Thursday, April 30, 2009

Strawbridge vs. White Debate on Baptism - Some Caveats

Coram Deo at Defending Contending (link) has a post discussing the issue of infant baptism and the new covenant and promoting a debate between Dr. James White and Greg Strawbridge on the topic of infant baptism.

He writes:
Yet precisely WHAT does Christ mediate to those who are baptized as infants and grow to adulthood, but who never come to faith in Him? Listen to the debate below to hear the shocking response to this question by infant baptism apologist Dr. Gregg Strawbridge, editor of “The Case for Covenental Infant Baptism”.
I think it is worth noting that Strawbridge doesn't represent the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position on the topic. Instead, he represents the view of those within the Federal Vision movement.

While Strawbridge is a legitimate target as representative of the Federal Vision, as to the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position, Strawbridge is a straw man: he does not represent the historic Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) position on the subject.

Why my "(Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican)"? Because, of course, it's normal also to include other groups as Reformed, such as Reformed Baptists. That group (Reformed Baptists) was already represented in the debate by my friend Dr. James White (with whom, as everyone knows, I disagree amicably on this subject).

While I think Dr. White did a great job in the debate, and while it may be edifying to hear the debate, I hope people will not listen to it thinking that Strawbridge represents the Reformed (Westminster/Savoy/Dordt/Helvetican) side. Personally, I would like to see Dr. White debate Strawbridge on the issue of justification, since that seems to be a more central problem with the Federal Vision movement.

With all those caveats, for those interested in the debate: (part 1) (part 2)


The Weakest Argument Against the Spiritual Presence

I recently received the pleasure of a comment from someone who has been following this blog for a long time, a reader who uses the handle "Orthodox" ("O" for short). O doesn't necessarily represent Eastern Orthodoxy, but he does provide comments against the Reformed position.

O writes: "In too many places to list, Augustine says that the Eucharist IS Christ's body and becomes Christ's body. He doesn't say it becomes Christ's spirit."

Agreed, both as to Augustine saying that (though certainly not in too many places to list) and as to that being what happens. The Eucharist IS Christ's body and blood, and the bread, by being consecrated for the particular purpose, becomes Christ's body, while the cup (or more specifically its contents) become the blood of Christ.

They are not and do not become Christ's spirit and Augustine does not say so (which poses interesting problems for transubstantiation, but since Eastern Orthodoxy doesn't teach transubstantiation, that's not necessarily a problem for O).

Nevertheless, Christ is spiritually (or mystically, if you prefer) present in the sacrament. We don't derive this from the words of institution (this is my body etc.) but from other parts of Scripture. This spiritual presence does not imply any physical change in the elements, nor does it imply that Christ's spirit is somehow contained within the elements. When we feed on Christ (and we do) in the sacrament, it is not through the act of grinding our teeth and digesting the physical substances, but by faith.

O continued: "What would Augustine have to say to convince you, that is the question I have to ask. Anything that could be said in favor of our position, he did say."

As noted previously, there is no particular reason that the Eastern Orthodox view of the mystical presence needs to be set against the Reformed view (and Augustine's view) of the spiritual presence. What Augustine would NOT say if he held to transubstantiation were things like: "Christ deprived them of his bodily presence."

Positively, there are any number of ways that Augustine could have indicated that he meant that Christ was present in more than just a spiritual (or mystical) sense. He did not express himself in those terms, but instead made fairly clear comments to the contrary.

O concluded: "You say the argument is about bodily presence versus spiritual presence. Fine, Augustine says it is Christ's body, so you lose, end of discussion."

This is what I call the "weakest argument against the spiritual presence." As I have noted over and over again, even someone who views the sacrament is merely symbolic could use those expressions.

Even those who hold to a bare symbolic view of the Eucharist affirm that the bread is the body of Christ and the cup is his blood: they simply understand those terms analogically. Perhaps an illustration would help:

Imagine boys playing capture the flag in the woods: there are two teams, the red team and the blue team. The boys from the red team huddle around in a small circle, while their leader draws a map in the dust. "This rock," says the leader, "is Blue's camp. "And this stick," he continued, carefully placing a slender branch next to the rock, "is the creek."

Now, who in their right mind would think that the leader meant that the rock was transubstantiated into the Blue team's base, and who would think that the leader transmogrified the stick into a creek? No one would think that. Everyone would correctly understand that a symbolic sense is intended by the expression "This rock is Blue's camp" and "this stick is the creek." But for some reason (tradition!) people have trouble recognizing the obvious fact that "this is my body" and "this is my blood" were similar statements that shouldn't be understood transubstantially but according to their most obvious sense: representatively and analogically.


Watson on Man's Heart

"The heart is a jewel that God lays claim to, and it is kept for Him." (For the whole message - click here).


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Responses to Audience Questions About the Substitionary Atonement Debate

I've received a couple of comments on the Substitutionary Atonement debate. One of the commenters was someone using the nick "Michael". Michael asked:

1) What do you mean by "wrath of God?" Is it the same thing as Godforsakenness or is there a distinction? Has there ever been a case or will there ever be a case of a person who has been regenerated and justified experiencing the wrath of God?

I answer:

I believe that when Scripture speaks of the wrath of God being upon Christ and upon the reprobate it is intended to convey that judgment is coming against them. That judgment took the form of an horrible and excruciatingly painful death for Christ, and the form of eternal torment in hell for the reprobate: for all those who do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone, for salvation.

But those who are regenerated and justified will also be glorified, as the Scriptures teach. Therefore, the wrath of God will not come upon them, although it was hanging over them before they were converted.

2)Nick cited a number of Reformed authors. Do you agree or disagree with their statements?

I answer:

I don't agree that Nick's quotations accurately represent the teachings of all of the Reformed authors that he quoted. This is something I want to address at greater length in the future. I think Nick's fundamental objection seems to be that he doesn't see how the Father could have wrath toward the Son: but the Father quite clearly gave over the Son to die for the elect. On any analogical level, mere wrath is less than giving someone over to death. So, Nick's objection is rather irrational, because he objects to the gnat while swallowing the camel.

3) Do you believe Nick gave an accurate presentation of the Catholic position on the atonement?

I answer:

I assume you mean the Roman Catholic position. There is no "universal" (Catholic) teaching among the Christian church on this doctrine, since Christians can (and do) disagree with each other over doctrines that are not fundamental to the faith (and understanding the atonement in a very detailed way is not fundamental).

Nick didn't really provide any support for the "Catholicity" (in either sense, i.e. as being Roman Catholic or as being universal) of his position, he just asserted it. That was one of my criticism of Nick's presentation: he provided no coherent, cogent alternative.

Nick did seem to argue for a pure commercial satisfaction view. Whether that it is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, I leave for others to say. I cannot recall (offhand) any "infallible" teaching in Catholicism that would necessitate that, while I can think of fallible teachings within Catholicism (especially at the liberal end of Catholicism's spectrum) that would contradict that (link).

Nick's position certainly is not the position of the early church, as was demonstrated over and over again in the debate. In fact, the Reformers may have explained the doctrine in ways that are more clear than many of the medieval predecessors, but the basic doctrine that Christ's death was to satisfy God's justice on behalf of sinners is found not only in the medieval writers but in the early writers of Christianity.


Veneration of Mary Debate with William Albrecht (aka GNRHead)

This is a debate that was conducted on 25 April 2009 between TurretinFan and William Albrecht (aka GNRHead) on the topic of the Veneration of Mary and its Biblical Support (or lack thereof).

At some later point I would like to provide some further comments on this debate. For now, however, here it is for your listening pleasure. It is in five parts on YouTube, but hopefully the "playlist" feature will permit you to play them sequentially.

UPDATE: Lane has posted the entire debate as a single YouTube video here (link).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paradoxes and the Christian Faith

Those following the Reformed blogosphere have no doubt witnessed occasional fireworks over the issue of paradox between my brethren who prefer the philosophy of Gordon Clark (whose most prominent disciple was John Robbins) and those who prefer the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (whose most prominent disciple was Greg Bahnsen). As one might expect from fireworks, a great deal both of heat and light have been generated, and the occasional spectator has been injured or at least annoyed by some of the falling ash.

What is the primary issue? The primary issues seems to be over the issue of "paradox." There are places in Van Til's writings where it seems he simply loves paradoxes, whereas Clark is firmly opposed to paradoxes.

How can the two sides disagree? One area where the two sides disagree is over the semantic range of "paradox." If one reads Clark, one may get the distinct impression that Clark views "paradox" as only referring to real logical contradictions, whereas those who follow Van Til seem to think that Van Til is using "paradox" to refer only to apparent contradictions.

But is that all? No. Of course, that is not all. Clark more or less explicitly eschews the idea of paradox, where as Van Til (and/or his followers) seem to embrace it. Clark's followers view the followers of Van Til as irrational, and the view from the opposite direction is of Clark as excessively dependent on human reason.

What are the impacts? Clark and Van Til appear to differ in their understanding of the knowability of God. Van Til, for example, appears to permit there to be "paradoxes" that cannot be resolved with the human mind, but which can be resolved with the divine mind, because men and God think in qualitatively different ways. Clark would reject this, suggesting that any apparent paradoxes are more likely due to error, a lack of human effort, or a lack of revelation to provide the resolution.

To me the approach of Van Til sounds as though it magnifies God (by describing his knowledge as qualitatively different from ours) but it seems to contradict the Scriptural testimony that suggests that God wishes to communicate clearly truth to human beings. If what we know is not qualitatively the same as what God knows, how can anything we know truly be said to be "truth"?

I realize that perhaps this is only an apparent contradiction. However, for us to function, I think Clark's model is more reasonable: do not posit that there are irresolvable "paradoxes" because this may amount simply to throwing up one's hands when faced with a challenging problem. We should not welcome "paradox" but rather be concerned by apparent contradictions, because apparent contradictions may be actual contradictions, in which case at least one thing we previously held was false.

For Christians in particular, the lesson is that we should search the Scriptures diligently to confirm doctrines. If the Scriptures contradict the doctrines we hold, we must be careful not to simply wave our hands and call this a "paradox." Rather we need to carefully investigate whether or not the Scripture really contradicts our doctrine (in which case, our doctrine must change) or whether the initially perceived contradiction was simply apparent.

I have tried to be fair both to Clark and Van Til in the preceding paragraphs. Nevertheless, I welcome those of their contemporary disciples who would wish to disabuse me of my perceptions, should I be in error. I suppose I would consider myself a student of Clark's to a greater extent than Van Til (having read more books by the former than the latter), and I do not mean to write off everything good that Van Til may have had to say about other subjects by this criticism on the issue of paradox and the difference (alleged to exist) between the quality of man's knowledge and of God's.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Atonement Debate vs. Catholicism - Complete

"Catholic Nick" and I have concluded the debate we were having on the Atonement. One can access all the parts of that debate via an index page that I have created (link) or via the debate blog more generally (link). Between the two, the index page may be easier to use.



Morality and Piranhas

This video responds to a video by YouTube user Thunderf00t, entitled "Why do people laugh at Creationists? (part 29)"

In my video, I explain a few of the fundamental flaws in the argument that Thunderf00t uses. Thunderf00t argues that piranhas are vicious killing machines, but they do not (generally) attack each other. Thunderf00t asserts that piranhas do not believe in God, but they do not do whatever they want to do.

I observe that Thunderf00t is unable to enter the psyche of fish to determine whether (in fact) they believe in God. I also note that Thunderf00t is unable to enter the psyche of fish to determine whether (in fact) they do not do whatever they want to do. In short, I note that Thunderf00t's entire set of premises relative to his argument are based on his own untestable assumptions regarding the psyche of fish.

From there, we turn to an investigation of his attempted application to human beings. We note that he claims that the same purely naturalistic mechanism that gives fish a code of morality also gives human beings a morality.

However, we note that we can get inside the human psyche and discover that, in general, human beings do believe in a divine law-giver and do intuitively understand that principles of right and wrong imply absolute and transcendent standards of right and wrong. Thus, if fish operate as humans do, we would expect to find that they too believe in God, in divine morality, and so forth. In short, Thunderf00t's hypothesis of sameness between fish and humans actually undermines his argument.

Finally, we conclude that Thunderf00t's argument is just another irrational attempt to deny that the moral law, written in the consciences even of atheists, comes from the moral law giver. While Thunderf00t attempts to go ad hominem on Ravi Zacharias, he has no cogent argument for morality being produced through purely natural mechanisms.