Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Death in Second-Century Christian Thought [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Mutie, Jeremiah. Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity(Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 244pp.
Among proponents of the heresy of annihilationism, one often comes across two contradictory claims regarding the early church. On the one hand, those who seek to establish their view in the early church will claim that the earliest church fathers were all annihilationists/conditional immortalitists. The introduction of concepts like the immortality of the soul, the intermediate state, and hell as everlasting conscious torment, they will go on to claim, came after the church began to be influenced by pagan Greek philosophy. On the other hand, there are others who claim that the church fathers, even as early as Justin Martyr, corrupted the pure teaching of the Bible by mixing in ideas from pagan Greek philosophy.
While the reductionist approach to the church’s early post-apostolic days can support any view one likes — this is, after all, the approach taken by the Roman Catholic apologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and even the Mormons who share virtually nothing in common theologically — it does not withstand scrutiny. A reading of the texts from that time reveals that there was not only a diversity of beliefs regarding the immortality of the soul among the Greek philosophers, but nuances of articulation that set the Christian fathers apart from both the Orphic and Platonic immortalists and the Stoic and Epicurean annihilationists of their time. If one has the time to devote to doing their own detailed research of the writers of this time, in other words, it would be evident to him that the church fathers did not deny the immortality of the soul, nor did they believe in Plato’s version of the doctrine. Instead, they carefully selected philosophical terminology and concepts, reworking them to express what they believed the Scriptures clearly taught about death, salvation, resurrection, and damnation.
Since such a study requires time and resources many do not have, a scholarly but readable book on the subject is best suited to their needs. Among the few written exclusively about these issues, Jeremiah Mutie’s Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity is an invaluable resource. Mutie carefully examines the socio-historical context of the early church fathers, comparing their views of death and the afterlife to those articulated within the overarching culture in which they found themselves, thereby clarifying the relationship between the earlier and later church fathers examined whose language about death, the intermediate state, and resurrection may seem to be at odds, prima facie.
Mutie shows that the church did not immediately apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, nor did the church gradually apostatize by mixing Plato and the Scriptures together, but she progressed over time in her understanding of death, the intermediate state, and the resurrection. As socio-historical environments changed, so too did the circumstances, attendant necessary emphases in theological/apologetical and pastoral needs, and time requisite to articulating the teaching of the Scriptures regarding these subjects. What others have explained to be a complete surrender to Plato, or a complete rejection of any ideas even vaguely similar to those of Plato is shown to be neither. The church fathers were not pagan Greek philosophers; they were devoted Christian brothers who sought to be biblically faithful in doctrine and practice, the latter concern often leading them to employ terminology and concepts in a uniquely Christian way.
Death in Second-Century Christian Thought is a substantial study demonstrating that although the church fathers were terminologically influenced by their Greek philosopher-neighbors, and although they sometimes employed concepts from their surrounding cultures in uniquely Christian ways, their ultimate authority in matters of doctrine and practice was the Word of God. Thus, their beliefs surrounding personal and general eschatology, under which headings are subsumed questions regarding the soul’s mortality or immortality, find their roots in careful study of the Scriptures articulated through culturally pregnant terminology repurposed for the purposes of apologetics, preaching, and pastoral care.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Summary and Reflection

§ I. Summary 

Wesleyanism consists of "the theology based upon the views of John Wesley (1703 — 1791), founder of Methodism."[1] The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is an epistemological paradigm in which the derivation of theology is understood and the authority of its components ordered. The phrase itself was derived by Wesleyan theologian Albert Outler, who upon examining the corpus of Wesley, argued that the evangelist affirmed four valid sources of theology; Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.[2]

Upon its face, it would seem as though the utilization of the word "quadrilateral" would imply that the aforementioned components are on a par with one another. That is, the word seems to convey the idea that each of the components comprising the quadrilateral are equal in their ability and authority to provide theology. Outler later came to regret the phrase for that very reason. He stated, "The term 'quadrilateral' does not occur in Wesley—and more than once, I have regretted having coined it for contemporary use, since it has been so widely misconstrued."3 Outler's regret is well taken, as some contemporary critics seem to rely heavily upon the phrase, rather than the definition of the phrase.[3]

Wesleyanism affirms only the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon as theopneustos.[4] As such, Scripture is the first of the four sources of theology in the quadrilateral, and it is the most authoritative. The Scriptures are the "first" and "final" authority in the derivation of theology and thus all other sources are viewed as subservient to it.[5] The paradigm observes that it is the Scriptures that are sufficient to convey the totality of the gospel, but it simultaneously affirms that human reason, tradition, and experience are the "lenses through which we read Scripture."[6] Hence there is a tension between these elements such that they are interwoven, not unlike how human beings are thought to actually receive theology. It is the text of the Bible that is "God's self disclosure," such that through reading the text faithfully will merit the reader with a portrayal of the "overflow of God's heart."[7] According to the quadrilateral, the Scriptures require faith before one can affirm the contents therein, including the miraculous. 

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is distinct from the "three legged stool" of the Roman Catholic faith. Within Catholicism "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God."[8] Additionally, the Roman magisterium is viewed as the "successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."[9] Thus, the magisterium, Scripture, and tradition are on equal footing within the Roman Catholic framework. Wesleyanism, like other Protestant traditions, are decisively contrary to the view expounded by the Roman tradition and its understanding of the derivation of theology. Moreover, while Protestantism is interested in the continuance of biblical orthodoxy over and against heresy, the Roman Catholic viewpoint is thought to be more concerned with unity.[10]

The second component of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is reason. Reason is defined as "the mental capacity or power to use the human mind in reaching and establishing truth."[11]Within the quadrilateral, reason functions as a source of theology but presupposes the ability of God to communicate sufficiently such that the faithful mind can apprehend revealed truth.[12] Thus, because God is eminently reasonable, and because the faculty of human reason is part of the imago Dei, it is thought that human reason "is not a foe to the theological task."[13] Outler, in his attempt to substantiate the quadrilateral from the corpus of Wesley has stated, 
"Scripture and tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical reason. Thus, he [Wesley] insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary propositions or arguments."
Within the context of the quadrilateral, reason is viewed as complementary to Scripture, tradition, and experience in the reception of theological truth. Although the eternality and excellency of God surpasses the human faculty to reason, it remains "faith seeking understanding" in acknowledgement of the existence of paradox and the otherness of the God.[14] Moreover, the modernist assertion of the supremacy of human reason over Scripture is rejected, in keeping with historic Christian orthodoxy.[15]

The third component of the quadrilateral is tradition. That is, "The transmission of received teaching or practice."[16] Tradition is viewed as both a "vital" and "essential" means of communicating the faith to subsequent generations.[17] Ritual practices such as the recognized ordinances of the Lord's Supper and water baptism, and in some denominations, the practice of foot-washing, are received as "living traditions" which are means of spiritual renewal and even a component of sanctification.[18] Interestingly, tradition is also viewed as the exact reason why churches are built and Sunday services are attended.[19] Outler has described the role of tradition within the quadrilateral as a valuable compliment to Scripture.[20] Therefore, the patristic literature is conceived as an effective source of theological truth in conjunction with the Scriptures. Outler has noted,
"For Wesley, the Christian tradition was more than a curiosity or a source for illustrative material. It was a living spring of Christian insight. Reading Wesley against his sources amounts to an eccentric excursion through the length and breadth of the history of Christ thought."[21]
While there is certainly theological value in the Christian tradition, the quadrilateral paradigm acknowledges the propensity for some traditions to mitigate theological truth, subsequently substituting human traditions for the command of God. Adherents to the quadrilateral are cognizant of those traditions which make null the Word of God,[22] and it is those traditions which are rejected.  

The final component of the quadrilateral is experience. Mercer has defined experience within the Wesleyan context as, "the ordinary understanding of something that happens to or within one, about which we can think and discuss- heart religion."[23] Christian experience is viewed as the acknowledgment and participation of the salvific power of God in accordance with the testimony of the Scriptures.[24]

Within the Wesleyan-Pentecostal context, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is analogous to the events of Pentecost and even the advent of the Son of God as Christian experience is seen as personal encounter with God. Similar to other Pentecostal traditions, Wesleyan-Pentecostalism views the relevant experiential depictions present in the Acts as normative for Christians today.[25] Therefore, within the framework of the quadrilateral there is a historical consistency sought within the theological revelation that the people of God receive through experience.[26]

§ II. Reflection

In my estimation there is much to be appreciative of in the theological method depicted above. For example, there is a robust view of the text of Scripture and its applicability in apprehending true theology. So too, while I am not a Pentecostal, I am an Evangelical and therefore I appreciate the consideration of personal experience as an important and profound element in the Christian life. As someone who has extensively examined the origins of Pentecostalism and its development, I can see how the Wesleyan nod to both authentic Christian experience and personal piety led to the formation of the "heart religion" that is Pentecostalism and the broader charismatic movement.[27] Additionally, I appreciate the rejection of reason as the supreme arbiter of truth- theological and otherwise. Such a view presupposes the non-existence of the supernatural and is subsequently fallacious.

It would seem then that the Wesleyan paradigm finds value in human reason like our God[28] and hence rejects anti-intellectualism.[29] However, while I appreciate the above aspects, there are also various areas wherein I hold substantial disagreements with the quadrilateral. 

Within the Reformed tradition of which I affirm, Scripture is viewed as the sole infallible rule of Christian faith and practice. It is also viewed as completely sufficient to provide theology. Although it is worth noting that the Reformed acknowledge that the knowledge of God's

existence is apparent in the creation and is therefore an intrinsic feature of the human condition.[30] Scripture is sufficient and necessary for the knowledge of the gospel[31] and the revealed will of God.[32] Not only are human reason and experience wholly subservient to Scripture, they are not in and of themselves a valid source of theology since both human reason and experience can err. Human reason is particularly prone to error in so far as it must cope with the noetic effects of sin. 

Tradition finds its value only insofar as it finds itself in accord with Scripture. In this there is substantial agreement, with the caveat that from my tradition's perspective, tradition is a channel for biblical theology rather than a source of it. Subsequently, tradition (i.e., traditions not revealed in the biblical text itself) and even experience are not a means of theology but rather a response to the theology revealed in Scripture. That is not to suggest that there is not value to tradition. For example, we greatly value the historic creeds and our confession of faith. But these documents are only authoritative because they comprise a summarized articulation of biblical truth. Indeed, I can appreciate the Wesleyan appeal to tradition in an effort to support one's understanding of the biblical text. However, it would seem problematic at best to suppose that tradition is a source of theology since while it may safeguard the believer from new heresies, it does little to prevent the affirmation of heresies present in primitive Christianity. Furthermore, while tradition may be the reason for the building of churches and their attendance within the Wesleyan context,[33] Reformed Christians view the purpose of church as nothing less than the exaltation of the Triune God in song, sacrament, and in the proclamation of Scripture.

While I respect my Wesleyan-Pentecostal brothers and sisters, I personally feel it is unnecessary and indeed unhelpful to suppose that reason, tradition, and experience are a "sources of theology." Even though Outler lamented over his construct being misconstrued, I think there is some legitimacy in some of the criticism as the whole paradigm seems at times to undermine the supreme epistemic authority of Scripture. As Grudem has noted, 
"The Bible contains all the words of God we need for trusting and obeying him perfectly."[34]

[1] McKim, WDTT, 377.
[2] See Outler, “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in Wesley,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 20.1, Spring-1985, 7-18. 3 ibid, 16. 
[3] E.g., Anderson, The Myth of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral
[4] See 2 Timothy 3:16.
[5] See, Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 3. 
[6] ibid. 
[7] ibid, 4.
[8] Catechism of the RCC,
[9] ibid, 
[10] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 4. 
[11] McKim, WDTT, 295.
[12] The Wesleyan framework assumes faith is the necessary antecedent to reason as a source of theology. See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 6.
[13] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 5. 15 Outler, 9. 
[14] Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 7. 
[15] See ibid.
[16] McKim, WDTT, 355.
[17] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 8. 
[18] See ibid, 9. The statement, "We must remember where we came from, that keeps us abiding in our "first love,' and keeps our walk fresh and alive," implies that tradition is a means unto perseverance (in the Arminian sense) and sanctification. 
[19] ibid.
[20] See Oulter, 9. 
[21] ibid, 14.
[22] See Mark 7:8-13. 
[23] Mercer, 85.
[24] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 10.
[25] See ibid, 12. 
[26] See ibid, 11.
[27] That is, Wesleyanism and its value of experience was a considerable contributor to Pentecostalism, but one cannot ground the formation of Pentecostalism purely in Wesleyanism. Movements like that of the Keswick revival, the Millerite fad, the Great Awakening, and a virulent reaction against theological liberalism were all within the vorlage of the formation of Pentecostalism.
[28] See Isaiah 1:18.
[29] In light of its Wesleyan roots, it is curious that there are some streams within Pentecostalism that downplay the value of reason and have what many both inside and outside of the movement consider a kind of anti-intellectualism. 
[30] See Romans1:18ff.
[31] See Romans 10:13-17.
[32] See Deuteronomy 29:29.
[33] See Wesleyan Quadrilateral Lecture, 9.
[34] Grudem, 132.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jonathan. "The Myth of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral." Jonathan Andersen: A Young Pastor in an Old Denomination. 3 May 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2015

"Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1 Jan. 1993. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
McKim, Donald. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms [WDTT]. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.  
Mercer, Jerry, "Toward a Wesleyan Understanding of Christian Experience." Wesleyan Theological Journal 20.1. Web. 13 Jan 2015.
Outler, Albert. "The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in Wesley." Wesleyan Theological Journal 20.1, Spring-1985, 7-18.
Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Theological Method. Lecture courtesy of Prof. Burleson, Lee University. PDF.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Reflection on Biblical Interpretation

by Hiram R. Diaz III
In 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, Paul reveals that
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Here Paul uses several keywords to underscore that “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”[1] Firstly, the word all (πᾶς, pas) identifies which Scriptures (γραφή, graphē) are God-breathed and profitable for doctrine. As Gordon H. Clark notes, the text reveals “that every scripture, distributively every verse, has been breathed out by God.”[2] 
Secondly, the word complete/perfect (ἄρτιος, artios) reveals the intended purpose for which God has breathed out his Word, the completion and furnishment of the man of God for every good work. Commenting on the relationship of “complete” to “equipped” (resp., artios to exeertismenos), E.W. Bullinger writes —
The words “perfect” [ESV, complete] and “throughly furnished” [ESV, equipped] are cognate in the Greek, and should be similarly rendered. […] If the former άρτιος (artios) is rendered “perfect,” the latter ξηρτισμένος (exeertismenos) should be “perfected” (as in the margin). If the former is translated fitted, the latter should be fitted out-and-out. If the latter is rendered “furnished completely,” then the former should be furnished. Perhaps the best rendering would be “fitted, fitted out,” ie., “that the man of God may be fitted, fitted out unto all good works.”[3]
Thus, thirdly, Paul uses the word every (πᾶς, pas) to express the range of good works expounded upon by the entirety of the Scriptures. There is no good work that is not addressed by the Word of God. In a word, Paul is teaching us that there is no Scriptural content that does not teach us doctrine, and there is no good work that is excluded from the doctrines contained in Scripture. To assert that the Scriptures must be supplemented by any other a-theopneustos (i.e. non-Godbreathed) source of doctrine is to contradict what is plainly taught by Paul. All of Scripture teaches doctrine. All doctrine addresses the entire range of activities of a man’s life comprising what can be called “good works,” and aims at making him perfect in whatever situation he faces. Clark’s commentary is to the point —
Because God breathed out the words through Paul’s mind onto the manuscript, Timothy knows what he is obliged to teach, refute, correct, and instruct. Otherwise, neither Timothy nor any other minister down to the present day could provide his parishioners with anything better than his own personal prejudices.[4]
Phillip H. Towner, likewise, notes that the phrase “every good work” is “a general characterization that can be concretized with any number of activities.”[5] Thus, it can be said “that he who studies God's word, will be a ‘man of God,’ fitted out and provided for all the circumstances and emergencies of life.”[6]
Two Ways in Which Sola Scriptura is Rejected by Heretics

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

Yoga is one of the few Eastern religious practices that has made inroads into every day American life. It has been reported that over thirty-six million Americans practice yoga on regular basis,[1] many of whom undoubtedly profess Christianity. It is important for Christians to consider if this practice is compatible with a biblical worldview,[2] and therefore I will seek to answer this question biblically. 

The term “yoga” is derived from a Sanskrit verb meaning “to yoke.”[3] Yoga as a discipline, is designed to yoke the participant with a panentheistic world.[4] The notion a Christian might take the freedom that was purchased for them at the expense of the life of the Son of God and yoke it via yoga is incomprehensible. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”[5] Within Hinduism and other vedic religions (e.g., Buddhism, Jainism) there isn’t a complete distinction between God and the creation. Rather, God is viewed as the soul of the creation and is therefore part of the creation. This view of God is in sharp conflict with the Christian faith since one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible is the distinction between the Creator and his creation.[6] The notion of being yoked in this manner ought to be disturbing to Christians since Paul told the church, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"[7]

But can’t a Christian participate in yoga without participating in its spiritual aspects? While there are those who claim to have ‘Christianized’ yoga, it is impossible to separate the practice from is eastern spiritual aspects. The many postures utilized within yoga are designed to be offerings to some of the many Hindu deities.[8] Consider the hand gesture entitled anjali mudra. The phrase is translated “prayer”[9] or “offering,”[10] This gesture is commonly accompanied with the pronunciation of namaste, which is defined as “I bow to you.”[11] According to yoga expert Aadil Palkhivala, “The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra.” So too, the postures present in yoga are the sacrament of the vedic religions. That is, in the same way that Christians practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, Hindus practice yoga. One need only examine the Bhagavad Gita (a primary Hindu sacred text) to see that yoga and its postures are not merely exercise but rather an intrinsically religious practice. Subhas Tiwari, professor of yoga philosophy at Hindu University of America stated, 
The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it...The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised…[12]
Tiwari concluded, “Yoga is Hinduism.”[13] Moreover, the breathing and meditation techniques that are part of yoga are intended to calm and empty the mind. This notion is the opposite of the Bible’s teaching on meditation. Biblical meditation is does not consist of emptying the mind, but rather filling it with the Word of God.[14]

The Bible tells us to avoid every appearance of evil,[15] and that we are to "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”[16] All religions that are contrary to the Christian faith are of demonic origin,[17] and what pagans offer to their gods are actually offered to demons. Therefore, yoga is a practice that is demonically inspired. Yoga did not come from God, but rather God's enemies. What business then, does light have with darkness? 

There some very strong parallels between the issue of food being offered to idols within 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 and yoga. Within those chapters Paul teaches us that we are to avoid engaging in activities that could be taken by weaker brothers or sisters as participation in false religion. While participation in yoga is participation in false religion, consider the new convert who came out of an overtly religious form of yoga. That new Christian, seeing a mature Christian freely practicing what they left behind for Christ, would likely be caused to stumble as in 1 Corinthians 8:7-12. The life of a Christian is a testimony of the work of God. It would be a tragedy to cause a weaker Christian to stumble by our participation in something a new believer left behind.[18]

Christians should not practice yoga for the simple reason that it is pagan. Moreover, the notion that one could bifurcate yoga’s spiritual aspects from its postures is itself preposterous. We can no more turn baptism into a bath than we may turn Yoga into merely exercise. 

[1] See the study entitled, 2016 Yoga Study in America Study, January 2016. This study, undertaken by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal found the following:
The number of American yoga practitioners has increased to over 36 million in 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012. 28% of all Americans have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lives.
[2] See Prov 3:5-8; Acts 17:11; Col 2:8; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 John 4:1.
[3] Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub., 2002). 853.
[4] While there is great theological variation within Hindu source texts and in Hindu practice, the predominant view among yoga practitioners in the West is panentheism. See Jeffrey D. Long, Historical Dictionary of Hinduism, (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011), 128.
[5] Gal 5:1.
[6] Gen 1:1-224; Ps 95:3-7; 139:7-12.
[7] 2nd Cor 6:14.
[8] Suresh Chandra, Encyclopedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, (New Delhi: Sarap & Sons, 2001), 178.
[9] Shiva Rea, “Anjali Mudra,” Yoga Journal, Jan-Feb 2000, 44.
[10] The Little Book of Yoga, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014), 175.
[11]Rita Geno, “The Meaning of Namaste,” Yoga Journal, April 21, 2017,
[12] Lisa Takeuchi Cullen/Mahtomedi, “Stretching for Jesus,” Time, March 29, 2005,,9171,1098937,00.html.
[13] ibid.
[14] Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2; 119:97.
[15] 1st Thess 5:22.
[16] Eph 5:11.
[17] 1st Cor 10:20.
[18] cf. Rom 14:13-19.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

Pearcey, Nancy. Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015), 320pp.

According to the Scriptures, there are no true atheists. There are those who say “there is no God” (Ps 14:1), but by the testimony of that which has been created all men know that there is a Creator to whom they are morally accountable. Thus instead of repenting and turning to the one true God, men fashion idols for themselves from that which has been created. In the case of atheism, man deifies matter, energy, the laws of nature, and the like, predicating of them the attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, eternality, and omniscience.

Throughout church history, Christian philosophers and theologians have made this point in their writings. As of the last century, in fact, this point has been driven home repeatedly by presuppositonalist apologists following Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til. These works are excellent, but some have not always done so in a manner that equally appeals to the scholar and the schoolboy alike. This is where Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes excels. Pearcey’s book cogently argues the case from Romans 1 that what are often regarded as non-theistic beliefs to which unbelievers just happen to subscribe are in actuality forms of idolatry. Either one trusts the One True God, or one trusts some part of his creation. There is no third alternative.

Pearcey convincingly argues that the reductionism of idolatry, wherein all reality is reduced to one aspect of reality (e.g. matter, mind, power, energy, etc), forces idolaters to mark that which cannot be covered by their worldview as unreal. And this is the collapse of these worldviews, for in identifying a real aspect of the created order as being unreal these systems tacitly admit they are failures. These worldviews, moreover, result in self-contradiction, being unable to account for their foundational axiom/s (e.g. “All things are material” does not account for itself, an immaterial assertion). Pearcey is philosophically astute, giving her readers a good overall picture of philosophy’s more pivotal persons, places, and theories.

Finding Truth’s presentation of these thinkers and their ideas — whether Kant and his Copernican revolution in metaphysics and epistemology, Nietszsche and his Will to Power, or the Postmodernists and their reductio ad civitas — is not overly technical or insufficiently detailed, but tailored to suit the need at hand, viz. Giving a reason for the hope that lies within us. This is done by dissecting all other worldviews with the five principles Pearcey lays out, but can also be assisted through the use of the study guide she provides at the end of Finding Truth. This book can be used in a wide variety of contexts — e.g. college course, bible study, apologetics training courses, individual personal study, or as part of a high school curriculum — and make it a wonderful contribution not only to apologetics in the abstract, but on the tangible level of preaching, teaching, witnessing, and living our lives in the world.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

Moreland, J.P. The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters(Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 208 pp.

Contemporary thinkers, in philosophy and theology, are largely given over to the false doctrine of anthropological monism/physicalism. This doctrine teaches that man is a purely physical being whose conscious mental activity is nothing more than either (a.)a simultaneously occurring event in the brain that is essentially identical to the one’s neurochemical activity, or (b.)an epiphenomenon of neurochemical activity. The soul is, on this view, not an immaterial substance distinct from the material body. Rather, the soul is a causally effete product of the body. Among the unbelieving world, the reason for this is simple — the rejection of the supernatural necessitates that one attribute to natural forces, causes, entities, etc powers typically ascribed to God alone. Thus, whereas the Bible says that God breathed the breath of life into man and man became a living soul, the unbelieving posit that consciousness simply arose on its own via the process of evolutionary development. For the unbelieving, the materialist, the anthropological monist, life comes from non-life, consciousness from non-consciousness.

In The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, J.P. Moreland presents philosophical, biblical, and scientific evidence in support of anthropological substance dualism. The case is a cumulative one, each chapter contributing to the overall argument of the book that the soul is a distinct substance from the body, and that its distinct substantial existence is of fundamental importance to the Christian’s life, as well as that of the unbeliever. The chapters each end with a mini-glossary of key terms covered in the chapter, which is a helpful means of familiarizing the reader with an otherwise completely foreign vocabulary that he can use when defending the doctrine of the soul.

The book is a great introduction to the subject, which ends with a clear emphasis on the concrete eternal implications that arise from having a soul which will exist forever. Moreland argues the traditionalist position on hell as eternal conscious torment from the dignity of the human soul made in God’s image, and the reality of hell as a place where sinners are quarantined from the New Heavens and New Earth, subjected to an eternal existence devoid of God’s loving presence. Although touched upon fairly briefly, Moreland also deals with contemporary popular alternatives to ECT, namely universalism and annihilationism/conditional immortality, from Scripture and from reason.

Though praiseworthy in the above mentioned regards, Moreland’s book suffers from theological problems. These problems are directly tied to his belief in libertarian free will. For instance, in contradiction to the Scripture’s clear teaching that God will actively visit his enemies with wrath (e.g. 2nd Thess 1:9), Moreland argues that the torment sinners face in hell is merely privative. This has consequences on the Gospel one preaches, seeing as Christ’s death on Calvary also consisted of being the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners (i.e. experiencing the actively distributed anger of God toward sinners, for sinners/in their place). Elsewhere, Moreland attempts to answer the question of why God would create men knowing that some would end up in Hell for all eternity. Although Scripture is clear on this matter, stating that God can do what he wants with his own creatures, preparing some to be vessels of honor and others to be vessels of destruction/wrath (cf. Rom 9:14-26), Moreland argues, in the manner of Molinist William Lane Craig, that it may be that in order to maximize the number of people who would be saved God had to create the world in which we live. This is recognized by Moreland to limit God’s ability in the matter of salvation. However, this is not seen as a problematic belief to maintain, seeing as Moreland’s main concern is to uphold the libertarian free will of man.

Even more problematically, Moreland answers the question “What will happen to those who have not heard the Gospel?” not by appealing to the clear teaching of Scripture (namely, they will be judged on the basis of their works and they will be found wanting), but upon the basis of arguments once more derived from Molinism. In the final analysis, then, those who die having never heard the Gospel will be judged according to how they responded to the light they have received. The problem here, however, is that Scripture clearly teaches that all men have the law of God written on their hearts but suppress that truth in unrighteousness, preferring to engage in thinking and behavior that they know is fully deserving of divine condemnation (cf. Rom 1:18-32). So men will be judged on the basis of how they respond to the light they’ve been given, but this is not hopeful. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Those who have never heard the Gospel are not saved by any other means, seeing as there is only one name under heaven given to mankind by which men may be saved — the name of Jesus Christ the Son of God (cf. Acts 4:12).

This latter emphasis on the libertarian free will of man is not only problematic as regards theology proper, soteriology, and eschatology, it is also unnecessary. The argumentation put forward in defense of the existence of substantially distinct soul, from Scripture as well as philosophy and science, is quite robust without Moreland’s emphasis on libertarian free will. Thus, the book may be a useful teaching tool as far as understanding the philosophical, scientific, and Scriptural bases for belief in a substantially distinct soul. However, caution must be raised against the later theological errors.

Monday, October 16, 2017

God's Trinitarian Will

by Abram Germano

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

— Matt 7: 21-23

Equal Authority and Unity in the Godhead

In this famous and fearful passage from Matthew’s Gospel, the Son of God points to the will of his Father. Often these verses are rightly given as warning to professing believers that they ought examine themselves, to make their calling and election sure. The emphasis most always is on bewaring of a works based righteousness, which performing and tallying such supposed signs done in God’s name can surely take, but how often is this warning viewed in light of the Trinitarian weight contained in the immediate context of this and surrounding passages?
First, note the Divinity of the Son. Jesus does not refuse the title these professing believers cry to him. When they say “Lord, Lord,” Jesus readily receives the Divine title and name as one who has the authority to receive it. Contextually, this demonstrates a divinity ascribed to the Son who has every right to execute Divine judgement. Jesus also points to himself as the rightful mediator between his Father and all mankind by showing that not all who come to him saying his name will enter into his Father’s kingdom.
Second, note the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son revealed in how Christ, the Son, places doing the will of his Father as the highest priority. Directly connected to this argument of doing the Father’s will, the Son quickly equates his Word and teaching with that of his Father’s will in the text immediately following:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”[1]
The fact that the Christ is equating himself with the Father here is contextually unavoidable. Note the deliberate parallel —

“…but the one who does
the will of my Father” (v. 21)
“Everyone then who hears
these words of mine and does them…”(v.25)[2]
It was teaching like this that inspired the Jewish leaders to kill him on account of blasphemy.[3]
Yet while the Son establishes his equal authority with the Father, he also demonstrates unity within the Godhead. This isn’t a power-grab on display,[4] nor an overthrow of previous authority, but a new revelation to man, via the Son, of what God’s authority actually looks like —  It’s Trinitarian. And as the verses following Matt 7:24-27 make clear, authority was certainly the issue:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.[5]
The Divine Will Identified
Since it is “the one who does the will of [Christ’s] Father” who enters heaven, we must ask:
What light does Scripture shine on this divine will?
John chapter 6 has much to say concerning the eternal, Trinitarian will of God:
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[6]
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[7] 
To do the work of God is to have a God-given faith that treasures the Son. Faith, exclusively in the Son, is the message Christ is proclaiming as the only access to the Father, and this is the eternal Divine Will. The Son has come down to earth from where he was before. The Son is eternal. His will is in union with his Father’s will, for they are in perfect fellowship and co-equal in Deity. The Son’s work, or will, is not opposed to the Father’s, but is purposed in and with the Father from all eternity.

The work of God then, is to wholly trust and feed solely upon the Bread that has come down from heaven.[8] It is to believe in the One the Father has sent, to confess the Son’s equal standing with the Father and obey his work and teaching. And this is all brought about by the personal work of the Holy Spirit.
Implications for God’s People
Thus, our gospel proclamation ought to be Trinitarian. When we proclaim Jesus, let us announce the richness of the eternal purpose within the Godhead for an elect people, of which not even one will be lost — the eternal Sonship of Christ, the immense demonstration of love in God’s condescending to his creation, the whole scope of biblical revelation in light of these truths — all while trusting the Holy Spirit to make it effectual for the elect! To miss the sovereign decree of a specific people given to the Son in Eternity past is to miss a beautiful dynamic into the Triune will of God. Speaking in knowingly broad brush strokes, Pentecostals in particular, but also many other denominations highly prioritize and seek after their own concepts of the mighty works referenced in Matt 7:22. These same groups typically are not strong on the doctrine of the Trinity and are in danger of Jesus’s warning that they don’t know him at all. We must know the Son revealed to us through the scriptures, not one created in men’s minds.
The Eternal Son of Scripture is mighty and awesome, and it is he, in Scripture, that has revealed the Trinitarian will of God. That will has always been about redeeming men from their sins through the sinless substitute once promised and now arrived. May our hope be rightly founded upon his Word, and our joy made complete in knowing him who took our place on that tree.

[1] Matt 7:24-27.
[2] Emphasis added for vv. 21 & 25.
[3] cf. Matt 26:63-66; Mark 2:7 & 14:60-64; Luke 5:21; John 5:1-19 & 10:30-33.
[4] cf. Phil 2:5-11.
[5] Matt 7:28-29. (emphasis added)
[6] John 6:28-29.
[7] John 6: 38-40.[8] John 6:41-59.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Stanley J. Porter & Beth M. Stovell eds. 
(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 224 pp.

Central to the Christian faith is the task of reading, understanding, and responding to the Word of God. Therefore, it is of utmost importance whether or not we have the proper hermeneutic when we approach the Word of God. Yet since the advent and departure of post-structuralism in philosophy and Christian theology, aspersions have been cast on the notion that there is any one correct way of interpreting any texts, let alone the most important text of all, viz. Scripture. Philosophical Modernism, with its emphasis on the autonomous “S”elf and the ability of unaided “R”eason (i.e. reason not aided by divine revelation) to eventually ascertain socio-cultural-historically transcendent truths. Prior to postmodernism, there was at least the general assumption that the meaning of a text could be known, and that this meaning would be universally comprehensible. After postmodernism, however, such an interpretive methodology was thought to be non-existent, a figment of the modernist’s imagination.

Postmodernism has had the positive effect of reminding scholars to not uncritically accept contemporary academic dogmas regarding interpretation. Ironically, however, it has also had the negative effect of opening the door for scholars to uncritically accept interpretive methods that are openly hostile to the Christian faith. Consequently, there have been many scholars who have sought to refine interpretive methods that rest upon certain presuppositions of the Christian faith that are shared by, at least in some respects, the modernist era. In Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, we are presented with four interpretive methods whose proponents evaluate and engage with their co-authors’ views.

The book is roughly divisible into three parts — 
1. Five Views of Biblical Hermeneutics 
2. Responses 
3. Interpreting Together: Synthesizing Five Views of Biblical Hermeneutics
In Part One, the authors lay out their position, making some mention of the other views presented one another, highlighting basic agreements and disagreements between them. The authors not only articulate their view, drawing attention to their view’s strengths, but they also put their method to work in their interpretation of Matthew 2:7-15.

The five views are —
The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View - Craig L. Blomberg 
The Literary/Postmodern View - F. Scott Spencer 
The Philosophical/Theological View - Merold Westphal 
The Redemptive-Historical View - Richard B. Gaffin Jr. 
The Canonical View - Robert W. Wall
Of all of these views, the Redemptive-Historical method alone, in this author’s estimation, has the ability to provide an historical-critical/grammatical anchor for the interpretation of Scripture (represented by Blomberg), while simultaneously accounting for narratival literary devices critical to getting a better understanding of the text (as represented by F. Scott Spencer’s literary analysis of Matt 2:7-15), and a better understanding of how the canon itself contributes to the church’s understanding of the Scriptures (represented by Robert W. Wall). 

Gaffin’s criticisms of the other views presented in Biblical Hermeneutics are helpful in unearthing the problematic presuppositions of those positions. For instance, Gaffin notes that the historical-critical/grammatical view depends on modernist presuppositions that make it difficult to view the text as anything more than a human creation. Rather than the Scriptures having the final word, extrabiblical considerations (e.g. history) ultimately determine what the text is saying, a reality that can influence one’s belief in inerrancy. So while the historical-critical/grammatical view is necessary, it is subordinate to the flow of Scripture at the center of which is the redemptive work of God culminating in the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God. 

Gaffin’s emphasis on the Christian metanarrative stands in contradiction to the postmodernist denial that any such overarching narrative exists. Texts may be richer in meaning than a merely historical-critical/grammatical interpretation lets on; however, that meaning can be ascertained by a careful study of God’s self-disclosure in Scripture, through many means of revelation, the apex of which is his self-disclosure in Christ (cf. Heb 1:1-3). What is more, while the postmodern view given in Biblical Hermeneutics attempts to delimit the extent of valid interpretive possibilities, Blomberg rightly notes that the constraints placed upon Spencer’s reading of Matt 2:7-15 do not “destabilize” the text (a la Derridean deconstruction), but achieve results that can be reproduced by the historical-critical/grammatical method of interpretation. This weakens the case for a postmodern method of interpretation.

The Canonical View places a needed emphasis on the sacrality of Scripture, a point which the historical-critical/grammatical and postmodern/literary views seem to undermine, it would seem, inadvertently by assuming the priority of, on the one hand, human authorial intention & historical placement (historical-critical/grammatical view) and, on the other hand, human interpretive predilection & historical placement (postmodern/literary view). However, Gaffin’s suggestion that the use of an extrabiblical “Rule of Faith” in effect amounts to using a “canon above the canon” is hard to deny. Scripture is the Christian’s rule, and to it all other norms are to be subordinated. The Canonical perhaps inadvertently inverts this relationship.

The closing section of this book attempts a synthesis of the five views, demonstrating, as the authors also recognize, that these reading interpretive methods are not necessarily all at odds with one another at the functional level. This is a helpful task, but it suffers from the same defect that the other views (excluding the historical-redemptive view) suffer from. The synthesis places the human reader at the center of interpretation, utilizing each method as an artist uses a variety of colors in creating a single painting. God, however, is not merely the author of the Scriptures, he is their active interpreter. Pivotal to the Christian doctrine of sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Word of God, and the people of God growing closer to God, hearing his voice, and knowing his propositionally/verbally revealed will.

The historical-redemptive view succeeds in this area, neither downplaying nor centering the human role in interpreting the Scriptures, as well as in not decentering or downplaying the role of God the Holy Spirit in supernaturally causing men to see Christ in all of Scripture, the unity of the Scriptures, and how the individual Christian is a part of God’s unfolding drama of redemption.