Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What Is Wrong With That Quote?

A Very Trivial Encounter

As I was browsing through the “Christian” section of the Tampines Regional Library yesterday, hoping to find a book that might introduce a young believer to orthodox Christian theology, I was at first pleasantly surprised to find this: Michael J. Taylor, Theological Reflections: On the Trinity, Christology, and Monotheism (Maryland: University Press of America, 2001).

Well, the title - “Theological Reflections: On the Trinity, Christology, and Monotheism” - seemed to indicate that the book was probably a primer to Theology proper and Christology. At last, good Christian books find their way to the national libraries of Singapore! Or so it seems.

My initial gladness was quickly inundated by the gloom from within the pages of Taylor’s little book. It was not a primer to Theology proper and Christology. It was an attack on historical Christianity. And why was this book placed in the “Christian” section of the library?

I was taught since primary school that we should not attack the religions of fellow Singaporeans, all in the name of religious and racial harmony. But here in my hands, in the “Christian” section of a national library of Singapore, is a book that repudiates orthodox Theology and Christology confessed by the Evangelical, Baptist, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic churches of Singapore.

The author of this book is a Jesuit priest. This was my first surprise, as I had assumed that Catholics around the globe confessed Nicene Christology. He is also a respected scholar, professor and prolific writer.

If you think that I am going to review this book, you are sincerely mistaken. In the present post, I intend to quote from a few passages of Taylor’s book, and offer the readers an opportunity to discern his theological slant. I would then post a reply to your educated guesses (if any).

I am supposed to continue with my series on “Spiritual Discernment.” But before I continue with this series of posts, I believe this “exercise in discernment” would be beneficial for all orthodox Christians. Well, you ought to know what orthodox Theology and Christology is, at the very least.

Here goes:

"If Jesus were to be called Son of God, in Arius’ view his sonship would be through adoption, not from any equality of essence. The council refused to see any “lessness” in Jesus. Rather, it ascribed to him the ontological divinity of the Logos. . . . Although few scholars today would embrace or defend Arius’ approach to Christology, many do find the terminology of Nicea and its manner of expressing the “divine dimension” of Jesus to be too narrow and confusing. (p 35)"

"Nicea seems to have little awareness of Old Testament use of such symbolic terms as Logos (Word), Wisdom, Spirit, etc. All of these biblical terms do not refer to separate divine persons or entities. (p 36)"

"[The Council of Chalcedon] shows little knowledge of or respect for Scripture’s many literary forms and figures of speech. Where the Old Testament often spoke of God’s nature and activities by means of symbolic terms and personifications, such as Spirit, Wisdom, Word, etc., Chalcedon personalizes (or hypostasizes) these ways of speaking about God’s immanent activity without any critical elaboration of why it feels justified in doing so. The council mostly prefers the abstract metaphysical terms of philosophy to the biblical and historical descriptions of Jesus. (p 40)"

"After centuries of understanding Jesus almost exclusively as a divine, pre-existent being who descended from heaven (the assumed Johannine perspective), no wonder scholars today ask that our Christological search for Jesus’ full identity begin where the earliest books of the New Testament (Paul and the Synoptics) began - with the historical human Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus should first and foremost be one of us who lived his life the way God intended it should be lived, and whom God finally raised to glory. It is there that we find a very appealing, gifted, vulnerable human being that we can identify with, one who is obviously united in prayerful intimacy with God. We see him as a man called to preach and reveal a saving Father. He gave us a deeper meaning and purpose to our lives. He showed us how we should properly live them, so that at the end of them we would rise to eternal glory with him in the love of the Father. This Jesus is close to us. He is our brother. He is imitable and fulfills the role of teacher and model. His picture of God is clear and appealing. Christians accept this man as their spiritual leader and rightly call him Lord, the one who shows them the way to salvation. (p 41)"

"Earlier Christians would find the saving God in a fleshing of the descending Logos. Today Christians find the same God in the human Jesus, for in him God dwells fully with his transforming love and through his love has made Jesus a perfect image of himself. (p 42)"


1. Study the meaning of the Logos and Spirit in Scripture. Are these terms symbolical?

2. Check up what is meant by the theological term hypostasis. You will then understand what Taylor meant by “hypostasizes” in page 40.

3. Do you think Taylor agrees that Jesus is “a divine, pre-existent being who descended from heaven?”

4. Is Jesus “the one who shows [Christians] the way to salvation?”

I have deliberately included quotes that are not so obviously “anti-Nicene.” See if you can deduce Taylor’s Christological stance.

Note: I will post the answer within the next few days. Please do not surf the Web for answers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What does it mean to be Reformed?

Note: I cannot resist making a quick post on this issue, as this was mentioned in the comments of my previous post.

In response to the aforementioned question, Professor Byron Curtis, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Geneva College, wrote:

“To be Reformed means:

To confess with the orthodox churches the consensus of the first five centuries of Christianity, including:

a) Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
b) Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
c) Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
d) Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
e) The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
f) The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
g) The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ's love to us in our deep need.
h) The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.”

Although Reformed theologians generally adhere to the “consensus of the first five centuries of Christianity”, this consensus is not exclusive to Reformed theology. Classic Theism and Nicene Christology, for example, are generally confessed by various theologians from different end of the spectrum, including Classical, Revised and Progressive Dispensationalists. From the aforementioned listing of the consensus of historic Christianity, probably only the view that “the Sacraments as visible signs and seals” is considered exclusively Presbyterian (which in turn is distinguished from the Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Romish views). But again, the above listing cannot be conclusively made the sine qua non of Reformed Theology.

Professor Curtis continues:

“To be Reformed means:

To confess with the Reformation churches the four great "Solas:"

a) RE the source of authority: Sola Scriptura.
b) RE the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia.
c) RE the means of salvation: Sola Fide
d) Re the merit of salvation: Solus Christus"

It is widely known that Historic Protestantism confesses the four Solas; this includes our Lutheran and Anglican brethren. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, plus the doctrines of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture are not exclusively Reformed teachings, but are also traditionally confessed by the Protestant churches. In addition to Protestantism, historic eighteenth century Evangelicalism (as distinguished from New Evangelicalism and Neo-Orthodoxy) likewise confesses essentially the principles of the four Solas. Twentieth century Pentecostalism and the Fundamentalist movement can also be safely included into this category. Once again, the four Solas cannot be the sine qua non of Reformed Theology.

In addition to the above characteristics, Professor Curtis points out that the Reformed Christian ought to “confess with the Reformed churches the distinctives of the Reformed faith:

a) In salvation: monergism, not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints

b) In worship: the Regulative Principle of Worship. “Whatever is not commanded in public worship is forbidden.” God alone directs how He is to be worshiped in the assembly of the visible church.

c) In the Visible Church: Covenant Theology & Covenant Community. The Church is the New Israel, incorporating believers among Jews and Gentiles alike. Infant Baptism ordinarily follows from this understanding. Sacraments are not merely human observances, but acts of Jesus Christ, marking out the visible church.

d) In life: Life is religion: there is no sacred/secular destinction. As such Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings). Every calling is "full time Christian service," because every Christian is a full-time Christian.”

Most would agree that the five points of Calvinism form the basis of Reformed Theology. At the same time, it is important to realize that these five points are not sufficient to define Reformed Theology itself. Although the five points of Calvinism were born out of the Reformation, these five points can theologically be compartmentalized within the confines of soteriology and anthropology. In other words, it is possible to adhere to these five points, and not be Reformed in one’s overall theology. Before anyone vehemently disagrees, please allow me to elaborate upon this.

One problem with restricting the definition of Reformed Theology with merely the “five points of Calvinism” is this: there are avowedly dispensational theologians who adhere to these points as well. John F. MacArthur, Jr. of The Master's Seminary, for example, has consistently claimed an allegiance to the five points. But it is clear to all that his theological-hermeneutical grid is that of Dispensationalism. No Dispensational or Non-Dispensational theologian would ever say that MacArthur is Reformed. MacArthur himself proclaims that he is a Dispensationalist! Therefore, it is evident that these five points are not sufficient to define what Reformed Theology is.

So what does it mean to be Reformed? It cannot be simply an adherence to the five Solas or the five points of Calvinism.

Reformed theologians have consistently used Covenant theology as a unifying theological-hermeneutical grid to understand Scripture. Covenant theology sees an overarching unity within the Old and New Testaments, specifically, the Covenant of Grace. There is continuity instead of discontinuity.

There is continuity between Israel and the Church, not a distinction. Likewise, there is continuity between the various administrations of the Covenant of Grace, not discontinuity between diverse dispensations. It must be added that Reformed Theologians similarly see at least two different economies or “dispensations,” especially if one prefers that terminology: the Old Covenant and the New Covenant economy (Jer. 31:31-34). Therefore, seeing distinctive dispensations within the Bible is not a sine qua non of either Dispensationalism or Reformed Theology per se. It is how the Covenant theologian relates and ties the various economies, which distinguishes him from a Dispensationalist.

Reformed ecclesiology likewise arises from a “covenant” theological-hermeneutical grid. The Church age is not seen as a parenthesis within the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel’s prophecy. The Church is the true, spiritual Israel. God does not have two “divine purposes,” one for Israel, and one for the Church.

Covenant theology sees the Church present in the Old Testament. Furthermore, many prophecies directed to national Israel are fulfilled in Christ and His bride, the Church (contra the literalistic hermeneutics of Dispensationalism). Consequently, a more precise definition for Reformed theology would be found within the theological-hermeneutical grid that undergirds the theological system itself.

Professor Curtis concludes, “Finally, in everything, as Christians everywhere joyfully affirm: Soli Deo Gloria. ‘To God alone be the glory.’”

According to Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism is “a view which sees the glory of God as the underlying purpose of God in the world.” In this sense, the fifth Sola cannot be used as a distinguishing feature of Reformed Theology.

So what are we left with? What would be the sine qua non of Reformed Theology?

The two diametrically opposed systems of theology – Reformed and Dispensational Theology – are derived from their hermeneutical presuppositions. It is ultimately the theologian’s hermeneutics, and his peculiar theological grid, which give rise to a resultant theological system.

Essential to a Reformed theologian’s theological-hermeneutical grid is Covenant theology, which includes the unifying covenant of grace, and the consistent continuity between Israel and the Church. This, I would say, is the fundamental difference between Reformed and Dispensational theology.

PS: This post is deliberately brief. I will explore this topic further in my future writings, and especially in the project I’m working on now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What do YOU think of the Millennium Temple?

I am currently ruminating about the various attempts by sympathizers of Dispensationalism to steer a “safe” course through the minefield of a literal Millennial Temple. In view of this newly acquired (or rather, required) pet topic - which might bog me down for another week or two - I might as well post a teaser on this issue of concern.

I am curious to know how fellow brethren, both Dispensational and Non-dispensational, reconcile the animal sacrifices reiterated in Ezekiel 40-48 with a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutics. After going through numerous papers written by Dispensationalists, plus an article written by Dr Prabhudas Koshy of Far Eastern Bible College (who is also my previous pastor!), I will try to classify these “commando” exegeses into the following broad categories:

The Various Views on the Ezekielian Sacrifices

1. Memorial view: Animal sacrifices have no expiatory value, and are offered in the Millennium to commemorate Christ’s death.

2. Whitcomb’s view: Animal sacrifices are offered for ceremonial “cleasing,” and in this sense, do have expiatory value.

3. No literal animal sacrifices. Despite their “consistently literal hermeneutics,” some Dispensationalists actually understand that these sacrifices will not be restituted in the Millennium.

I chanced upon Randall Price’s article “An Overview of the Future Temples” today, which contains a fairly accurate summary of the Dispensationalist’s position. Rapture-ready Randall Price wrote:

“The Millennial Temple will be built by Christ (Zech. 6:12-13), redeemed Jews (Ezek. 43:10-11), and representatives from the Gentile nations (Zech. 6:15; Hag. 2:7; cf. Is. 60:10) at the beginning of the Messianic kingdom (Ezek. 37:26-28). As a sign of the restoration of theocratic rule the Shekinah Glory will return to its Holy of Holies (Ezek. 43:1-7; cf. Is. 4:5-6). . . . [A] feature of Ezekiel's Temple that indicates its literal interpretation is the ceremonial system including blood sacrifices. This is in keeping with other prophetic predictions where the Temple includes a priesthood and sacrifices (Is. 56:6-7; 60:7; Jer. 33:18; Zech. 14:16-21). The function of these sacrifices may be memorial in nature, just as the Lord's Supper is today (1 Cor. 11:24-26), however, the fact that they are said to be for "atonement" may also indicate the need for a ritual purification. This would be necessary, as in the past (Heb. 9:13), for those saints living in mortal bodies throughout the Millennium and seeking approach to the Temple since God's holy presence will be resident there (Jer. 3:17; Zech. 14:20-21).”

According to Price, “the function of these sacrifices may be memorial in nature.” But again, he seems not to be able to make up his mind on this issue, and added ambiguously that “the need for a ritual purification” and atonement might become necessary in the Millennium. Do we suppose that, after the substitutionary death of Christ our Passover Lamb, animal sacrifices might again be needed to “purify” and ceremonially “cleanse” the worshipper in the millennial temple? If, indeed, legal, ceremonial cleansing is required in the Millennium to approach God, why is there no necessity today for this “ceremonial,” temporal cleansing?

Do read up Dr Koshy’s article “The Millennial Temple” in The Burning Bush, Volume 6 Number 1 (January 2000). Dr Koshy is, according to the college’s Statement of Faith, a Reformed theologian adhering to the Reformed doctrine of the atonement. It is interesting to note that Koshy and Price embrace essentially the same view on the Ezekielian sacrifices.

There are some questions we might want to ask ourselves when pondering upon this “mammalian, sacrificial” issue:

1. Firstly, what should be our hermeneutical approach when studying the visions of Ezekiel?

2. What should be our interpretational grid when seeking to understand Ezekiel, especially in employing the principle of progressive revelation, that is, the interpretation of the Old Testament with New Testament Revelation (and not vice versa)?

3. What does Leviticus teach with regard to bloody sacrifices? What are the etymological implications regarding the Hebrew word for “atonement,” especially when applied to the Book of Ezekiel?

4. Can a Reformed theologian consistently adhere to such distinctives of Dispensational Premillennialism - i.e. the temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the rite of circumcision and the restitution of Jewish Feasts and Festivals in the millennium – and remain distinctively Reformed?

5. Last but not least, here is the most important question of all, “What does it mean to be Reformed?” Does it mean a mere adherence to the five points of Calvinism, or is there more to the theological label? (Hint: I believe that the Reformed faith is more than a mere adherence to the 5 points!)

Finally, let me refresh our memories with regard to my previous statement in paragraph two, “I am curious to know how fellow brethren, both Dispensational and Reformed, reconcile the animal sacrifices reiterated in Ezekiel 40-48 with a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutics.” Therefore, if you see me, bump into me, or when you remember to drop me a note, do let me know what you think.

How do you, as a child of God, understand the visions of Ezekiel in chapters 40 to 48?

That will be all for now, after a very busy week of research and writing. Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Spiritual Discernment 2

What Discernment Is Not

Some zealous Christians - for example, young Christians who have recent exposure to books on contemporary Christian theology, or even those who have of late been converted to Calvinism and the Reformed faith - are very quick to pronounce judgment on various ministers, teachers, or Christian organizations. We must constantly remind ourselves what true discernment is, and especially, what spiritual discernment is not.

Spiritual discernment is not:

Gossiping about others (Deut 22:13-19)
Tale bearing (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13)
False witnessing (Exodus 20:16; Exodus 23:7)
Whisperings (Romans 1:29)
Slandering others (1 Tim 3:11)
Making false accusations (Titus 2:3)
Vain talking (Titus 1:10)
Defaming (Jeremiah 20:10)
Tattling (1 Tim 5:13)
Lying (Proverbs 6:17; Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15)
Deceiving (Rev 12:9)
Backbiting (Psalm 15:3; Romans 1:30)

Gossiping involves discussing intimate details of people’s life for injurious or malicious purposes. Often, the gossiper fails to clarify the facts with the relevant persons involved. The Bible describes such ungodly activity as “tale bearing,” “false witnessing,” slandering,” “tattling,” “lying,” and “backbiting.” The spread of rumours and tales amongst brethren can have drastic repercussions, and can even destroy the entire church. The reputation of many good ministers and elders had been permanently damaged due to such gossiping.

True biblical discernment must not be confused with a cynical attitude, or “Christian” witch-hunting. There are some believers who have a critical attitude about everything. They would challenge the authority of almost every leadership, and criticize every minute detail of the doctrines taught. They would constantly occupy themselves with faultfinding and cavilling. We must not confuse such practices with spiritual discernment.

Spiritual discernment entails the judgment of doctrinal teachings against the Word of God. When a believer proceeds to make a judgment against a false teaching, he must be careful to state only the facts. Such a judgment must corroborate with documented evidence and relevant witnesses. Stating a fact, such as exposing errors or naming false teachers, is not gossiping. On the other hand, we must restrain ourselves from making personal attacks or unfounded claims.

Genuine discernment emanates from a sincere intent to teach others the truth. It is not self-seeking, but stems from a heart of humility and service. Thus, discernment must not be divorced from godly love (Eph 4:15, 1 John 2:5, 5:2-3, 2 John 1:6, John 14:23, Phil 1:9-10).

Likewise, the believer must not confuse spiritual discernment with a lust for attention. Some young Christians like to boast about their theological learning, and they might dress it up with an appearance of being discerning. With the use of theological jargon, terminology of Philosophy, and Latin phraseology, some are attempting to draw attention to themselves, while all the time they are simply hoping for others to realise how learned they are. Such must not be the case for the God-loving believer.

We must not be quick to make judgments against anyone unless the facts are verified. Even so, disciplinary procedures must be carried out in a godly and scriptural manner by the Church (Matt 18:15-17, 2 Cor 2:6-11, Gal 6:1). False doctrines and heresies taught publicly must be exposed in public. This is necessary to warn those who are exposed to dangerous leaven or teachings. The Bible says, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim 5:20). Again, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10).

There are some who believe that the act of naming names is unkind and unloving. False teachers who teach false doctrines openly must also be identified publicly. The Apostles themselves made an effort to name names: Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 2:17), Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), Alexander (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 4:14), Demas (2 Tim 4:10), Diotrephes (3 John 9), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15) were promptly identified and dealt with in the epistles. Our Lord Jesus was never sympathetic towards the false teachers of His days, namely, the Pharisees and Sadducees. He openly warned His disciples of their dangerous doctrines (Matt 5:20, 16:6,11, 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29, Mark 8:15, Luke 11:39, 42-44, 12:1).

We will discuss the reasons for the lack of discernment in further posts.