An Explanation

Folks, I have stopped the discussion on the Kinism and CI posts. Very little in the way of profitable discussion was happening, and patience was running out. I am sorry to those who wanted to continue the discussion in a calm, rational way, but it seems that this was rather difficult when uncalm, irrational folks desired to derail fruitful discussion. I will be seeking to change the subject rather soon. UPDATE: In answer to those who have asked, I have closed the thread, not because of any one person, but because of the whole tenor of conversation.

The Main Biblical Problem With Kinism

Kinism believes in racial separation. Oftentimes, kinists believe that Caucasians are a superior race. For instance, Wheeler MacPherson believes that Caucasians are Adamic, while all other races are demonic in origin. In order to be a true Christian, then, Wheeler believes that one must not only have faith, but also must be of the Adamic race. In this, his views are similar to Christian Identity (usually abbreviated CI), which is not the same thing as Kinism.

Now, when reacting to this, we must be much more concerned with what the Bible says, and not react with a “frothing at the mouth” rage. We need to stick to the issues.

The promises made to Abraham include the promise that all nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. Who is Abraham’s seed? Paul interprets that seed (through the fact that it is a singular noun) as being Jesus Christ in Galatians 3. The next step of Paul’s interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant is that anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ is a true child of Abraham (also Galatians 3). The Judaizers were saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcized in order to be “real” Christians. In effect, they were saying that race matters to the gospel. So, the book of Galatians is vitally important to this issue.

What does it mean, then, that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant will come to all the nations of the earth? The book of Acts has an example: the Ethiopian eunuch. Here is a clear example of a black man coming to faith in Jesus Christ, being baptized by Philip the deacon, and becoming the first African to join the church. The Bible clearly views this as an act of God, providentially ordered by God. This is a good thing. It seems to me that Galatians and Ephesians both are clear that race is not a qualifying factor for Christianity. What is required is faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is another question: how much Caucasian blood is necessary before someone is qualified to be of the Adamic race? If someone is half and half, is it possible for that person to be a Christian? What about one quarter Adamic? What about one-quarter Cainite? Actually, I believe that all the Cainites were destroyed in the Flood. Only Noah and his sons and daughters-in-law were saved.

Going further back, the Bible claims that our Adamic heritage is sin and death, not salvific privilege (Romans 1-5 is rather clear on this point). The Bible is further clear that all tribes of the earth are Adamic (Genesis 5 and Genesis 10). Even Cain is Adamic. The biblical story is that Adam was the representative for the whole human race. He sinned, thus bringing down the whole human race with him. Jesus Christ, the last Adam, redeemed us from sin and death by His saving work on earth. Saving faith in Him is all that is required (and is also given by God). Anyone from any race can therefore be a part of that world-wide family. God’s family is not genetic, but faith-based.

The Private Biblical Epiphany

I am listening currently to the 3-hour interview that Wheeler MacPherson did with Christian Gray that Sjoerd de Boer so kindly gave me. Wheeler himself has responded to my post, though without addressing the issues of substance.

In the interview, one thing that really struck me was the private biblical epiphany that he describes. This was after he went through the Baptist church and was during his sojourn in the Presbyterian church. He said basically that he wanted to know God Himself, directly, and not through human mediation. So, he decided to read his Bible without any commentaries, and without reference to any theologians. He was seeking to build his theology from the ground up. This seemed to be stimulated by his negative experience with some ugly church politics that he had experienced. As so often happens in these cases, Wheeler rejected the organized church entirely as a result. He currently does family worship in his own house as opposed to organized worship.

It is necessary, in reacting to this, to acknowledge that the church often does not nurture its people very well. Further than that, the church often abuses its members. And, of course, there are no politics as ugly as church politics. Frankly, most secular politicians could take lessons from church politicians. Some have, in fact. However, these problems with the church do not take anything away from what the Bible says about the church. Wheeler seems to think that the gates of Hell have in fact prevailed against the church. A family is not a church. The family does not have elders and deacons. We are not to neglect the gathering together of the saints, as Hebrews says. Whenever we think about the church, we must continue to remember that the church of Revelation 21-22 is the church that needs to hold our gaze. The church of today is often ugly, wart-filled, and full of sinners and hypocrites (who doesn’t look better on the outside than they are on the inside?). But the church of the new heavens and the new earth is the bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

But to get back to the topic of the private biblical epiphany, the only way to avoid completely those who have gone before us is to read the Bible in the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. If Wheeler is reading an English translation, then he is not avoiding other theologians: the theologians were the ones who translated the Bible into English! I believe firmly that reading the Bible in the way that Wheeler did in order to build his theology without any reference to those who have gone before is dangerous. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching. The churches have defined this in the creeds. We cannot avoid the church. It is a biblical principle that iron sharpens iron. It is also a biblical principle that we should trust in the Lord, and not in our own understanding. The Lord has given gifts of perception and biblical wisdom to people all through church history, not just to me. Just because he has had a bad experience with the church does not mean that he should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Wheeler notes that he studied martial arts. A question for him arises out of this: in his theology of Caucasian Adamic descent, presumably the Asians are not descended from Adam. Why would he want to engage in the martial arts that did not originate with Caucasians, but with the Asians?

He believes that Jews, blacks, and other non-Caucasion races are not descended from Adam/Noah. As a result, people of those races cannot be Christian. They are the descendants of demons (literal descendants of demons as per a literal interpretation of Genesis 6). Now, my good readers, suppose you think (as probably the majority of you do) that this is not a correct interpretation of Scripture, and that you think this opinion is sinful. Let me be clear: I disagree with his interpretation of Scripture. However, can’t the Lord save racists? Of course, Wheeler doesn’t believe he is a racist, though he would be counted one by a great majority of people. Nowadays, racism is the unforgivable sin. The American conscience remembers slavery during the Civil War era and the Holocaust, and we feel guilty about these events, and therefore react to positions like Wheeler’s and think that no one could believe these positions and be a Christian. Why is racism the unforgivable sin?

A serious question for Wheeler is this: what does he believe that Galatians 3:28 means? Does he believe that Jews cannot be part of the church? Weren’t Paul and all the apostles Jews? Wasn’t Jesus Himself a Jew? Isn’t Galatians 3:28 saying that race is no longer a factor in the church?

In reading his first post, I wonder how he can get the idea that there are non-Adamic people on earth from Genesis. Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 are extremely emphatic that all human beings are descended from Adam and from Noah. Where did the non-Adamic people come from in Genesis? Regarding his interpretation of Genesis 6, how can demons have physical seed? I would agree that demons can control people who have children. But demons themselves cannot have children. Jesus makes this crystal clear when He says that in the new heavens and new earth, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven. Angels therefore do not have children. Demons are fallen angels. Therefore, demons cannot themselves have children. I think that a lot of Wheeler’s views stem from his interpretation of Genesis 6. There are several interpretations of that difficult passage. I think the seed of Satan there is a description of demon-possessed people. Demons can be driven out of some people and enter others. They are equal-race occupiers.

Wheeler believes that racially mixed marriages will lead inevitably to favoring homosexual practice. He uses Tim Keller as an example of this. But there are plenty of people (like myself) who believe that racially mixed marriages are not sinful, but that homosexuality most definitely is a sin. Not everyone is like Tim Keller. (UPDATE: in the comments, it has become apparent that what I have said about Keller here is not clear. I have not heard Keller completely disambiguate his position on homosexuality, and so I don’t know where he stands. My comments here are temporarily assuming for the sake of argument that Wheeler is correct in his assessment of Keller). Now, racially mixed marriages can have some problems related to cultural differences, and these differences should not be overlooked. I wonder if Wheeler can accept the fact that someone could accept racially mixed marriages without accepting homosexuality or pedophilia (which Wheeler believes is the next step in the inevitable chain). I do not see why this is an inevitable slide. Moses married a non-Israelite, and was criticized for it by Miriam and Moses, and yet God vindicated Moses is a rather dramatic fashion. Ruth was a Moabitess, and yet wound up being one of the ancestors of David, king of Israel, and therefore Jesus Christ.

Ivory Tower Theology

A man named Wheeler MacPherson has just written a post critical of my blog. It was a very interesting post in many ways, and therefore I thought I would interact with it a bit. He raises some very important points about the nature of the church, the nature of theology, and what pastors need to be doing.

He first relates an experience he had while waiting for a congregation to exit the church premises. It was a megachurch that rated three policemen to help with the traffic jam. In rather cynical tones, he relates how they couldn’t possibly be expected to delay their egress from the church on behalf of other people. While waiting for the traffic to lighten up, he reminisces about work as a younger man, and how carefree that life seemed. He realizes that he is just as content now, and asks the reason for it. His words are that “I realized that its genesis is tied to the church building. I am no longer a slave to churchianity, and this fact made me, deep down in the true place, more carefree than a beardless bony boy with a lungful of cheap Mexican weed.” One wonders what he means by “churchianity” at this point, whether that includes all forms of organized Christianity, or only some that really seem to get under his skin. More on that later. The next paragraph needs to be quoted in full, as it is rather important:

On his now-defunct blog, a friend of mine wrote recently with power and precision about the absolute foolishness of elevating the bible to a paper idol, and about how a dearth of the Holy Spirit leaves men to “search the Scriptures” without inward or divine understanding. This is an important observation for this desert age. Christians make fun of pagans for chanting prefabricated prayers at their dumb deities, but it’s been my observation that almost all Christians do the exact same thing with their bibles. They force themselves to sit and choke down a portion of Scripture on a semi-regular basis, and yet this diet never seems to nourish them, never seems to make their muscles grow, never seems to bring the glow of spiritual health to their spiritual cheeks. Christians chirp to each other their favorite verses (almost always lifted out of context and appropriated in the most grossly inappropriate ways) and remain utterly ignorant of what those verses actually mean. They can’t be bothered with the heavy lifting. Instead, they prefer to farm out the actual learning and insight to the paid professionals – and why not? After all, they pay their pulpiteers quite handsomely to churn out their little talks.

What Wheeler says here is something I also have noticed, and I like it almost as much as he does! I would describe it this way: Christians reading the Bible always to confirm their own ideas, and never allowing the Bible to challenge what they believe, or how they live. Their conception of the Christian life is determined entirely by what they learned in Sunday School 50 years ago, and the Bible hasn’t changed their thinking on anything during that whole time. This is probably not the only scenario in which people’s thinking becomes reified, but it is a very common one.

What follows is a sustained critique of the general content of my blog. I will try to concentrate on the substantive points that he makes, and ignore the rhetoric, which is quite strong. The first point he makes is that I identify myself as a “reverend,” when Jesus tells his followers not to give themselves titles. He tries to preempt any kind of a response by saying that if I were to defend myself on this point, I would be “explaining away” the text. I would respond by making a few points about titles. Firstly, Jesus does not condemn all titles, or else He wouldn’t have allowed the disciples to call themselves “apostles” later on in the epistles. Also, what about elders and deacons? It seems to me that Wheeler has absolutized one text and has not seen it in the context of the rest of Scripture. When Jesus ridicules those who arrogate titles to themselves, He is telling us several things: 1. that we should not give ourselves titles; 2. that no title should ever be used as a way of puffing ourselves up by means of pride. Jesus says nothing in those contexts about using titles that other people have given us. If He did, then He would directly contradict Himself when He gave the title “apostle” to the twelve apostles! Jesus gave the titles to the apostles. In my case, I did not give myself the title “reverend.” It was given to me by the denomination in which I serve when I was ordained. Furthermore, the only reason I mention the title in the page is so that people will know something of my background as a minister of the gospel as an ordained minister in the church. I certainly do not intend to use that title as a way of self-aggrandizement.

Still less am I defining myself by that title, contrary to his assertions. It is a formal title. When I introduce myself in person to someone, I do not use that title. I just say “I’m Lane Keister.” Wheeler is therefore reading into my page what is not there.

Next, he quotes something from a blog post I wrote last year, paraphrasing someone else’s comments (!). He attributes the quotation to me, when the thought is not actually mine. It is Joel Beeke’s thought, somewhat paraphrased by me. What follows this quotation in his post is something I am frankly mystified by. I don’t know what he means when he accuses the church as a whole of racism. Nor do I understand his reference to my graduating from a seminary that celebrates MLK Jr. Day. Maybe I’m just dense, but I don’t follow his point here.

The next point he makes is basically the “ivory tower” accusation: that this blog exists to debate irrelevant, unimportant theological points, and does not address what is really important in life. He says, “Real enemies and real lessons to be learned, real challenges that require real effort on the part of men who face real, individual dangers every real day.” It would be nice for him to give us some examples of what he is talking about. It must be pointed out here also that he can’t see my day-to-day ministry. He can’t see me counseling people with marriage problems, or drug problems, or depression, or anger management (all of which are present in the church I serve). He can’t see me visiting the sick in the hospital, or the elderly in their nursing homes. And so he makes the assumption that because this is a blog about theology, that therefore it is an example of unrealistic, ivory-tower theology, and that I’ve effectively got my head buried in the sand.

This brings us to the definition of theology, which I think is a very important point in the discussion. Is theology relevant to our lives or not? I follow the Puritan definitions here and claim unequivocally that theology is always relevant to our lives. The problem here is that Wheeler has a much narrower definition of theology and what is relevant than I do. He seems to be defining what is relevant as what is practical, and by that he (probably) means something that will help with the “real enemies and real lessons…real challenges.” Let me ask him this question: has he ever stopped to think about what kind of impact a proper appreciation of the Lord’s Supper could have on his spiritual growth? Or has he ever stopped to think that the proper understanding of justification can lift infinite weights off of people’s souls? Has he stopped to think that even the doctrine of the Trinity (often considered the least relevant doctrine of all) is actually the most relevant according to Jesus in John 17 and according to Paul in Ephesians 1, that it is the Trinity as Trinity that accomplishes our salvation and applies it to us? The problem here is not that my definition of theology is too ivory-tower, but that his definition of “relevant” is way too narrow. If the Bible talks about it, then it is relevant. Period. I like to talk about the Bible and what it means. I do this on the blog all the time. That is the heavy lifting he is in fact talking about without realizing it.

I suspect that Wheeler has been hurt by the institutional church greatly some time in his past. I know many people like this. My heart goes out to them, because I know exactly how ugly the church can be. It has been quite ugly to me, in fact, and on many occasions. The church has warts and blemishes all over the place. However, Revelation 21-22 invites us to look at the church as she will be in all eternity: like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. This is the true church. Here is a question for Wheeler: does he believe that we can truly love Jesus Christ and not love the bride that He loves so much, and gave Himself for?

Finitum Non Capax Infiniti

This Latin dictum means “the finite does not (or cannot) comprehend the infinite.” The phrase originated in the Lutheran-Reformed debates about the Lord’s Supper as it related to Christology. The Reformed typically accused the Lutherans of transferring divine qualities to Jesus’ humanity such that Christ could be everywhere, including the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes this resulted in the charge of Eutychianism (mixing Christ’s human and divine natures). The Lutherans typically accused the Reformed of rationalism as well as Nestorianism. The former was thrown at the Reformed because they thought the Reformed depended too heavily on philosophical pre-commitments. There was also the problem of supposedly separating Christ’s human from His divine nature (Nestorianism).

The phrase “finitum non capax infiniti” is related to what is called the “extra Calvinisticum.” The latter phrase refers to the fact that Jesus as God is everywhere, whereas Jesus as human is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. The “extra” then refers to the omnipresence that the divine has outside the human body of Jesus. I just read a brief but interesting article by a Lutheran pastor on this issue, and his claim is that the Lutheran view does not entail a change of the human nature, but rather a display of the very infinity of the divine. He defines the Lutheran capax this way:

In order to see this, it is important to observe what is meant by the Lutheran capax. As the Swedish Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén notes, the Lutheran argument is not that the finite has some sort of inherent capability of containing the infinite, but rather that the infinite God is capable of communicating himself to the finite.

This is how he attempts to avoid the communication of divine attributes to the human. He says further, “if the infinite is truly infinite, then it must logically contain an infinite number of possibilities and one of these possibilities must be being contained by the finite.” There are several things that need to be said in response. Firstly, there is simply no way for the infinite to communicate itself to the finite without bursting the boundaries of the finite. We are talking here about the incommunicable attributes of God. So, while initially sounding plausible, the author has not answered the question. Instead, he has tried to shift the question.

Secondly, in answer to his hypothetical situation of the infinite needing to have “being contained by the finite” as a possibility, this fails to take into account the other attributes of God. He is singling out one attribute and separating it from the others. The other attributes include an inability to deny Himself. That God would not communicate divine attributes to the human is not due to inability, but rather to character. This question is in the same category as the age-old conundrum “Can God build a rock so big that He cannot move it?” The answer is no, but not because of a lack of ability on God’s part, but because it is not in God’s character to contradict Himself.

If God communicated the divine to the human, the simple fact remains that the human would no longer be human. It must be noted here that very few Lutherans seem to grasp Calvin’s actual doctrine as expounded by, say, Keith Mathison. We have all the divine and the human that we need in Calvin’s construction of the mechanism of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit bridges the gap between us and Jesus such that Christ’s humanity is fed to our souls by faith. So Christ is physically given to us in the Supper, but not in the bread and wine. Our reception of it is (S)piritual.

On Peer-Reviewed Scholarship and Self-Criticism

I see a growing trend/problem in today’s scholarship. Authors are becoming less and less likely to submit their manuscripts to anyone who would disagree with the main thesis of their work. They are not submitting their materials to those who would be their staunchest critics. This is in keeping with the growing self-idolization of scholars, who quite often think that if they say it, then it is true. This is pride and egotism at work, not humility and desire for truth. Scholars are motivated by whether they can sell the book, or whether they can gain prestige as “the world’s foremost authority” on the subject. Of course, rarely can those two things both be accomplished in one book. They usually try for one or the other. But their motivation is incorrect. The true motivation of the scholar must be the glory of God, which is only to be gained by the pursuit of truth.

Truth must be tested by all those who oppose it. This is why God has given the tremendous gift of heresy to the church: to test the truth in the church so that the church will know why it does not believe X, and instead believes Y. I would even say that the Holy Spirit uses heresy more often than almost any other goad to get the church to realize what the Bible really says. I remember well Ligon Duncan’s rule of thumb in reading the early church fathers: when they are responding to heretics, they are generally on target. When they are not, watch out!

If we are really after the truth, and not just our own prestige, then surely we should submit our materials to the very best and brightest critics of our position on the matter in question. It is a humble thing to do, and it is a wise thing to do. Two examples of this, one positive and one negative, will help illustrate: when Peter Enns published his book Inspiration and Incarnation, he did not submit the manuscript to those of the faculty of WTS who would have opposed his main theses. As a result, the book suffered from lack of probation, if you will. The book has a certain anemia about it that bears the mark of musings, but not of tested scholarship. On the other hand, when John Piper wrote his book critiquing N.T. Wright (The Future of Justification), he sent the whole manuscript to none other than N.T. Wright himself, surely the very best critic who opposed Piper’s position that Piper could find! This shows not only humility on Piper’s part (notice that in N.T. Wright’s response to Piper, entitled simply Justification, he did not extend the courtesy back to Piper, which says a lot about Wright’s ego, in my opinion), but also a desire to get at the truth, and to have it tested against the most rigorous standards possible.

Of course, there is an additional side benefit to doing this sort of thing. If and when the scholar is published, he will already know the vast majority of ways that his book could be criticized, and will therefore not be very surprised by any of the book reviews (except perhaps the positive ones!). Some scholars have been known to sink into a deep depression because their work was not well received, and because they were shocked at the reception it got. This is their own fault for peddling a book to stroke their own ego, and to feed their own idol: the fear of man.

Deaths and Resurrections

This post will be a sort of work in progress for me as I think through my position on Revelation 20 in relation to the two deaths and the two resurrections. My position might easily change, but this is what I currently think. I have found, through emailing Dr. Fowler White, that this is the Augustinian position. My understanding of it has definitely been shaped by Dr. White’s own work.

There are two deaths. The first death is the death of the body, and the second death is the death of the soul while both body and soul are in agony in Hell (this needs to be qualified by the fact that the unbeliever’s soul is always dead throughout life, death, and the resurrection of the body). There are two resurrections. The first resurrection is of the soul (this is identical to regeneration, which Paul describes in Ephesians 2 with resurrection language), the second resurrection is of the body, reuniting the body with the soul (though not automatically specifying which eternal destiny results).

The first death (of the body) that Adam and Eve brought upon themselves in the Garden of Eden established a link to the second death, in addition to securing the perpetual death of the unbelievers’ souls. For natural unsaved humanity, the first death leads to the second death. That link is what Christ came to break. Jesus simultaneously established a link between the first and second resurrection while breaking the link between the first and the second death. This new link is a guaranteed link, and it guarantees two things: it guarantees the second resurrection and, even more importantly, freedom from the second death (this is what Revelation 20:6 is talking about, according to Augustine). At the second resurrection, of course, believers are freed from the first death as well. So the first resurrection frees us directly from the second death and, through its guarantee of the second resurrection, frees us indirectly from the first death.

Lastly (and this is most directly influenced by Dr. White’s work), both resurrections have a certain irony to them. The first resurrection has this irony for the believer: it does not free him from experiencing the first death. It promises eventual emancipation, but not immediate freedom. The second resurrection has a mirror image irony: it does not free the unbeliever from the second death.

A Problem With Premillenialism

I have been reading Sam Storms’s outstanding book on Amillenialism. He poses a number of questions which I believe are insuperable problems to the premillenial view. The most significant has to do with death in the millenial age. The premillenial position requires that there be death during the millenial kingdom, since there will be great battles towards the end of it. The premil position also holds that the second coming of Christ comes at the beginning of that millenial reign. The problem is that the annihilation of death is not tied to the end of the millenial period in biblical revelation, but rather to the second coming of Christ. In Revelation 19, the wedding supper of the Lamb is followed by a description of the second coming of Christ, in which the beast and his followers are all cast into the lake of fire. The destruction is total and complete (see in particular verses 19-21). This makes chapter 20 a recapitulation of chapter 19, not a temporally subsequent chapter. The rest of the New Testament bears out this simple fact: it is when Christ comes back that the judgment happens, the annihilation of all the enemies, and the double resurrection (not first one group and then the next) occurs (see Storms’s book for an outstanding treatment not only of the passages involved, but also of the hermeneutical issues). This means that the millenial reign happens before Christ’s second coming, not after. Amillenialism and Post-Millenialism are the only viewpoints on the millenial kingdom that can account for these particular data.

Amandus Polanus’ Syntagma Theologiae Christianae

Now, there’s a catchy title! It has such a familiar ring about it, doesn’t it? Now that everyone knows precisely what I am talking about…

This is a massively huge project (a 10-volume work), of which the director of the program (Christian Locatell) is trying to assess interest. It will need a fair bit of support for the project to get underway. Polanus’ work is nothing more or less than a complete compendium of Reformed theology from the period of Reformed orthodoxy. This work has been buried in the mists of obscurity before now, but it was a very important work indeed in its time. Polanus is one of the most-quoted sources in Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. So show your support for this work, and help get some of the riches of Reformed orthodoxy in print in English!