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Archive for the ‘Perspectivalism’ Category

John Frame. Theology in Three Dimensions.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, September 29th, 2017. 136 pp.

4 out of 5

Purchase: P&R PublishingAmazon

Over the years I have really benefited from reading theologian John Frame especially in thinking more consciously of my theological method.  John Frame’s triperspectivalism and his exploration of the inter-relationship of doctrines, theology and different field of study has also caused me not only to think more clearly but more worshipful of the God who is the source of the unity of various disciplines, doctrines and foci in theology.  In this book John Frame gives us a short one volume introduction to his triperspectivalism and his perspectivalism in general.  I’m glad he wrote this work.

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One of the men that have been influential in shaping my Christian thought life is John Frame.  Reading his work has been a delight and an experience of worship of God for His wisdom, glory and splendor.  His writings has helped me to think more clearly, biblically, and logically.  Since this is God’s World that we live in I think what I got the most from John Frame than other theologians is the hunger to see the beauty of the inter-relationship of…everything.  Doctrines relate to other doctrines.  Areas of philosophies need and presuppose other areas of philosophy.  There’s inter-relationships of academic disciplines.  There’s a relationship between theology and life.  Its like a symphony; they all go together in harmony because of God’s Wisdom.  There’s an apologetic there with the beautiful coherence of the Christian worldview, of God’s revelation between the Word and World.  Which is one of the aesthetically pleasing aspect of a robust Presuppositional apologetics.  But its more than an apologetics, it has made me live my life seeing living colors of God’s World.

What follows below are all four volumes of John Frame’s Theology of Lordship with links to my reviews that explains further why I recommend them.  I bought one volume at a time as a young seminarian without a lot of money, with the goal that after graduating I would be able to read them.  Then I slowly read 5-10 pages a day every morning and finished it.  They are doctrinal yet devotional, deep but “do-able,” deals with difficult topics but also demonstrate the deep dive of doctrines we see as more simple.

Review: The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John M. Frame

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John Frame. The Doctrine of God.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, June 1st, 2002. 864 pp.

Rating: 5 out of 5

This book is a great resource on a theology of God.  Those who have read other works by the author John Frame will find him on top of his game here as well.  This is a work that pastors and teachers would turn to as reference even after completing it.  I enjoyed reading this book in two separate instances: once when I was in seminary as something I had to read through rather quickly and the second instance being after seminary at a slower pace as part of my morning routine of devotional-theological readings.  I would recommend the second approach as the best way to read this volume.

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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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John Frame's Selected Shorter Writings Volume 1

For those who want to get this book at a discounted price go over to WTS Bookstore online by clicking HERE.

This is a collection of various essays and articles written by John Frame over the years that hasn’t been published, with some being articles on his website and others being shared for the first time.  For anyone who is a fan of Frame this is a great supplement to the many works that Frame has written over the years.  Ideally those who have a little exposure to John Frame’s writings (say a book or two or some journal articles by him) will benefit the most from this book.  John Frame can write very lengthy books so I appreciate the format of shorter essays in this book.  In particular I found the first chapter that serves as a great introduction and summary of his perspectivalism.  This essay is very important in light of how some within the Reformed camp have misunderstood his position as relativism.  If some of his opponents have known about this essay it might have deterred some of the unhelpful criticisms of John Frame out there (or then again it might not).

I also found the various articles in part one of the book that focus on theological method to be a wonderful feast for the mind—in fact it’s probably the best part of the book.  Specifically I enjoyed his discussion about contrast and exegesis, with his call for preachers and theologians to properly extract what exactly the Scripture is saying and then correctly noting what the contrast of the idea is; this is important when we say that the Bible prohibit or refute something and people often err in saying what the Bible is against when in actuality the Scripture didn’t prohibit or contradict it.

In part two of the book on theological meditation I appreciated his review of N.T Wright’s bibliology in which Frame showed how Wright overstretched his rhetoric when he claimed in the subtitle of a recent book that he has gone beyond the “Bible Wars” by offering another alternative.  In reality Wright didn’t really offer anything new and it turns out instead that at times he is unhelpful because he isn’t clear or too ready with the cliché.  At times Wright turns out to be still quite conservative in his view of the Bible despite how he rags on conservatives.  Frame also did a good job of showing Wright’s complaint to move beyond the concept of infallibility is inconsistent with his job of being a Bible historian is still dedicated to defending the historicity of the Bible.

Surprisingly the shortest part of the book was the section on apologetics.  Here I have to level a criticism of Frame’s review of Greg Bahnsen’s Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended.  After going through carefully what Frame has to say, I thought the essay really was not a review of the book but more of a celebration and recollection of Greg Bahnsen the apologist.  Frame criticized Bahnsen for being unfair to Gordon Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer but Frame doesn’t really demonstrate that Bahnsen really was unfair in his critique of these men.  It was more of a comment made in passing rather than actual documentation it was so.

The last section was more personal and had several assorted pieces that reveal more of John Frame the man.  If you are a big fan of Frame you would love this section and Frame is pretty funny.  I recommend this work to those who want to understand more of Frame’s contribution to theology and apologetics and those who want to get every work by Frame.  These two types of readers will benefit most from this book.

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.

 

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Brian Rickett Presuppositional apologetics

Note: We appreciate Brian Rickett taking the time to contribute to this interview in light of his busy schedule with ministries as a Professor and a Pastor.  It is my prayer that God will allow him a full recovery after his accident that led to a broken neck.  Mr. Rickett also maintain a blog that you might want to bookmark. –SLIMJIM

1.) Describe your current ministry to the Lord and your educational background.

Current Ministry.  I’ve always considered myself to be a minister who tries to seize every legitimate opportunity to serve the Lord, not exclusively any one thing, but just a minister, generally speaking. This has at times included pastoring, church planting, and academic work, often simultaneously.

Since my M.Div. days, though, I have been a classroom instructor specializing in biblical languages.  My testimony about this can be found here.   I began with the Logos Bible Institute of Grace Community Church, then added The Master’s Seminary, and then College.  I taught on an adjunct basis from 1998-2008, for a combined 10 years, the last 5 of which was in a full time staff position for the biblical counseling department at TMC.  During that 10 year period, I was blessed to be able to teach the Bible in five languages in a variety of settings, as well as in each of the divisions in a typical theological curriculum.

Most relevant to this interview, I considered my emphasis to be the application of original language exegesis to theological systems/methods, particularly apologetic and counseling methodology.  During my time at TMC/TMS, I was able to teach both apologetics and counseling, and integrated these into a single MABC course—BC509: Apologetics and Biblical Counseling.

Those familiar Van Tillian thought will know that nouthetic counseling is essentially Van Til’s model applied to the ministry of discipleship.  Even more, though, one of his fundamental contributions was to urge a consistent application of reformed theology to every area of thought, life, and ministry.  The guys who started/currently oversee the Biblical Counseling department at TMC did their terminal degrees at Westminster and understand this.  This was part of the reason John Street hired me to work in his counseling department back in ’04.

When we moved to Arkansas in 2008 to plant the church where I now pastor, we naturally incorporated the best of what I had learned and taught into our church’s ministry philosophy.  In that sense, our whole philosophy of ministry is a Van Tillian model applied to a Bible Church, i.e. non-Presbyterian ecclesiology.  Here’s a sample of how we typically present it:

Our philosophy of ministry is three pronged.

1.  Preaching/Teaching. Key to the health of any church is biblically faithful preaching and teaching.  God takes the preaching and teaching of His Word extremely seriously (James 3:1).  So, a key distinctive of The Bible Church of Beebe is a very high view of those tasks (Ezra 7:10; 2 Tim 2:15).  Specifically, our pulpit and teaching ministries strive to be characterized by passionate, word by word and verse by verse expositional preaching/teaching that bring biblical principles to bear on the life of the believer.  Typically, we gather three times a week.  On Sunday mornings I preach from the NT.  On Sunday evenings I preach from the OT or address some or another issue.  On Wednesday nights I typically teach theology, counseling, or apologetics.  Currently, though, our Wednesday evening services are suspended due to a car accident in which I broke my neck.  We hope to recommence Wednesday evening services this summer.

2.  Shepherding the Flock. As the most basic function of shepherding, discipling believers is fundamental to our ministry.  Discipleship means to train believers to faithfully follow Christ.  We work hard at this.  Further, our shepherding model includes biblical counseling, which we also describe as intensive discipleship.  Biblical counseling means that we endeavor to assist believers in honoring Christ through specific challenges.  Finally, we endeavor to equip the saints “to do the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).  So, one of our distinctives is that we are committed to Christ-centered discipleship, an important component of which is biblical counseling (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-3).

3.  Evangelism/Apologetics.  We are committed to faithfully obeying the many commands of Scripture to engage in evangelism and apologetics (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 10:3-5; 2 Pet 3:15; Acts 17:23-31).  In evangelism, we endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers with a message and method that honors Christ (2 Tim. 4:5).  In apologetics/irenics, we actively endeavor to defend the system of Christian truth, and to respond biblically to the many challenges that come against biblical Christianity (Titus 1:9; 2 Tim 4:3-5).  So, we are committed to evangelizing the lost and to providing a reasoned defense of the system of Christian truth.  We boldly proclaim that Christianity is not a blind faith, but that it is the only internally coherent and rationally viable worldview.

The academic year following the church’s organization, I returned to the classroom teaching biblical language and other courses for the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary.  BMATS was founded in the 1950s, has about 175 students on its two campuses, in Jacksonville, Tex. and Conway, Ark.  The Ark. campus is about 25 miles from our church.  We planted the church relatively close to the seminary to give students an opportunity to study our ministry model, while reaching an area without a similar church.

Currently, I am both the Pastor-teacher of The Bible Church of Beebe as well as Professor of Biblical Studies for BMATS—amazingly, by God’s grace I get to teach all of my favorite subjects in both the church and classroom.  Beginning June 1st, however, I will add an administrative role. At that time I will become Administrator of BMATS, Arkansas.  There will be some other exciting developments at our campus that may be of interest to your readers.  You’ll want to check up with the seminary in early June to see what’s happening.

As Administrator/Director of BMATS, Ark, I hope to continue refining our curriculum, and training students in the tasks of expository preaching, biblical counseling, and presuppositional apologetics based on solid exegesis.  Already we have brought in a biblical counseling professor (John Street) from The Master’s College on an adjunct basis to teach Introduction to Biblical Counseling.  There are other things as well, but check back in June.

Educational Background: I did a BS in Bible (1996, Central Baptist College, Conway, Ark.), M.Div. (2000, The Master’s Seminary), Th.M. in OT (2003, TMS), and did Th.D. work in OT (2004-07) for a time until a debilitating eye condition forced me to become inactive.  However, in connection to improvements with my eyes, increasing cultural challenges, and my new administrative role at BMATS, I’ve begun the new D.Min. program in Christian Worldview and Cultural Engagement at SWBTS.  I know what you’re thinking—yes, they knew who I was when they accepted me.

Going forward, I expect to devote a strong percentage of my energies to issues related to worldview and cultural engagement and in preparing Christian leaders to do the same.  I invite readers interested in getting this sort of diverse, cutting edge training to shoot me an email.  I would be glad to talk about how BMATS can give them a robust set of ministry tools they can use in their chosen ministry environments.

2.) How did you became a Presuppositionalist?

I became a presuppositionalist at TMS during my M.Div. days.  I am attracted to multi-perspectival thinking in the vein of Poythress (cf. Symphonic Theology)—considering the details of things from various perspectives, systematizing the details into a whole, developing a method, and then evaluating and practically testing the method.  Presuppositionalism was/is attractive to me for this reason.  Even more, though, I have found it to be the most biblically faithful model, as well as the most powerful method for apologetic interchange.  When I employ Van Til’s “indirect method,” I have the sense that not only am I’m honoring the Lord intellectually, but I’m engaging in a palpable act of worship.

3.) What is a typical objection to Presuppositionalism that you hear?

The objections I encounter have changed with a change in ministry venue.  Before, criticisms were based largely on misconceptions and superficial analysis.  The charge of fideism often came up, which I addressed in Chapter 2 of my Th.M. thesis on ‘04.  One interesting challenge that sometimes comes up is related to differences between Frame and Bahnsen.  I understand these, but am not disturbed by them.

Another common criticism is that it’s too philosophical.  Admittedly, often it is, but it doesn’t have to be.  The justification for the system gets philosophical real fast, particularly as proponents seek to justify the method theoretically in contrast to other approaches.  Practically, though, there is little reason for this.  People in your church can learn to use presuppositional apologetics without having to ever hear about the more philosophical stuff.  Quite frankly, most of us enjoy talking about the philosophical, theological, and nuanced aspects of such things and so we overdo it and turn people off in the process.  This is particularly true in connection to another often valid criticism—when enthusiasts go about charging non-proponents with heresy or making other overly aggressive assertions.

Right now, we have a college student in our church who is benefitting from training in presuppositional apologetics.  This semester he is sitting under a hostile professor in his philosophy course at the state university down the road.  Our student’s ability to interact with the professor’s thinking is impressive, and we’ve rarely exposed him to all of the philosophical stuff.

In our current environment, no one really questions presuppositionalism, because few people here really take apologetics seriously.  Our biggest challenge is anti-intellectualism generally.  In California, there was a clearer distinction between believers and unbelievers.  Here, most churches are seeker sensitive, tend towards mysticism, or are just dead.  Discussions over apologetic methodology just don’t come, it just isn’t where people are.

To expand the “overly aggressive” idea mentioned above, I remember years ago when a friend of mine who is a Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics introduced me to his wife.  As I recall, he is thomistic in his approach.  When we met, she was genuinely surprised to learn that I was a presuppositionalist, friendly, and didn’t intend on attacking or making trouble for her husband.  Apparently, she had been very hurt by something like that in the past and held all presuppositionalists in suspicion.  The point is that one of the criticisms of presuppositionalism that has concerned me most is this one.

 

4.) Some people believe that Dispensationalism and Presuppositional apologetics are incompatible.  Do you believe this is so?  Why or why not?

What does John Frame think?  I’ll side with him on this issue.  To me, this sounds like the debate over who’s the most reformed, where the guy who thinks he is the most reformed wins.  What is the minimum set of criteria required to be a presuppositionalist? If I employ a methodology where I seek to expose the internal tensions inherent within the unbeliever’s world and life view, and then to show the unbeliever how his irrationality is immoral due to his failure to acknowledge and submit to the Christian God in his thinking and living, do I qualify?  What if I successfully expose the rational/irrational dialectic in my friend’s thinking and then present the gospel as the only means via which he may ever hope to have his irrationality/immorality resolved, do I qualify as presuppositionalist?  Here’s what I teach in my classes.  See if this makes sense:

The presuppositionalist argues that: a. the espoused presuppositions of the unbeliever (his articulated worldview) cannot account for reality as we know it, and b. reality is as our experience and knowledge demonstrates it to be because it has its ultimate basis in the Christian God, without whom nothing—including reason itself, can be accounted for.  Furthermore, c. at heart the unbeliever knows this to be so, but sins against better knowledge by suppressing the truth about God in his unrighteousness (though evidence for God is abundant—existing within him and without, screaming at him from every existing fact with the result that he is culpable for his disbelief and without excuse).  Finally, d. as explained in Scripture, the unbeliever’s irrationality is fundamentally immoral and must be confronted with the gospel.

So, following Bahnsen, here’s what we do methodologically:

Step 1: Identify the opponent’s crucial presuppositions.  Do this by asking key worldview questions.  Then, once you have done the necessary data collecting, proceed to step 2.  Step 2: Criticize the autonomous attitude that arises from a failure to honor the Creator-creature distinction.  That is, call the unbeliever to account for his attempt to operate out from under the authority of God and in accord with his own reasoning.  Step 3: Expose the internal and destructive philosophical tensions that attend autonomy.  That is, perform an internal critique (transcendental critique) of his worldview.  Demonstrate to him how his worldview is unable to provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligible interpretation of reality, i.e. expose the rational—irrational dialectic in his thinking.  Be sure to demonstrate to him how his professed world and life views contradict his ultimate presuppositions and render rationality impossible.  Step 4: Set forth the only viable alternative.  Expound the Christian position by providing him with the biblical answer to the tensions you have uncovered in his worldview and specifically show him how Christian-theism provides the fundamental preconditions for the intelligible interpretation of reality.

A simplified way to express this would be: 1.) Identify what the unbeliever believes or thinks; 2.) rebuke your friend for his failure to submit to God; 3) Show your friend how his espoused worldview is contrived and makes no sense based on what he has said; 4.) Present the Gospel as the solution to his folly and call him to repent.

Perhaps the critic of dispensational presuppositionalism has some specific objections he needs to have clarified.  I suspect these will be person variable, but part of the problem may result from a misconception that this means a rejection of covenantalism in the sense employed by Oliphint in Covenantal Apologetics.  Honestly, I haven’t heard what I thought was a credible charge of incompatibility.

By the way, the first time I taught a seminary presuppositional apologetics course, it was at The Master’s Seminary in ’04.  The opportunity came up quickly and I needed some help preparing.  So, I emailed John Frame, who was one of my thesis readers, for help.  He emailed me his personal teaching notes and gave me access to many of his own files.  The result: he aided and abetted me—a dispensationalist teaching presuppositionalism at a dispensationalist seminary.  Now who wins?

Note: John Frame is so humble, he doesn’t remember helping me, so whenever I remind him, it’s as though he’s hearing it for the first time.  Admittedly, though, he has more important things to do than to think about me.

5.) What prompted you to write your thesis on Psalm 19 and Presuppositonal apologetics?

I gave an extended rationale for this in the first chapter of the thesis.  In part, it was related to: 1.) the debate over which apologetic method was most consistent with biblical theology, and 2.) the lack of exegetical work that had been done to validate presuppositionalism.  Those familiar with Van Til will remember this was an issue he admitted.

6.) Any resources on apologetics, worldview or theology that you recommend?

Read everything by Frame and Poythress.  Read James Sire’s The Universe Next Door.  Familiarize yourself with the complete works of Francis Schaeffer including valid criticism’s of his work.  Don’t forget Bavinck’s Creation Theology.  Get a good feel for the best of what has come from the reformed epistemology movement.  A good little free book for Kindle that serves as an introduction to Greek Philosophy is John Marshall’s A Short History of Greek Philosophy.  It’s dated, in a good way, free, and imminently readable.  Familiarize yourself generally with logic and logical fallacies.  You can find this sort of thing for free on the internet, but try to make sure you are reading a credible source.

Everybody by now has read Rosaria Butterfield’s book, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, but in case you haven’t, you should do so.  By the way, she agreed to address my apologetics class at some point.  We’re doing some different things with our seminary schedule, so we’ve made it a bit tough on her, but hopefully we can get to this.

7.) You have taught Biblical Hebrew, among other subjects.  Do you see any relationship between Presuppositional apologetics and academic work in the Old Testament?

Absolutely, yes. My Th.M. thesis provides a presuppositional critique in Chapter 3 of many OT scholars & publications related to Psalm 19.  There, I tried to show that their presuppositions have so predisposed them to modern, critical views of the text they may justifiably be accused of incompetence in their work.

Apologetics makes use of philosophy as a tool built on logic, employing it to engage in the critical evaluation and scrutiny of truth claims.  In this way, it is appropriately suited to engage in critical analysis of various theories, including but not limited to literary theories/linguistic approaches to the text, as well as the methods and conclusions of such approaches.

Let’s consider some of Tremper Longman’s work for example.  In His argument against Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes in his commentary, he commits several basic errors.

One that comes to mind combines a grammatical error with a procedural problem.  Working off of the NIV, rather than the Hebrew text, He cites Ecc. 1:12 as an argument against Solomonic authorship.  It states, “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (NIV).  He then argues that the verse identifies a time when Solomon had been alive but not king, basically concluding that since this doesn’t fit with what we know of Solomon it wasn’t really him.

This is a scandalous assertion.  Longman seems not to know that, 1.) Hebrew uses the perfect conjugation to express either simple past or past perfect verbal ideas.  Thus, “I was king” or “I have been king” are equally valid translations that any student of basic Hebrew would know—seriously.  2.) A consultation of other translations should have at least tempered his argument. 3.) In actuality, the statement seems merely to place Qoheleth’s attitude within its historical setting.  This deficiency on the part of Longman suggests either incompetence in the language, or some unargued philosophical bias that prevents honest assessment here.  But there’s more.

Citing 1:16, he argues, “It would be strange to hear Solomon state:I said to myself, ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’”  Why is this strange—because there was only one king before Solomon?  However, the chronicler in 1 Chronicles 29:25 uses this exact language to make the same case.  He says, “The LORD highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1Ch 29:25 [emphasis mine]).  Longman seems to arrive at his conclusion without adequate scholarly reflection on the wording.  Is the phrase an idiom, figure of speech, a common way of taking into consideration powerful men including but not limited to the reigning monarch?  These would be the normal sorts of questions to ask.  These are not addressed though.  When combined with other textual arguments, one can only conclude that Longman simply didn’t read/think carefully about this.  So, failure at this juncture also looks suspicious.  But there’s more.

Longman argues that Qoheleth is a pseudonym for the one assuming the Solomonic persona, or if applied to Solomon, a “nick-name.”  He writes:

“One must ask what is gained or what possible reason could Solomon have had for adopting a name other than his own in this book?  Is he hiding his identity from someone?  If so, for what possible reason?  Does the nickname add anything to the message of the book? After all, the connection to Solomon is tenuous, and no one has argued that the name contributes to the meaning of the book.  It is much more likely that the nickname Qohelet was adopted by the actual writer to associate himself with Solomon, while retaining his distance from the actual person” (p. 4).

Apparently, Longman is unaware that Hebrew nouns typically come from verbs, so that the title Qoheleth is most likely derived from some activity for which he was noted.  Since the verb is qahal, the title Qoheleth is connected with some assembling activity, perhaps the assembling of people or proverbs, etc.

Finally, at least for this interview, it is notable that Longman begins his arguments against Solomonic authorship seemingly by committing the “snob approach” variety of the argumentum ad poplum fallacy.  He states, “Attentive readers of the Bible have felt uneasy about the simple identification of Qohelet with Solomon for a long time” (p. 4).  And, “Even in the light of strong internal and external testimony to the contrary, a small, but vocal group of evangelical scholars still advocate this [Solomonic authorship] view” (p. 3).  He then props this up with poor arguments including the ones above.

Notice how he is arguing that anyone who fails to recognize the truth of his assertion is not an intellectual (“attentive”), and it would be in the best interest of the reader to listen to himself.  There are additional points in this particular case to argue, but this is not the place for that.  I would just say that Longman’s argumentation against Solomonic authorship is scurrilous.  To answer the question, is apologetics helpful for biblical studies generally and OT specifically, again, yes.  Perhaps if more biblical scholars were trained in apologetics, a lot of the stuff that passes for biblical scholarship would never gain a legitimate hearing.  Instead, junk scholarship is published and passed off as cutting edge and respectable.

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Palmyra- Cassas Baal Temple

I’ve been noticing the last few months news story related to the Bible and Archaeology, from the sensational to the subtle announcement of academic bulletin.  Christianity Today even had a summary of the “Top 10 Discovery in Biblical Archaeology of 2013″ published earlier this month.

As some of the readers might be aware, there are two general camps when it comes to the issue of the reliability of the Bible as it relates to archaeology: the Maximalists and the Minimalists.  Since the archaeological data concerning the Ancient Near East (ANE) and the Biblical world are often fragmentary, sometimes archaeological data appear to conflict with what the Bible has to say.  What should we make of this, specifically with our conclusion concerning the veracity of the Bible?  Maximalism and Minimalism describes the general approach one answer that question.

Note what Jona Lendering of Livius website (on Ancient history) has to say about maximalists and minimalists:

Maximalist scholars assume that the Biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; minimalists assume that the Biblical story must be read as fiction, unless it can be confirmed archaeologically. “Minimalism” and “maximalism” are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts.” (http://www.livius.org/theory/maximalists-and-minimalists/)

Lendering even provide this additional example:

It is easy to recognize minimalists and maximalists. If the author’s method can not immediately be deduced from the evidence he puts forward, the auxiliary hypotheses usually offer a clue. When the archaeological evidence contradicts the Bible, the maximalist will write something like “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”; the minimalist will stress that the Bible should be read as literature.

Take, for example, the Jericho walls: so far, no remains have been excavated of a wall that has collapsed in the Late Bronze Age, which contradicts the Biblical account of Joshua’s capture of the city. A maximalist will argue that these walls stood on top of the hill and must have eroded; his minimalist colleague might say that the story should be read as a description of a first fruits offering – the first town captured by the Hebrews was for God. There’s something to be said for both approaches, although in this example, the erosion argument is probably incorrect.”

The exchange between Maximalists and Minimalists in the past has been quite heated.  Probably adding fuel to the fire is the reality that this is not just another academic turf war between two competing school of thoughts: for some, there’s a deeper underlying current driving one’s methodological decision.  While not all minimalists are secularists, no doubt secular humanists and atheists would be incline towards the Minimalists approach.  Christians who hold to a high view of the veracity of the Bible of course would be inclined to the Maximalists’ approach (of course with the caveat that not all Maximalists are Evangelicals or identify themselves as Christian).

At this point one might say there’s a stalemate between the debate of Maximalists and Minimalists.  The Minimalists might charge Evangelical subsets of Maximalists for being driven by the Christian faith to dogmatically affirm that the Bible has to be true at the get-go.  It isn’t rational to do so, they say.  The Maximalists might reply with the observation that typically in archaeology one gives an ancient document the benefit of the doubt concerning it’s content being true unless proven otherwise so here we see the Minimalists being inconsistent.

It’s a dead end, some say, with the debate being a draw.  No side ultimately wins, nor has any side loses in a clear, knock out fashion.

I submit that Presuppositional apologetics is important here, with it’s attention on the role of worldviews.  As noted earlier, often there’s a deeper undercurrent that drives one to adopt a certain methodological approach towards the Bible and Archaeology.  The discussion between particular Maximalists and Minimalists doesn’t have to be at an intellectual stalemate if one discusses one’s worldview behind one’s methodology.  No doubt the most unpopular aspect of Van Til’s apologetics is the fact that it tells Christians to never compromise with the veracity of the Bible .  The content of the Bible is true if it has been attained via proper hermeneutics such as consideration of literary genres, etc.  But Presuppositional apologetics isn’t just about Christians being dogmatic, for it makes the observation that everyone including the minimalists are not immune to being dogmatic when it comes to their web of ultimate commitments which we call worldview.  But instead of being “stuck” with two dogmatic individuals talking to each other, Van Til’s apologetics goes further by asking whether one’s worldview would undermine or provide the intelligibility and meaningfulness of the archaeological endeavor in the first place.  Imagine the surprise if a Minimalist were to discover that the particular worldview which incline him towards Minimalism ends up being an undercutting defeater towards archaeological studies; now the dilemma is posed: does he continue to maintain his Minimalism for the sake of his cherished worldview or does he back away from it seeing the catastrophic consequence of it making archaeology categorically unintelligible and insignificant?

Space does not permit me to flesh out the details since for now I just want to provide a sketch of what does Presuppositional apologetics in relationship to archaeology would look like.  Here also we find philosophy to be a helpful tool and valuable in assessing the merit of the internal relationship between one’s view of reality (physical world, and metaphysical, if any) and the epistemological status of archaeology.  Interdisciplinary studies and the exploration of perspectival relationship of knowledge is quite fascinating!  

Perhaps in the far future I might write a post on how the Christian worldview (Christian theology from the Bible that supplies the meta-narrative of the world) allows Archaeology to be a sensible and rational pursuit.  This would touch on theology Proper, doctrine of providence, God’s relationship to history, biblical anthropology, etc.  Again, how beautiful is the fact that there can exists an inter-relationship of various disciplines from archaeology, history, philosophy, and now, even theology–I find it so beautiful to see this inter-dependent unity of a well-put together world for knowledge  that it makes me want to praise God.  Presuppositional apologetics and Perspectivalism (John Frame’s variety) regularly bring me to doxology.

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John_FrameThis year I am planning to read more of John Frame’s work.  I’m beginning with John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life and thought this was a good quote where he discusses the meaning of theology:

But theological propositions are useful only in the context of teaching that leads to spiritual health.  In that sense, theology is a practical discipline, not merely a theoretical one.  I do not disparage theory; indeed, my own books are more theoretical than practical.  But, in my definition, theory is not the only kind of theology there is, nor is it theology par excellence…Theology is the application of the Word to all area of life.  Academic or theoretical theology is one kind of theology, not the only kind.  And I shall argue later that theory is not more ultimate than practice, nor is it the basis of practice; rather, theory and practice are both applications of God’s Word, and they enrich one another  one another when they are biblical.  For that matter, the line between theory and practice is not sharp.  Theory is one kind of practice, and theoretical and practical are relative terms that admit of degrees” (Page 9-10)

What I like about this quote is the fact that it is relevant to the discussion about the place for theoretical versus practical theology.  Some sees one is better than the other, while some are reductionist and think there should be one at the exclusion of the other.  Still, some see there can be a mutual balance between the two but what the mechanics look like is not delineated.  Frame earlier in the book made the point that all theology is ethical in that what is true from God’s Word are what the readers OUGHT (moral obligation) to be believe.  If that’s the case, what is ethical is definitely practical, at least in the area of what we are to practically believe is true.  However, truth about God and the relationship of God to everything else also has further implications for our living as well but we must not miss the ethical and practical nature of even believing the truth of God’s Word.

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GO TO PART 7

a-covenant-with-god

I. Introduction

a. Covenants were not given in a vacuum that is in the absence of other covenants.

b. The beauty of Christianity is the coherence of the multifaceted aspect of Christian theology.

c. Although not exhaustive, the ramification of Biblical Covenant in relations to other aspects of Christianity is explored here.

II. Hermeneutics

a. Hermeneutics concerns the rule and method of interpretation in general and the Bible in particular.

b. Relationship

i.      Hermeneutics in light of the Covenants

1. Covenants are the thread that goes through the entire Bible.

2. An understanding of the Covenants allow fuller contextual background in making sense of the passages.

3. Understanding elements of the Covenant illuminates Biblical passages:

a. How does God’s promise in the Covenants illuminate this text?

b. Does the passage reveal God’s covenantal blessings and curses taking place?

c. What is God’s Covenantal requirement here in this passage?

ii.      The Covenants in light of hermeneutics

1. How one properly understand the Covenants is the result of proper hermeneutics.

2. Understanding the Covenants begin with the basic hermeneutical principles used in beginning to interpret any passage of Scripture.

3. Historical-Grammatical approach still applies to passages that discuss about Biblical Covenants.

III. Apologetics

a. Apologetics is the art and science of defending the Christian faith as true and refuting error contrary to the faith.

b. Relationship

i.      Apologetics in light of the Covenants

1. There are Covenantal promises given which have been fulfilled.

2. There is an evidential value to these Covenantal promises that have been “prophesied” and “fulfilled”.

a. Example: Jesus Christ is the Messiah in light of the promise of the Davidic Covenant.

b. Example: Uniformity of Nature such as set days, months and season is accounted for within the Christian worldview because of the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:22).

ii.      The Covenants in light of Apologetics

1. Future Covenantal promises will be fulfilled because the Word of God is true.

2. The truthfulness of the Word of God is the domain of apologetics.

IV. Soteriology

a. Soteriology is the area of theology pertaining to Salvation.

b. Relationship

i.      Soteriology in light of the Covenants

1. Details of Salvation is slowly revealed in the Covenants.

Example: Salvation for the Gentiles is revealed in incipient form through the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3)

2. The fullest expression of Soteriology in the Covenants is found in the New Covenant.

ii.      The Covenants in light of Soteriology

1.  Any proper assessment of the relationship between the Mosaic Covenant to the Abrahamic Covenant must take into account Scripture’s clear testimony of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 3:27-4:25; Galatians 3).

2. In light of progressive revelation, New Testament understanding of soteriology gives us a fuller perspective of one of the ways that Gentiles has been blessed through the promise found in the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Romans 1:16).

V. Israelology

a. This is the area of theology that pertains to the doctrine of Israel.

b. Relationship

i.      Israelology in light of the Covenants

1. God is a Covenant keeping God who does what He promise.

2. Biblical Covenants proves that God still has a place for Israel in the future.

ii.      The Covenants in light of Israelology

1. Outside the passages mentioning the Covenants, what does the data of Scripture shows concerning the truth of the promises God covenantally made to Israel?

VI. Eschatology

a. Eschatology is the area of theology that pertains to last things and end times.

b. Relationship

i.      Eschatology in light of the Covenants

1. What are the Covenantal promise of God and concepts from the Covenant that will be fulfilled eschatologically?

Example: There is no unfolding of heaven without the “root of David” (Revelation 5:5)

2. In light of the Biblical Covenants, does Israel as a nation have a role in the future?

ii.      The Covenants in light of Eschatology

Can a Bible-centered eschatology provide any further insight as to when certain Covenantal promises be fulfilled?

VII. Sanctification

a. Sanctification is the initial act of God and the progressive work of God of setting believers apart for Him.

b. Relationship

i.      Sanctification in light of the Covenants

Believers can be sanctified in their hearts and obey God’s law because the New Covenant has promised God’s law written in their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31).

ii.      The Covenants in light of Israelology

Fulfilling God’s Covenantal requirement can only be possible because of God’s sanctification of believers.

VIII. Glory of God

a. The fame of God.

b. Relationship

i.      The glory of God in light of the Covenants

1. Worship- All the great truths about God’s Covenants should lead believers to worship God even more deeply!

a. Give glory to God for the revelation of His Covenants!

b. Give glory to God for what His Covenants promises!

c. Give glory to God for the great and deep truths of the inter-relationship of the Covenants!

d. Give glory to God for how majestically wise He is, to have the Covenants be tied in inter-relationship with other aspects of Christian theology!

e. Give glory to God for how majestically wise He is, to have the Covenants bear implications for the Christian life!

f. Give glory to God for how majestically wise He is, to have the Covenants bear implications for Christian thought!

g. Give glory to God for the beauty of the coherence of the Covenants and other aspects of theology!  The beauty of the great design He has in the intricate inter-relationship and implications of Covenantal truths with other spheres of study!

2. Hope- The Covenants should give believers hope

a. Because as part of the Word of God, the Word of God by design gives hope (Romans 15:4)!

b. Because God has given His promise!

c. Because God is Covenantally faithful!

d. Because the truth of God’s Covenantal promises is a part of the “defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1st Peter 3:15)

ii.      The Covenants in light of the glory of God

1. No matter what the requirements might be in each respective covenant, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1st Corinthians 10:31).

2. “Whatever you do,” including studying the Biblical Covenants, “do all to the glory of God!”

3. Studying the Covenants itself, no matter how trivial, boring and unimportant some non-Christians and even Christians might think it is, is totally relevant if it glorifies God since all we do should glorify God!  Glorifying God is also relevant!

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Some links related to Presuppositional apologetics around the web!

1.) Self-Deception and Karl Rove’s Near Meltdown— Thoughts from Mike Robinson.

2.) The Eternal, Inextricable Link–Scott Oliphint on the antithesis.

3.) It’s Circular Because It’s Circular— Chris Bolt on what he believes is the most ridiculous objection against Presuppositionalism.

4.) Van Til’s Apologetics— Over at Wesminster Theological Seminary’s website.

5.) War against Cultural Warrior— Steve Hays go full throttle in a response and there’s something you can learn from this exchange.

6.) Van Til’s Presuppositionalism & Frame’s Perspectivalism— Joseph Torres discussion about Frame’s Perspectivalism and Van Tillian apologetics.

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I think the discussion about 2010 as the “meanest” campaign season distracts us from the real issue

As Christians, personality and ad hominem shouldn’t be what drives us to vote, the principles should be front and centered in our decision

Don’t forget our post on California’s Christian voter’s guide resources here, if you haven’t looked at it already.  Tell others about it.

I like this Youtube clip from Justin Taylor’s blog: It puts things into historical perspective when people say the campaign now is the “meanest” ever

Remember there was a time in American history when politicians who disagreed with each other express their “meaness” by shooting each other at an appointed time, just ask the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton (and then went on to try to jump start a new country afterwards!)

I thought the campaign for the sixteenth president was even more mean than the election of 1800: It contributed to the fuel of an already divided America into the Civil War.  I mean, one candidate even became the president of the succeeding states!

I also think of the election of 1828, with Andrew Jackson charge that John Quincy Adam was a spoiled rich Aristocrat since he was the son of John Adams (incidentally, the only American presidents that were father and son in US History).  One should try reading Jackson’s speech.

Then there was the midterm campaign of 1866, similar to our midterm election right now of 2010.  Those who claim this is the meanest campaign ever should read what Andrew Johnson’s speeches were like throughout the country–they might reveal why Johnson was so hated by the Democrats, would later go on to impeach this guy.  His well known hostile campaign and angry speech costs his party votes.

I could go further, but I think we have to be careful of the talking heads and hosts of the Secular media.  Often times, they don’t know their history, and they don’t know their Constitution.  Short dogmatic soundbytes don’t substitute for truth or principles.

I also want to encourage readers of Veritas Domain who are into apologetics and politics consider the implication of Frame’s perspectivalism here: If Scripture provides the “Norm” in political philosophy, history is an important situational aspect of knowledge of the political realm.  We must situate our political philosophy in light of our understanding of political development.  And that means knowing history.  Which means our opponent can mock that I’m a presuppositionalists, but I’m going to make darn sure that I will shame them with my handle on history as well when it comes down to correcting their false political history/development.

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Purchase: Amazon

The author of this work is quite a theological Renaissance man (educational background and academic ministry interacting with linguistics, mathematics, science, philosophy and Reformed theology) and was the appropriate contributor to the “Foundation of Contemporary Interpretation” series in which the work is a part of. This book in a discussion about the insight of science (and the model of science) as it relates to the task of theology and hermeneutics. Readers will appreciate his interaction with Thomas Khun’s radical thesis concerning revolution of science. Indeed, as a Presuppositionalist, the discussion on Khun’s philosophy of Science is quite appropriate. Readers unfamiliar with Khun or Presuppositionalism will be introduced to the idea that every evidence is already theory-laden, and one’s worldview and background beliefs will “color” the evidence. Throughout the work, there are discussion of theological method models, and whether or not it could be comparable to scientific models. Of course, there are differences, in that in Poythress insight he sees biblical theology must incorporate very vantage points (perspectives, or analogies) in describing the truths found in Scripture. This is contrast to the current popular model of Science which sees only one large “analogy” or “model”. For the nonpresuppositionalists, the book’s discussion about Baconian scientific method is worth buying the book in of itself. Although the work was published in 1988, there are still many people who naively assume that the Baconian method of science is the way (both normatively and indicative of current ways of doing science) of going about scientific endeavor. Poythress reveals otherwise, but in a short concise work the details for those who need it might be found in the works of Khun and his predecessors. Readers will also enjoy his discussion about the nature of truth and analogies, given that the task of theology and science inevitably runs into analogies and models. His discussion of disciplinary matrix (current accepted prerequisite beliefs controlling how a specific field of science is done by the community) and exemplars (precommitments that forms a model for further research and refinement) are helpful. For those who have been enriched by multiperspectivalism (or, in Poythress’ earlier work which he titled, “Symphonic Theology”), this is another work which explores the deep beauty of God’s world and truth, with the inter-relationship of various disciplines and fields of study reinforcing other areas and giving further, deeper insight. The book’s title makes it clear the discussion has implication for hermeneutics and science. But it does not end there–this short work touches on issues of theological methods, philosophy of language, science, sociology of knowledge and systematic theology. The end of the book also has an appendix surveying recommended works from other fields outside hermeneutics from Poythress perspective. Certainly, if more works were done like this, it would foster a greater Reformed Renaissance of Christian scholarship in which the participants are in inter-disciplinary dialogue with other brothers and sisters in other academic fields, yet seeing the bigger picture as well. What a way to glorify God if this vision were to come true!

Books by Dr Poythress,

  1. Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology
  2. God-Centered Biblical Interpretation
  3. Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God
  4. In the Beginning Was the Word: Language, A God-Centered Approach
  5. Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology
  6. Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses
  7. Redeeming Science: God-Centered Approach

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symphonic theology

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

This is a short interesting book by Vern Poythress, the professor of New Testament interpretation at the Westminister Theological Seminary (WTS).  An initial glance at the title might lead one to ask the question of what is symphonic theology.  What is symphonic theology?  It would have been great to have Poythress provide a concise definition earlier in the book.  About a third way into his work, Poythress states what it is: “We use what we have gained from one perspective to reinforce, correct, or improve what we understood through another.  I called this procedure symphonic theology because it is analogous to the blending of various musical instruments to express the variations of a symphonic theme” (43).

Though Poythress coins the term “symphonic” theology, what he articulates here is better known as Perspectivalism.  It does not seem to be anyone else who subscribe to Perspectivalism that calls it symphonic theology, and for the purpose of this review, symphonic theology will be called perspectivalism instead.  According to Poythress, he attributes perspectivalism as a theological method that was spawned from the teaching “of Cornelius Van Til, John M. Frame, and Kenneth L. Pike” (121).  In assessing Poythress claim of the three influence of Poythress’ perspectivalism, only Frame (which by the way, is Poythress’ mentor and colleague) would explicitly subscribe to perspectivalism, while Van Til’s thought of apologetics and theology in the opinion of this reviewer laid the incipient form of perspectivalism along with the work of linguist Pike.

What is perspectivalism?  It has much to do with perspective, and aspects.  Chapter one offered various illustrations of how perspectives are a part of daily life.  It is amazing to even think of how common one is not aware of perspectives in our daily life, and yet it is assumed though not necessarily consciously.  Poythress introductory chapter is a helpful opening to illustrate from the physical to the spiritual.

In the next chapter, Poythress gets more specific on defining what he means by perspective.  He notes how the term “perspective” is often used in four ways: analogies, models, selective interests and one’s worldview.  He states that concerning “the first three senses, we frequently dealt with complementary truths and ways of looking at something”, but with perspective as a worldview “here, we have an exclusive category: one view is right, while the others are wrong” (20).  It is important to understand that Poythress’ perspectivalism is not a denial of absolute truth in the common understanding of the term, since Poythress believes that there can only be one right worldview.  The rest of the book focus on the other three meaning of perspective: analogies, models and selective interests.  He believes that perspectives in the latter three senses will be beneficial in the task of theology.

Of course in justifying whether or not multiple perspectives are valid in theology, Christians would have to ask whether the Bible in any way address the topic, whether directly or indirectly.  Concerning selective interests, Poythress writes, “We can see a similar kind of selectivity in the Bible.  The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John are different partly because they tell about different events.  John concentrates on Christ’s ministry in the area of Jerusalem, while of Mark concentrates on the Galilean ministry.  Mark includes an account of the Last Supper, while John includes the Upper Room Discourse” (17-18).  And “the Gospel of Mark presents us mostly with the theme of the kingdom of God, while the Gospel of John dwells on the themes of truth, light, glory, love, indwelling and faith” (17).  Christians should appreciate how the written gospels present one unified truth with diversity of perspectives.  While most Christians would agree with the observation that the four gospels are written from different perspectives, and all four gospel remain true, it is important to realize that perspectives in of itself does not imply relativism or a denial of the existence of objective truth.

There is a sense of perspective when we read the Bible, “we use a multitude of perspective on a passage, we do not expect a conflict or contradiction between perspectives.  Rather, we use each perspective to reinforce and enhance our total understanding” (24).  As an illustration that this reviewer can think of, the passage of Zechariah 12:10 can be mined for it’s truth as Messianic prophecy, while it can also be mined for it’s truth concerning eschatology.  However, this task is not together a subjective relativistic endeavor, since the historical-grammatical-literary hermeneutic provides an objective control of knowing first off the authorial intent.  In fact, Poythress points out that perspective is also important in solid hermenutics.  Any interpretation of a passage must take into account how it fits into the book’s larger theme: “Once a book has exhibited a clear-cut theme, the book invites us to see all its contents as somehow fitting in with the theme, sometimes loosely and indirectly, sometimes directly” (30).  This theme is a particular selected interests, or “perspective”.

If one’s theology is informed by Scripture, and Scripture is perspectival, then it should be surprising to find that a solid systematic theology should be perspectival as well.  For instance, Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King are traditional categories of the roles of Christ.  In a way, these traditional offices of Jesus are also perspectives of Jesus, which Poythress points out.  While one can see distinct functions in the three offices of Christ, Poythress reminds us that “we cannot ultimately isolate one piece from another” (40).  Each of the offices presupposes and need each other: “Christ’s prophetic proclamation of the kingdom of God in words goes together with and reinforces his kingly demonstration of the presence of the kingdom of God by casting out demons and working miracles” (40).  Again, in theology, various focuses on theology should reinforce and further our total theological understanding.  Rather than a threat, if one’s theology is true, one should expect that the various analogies and interests of theological aspect is complementary of other parts of theology.

It is important to understand that though theological perspective are inter-related, there is not one singular doctrine that is foundational to all other doctrine: “No one attribute is the ‘last thing back,’ from which all the others are derived.  Rather, any attribute can be seen as related to any other” (83).  Rather, there is an inter-dependence of doctrines, other doctrines require other doctrines.

Perspectivalism spans beyond the sphere of systematic theology.  There is also a sense in which there is a relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology.  Even in an area that most might not commonly think as having any relationship, a closer inspection reveal otherwise.  For instance, Poythress explores the relationship of systematic theology to Christian ethics.  He finds that there is in some sense, all of the biblically based systematic theology is ethically imperative:  “The whole of systematic theology can be viewed as a description of what we ought to believe on the basis of the Bible.  Thus all of systematic theology—all of doctrines—is simultaneously ethics” (25)! The above suggests that theology (in the example of systematic theology) share a relationship with philosophy (in this example, the area of ethics). Those familiar with the works of Van Til would realize that there is a sense in which philosophy and theology share an interesting relationship, and Van Til is quite insightful when he points out that philosophy is really doing theology in another language.  Though Poythress does not state so here, there is a sense also that important parts of philosophy is an attempt to engage in the task of theology but from another worldview perspective.  This truth should lead the Christian philosopher to realize that philosophy itself can never be autonomous from the Word of God, just as systematic theology can never be separated from the authority of Scripture.  Even in an area like apologetics and eschatology, there is an inter-dependent relationship, which is the subject of an essay by this reviewer.

Perspectivalism is a legitimate way of thinking in light of the truth that we are limited, and our knowledge of truth can at times be partial.  An important illustration is that of the jewel: there are various facets to the diamond of a pristine theology, but there is one diamond of true religion/worldview/faith.

Poythress discussion about error is also helpful, since not all perspective is legitimate.  Even then, “Error is parasitic on the truth,” that is “to be at all plausible, errors and lies must somehow look like the truth” (89).  He gave the example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses theology is false, and yet it parallel closely to the truth when it comes to the doctrine of the second coming, etc, and the elements of Watchtower theology which parallel the truth of Scripture will be an attractive bait to attract followers.  This truth should also imply that a Christian should always be discerning of error, because error often times is disguised so closely to the truth than one realize.

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