Thursday, February 11, 2016

Marcionism Will Not Die

In his book Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament, Dr. Waltar Kaiser, Jr. makes an important point about Marcionism: it just will not die. He writes:
The first use of the expression "Old Testament," as applied to the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, didn't appear until much later in the fourth century AD int he writings of Eusebius of Caesarea. Clearly, Eusebius started this divisive reference with the distinct intention to show the superiority of the New Testament over the Old Testament - even though the New Testament proclaims that "all Scripture is inspired by God" (2 Tim. 3:16).

Centuries later, G. L. Bauer (1755-1806) wrote the first book to use the title Old Testament (1796), wherein he tried to show that the Old and New Testament belonged to two different inspirations and that the Old Testament was foreign to the Christian faith. The outcry for the removal of the Old Testament from the canon of Scripture grew louder by the time of Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930). Harnack denounced the practice of retaining the Old Testament as part of the Christian canon as "an ecclesiastical and religious paralysis." Friedrich Delitsch (1850-1922)* wrote Die Grosse Tauschung (The Great Deception) in 1920, in which he argued that the Old Testament was not a Christian book and the New Testament superseded it. Even more recently, Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) adopted explicit Marcionite views as he advocated that the Old Testament was a witness to a miscarriage of history as Israel failed to obey the law, which therefore necessitated the need for grace to replace it. The Old Testament was not a document for Christian faith according to Bultmann. Even Karl Barth (1886-1968), who did not agree with Bultmann, still usually stayed away from the Old Testament as he unadvisedly opposed the New Testament God of grace to the Old Testament God of law. (9-10)
There is another name that should (to the surprise of many including myself) that should be added to this conversation: John MacArthur. Before you react, let me explain.

A few years ago, MacArthur finished preaching verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament. It was a forty year effort that was completed when he finished the Gospel of Mark. Such an accomplishment is nothing short of amazing and thousands of pastors (including myself) around the world benefit from his exposition in the form of his New Testament commentaries as a result.

But why did he only preach expositionally through the New Testament? I have personally heard MacArthur state on multiple times that he views himself as a New Testament Christian and primarily uses the Old Testament as a means of illustrating, illuminating, or explaining the New Testament text before him.

To be honest, this is dangerous.

Let me clear here. MacArthur is not a Marcion by any stretch of the imagination and does not share the theology of the men in the Kaiser quote above. MacArthur is orthodox and has defended orthodoxy throughout his ministry. With that said, this one area of his preaching ministry, I believe, should not be followed by other expositors. The local pastor should feed his flock a healthy dose of both Testaments. Let us not forget that the apostles and first Christians had a Bible they were content with now known as the Old Testament and it should not be neglected.

That is my point here. Marcionism continues to haunt us especially in liberal circles and it should be rejected at all times. At the same time, we should be careful when we show an unhealthy favoritism toward the New at the cost of of the Old. Christ is on every page. Let us, therefore, read, study, and preach every page.

* Not to be confused with his father, Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890).

All Around the Web - February 11, 2016

Russell Moore - What a Super Bowl Ad Reveals About Our Abortion Culture

Doug Wilson - Surveying the Text: Chronicles

Denny Burk -  After Football, Now What?

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with David Wells

The Daily Beast - Scary New Ways the Internet Profiles You

Washington Post - What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Concluding Thoughts

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Introduction
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Preaching John 3:16
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Total Depravity
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Congruent Election
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - The Atonement
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Irresistible Grace
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Concluding Thoughts

We have concluded another series of blogging through a book. Of all of the books I have done, this one is the most controversial and that was anticipated. Before moving on to the next book, I want to offer up a few concluding thoughts.

Why I didn't review the entire book.

Typically, blogging through a book involves blogging through the entirety of a book including the introduction and conclusion. This volume is obviously different. Almost half of the book remains unaddressed. I want to briefly explain why.

First, much of the latter material is repetitive. For example, in Dr. Allen's chapter on particular redemption, he emphasizes Calvin's non-Calvinism on the "L" in TULIP. In the second half of the book, an entire chapter is dedicated to the subject.

Secondly, I am simply not interested in the material. When people debate Calvinism, it is usually regarding the five points. Therefore, outside of the "P" (Perseverance of the Saints), which all Baptists whether reformed or not, affirm and is addressed in this series.

The book strove for a generous and kind tone but ultimately failed.

In the introduction, the editors suggested the tone of the book would be soft and generous. Such an approach is one of the reasons why I was attracted to this book. I am very much interested in a book willing to engage in a conversation on the criticism of Reformed theology without caricatures, fear-mongering, and false-stereotypes. Though much of the book seeks such generosity, it largely fails. Virtually every contributor returns to the same caricatures (Calvinism undermines evangelism, Calvinist do not believe in free will nor do they believe in altar calls).

The contributors are also disingenuous to Calvinists and misleading in their arguments. What comes immediately to mind here is the quote used by Paige Patterson and others suggesting that Charles Spurgeon (a Calvinist if ever there was one) rejected effectual call (see page 35). I have done an entire series proving otherwise and one does not need to be a Spurgeon scholar to debunk this myth. The men contributing to this volume surely - surely - know better than this. To suggest that Spurgeon rejected regeneration before faith is misleading and unacademic at best.

The arguments were largely weak and hurt their cause.

If this is the best non-Calvinist can produce, they are in trouble. Several examples come to mind. First, while criticizing federal headship as "extra-scriptural" (and even suggesting that it "impugns [even if this is not intended] the justice of God)," (27) Patterson offers no biblical defense of his position: National Headship. Related to this, Patterson suggests that the Reformed doctrine of federal headship forces Calvinists to conclude that Jesus was born depraved. He writes:
By the same token, the virgin conception of Jesus, the second Adam, is necessitated since if Jesus were born with a sinful nature, then He, too, would have been susceptible to sin. (37)

Surely he knows better than that.

Secondly, the contributors fail to fully address the arguments of Calvinism. Take for example their defense of libertarian free will. Calvinist are quick to remind Arminians that the Bible makes it clear that God is absolutely sovereign over every square-inch of the universe. Here is a brief list commonly used by Calvinist - passages largely left unaddressed in this book:
  • Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
  • Proverbs 21:1 - The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
  • Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
  • James 4:13 - Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . .  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
  • Acts 13:48 - As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
  • Ephesians 1:11 - [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.
  • Psalm 115:3 - Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 
  • Job 42:2 - I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (source)
The contributors of the book largely fail to listen to Calvinism and answer passages like the one's above which create serious problems for the non-reformed position.

In conclusion, this volume's contributors are guilty of what Steve Lemke accuses Calvinist of doing: forcing Scripture to fit into their theological system. It seems clear that some of the contributors are forced to do the same in order to avoid Reformed conclusions. I believe, as I did before reading this book, that both sides are guilty of this. This theory was affirmed after considering each argument.

Some good arguments were made and Reformed Christians would be wise to heed them.

Reactions to books like these are predictable. Those already predisposed to the arguments will not be changed. Those who are already non-Calvinist will leave having their theological convictions reaffirmed. Those who crack the spine firm in their Calvinism will likely leave frustrated.

The temptation, then, is to pat oneself on your back (for the non-Reformed) or write a bitter review on Amazon about how the contributors just don't understand you (for the Reformed). The truth is, however, that the contributors and editors make valid arguments against Reformed theology that Calvinist would be wise to heed.

Here I am asking the reader to approach the book as a Christian and not as a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist. I am not convinced that all five-point Calvinist is clearly taught in Scripture and books like this are helpful in exposing in some of the weaker arguments commonly used by its defenders. For those sympathetic to Reformed theology, books like this can be valuable resources in listening to the other side and evaluating exactly what the Bible has to say.

We need to remember that much of the debate is the splitting of hairs

This debate has been waging for centuries. Since the birth of Baptists the tension between Reformed and non-reformed theology has been prevalent. The truth is that this conversation will not end anytime soon. One might ask why Christians cannot come to any clear conclusion on the subject. I believe there are multiple reasons why. Though I affirm the perspicuity of Scripture, we should acknowledge that Scripture swims in the paradoxes of some of these questions. Some passages, for example, clearly suggest that repentance precede faith (Lemke provides plenty) while others clearly suggest the opposite (Lemke fails to interact with those passages). Likewise, there are passages we could make look like defend limited atonement while others seem to point toward universal atonement.

I want to suggest two reasons for this (and there are others of course). First, this debate is a splitting of hairs. I readily admit there are implications between the two sides we need to watch. Calvinists can come across as rigid and cold. Arminians can result in distasteful revivalism that produces false conversions. Nevertheless, fine-tuning how liberty and sovereignty co-exist is splitting a hair. Some passages will emphasize one while other passages will emphasize the other. Let us accept and receive this difficulty.

Secondly, much of this debate regards modern theological categories that go beyond biblical categories. Most notable here is limited atonement. As I have said before, I doubt Peter and Paul discussed the extent of the atonement while in Antioch. Election, perhaps; particular redemption, probably not.

For more:
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Complete Series
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Complete Series
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Entire Series 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Complete Series
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - Complete Series 
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  Complete Series
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 6  

All Around the Web - February 9, 2016

Doug Wilson - A Six-Inch Swath of Orange Shag

Eric Metaxas - A Genetic Pandora's Box

The Gospel Coalition - 3 Ways I Share in the Pastor’s Study

Barnabas Piper - 9 Ways to Be a Better Interviewer

Sci-News - Early Christian Church Found in Turkey

Aeon - How looting in Iraq unearthed the treasures of Gilgamesh

Independent Journal - Why the Guy Who Wore Stickers on his Cheeks at Hillary Clinton’s Speech Wore Stickers on his Cheeks

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is Karl Barth a Good Guy or a Bad Guy?

In his book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, Dr. Michael Bird offers a two page excursion on how we are to think of the greatest theologian of the 20th century: Karl Barth. Like the doctrine of God's impassibility, evangelical theologians are all over the map on this one. There are those who embrace Barth and his fellow neo-orthodox theologians while others refuse to call him friend. Bird, I believe, offers some real words of advice especially as he sets Barth in his historic and theological context.

He begins by noting four things we need to know about Barth. First, Karl Barth was not an evangelical, but a European Protestant wrestling with how to salvage Protestant Christianity in the wake of (191) the first world war. The Great War exposed the many weaknesses of liberal theology. Barth, then, was not an inerrantist or a revivalists, nor was he fighting the "battle of the Bible" wars.

Secondly, Karl Barth is on the side of the good guys when it comes to the major ecumenical doctrines (191) like the Trinity and the atonement. Barth is both orthodox and Reformed.

Thirdly, Barth arguably gives evangelicals some good tips about how to do theology over and against liberalism. The German theologian was not sparring against Billy Graham, Bird writes, or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, but the European liberal tradition from Friedrich Schleiermacher to Albert Ritschl (191).

Finally, and I believe this is the best point Bird makes:
Evangelicals and the neoorthodox tend to be rather hostile toward each other. Many evangelicals regard the neoorthodox as nothing more than liberalism reloaded, while many neoorthodox theologians regard evangelicals as a more culturally savvy version of fundamentalism. Not true on either score. Evangelicalism and neoorthodoxy are both theological renewal movements trying to find a biblical and orthodox center in the post-Enlightenment era. The evangelicals left fundamentalism and edged left toward a workable orthodox center. The neoorthodox left liberalism and edged right toward a workable orthodox center. Thus, evangelicalism and neoorthodoxy are more like sibling rivals striving to be the heirs of the Reformers in the post-Enlightenment age. (192)
Therefore, There is much in Karl Barth that evangelicals can benefit from. Barth's theology is christocentric and he placed a strong emphasis on God's transcendence, freedom, love, and "otherness." (192) There are, of course, many things not to like about Barth including his understanding of election that tends toward universalism and his rejection of inerrancy.

Yet Barth is not the bogeyman of evangelical theology that must be removed. At times he is a friend. At times he is not.

For more on Barth:
The Greatest Theologians
Where Have All the Apologist Gone?
"The Great Theologians" by Gerald McDermott: A Review   
The Great Theologians: An Interview with Gerald McDermott