Thursday, September 12, 2019

A Critical Evaluation of the Anti-Biblical Counseling Movement


by Michael R. Burgos

Introduction


At nearly fifty years old, the biblical counseling movement (BCM) has given most of its attention to both internal development via continual reformation to the biblical text and its ongoing turf war with secular psychology and the integrationist movement. However, there exists another interlocutor, namely the anti-biblical counseling movement (A-BCM) as it exists among conservative Protestants who simultaneously reject psychology and the resultant psychotherapies. This movement, beginning in late 1980s,1 has received little attention from within the BCM, likely due to its small size and somewhat inflammatory approach. Despite any attention the A-BCM received in the early 1990s, it is virtually now ignored by the BCM.


The leaders and most vocal advocates of the A-BCM are Martin and Diedre Bobgan. Martin Bobgan has a doctoral degree in educational psychology, and he and his wife have produced a substantial number of books and articles which seek to refute the existence of the BCM on biblical and theological grounds. The Bobgans were initially supportive of the BCM, even collaborating with Adams on several projects.2 That support was withdrawn and the Bobgans began to attack the BCM continually.3 Despite the A-BCM’s attempts, the BCM has enjoyed considerable success within many churches and institutions. However, the A-BCM has made some inroads into several notable churches and ministries. For instance, Martin Bobgan spoke against the biblical counseling at C. H. Spurgeon’s own, Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.4 Additionally, the Berean Call, the ministry started by the late Dave Hunt, has continued to promote the Bobgans A-BCM materials.5

While the Bobgan’s book entitled Against the Biblical Counseling Movement: For the Bible is one of many texts which voice opposition to the BCM, this text articulates all of the major arguments of the A-BCM in a single volume. This paper will interact with those arguments presented in Against the Biblical Counseling Movement, demonstrating that the A-BCM’s major objections are unfounded and predicated upon faulty logic and, in some cases, legalism.

An Evaluation of A-BCM Objections

The A-BCM has raised a series of objections that strike at the very heart of the BCM. Below I have provided a summarization of each main objection followed by my own critical evaluation.

Objection I: Biblical Counseling is Integrationism

Biblical counselors teach a novel form of “psychoheresy” (i.e., psychology) “by using the unproved and unscientific psychological opinions of men.”6 Namely, biblical counselors engage in the same self-focused method of the secular psychologies.7 BCM focuses on problems and not sanctification. “Biblical counselors too often attempt to solve problems at the surface level, or they attempt to discover something about the inner man through various methods of exploration.”8 The counselor-counselee paradigm is unbiblical and derived from the secular therapeutic culture, and sets the counselor up as an expert.9 One to one counseling is unbiblical and also a takeover from secular therapy. Charging for counseling is unbiblical and illegitimate.10 

The BCM originated as a theologically conservative and Calvinistic project which sought to recover the ecclesiastical and institutional ground taken by an influx of secular therapeutic practitioners within conservative evangelicalism.11 The BCM waged a “jurisdictional conflict”12 with psychology and psychiatry, as these disciplines encroached upon territory formally occupied by those who recognized the Bible to be the sufficient means of instruction for Christian soul care. This was a movement that sought to recover the heart and soul of the inerrantist church through theological polemics and the recovery of a positive model of counseling.13 

While conservative Protestantism had focused its efforts upon defeating the threats of modernity, it had failed to adequately answer the psychological revolution of the post-civil war era.14 The post war era brought with it a terrific need of biblical soul care. Instead of meeting the needs of the public with a robust practical theology, the church effectively handed over responsibility of its soul care to the new “science” of psychology.15 In the aftermath of the great wars of the twentieth century, psychology had solidified its place within the church. The BCM, taking its cues from its Reformation heritage, sought to reform the church’s understanding of counseling back to the teaching of Scripture; effectively dislodging psychology from its place within evangelicalism. 

Biblical counseling is the practical and timely application of the Bible’s teaching to the life of someone who has problems, questions, or some kind of trouble.16 Biblical counseling is not the proclamation of the facts of the Christian faith in the abstract, but the particular application of biblical truth to specific events, persons, and things.17 Therefore, biblical counseling has existed long before what we know today as the BCM. What Adams began in the 1970s was merely a return to the cure of souls that had been a fixture within the church for millennia. That the BCM wasn’t innovating may be seen in its dependence upon the soul care of English-speaking puritanism, the reformers, and even the patristic writers.18 Hence, any claim that the BCM is merely a twentieth century novelty, or that it is contrary to the church’s tradition of soul care is misguided and dependent upon a mischaracterization of the BCM from the outset.

The theological and methodological vision laid by Adams in the 1970s has been built upon, refined, and even corrected by the BCM itself.19 Although much development and reformation continues in the third generation of the BCM, the presuppositions and general principles of the movement have remained unchanged. At its root, the fundamental presupposition of the BCM is a theocentric worldview expressed in the historic Reformed faith and its commitment to a high view of the Triune God. Unlike liberal Protestantism, with its subjugation of biblical revelation to the acids of modernity, or the modern therapeutic culture, which founds its presuppositions on the transient ground of moral individualism, Reformed Protestantism has received the canon of Scripture as the only sufficient and infallible rule of human faith and practice. As a product of Reformed thought, the BCM has always been predicted upon the reformation principle of Sola Scriptura.20 Thus, from its inception, the BCM has sought to make the contents of its counseling biblical.

Given this presupposition, biblical counselors seek to address the issues of their counselees using a theological lexicon and a biblical worldview. The content of biblical counseling is Scripture, and its shape imperatival. While there is a time for listening and the gathering of information regarding a situation, biblical counseling is directive, giving concrete applications of biblical truth to a person’s life. Thus, the notion that biblical counseling is “self-focused” is an inexcusable mischaracterization. Not only can one survey the literature published by biblical counselors in the last fifty years and see that this assertion is untrue, but even the most cursory examination of the BCM refutes such a claim. 

The Bobgans claim that the biblical counselors focus on “problems and not sanctification,” and that biblical counselors have baptized the problem-centered approach of psychotherapy. This objection is curious since there are numerous apostolic examples of problem-focused counsel. The apostle Paul spent the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians writing about his reader’s problems, but he was simultaneously focusing upon sanctification. Hence, it is a false dichotomy to suppose that focusing on people’s problems is contrary to sanctification. Moreover, even if one were to ignore the biblical examples, it would be a genetic fallacy to suppose that since psychotherapy utilizes a problem-centered model, it is therefore wrong.21 Addressing someone’s pornography addiction through the specific application of the Bible’s teaching on idolatry is not “surface level” problem solving. Applying the Psalms to the heart of the depressed such that they find solace in communion with God is not superficial problem solving. Rather, biblical counseling is always imperatival and has sanctification as its goal.22 

Because of the existence of the counselor-counselee paradigm, the Bobgans have accused the BCM of integrationism. To these charges it must first be observed that the Bobgans have gone beyond what is written in Scripture to make these arguments.23 There is no text prohibiting the use of “counselor” language. Rather, the language of “counselor” and “counselee” reflects a biblical category of function among God’s people. Scripture depicts those who give wise counsel as a great asset,24 and the apostle Paul engaged in one on one counseling among the believers in Ephesus.25 


Second, the notion that biblical counselors are assumed to be experts by all who seek their counsel is misguided. Rather, one seeks the aid of a counselor because he believes that the counselor has wisdom sufficient for the task. A Christian who struggles with doubt wouldn’t likely seek the counsel of a new believer, but one who is mature and who has weathered the affliction of this life and is yet faithful. While upholding the importance of ordained churchmen as especially responsible for counseling, the BCM has always asserted the need for every believer to become a biblical counselor.26 



The rationale one would use in order to sell a book on the subject of counseling to Christians (e.g., the many books the Bobgans sell to Christians for profit), is the same rationale one would use in charging a fee for counseling. The Scripture warns of those who peddle God’s truth for a profit,27 but it does not prohibit either Christian writers, ministers, teachers, or those whose vocation is counseling from charging a fee for their labor. 

The apostle Paul gave a specific justification of earning a living from the ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:1-18. In this pericope, Paul sought to exemplify the doctrine of Christian liberty. In their earlier correspondence, the Corinthian church had questioned Paul regarding eating meat offered to pagan idols.28 Within the relevant era in Corinth, most butcheries incorporated a token pagan ritual and therefore a diet of meat generally connoted an assent to paganism.29 Recent converts, having been introduced into an entirely exclusive theology wherein the Christian God is the only suitable object of devotion and worship, would have naturally struggled with parsing through whether eating meat was tantamount to a return to their old way of life. Paul addresses this issue by recognizing that “idols are nothing in the world” (8:4), and that believers are free to eat meat, but must temper their liberty when around those whose consciences are weak. It is on the heels of this discussion that Paul gives an illustration of this principle. In 1 Corinthians 9:4-5, Paul noted that in the same way one has the freedom to eat or drink or to take a wife, those in the ministry have a “right” (Gk. exousia) to earn their living from the ministry. In the case of the church in Corinth, Paul chose not to exercise this right for strategic reasons (vv. 12-13). It is certain, however, that Paul did receive payment from other churches.30 Thus, we may discern from Paul’s example that charging for work in the ministry is up to the liberty of the individual believer and his conscience.31 It is legalism to assert, as the Bobgans do, that it is unlawful or unbiblical to charge for biblical counseling. 

Objection II: Specialized Education 
in Biblical Counseling Unnecessary & Unbiblical

The BCM movement is guilty of making pastors feel intimidated because of a lack of specialized training in biblical counseling.32 The Bobgans reject the notion that any specialized education should be offered for those who are seeking to become equipped to engage in counseling. If pastors 100-300 years ago could “preach the Gospel and teach the Word concerning the on-going walk of the believer in sanctification,” and they didn’t have specialized education, no one needs such training today. Biblical counseling training serves to intimidate pastors, making them feel inadequate for ministry.

As previously noted, the BCM is a resurgent movement which has sought to recapture the ecclesiastical and institutional ground taken by psychology and psychiatry practitioners. An examination of conservative Bible colleges and seminaries demonstrates that most do not teach the sufficiency of Scripture for soul care, but the necessity of secular theories and the accompanying methodologies. Hence, there is a great need for a return to the all-sufficient resources of Scripture for soul care, and that is precisely what the BCM has sought over the length of its existence. 

It is only within the context of a dearth of true practical theology that one can describe biblical counseling training as “specialized.” Most seminary training focuses its curriculum upon the public ministry of the Word through teaching and preaching, but very little on the private ministry of the Word (i.e., counseling).33 “The typical seminary curriculum has just one counseling class in 100-credit-hour master of divinity degree.”34 It is a mischaracterization to assert that the BCM is attempting to add some new form of training otherwise unknown to seminarians.35 Rather, biblical counseling training a return to biblical theology for Christian soul care. Furthermore, it is more likely that any pastoral intimidation is due to a lack of fluency with psychological diagnoses given the culture’s slavish devotion to the psychotherapeutic establishment. Biblical counseling effectively demystifies the psychological lexicon, viewing human problems through a biblical framework.36 Even if one were to grant that biblical counseling training is some sort of specialty, there is no biblical text which prohibits one from gaining extraordinary knowledge in the care of souls. 

Objection III: Parachurch Counseling Centers 
and Counseling Ministries Within Churches Unbiblical

Any “biblical counseling ministries that operate outside the church, those that function as separate entities inside churches, and all organizations that train biblical counselors for ministries that are visibly separated from the biblically ordained ministries of the Church”37 are unnecessary and unbiblical. “A step forward for those in the biblical counseling movement would be to discontinue all biblical counseling centers that operate outside of a church.”38 

From its inception to the present day, the BCM has stressed the need for the local church to be the means of meeting the counseling needs of believers.39 The BCM has never been a movement which has emphasized any form of ministry outside of the local church. Adam’s initial model of biblical counseling affirmed the need for every believer to counsel,40 but emphasized the ordained minister as the quintessential counselor of God’s people.41 The BCM has always recognized that “The authority for counseling is granted through Christ’s Church.”42 One can see the BCM’s commitment to the supremacy of the local church in its correlation of biblical counseling and church discipline.43 

The presupposition underlying the Bobgan’s rejection of any parachurch counseling organization is a rigid definition of the church that is itself unbiblical. When the Bobgans say “discontinue all biblical counseling centers that operate outside of a church,” they are implying that “church” means what Christians do in a building on Sunday and other worship times. This definition, however, is too narrow to be biblical. While the Scriptures do use the term “church” to speak of a local fellowship (Rom. 16:5), the Bible also speaks of the church in provincial terms (Acts 9:31), and even the church catholic (1 Cor. 15:9). Powlison and Lambert note that “The diverse use of the term church in the Bible provides a strong biblical justification within which Christians may organize themselves to serve in activities we call parachurch.”44

The local church is clearly the focus of the redemptive efforts of the Triune God on earth, and therefore, parachurch ministries should serve at the pleasure and for the good of the local church. Parachurch ministries which either compete with the church, or are completely outside local church authority are indeed unbiblical. However, if a parachurch organization exists serve and complement the local church and its mission, its ministry is legitimate: 

The centrality of the local church congregation is actually an argument for principled parachurch ministry—so long as such ministries direct their energies toward the church’s thriving. That is so for seminaries, prison ministries, and international missions societies. It is so for counseling ministries and every other form of faithful and useful parachurch organization.45

The BCM has made use of parachurch ministries which recognize the supremacy of the local church. Biblical Counseling parachurch ministries do not, as the Bobgan’s have asserted, replace the local church. Ironically, the Bobgans run a parachurch organization (i.e., “PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries”), and even implicitly support the role of other parachurch organizations such as seminaries.46 It would stand to reason, therefore, if parachurch counseling ministries are unbiblical, then so are parachurch anti-counseling ministries. Additionally, there is no biblical imperative, whether explicit or implicit, which precludes the existence of parachurch counseling ministries. Hence, the Bobgan’s objection to parachurch counseling is, like their objection to making a living from the ministry and the existence of biblical counseling training, predicated upon an extrabiblical prohibition. 

Conclusion 

It has been shown above that the three main objections raised by the anti-biblical counseling movement depend upon mischaracterizations of the BCM. So too, the A-BCM’s objections to earning a living from counseling ministry, biblical counseling education, and the existence of parachurch counseling ministries go beyond what is written in Scripture, even landing in bald legalism. Particularly in the case of earning a living from the ministry, there is a clear didactic text which has specifically precluded the Bobgan’s objections. Yet, the Bobgan’s do not hold their objections consistently, as they act in conflict with these objections by the very existence of their own ministry. 

The BCM is founded upon the bulwark of biblical sufficiency and has ably sought to expand the vision first articulated by Adams to local churches throughout North America and beyond. It is a movement that, while undergoing continual reformation, remains committed to fidelity to the biblical text and the local church.



1 David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010), 217-8.
2 e.g., Martin & Diedre Bobgan eds., Prophets of Psychoheresy I (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 1989).
3 E.g., Martin & Diedre Bobgan, Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 1996); Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 1994); Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 2011); Counseling the Hard Cases: A Critical Review (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 2016).
4 Martin & Diedre Bobgan, A Church’s Unholy Alliance with the Four Temperaments (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Pub., 1992), 2.
5 e.g., Martin & Diedre Bobgan, 06/01/2004, “Christ-Centered Ministry Vs. Problem Centered Counseling,” 
The Berean Call, https://www.thebereancall.org/content/june-2014-extra-bobgan. Accessed 09/05/2018.
6 Bobgan, Against Biblical Counseling, 100.
7 ibid., 19.
8 ibid., 20.
9 ibid., 19, 75, 82, 91.
10 ibid., 88-9.
11 Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement, 40-1, 51.
12 ibid., 1-2, 15. 
13 The initial work was Jay E. Adams, Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), and continues with recent efforts such as Powlison’s work in Eric L. Johnson ed., Psychology and Christianity: Five Views, 2nd Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010). 
14 Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 34-5.
15 There exists significant reason to doubt the credibility of psychology as a legitimate science given its inability to follow standard scientific procedures. Subsequently, there is good reason to question the validity of the myriad of psychotherapeutic modalities which are themselves predicated upon experimental psychology. John Horgan has noted that in 2015 more than half of 100 studies published in “major psychology journals” had failed a replication test “despite painstaking efforts to re-create the original experiments.” John Horgan, 07/01/2016, “Psychology's Credibility Crisis: the Bad, the Good and the Ugly,” Scientific American Mind, 27.4, 18. In his book length evaluation, Dr. Brian M. Hughes has noted, 
Second-rate replication records, paradoxical paradigms, enigmatic measurement practices, cryptic statistics, and unconvincing sampling conventions all stand as ubiquitous reminders of why psychologist’s enthusiasm should be tempered. 
Hughes concluded that although psychology “considers itself agile at producing authentic insights about the human psyche,” psychologists should instead “feel torrents of collective embarrassment running down their spines.” Brian M. Hughes, Psychology in Crisis, (New York: Red Globe Press, 2018), 119. Cf. Alex B. Berezow, 07/13/2012, “Why Psychology Isn’t Science,” Los Angeles Times; Michael J. Formica, 08/16/2008, “The Failure of Psychology and the Death of Psychotherapy,” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/enlightened-living/200808/the-failure-psychology-and-the-death-psychotherapy. Accessed 09/05/2019.
16 Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 13.
17 Some critics of the BCM have wrongly characterized it in reductionistic terms, claiming that biblical counseling is about merely identifying sin and giving the counselee a few Bible lessons. E.g., Darlene Parsons, 12/15/2017, “Biblical Counseling Training: Inadequate Education, Problematic Resources and Questionably Educated Leaders,” The Wartburg Watch, http://thewartburgwatch.com/2017/12/15/biblical-counseling-training-inadequate-education-problematic-resources-and-questionably-educated-leaders/. Accessed 09/03/2019. See also Kathryn Joyce, 06/14/2017, “The Rise of Biblical Counseling,” Pacific Standard, https://psmag.com/social-justice/evangelical-prayer-bible-religion-born-again-christianity-rise-biblical-counseling-89464. Accessed 09/03/2019.
18 Mark A. Deckard, Helpful Truth in Past Places: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counseling (Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2010); Fraser, Developments in Biblical Counseling, 91-107; T. Dale Johnson, “A Case for Religious Liberty in Soul Care From a Historical Perspective,” in The Journal for Biblical Soul Care, 1.1, 34-55; Timothy J. Keller, 1988, “Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling,” in Journal of Pastoral Practice, 9.3, 11-44; Jeremy Lelek, Biblical Counseling Basics: Roots, Beliefs, Future (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 9-11; John F. MacArthur et al., Introduction to Biblical Counseling (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1994), 21-43; David Powlison, 2008, “Looking at the Past and Present of Counseling,” in 9Marks Journal, 5.6, 18-21; Cf. John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care: Treatments That Harm Women, LGBT Persons, and the Mentally Ill (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2015), 20.
19 Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, 87-138 and J. Cameron Fraser, Developments in Biblical Counseling (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 59-90.
20 For a concise articulation of the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to counseling see Wayne A. Mack, 1998, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Counseling,” in TMSJ, 9.1, 63-84.
21 For a concise explanation of the genetic fallacy see Richard A. Holland Jr., Benjamin K. Forrest, Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 43.
22 Adams wrote, “Biblical change is the goal of counseling.” Jay E. Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 234. See also Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, 292; Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 260; and Stuart Scott’s work in Stephen P. Greggo, Timothy A. Sisemore eds., Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 167-70.
23 cf. 1 Cor. 4:6.
24 Prov. 11:14; 20:18; 24:6. 
25 Acts 20:20; v. 31; cf. Rom. 15:14; Col. 1:28. 
26 Jay E. Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), 9.
27 2 Cor. 2:17.
28 1 Cor. 8:1. The abruptness of the introduction peri de tōn eidōlothutōn (Now concerning meat sacrificed to idols) implies that this topic was one that was featured in the Corinthian correspondence to Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1). 
29 Alex T. Cheung, Idol Food in Corinth: Jewish Background and Pauline Legacy (Sheffield, UK: Sheffiled Academic Press, 1999), 35-38. See also Khiok-khng Yeo, Rhetorical Interaction in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 (Leiden, NL: Brill, 1995), 95-101. 
30 Phil. 4:16-18; cf. Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:8. 
31 This view is also reflected in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Standards of Conduct § III.C. See 10/04/2016, “Standards of Conduct,” Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, https://biblicalcounseling.com/certification/standards-of-conduct/. Accessed 08/28/2019.
32 Bobgan, Against Biblical Counseling, 11.
33 Eph. 4:11-16.
34 Bob Kellemen, Kevin Carson eds., Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 34.
35 Welch, referring to the Christian gospel and the Scriptures, has suggested that intimidated pastors “Already know the most helpful truths” See Edward T. Welch, 12/17/2018, “Five Encouragements for Pastors Intimidated by Biblical Counseling,” 9Marks, https://www.9marks.org/article/intimidated/. Accessed 09/04/2019. 
36 An excellent example of this is Michael R. Emlet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses & Medications (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2017). 
37 Bobgan, Against Biblical Counseling, 58.
38 ibid., 90; cf. 71, 94.
39 Kellemen et al., Biblical Counseling and the Church, 184-5. David Powlison, 2014, “The Local Church is THE Place for Biblical Counseling,” in CCEF Now, 2-3.
40 Adams, Competent to Counsel, 41-2.
41 Adams, Competent to Counsel, 65-7; 
42Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, 279. See also MacArthur et al., Introduction to Biblical Counseling, 301-10; Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (Philippsburg, NJ: P & R, 2002), esp. 18ff; 
43 E.g., Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling, 278-80.
44 David Powlison, Heath Lambert, 2019, “Biblical Counseling in Local Churches and Parachurch Ministries," in Journal of Biblical Counseling, 33.2, 14-15.
45 ibid., 15.
46 Bobgan, Against Biblical Counseling, 9, 187.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Son Who Learned Obedience [Review]



While many evangelicals are aware of the internicene debates over whether or not the Second Person of the Trinity is eternally functionally subordinate hereafter EFSS) to the Father, it seems not many have delved more deeply into the matter than what they have read online between the feuding parties. D. Glen Butner’s book on the matter takes the reader beyond the dialectical proof-texting of Scripture and historical theologians so common in the debate, and addresses some more pressing concerns that the doctrine of EFSS raises. The Son Who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case Against the Eternal Subordination of the Son aims to, and in this writer’s opinion does, present an argument against the EFSS doctrine that self-consciously elaborates on some of the more nuanced doctrines presupposed and entailed by it. Rather than miring down his readers in abstruse details, Butner skillfully selects the more prominent facts relevant to his argument, explains them, and draws his conclusion.

The book is scholarly, accessible, and irenic in its tone. Butner is not seeking to anathematize those who hold to EFSS; he wants to respectfully and carefully engage with their best arguments, and he succeeds at it. A needed explanation of the complexity of the issue at hand is given by Butner before he delves into EFSS, its proponents, and his argument against it. He reminds his readers that “systematic theology differs from biblical theology in the tools it deploys to make sense of the Bible.”1 Whether or not the Son of God is eternally functionally subordinate to the Father is a question that all sides of the debate will have to answer by means of “second-order reflection on the Bible.” Butner —
The issue of eternal submission is a question of how best to make sense of the broad testimony of Scripture, a question of which terminology provides conceptual clarity for Scripture's broad testimony, and a question of whether the terminology considered is compatible with faith seeking understanding through reason and tradition. When theologians who speak of eternal obedience or submission offer a trinitarian theology, they are offering a second-order reflection on the Bible, an attempt to clarify the broad pattern of the Bible by offering terminology informed by reason and tradition that yields conceptual clarity. My contention is that the terminology of eternal submission is not the best way to make sense of the big picture of the Bible because it creates a number of conceptual problems with other parts of that biblical story, thereby failing to be coherent and consequently suffering from a number of insurmountable doctrinal problems. The case against eternal submission is therefore a systematic case, a dispute about the best second-order system of language to be used when speaking of the Trinity.2
With this set in place, Butner presents his theological case against the doctrine of EFSS. There are three core doctrines of the faith that are, he argues, contradicted by EFSS, namely —
1. The doctrine of divine inseparable operations. 
2. Dyotheletism/ the doctrine of the two wills in Christ that correspond to his human and divine natures. 
3. The satisfaction aspect of Christ’s atoning work.
Common to these three doctrines is an underlying dependence upon the orthodox, biblical profession that there is only one divine will in God. Because God has a single will, the idea of eternal submission (which implies a distinction between the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit, i.e. tritheletism) is impossible. This is given further emphasis in Butner’s clear teaching on the Chalcedonian Christology, in which (a.)the will was identified as a property of a being’s nature, and (b.)the two natures in Christ are explicitly defined. Because the divine nature is one, and will is a property of the nature of a being, then it follows necessarily that any submission to the Father exhibited by Christ in his earthly ministry is being performed by Christ according to his human nature, proper to which there is a corresponding human will. The task of redeeming God’s elect was taken on by Christ freely, moreover, and this could not be the case if EFSS obtains. For, as Butner explains —
Anselm’s satisfaction theory draws on the broad canonical depiction of Christ paying our debt, and explains this payment in terms of the Son offering a voluntary and nonobligatory payment to the Father on behalf of humanity, dying a death to the honor of God when he had already lived a life of perfect obedience and so need not die. [Butner demonstrates that] Reformed accounts of penal substitutionary atonement incorporate Anselm’s basic account of satisfaction. This theology of satisfaction causes tremendous problems for the doctrine of eternal obedience. [For if] will is a personal property [as opposed to a property of one’s nature], it is difficult to see how the divine person of Christ could offer a human obedience to the Father. If the Son was eternally commanded to carry out his mediatorial office, then he was obligated to do so — God’s commands are morally binding. However, if the Son offered an obligatory payment for his own sake, he did not offer a voluntary payment above what was required for our sakes. The logic of satisfaction falls apart given eternal submission.3
Butner makes a compelling case, essentially demonstrating that if EFSS is true then the doctrine of the divine inseparable operations must be rejected or drastically revised, dylotheletism must be rejected, satisfaction theory must be rejected, and so must penal substitutionary atonement.

Additionally, Butner argues against EFSS proponents’ imprecise and undefined terminology regarding how God, of whom we must speak analogically (in the Aquinian sense) lest we blur the distinction between Creator and creation. If terms like obedience and submission meaning anything within the context of the ontological Trinity, that meaning must be understood as similar to but not identical with or contrary to the meanings they retain in creature to creature discourse. This is classified by Butner as imprecise theological language that fails to adequately deal with the doctrines mentioned above.

Butner’s case is strong, and is only further strengthened by his overview of the key texts used by EFSS proponents, in which he demonstrates that although some of the key texts could be interpreted in a manner consistent with EFSS, they are better addressed by the non-EFSS/traditional understanding of the eternal relationship that obtains between the First and Second persons of the Godhead, in which there is no hierarchy. Butner’s book addresses all of the key points related to the EFSS doctrine and its opponents, providing proponents of EFSS with a challenging but loving rebuttal to their strongest arguments in defense of EFSS, and giving the non-EFSS proponents a more solid defense of their position. The reader is lead to the data and the arguments, and is given the opportunity to think carefully about this very nuanced theological matter.

It is a great resource for both parties.

1 The Son Who Learned Obedience, 7.
2 ibid., 9.
3 ibid., 11.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Preston Sprinkle's Capitulation to the World

by Michael R. Burgos, Ph.D.

I've watched Preston Sprinkle transition from orthodox Protestantism to an iteration of eschatological conditionalism. That transition was surprising to some, but not to me. It seemed to me that he intentionally failed to interact with the most significant works on the subject, and that his argumentation simply rehearsed the well trodden paths of heterodox interpreters. It also seemed to me that his theology was disconnected from the authority of the local church, its confessions, and its creeds-- "theology in the raw" as it were. I wondered, does Sprinkle affirm anthropological monism? This is a question that I've asked a mutual acquaintance, namely, Chris Date. It's profoundly relevant to any consideration of final punishment since the same biblical language used to describe the intermediate state is used to describe the punishment of the reprobate. 

Leaving conditionalism aside, a member of my church handed me a book that Spinkle wrote that she received while completing a program at Eternity Bible College. The title of this work is Grace // Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality, & Gender. This text is designed to persuade Christian students and other young adults of an understanding of homosexuality and transgenderism that is grossly out of step with the historic biblical faith. Until recently, the perspective Sprinkle takes in this book was previously unknown to the church. I decided to give Grace // Truth a read, and what I found was disturbing. Here are a few of its many problems: 

On page 27, Sprinkle wrote that same sex attraction isn't "a sinful action that someone needs to repent from." He also appealed to testimony of "Cynthia Nixon from the hit show Sex and the City" in order to persuade readers that same sex attraction is unchosen (pp. 27, 37). What an astounding series of claims! First, any desire to engage in sinful behavior, such as same sex attraction, is a product of our fallen nature. Unlike the external temptations that Jesus faced, same sex attraction is an internal temptation that is brought about by our Adamic nature. Like a desire to commit suicide, abuse drugs, or engage in incest, a desire to fornicate with the same sex is an intrinsic part of our idolatrous disposition. Any desire to engage in an an activity that is a violation of God's revealed will is itself sinful. Jesus will not only call all people to account for their actions, but for their illicit thoughts too. One day "God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Rom. 2:16). Jesus explicitly taught that evil thoughts and desires are sinful (Matt. 15:19-20).

Moreover, Sprinkle's appeal to Nixon is absurd. Surely he knows that anecdotal claims from unregenerate people, especially those who shill obscene television programs, have about as much credibility as a character reference from Al Capone. So too, Sprinkle is likely aware of the Sexuality and Gender study completed by Drs. Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, and how this study ought to have tempered his claims. Sexuality and Gender demonstrates that while sexual orientation may not be actively chosen by an individual, there is no scientific evidence "for the view that sexual orientation is a fixed and innate biological property" (p. 13). There is absolutely no scientific evidence that there exists a "gay gene" or that a predilection for a specific form of sexual depravity is biologically innate. However, even if one was born with a predilection for a specific form of sexual depravity, a Christian worldview, with its pessimistic outlook upon the human condition, would preclude enshrining such depravity as either morally neutral or compatible with the Christian faith.

On page 31 of Grace // Truth, Sprinkle compares same sex attraction with alcoholism. He wrote, "There's a reason alcoholics say they're alcoholics even if they haven't had a drink in twenty years. It's because the desire to drink is always there, even if they don't act on it." Here, we see both Sprinkle's capitulation to the Alcoholics Anonymous disease model of alcoholism, and a repudiation of the Christian gospel. The biblical teaching is that drunkenness is one sin of many which may be overcome in Christ. Similarly, same sex attraction is not an indelible orientation that one may never overthrow. The apostle Paul specifically identified that the church in Corinth consisted of people who were drunkards and homosexuals, but were changed into disciples (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Sprinkle has essentially upended the doctrine of sanctification, choosing instead to sanction the zeitgeist.

On page 49, Sprinkle wrote, "Until Christians develop the reputation of being far too chummy with LGBT+ people, we fail to imitate Christ as we ought." The irony here is remarkable. Sprinkle, who speaks as one outside of the authority of the body of Christ, has sought to correct the church, even accusing it of not imitating Christ. In reality, Sprinkle has argued against a series of canards which, while finding traction in the minds of the moral revolutionaries ("Those Christians hate gays!"), has little to do with reality. Local churches call all people, including those with a propensity for sexual depravity, to repentance and faith in Christ. Homosexuality isn't merely just another sin. It is an upending of the created order and of the human constitution.

On page 75, Sprinkle asserted that attending a homosexual wedding is a "gray area" for Christians and that it a question of Christian liberty. Really? I wonder if Sprinkle would be willing to attended a wedding for a white nationalist who held strong and well known antisemitic and racist views. Would Sprinkle attend a wedding for an incestuous couple or for a couple who had left their previous spouses for each other? Attending a wedding is a tacit means of supporting and celebrating that union and the people therein. It is disingenuous to suppose that one can honor the thrice holy Lord of glory by supporting and celebrating a union predicated upon disobedience to his revealed will.

While there is much more that can be said about Grace // Truth, as well as the appropriate Christian responses to those who, whether willingly or unwillingly, possess same sex attraction, suffice it to say that the approach offered by Sprinkle is one contrary to biblical Christianity. Sprinkle has sanctioned same sex attraction such that it lies beyond the grasp of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Corinthians 10:13-14. In so doing, Sprinkle has done the church a great disservice and has himself, imbibed deeply of a non-Christian position. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Genetic Fallacy: Critical Race Theory's Indispensable Tool [Pt.2]


§ III. Valid Genetic Reasoning According to Scripture

Having elaborated on why the genetic fallacy, why it is a fallacy, and why CRT is entirely dependent on it, we now turn to answer the implied claim of CRT proponents that our genetic reasoning is fallacious. Given that Scripture contains no errors, logical or otherwise, we will be appealing to the it to defend genetic reasoning in general, and our own genetic reasoning in particular. For if our method of reasoning is not condoned explicitly or implicitly Scripture, then we must abandon it. It will be demonstrated that our reasoning is not only neither explicitly nor implicitly condemned by Scripture but required by Christians in our analysis of ideas that are purportedly derived from, supportive of, or in harmony with the teaching of Scripture.

Prior to Foucault, Freud, and Nietzsche, the enemies of Christ utilized the genetic fallacy in order to steer people away from the Lord Jesus. For example, in John 7:45-52 we see the fallacy employed by the Jewish leaders. There we read the following –

The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Whereas the Law of God does not judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning about what he does, the Jewish leaders rejected the claims of and about Christ for two reasons. Firstly, they asserted that the laity did not “know the law” (i.e. they were not rabinically trained) and, therefore, were not competent to assess whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Ironically, through their fallacious argumentation the Jewish leaders also imply that their criticisms of Christ are correct because they originated with the so-called “learned” men of Israel. As a further point of dramatic irony, the reader by this point in John’s Gospel knows that Nicodemus, one of the elite teachers of Israel trained to “know the law” was woefully ignorant about Christ’s person and work, the doctrine of regeneration in the Old Testament, and the typology of the Old Testament.1 Secondly, the Jewish leaders asserted that Jesus could not be the Christ because “no prophet arises from Galilee.” What is being communicated is not merley that no prophet arises from Galilee geographically, another point which is demonstrably false,2 but what is also implied is that the Lord’s teaching about himself is not to be trusted because it originated with a man whose place of origin, i.e. Galilee, was low on the social totem pole.3

The Jewish leaders of Christ’s day did not differ much in this regard to Nietzsche, for whom the truth of Christianity was refuted by a genealogical analysis – or so he believed – of the origin of its central moral and metaphysical doctrines. What they fail to demonstrate is that the social standing of the people, and of the Lord Jesus as well, provides an unreliable foundation for the claims made about and by him. Simply being a layperson without formal rabbinical training does not render the theological claims one makes false. Likewise, simply being a person who was born into a family of a lower social stature does not render the theological claims one makes false. However, like their modern successors – Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and the gamut of CRT theorists, scholars, apologists, and activists – the Jewish leaders irrationally argued that the truth claims they were being presented with were false due to their origin among certain classes of people in society.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Genetic Fallacy: Critical Race Theory's Indispensable Tool [Pt.1]

by Hiram R. Diaz III

§ I. Whose Fallacy is it Anyway?

Whereas proponents of Critical Race Theory (hereafter, CRT) once claimed that “social justice contras”1 were ignorantly protesting CRT, they are now claiming that our criticisms are fallacious forms of genetic reasoning.2 Given that this latter accusation is a tacit admission that we are not ignorant of CRT, it follows that CRT proponents are the ones who are arguing fallaciously by moving the goalposts. The fallacy of moving the goalposts is committed when a speaker/writer demands that his debate opponent meet some criterion, but changes the criterion to be met when his opponent has met his initial demand. In the case of CRT’s incompatibility with Christianity, consider the following example –
Person A – “If you want me to take your arguments against CRT seriously, then you need to prove to me that you know what you’re talking about.” 
Person B – “CRT is x. It originated with y, was passed down through z, and is now held primarily by people from w.” 
Person A – “That’s all well and good, but how can I take your arguments against CRT seriously when you haven’t sufficiently demonstrated a link between CRT and the possibility of it being anti-Christian?”
This example of moving the goalposts, moreover, is only one level of fallacious counter-reasoning by proponents of CRT, for we have elsewhere shown quite clearly how CRT’s philosophical underpinnings are inseparable from its use as an “analytical tool.”3 What is argued against by the CRT proponent, therefore, is a straw man. Furthermore, the accusation that opponents of CRT have committed the genetic fallacy is ironic, given that CRT’s foundational assumptions are prime examples of the genetic fallacy.

In what follows, we will demonstrate how CRT is built and thrives upon the genetic fallacy. Additionally, it will be demonstrated from Scripture itself that some forms of genetic reasoning are not fallacious, and that our criticism of CRT falls under this category of valid genetic reasoning.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Irenaeus on the Trinity [Review]



Trinitarian apologists are often accused of quote-mining the patristic authors for anything that seems to bear a resemblance to succinct formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity in later, pro-Nicene writers. The fact is, however, that while some Christian apologists engage in that kind of superficial reasoning, not all of us do. Some of us go back to the sources themselves and then diligently search contemporary scholarship to gain a better understanding of how they and their colleagues interpret the fathers, and why they it is they affirm or deny that a given father holds to one of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. Some of us understand that scholarship often times is driven by philosophical commitments that are assumed to be true and, therefore, are functioning as the grounding of all subsequent conclusions surrounding the church fathers and what they could or could not have known and, by implication, what they did or did not teach directly or indirectly in their texts. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of those doctrines whose complexity over time has led unbelieving scholars to conclude that it is not deducible from the Scriptures but was, instead, the hybrid offspring of Neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism as funneled through later church fathers who would write on the subject. But as Jackson Lashier’s book Irenaeus on the Trinity makes evident, this is not the case.

In fact, Lashier’s work helps us see that the closer one’s theology is tied to the Scriptures, the more clear he is in articulating what is essentially a pre-Nicea pro-Nicene form of Trinitarianism, complete with a distinction between the ontological and economic Trinity. By contrasting the philosophical terminology of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Theophilus of Antioch surrounding the ad intra and ad extra personal relations of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit to one another with Irenaeus’ Biblically constrained language of God’s “two hands,” one readily sees that the former is more prone to misinterpretation than the latter. That is to say, the earlier fathers’ language regarding the Son and the Spirit as the 2nd and 3rd divine “entities” lent itself to the ontological subordinationism and hierarchy within the divine essence/Godhead that Irenaeus’ Gnostic opponents had built into a complex hierarchical ontology of aeonic emanations. Thus, Lashier argues that Irenaeus’ departure from the nomenclature of Justin, Athenagoras, and Theophilus (in most cases) is not due to his lack of a doctrine of the ontological and economic Trinity (a claim which some scholars have advanced over the past 100 years or so), but is due to his desire to employ the language of Scripture in order to avoid bearing a superficial resemblance to the subordinationist theology of the Gnostics.

What is more, by avoiding the Platonic notion of orders of being, or ranking of being, Irenaeus is able to show the equality of the divine persons from the Scriptural teaching that creation, redemption, and restoration are all solely the works of God, and yet they are acts attributed to the Father and the Son and the Spirit. The Father and Son and Spirit all create, all redeem, and all restore – they are perfectly equal, differing only in their ad intra and ad extra relations to one another.

Lashier is, of course, careful not to use later terminology developed at Nicea and beyond, lest his readers suppose he is reading back into Irenaeus’ writing orthodox Christian doctrine that wouldn’t come into being until a few hundred years later. Rather than speaking of the ad intra and ad extra relations of the divine persons, Lashier speaks of Irenaeus’ understanding of the relation of the divine “entities” to one another in creating, redeeming, and restoring all things. This is helpful not only in clearing Lashier of any charges that he is reading back into Irenaeus, but also in understanding that the specific terminology could very well be changed without affecting the substance of the doctrine. This means that Irenaeus’ doctrine of the Trinity may be translated without much difficulty into Nicene terminology, which further implies that the closer the fathers remained to the Scriptures, the more clearly they articulated a doctrine of the Trinity that is nearly identical to what we find articulated in the later in church history by pro-Nicene theologians.

Some attention is paid to the hermeneutical practices of each of these early church teachers, with some attention also given to several key texts which have a long history of being interpreted as articulating the doctrine of God’s Triunity, despite being parts of the Old Testament. For instance, the presence of the Voice of God in the garden of Eden is identified as the Logos, as is every instance of God personally speaking to individuals face to face (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Manoah, Samuel, etc). Similarly, Abraham’s meeting with Yahweh at the tents of Mamre (cf. Gen 18) was interpreted as the Lord meeting with his two “angels,” or “two hands,” an interpretation that is found much later in St. Augustine’s De Trinitate as well.

Unlike the philosophical depictions of the Trinity given by Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Theophilus, Irenaeus’ exposition of the Scripture brings the three persons into relief, compromising neither their undivided essence and attributes nor their distinct relations to one another (ad intra) and toward creation (ad extra). Irenaeus on the Trinity is a helpful tool for the scholar, or pastor, or academically inclined Christian who wants to deepen his knowledge of church history and its more well known figures. It also is helpful in providing Christians with an understanding of how the church fathers approached Scriptural interpretation, a process which involved interpreting all of Scripture in light of all of Scripture.


You can find Lashier’s dissertation on the same subject for free here.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 4]

§ VII. Is God Real?

Consequently, atheism is only intelligible iff God is real; but if atheism is intelligible, then God is real, and atheism is necessarily false. This means that given atheism, atheism is logically possible but ontologically impossible. The assertion “God is not real” is proof that he is, in fact, real, and it implies that the atheist knows this to be true. This is so because he utilizes universal truths – e.g. the laws of identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle, deductive inference, etc – which he believes will lead him to objective truth – i.e. knowledge of things as they are apart from his subjective apprehension of them. If the atheist truly does not view the laws above mentioned as anything more than social constructs, then he can offer his opinion about theism, as well as his opinions on any other matter – including, in fact, his opinions concerning what reality is – but he cannot hope to come to know the truth about theism or atheism, or any other matter. Professing himself to be wise, he has become a fool.

§ VIII. Concluding Remarks

In his paper “Atheism,” philosopher Gordon H. Clark, in accord with the view expressed by the present author, wrote the following –
At first it may seem strange that knowledge of what God is more important than knowledge that God is. His essence or nature being more important than his existence may seem unusual. Existentialists insist that existence precedes essence. Nevertheless, competent Christians disagree for two reasons. First, we have seen that pantheists identify god with the universe. What is god? —the universe. The mere fact that they use the name god for the universe and thus assert that god "exists" is of no help to Christianity
The second reason for not being much interested in the existence of God is somewhat similar to the first. The idea existence is an idea without content. Stars exist—but this tells us nothing about the stars; mathematics exists—but this teaches us no mathematics; hallucinations also exist. The point is that a predicate, such as existence, that can be attached to everything indiscriminately tells us nothing about anything. A word, to mean something, must also not mean something. For example, if I say that some cats are black, the sentence has meaning only because some cats are white. If the adjective were attached to every possible subject—so all cats were black, all stars were black, and all politicians were black, as well as all the numbers in arithmetic, and God too—then the word black would have no meaning. It would not distinguish anything from something else. Since everything exists, exists is devoid of information. That is why the Catechism asks, What is God? Not, Does God exist?1
Clark understood that the question of God’s “existence” needed to be clarified in order to be understood and addressed. Once this is done, it is plain to see that atheists are not concerned with the “existence” of God but with his “reality.” This “reality” must be defined as well, but for the atheist there is no way of justifying a concept of such an objective “reality.” Apart from a non-empirical, disembodied, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, omnipresent mind, the universal truths requisite to cogent reasoning and speculation in the matters of metaphysics, epistemology, and even science do not “exist,” i.e. are not “real.” They are, instead, mere assertions whose truth value is uncritically accepted by the atheist in his complaints against Christianity.

In his attempt to identify God as unreal, the atheist turns to creation and imbues it with divinity. Not only does matter become the source of all power, all order, all modes of being, all knowledge, all history, whose ever evasive essence can only be known by a process of negative abstraction from reflection on physical things (i.e. the via negativa) – it becomes the teleological terminus of all of the atheist’s thinking and acting. Whereas Christianity loudly proclaims Soli Deo Gloria!, the atheist affirms Solam Materiam Gloria! And by so doing confirms that his lack of belief in other gods, including the one true God, does not indicate that he lacks belief in all gods. For the atheist, there is only one ontological entity greater than which none may be conceived; and that entity we all know as Matter.

1 “Atheism,” Trinity Foundation, http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%200032a%20Atheism.pdf, Accessed April 25, 2019.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 3]

by Hiram R. Diaz III


§ V. Disambiguating “Existence”

Having demonstrated that the popular definition of atheism as a lack of belief in gods is untenable, we may now return to the question of existence. As we mentioned earlier on, assertions like “x exists” are either tautologous or non-tautologous. If they are tautologous, they are asserting nothing more than the proposition “This logical subject of predication is this logical subject of predication” or “x is x.” If they are non-tautologous, they are signifying some undefined property by the word exists. Assuming that the atheist intends to communicate something non-contradictory when he denies the existence of God, we must seek to understand what he means by the term exists.

As we begin, let us note that if by saying “There is no God” the atheist means “God cannot be empirically verified” or “There is no empirical being to which the term God properly applies” then he is confusing categories. As the London Baptist Confession of 1689, following the teaching of Scripture, states –
The Lord our God is…a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.
The lack of empirical evidence for a being who is immaterial does not demonstrate that there is no such immaterial being. Some atheists will retort that immateriality is problematic, for it seems to allow us to affirm that there are other immaterial beings in addition to God. This, however, is neither a logical nor ontological problem. It is a problem for the materialist who believes that “existence” is synonymous with an empirically verifiable material instantiation of a given entity. But arguing against the idea that there is a God on such a basis is an exercise in fallacious, circular reasoning.

What does the atheist mean by the proposition “There is no God”? Given that he cannot say that a lack of empirical evidence regarding a non-empirical being is proof that there is no such being, we can only conclude that his proposition means “There is no non-fictional being to which the term God properly applies.” More to the point, the atheist’s belief is that God is not real. Unlike the unclear assertion that “God does not exist,” the proposition “God is not real” asserts that a particular logical subject [viz. God] is merely conceptual [i.e. is not real].” And while this is much clearer, it still suffers from a host of problems which we will now examine.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Contra Atheism [Pt. 2]

by Hiram R. Diaz III



§ III. The Logical Problem

Thus far we have taken for granted that the assertion “God exists” is one that may be meaningfully denied. However, is this the case? What does it mean to affirm that God exists? Logically speaking the word “is” functions as the copula connecting the subject term of a proposition to its attendant predicate term, as the following diagram demonstrates –
The assertion “God exists,” then, expresses either one of the following propositions –
1. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of being a logical subject of predication. 
2. A particular logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of x [i.e. an undefined property signified by the word exists].
Whereas proposition 2. may be translated into a non-tautologous proposition (e.g. “God exists” = “God is an extra-conceptual being with all of the attributes classically and biblically ascribed to him”), proposition 1. is a tautology that is true of any given logical subject of predication. More concisely, if the assertion “God exists” is not idiomatic shorthand for a lengthier proposition in which attributes are predicated of God (e.g. “God is a non-fictional/extraconceptual being”), then it is akin to asserting x is x. This being the case, it follows that unless the atheist defines his terminology, explaining what he means when he says “God does not exist,” his assertion is at best ambiguous. And at worst, it is self-contradictory, for the assertion “God does not exist” would then be logically identical to the proposition “This logical subject of predication [viz. God] has the property of not being a logical subject of predication [i.e. “not existing”].” This is not a return to Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but a simple recognition of a logical problem facing the atheist. If “being” cannot be divorced from “being the logical subject of predication,” and it cannot, then one cannot rationally deny the “existence” of any logical subject once it has been verbally, or by some other means of communication, identified as a logical subject.

§ IV. Who or What are Rightly Called Atheists?

Monday, April 15, 2019

In Defence of Christianity: Early Christian Apologists [Review]

by Hiram R. Diaz III


As we have noted elsewhere, the task of apologetics is one that has been given to all Christians.1 Knowing how that task has been taken up by Christians in the past, then, can give Christians from all walks of life insight into how they may better engage in apologetics to God’s glory. In Defence of Christianity: Early Christian Apologists is a small but densely packed review of apologetics as it was practiced by Christians in the 2nd century, beginning with the much overlooked apologist Aristedes. The book then covers the usual subjects of interest in this matter – Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Mathetes, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Octavius/Municius Felix – following up with “the other side of the story,” which is comprised of translations of 2nd century pagan authors on Christians and Christianity. The last chapter is an assessment of how Eusebius employs the apologists in his Ecclesiastical History.

The writers of the collected essays helpfully flesh out the historical context, shedding light on aspects of the apologists’ writings that may be confusing to present day Christians. For instance, within the early church writers there is a strong emphasis on the superior morality of Christians, an emphasis so strong that it could lead the uninformed reader to conclude that these men were legalistic and self-righteous, promulgating a religion of works over and against a religion of grace. This, however, is shown to be a misreading, for the apologists were merely engaging in polemical rhetoric against the pagan philosophers and religious cults of their day who boasted of their moral superiority. The superior morality of the Christians, then, is not always referring to direct actions of Christians, but primarily to the consistency demonstrated, largely considered, between their moral precepts and their daily lives.

Along these same lines, the authors of In Defence of Christianity do an excellent job of showing where the early apologists utilized, rejected, and reformed philosophical concepts (primarily the Platonists, but to a lesser extent the Stoics) pertinent to their stated apologetic goals. While some of the language of the Platonists and Stoics was appropriated by the early apologists, moreover, these authors helpfully explain where they differ. For anyone familiar with the theoretical reconstructions of early Christianity by unbelieving scholars like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, scholars who deny that there was any single Christianity and argue instead that there were many Christianit-ies (among whom they count the Gnostic heretics), the clarifications of the authors of In Defence of Christianity come as a much needed breath of fresh air. While there were differences between the apologists, there was much unity in central doctrinal matters, doctrinal matters that set Christians apart from their pagan critics and enemies.

Practically speaking, this book offers contemporary Christians insight into how apologetics was not merely a method of persuasively debating unbelievers and demonstrating the truth of the Christian religion, but also a genre of writing that had clearly discernible features. Among those features, there were addresses to persons of power, reductio ad absurdum arguments against the pagan gods and philosophers, arguments demonstrating the superiority of Christian morality to that of the pagan religionists and philosophers, and a demonstration of the antiquity of the Christian faith (another apologetic maneuver that may be misunderstood by contemporary readers of the early apologists, in which the apologists argue that the Old Testament was the first work to contain metaphysical and moral philosophy that was later stolen from the Scriptures by the pagans under the influence of demons). This focus of the book at least raises the question of genre for contemporary Christians – Should Christians employ a uniquely Christian apologia genre? What would or would not be the benefits of doing or not doing this? Is there Scriptural justification for doing so?

Perhaps one of the most helpful suggestions these authors give is that the contemporary Christian consider the fact that the world of the early apologists was not yet Christianized. The time period was still predominantly pagan, and this meant that the apologists were played an important role in explaining the Christian faith to outsiders who may have hear that Christians were incestuous, atheistic, cannibalistic, haters of humanity. And in this respect, the early apologists can give us direction as to how we can, in our “post-Christian” society, persuasively defend the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.

Although In Defence of Christianity is intended for a scholarly/academic audience, its content is valuable enough to warrant even the non-academic’s attention. It is highly recommended for all who are seeking to properly understand the early apologists, as well as utilize the best of the argumentation and rhetorical strategies that they offer their readers.


1 See Diaz, Hiram R., “What is Apologetics?” Biblical Trinitarian, http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/search?q=What+is+Apologetics.