Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Muslim apologist, Paul Williams, does not understand the deep teachings of John's Gospel


In this recent thread, the Muslim apologist, Paul Williams, isolates two verses from John's Gospel in a failed attempt to support his misguided Unitarian conception of the Godhead.

Paul isolates John 3:16 and 17:3 from passages in John's Gospel which speak to the divinity of God's only begotten Son—e.g. John 1:1; 1:14, 18; 5:18; 5:26; 20:28.

Paul fails to grasp that the "only true God" of John's Gospel (17:3) has an only begotten Son (His eternal Word), who was with Him before the "beginning"—that He created "all things through him"—and that this Son/Word "was God" (see John 1:1,3, 14, 18, 20:28).

This "only true God", is the "one God" of the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) who has begotten, "the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God". This "Son of God", was begotten "from the essence/substance of the Father", and is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God". (Link to the Nicene Creed.)

Augustine has elaborated at length on the truths of the Bible that were promulgated in the Nicene Creed. The following are a few germane selections from his extensive works:

...we understand that the Son is not indeed less than, but equal to the Father, but yet that He is from Him, God of God, Light of light. For we call the Son God of God; but the Father, God only; not of God. (On the Trinity, II.2 - NPNF 3.38 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Father certainly is the Father of the Son; but the Son is called God of God, the Son is called Light of Light; the Father is called Light, but not, of Light, the Father is called God, but not, of God. (On the Gospel of John, XXXIX.1 - NPNF 3.38)

Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (On Faith and the Creed, 9.18 -NPNF 3.328-329 - bold emphasis mine.)

Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son to have life in himself (Jn. 5:26). As he had, as he gave; what he had, he gave; he gave the same king he had; he gave as much as he had. All the things which the Father has are the Son's. Therefore, the Father gave to the Son nothing less than the Father has. The Father did not lose the life he gave to the Son. By living, he retains the life he gave by begetting. The Father himself is life, and the Son himself is life. Each of them has what he is, but the one is life from no one, while the other is life from life. (Answer to Maximinis the Arian, II.7 - The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1.18, Arianism and other Heresies, p. 284 - bold emphasis mine.)

Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 -NPNF 3.324 - bold emphasis mine.)

Only one natural Son, then, has been begotten of the very substance of the Father, and having the same nature as the father: God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 - FC 27.323 - bold emphasis mine.)

Being Son by nature he was born uniquely of the substance of the Father, being what the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (Faith and the Creed 4.6 - LCC, Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 357 - bold emphasis mine.)

[See THIS THREAD for related quotes and reflections on this topic.]

And so I ask, which understanding of John's Gospel is the fuller, more accurate one: that of Paul Williams, or that of the Nicene Creed and Augustine?


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Jack Chick's earthly sojourn ends


I finally finished reading a good number of books that I have received over the last few weeks, allowing me to visit some internet sites that I like to check in on from time to time. Whilst browsing through the First Things blog, I noticed a post from 10-31-16 (link) that mentioned the recent death [10-23-16] of the controversial polemicist Jack Chick. [IMO, the entire post is worth reading.]

I first became aware of Jack Chick in the early 1980s when a good friend (who was also an employee of mine) gave me a couple of comics from Chick's Crusaders series (link). My friend was/is an ardent independent Baptist. The pastor of the church he was attending at that time was a huge fan of Chick's books, comics and tracts, and he encouraged his flock to distribute Chick's tracts to individuals they knew and would meet. (They would also leave the tracts at pretty much any establishment they would visit.)

Through the coaxing of my friend, I ended up attending a number of independent Baptist churches, and spent a good deal of time studying their history and theology. To this day, I remain a bit amazed at the widespread acceptance and  influence of Jack Chick's publications within the independent Baptist movement as a whole. The following are some good online articles on Jack Chick:


   
And just yesterday, First Things published another post on JC:


Would be interested in hearing from others who may have had some experience with Jack Chick's publications in their life.


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, October 31, 2016

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"




I am going to reserve comment on the quotation from the title of this thread until the end of this post, focusing instead, for now, on Alister McGrath's, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, which I recently finished reading (link to Google Books preview).

I had actually purchased this book—along with a number of others—a few months back, but did not get around to reading it until just a few days ago. Dr. McGrath is one of my favorite Protestant authors, especially his works on Christian history (both history proper, as well as historical theology), and this book did not disappoint. If one is looking for a polemical treatment on the subject he addresses, don't bother purchasing the book; but, if one is looking for concise, objective and balanced contribution, definitely get a hold of a copy.

His introduction sets the tone (of course) for the book, beginning with some reflections on the July 1998 Lambeth Conference. From the pen of Dr. McGrath we read:

In July 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion met in the historic English cathedral city of Canterbury for their traditional Lambeth Conference, held every ten  years. The intention was to address the many challenges and opportunities that Anglicanism faced worldwide...The bishops gathered every day for prayer and Bible study, a powerful affirmation of the role of the Bible in sustaining Christian unity, guiding the church in turbulent times, and nourishing personal spirituality.

But how was the Bible to be interpreted...

How, many Anglicans wondered, could the Bible be the basis for their identify and unity when there was such obvious disunity on how it was to be understood? How could a text-based movement have a coherent inner identify when there was such a clear and fundamental disagreement on how that text was to be interpreted and applied on an issue of critical importance?

The idea that lay at the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which brought Anglicanism and the other Protestant churches into being, was that the Bible is capable of being understood by all Christian believers—and that they all have the right to interpret it and to insist upon their perspectives being taken seriously. Yet this powerful affirmation of spiritual democracy ended up unleashing forces that threatened to destabilize the church, eventually leading to fissure and formation of breakaway groups...

The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves. However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted. (Pages 1, 2)

On the next page, he raises two very important questions:

Who has the authority to define its faith? Who has the right to interpret its fundamental document, the Bible? (Page 3)

This is followed with:

The outbreak of the Peasant's War in 1525 brought home to Luther that his new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable. If every individual was able to interpret the Bible as he pleased, the outcome could only be anarchy and radical individualism. Too late, Luther tried to rein in the movement by emphasizing the importance of authorized leaders, such as himself, and institutions in the interpretation of the Bible. But who, his critics asked, "authorized" these so-called authorities? (Page 3 - bold emphasis mine.)

The above questions are repeated throughout the book. In addition to strict individualism, the issue of competing "authorities" creating fragmentation almost from the very beginning of the Protestant revolt/revolution are raised. Dr. McGrath states that, "There was no single Wittenberg reforming program, no single approach to biblical interpretation and application" (p. 65).

Is it any wonder that such problems were greatly magnified as the revolt/revolution spread from Wittenberg?

McGrath moves on from Wittenberg to Zurich and Zwingli, then to the Anabaptists; and in chapter 4, to John Calvin. Chapter 5 is devoted to England and the "Emergence of Anglicanism", which is followed by "European Protestantism in Crisis, 1560–1800" (ch. 6), and then "Protestantism in America" (ch. 7).

Questions concerning authority and interpretation continue. Chapter 10, "The Bible and Protestantism" is excellent, containing reflections on the issues of sola scriptura, translations, commentaries, lectionaries, theological works and the canon.

On page 209, he writes:

Since every Protestant has the right to interpret the Bible, a wide range of interpretations cannot be avoided. And since there is no centralized authority within Protestantism, this proliferation of options cannot be controlled. Who has the right to decide what is orthodox and what is heretical?

And just a bit later he states:

Over the years, each strand of Protestantism developed its own way of understanding and implementing the sola Scriptura principle.

Dr. McGrath has added confirmation to many important issues that have been raised here at AF. From almost the beginning of this blog, I have pointed out that the assessments of A.N.S. Lane in his important article, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey” (LINK ), raise some serious, unanswered problems for the Protestant paradigm. The following quotation from Lane's work has been published at the bottom of the right side-bar of this blog for nearly a decade now:

The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)

And back in Nov. 2009, I posted the following from yet another Reformed author:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Clearly, the questions of individual interpretation and authority outside the Bible itself raised by Dr. McGrath are/were also on the minds of Lane and Mathison.

And so, with all this in mind, I shall ask: how does one determine which interpretation of the Bible is the correct one? And further, is there an authority in place which/who has the approval from God himself to provide the correct interpretation of His Word?

Now, back to the opening quotation/title of this thread:

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"

This quotation is from Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (page 3, of Mackey's English trans., third edition, 1909 - PDF version available online HERE).

For anyone who has ever pondered over the questions raised by Dr. McGrath, I sincerely think that you owe it to yourself to read de Sales thoughtful answers.


Grace and peace,

David 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Recommendation - Christopher Beeley's, The Unity of Christ - Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition



This is the second book of Christopher Beeley's published works that I have now read. I first became aware of Dr. Beeley via a link provided by Iohannes in THIS COMMENT. [See also this Google Books Preview.]

I was thoroughly impressed by his, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, so when I discovered The Unity of Christ during some recent online research, I knew I had to obtain it—I was not disappointed—this book has reinforced my opinion that Dr. Beeley is firmly establishing himself as one of the most gifted Patristic scholars of the early 21st century.

In The Unity of Christ, Dr. Beeley delves into the theology of the following Church Fathers: Origen of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and Leo the Great, with an emphasis on development of doctrine and the formation of the early creeds produced by the councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451).

Though all the chapters of the book are quite good, I particularly appreciated the one devoted to Eusebius of Caesarea (chapter 2, pp. 49-104). For a number of years now, I have felt that Eusebius' theological contributions have been either ignored or significantly under appreciated by most patristic scholars. Dr. Beeley is of the same opinion; he demonstrates that Eusebius offers much more than his valuable history of the Church, and that he was a major contributor concerning the issue of the monarchy of God the Father.

Anyway, I wanted to bring this excellent book to the attention of readers who have an interest in patristic studies. Selections from the book can be read online via this, Google Books Preview.

For those who make the decision to purchase the book, I would be very interested in hearing from you once you have had the opportunity to read it.


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, July 18, 2016

Justin Brierley's simple, yet insightful, argument for the existence of God


Justin Brierley, the host of Premier Christian Radio's show, Unbelievable? (link), recently presented the following argument for the existence of God:




Grace and peace,

David

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Augustine - on the causality of the Son from the Father and the monarchy of God the Father


Back on March 8, 2013, I published a thread under the title: Which Augustine ???. In the opening post, I wrote:

Keeping in mind the distinction between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity drawn by a number of patristic and theological scholars of the last few decades, one will find that the following selections are more in line with the Greek/Eastern approach.

In addition to the contrast mentioned above, many of those scholars who have sided with the so-called 'Greek/Eastern' approach, also included some harsh criticisms of Augustine's elucidations on the doctrine of the Trinity. However, beginning with my aforementioned post on Augustine, I started to notice some serious flaws with those who maintained such views. One defect is the failure to realize that a good deal of semantic confusion existed among many post-Nicene Church Fathers. I have come to discern that many of the supposed distinctions entail little more than a lack of precision on the part of those CFs who were actually attempting to defend/explain the same concepts. One such concept was the eternal generation of the Son of God from the God the Father.

To my knowledge—unlike a number of modern Evangelical scholars who deny the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father (see THIS THREAD for some examples)—every post-Nicene Church Father who wrote in depth on the doctrine of the Trinity affirmed the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God by/from God the Father; it wasn't until the Reformation period that this centuries old doctrine was denied by some Trinitarians (the important/relevant debates over eternal generation are intra-Trinitarian, for all non-Trinitarians deny it).

When the concept of the generation of the Son of God from God the Father is affirmed, one cannot avoid the implication of causality. But if one affirms the causal relationship between the Father and the Son, how does one avoid the charge of either Arianism or Tritheism? A number of post-Nicene CFs avoided such charges by embracing three important concepts: first, the generation of the Son of God from the God the Father is an eternal begetting, not a temporal creation; second, this eternal begetting includes the full communication of the Father's ousia/essence/substance to the Son without any loss—or as the original Nicene Creed phrases it, 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father'; and third, the affirmation of God the Father as the fount/source of divinity. [It is important to point out these three concepts form the foundational aspects of what I have termed, 'Nicene Monarchism'—more commonly known as the monarchy of God the Father—and importantly, all three entail causality.]

Though all the Catholic/Orthodox post-Nicene CFs who wrote at length on the doctrine of the Trinity clearly affirmed the doctrine of eternal generation, the same clarity concerning the latter two concepts were not always as transparent—this is where the aforementioned semantic confusion comes into play—but with that said, I am now convinced that even though some post-Nicene CFs did not explicitly affirm the last two concepts, they actually did so via terminology that can be confusing if one does not take into account all of what they wrote concerning the issues at hand. The rest of this post will focus on Augustine, and whether or not his overall theology affirms that the Son is, 'born/begotten from the substance of the Father', as well as the Father as the fount/source of divinity. I have chosen Augustine because my earlier readings of his writings—influenced by the consensus of modern patristic scholars who upheld the so-called distinction between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity—led me to believe that he denied the third concept, and probably the second. However, my more recent readings have reversed these conclusions—I am now convinced that Augustine's overall theology upholds the Nicene teaching that the Son is 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father' (not just from His 'person'), and that the Father is the fount/source of divinity. As such, I have also come to the conclusion that Augustine was also an advocate of the monarchy of God the Father.

Now, it is relatively straightforward to demonstrate that Augustine taught the Son is 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father', for in a number of places in his writings he explicitly says so. I shall begin with a quote I already provided in the above mentioned thread, adding the Latin text, and two more English translations:

Naturalis ergo Filius de ipsa Patris substantia unicus natus est, id existens quod Pater est; Deus de Deo, Lumen de Lumine. (De Fide et Simbolo, 4.6)

Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 -NPNF 3.324 - bold emphasis mine.)

Only one natural Son, then, has been begotten of the very substance of the Father, and having the same nature as the father: God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 - FC 27.323 - bold emphasis mine.)

Being Son by nature he was born uniquely of the substance of the Father, being what the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (Faith and the Creed 4.6 - LCC, Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 357 - bold emphasis mine.)

And from his On the Trinity we read:

...the Father is not anything unless because He has the Son; so that not only that which is meant by Father (which it is manifest He is not called relatively to Himself but to the Son, and therefore is the Father because He has the Son), but that which He is in respect to His own substance is so called, because He begat His own essence. (VII.1 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the love in the Father, which is in His ineffably simple nature, is nothing else than His very nature and substance itself,—as we have already often said, and are not ashamed of often repeating. And hence the "Son of His love," is none other than He who is born of His substance. (XV.37 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

Wherefore the logic of Eunomius, from whom the Eunomian heretics sprang, is ridiculous. For when he could not understand, and would not believe, that the only-begotten Word of God, by which all things were made, is the Son of God by nature, i.e. born of the substance of the Father... (XV.38 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

And so, we see that Augustine explicitly affirmed the teaching from the original Nicene Creed (325) that the Son is, 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father'.

But Augustine's elucidations on the causality of the Son also include phraseology which strongly suggests that Father is the fount/source of deity/divinity, which means that he was also an advocate of the monarchy of God the Father. IMO, the following selections—when reflected on objectively—support my assessments:

That then which the Lord says, "Whom I will send unto you from the Father," shows the Spirit to be both of the Father and of the Son; because, also, when He had said, "Whom the Father will send," He added also, "in my name." Yet He did not say, Whom the Father will send from me, as He said, "Whom I will send unto you from the Father," showing, namely, that the Father is the beginning (principium) of the whole divinity, or if it is better so expressed, deity. He, therefore, who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, is referred back to Him from whom the Son was born (natus). (On the Trinity, IV.29 - NPNF 3.85 - bold emphasis mine.)

...we understand that the Son is not indeed less than, but equal to the Father, but yet that He is from Him, God of God, Light of light. For we call the Son God of God; but the Father, God only; not of God. (On the Trinity, II.2 - NPNF 3.38 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Father certainly is the Father of the Son; but the Son is called God of God, the Son is called Light of Light; the Father is called Light, but not, of Light, the Father is called God, but not, of God. (On the Gospel of John, XXXIX.1 - NPNF 3.38)

Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (On Faith and the Creed, 9.18 -NPNF 3.328-329 - bold emphasis mine.)

Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son to have life in himself (Jn. 5:26). As he had, as he gave; what he had, he gave; he gave the same king he had; he gave as much as he had. All the things which the Father has are the Son's. Therefore, the Father gave to the Son nothing less than the Father has. The Father did not lose the life he gave to the Son. By living, he retains the life he gave by begetting. The Father himself is life, and the Son himself is life. Each of them has what he is, but the one is life from no one, while the other is life from life. (Answer to Maximinis the Arian, II.7 - The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1.18, Arianism and other Heresies, p. 284 - bold emphasis mine.)

I firmly believe the above selections from Augustine demonstrate that he must be included with other CFs (e.g. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary) who affirmed the monarchy of God the Father. But, I suspect that some folk will need further confirmation to convince them; as such, I am including the assessment of a highly respected 20th century patristic scholar—the Catholic theologian, Yves Congar, d. 1995—which supports my view. Note the following from his third volume of, I Believe in the Holy Spirit:

Clearly Augustine must be mentioned first, because he had such a deep influence on Western thinking and, although he did not initiate the idea, continued to be the major source in the question of the Filioque. He said, for example: 'The Father is the principle of all-divinity or, to be more precise, of the deity, because he does not take his origin from anything else. He has no one from whom he has his being or from whom he proceeds, but it is by him that the Son is begotten and from him that the Holy Spirit proceeds.'[19] Later in the same treatise, he reaffirms this conviction: 'The Son has all that he has from the Father; he therefore has from the Father that the Holy Spirit (also) proceeds from him.'[20] This 'also' is my insertion, not Augustine's. Augustine, on the contrary, expresses the monarchy of the father in the following words: 'It is not in vain that God the Father is called the one by whom the Word is begotten, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. I have added principaliter, "principally", because the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son. But it is the Father who gave it to him.'[21]  This principaliter has very strong import—it expresses the idea of the first and absolute source. (I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Volume III - The River of the Water of Life (Rev. 22:1) Flows in the East and the West, pp. 134, 135 - bold emphasis mine.)

NOTES

19. Augustine, De Trin. IV, 20, 29 (PL 42, 908); this text is frequently quoted, for example, by Peter Lombard, I Sent., 29, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas and even Leo XIII, in his encyclical Divinum illud munus of 9 May 1897 (DS 3326).
20. De Trin. XV, 26, 47 (PL 42, 1094).
21. De Trin. XV, 17, 29 (PL 42, 1081); 26, 47 (PL 42, 1095, principaliter); Contra Maxim. II, 14 (PL 42, 770). The word also occurred in Tertullian; see Adv. Prax. III, 3. Tertullian used it to affirm the of the Father in begetting the Son. (Ibid. 141.)

Though I have been aware of Augustine's somewhat famous phrase, "The Father is the principle of all-divinity" (totius divinitatis...principium pater est), for a number of years now (and that it was referenced by Peter Lombard, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas), I was not aware this phrase was quoted by Leo XIII. And further, it wasn't until I had read Congar's assessment that I fully equated this phrase with the monarchy of God the Father. With that said, I would like to suggest to those who read this thread that they seriously reflect on the evidence that has been presented, and then ask themselves if my reassessment of Augustine is accurate.

I shall bring this post to an end by acknowledging that my research into certain elements of Augustine's Trinitarian thought since my March 8, 2013 thread has not been an 'easy' endeavor; but, it has certainly has been an informative and rewarding one. I sincerely hope that others will find some value in my continued efforts.


Grace and peace,

David