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Matthew vines

Introduction

Matthew Vines has written a book titled God and the Gay Christian in which he argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationship” (Page 3).   Al Mohler and the faculty at Southern Seminary has published a book-length response titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, which they have made available as a free e-book.  In their responses Al Mohler, James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert addressed the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’s best-selling book.  

Matthew Vines’ research for his book was not done in a vaccum.  Throughout the book Vines reveal the precommitments he had before he began his research.  It is important to address the core arguments that Vines has presented (and Christians have already done so such as the faculty in Southern Seminary) but I also think there is an important role in considering Vines’ problematic pre-commitments since these pre-commitments shapes his theological method which then lead to his conclusion that “Scripture affirm same-sex relationships.”

Here in this post I want to address Vines’ pre-commitment concerning his meta-ethics.  Specifically I want to argue that Vines holds on to a humanistic consequentialist view of ethics that is seriously deficient.

Vines In His Own Words

Unlike other gay theology literature Vines professes to have a high view of the Scriptures:

In my view, the Bible can’t be reduced to a collection of great literature, stories, and poetry  It’s God’s written revelation to humanity, as the accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry in the Gospel make clearer to me than anything else.  Jesus said that ‘Scripture cannot be set aside’ (John 10:35), and since childhood, I’ve made discerning God’s will through prayerful study of Scripture a priority” (Page 11).

But when it comes to his view of the foundation of ethics, even God’s revealed rules within Scripture is not as highly regarded by Vines as much as his ethical theory.  In fact, the Bible’s ethical norm is subject to the scrutiny of the higher court of his meta-ethics and we see that with how he approached the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex relationship on page 12 :

I had a second reason for losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationship are sinful: it no longer made sense to me.

My mom taught her Sunday school students that sin was ‘missing the mark’ of God’s will for our lives. But while the Bible helps us understand God’s will, neither my parents nor my church referred only to the Bible when I asked questions about morality.  They also explained why something was right or wrong, and why the Bible said what it did.  By understanding the reasons behind Scripture’s teachings, I could apply its principles to all circumstances in my life, including those it didn’t directly addressed.

But as I became more aware of same-sex relationships, I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them.  With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause.  Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse.  Lust objectifies others.  Gossip degrades people.  But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern.  Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice.  What other sin look like that?”

It is important to keep in mind that according to the previous page before this block quote (page 11) Vines described how his ethical outlook led to his struggle with the case against same-sex relations before he came out as gay and before he started researching for his book.  His evaluation of Scripture according to his ethical theory fundamentally tipped the scale of his research towards the direction that same sex relationship ought not to be condemned.  Seeing how important his ethical theory is, we should analyze more closely his ethical theory as it is expressed above.

Vines’ Ethical theory Humanistic and Consequentialist

Is Vines’ Ethical theory Humanistic?

Vines’ ethical theory is certainly humanistic, that is, it is man-centered.  As seen in the above quote, Vines’ rejection of traditional view on same sex relationship is because “it no longer made sense to me.”  There is a sense in which Biblical Christianity will not be fully grasped by finite man; we expect some aspect of mystery with true Christian doctrines if it is genuinely from the Word of God.  Ultimately what determines truth for the God-centered Christian is not how much it “makes sense to me” (that is, conforming to one’s previous pattern of thought) but whether or not the doctrines are genuinely taught in Scripture even if one might have unanswered questions.

A man-centered or humanistic theological approach on the other hand is very different.  It would have man as the final arbitration of what is right and wrong and according to what makes “sense to me.”  The fundamental question being asked is not whether the teaching is in the Bible; even if there is a teaching from the Bible the crucial question is whether it makes “sense to me.”  Therefore what one cannot make sense of according to one’s finite mind and presuppositions ought to be rejected.

The man-centered nature of Vines’ ethical system is further evidenced above when Vines talked about “reasons behind Scripture’s teachings.”  Of course there are times one can see that there are good reasons for Scripture’s moral teaching.  However Vines goes further when he explains the pattern of his mother and church that it’s not enough to be satisfied with going “only to the Bible when I asked questions about morality.”  Vines goes on to say “They also explained why something was right or wrong, and why the Bible said what it did” with the implication that one ought to know why the Bible said what it said.   So when one doesn’t know the reason behind the Bible’s command and prohibition Vines then find that there are then good “reason for losing confidence” in that belief as it was with the case of prohibiting same-sex relationship: “I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them.”

Is Vines’ Ethical theory Consequentialist?

Vines’ ethical theory is not only humanistic, it is a humanistic consequentialism.  That is, for Vines knowing the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct.  Vines believed that something is wrong and sinful only when it causes damage.  So if it doesn’t cause any damages that a human being can know of, it is not sinful.  Vines presupposes this when he said “With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause.”  He followed this with some examples and then concluded “But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern.”

The Problem with Vines’ Ethical Theory

Here is my response:

  • Vines stresses more than once in the book that he has a high view of God’s Word like any other Evangelical including those not affirming of Same-sex relationships.  If he does believes in a high view of Scripture then he must have his humanistic ethical consequentialism be subject to the scrutiny of God’s Word rather than vice versa as he has done.
  • If Vines operate with the theological method that a proposition must be rejected when “it no longer made sense to me” what would remain of his Christianity?
    • Our study of every largely-accepted true doctrine in the Bible will always run into some aspect of mystery in which we don’t have an answer for.  Does that mean we must reject every Christian doctrines?
    • For instance, 1 Timothy 3:16 admits there is mystery of godliness does that mean that one should reject godliness?
  • While at times Scripture does discuss how certain sinful behavior causes damages to oneself and others, Vines have become reductionistic to think this is the only criteria of measuring whether something is right and wrong.
    • Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible say that what is sinful is only measured by whether something causes damages to others.
    • If consequences is the only way to measure what’s right and wrong in God’s eyes then it is surprising that Scripture doesn’t always give a cause-and-effect explanation for why everything that is a sin is wrong.
    • Scripture doesn’t exclusively present a purpose or result driven measure of right and wrong conduct.  Scripture’s discussion of ethics also acknowledges the deontological aspect of ethics (good acts include those as a proper response to duty for the sake of the duty even against one’s own and others well being) and existential aspect of ethics (focus on the internal character of a person that determines what is good).  A good resource on this is John Frame’s discussion of Triperspectivalism in his Doctrine of the Christian Life.
  • Surprisingly Vines himself is inconsistent with his belief that damages to oneself or others is the only basis to measure right and wrong when it comes to his view on Self-sacrifice.
    • Self-sacrifice (putting duty first before one’s well being) is a dentological virtue that goes against the grain that damages to a person per se is sinful.  According to Vines ethical system, self-sacrifice ought to be a sin.
    • We expect Vines to be against self-sacrifice and yet in the block quote above Vines listed “self-sacrifice” among the virtues of those in committed same-sex relationships.
    • If Vines see self-sacrifice as a virtue then it is not merely something that he sees is personally good for himself alone but this is a character trait that is good for others to have.  Thus by believing its a virtue Vines invite others to follow one’s duty even if it is “damaging” to oneself, an act that involves “damaging” others.
  • For the sake of the argument even if there is always a consequentialist reason behind all of God’s prohibition and command that doesn’t mean as Bible believing Christians one can disregard these rules when it is “hard to pinpoint the damage they cause.”
    • In all things, don’t forget we are finite and God is infinite!
    • The Lesson from the Garden of Eden
      • Remember: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:3b)
      • Adam and Eve might not be able to pinpoint exactly the damage disobedience to this might cause yet that doesn’t mean they should disobey God’s Law!
      • Furthermore, people today might still not know or discern the reasons why that tree was in the Garden in the first place but that doesn’t mean Adam and Eve or us can disobey God.
    • An illustration: A toddler might find it hard to pinpoint the damage that disobeying his father’s prohibition not to run on the streets might cause.  But that doesn’t mean it is right nor rational for the toddler to disobey his loving father’s prohibition!
      • This illustration is fitting for our context given that we are like the toddler in our finite knowledge compared to God’s vastly superior wisdom and knowledge.
  • Vines believe same-sex relationship is “not harmful to anyone” but fail to consider God in his belief that same-sex relationship is not harmful.
    • First, it is negatively against God.
      • Remember Vines’ examples of the damages of sins: “Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse.  Lust objectifies others.  Gossip degrades people.”
      • If violating a commitment, objectifying others and degrading a person is bad because it is “harmful to others,” what are those advocating same-sex relationships doing when they are violating God’s prohibition of same-sex relationship,  degrading God as less than God in their disobedience to His Divine prohibitions and objectifying God as something less than God when they go against His Word?
    • Secondly, it is negative against the participants of same-sex relationships.
      • Remember the way of a Sinner is hard!
      • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 reveal the eternal consequences for such sinners: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor[a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • Vines believe same-sex relationship is “not harmful to anyone” but fail to consider studies considering the negative impact of same-sex relationships
    • Time doesn’t allow me to go into more details as it’s worth being another message.
    • Remember, we are not dependent upon the statistics to make our case in light of all our discussion above concerning consequentialists ethics.

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jpemPCH

These are the links on Presuppositional Apologetics gathered from the internet between June 15th-21st, 2015.

1.) Dreams vs. Reality: A Problem for Atheism an Ally for Theism

2.) 

3.) Objections to Apologetics: ultimately fail

4.) Presuppositional Apologetics 2014 Paschal Lectures by Brian Rickett

5.) Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Christians? (A Conversation With My 11-Year-Old Daughter)

 

Missed the last round up?  Check out the re-blogged post from a friend

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John Frame Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two

 John M. Frame. Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two.  Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2015. 382 pp.

This book is the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings that contains some of John Frame’s essays that are outside of his Theology of Lordship SeriesI have previously reviewed volume one of Dr. Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Although I highly recommend both volumes I actually enjoyed volume two more in comparison with volume one.  As usual with John Frame’s writings, I appreciate what he has to say since he makes me think more deeply about the inter-connectedness of Biblical doctrines, theological foci and various method and divisions of theology and philosophy.  Readers will not be disappointed.  Frame’s characteristic way of writing that stresses the authority of Scripture, his exploration of the inter-dependence and inter-connectedness of perspectives along with his straight forward and clear way of writing is evident throughout the book.

The book is divided into seven parts: There are miscellaneous theological topics, theological education, theological method, apologetics, ethics, the church and a personal section.  All seven parts of the book contained essays which were very stimulating and eye-opening.  I have read thousands of pages of Frame’s work and I found that there were still things I learned from reading this book.  Anyone who thinks a book titled “Selected Shorter Writings” means that this is a stale collection of ad hoc old ideas is badly mistaken.  I was highlighting a lot of materials as I was reading through it.  In what follows I want to share some of what I appreciated from the book.

PART 1: Theological Topics

  • I appreciated the first chapter of the book that was adapted from Frame’s ETS presentation in which he talked about inerrancy and how Evangelicals must not be naïve to think that the question of inerrancy can be resolved with liberals and non-believers by simply talking about facts since methods and presuppositions are important.  Using Alvin Plantinga’s famous essay on the role of Christian philosophers’ project being for the Christian community rather than just appeasing the secular academic world, Frame also calls Christian scholars to embrace inerrancy “as a place to live” in one’s academic career.
  • Concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology I thought chapter five presented the most succinct presentation of the Van Tillian perspective: theology and philosophy need each other, theology and philosophy are similar although it uses different language and terminology to describe the world and the nature of ultimate reality and of course there is a need for philosophy needs to examine itself from a biblical theological perspective, etc.

PART 2: Theological Education

  • The first three chapters in this section comes from the first three chapters of his book titled The Academic Captivity of Theology and Other Essays, published by Whitefield Publishers.  This is one of Frame’s lesser known work but after reading these chapters I admit I want to read the rest of the book to see Frame further articulate his distinct philosophy of theological education.  He has a lot to say that those involve in leadership of Christian institute of higher education needs to hear.  He has a good point concerning the problem of Evangelicals idolatrously seeking doctorate programs in schools that does not honor God’s Word.  I thought it was fascinating that he noted how in the past famous Christian scholars such as Machen and Warfield did not have earned doctorates but were nevertheless highly effective with their masters’ degree.  Frame also talked about seminary desire for academic respectability from the world sets it in conflict with its aim to train men for the ministry at the church.  He argues that in the end it is the church who has the authority to evaluate the means and goals of a seminary and not a secular accreditation agency.  Accreditation agencies often making a seminary do more unnecessary and unhelpful work in order to be accredited.  There is so much more than I can summarize here in this review.
  • His essay on the demise of systematic theology also demonstrated the difference between a liberal philosophy of education and the biblical aim of seminary education.  A doctorate in systematic theology at centers that does not have a high view of Scripture would only teach guys to teach theology that becomes more of a kind of historical theology that only states what other scholars believe; but this kind of method is inadequate in an Evangelical seminary where the skill requires is finding out what the Word of God says about a respective subject.

PART 3: Theological Method

  • The chapter “Arguments and Conclusion in Theology” is partly in response to WSC and those who advocate “Escondido Theology.”  However it’s usefulness extends beyond the debate of Radical Two Kingdom Theology.  Frame rightly point out that some systematic theologians today are weak in logical thinking.  Case in point: Those whom Frame critiques in his book Escondido Theology responded to Frame’s book by denying the conclusion of Frame’s argument.  But the critics have not interacted with Frame’s actual argument that lead to his conclusion.  It is not enough to say one does not like the conclusion but one must also demonstrate why the argument does not lead to the conclusion.

PART 4: Apologetics

  • This was by far the longest part of the book!  It is also the section of the book that demonstrate Frame at his best!
  • I appreciated that Frame in his opening chapter to the section looked to the Scripture first concerning why it is hard to believe in God and at the same time why it is easy to believe in God.  A good editorial decision that lays the foundation before the other chapters look at some intense apologetics’ matters.
  • Chapters 19-22 were on Van Til.  Some of these were short summaries of Van Til but then you also have chapter 21 titled “Van Til: The Theologian.”  This chapter was originally published years ago as a pamphlet and also as a chapter in a Festschrift for Van Til that was published by theonomists in the 1970s.  When I read this essay many years ago it totally revolutionize my own theological method and how I looked at theology so it was refreshing to re-read this essay again now that I am older.  “Van Til: The Theologian” was what got me going with teaching systematic theology in such a way as to try to portray how doctrines from Scripture beautifully integrate and mutually support one another.  This essay has ever since moved me to doxological fervor in teaching the inter-connectedness of theology in order to deepen our worship and further a coherent apologetics by showing how a truly Biblical system of theology have doctrines “cohere” with one another while also maturely handle theological paradox.

PART 5: Ethics

  • His chapter on the failure of non-Christian ethics is a very good summary of the problem of trying to ground morals and ethics apart from the Christian God.  Excellent!  It is worth reviewing from time to time.
  • I must say though that the weakest chapter of the book was found here:  Frame sees Joel Osteen as less of a problem than I would like and I wish Frame could have considered the question as to what Osteen believes concerning the role of repentance and the Gospel.
  • “But God Made Me This Way” is a neat chapter and very relevant in light of the advancing agenda of homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage in today’s culture.  Good response.

PART 6: The Church

  • Good discussion about the problems of denomination and also church unity.

PART 7: Personal

  • A light hearted chapter on Frame’s Triperspectivalism applied to the issue of eating and dieting.

Again there is more to the book than my highlights mentioned here.

After finishing the book I’m convinced that this book is useful for Christians across all spectrum of theology and familiarity with the John Frame.  I think the nature of short essays make it helpful as an introduction to those who are new to John Frame’s work.  The book also has a “theological devotional” flavor to it that makes a wonderful read for those who want something to stimulate their minds more deeply in terms of devotional materials.  I believe it would make a wonderful “devotional” for the theologian in which one can read a chapter a day (give or take for the longer ones) where one has something theological that is God-centered at the same time it exercises one’s mind to love God’s truth (that was practically how I did read this book).  For those who consider themselves “John Frame buff” or experts of his theology, this book is still worthwhile to purchase the book as there are still things in this book that I think is new to chew on.  It also serves as a good refresher to Frame’s Theology of Lordship.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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dictionary apologetics

I am in the middle of John Frame’s latest book Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two.  I have benefited immensly from Dr. Frame’s insight especially in the area of apologetics and theology.  I think he’s able to apply Cornelius Van Til’s insight more broader than Van Til was able during his lifetime.  Lord willing I would be able to finish the book sometime next week and have a review up on here.  In the chapter on the problem of evil Frame said something that I found helpful.  Speaking of God, John Frame said

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Theology at the Movies John Frame

Christian apologist and theologian John Frame has a e-Book in Html format titled “Theology at the Movies.”

Here are the Table of Contents:

  • Reviews

 

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john frame

How should we understand the concept of God’s presence? Isn’t there a dilemma of God bring non-physical and yet is described as all present?
John Frame has a good paragraph:

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The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God John Frame cover

John Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987. 402 pp.

According to the author this book was completed in December 1984 (382).  I finished this book thirty years after it was written on December 2014 and I would say that it is a work that is more relevant than ever.  This book is an exploration of a Biblical view of knowledge and specifically the pursuit of the knowledge of God.  John Frame does a masterful job showing us how Scripture’s teachings have bearing towards a Christian theory of knowledge.  Frame does caution early in the book that this work is more theological rather than philosophical but I think this is the book’s strength in that Frame is driven by a high view of God’s Word in his construction of a distinctively Christian view of knowledge.

This is the first volume in Frame’s four book “Theology of Lordship” series.  It so happened that I completed John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life first, which is actually Frame’s third volume and I found that some of the materials on perspectivalism wasn’t necessarily new when I read this present volume.  Of course, the Doctrine of the Knowledge of God lays the foundation for the other volume in this series in that it articulate, explain and defend the concept that knowledge is perspectival; that is, there are aspects to knowledge that are inter-dependent though distinctions could be made.  Specifically, Frame sees a triade that there is a normative, situational and existential side of knowledge.  Throughout the book this triade is mentioned again and again and Frame shows its usefulness in theology, apologetics and philosophy.  I found it useful as a template in identifying people’s reductionistic fallacy when they assume only one perspective is right over and against the other.  Frame’s perspectivalism is also useful as a tool to make one conscious of being balanced and well rounded when one approach theology and philosophy.

The book is divided into three parts with part one focusing on the objects of knowledge, the second part on the justification of knowledge and the third on the method of knowledge.  I enjoyed part two’s discussion of various traditional epistemology followed by Frame’s identification of their problem.  This is helpful in equipping a Christian apologist to know how to refute bad epistemologies.  But I also appreciate John Frame’s direction in the second chapter of part two of the book in constructing a positive justification of knowledge.

Other parts of the book that I really enjoyed include Frame’s discussion about anti-abstractionism in which he defends the notion that abstraction is not necessarily a bad thing in of itself and that we can’t help but to think abstractly in various degrees whenever we think or communicate.  I also appreciate John Frame sharing his perspective on Reformed Epistemology which Frame devote an appendix of good length to the issue by means of a book review.  I also enjoyed the book’s discussion of the laws of logic and how the laws of logic ought to be thought of as a subset of ethics.  Frame’s discussion about the human faculty involved in the process of knowing must not be missed.  I was pleasantly surprised to find how holistic John Frame was in that he even discussed the qualification of a theologian!  Sanctification is important in the knowledge of God and vice versa!

As it is typical of John Frame’s work, I found the book to be extremely helpful and every page to be stimulating and thought provoking.  Frame’s work often make me think of theological methods and makes me more aware of my own method and the method of others in arriving at a theological position.  Typical of other work by Frame is that I enjoyed reading this book and enjoyed God in the process—his work often leads me to worship God!  It is not a dry systematic theology book, as I found the book to be quite a good devotional as well.  This book is also good for those who have read a lot of introductory materials on Presuppositional apologetics and would like to expand more indepth Christian epistemology from a Van Tillian perspective.  I highly recommend this work.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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