Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt. 2b


by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Law and Gospel in Apologetics

A. The Law

As we saw in our last article, we are required to use Scripture alone in our warfare against unbelief. The use of the Word of God is twofold. In the first place, we destroy the false beliefs and belief-systems standing in opposition to the Christian faith. In the second place, we assert what is the case from the Scriptures, i.e. we raise the truth up by means of argumentation, building the edifice of the Christian faith by sound reasoning. This two-fold movement corresponds to the two-fold distinction of God’s Word as comprised of Law and Gospel. The Law of God, in its broadest sense, is whatever God commands. As John Colquohoun explains, in

...its restricted or limited sense, it [i.e. the phrase “the Law of God”] is employed to express the rule which God has prescribed to His rational creatures in order to direct and oblige them to the right performance of all their duties to Him. In other words, it is used to signify the declared will of God, directing and obliging mankind to do that which pleases Him, and to abstain from that which displeases Him.1

The Law of God is comprised of imperatives that reveal God’s holy will to man, and simultaneously reveal man’s complete inability to meet God’s perfect standard of absolute moral perfection.

Thus, when the Law is preached properly, it removes man’s confidence in his own capacity to, as it were, fix himself and make himself presentable to God. As C. F. W. Walther aptly puts the matter –

The Law says: “You must do this; if you fail to do it, you have no recourse to the patience, lovingkindness, and longsuffering of God; you will have to go to perdition for your wrong-doing.” To make this point quite plain to us, the Lord says: “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” That does not mean, he shall have the lowest place assigned him in heaven, but he does not belong in the kingdom of heaven at all.

[…]

A sermon on the Law which you deliver from your pulpit, to be a proper preaching of the Law, must measure up to these requirements: There is to be no ranting about abominable vices that may be rampant in the congregation. Continual ranting will prove useless. People may quit the practises that have been reproved, but in two weeks they will have relapsed into their old ways. You must, indeed, testify with great earnestness against transgressions of God’s commandments, but you must also tell the people: “Even if you were to quit your habitual cursing, swearing, and the like, that would not make you Christians. You might go to perdition for all that. God is concerned about the attitude of your heart.” You may explain this matter with the utmost composure, but you must state it quite plainly.2

Concerning apologetics, then, the Law destroys the self-righteousness of man afforded to him, albeit falsely, by his individual false beliefs and/or belief-system. When we destroy the false beliefs/belief-systems of opponents of the faith, we are reminding men once again that all people are to be subject to the Law of God which requires them to “Love the Lord” with all of one’s “heart” and “soul” and  “mind.”3 We are also reminding them that by their failure to love the Lord God with all their minds, i.e. by submitting to the truth and not attempting to establish the truth by rebellion against the truth, they are failing to love their neighbor. Since it is upon these two commandments, as Christ declares, that the whole of the Law and the Prophets depend,4 a refutation of the false beliefs and false belief-systems proposed by the unbeliever is an indictment of the wickedness of fallen man’s heart. We are not playing an intellectual game, or trying to show our superiority of intellect. Rather, we are removing any confidence men have in the idols of their imaginations. We are holding up the perfect Law of God to men’s minds by showing them that the irrationality and falsity of their beliefs and belief-systems are the fruit of their sin against God and neighbor. The falsity and contradictory nature of false beliefs and belief-systems is evidence of the guiltiness of the person who espouses and promulgates them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt.2


by Hiram R. Diaz III
§ I. Methodology
Having defined apologetics,[1] we will now turn our attention to considering how we are to intellectually defend the faith. This article, in other words, will be dealing with methodology. We understand that the faith is to be defended defensively and offensively, but how are we to do this? Before answering this question, we must look at the nature of attacks on the Christian faith. After doing this, we will proceed to answer what methodology we must employ when defending the Christian faith against the enemies of God.
§ Ia. Epistemology & Authority
Apologetics is, as we have noted, the intellectual defense of the faith against spiritual opposition to the it. We are engaged in war, and this implies that we are under some commanding authority. Christians are under the authority of God, who teaches us knowledge[2] through his Word. We do not derive our knowledge firstly from any other source than the Word of God. All authorities are subordinate to the Word of God by necessity, as we learn from the writer to the Hebrews. Discussing the assurance believers can have of their inheritance as children of God struggling against outer and inner corruption that seeks to destroy us, the writer states —
…when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.[3]
Here we are assured of our everlasting inheritance by the author’s referencing the fact that while men swear some authority higher than themselves in order to give a “final confirmation,” God “since he had no one greater by whom to swear...swore by himself.” This teaches us that God’s Word is the highest source of authority, for God cannot swear by some other authority which would grant his words a final confirmation.
The above situation regarding Abraham, we must note, is not limited to that one event, for there is no situation in which God’s Word is dependent upon some created and mutable thing for its confirmation. We do not argue to the truth of the Scriptures, therefore, but from the truth of the Scriptures. As believers in him who is the Truth, the unchanging and highest authority who could swear by no one higher, we test all things by his Word, and we subordinate all epistemological pursuits to this one — knowing the Word of God.
While the enemies of God are numerous, their ultimate authority is “self.” As the Scriptures state —
…every intention of the thoughts [fallen man’s] heart was only
evil continually[4]
And
        “…the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”[5]
The evil in fallen man’s heart is always self-serving. This has been the case since the fall. In seeking to sin, therefore, the unbeliever places himself above all authorities, serving as the judge of what is right and wrong, what is useful or useless, what is worthy of worship or not. Even when he is superficially under the authority of some false god, he has put himself there for self-serving ends, thereby demonstrating that his god is his belly.[6] 
And from this we must conclude that fallen man’s thoughts are constrained by the desire to be free from the authority of God. Man’s thinking is inherently self-serving apart from the grace of God. The apostle Paul explains this in detail in his epistle to the Romans, writing —
…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
[…]
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[7]

Fallen man does not seek the truth; he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. Fallen man’s desire in all things is to pursue his own fallen interests, namely sin. Consequently, his thinking is always geared toward that end, even in the most mundane of activities. His authority is his self, and he subordinates all epistemological pursuits to his own sin-formed notions of what is good or bad, or wise or foolish, et al.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Brief Consideration of the Bibliology & Theology of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

§ I. Introduction
 
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WB&TS) is one of the more prominent theological cults in the United States. It's Kingdom Halls and literature are seemingly ubiquitous in most cities. For this reason, I have provided a brief consideration of two important doctrinal issues to assist you in your evangelism to Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs).

§ II. Bibliology

To begin with, the WB&TS’s New World Translation (NWT) is an erroneous and biased “translation,” which divulges the doctrinal pre-commitments of the Society. The text of the NWT’s New Testament is primarily based upon Westcott & Hort’s New Testament in the Original Greek (1881). However, the NWT contains significant alterations to the text, and this undeniably for theological reasons. The WB&TS claims that their New Testament is the combination of a hodge-podge of sources, many of which are completely irrelevant to the determining to the actual Greek New Testament. In conventional translations such as the KJV, NASB, or ESV, scholars evaluate and weigh ancient Greek manuscripts, engaging in the art and science of textual criticism. While there are stated rules for textual criticism (called “canons”), it appears as though the “New World Translation Committee” made up their own rules. For example, while there exists no New Testament manuscript which contains the Hebrew tetragrammaton (i.e., the divine name Yahweh in the Old Testament), the WB&TS has included what they identify as twenty-three 14-20th century “Hebrew Versions.”[1] Any textual critical methodology which supposes the veracity of 14-20th century Hebrew manuscripts over and against every single ancient Greek manuscript New Testament manuscript is preposterous! The WB&TS has taken to defending this view by claiming nothing short of a monumental conspiracy theory:
Those copying the [i.e., ancient NT] manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or they copied from manuscripts where this had already been done.[2]
The WB&TS further claims that the removal of Jehovah from the New Testament “evidently took place in the centuries following the death of Jesus and his apostles”[3] by “so-called Christians…who replaced the Tetragrammaton by kyrios in the Septuagint.”[4] This however, is non-sensical and grossly inaccurate. Because there are manuscripts of the Septuagint which translate the tetragrammaton YHWH as Kurios (i.e., Lord), and these before the New era Testament, the WB&TS has anachronistically argued that “so-called Christians” corrupted the text. The grand difficulty here, aside from the amazing anachronism, is that postexilic Jews had developed a well-documented tradition[5] of substituting the Hebrew term Adonai (“Lord”) for the tetragrammaton, and the Septuagint simply follows that tradition by translating Jehovah (i.e., Yahweh) and Adonai as Kurios (“Lord”). While there are a handful of Septuagint manuscripts which buck this norm by either including the four consonants YHWH, or using some other Greek substitute, the vast majority of Septuagint manuscripts translate the tetragrammaton Kurios, just as the New Testament does every time.

To put the WB&TS theory into perspective, this would mean that the original reading of the New Testament in at least 237 places was lost and that we now must rely upon rely upon versional translations from the “14th-20th centuries” to restore the original text. Such a view thoroughly erodes any reason for believing in the authenticity and veracity of the New Testament. Moreover, it is incredible to assert that every genuine New Testament manuscript that had disappeared without some much as even one copy or church father quotation surviving. Currently, there are about 5,800 extant ancient Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Not one of these manuscripts attest to the WB&TS’s claims. Moreover, the WB&TS plainly contradicts itself when it argues for the veracity of Scriptures:

No striking or fundamental variation is shown either in the Old or New Testament. There are no important omissions or additions of passages, and no variations which affect vital facts or doctrines.[6]
And,
Not only are there thousands of manuscripts to compare but discoveries of older Bible manuscripts during the past few decades take the Greek text back as far as about the year 125 C.E., just a couple of decades short of the death of the apostle John about 100 C.E. These manuscript evidences provide strong assurance that we now have a dependable Greek text in refined form.[7]
There are other places within the NWT which unambiguously reject the reading of any New Testament manuscript whatsoever. For instance, Colossians 1:16-20 states,

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What is Apologetics? Pt.1

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Apologia: Defensive & Offensive

In 1st Peter 3:15, the apostle Peter commands all Christians to always be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ. The word translated as defense is the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), which Frederick W. Danker defines as —
‘response to charges of misconduct’, defense freq. In legal context —a. with focus on speaking in defense Ac 22:1 (legal); 1 Cor 9:3 (general sense). —b. the act of defensive response: in a legal venue Ac 25:16; 2 Ti 4:16; general sense 2 Cor 7:11; Phil 1:7, 16; 1 Pt 3:15.[1]
Peter is, then, commanding Christians to give a defense for the faith. But what precisely does this mean in 1st Peter’s context? If we want to understand what Peter is teaching us, we need to look at the passage in connection with its previous and succeeding verses.

Beginning in 1st Pet 3:8, Peter admonishes Christians to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Christians are not to “repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.” We have been “called [to blessing others],” and we will “obtain a blessing,” for God blesses his people when they bless others. Peter goes on to cite Ps 32:12-16 in support of his statements, showing that this is the Christian’s duty according to the Word of God. He then goes on to ask —
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
Doing good is not grounds for fear, so obedience to God’s law should not be hindered by fear of being harmed/punished by those to whom we show kindness. In fact, the implication of any such harm/punishment coming to us for blessing our enemies is that they are acting unjustly and will, therefore, receive their due punishment in God’s time. Thus, Peter continues by arguing that “even if [we] should suffer for righteousness’ sake, [we] will be blessed.” Whether we are blessed in the present for blessing others, or we receive unjust punishment from those enemies of Christ whom we bless, we are and will be blessed by God for obeying his commandment to love our enemies. There is no justification for fearing or being troubled in our hearts, even in such circumstances, therefore, since we are and will be blessed. Rather, Peter says we are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy,” and “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”

In this passage, then, the goal of defending the faith is directly connected to (i.)our lives as Christians being distinct from the world, and (ii.)our enduring in hope in this world, even when we are unjustly persecuted, punished, ridiculed, and mocked by the enemies of God. Why do we continue to trust in Christ and show mercy and love toward our enemies in the world? Why do we not, as Job’s wife once commanded him to do, “curse God and die”?[2] Why not forsake the Lord Jesus Christ’s commandment of love and turn on those who unjustly harm us? Peter commands us to be ready to give a defense of the faith, of the hope we have. And this is what makes the word apologia so significant. We are not called to give a defense of a belief that we understand but do not ourselves embrace; we are commanded to give a defense of the beliefs that we fully embrace, to the extent that our lives are marked by adherence to its precepts and faithfulness to the giver of those precepts, despite what losses we will experience. An apologia, in other words, can only be given by a Christian, one whose hope is fully in the Word of God, and whose life, therefore, demonstrates this in no uncertain terms.

Given that Peter states that we are to be ready to give an apologia in the event that we are asked about the hope we have in Christ, some have taken this to mean that apologetics is only defensive and not offensive. But is this the case?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemy's Trade [Pt.4b]


by Hiram R. Diaz III

II. Slippery Analogies

In addition to the misinterpretations listed in our last article on this subject, we will now look at how enemies of the Christian faith will often misinterpret analogies in order to not deal with the weight of the arguments using those literary devices. Analogies come in different forms, depending on the communicative context. Broadly speaking, we can differentiate between didactic analogies and literary analogies. Didactic analogies seek to narrow in on a shared similarity between the analogy’s source and target, for the sake of helping the reader understand the target.[1] Here is an example of a didactic analogy —
Isolating variables is like peeling an onion one layer at a time.[2]
The source of the analogy is the action of peeling an onion one layer at a time; the target is the action of isolating variables. What is similar in both cases is the action of dealing with one aspect of a problem at a time in order to reach one’s desired end, as well as the determination one must exercise in both instances.

Here is an example of a literary analogy —
My love is like the sun.
Here the similarities between the love and the sun are not clearly identifiable. The relationship is intentionally broad in order to saturate the comparison with qualitative meaning. If one’s love is like the sun, this could mean that one’s love is the object of central importance in one’s emotional well-being, or one’s source of emotional “warmth,” or central to one’s continued existence. The author is ultimately the one who can tell the reader the rules necessary for grasping his intended meaning.

Both instances of analogy are intended to help the reader understand something better. In the case of poetry/literature, the intention is to help the reader understand the qualitative nature of the target. In the case of, say, mathematics, the intention is to help the reader understand that the process of isolating variables moves by steps. Both kinds of analogies can take the form of either a simile or a metaphor. Similes use the terms “like,” “Such as,” etc. Metaphors, however, take a more emphatic approach. Metaphors are syntactically identitive (e.g. “My son is a beast!”) for the sake of drawing out the qualitative nature of the target, but are not actually identitive. Let’s look at how enemies of the faith err with respect to their interpretation of analogies.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

Fesko, J.V. Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation (Mentor, 2016), 320 pp.

Among the more frequently revisited heresies of our time, one finds the manipulation, modification, or outright rejection of the doctrine of imputation taught in Scripture. The Scriptures teach three imputations:
1. The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to his posterity.
2. The imputation of the sins of God’s elect to Christ.
3. The imputation of the righteousness of Christ to God’s elect.
Without these doctrines, there is no Christian Gospel. For the bad news is simply this: We are born dead in trespasses and sins, having died in Adam our progenitor, and are by nature children of God’s wrath. And the good news is simply this: The Lord has laid upon Christ the sins of his elect people, Christ has suffered the wrath of God in their place, and God credits his people with not merely a clean slate (i.e. that moral state that results from having had our sins completely forgiven) but with the very righteousness of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ (i.e. all of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God is now our possession - we possess the perfect righteousness necessary to enter into heaven right now, and are not in need of doing any good works whatsoever in order to be saved).

Yet there are many in our time who deny either one or two or all three forms of imputation, some of which, erroneously, even view themselves as faithful heirs of the Reformation. Given the popularity of some of these heretics (e.g. N.T. Wright) due to their ability to reach a wider audience than the academicians and academically-oriented scholar-pastors, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear that an accessible scholarly text has been published on such a vital issue. J.V. Fesko’s Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation is a recent work that does this by presenting excellent scholarship not only in a style of writing that is accessible to most readers, but also by following its chapters with concise summaries of the content presented therein.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemy's Trade [Pt. 4a]



by Hiram R. Diaz III

An Apologetical Reflection on Dialogical Rules of Engagement

Language use varies not only from one group to another, but also from context to context. Academicians, for instance, generally seek to constrain subjective, emotive language as much as possible in order to focus their readers’ attention on the content being argued either for or against. Outside of academic circles, generally most of us employ subjective, emotive language, interestingly, to the same end. Persuasive interpersonal communication, in fact, seems to rest largely on a speaker’s apparent subjectivity and empathy, whereas non-persuasive communication of this kind is deficient in apparent subjectivity and empathy. Within their respective contexts, granting that interlocutors are aware of the context’s rules of engagement (e.g. whether they are engaging in a specialized academic disputation or an informal conversational debate), these modes of communication are not problematic. However, if one is unaware of the rules of engagement, then he is bound to misunderstand the meaning of his interlocutor’s assertions.

For example, the word “all” can function in several different ways in any given informal context. Informal contexts often use the word all hyperbolically, as a means of emphasis. Contextually, assertions of the variety “All x are y!” typically are not quantitatively precise, but serve to emphasize a large quantity of some particular “y.” “All” would mean “most,” not each and every individual x. More precise informal contexts may involve the use of “all” in conjunction with a place, signifying not the entirety of that place’s population, but the entirety of the people representative of that place. The sentence “All New Yorkers are Yankees fans,” for instance, does not mean each and every New Yorker is a fan of the Yankees. Rather, it means that all native New York baseball fans are Yankees fans. The quanitative all here is precise, but it is limited to a subset of the absolute All in the tautologous assertion “All permanent New York residents are New Yorkers.” The precise use of the word all, in other words, is shown to be relative to a particular subset of the complete set of permanent New York residents.

Oftentimes, as has been mentioned already, a failure to properly interpret the informal use of, for instance, the universal quantifier all can lead to much confusion between interlocutors. Informal discourse must be interpreted according to the rules of engagement employed by interlocutors. As regards formal discourse, similarly, the rules of engagement must be understood if proper interpretation is to be achieved. What is key to achieving understanding between interlocutors, then, is both parties understanding the rules of engagement. Are they engaged in informal discourse? Then set-A rules apply. Are they engaged in formal discourse? Then set-B rules apply. The broader categories of formal and informal, moreover, can be further refined so as to ensure that formal scientific discourse, for instance, is not interpreted according to the rules of engagement in formal philosophical, or literary contexts.

To put the matter simply: The words we use typically have several meanings, and these meanings are native to particular contexts. The contexts here refer to (i.)a general dialogical context one is engaging in (e.g. Formal vs. Informal), (ii.)the sub-context of that general context (e.g. Formal-Philosophical vs. Informal-Philosophical), and (iii.)the narrow context between specific interlocutors (e.g. Formal-Philosophical-Ontological vs. Informal-Philosophical-Ontological). With this in mind, we may be able to better articulate our own arguments, as well as better understand which criticisms against our argumentation are legitimate and which are not.

The explicit purpose of this article is to better elucidate and, therefore, understand illegitimate criticisms of theologically sound argumentation, i.e. criticisms that ignore dialogical contexts.

I. Misrepresenting Misrepresentation

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Introduction: Rethinking Church History?

There is value to examining our predecessors in the faith, be they the unnamed scribes who diligently produced copies of the Old and New Testaments, or the earliest proto-systematic theologians of the church who put their best and most prayerful effort into defending the faith against heretics, as well as teaching the sheep of Christ. Regarding the latter, i.e. the church fathers, we get a glimpse of how men living in a completely different time period interacted with their cultures — art, philosophy, law, science, and religion. This grants us the opportunity to examine our own beliefs, testing them for consistency with the Scriptures and with what the body of Christ has consistently taught throughout the ages.

The church fathers were not without errors, nor were they always entirely in error. Unfortunately, however, given their historically situatedness, they often employ language and ideas in an historically specific manner that lends prima facie legitimacy to proof-texts offered by Protestants, Romanists, and the Eastern Orthodox in defense of their respectively unique doctrines. Their writings can often be the source of confusion for Christians honestly seeking to understand historical developments in doctrine, and, what is more, can likewise serve as proof-texts for various heresies.

Oneness Pentecostal David K. Bernard, for instance, claims that Irenaeus — the author of the church’s greatest apologetical texts, Against Heresies — was
a prominent Christian leader who died around A.D. 200, had an intensely Christocentric theology and a firm belief that Jesus was God manifested in flesh. He held that the Logos which became incarnate in Jesus Christ was the mind of God, and was the Father Himself.[1] 
And in a similar vein, as Luke Wayne notes,
in their widely distributed pamphlet, "Should You Believe in the Trinity?" the Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims that none of the writers of the early church believed in the deity of Christ or the triune nature of God.[2]
These groups appeal to proof-texts using language that appears to support non-trinitarianism, but which upon close examination does not.

The same proof-texting methodology used by Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witness is also observable in the writings of advocates of the doctrine of annihilationism. Perhaps most famously, Seventh Day Adventist Le Roy Edwin Froom, in his work The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers Vol. I, boldly asserts that the apostolic fathers “were all Conditionalists,”[3] a claim that finds repetition in the writings of many of Froom’s modern admirers among the annihilationists. Following in his steps, they attempt to grant their position historical grounding within the ranks of orthodox theologians of the early church by identifying “giants” of apologetics and theology as their own.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Diversity Without Unity: A [Post]Modern Myth

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Milk is Milk
Whereas philosophical modernism embraced the belief that there was one unifying conception of reality that could be grasped by philosophical reflection or scientific discovery, postmodernism vigorously rejected this belief and replaced it with radical pluralism. Ironically, postmodernism reduced any attempt to think categorically to a culturally relative power-grab. To think categorically, in other words, was to exercise control over “others” (i.e. those who do not meet the socio-cultural conditions requisite to being a member of one’s group), specifically by ignoring supposed irreducible differences between individuals or groups constituting the “others.” This resulted in the fragmentation of virtually all academic disciplines, rendering categorical headings such as “Philosophy” or “Religion” virtually meaningless. For if there is no unifying concept of what a “religion” is, then in what way can one say that Christianity and Islam, for instance, are both members of the universal category “Religion”? Does it not seem to follow, given the rejection of universals and universal categories, that there is not one concept of “Religion” which can apply to all supposed religions?
Though the postmodernist movement has died, its deleterious intellectual and sociological effects are still being felt, even in the field of apologetics. For instance, it is common to hear the assertion “Not all proponents of x believe that x is y,” an assertion that gives the appearance of charitability but is, ultimately, an empty phrase. If John is a proponent of x, and Joe is a proponent of x, then both are proponents of x. To be blunt — John’s x and Joe’s x are identical at some point. There is no irreducible difference between John’s x and Joe’s x; therefore, it is not merely allowable but necessary to assert that John and Joe, because they believe x share certain beliefs about x in common. So far, we have spoken only of two individuals believing x. However, the same is true of a group of innumerable persons who subscribe to x. The assertion that believers in x share some core of beliefs in common is a logical necessity that can only be denied upon pain of absurdity and self-contradiction.
Consider the following excerpt from Ro Waseem’s article “A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It!” Waseem writes —

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Christian Assessment of Reiki

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

Reiki is a spiritual practice that has become popularized within the United States in the last three decades. The term “Reiki” is defined variously as “universal life energy,”[1] and despite being characterized as “one of the most ancient methods of healing,”[2] Reiki was invented by Japanese Buddhist monk Mikao Usui in 1922,[3] and it was popularized in the west by Reiki practitioner Hawayo Takata.[4] Usui claimed to have ascended a mountain and after having engaged in a rigorous regimen of fasting, chanting, prayer, and meditation, he was alleged to have reached a state of enlightenment whereby “a great and powerful spiritual light entered the top of his head.”[5] From this experience, Usui claimed that he had obtained a kind of power that he could use to heal people. Armed with his healing power, he instituted “five principles that embody an awakened spiritual point of view.”[6] 

Within the west, Reiki is healing technique that attempts to manipulate a metaphysical “life force,” also called “Ki,” in order to instill a state of physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being a patient.[7] Reiki practitioners claim to be a channel of the life force, and the typical Reiki treatment consists of the practitioner touching their patient in strategic areas so as to manipulate the life force for the betterment of their patient.[8] Practitioners receive this ability when “a Reiki master opens healing channels (or chakras) within the students that fill them with life energy.”[9]

Proponents of Reiki claim that the practice is “Stands above any belief system,”[10] and that Reiki is not a religion. For instance, consider the following: 
While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it. Reiki is not a religion.[11]
Similarly:
Although Reiki can be used as a spiritual practice, it is important to understand that Reiki, in itself, is not a religion. It does not promote any prescribed cultural activity, does not have the specific goal of becoming enlightened or connected to God, and does not require the practitioner to form a certain kind of faith. Reiki is, at its core, simply a means of promoting wellbeing and health through the laying on of hands [12]
While it is claimed by these authors that Reiki is not a religion, their own descriptions of Reiki betray such a claim. To practice Reiki, one must believe in its underlying worldview, namely pantheism[13] or panentheism.[14]That is, one must believe that there is an overriding universal life force that exists in the universe, and one must believe that a Reiki practitioner has the power to manipulate that life force. The notion that Reiki “has no dogma” is in direct contradiction with the notion that Reiki (i.e., the universal life energy) exists. The very statement, “Reiki comes from God,” is a theological claim born of religious belief. Moreover, why Reiki may not “prescribe cultural activity,” it does require its participant to believe that both pantheistic universal life energy is real and capable of healing people. Therefore, Reiki is intrinsically religious in nature, as it presupposes its own theology.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Is the Logos of God a Person or an Impersonal Plan?

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Preliminary Remarks
        
Regarding the demonstration or refutation of any professedly Christian doctrine, the Scriptures alone are sufficient. Thus, when considering whether or not the Logos of God has always existed as a distinct Person of the Godhead, eternally in co-equal fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we rely solely on the Scriptures. What follows in this essay is not a defense of the Personhood of the Logos prior to his incarnation per se, but a refutation of a popular claim made by Oneness theologians, viz. that the Logos was an a-personal divine plan in the mind of God. In particular, the claim that the distinct Personhood of the Logos is derived from pagan philosophy will be refuted. Additionally, some remarks will be made about the possible Semitic precursors (i.e. the Memra and Metatron) to the Scriptural doctrine of the distinct Personhood of the Logos, seeing as the mere existence of a Semitic Logos concept that shares many features of the doctrinal position held by Trinitarians contradicts opponents of the distinct Personhood of the Logos from all eternity.
        
Platonism, Neoplatonism, or Scriptural Exegesis?
“The Scriptures,” according to Oneness theologian David K. Bernard, “do not teach the doctrine of the trinity, but trinitarianism has its roots in paganism.”[1] This is because, he asserts, “Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought [...] had a major influence on the theology of the ancient church.”[2] Thus, he argues that
[the] trend toward trinitarianism began by making the Logos (the Word of John 1) a separate person. Following a thought in Greek philosophy, particularly in the teachings of Philo, some of the Greek apologists began to view the Logos as a separate person from the Father. This was not trinitarianism, however, but a form of binitarianism, and one that subordinated the Logos to the Father. To them the Father alone was the real God and the Logos was a created divine being of second rank.[3]
In John 1, the Word is God’s self-revelation, self-expression, or self-disclosure. Before the Incarnation, the Word was the thought, plan, reason, or mind of God. In the beginning, the Word was with God, not as a distinct person but as God Himself—pertaining to God much as a man and his word.[4]
Oneness theologians like Bernard oppose the idea that the Logos is a distinct person of the Godhead. The Logos of God, they argue instead, is an a-personal plan in God’s mind, despite the fact that this a-personal doctrine of the Logos is “exegetically untenable,”[5] as Edward Dalcour notes. “Oneness [theology] propagators reduce the Son to a mere ‘plan’ or ‘concept’ in the Father’s mind.”[6]
However, the Hellenized Jewish philosopher Philo “whose thought,” as Ronald Nash notes, “was an odd mixture of Platonism and Stoicism,”[7] and who is often cited as the source of John’s doctrine of the Logos,[8] actually taught that the “Logos‐Mediator was a metaphysical abstraction,” and “not a person or messiah or savior but a cosmic principle, postulated to solve various philosophical problems.[9] The pagan-influenced doctrine of the Logos, as contained in the writings of the Alexandrian philosopher Philo, in other words, taught that the Logos was not personal but a-personal. Consequently, when Bernard argues that it was the pagan-influenced Philo whose doctrine of the Logos inspired the apologists to view the Logos as a distinct person from the Father, his thinking is entirely backwards.
As Edgar J. Lovelady explains, “the Hellenic…Logos was the rational principle or impersonal energy which was responsible for the founding and organization of the world.”[10] Hence, prior to Philo, the pagan Greek philosopher “Heraclitus, [taught that the] Logos meant a law, an impersonal law of change,”[11]and “[the presocratic philosopher] Anaxagoras [taught that] Logos was Mind, animpersonal moving principle.”[12] This is acknowledged by Gheorghe Dobrin who states that “the word [Logos] has serious limitations,”[13] for “while [Logos did indicate] infinity, it did not indicate personality [to the pagan, philosophically astute Greeks of John’s day].”[14]Contrary to Bernard’s assertion that “the Greek apologists began to view the Logos as a separate person from the Father” due to the direct influence of “Greek philosophy, particularly [...the] teachings of Philo,”[15] Lovelady[16] reports that “we can state confidently that in Philo the Logos differed from the Logos in John with respect to persondeityexistenceactivity, historical manifestation, and terminology.”[17]
Adding to the irony is a subject that is worthy of further consideration at a later time, but deserves brief mention here. This is the fact that one could plausibly argue that Oneness theology/Modalism, as articulated by Bernard and others, is traceable to pagan religion. Charles Hodge explains that “The Triad [as opposed to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity] of the ancient world[18] is only a philosophical statement of the pantheistic theory which underlies all the religion of antiquity.”[19] In all pagan religious “systems,” Hodge continues, “whether ancient or modern, there is a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; the Infinite becomes finite, and the finite returns to the Infinite.”[20] Hodge’s point is that the pagan Triads of the ancient world held to a belief in one divine being which has three modes of relating to creation. The first mode is infinite, the second finite, and the third is a return to the infinite. Concerning the Oneness doctrine of God, Bernard states:
[After the Arians], The second class of true monotheists believes in one God, but further believes that the fulness of the Godhead is manifested in Jesus Christ. They believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifestations, modes, offices, or relationships that the one God has displayed to man.[21]
The modalistic conception of God, ironically, looks more like the pagan conception of the Triad than it does the God who reveals himself in Scripture.
The Semitic Logos: The (Personal) Memra of God
Daniel Boyarin, furthermore, while of the belief that Philo’s Logos is, like John’s Logos, a distinct divine Person,[22] demonstrates that “there were other Jews [besides Philo], and, moreover, not only Greek speaking ones, who manifested a version of Logos theology.”[23] Boyarin:
Notions of the second god as personified word or wisdom of God were present among Semitic-speaking Jews as well. [...] The leading candidate for the Semitic Logos is, of course, “The Memra” of God, as it appears in the para-rabbinic Aramaic translations of the Bible in textual contexts that are frequently identical to ones where the Logos hermeneutic has its home among         Jews who speak Greek.[24]
So close, in fact, is the personal “Memra” of God doctrine of these Jews that Boyarin, after surveying numerous theological and contextual parallels between John’s prologue and Jewish commentaries on the OT featuring the Word/Logos/Memra of God, concludes that “theMemra performs many, if not all, of the functions of the Logos of Christian Logos theology.”[25] This directly contradicts Bernard’s attribution of Logos theology to “the Greek Apologists,”[26] demonstrating that their idea of “the Logos as a second divine person”[27] was not only not unique to philosophers like Justin Martyr, but found a place within Judaism itself.
The literature on the subject of the so-called “two powers in heaven” doctrine is extensive, and shows that the differentiation of Divine Persons in the Godhead was not the product of cultural admixture and religio-philosophical syncretism. Daniel Boyarin correctly notes that such an interpretation of the “two powers in heaven” doctrine is more likely an ideologically driven reconstruction of the past by present Rabbinical scholars[28] than it is an attempt to understand the complex interrelationships between multiple “in-house” debates arising from various exegetical/interpretive difficulties faced by devout Jews.[29]
Concluding Remarks

The foregoing essay is intended not to settle the issue of whether Christ existed eternally as a distinct Divine Person, co-equal with God the Father, that issue is settled alone by sound exegesis,[30] for Scripture alone is the source of all Doctrine. Instead, what the foregoing has sought to demonstrate is that such attacks on the pre-existence of the Personal, Distinct, and Co-Equal Logos of God are not only anti-Scriptural but likewise expresses a doctrine of the Logos that is closer to the writings of pagan philosophers than its proponents would have their readers believe. Oneness theologians like Bernard attack the doctrine of the Trinity as being the product of pagan philosophizing, and then proceed to identify the Logos of God in John 1 as an impersonal plan, as pagan-influenced philosophers did. Such internal incoherence is a symptom of a deeper problem.
The rejection of the Truth, who is the Eternal, Distinct, Co-Equal with the Father and the Spirit, Personal Logos is what leads to the confusion which riddles the works of non-Trinitarians. The foregoing argumentation is concerned, therefore, with stripping away the ad hoc arguments of Oneness theologians like Bernard, as  they are nothing more than a smoke-screen behind which these men think they can hide from the Eternal Son of God. And if they are faced with their errors, it is the prayer of the present author that they will be granted sight to see their idolatry for what it is, be granted repentance, and be forgiven and reconciled to the Trinity.


[1] The Oneness of GodVolume I (Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 1983), 266.
[2] Bernard, The Oneness of God, 265.
[3] Bernard, The Oneness of God, 266.
[4] Oneness and Trinity, (Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 1991), 11.
[5] Dalcour, A Definitive Look, 58ff.
[6] A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: Defending the Tri-unity of God (Maryland: University Press of America, 2005), 55.
[7]“Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Philosophy?,” Christian Research Institute, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.equip.org/articles/was-the-new-testament-influenced-by-pagan-philosophy/#christian-books-5.
[8] ibid.
[9] ibid. (emphasis added)
[10] “The Logos Concept:A Critical Monograph on John 1:1 Abridged by the Author,” in Grace Theological Journal 4.2 (Spring, 1963), 15.
[11] Lovelady,The Logos Concept, 18. (emphasis added)
[12] ibid.(emphasis added)
[13] “The Introduction of the Concept of Logos in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel,” in Perichoresis 3/2 (2005), 216.
[14] ibid. (emphasis added)
[15] Bernard, The Oneness of God, 266.
[16] Lovelady’s position is somewhat different from that of Nash, interpreting Philo’s Logos as “oscillating between a personal and impersonal being...” (20). Nevertheless, the scholarly consensus is that “in spite of all personification, Philo is not really thinking of a personal guide and companion. The Logos is the world of ideas Knowledge of God comes by the discipline of contemplating the unseen archetypes.” (C.H. Dodd, quoted in Donald A. Hagner, “The Vision of God in Philo and John: A Comparative Study,” in Journal of the Evangelical Society 14 (1971), 84.
[17] Lovelady,The Logos Concept, 20. (emphasis added)
[18] The notion of pre-Christian “trinities” is an old one that still finds popular expression among Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[19] Systematic Theology: Volume I (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1940), 433.
[20] ibid.
[21] The Oneness of God, 15.
[22] “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in  The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 94, No. 3 (July, 2001), 249-252.
[23] Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 252.
[24] Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 252-253.
[25] Boyarin, The Gospel of Memra, 257.
[26] The Trinitarian Controversy in the Fourth Century, (Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 2011), 10.
[27] ibid.
[28] Most notably Alan F. Segal in his seminal work, The Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (Baylor University Press, reprint 2012), 339 pp.
[29] “Beyond Judaisms: Metatron and the Divine Polymorphy of Ancient Judaism,” in Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010), 323-365.
[30] For a solid exegetical refutation see Burgos, Michael. Kiss the Son: A Christological Apology in Response to David K. Bernard's The Oneness of God (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), 150 pp.