Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chuck Hill on the Resurrection

I know that Easter 2007 is behind us, along with the fairly brief tempest surrounding James Camerson's 'documentary' about the alleged Jesus family tomb. But a month or so ago, Chuck Hill wrote an article assessing these matters that's simply too good not to disseminate. The first 8 pages (out of 11) of the article are a concise rehash of the issues involved, along with snippets from a wide swath of scholarship regarding the Jesus family tomb. Given that Cameron's 'documentary' was almost universally panned by biblical and archaelogical scholars of every stripe, Hill's treatment simply puts the controversy to bed (since in much of the academic world, there is no controversy - from the standpoint of scholarship, Cameron's efforts clearly come from the low-rent district). However, because several million people watched the documentary, the myths contained therein are still circulating to some degree in the cultural petri dish, so this article will be valuable in the inoculation process.

Perhaps more importantly, the last 2-3 pages of Hill's article hit on themes that have perennial value. While related to the tomb stuff, Hill's focus switches more to the resurrection. And here, Hill's observations are extremely helpful and worth cataloguing in our apologetic encyclopedia:

For those who don't know, Chuck Hill is a first rate NT scholar who was the closest thing to a professorial mentor I had during my time at RTS. He has provided assistance to me on multiple occasions, including giving me some good thoughts on an article I am submitting to the Westminster Theological Journal in the hopes that they might publish it (though they probably won't). He has done very little in the way of popular-level writing and publishing, opting instead to produce academic articles in biblical and theological journals, as well as producing some outstanding academic books that have been very well received in the Academy. I commend this article to you wholeheartedly.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Brief Response To Roy Ingle's Comments on Calvinism

Roy Ingle said:

From the Calvinist viewpoint, God chose His elect before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14). God elected to save people by His grace alone and by His sovereign choice in His Son (John 1:12-13). Therefore, we did not chose to become disciples of Christ but He chose us (John 15:16)

These comments are taken from Roy Ingle's recent blog article on the question of who chooses who in salvation. Roy's article is basically concerned with contrasting his views as an Arminian with those of the Calvinist in order to demonstrate that the Arminian position is preferable in regards to the question being addressed. My drawing attention to his comments here will not be an attempt to counter Roy's arguments but rather to point out some problems with the way in which Roy represents the Calvinist position. For instance, the last sentence from the above excerpt is not an accurate statement of the Calvinist position. Roy's statement would give the uninformed the impression that Calvinsts do not believe that men choose to become disciples of Christ. This common error in representing the Calvinist position on the reality of choice is regrettably repeated in Roy's post as we are about to see.

Calvinist strongly oppose free will in man...

Here again, Roy makes a mistake in how he represents the Calvinist position on the reality of choice. Calvinists are not opposed to free-will per se. It is the libertarian notion of free-will that a Calvinist strongly opposes. In other words, the issue is not over whether there is such a thing as free-will, rather, the issue is over how free-will is to be defined.

...because of their teaching that God directly controls all things including the very decisions of men.

The accuracy of this statement depends upon what Roy means by the phrase "God directly controls". That is, Calvinists believe and teach a distinction in how God causes things to come about. This distinction is usually stated as primary causation versus secondary causation. An example of primary causation would be the incarnation of Christ. God the Holy Spirit directly acted upon Mary's person and caused her to conceive a child. An example of secondary causation would be Adam and Eve's first child. The child came about by way of natural procreation without divine intervention and yet, the text of holy writ nontheless attributes to God a role in bringing about this event (see also Gen. 4:25). Such distinctions in Reformed theology should be acknowledged by anyone performing even a cursory critique of Calvinism. Otherwise, the danger of misrepresentation becomes unavoidable.

Arminianism, however, believes that God does not directly determine man's decisions but He does directly control man's decisions. In other words, God is in control but He does not violate man's free will.

Here, Roy states that in Arminianism God does not violate man's will which is all well and good. However, a problem arises when one remembers that Roy is contrasting Arminianism with Calvinism. Thus, the implication is that in Calvinism God does in fact violate man's will. But the Calvinist is left wondering how such an assertion can be made in light of the fact that the Calvinist position on man's will has not been shown to lead to such a conclusion. Indeed, the Calvinist position has yet to be mentioned!

So the Arminian understanding of the question of who chose whom would be that God did in fact chose us by His grace alone but He did not force us to chose Him.

And it is also the Calvinist understanding of the question at hand that God does not force men to choose the things that he does. No Calvinist with whom I am familiar believes or teaches that men are forced to do anything. Now, Roy may well believe that this is what the Calvinist position boils down to but he does not present an argument for consideration thus, there is no reason why anybody reading Roy's article should accept his charicature of the Calvinist position.

He does draw us unto Himself through His Son (John 3:16-17) but He allows the human being the freedom to chose to love Him and obey Him (John 3:36; 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6).

Again, Roy's statements carry with them the necessary implication that it is the Calvinist position that men do not have the freedom to choose to love and obey God. But this is patently false. Calvinists do in fact believe and teach that men have the freedom to choose whatever they want. If a man chooses to love and obey God, he will. If a man chooses to hate and reject God, he will. Thus, if a man can choose according to what he desires, how is this not freedom?

At any rate, while I found Roy's article to be interesting, I don't think he properly represented the issues surrounding this ancient debate. There was very little if anything that a Calvinist could have agreed with in regards to how their view was presented and this in itself should be enough to give the cautious reader pause.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

An Unpopular Opinion

In the wake of Jerry Falwell's death, I happened to catch an interview on MSNBC with a Jewish rabbi (can't remember his name unfortunately) who had interacted with and debated Falwell on a number of occasions. In contrasting himself with Falwell, he said something very interesting, and, no doubt, very popular - "I believe religion should bring us all together, rather than divide us." It's a common sentiment that is used in secular discourse about the preferred role of religion in society, not to mention what religion's highest goal should be. But as much as I'd like to agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, I'm not really sure I can in the end, and I have no doubt that this conclusion is a very unpopular one.

In thinking about the rabbi's statement, the first thing that pops into my mind is one major historical message behind all 3 major monotheistic religions and even Hinduism. That message being that we as human beings are under the authority of a higher being and/or a higher law. Discarding for the moment the significant differences between each religion regarding the nature of this higher being(s) and the tenets of the higher law(s), the idea that we are accountable to some higher authority is hardly the basis for human unity and togetherness, especially in America. Americans have a proud tradition of embracing self-determination, rebelling against authority, paving our own road, making our own luck, and refusing to be boxed in by rules or authorities. Put simply, we like to make our own rules, and consider this to be a basic right and a basic litmus test of 'authentic' freedom. In America, the idea that we are beholden to a higher authority is immediately construed as a move to limit individual freedom, liberty, and autonomy. Put simply, it is not a belief that conjures up joyous unity in its truth, but angry disunity in its implications.

And let's be clear - this isn't just a dynamic that exists between theists and nontheists. While not every difference between religions can be explained by this, the fact is that many differences between religions, and within religions, are greatly impacted by how people come down on the question of (to put it crudely) what degree we are our own kingmakers. This greatly impacts our understanding of God's sovereignty, and perhaps more relevantly, his providence.

In America, where the cultural tide clearly embraces self-determination and autonomy, it is foolish to think that this doesn't have a significant impact on the theological orientation we bring to the Scriptures, or that it isn't a severely complicating factor in the ability of religion to 'bring us all together'. I agree that religion has the ability to move us closer to unity. But it also has the ability to move us toward division. Scripture speaks very frankly about both dynamics and that both unity and disunity can be both righteous and sinful under different circumstances.

If the Genesis account of the Fall describes the human race plunging into sin as a result of wanting to be like God, the America I know is very consistent in indulging this urge today. A well respected Jewish author (who's name I again cannot remember) once remarked that it's no accident that Mormonism is America's unique contribution to world spirituality. Why? Because Mormonism in its pure form promises that we will be 'little Gods' reigning over our own worlds. This author rightly remarked that there is nothing more American than that. In order for 'religion to bring us all together', this mentality, a mentality that has existed since the Fall of man, will have to be undone, since it is radically autonomous, individualistic, and therefore resistant to a higher unifying law and Being to which we are wholly accountable. To say that the totality of our being is completely and absolutely beholden to the lordship of Christ is anathema to the mentality of self-determination, and stands opposed to it. In this respect, 'religion' will not bring people together, because it proposes an outlook and vantage point that is deeply offensive to most reigning notions of human autonomy that have a spurning of authority as their default setting.

The solution to this impasse is usually to accommodate religion to the culture and make it more palatable on this question. But as unpopular as it is, I just don't think that's the answer. That doesn't mean we become harshly divisive separatists who are uniformly derisive of those who don't see the world the way we do. But it does mean that there are times when we must charitably but unapologetically part company with the wisdom of the world on a number of very basic things, realizing that Kingdom eschatology is not just a neat theological prism, but a street-level reality.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shout-Out To An Arminian Brother

I would like to give a shout-out to Roy Ingle for the kind email he sent my way:

Hey brother! I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog. Despite the fact that I am not a Calvinist, I enjoy your site and have pointed others to it.

Your Brother in Christ,

Roy Ingle
The Seeking Disciple

I cannot overstate my appreciation for Roy's comments. It's very edifying to know that someone sitting on the other side of the soteriological fence would enjoy this blog. I think that it says much about the fact that while we disagree, we can do so with the knowledge that we are brothers in the faith after all is said and done. And because Roy was kind enough to recommend this blog to others, I'll link to his blog under the heading of "Arminian blogs of interest".

The Diversity of the Reformed Tradition

While exhibiting considerable consistency in doctrinal belief, many might be surprised that the Reformed tradition, almost from the get-go, has exhibited stimulating diversity in how it thinks about theology. By understanding the methodological diversity of our own tradition, we as Reformed people can gain a fresh appreciation for the depth of our tradition and be better able to adopt a stance of semper reformanda in our own appropriation of theology.

Reformed Theology has a reputation for taking an 'above to below' approach to theology. By this, we mean that Reformed Theology stresses the sovereignty and majesty of God and the centrality of the divinely inspired Scriptures as a starting point for theology. Put simply, we have a long tradition of emphasizing the celestial in theology as a basis for grappling with the terrestial or the 'mundane' in theology.

When one looks at how Calvin's Institutes are organized, one can clearly see the 'from above' approach to theological systematics. It is no accident that Book 1 stresses knowledge of God as Creator, which includes Calvin's treatment of Scriptural revelation (chs. 6-13), and that Book 2 stresses the knowledge of God as Redeemer. It isn't until Book 4 that Calvin focuses on the earthly matters of the Church, the sacraments, and the civil government. The organizational whole of the Institutes clearly exhibits a 'from above' orientation to doing theology. This strategy is also clear when one looks at both the Belgic and Westminster Confessions. Again, it is no accident that both Confessions start with God and Scripture, and end with ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the last judgment.

So I think it's fair to say that the 'from above' theological strategy has been the dominant way in which the Reformed tradition has done theology. But it is essential to realize that this approach hasn't been the only strategy employed. The Reformed tradition has also exhibited a more latent yet clearly visible strategy of doing theology 'from below' as well.

On the first two pages of the Institutes, Calvin provides us with his epistemology in succinct terms, and in it, he reveals a twofold strategic concern. It is here where Calvin presents knowledge as a spiral in which knowledge of God is thoroughly linked with knowledge of self. That's right. Calvin, as his lead-off volley, is not bashful in saying that we can't understand God without understanding ourselves, and that we can't understand ourselves without understanding God. What's more, Calvin was non-committal on where someone ought to start on this loop. In discussing this relationship, Calvin allows room for mystery, "But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes [and] brings forth the other is not easy to discern..." Calvin is saying that there is a reciprocal relationship when it comes to understanding God and ourselves. This is not a 'from above' approach, but links the 'above' to the 'below' inextricably.

In addition, the Reformed catechisms also present a more 'from below' approach to theology. Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism famously asks, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer reveals a twofold concern - the glory of God, and the enjoyment of humanity through God. Again, this is not really a strict 'from above' approach to theology, but links the above and below together from the very beginning. Lastly, the Heidelberg Catechism, contra the Westminster and Belgic Confessions, is a far more personal and arguably comforting statement of Reformed belief. The Heidelberg Catechism is the clearest example of a 'from below' approach to theology. It's starting point? The hope and comfort of the believer. (As an aside, it's very interesting to compare the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession in their treatment of the Law. WCF addresses the 10 Commandments under the rubric of duty, while Heidelberg addresses them under the rubric of thankfulness).

Why is this significant? Reformed people can be susceptible to doing theology purely from a 'from above' perspective. While the 'from above' approach is clearly prominent in the Reformed tradition, it is not the exclusive strategy for doing theology. Our tradition is more diverse than that. But in solely relying on a 'from above' approach, we become vulnerable to neglecting portions of our own tradition, as well as developing an imbalanced theology. Calvin's view on knowledge makes it clear that theocentrism without anthropocentrism is no theocentrism at all, but blasphemy since the denigration of man in theology is really a denigration of the image of God and hopelessly impairs our ability to have a right understanding of God. In our rightful desire to curb man-centered approaches to theology by rightly arguing against the inviolability of human self-determination through a 'from above' approach to theology, we can fall prey to scuttling the Imago Dei emphasis in Reformed Theology that provides an important basis for according to human life the dignity that follows from it. Our tradition allows considerable flexibility in how we apply Reformed thought to daily living and how we present our system of beliefs to a skeptical yet curious world. Our 'founding fathers' understood this, and so should we.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's Helpful to Understand our Place in the World

A few years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held one of its super-big missions conferences in Europe. Normally, these big missions events were populated primarily with Western luminaries possessing high profiles and the stature to back it up. But this particular time, BGEA did something different. They decided to invite global leaders who proportionately represented the global church. A fairly prominent American presbyterian I know was one of the people invited, and what he saw at this conference hit him like a ton of bricks. When everyone was assembled, the speaker encouraged everyone in the auditorium to get up and look around at each other, because 'this is the global Body of Christ today'. When my presbyterian friend joined everyone in gazing around the auditorium, he discovered that he and those similar to him were a very small minority.

Many white American Christians don't realize just how small their numbers are when compared to the makeup of the global church. What this conference demonstrated is that the global Body of Christ is mostly non-Caucasian, poor, and increasingly charismatic. The explosive growth of the Christian church worldwide is mostly unknown in the pews here. Whereas in America, we have arguably too many preachers and teachers and not enough converts, the problem in the global south and China is exactly the opposite - nowhere near enough preachers and teachers to keep up with all the conversions. One might say (and it has indeed been said more than once in the last few years) that in many ways, the future of the Christian church is not in the West. As increasing numbers of Africans and Asians view America as a missions field and coming here with the express purpose of evangelizing us, the global shift in power becomes more real at street level. I would be shocked if this century passes without having an African as the Roman Catholic pope, and when this happens, the shift that many of us have seen for some time will become obvious to everyone else too.

The presbyterian and Reformed community has much to be proud of here. The incredible phenomenon of the Korean presbyterian movement is one of the great success stories of all time. In far east Asia, the Koreans have been by far the most receptive to the gospel and comprise a very bright light in a region that for whatever reason has been acutely resistant to the gospel until very recently. It is the Koreans who come to America to pursue divinity studies who comprise most of the evangelical voice at liberal seminaries. They are the missionaries, and we are the mission field. Similarly, the increasing prevalence of African Anglicans providing refuge for evangelicals in America is a movement that is gaining strength and would have been unheard of just 20 years ago. What's more, much of the bishopric leadership in African Anglicanism today is Reformed in much of its theology. At RTS-Orlando, presbyterians comprised the majority of the student body, but Anglicans were not too far behind, including many African Anglicans who came to America to study.

But with all that said, the Reformed community still has work to do. Coming to grips with our place in the global church can help us realize how quickly we can become irrelevant if we do not aggressively partner with and be players in the global church. Reformed people need a strong evangelical theology of poverty in order to effectively understand and partner with the global church's most vital growth centers. Reformed people must be willing to charitably engage the global charismatic movement in dialogue, because that's where the global church is headed in many ways. Reformed folks of recent times have not been particularly strong on either front, and we continue this trend to our peril. I'm not talking about giving up our theology for the sake of relevance, or 'going liberal'. Instead, I'm talking about a willingness to thoughtfully and charitably dialogue with our global brothers and sisters (who are often more evangelical than we are) as equal partners whom we must learn from if we desire to be more faithful to Christ. Such humility will carry us a very long way.


My name is Jason Foster, and I'm very pleased to be a 'contributor' to this blog (I put 'contributor' in quotes because the degree to which I contribute anything useful might prove debatable). As you'll discover, I can be aggravatingly long-winded at times because I try to exercise care in what I say and how I say it. But I'm gonna try and be relatively succinct in introducing myself to you and giving you a working knowledge of the perspective I bring to this blog:

1) I received an MDiv degree from RTS-Orlando in May 2006. I say this not to brag, but in fact, to do the opposite. My years at seminary really impressed upon me the truth that the more I know, the more I come to realize how much I don't know. This is both the joy and frustration of being a finite and sinful human being pursuing greater understanding of our infinite and sinless God. This means that I don't believe my seminary degree makes me anything special, nor do I think my seminary degree should be used as a weapon of smug superiority. My practical adherence to this concept is imperfect, but it is an idea I try to operate with at all times.

2) I have been married for over 10 years now, and my wife and I are currently pursuing an international adoption. For those who have been through this process, you know how torturous it can be to try and adopt internationally. Right or wrong, now is not a good time to be adopting internationally as an American. We are learning this the hard way, and the pain it creates never really goes away. So any and all prayers would be appreciated.

The above are some things I am. Let me also briefly tell what I am not (this is where I start getting unpopular):

1) I'm not a hack for Calvinism. RTS-Orlando prides itself on being 'Reformed, but not angry', and I share this view. This means I don't want my posts to be angry rants, nor do I want to engage in the kind of visceral back-and-forth that too often accompanies theological discussions. This doesn't mean there isn't a place for heated debate on theological matters. It just means that there's more to theology than argumentation. I subscribe fully to Reformed Theology, which is way more than TULIP and election. If John Frame is right that theology is nothing more than the application of Scripture to life, all of us (Reformed and otherwise) need to be mindful of how we engage the topic of theology and what this engagement says about our own application of Scripture to life. Reformed people, above all people, should be very aware of the human element in theology and be prepared to constantly look in the mirror and reform our engagement with theology as necessary. This is what I try to do, and I think I've seen real growth in my walk with Christ as a result. I came into seminary as a harsh debater and a partisan. I left seminary with a much better awareness of the sinful tendencies I bring to my study of theology and the need to be constantly open to the idea that theology should be shaping me, rather than the other way around.

2) Because of the above, I do not exempt other Reformed writers/scholars from (hopefully) respectful critique. It's not just non-Reformed folks who sometimes misunderstand Reformed Theology. Self-described Reformed people do as well, and I don't exempt myself from this. So while I adore people like Calvin, Machen, Murray, Van Til, Vos, Ridderbos, Kline, Carson, Piper and Frame, I don't worship any of them and don't consider them above critique. Because of the Reformed bent I operate with, the places where I part company with these folks are infrequent and often on the margins. But nonetheless, Semper Reformanda applies to them too.

3) Lastly, I don't hate Arminians or their theology. Obviously, I dissent from Arminian theology and believe a Reformed understanding of theology is more Biblically sound. However, I have joined hands with Arminians in ministry, have prayed with them, and have been edified by the perspective they bring to the faith, even when I disagree. My 34 year old brother just recently became a Christian after years of not only being distant from God but self-consciously spurning God. If his theology can be classified as anything, it is more Arminian than anything else. Do I wish it was different? Yes. But I can tell you that compared to the way things were, I'm thrilled he's where he's at. Having a friendly conversation with my Arminian brother about the freedom of the human will is a great problem to have compared with where things were 2 years ago. It puts things in perspective.

So there you have it. I adhere to Reformed Theology but try not to be overbearing about it. I am grateful for the Reformed tradition and rely on it heavily, but I'm not a strictly party-line guy. I am seminary educated, but know that there's tons I don't know. I leave it to interested readers here whether my addition to this blog is a good thing or not, and whether anything I might say here will provide value. I'm glad to be here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

C.I.C. Is Going Group!

I am very pleased and excited to announce that C.I.C. will no longer be a personal, one-man blog but will, from this day forward, be a group blog with multiple contributors. My primary reason for making this switch is that I have been blessed with a steady stream of visitors and commenters here (for which I am exceedingly thankful) and I have felt for some time now that my meager 1-3 posts a month were not enough to accomodate the readers of this blog. So to help remedy this problem I have asked Jason Foster of Reformed Musings to contribute here at C.I.C. Jason is, in my opinion, a very talented Reformed blogger and his contributions should be very edifying to the readers here. Along with blogging, Jason has written a number of book reviews at that I personally have found very useful. Jason will be posting an introduction for himself within the next day or so and I would encourage all those who read and enjoy this blog to welcome him.