Sovereign Grace, Regeneration and Humble Calvinism

Salvation is Solely the Work of God
One of the hallmarks of Calvinism is monergism, that is, the biblical conviction that we are born again by God working alone (mono = one). God is the only active agent in our rebirth because the depravity of sin has rendered fallen man totally unable to believe in Christ. God’s sovereign grace actualizes salvation, beginning with effectual calling and regeneration, the process whereby the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit recreates fallen human nature and enables sinners to believe in Christ. In this regard, regeneration precedes faith. In contrast, synergism (Arminianism) teaches that we are born again by divine-human cooperation, each contributing its part to accomplish regeneration (syn = together). Synergism is possible because sinners retain sufficient ability to believe in Christ. Effectively, this mean that God offers potential salvation which is actualized only when a sinner believes.

The Canons of Dort (1618-1619), which is one of the foundational doctrinal documents of the Calvinist Reformation, resolutely rejects synergism in one of its affirmations. Continue reading “Sovereign Grace, Regeneration and Humble Calvinism”

Predestination and the Beginning of New Birth – Pelagianism-Arminianism-Calvinism

The expiatory work of Christ which is sufficient for, adapted to and freely offered to all men, being presupposed, the question of questions is, How, by what agencies and on what conditions, is it effectually applied to any individual? The Scriptures make it plain that the condition of its effectual application is an act of faith, involving real spiritual repentance and the turning from sin and the acceptance and selfappropriation of Christ and of his redemption as the only remedy. But what will prompt a sinner in love with his sin, spiritually blind and callous, thus to repent and accept Christ as the cure of the sin he loves? The first movement cannot begin with man. The sinner of himself cannot really desire deliverance from sin; of himself he cannot appreciate the attractive beauty, loveliness or saving power of Christ. The dead man cannot spontaneously originate his own quickening, nor the creature his own creating, nor the infant his own begetting. Whatever man may do after regeneration, the first quickening of the dead must originate in the first instance with God. All Christians feel this as the most intimate conviction of their souls. Yet it involves necessarily this very doctrine of eternal predestination or election. If God begins the work, if our believing follows his quickening, then it is God, not man, who makes the difference between the quickened and the unquickened. If we believe, it is because we have been first quickened. If any man does not believe, it is because he is yet dead in his natural sin. God’s eternal choice therefore cannot depend upon foreseen faith, but, on the contrary, faith must depend upon God’s eternal choice. Continue reading “Predestination and the Beginning of New Birth – Pelagianism-Arminianism-Calvinism”

Calling for Papers for Kairos Theological Symposium 2023

What is a symposium? It is 1) A conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject, or 2) A drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet.

Date of Symposium: Saturday 11 Feb 2023
Venue: Petaling Jaya

Time: 9.00 am to 3.00 pm

I. Kairos Research Centre is convening two theological symposiums for the year 2023 (Feb 2023 and Sept 2023).

II. The symposium will discuss papers addressing issues in 1) Systematic Theology, 2) Biblical Studies, 3) Contemporary Issues and 4) Asian Church History and Mission.

The symposium will be held from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm on Saturday 11 Feb 2023. Five papers will be presented for discussion. Instead of a Greek banquet, there will be free coffee. Lunch will also be provided. Yes, there is still free lunch in today’s world.

III. Calling for Papers
Kairos is calling for papers (2500-4000 words) to be presented at the symposium. Each paper writer-presenter will be given a small honorarium of RM 200. Continue reading “Calling for Papers for Kairos Theological Symposium 2023”

Unity and Composition of Deuteronomy as a Covenant Treaty

“You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God…so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Deut. 29:10,13

A number of scholars have argued convincingly that there is a relationship in form between the Hebrew covenant and the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty…

In its classical form, the Near Eastern vassal treaty has the following component parts:

1. Preamble (“These are the words . . .”).
2. Historical Prologue (“antecedent history,” i.e., events leading to and forming the basis of the treaty).
3. General Stipulations (statement of substance concerning the future relationship, which (1) is intimately related to the antecedent history, and (2) summarizes the purpose of the specific stipulations).
4. Specific Stipulations.
5. Divine Witnesses: various deities are called to witness the treaty.
6. Blessings and Curses: relating respectively to the maintenance or breach of the covenant. Continue reading “Unity and Composition of Deuteronomy as a Covenant Treaty”

Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document

One of the prominent features of contemporary historical criticism is to dissect the bible into discrete units which are taken to represent the earlier historical sources and literary traditions which underlie the biblical text. Having identified these historical sources, critical scholars then analyze how they are pieced together into the various books of the bible. As an example, critical scholars argue that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. According to critical scholars, the Pentateuch did not originate with Moses (~1400 BC), but were finally complied by some unknown redactors during the Jewish Babylonian exile (~400 BC).

Presumably, this critical historical exercise would enable scholars to gain insights into the literary intentions or ideological biases of the final redactors of the presently preserved biblical text. This exercise may enable scholars to speculate on the history of the composition of the text. But one wonders whether the critical approach may lead scholars to miss the forest for the trees, that is, to be so focused on the discrete and artificially constructed fragments of the text that they overlook the meaning of the bible which becomes evident when one reads the books of the bible holistically.

An alternative approach to the historical-critical reading of the bible would be to take the bible on its own terms, that is, to read the bible holistically. Meredith Kline argues that such a holistic reading is necessary because the bible is in its literary-formal form a covenantal document, and that biblical canon must be read holistically as a treaty-canon. Continue reading “Reading the Bible as a Covenantal Document”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology

Our earlier discussion on the resurrected Christ as the life-giving Spirit leads us to consider how crucial the resurrection of Christ is in Pauline soteriology, seen especially in 1 Cor. 15. There is a debate over who Paul’s Corinthian opponents really were. /1/ Some suggest that they were those who because of Hellenistic philosophy denied the resurrection of the body or flesh and looked for a survival of the immortal soul beyond the grave. /2/ However, this view implies that Paul missed the point of his opponents and that he failed to argue why a disembodied survival is not an adequate hope.

William Dykstra observes that Paul responds to the denial of resurrection not with a simple logical argument but with a salvation-historical argument. For the Corinthians could still accept Christ’s resurrection and at the same time deny any future resurrection for others, Christ’s case being a unique one for them. As such, a good case can be made for arguing that the Corinthians were guilty of the error of over-realized eschatology, as it gives a more consistent reading of the rest of the epistle. /3/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology

What was Paul’s new perception of the resurrected Christ after his conversion through an encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus? We shall consider Rom 1:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 15:45 as the pivotal points in our discussion of this question.

A. Romans 1:3, 4
We can trace a clear development of what Paul has to say about Christ in this long introduction to the epistle. In verse 1, Jesus is the Messiah. In verse 3, the Messiah is God’s Son. In verse 4a, this Messiah Jesus, whose sonship was veiled in the days of his flesh, is suddenly (by the resurrection) revealed as ‘Son of God in power’. Finally, the climactic stage in the progressive revelation of Jesus is Paul’s confession that “Jesus is Lord”.

A pattern of parallels and contrasts is also evident in verses 3 and 4:

Verse 3 Verse 4
1. born (γενομένου, genomenou) – declared (ὁρισθέντος, horisthentos)
2. according to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα, kata sarka) – according to the spirit of holiness, ie., the Holy Spirit (κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, kata pneuma hagiōsynēs) /1/
3. of the seed of David (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ, ek spermatos Dauid) – by the resurrection of the dead (ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, ex anastaseōs nekrōn)

Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning

I. Apostolic Witness
Any discussion on the resurrection of Christ must take seriously the testimony of Paul’s first-hand account of the resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. In Paul that we have immediate access to an eye-witness to the resurrection, a witness who could say, “last of all… he also appeared to me” (1 Cor. 15:8). Furthermore, he is a witness whose radical transformation of life only underscores the veracity of his testimony when he changed from being a persecutor bent on the destruction of the early church to becoming its foremost defender. Jesus, who he once rejected as a pretended Messiah, he now preached as the resurrected Lord, exalted at the right hand of God. Before the Damascus experience he could only regard Christ from a human point of view (2 Cor. 5:16), i.e., he applied worldly (Pharisaic) standards to his understanding of Christ, judging him according to the concepts of the Messiah at that time. /1/ This worldview was shattered on Damascus Road and was then substituted by another anchored solely on the risen Christ. /2/ Such a change, we submit, is neither due to the process of Paul yielding to the logic of the early witnesses, nor to be reduced to a fruition of psychological preparations in his life. /3/ Rather, it was because as Paul himself testified, he was confronted by the risen Christ on Damascus Road. It was a revelation of Jesus Christ, ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (apokalypseōs Iēsou Christou, Gal. 1:12). This phrase is probably not a subjective genitive (i.e., from Jesus Christ; NIV) but is an objective genitive, i.e., God revealed Jesus Christ and the gospel. /4/ As F.F. Bruce writes, “The gospel and the risen Christ were inseparable; both were revealed to Paul in the same moment. To preach the gospel (Gal. 1:11) was to preach Christ (Gal.1:16).”/5/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning”

Buddhist (D.T. Suzuki) Critique of the Cross

Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the cross as evidence of the love of God which engages with the suffering of the world head-on provides a decisive answer to the Buddhist allegation that Christianity is a world-negating religion. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki claims that the cruelty surrounding the crucifixion of Christ negates the simple realities of this life and does not compare well with the Buddhist sense of peaceful transition from this life to the next.

Christian symbolism has much to do with the suffering of man. The crucifixion is the climax of all suffering. Buddhists also speak much about suffering and its climax of all suffering is the Buddha serenely sitting under the Bodhi tree by the river Niranjana. Christ carries his suffering to the end of his earthly life whereas Buddha puts an end to it while living and goes on preaching the gospel of enlightenment until he quietly passes away under the twin Sala tree… when Buddha attained his supreme enlightenment, he was in his sitting posture; he was neither attached to nor detached from the earth; he was one with it, he grew out of it, and yet he was not crushed by it./1/ Continue reading “Buddhist (D.T. Suzuki) Critique of the Cross”

Islamic Rejection of the Crucified Messiah

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ recorded in the four Gospels is supported by impeccable testimonies of multiple eyewitnesses. The historical factuality of the cross is further attested by reports found in authoritative non-Christian historical sources like Josephus and Tacitus. The Christian witness to the crucifixion is plausible since it is inconceivable why Christians should invent the crucifixion which declares that their founder died an accursed death under divine judgment on the Cross. As such, an outright denial of the crucifixion would amount to a willful blindness to historical reality. Some Muslim critics therefore grudgingly acknowledge that historically a crucifixion did occur. However, they suggest that someone other than Jesus was crucified. They argue that Christians have misunderstood the significance of the Cross because they are victims of an illusion. God, they claim, replaced Jesus with someone that bore his likeness.

Muslim scholars bypass the historical record with an appeal to the Quranic revelation: Continue reading “Islamic Rejection of the Crucified Messiah”