Thursday, September 22, 2011

Intra-paradigm disputes: two recent examples

Given the content and topic of my last thread, I could not help but notice two recent online attacks directed at two prominent figures within the Evangelical paradigm: Dr. John Piper, and Dr. Pat Roberston.

The first example is a scathing critique of Dr. John Piper (a Baptist) by Dr. David Cloud (a Baptist) (1st installment; 2nd installment). Cloud's critique seems to have been primarily prompted by the following:

By his own testimony, the central principle of John Piper’s theology is “Christian Hedonism.” This is his term and he has defended it through the years against all challenges. He says it is “a philosophy that touches virtually every area of my life.” (See 1st installment.)

The second example is directed at certain comments recently made by Robertson, which came to my attention via an online Christianity Today article, with the inflammatory heading, Pat Robertson Repudiates the Gospel (published online 09-15-2011). [This article was a reproduction of a blog entry published on the same day by Dr. Russell D. Moore, under the less inflammatory Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson.]

Since I do not consider myself an 'expert' on the overall teachings and theologies of the parties involved in the above disputes, I am going to refrain from adding my own comments, and let my readers ponder over the issues without any interference from yours truly.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ken Temple on who is 'acceptable' for inclusion in his paradigm

Our Reformed Baptist brother in Christ, Ken Temple, and yours truly, have been engaged in some interesting dialogue (at least to me), in the combox of my most recent, prior thread (link). I have started this new thread to address some of the issues raised by Ken, and shall now provide a few quotes for context (quotes in red shall be from Ken's posts, and quotes in blue from my posts):

David Waltz wrote:
Let me ask you a question: what if your interpretation of the NT concerning the possibility of future revelation is wrong?

This is the same kind of skepticism that Dave Armstrong and my friend Rod Bennett, based on Newman and all the RC apologists play with Protestants of "what if your interpretation is wrong?" and "how do you know for sure?" and "how do you know for sure the Early church got the canon right?" etc. etc.

I just don't find that kind of skepticism compelling or practical or healthy, given what I do know about the NT and what it is says.

That kind of doubting leads to madness; and holding your position, means you never settle on anything. (SEPTEMBER 12, 2011 9:40 am POST)

In my subsequent response to Ken, I posted the following:

==That kind of doubting leads to madness; and holding your position, means you never settle on anything.==

Me: You "doubt" that Arminians are correct, that padeo-baptism is correct, that the three-fold ministry is correct, that baptismal regeneration is correct, etc. etc. I suspect that if you and sat down together that many, many more "doubts" would be established. (SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 11:51 am POST)

Later that same day, Ken fired back with:

I am frankly amazed that you put those in house Christian issues on the same level as the doctrinal issues and difference between NON-Christian systems such as JW, Mormonism, Islam, and Bahai'ism. But all of those things are secondary issues within Protestantism and Christendom - even the different ways of interpreting those issues within RC and EO, but Protestant groups have certain takes on all those issues.

But, JW, Mormonism, Islam, and Bahai'ism are all outside of Christianity, and to keep open possibility of further revelation means re-interpreting essentials like the incarnation, atonement, Deity of Christ, Trinity, etc. That is denial essential doctrine vs. secondary, debate-able doctrines and practices.

Don't you see those are on a completely different level?

Though I think RC and EO are wrong and preach a false gospel, RC being worse than EO ( IMO); they are still better than those other 4 false religions. ( SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 1:16 pm POST)

Some issues with Ken's responses:

First, Ken likes 'labels'; as with many apologists, it is a popular tool to identify/label someone who disagrees with you with something, and/or someone, who has been stigmatized by others within your 'club'/paradigm. Unfortunately, the 'labels' utilized by Ken are woefully inaccurate.

Second, Ken ignores the considerable 'common ground' that I have with 'historic' Christianity; in fact, a good deal of my understanding of Christian doctrine has a much greater historical pedigree than Ken's views.

Third (this is the area I am going to focus on in the rest of this post), Ken minimizes the important differences that exist within his accepted 'club'/paradigm; though he has termed his view as the Reformed Evangelical Biblical view, he has on numerous occasions included conservative Arminians and Lutherans in the broader Evangelical Biblical view which is 'acceptable' to him. Basically what Ken has done is establish in his mind what 'common' doctrines must be held, and what doctrines are 'acceptable', for one to be included in his understanding of the broader context.

Now, though Ken has yet to provide an exact, precise list of the 'common' doctrines that must be adhered to, as well as those that are 'acceptable', for one to be in his 'club', I have deduced from our discussions that one of those doctrines that must be 'common' is some form of 'Trinitarianism' which includes an Athanasian/Augustinian understanding of the term homoousios. Unfortunately, scholars within his 'club'/paradigm have pointed out that, "Today most Western Christians are practical modalists" [1]. And further, Calvin's teaching of the autotheos of the Son, which has become quite 'popular' among many who identify themselves within Ken's narrower Reformed Evangelical Biblical view, has recently been associated with "tri-theism" [2]. Fact is, so many of the understandings of 'Trinitarianism' within the Evangelical Biblical view are essentially either neo-modalistic, or neo-tritheistic (depending on how on defines homoousios and "person").

Moving on to the inclusion of Arminians as 'acceptable' members within the Evangelical Biblical view, I would like to reference Dr. Michael Horton's (a scholar within the narrower Reformed Evangelical Biblical view) telling essay, Evangelical Arminians: Option or Oxymoron [3]. I would like to encourage everyone to read this entire essay (links provided in the footnote), and as an enticement, shall provide a few selections:

A number of evangelical leaders met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago two years ago for the purpose of defining the term "evangelical," but many left as confused concerning what that label comprehends as they were when they arrived. It is becoming increasingly difficult to say what an evangelical is and is not. Basically, American evangelicalism divides, from the mid-eighteenth century on, into two traditions: revivalistic and Reformational (as in the 16th century Reformation). While the Great Awakening in America and the Evangelical Revival in Britain were examples of the harmony between reformation and revival, these eventually became rivals as the latter developed an Arminian theology. As the Arminian branch of revivalism gained the popular advantage, evangelicalism became increasingly shaped by human-centered theology on a popular level even while its principal works of systematic theology were reformed.
However, today we see a shift even within the evangelical theological leadership. Pinnock writes, "It is my strong impression, confirmed to me even by those not pleased by it, that Augustinian thinking is losing its hold on present-day Christians." Evangelists are not the only ones preaching an Arminian gospel: "It is hard to find a Calvinist theologian willing to defend Reformed theology, including the views of both Calvin and Luther, in all its rigorous particulars now that Gordon Clark is no longer with us and John Gerstner is retired...So I do not think I stand alone." The drift is on. Pinnock insists that Augustine was shaped by Greek thinking more than scripture and the reformers simply followed his mistakes, but that was acceptable for their time: "Just as Augustine came to terms with ancient Greek thinking, so we are making peace with the culture of modernity."

The purpose of these quotes is not to focus attention on one evangelical theologian's departure from Reformation theology, but to raise the question in very practical terms, "Is it possible to be an 'evangelical Arminian'?" In this article I attempt to defend a negative answer to that important question. (Bold emphasis mine.)

We later read:

The heart of the Reformation debate was, Who saves whom? Does God save sinners? Or do we save ourselves with God's help? The Roman Catholic Church was confused on that question throughout the Middle Ages, sharply divided at the time of the Reformation, but finally determined by the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century that the second answer was better. God's grace is the source, but human cooperation with that grace is what makes God's saving will effective. Thus, God justifies us by making us better and that involves our own participation.

The orthodox Protestants were not over-reacting, therefore, when they regarded the Arminian denials as no different from the positions of Trent, which had declared the evangelicals "anathema." It would have been bigoted for them, therefore, to regard Trent's position as unorthodox if they were unwilling to say the same of a similar "Protestant" deviation.

And towards the end, Dr. Horton does offer some hope to Arminians, Roman Catholics, and "others":

Having said that, it is equally important to realize that this is not a matter of bigotry or denominational pride. We will see non-evangelicals in heaven. As I reflect on views that I used to hold, it is sobering to say the least and it reminds me that the chances are pretty good that I have a good distance to go yet. While we must believe certain essential truths in order to be saved, we are not saved by the amount of doctrine that we know. There will doubtless be Roman Catholics, Arminians, and others in Paradise who were saved by God's grace even if they, like me, did not understand or appreciate that grace as much as they should have. Nevertheless, if we are going to still use "evangelical" as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary "evangelicalism."

I shall end this post with my summation of Ken's minimizing intra-paradigm tendencies: IMHO they are highly subjective, and at times, inaccurate.

Grace and peace,



[1] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 2004, p. 3.

[2] Laurent Cleenewerck, His Broken Body, 2007, p. 324. (See also THIS THREAD, for some further reflections.)

[3] Links to Dr. Horton's essay: Reformation Online; Modern Reformation.