egyptians? What about the households of Ahab and Jeroboam? Or let’s get more dramatic – what about the whole earth in the days of Noah? Did God ever give up on the rest of the world except the eight souls on the ark? The answer has to be “yes,” since God sent the flood on them.

Hankins’ rhetoric may sound nice, but it is wrong. The elect are chosen for the glory of God, first and foremost, and they are also chosen to serve one another:

2 Timothy 2:10
Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

-TurretinFan

Waldron’s Cascade Argument

November 11, 2013

Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Sam Waldron had a very cordial debate on the question, “Have the New Testament Charismatic Gifts Ceased?” Dr. Brown’s rebuttal arguments did not appear to me to reflect an understanding of Dr. Waldron’s primary argument, the so-called Cascade Argument.

I strongly believe that it is important to a dialog that both sides understand the other. Thus, my hope is that by spelling out this argument in writing, I can clarify the argument to Dr. Brown, to those who agree with him, and more broadly to those considering the question of the gifts.

The Cascade Argument can be summarized thus:

1) There are no apostles of Christ on earth today.
2) Because there are no apostles of Christ, there are no prophets.
3) Because there are no prophets, there are no tonguespeakers.
4) In view of 1-3, there are no miracle workers on earth today.

1. There are No Apostles of Christ on Earth Today

A) To be an Apostle of Christ was itself a gift to the church, and the foremost of the gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 Ephesians 4:8-11 – Christ gave gifts to men, among them apostles.

B) The term “apostles of Christ” is to be distinguished from missionaries, aka “apostles of the churches,” which is a different office. Only “apostles of Christ” are no longer among us.

C) To be an apostle of Christ, there were three distinguishing marks:
i) Directly appointed by Christ (Mark 3, Luke 6, Acts 1:2, Acts 10:41, Galatians 1:1). That’s why the lot was used.
ii) Physical eyewitnesses of the Resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:22, Acts 10:39, 1 Corinthians 9:1)
iii) They are able to confirm their apostlate by doing miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).

D) The apostles of Christ spoke authoritatively for Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 14:37).

E) There are five reasons we know from Scripture that the Apostlate ceased:
i) Ephesians 2:20 The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, which alludes to Revelation 21:14. The analogy implies that the apostles and prophets were confined to the foundational period of church history.
ii) 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul “last of all” was the last one to see the risen Christ. And since being a physical eyewitness to the risen Christ is one of the marks of an apostle, Paul is the last apostle.
iii) 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1 indicate that Christians cannot seek the gift of Apostle of Christ – the greatest gift they could seek was prophecy, even though apostleship was identified as a gift.
iv) Galatians 2:7-9 Paul received the right hand of fellowship from the 12 apostles, but no one can today.
v) Ephesians 2:20 This passage describes the form of the New Testament as “apostles and prophets.” If there were apostles and prophets today, the canon would be open, as those apostles/prophets continued to speak authoritatively. But Charismatics (nearly all) recognize that the canon is closed, therefore they ought to recognize that the apostlate is also closed.

F. Apostolic Gift is Linked to Impartation of Other Gifts (Acts 8)
This suggests the cessation of the miraculous gifts.

2. There are No Prophets Today
A) The cessation of the apostolate creates the presumption or at least possibility of cessation of other gifts.

B) NT Prophets like the Apostles were foundational to the New Testament church. (Ephesians 2:20)

C) Definition of Prophet in Deuteronomy 13 & 18 was never rescinded, and this requires infallibility.

D) Just as the OT’s authority is summarized as “the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19-21) and its form is also described in about a dozen NT references to “the law and the prophets” or “Moses and the prophets”, so also the NT’s canon is summarized in Ephesians 2:20 as “apostles and prophets” (the prophets in question are NT prophets as seen in Ephesians 3:5; 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28).

3. There are No Tongue-Speakers Today because Tongues was a form of prophecy.
A) Acts 2 tongue speaking is explained by reference to Joel 2, where it is described as prophecy.

B) 1 Corinthians 14:5 asserts the equivalence of the two gifts, if tongues is interpreted.

C) In both tongues and prophecy, the speaker is uttering mysteries, which refers to prophetic revelation (1 Corinthians 13:2, Revelation 1:3, 1:20, and 10:7).

4. There are No Miracle-Workers Today
There may be miracles today, but there is a difference between miracles and miracle workers.

The Cascade Argument was augmented by a dilemma as to the first point: if they accept the point, then they are at least cessationists in some form, since the first and greatest gift no longer exists; whereas if charismatics want to assert that there are living apostles of Christ today, then they are denying a clear New Testament teaching. Additionally, if such apostles exist today, then they have the same authority/infallibility that the original apostles had.

-TurretinFan


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