Christopher Hall lectures on Ancient Christian Spirituality

I know, I know.  He’s a Protestant so he really doesn’t understand Christianity [end sarcasm], but since he has written a cutting-edge book promoting the Fathers, I figured he knows what he is saying.  I plan to review that book later. hese look to be tinteresting.

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Protecting Macarthurites from a bad inference

These are observations about claims Mac and Co. make.   They are not intended as a point-by-point analysis of Strange Fire.  That will come in due time, Lord willing.  My goal here is to protect John MacArthur’s admitted hero Martyn Lloyd-Jones from John Macarthur.

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.

  1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
  2. Does it oppose worldliness?
  3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
  4. Does it elevate the truth?
  5. Does it produce love for God and others?

It is a good list.  However, I would say with the apostle Paul, “I would that you all prophesy.”  But back to the points above.  The logical danger with rhetorical questions is that if the opposition can bite the bullet and the position is logically unchanged, your entire argument, such that it is, evaporates.

Case study:  Wayne Grudem.

No one can accuse Wayne Grudem of not exalting Christ.  I don’t know him personally, though we did exchange friendly emails some months ago, but I highly doubt he is worldly.  Does he point people to the Scriptures?  Seriously?  As an inerrantist, I am certain Grudem can affirm 3 and 4.  5 is a given.

How would a Word-Faither do?  That’s a fair question, but if you lump Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms in the same camp with Copeland and Hinn, you are sinning against your brothers and violating the 9th commandment.  Only a party spirit can remain untouched by such a rebuke.

The Missing Case of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A search engine on Strange Fire lists only seven appearances of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

p.44 lists MLJ saying that the Spirit exalts Christ.  Presumably this is a slam against much of charismatic worship.  Fair enough.  (I do wonder if the Spirit wants us to worship like Dutch-American amillennialists).

p.261 has MLJ saying the office of prophet has ceased.  Okay, he said that.  He also said other things, and in any case I don’t think that exegesis stands up to Grudem’s scholarship.

p.117-118 say basically the same thing.

p.312 lists MLJ’s Christian Unity.

p.319 is the index.

p.281 is an endnote for Great Doctrines of the Bible.

And that’s it for MLJ.  So what’s the big deal?  Well, here is what Macarthur has to say about Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

He influenced countless preachers (myself included), and he stood steadfastly against the superficial, entertainment-oriented approach to preaching that seemed to dominate the evangelical world then as it does now. Lloyd-Jones still desperately needs to be heard today.

Again, you might ask, “What’s the big deal?  Anybody should say that about MLJ.” Macarthur elsewhere says,

There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology that runs all the way back to the apostles.  It runs through Athanasius and Augustine…and runs through the pathway of Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it keeps running.

Well, here is the problem.  Macarthur does not allow (de facto) the distinction between continuationism (myself) and charismaticism (insert favorite bad guy).  He notes

Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers.  If you say the gift of healing is still around, and you say it whimsically, there’s no evidence it’s around, either experimentally or biblically, but if you say it’s still around, then you have just validated healers.

Who would want to do that?  Are they not the lowest of the low?  Are they not the worst of the worst?  They don’t go to hospitals.  They prey on the most desperate, the most severely ill, the most hopeless, the most destitute, very often the poorest, telling them lies and getting rich.  Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?

Said another way:

Premise 1: If continuationists assert “the miraculous,” then they validate faith healers.
Premise 2: They assert the miraculous.
(3)Conclusion: They validate faith healers (Modus Ponens)

Prem. (4): Faith healers are the lowest of the low (agreed)
Prem. (5): If anyone validates them, they, too are the lowest of the low [4, 1]

(6) If person A asserts the miraculous, then he, too, validates faith healers [2, 5]

Of course, I challenge premises 1 and 3.  Someone could still say, “Yeah, so.  You are the lowest of the low because you believe in the miraculous.”  Fair enough.  I will now lower the boom.

Lloyd-Jones states,

Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141).

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46.)

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then (Joy Unspeakable, p. 246.)

Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32.)

“To hold such a view,” he says, “is simply to quench the Spirit” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46)

Premise (7) Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts the miraculous.

Now the Strange Fire Brigade faces a painful difficulty:  reject (1)–(6) or accept Premise (8)

(8) Martyn Lloyd-Jones validates faith-healers.  [6, 7 MP]

Conclusion

Someone could still respond, “Well, MLJ is not God. He isn’t right on everything.”  No he isn’t.  He is an amillennialist, for one.  But let’s go back to Macarthur’s claim: “anyone holding these views gives credence to faith healers and is the lowest of the low.”  He must apply that to MLJ.  The logic is impeccable (up to a point, anyway).

In analytic philosophy we call this a “defeater.”  It shows his position is either counter to the evidence or it cannot be held simultaneously with the evidence. Either his view of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is wrong and it has to be abandoned (as the evidence makes abundantly clear), or he must give the defeater to his claim that continuationists validate faith healers.

He will do neither.

His position collapses.

Continuationism and proving Van Til right on evidence

Whenever I doubt the truth of presuppositional apologetics, I read discussions where TRs doubt that God’s power gifts continue today.  Now, I have no problem with someone coming up with a logical argument that the Spirit’s power isn’t active today.  Fair enough.  I just think a lot of the conversations are funny.

A note on prophesy:  this is one of the most debated terms in the Bible. The problem is that the NT really doesn’t give a neat usage of the term.  Older Puritan writers often equated it with Preaching, in which case the gift obviously continues today.   Most people, cessationist or otherwise, see that usage won’t stand up to five minutes of Scrutiny.  Even worse, some say it is the Spirit applying the truths (timeless, of course; not messy historical contingencies) to day-to-day situations.  In that case, everyone of God’s children should prophesy.  But that seems inadequate and ignores almost all of the NT texts.

A quick rejoinder:  But prophesy doesn’t always mean telling the future.  Sure.  But that did happen.

But God’s word meant the death penalty if your prophesy didn’t come true.   Okay, I’ll grant that for the moment (though I think you can find examples in the OT where godly men were less than 100% accurate and they didn’t die).  But even with that terrifying injunction, you really don’t see NT believers afraid to prophesy.  That’s just the plain truth of the matter.  In fact–and it’s funny that the most rabid anti-theonomists become theonomists on this point–Paul urges all to prophesy.   I doubt the conversation went like this:

Paul:  Pursue all gifts, especially that you may prophesy, but be careful because if you are less than 100% accurate I am going to kill you.

Anyway, to the conversation.

Cessationist:  Show me one example of a Reformed Christian believing continuation of gifts continue.

Continuationist:  (insert example of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill prophesying/speaking the truth)

Cessationist:  Yeah, well that doesn’t count.

Translation:  you have your facts and I have my theory.  Too bad for your facts.

Why continue the conversation?

We aren’t saying what Augustine said

In East-West discussions on original and actual sin, it’s sometimes assumed that the West holds to Augustine’s view.  Augustine worked off of the following translation of Romans 5:12,

in quo omnes peccaverunt

which is translated,

“in whom all sinned.”

Eastern Orthodox correctly point out that is wrong.  The Greek reads

eph ho pantes hemarton

Hoekema suggests the idiom eph ho should be translated “because” or “since.”  We still have the problem of identifying the connection between our pre-temporal sinning in Adam and Adam’s sin; nevertheless, Scripture seems to affirm it.  The problem remaining is that those who haven’t yet lived are said “to have sinned.”

Human nature as unity

Berkouwer notes “Scripture doesn’t talk about man in the abstract, but man in his relation to God” (195).

Biblical use of the word “soul.”

Sometimes it is “nefesh,” meaning life and can refer to man himself.  Berkouwer rejects that “soul” is a “localized religious part of man” (201).  The Bible’s interchangeable usage between soul and life should draw attention to the fact that the “heart” is of primary importance:  “The heart shows forth the deeper aspect of the whole humanness of man, not some functional localization in a part of man which would be the most important part” (202-203).

Concerning anthropological dualisms

Such a view sees the soul as the “higher” part, closer to God.  Leads to ascetism.  However, evil in the bible is never localized in a part of man.

Bavinck attacks trichotomy because Scripture knows of no original dualism between spirit and matter (209).    The trichotomist sees the soul as mediating between body and spirit (find Damascene’s comment that the soul is higher point, cf Bruce McCormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God).

Dualism and duality are not identical (211).  We can speak of a duality in God’s creation man and woman, without positing an ontological dualism between them (this is where Maximus and Jakob Boehme err).  “Duality within created reality does not exclude harmony and unity, but is exactly oriented towards it” (211).

Does soul and body involve a tension, and if so that would make it a dualism?  If it does involve a tension, we must reject not only trichotomy, but dichotomy.

Per the confessions and creeds, “there is a great difference between non-scientific references to a dual aspect of human nature and a thesis that man is composed of two substances, body and soul” (213-214).

The Dooyeweerdians

They oppose the idea that all the rich variation of humanness can be forced into two substantial categories.

Hendrik Gerhardus Stoker defines substance as the “systatic core of man, that which functions in all spheres” (H.G. Stoker, Die nuwere Wijsbegeerte aan die Vrije Universiteit, 1933, 40ff.).

For the Dooyeweerdian critique, matter can never be an independent counter-pole to form.

Immortality of the Soul

Genuine and real life in Scripture is life in communion with God.  The philosophical notion of “immortality of the soul” calls death a lie and misunderstands the judgment of God (250).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (249).

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).

  • The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus).

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):

  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?”

  • No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

Klaas Schilder on the Imago Dei

Schilder sees man’s creation as the pre-condition for the image, but not the image itself (Berkouwer 54).  The actual image lies in the officium created man receives (I don’t think this is the full picture, but there is some truth to this, especially if we connect the imago dei with man’s dominion, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism hints at).

  • Thus, the image is dynamic and is rooted in the Covenantal God’s Relation with man.
  • the word “image” implies “making visible.”
  • Schilder resists any abstracting the image.
  • The glory of the image shines forth in service to God (56).

There is much good with Schilder’s take. I have several concerns: The danger with Schilder’s approach is that it makes the image too “dynamic” with an emphasis on conformitas.  It is not a hard push from here to Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Further, the narrative does not seem to make the distinction on pre-conditions that Schilder does.  Perhaps it could work if one argues that God’s act of creating is not itself the image of God.  That is certainly true enough.

 

The problems facing American Neo-Covenanting

There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.

While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.

1.  The Hatred of the South

This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.

And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?

Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”

2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln

This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made darkie jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.

Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point

3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily

Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.

Bothwell

The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.

Cromwell

Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.

How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.

To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Lincoln (again)

I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defending against the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground

This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).