Paul's Passing Thoughts

Calvinism and the Problem with Perfection

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 8, 2017

PPT HandleOriginally published November 7, 2013

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were first and foremost Platonists. They integrated the Bible with Platonism. Plato’s theory of forms posits the idea of two worlds; the mutable material world of illusion where reality can only be partially known, and another world where the immutable objective true forms exist. This material world is a shadow world; everything is shadows of the true forms. Therefore, man can only interpret and experience this world subjectively. The tendency is to interpret reality by observing the shadows. To the degree that mankind thinks the material world is reality according to the five senses, subjectivity and chaos will abound.

Therefore, Plato’s ethic was to improve the subjective experience of this life by accessing the true forms through ideas and mathematics—things that transcend the five senses (he believed math was an unchangeable rule and therefore not part of the shadow world). He believed that those who have the capability and willingness to bring more understanding of the objective into the subjective to be an elite minority. These were Plato’s philosopher kings whom he thought should rule society in order to decrease chaos as much as possible. Without philosopher kings, the world would be awash in a sea of subjectivity, everyone living by their own subjective presuppositions based on the shadows of this world. Hence, the arch enemy of the Platonic ideal is individualism.

Plato’s world of true objective forms was his trinity of the true, good, and beautiful. Experiencing the pure form of goodness in this world is impossible—only a shadow of good can be experienced subjectively. Plato’s social engineering has a doctrine, and to the degree that doctrine is applied, a higher quality of subjective existence occurs.

The Reformers put a slightly different twist on this construct. There is no doctrine to apply, only an orthodoxy that focuses on seeing and experiencing. Their version of Plato’s philosopher kings are pastors who possess the power of the keys. Orthodoxy is mediated truth determined by “Divines,” and passed down to the masses for the purpose of experiencing the objective power of the gospel subjectively. The Reformers made the true forms “the gospel,” and reality itself the gospel, ie., the work and personhood of Jesus Christ in particular.

Therefore, in the same way Plato envisioned a society that experiences the power of the true forms subjectively through ideas and immutable disciplines like mathematics, the Reformers sought a heightened subjective experience through a deeper and deeper knowledge of their own true, good, and beautiful—the gospel. And more specifically, instead of the gateway of understanding being reason, ideas, and immutable disciplines, they made the gospel itself the interpretive prism. So: life, history, the Bible, ie., everything, is a tool for experiencing true reality (the gospel) in a higher quality subjectivity. The Bible and all life events are a gospel hermeneutic. Salvation itself is the interpretive prism. All of reality is about redemption. Salvation itself is the universal hermeneutic.

But both constructs have this in common: Pure goodness and perfection cannot exist objectively in the material world. This is where Calvinism and Platonism kiss. The Bible only agrees with this if it is a “gospel narrative.” But if it is God’s full orbed philosophical statement to all men to be interpreted grammatically and exegetically, contradictions abound. To wit, if man possesses goodness and the ability to interpret reality objectively, Platonism and its Reformed children are found wanting. If Reformation orthodoxy is not evaluated biblically with the very theses of its own orthodoxy as a hermeneutic, even more wantonness is found.

The Apostles rejected Platonism because they believed goodness and perfection could indeed be found in this material world. There is no question of the quality of goodness inside of man that enables mankind to interpret reality objectively, the quantity of goodness notwithstanding.  In contrast, a dominate theme in the Calvin Institutes is the idea that no person lost or saved can perform a good work. Like Plato’s geometric hermeneutics, the Reformers believed the Law lends understanding to man’s inability to do good because eternal perfection is the standard. The best of man’s works are tainted with sin to some degree, and therefore imperfect. Even if man could perform one perfect work, one sin makes mankind a violator of the whole law. The Reformers were adamant that no person could do any good work whether saved or lost.

Why all the fuss over this point? Why was Calvin dogmatic about this idea to the point of annoyance? Because he was first and foremost a Platonist. The idea that a pure form of good could be found within mankind was metaphysical heresy. Because such contradicts every page of the Bible, the Reformers’ Platonist theology was made the hermeneutic as well. Instead of the interpretation method producing the theology, they made the theology the method of interpretation. If all of reality is redemptive, it must be interpreted the same way.

For the Platonist, the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh poses a huge problem. He is the truth. He came to the material world in a material body. Platonism  became Gnosticism and wreaked havoc on the 1st century church. Notice how the first sentences of 1John are a direct pushback against the Gnosticism of that day:

1John 1:1 – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Christ is the true, good, and beautiful, and He was touched, felt, seen, heard, and understood. Game over. This is the paramount melding of Plato’s two worlds resulting in a plenary decimation of his philosophy. Nevertheless, Calvin et al got around that by keeping mankind in a subjective realm while making the material world a gospel hermeneutic. Reality still cannot be understood unless it is interpreted by the gospel—everything else is shadows.

Martin Luther took Plato’s two worlds and made them two stories: our own subjective story, a self  “glory story” that leads to a labyrinth of subjectivism, or the “cross story” which is the objective gospel. Luther made Plato’s two worlds two stories, but still, they are two realms: one objective and one subjective. In the final analysis mankind is still incompetent, and void of any good whether saved or lost.

Whether the Reformed gospel or Platonism, the infusion of objective goodness is the heresy. Man cannot have any righteousness in and of himself, whether lost or saved. The pushback against this idea can be seen throughout the New Testament. A few examples follow:

1John 2:4 – Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.

1John 2:20 – But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

1John 2:26 – I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

1John 2:29 – If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1John 3:2 – Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

Romans 15:14 – I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Christians can know goodness, and perform righteousness objectively. This speaks to the quality of the righteousness when it is performed—it is perfect and acceptable to God. We are not limited to a mere subjective experience in regard to righteousness. When we are resurrected, the quantity thereafter will be 100%, but our present righteousness is acceptable to God when it is performed by us. If it is accepted by God, it is perfect.

Even the unregenerate know good, and can perform it. The works of the law are written on their hearts, and their consciences either accuse or excuse them (Romans 2:12-15). Though enslaved to unrighteousness, they are free to perform righteousness (Romans 6:20). The very goodness of God can be understood from observing creation as well (Romans 1:20).

The only way the Reformers can make all goodness outside of man is to make the Bible a salvation hermeneutic. It is the only way they could integrate the Bible with their Platonist philosophy.

paul

Clay Pots Can Know Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 21, 2017

Originally published April 11, 2016

Even though my wife and I left the institutional church for good almost 2 years ago, there are still times where I must make the obligatory visit. Going in to visit family is one of those times. I am thankful that the church in which my wife grew up is not steeped in the vileness of Calvinism. Nevertheless, Protestant orthodoxy runs far and wide. Needless to say, as a graduate of the Christian school she attended for 13 years she has nurtured many close relationships with those who were her teachers and peers. So for us the visit is merely a social call and not for purposes of “worship”. Not being a particularly “social” person myself (I am an introvert by nature, and social events suck the life force out of me) I suffer the preaching while reminding myself that it will all be over soon.

Such was the case last weekend as I found myself once again sitting in an adult Sunday School class led by a layman of the church who is without a doubt kind-hearted and well-meaning, but who knows no other way to interpret the Scriptures than what he has been taught all his life. This particular class is right now making its way through the book of 2 Corinthians. The week we were there they were up to chapter 4. Take a look particularly at verses 6 and 7.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

If we are good Protestants, we will look at these verses and see that clearly, this passage is drawing a contrast between our weakness as fragile clay pots and the power of God, right? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And if you have been a reader of PPT for any time, what should be obvious to you are the Protestant talking points and root assumptions: man has no ability, even the saints; there is nothing good in us; we are just worthless clay pots; any good we do is simply Christ doing it through us.

Now don’t get me wrong here, aside from the assumptions of total inability and the idea of the subjectivity of objective good works being performed outside of us, we can acknowledge that God does help us through His spirit. That in and of itself would not necessarily be a wrong application to make, but in the context of this passage it is a novice approach at best. The importance of understanding scripture in the correct historical context cannot be over emphasized. And these were my exact thoughts as I sat there squirming in my pew. There is so much richness to this passage that is being lost simply because people are conditioned to faulty interpretive assumptions.

With what premise then should we begin? First, let us understand that the dominant philosophy of the 1st century was a Platonic gnosticism which was nothing more than yet one more manifestation of the dualism that had dominated all philosophy in man’s attempt to explain the world since perhaps the beginning of time (I suggest you read the transcripts from John Immel’s 2013 TANC Conference sessions if you think that’s an over-generalization).

For the most part, Gnosticism can be summed up like this. Spirit is good and flesh (the physical) is evil. Objective truth can only be found in the spiritual realm. Since man is part of the physical realm, he has no access to objective truth (the “gnosis”). The only way that man can know truth is for a select few to bring it to them. These select few are the Philosopher Kings. They are the pre-ordained ones who have been given the “gnosis” by the “divines”. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that these “mediators” then are the only ones who have the right to rule the masses by virtue of the fact that they are the only ones who can know truth. This is the root system of thought behind ALL tyrannical systems, both political AND religious, for centuries!

Having this as a basis for our study, let us now consider chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Verses 1 through 7 present an exercise in rhetoric though a series of contrasting hypothetical assumptions for the purpose of presenting an argument. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2.

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

This is our first clue that the apostle Paul is offering a refutation of Gnosticism. Key words include “hidden things” and “manifestation of truth”. Understand who the audience is. Paul’s letters to the assemblies were most often written in response to address some issues that had come to his attention. Remember, one tenet of Gnostic philosophy is that truth is hidden and cannot be known. It would appear as if there were false teachers who had brought this Gnostic teaching into the assemblies there in Corinth and were trying to blend it with Christianity. Notice Paul refers to the “hidden things of dishonesty”, “walking in craftiness”, and “handling the word of God dishonestly”. These are all trademarks of Gnosticism. These false teachers were twisting the word of God to fit their Gnostic orthodoxy, all the while stating that the reason it was true was because these things were “hidden” from the masses and only they were qualified to bring it to them, and they used scripture to support their views.

What is Paul’s contrasting argument?

“…commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…”

He left truth up to their conscience. In other words, he expected his listeners to think. Paul said, I don’t want you people just to believe me because I say so. I don’t want you to believe me because I present myself as an authority. I expect you to use the faculties of reason and come to the conclusion on your own if what I preach is true or not.

 Verse 3 is a critical statement.

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3

This is a profound statement regarding the gospel. God did not reveal himself through His word for the purpose of keeping it hidden, revealing it only to a select few. This is a direct assault on Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that truth is hidden from the physical realm. But God said, no, I want you to know truth because you are lost and I want to you be reconciled to Me! That is the gospel- Be reconciled to God! That means that man CAN know truth and DOES have access to it. Paul said what we preach is not some hidden truth because that would be counter-productive. It would be antithetical to God’s purpose for the doctrine. That is what distinguishes what we preach from those Gnostic false teachers.

Verse 5 brings us to yet one more distinguishing characteristic of Gnosticism, and that is a narcissistic self-promotion.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5

Remember, only a select few were ordained to have access to the “gnosis”. As a result, these individuals felt that they were superior to the ignorant masses, perceiving themselves as having the right to rule over them. If you want to get to heaven, if you want to have salvation, then you do what I say, or else. Notice how the truth then becomes subordinated to authority. Persuasion is not necessary where power is used. The focus shifts from the message to the one delivering it. But Paul said, I don’t come to you with any desire to promote myself. You don’t get to heaven by doing what I tell you to do. You were saved because you were born again when you believed in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us back to the passage we looked at first.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

This is perhaps the most scathing rebuke of Gnosticism. The fact that believers are referred to as “earthen vessels” is a testament to the metaphysical reality of the New Birth. Now granted, the word “earthen” in the Greek does mean a piece of pottery. But that just makes the argument all that more powerful. A clay pot is made from the “earth”. It is a part of the physical realm. To say that something that is part of the physical realm can know truth is a slap in the face to Gnosticism!

And what is the result of that? Paul uses the word translated “excellency”. In the Greek it is the word υπερβολη (hoo-per-bol-lay) from which we get our English word “hyperbole”. Hyperbole is using extremely outrageous statements to make a point. Paul says that the truth of the gospel sounds outrageous, but it can be known because it is reasonable because physical, frail clay pots have the ability to know it. This serves to demonstrate that its power comes directly from God and not from those who would place themselves as mediators between God and man.

Think about that for a moment. The power of the gospel is in its ability to persuade. It isn’t some self-appointed authority who demands compliance through the use of force. It is God who persuades through the preaching of His word. That means man has the ability to reason and understand it. This can lead a man to be persuaded that God is who He says he is. He can be persuaded to choose to forego his present life and put his faith in God and become a born again new creature who is the righteous offspring of God.   For the apostle Paul to declare that our REAL, righteous new-creaturehood is contained in earthly, physical containers is the antithesis of Gnosticism!

Andy

The History of Western Philosophy and Its Societal Impact on the Church – Part 5

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 9, 2017

The following is part five of an eight-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2013 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight


Plato
I think it is important for me to make this point at the outset. Plato was a genius virtually unparalleled by anyone in human history. His system dynamics, his creativity, his ability to integrate enormous amounts of information are rivaled only by Aristotle. Now of course they arrived at two very different conclusions, but Plato is not a villain as such. He was not deliberately trying to devise a bad system of thought. He was attempting to take the arguments of his day, all of the ideas from the various and sundry thinkers we have thus far discussed, and turn it into a system of thought that is useable.

Plato is the very first thinker to successfully develop a fully comprehensive system of thought from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics to politics. His metaphysical assumptions have an enormous impact on Western thought. Plato took Socrates’ grasp of universals and then proceeded to develop a metaphysical conclusion, and since everything that follows revolves around a metaphysical foundation, we need to start at the beginning.

Universals must be knowable. Without knowable universals man is little more than an animal and less moral than the Sophists. Parmenides told us that “thou canst know what is not.” In other words, if it doesn’t exist, you can’t know it. If universals are knowable then they must be real. If universals are real, then they must exist. Plato decided that the next two questions that must be answered are where do universals exist and how do universals exist. The question later became known as “The Problem of Universals.”

Plato’s answer to these questions is that there must be two worlds (once again we see this theme of dividing reality) because the universals and the particulars are not elements of the same thing, but fully different things. Plato is taking his influence by the Pythagoreans and developing it into a primary element of his metaphysics. Plato’s conclusion was that universals are one per category, particulars are many in any given instance.

plato-dog-formNow remember the background. The conflict is between Heraclitus and Parmenides. From the beginning, everyone was trying to solve the riddle of change and multiplicity.   So the next question was how to deal with change and multiplicity and immutability? His solution was to say that universals must be eternal and indestructible. Without something that is unchanging, the world is fully unintelligible.

The logic goes like this. Think of the idea of “dog-ness”. We can say that the nature of dogs requires floppy ears, a bark, four paws, and so on. These are particulars, but there are many, many dogs with variations on those specifics, yet we understand that there is one concept of “dog-ness”. This must be an immutable law of “dog-ness”, because without immutability there would never be a law of “dog-ness”. Therefore, the universal of “dog-ness” must be eternal and indestructible.

His logic continues. Particulars are necessarily material and physical. Animals can see them, hear them, taste them, but do they grasp universals? Dogs can certainly see bones but do they see “bone-ness”? Does “dog-ness” see “bone-ness”? Plato concludes that “bone-ness” is somehow abstract and not part of the physical world, because it can’t be grasped by the physical senses. So particulars are physical, and universals are non-physical.

And what followed from that premise was that particulars were understood by the means of the senses, and universals must be understood by the means of reason. With this conclusion, Plato completes his argument about two worlds. It is the obvious necessity based on the functions of human existence. Universals, defined by one group category, exist as immutable, unchanging, and non-material world and are known only to the mind. Particulars, defined by multiplicity and change, are physical and material and are grasped by the senses.

This conclusion, of course, begs the question. If universals are somewhere outside human perception and material existence, how does man ever access the knowledge? Plato’s answer was that man gets his understanding of universals before existence. So what we have really just introduced is the concept of innate ideas. If we possess knowledge at birth, man then must have what are called innate ideas that are the product of another world, and the soul is independent of the body. This concept is central to Pythagorean mysticism.

Notice what we have. A soul/body dichotomy where the soul is eternal that is somehow intimately involved with universal knowledge that is non-specifically a part of sensory apparatus. We have man utterly divided.

Plato made many other arguments for the existence of two realms, but many of you are familiar with one that is a very popular Christian proof. It is generally called the argument for perfection. Plato asks, where do we get the standards for perfection in any category? Where do we get the concept of a perfect circle, a perfect latte, a perfect Oreo cookie? All concepts of perfection cannot come from this material world because nothing in this world is perfect. This world is made up of particulars, and particulars are always changing. If you are changing, you cannot be perfect. Change implies some kind of deficiency. Perfection requires immutability. You can hear the echoes of Christian doctrine all over this.

The most obvious example is the perfect cow. What would it eat? It doesn’t lack food because it is perfect. It doesn’t lack knowledge because it is perfect. It doesn’t need to breathe because it doesn’t lack air. If nothing in this world can be perfect, where do we get our concept of perfect? The only conclusion is that man gets it from contemplating another world, a world that hold the perfect embodiment of everything in this world, a perfect archetype of universals.

And the reason this gets so much traction is because this is exactly how we prove the existence of God. This is what we say. We have a concept of God in our thinking. And where do we get that concept? Well, it must necessarily exist because we wouldn’t have it in our thinking if it didn’t exist.

Now you know how Plato came up with the world of forms and the world of the senses. The realm of universals is the world of forms. Step by step, man is taken farther and farther away from life in this world. By incremental steps man has been taken down a path that says that he is absolutely not a part of this world. He is not able to understand it, he is not really able to interact with it, and in some instances he is not even really able to know it.

While Plato’s solution was an elegant response to the Sophists, he unwittingly sets man up for the tyranny that necessarily must follow from this progression of thought. Remember what I said: human life is defined by how ideas go together. This is the principle:

Foundational assumption (Metaphysical premise) determines…

-> Epistemological qualification, which in turn defines…

-> Ethical standards, which in turn prescribes…

-> Political culture (government force)

What you assume to be true about man determines what you think man can do. What you think man can do defines his ethical standard or his definition of value. And man’s definition of value dictates the government structure with which he surrounds himself.

How does this look when applied to Plato’s philosophy?

Foundational assumption – This world is a reflection of other-worldly forms. This determines…

Epistemological qualification – Man cannot know truth because he experiences the imperfect from a shadow world. That defines…

Ethical standards – Only select men of the highest character and longstanding study can achieve enlightenment. This prescribes…

Political force – A select few who have the right to rule over the masses.

CASTENow we’ve actually caught this theme repeatedly. It is always a select few that have the ability to understand this grand mystical truth. It is everybody else that cannot understand it for whatever disqualification they may possess. This two-world distinction ultimately creates a class society, the endless presumption that some are uniquely qualified, by virtue of some ethical achievement, to ultimately govern those who cannot arrive at that ethical achievement.

We have seen endless examples of this.   Slavery was justified for this exact reason. The white man was superior because the black man was inferior, and so the white man must rule over the slave. Our treatment of the American Indians was the same way. This two-world concept always boils down to a class society that is determined, pre-destined to rule over a sub-class.

inst-church-caste-finalThe only reason to advocate determinism and pre-destination is to establish a class society, always. There is no logical, rational reason to advocate determinism otherwise. Because if everything is determined, then why is there any argument? What are you trying to persuade? By definition, I am who I am because I am determined to be that. There is no rational appeal to achieve any other end.

So if you are arguing with a determinist, the answer is, “why are you arguing?” At the end of the day the only reason he is arguing is because at some point he believes he should be in charge of your life. It is that stark, that ugly, and that bold. If you get this point, you can unravel 99% of all determinist’s arguments.

Are you starting to get the picture of how philosophy integrates ideas? Are you starting to see how what man believes affects the existence of what he knows? Are you starting to see how what man knows affects how he thinks he should act?

To be continued…


Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight

Clay Pots Can Know Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on April 11, 2016

Even though my wife and I left the institutional church for good almost 2 years ago, there are still times where I must make the obligatory visit. Going in to visit family is one of those times. I am thankful that the church in which my wife grew up is not steeped in the vileness of Calvinism. Nevertheless, Protestant orthodoxy runs far and wide. Needless to say, as a graduate of the Christian school she attended for 13 years she has nurtured many close relationships with those who were her teachers and peers. So for us the visit is merely a social call and not for purposes of “worship”. Not being a particularly “social” person myself (I am an introvert by nature, and social events suck the life force out of me) I suffer the preaching while reminding myself that it will all be over soon.

Such was the case last weekend as I found myself once again sitting in an adult Sunday School class led by a layman of the church who is without a doubt kind-hearted and well-meaning, but who knows no other way to interpret the Scriptures than what he has been taught all his life. This particular class is right now making its way through the book of 2 Corinthians. The week we were there they were up to chapter 4. Take a look particularly at verses 6 and 7.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

If we are good Protestants, we will look at these verses and see that clearly, this passage is drawing a contrast between our weakness as fragile clay pots and the power of God, right? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And if you have been a reader of PPT for any time, what should be obvious to you are the Protestant talking points and root assumptions: man has no ability, even the saints; there is nothing good in us; we are just worthless clay pots; any good we do is simply Christ doing it through us.

Now don’t get me wrong here, aside from the assumptions of total inability and the idea of the subjectivity of objective good works being performed outside of us, we can acknowledge that God does help us through His spirit. That in and of itself would not necessarily be a wrong application to make, but in the context of this passage it is a novice approach at best. The importance of understanding scripture in the correct historical context cannot be over emphasized. And these were my exact thoughts as I sat there squirming in my pew. There is so much richness to this passage that is being lost simply because people are conditioned to faulty interpretive assumptions.

With what premise then should we begin? First, let us understand that the dominant philosophy of the 1st century was a Platonic gnosticism which was nothing more than yet one more manifestation of the dualism that had dominated all philosophy in man’s attempt to explain the world since perhaps the beginning of time (I suggest you watch all 5 of John Immel’s sessions from last year’s 2015 TANC conference if you think that’s an over-generalization).

For the most part, Gnosticism can be summed up like this. Spirit is good and flesh (the physical) is evil. Objective truth can only be found in the spiritual realm. Since man is part of the physical realm, he has no access to objective truth (the “gnosis”). The only way that man can know truth is for a select few to bring it to them. These select few are the Philosopher Kings. They are the pre-ordained ones who have been given the “gnosis” by the “divines”. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that these “mediators” then are the only ones who have the right to rule the masses by virtue of the fact that they are the only ones who can know truth. This is the root system of thought behind ALL tyrannical systems, both political AND religious, for centuries!

Having this as a basis for our study, let us now consider chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians. Verses 1 through 7 present an exercise in rhetoric though a series of contrasting hypothetical assumptions for the purpose of presenting an argument. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2.

“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:1-2

This is our first clue that the apostle Paul is offering a refutation of Gnosticism. Key words include “hidden things” and “manifestation of truth”. Understand who the audience is. Paul’s letters to the assemblies were most often written in response to address some issues that had come to his attention. Remember, one tenet of Gnostic philosophy is that truth is hidden and cannot be known. It would appear as if there were false teachers who had brought this Gnostic teaching into the assemblies there in Corinth and were trying to blend it with Christianity. Notice Paul refers to the “hidden things of dishonesty”, “walking in craftiness”, and “handling the word of God dishonestly”. These are all trademarks of Gnosticism. These false teachers were twisting the word of God to fit their Gnostic orthodoxy, all the while stating that the reason it was true was because these things were “hidden” from the masses and only they were qualified to bring it to them, and they used scripture to support their views.

What is Paul’s contrasting argument?

“…commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…”

He left truth up to their conscience. In other words, he expected his listeners to think. Paul said, I don’t want you people just to believe me because I say so. I don’t want you to believe me because I present myself as an authority. I expect you to use the faculties of reason and come to the conclusion on your own if what I preach is true or not.

 Verse 3 is a critical statement.

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:3

This is a profound statement regarding the gospel. God did not reveal himself through His word for the purpose of keeping it hidden, revealing it only to a select few. This is a direct assault on Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that truth is hidden from the physical realm. But God said, no, I want you to know truth because you are lost and I want to you be reconciled to Me! That is the gospel- Be reconciled to God! That means that man CAN know truth and DOES have access to it. Paul said what we preach is not some hidden truth because that would be counter-productive. It would be antithetical to God’s purpose for the doctrine. That is what distinguishes what we preach from those Gnostic false teachers.

Verse 5 brings us to yet one more distinguishing characteristic of Gnosticism, and that is a narcissistic self-promotion.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5

Remember, only a select few were ordained to have access to the “gnosis”. As a result, these individuals felt that they were superior to the ignorant masses, perceiving themselves as having the right to rule over them. If you want to get to heaven, if you want to have salvation, then you do what I say, or else. Notice how the truth then becomes subordinated to authority. Persuasion is not necessary where power is used. The focus shifts from the message to the one delivering it. But Paul said, I don’t come to you with any desire to promote myself. You don’t get to heaven by doing what I tell you to do. You were saved because you were born again when you believed in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us back to the passage we looked at first.

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

This is perhaps the most scathing rebuke of Gnosticism. The fact that believers are referred to as “earthen vessels” is a testament to the metaphysical reality of the New Birth. Now granted, the word “earthen” in the Greek does mean a piece of pottery. But that just makes the argument all that more powerful. A clay pot is made from the “earth”. It is a part of the physical realm. To say that something that is part of the physical realm can know truth is a slap in the face to Gnosticism!

And what is the result of that? Paul uses the word translated “excellency”. In the Greek it is the word υπερβολη (hoo-per-bol-lay) from which we get our English word “hyperbole”. Hyperbole is using extremely outrageous statements to make a point. Paul says that the truth of the gospel sounds outrageous, but it can be known because it is reasonable because physical, frail clay pots have the ability to know it. This serves to demonstrate that its power comes directly from God and not from those who would place themselves as mediators between God and man.

Think about that for a moment. The power of the gospel is in its ability to persuade. It isn’t some self-appointed authority who demands compliance through the use of force. It is God who persuades through the preaching of His word. That means man has the ability to reason and understand it. This can lead a man to be persuaded that God is who He says he is. He can be persuaded to choose to forego his present life and put his faith in God and become a born again new creature who is the righteous offspring of God.   For the apostle Paul to declare that our REAL, righteous new-creaturehood is contained in earthly, physical containers is the antithesis of Gnosticism!

Andy

Calvinism and the Problem with Perfection

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on August 11, 2015

PPT HandleOriginally published November 7, 2013

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were first and foremost Platonists. They integrated the Bible with Platonism. Plato’s theory of forms posits the idea of two worlds; the mutable material world of illusion where reality can only be partially known, and another world where the immutable objective true forms exist. This material world is a shadow world; everything is shadows of the true forms. Therefore, man can only interpret and experience this world subjectively. The tendency is to interpret reality by observing the shadows. To the degree that mankind thinks the material world is reality according to the five senses, subjectivity and chaos will abound.

Therefore, Plato’s ethic was to improve the subjective experience of this life by accessing the true forms through ideas and mathematics—things that transcend the five senses (he believed math was an unchangeable rule and therefore not part of the shadow world). He believed that those who have the capability and willingness to bring more understanding of the objective into the subjective to be an elite minority. These were Plato’s philosopher kings whom he thought should rule society in order to decrease chaos as much as possible. Without philosopher kings, the world would be awash in a sea of subjectivity, everyone living by their own subjective presuppositions based on the shadows of this world. Hence, the arch enemy of the Platonic ideal is individualism.

Plato’s world of true objective forms was his trinity of the true, good, and beautiful. Experiencing the pure form of goodness in this world is impossible—only a shadow of good can be experienced subjectively. Plato’s social engineering has a doctrine, and to the degree that doctrine is applied, a higher quality of subjective existence occurs.

The Reformers put a slightly different twist on this construct. There is no doctrine to apply, only an orthodoxy that focuses on seeing and experiencing. Their version of Plato’s philosopher kings are pastors who possess the power of the keys. Orthodoxy is mediated truth determined by “Divines,” and passed down to the masses for the purpose of experiencing the objective power of the gospel subjectively. The Reformers made the true forms “the gospel,” and reality itself the gospel, ie., the work and personhood of Jesus Christ in particular.

Therefore, in the same way Plato envisioned a society that experiences the power of the true forms subjectively through ideas and immutable disciplines like mathematics, the Reformers sought a heightened subjective experience through a deeper and deeper knowledge of their own true, good, and beautiful—the gospel. And more specifically, instead of the gateway of understanding being reason, ideas, and immutable disciplines, they made the gospel itself the interpretive prism. So: life, history, the Bible, ie., everything, is a tool for experiencing true reality (the gospel) in a higher quality subjectivity. The Bible and all life events are a gospel hermeneutic. Salvation itself is the interpretive prism. All of reality is about redemption. Salvation itself is the universal hermeneutic.

But both constructs have this in common: Pure goodness and perfection cannot exist objectively in the material world. This is where Calvinism and Platonism kiss. The Bible only agrees with this if it is a “gospel narrative.” But if it is God’s full orbed philosophical statement to all men to be interpreted grammatically and exegetically, contradictions abound. To wit, if man possesses goodness and the ability to interpret reality objectively, Platonism and its Reformed children are found wanting. If Reformation orthodoxy is not evaluated biblically with the very theses of its own orthodoxy as a hermeneutic, even more wantonness is found.

The Apostles rejected Platonism because they believed goodness and perfection could indeed be found in this material world. There is no question of the quality of goodness inside of man that enables mankind to interpret reality objectively, the quantity of goodness notwithstanding.  In contrast, a dominate theme in the Calvin Institutes is the idea that no person lost or saved can perform a good work. Like Plato’s geometric hermeneutics, the Reformers believed the Law lends understanding to man’s inability to do good because eternal perfection is the standard. The best of man’s works are tainted with sin to some degree, and therefore imperfect. Even if man could perform one perfect work, one sin makes mankind a violator of the whole law. The Reformers were adamant that no person could do any good work whether saved or lost.

Why all the fuss over this point? Why was Calvin dogmatic about this idea to the point of annoyance? Because he was first and foremost a Platonist. The idea that a pure form of good could be found within mankind was metaphysical heresy. Because such contradicts every page of the Bible, the Reformers’ Platonist theology was made the hermeneutic as well. Instead of the interpretation method producing the theology, they made the theology the method of interpretation. If all of reality is redemptive, it must be interpreted the same way.

For the Platonist, the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh poses a huge problem. He is the truth. He came to the material world in a material body. Platonism  became Gnosticism and wreaked havoc on the 1st century church. Notice how the first sentences of 1John are a direct pushback against the Gnosticism of that day:

1John 1:1 – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Christ is the true, good, and beautiful, and He was touched, felt, seen, heard, and understood. Game over. This is the paramount melding of Plato’s two worlds resulting in a plenary decimation of his philosophy. Nevertheless, Calvin et al got around that by keeping mankind in a subjective realm while making the material world a gospel hermeneutic. Reality still cannot be understood unless it is interpreted by the gospel—everything else is shadows.

Martin Luther took Plato’s two worlds and made them two stories: our own subjective story, a self  “glory story” that leads to a labyrinth of subjectivism, or the “cross story” which is the objective gospel. Luther made Plato’s two worlds two stories, but still, they are two realms: one objective and one subjective. In the final analysis mankind is still incompetent, and void of any good whether saved or lost.

Whether the Reformed gospel or Platonism, the infusion of objective goodness is the heresy. Man cannot have any righteousness in and of himself, whether lost or saved. The pushback against this idea can be seen throughout the New Testament. A few examples follow:

1John 2:4 – Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.

1John 2:20 – But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

1John 2:26 – I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

1John 2:29 – If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1John 3:2 – Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears[a] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

Romans 15:14 – I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Christians can know goodness, and perform righteousness objectively. This speaks to the quality of the righteousness when it is performed—it is perfect and acceptable to God. We are not limited to a mere subjective experience in regard to righteousness. When we are resurrected, the quantity thereafter will be 100%, but our present righteousness is acceptable to God when it is performed by us. If it is accepted by God, it is perfect.

Even the unregenerate know good, and can perform it. The works of the law are written on their hearts, and their consciences either accuse or excuse them (Romans 2:12-15). Though enslaved to unrighteousness, they are free to perform righteousness (Romans 6:20). The very goodness of God can be understood from observing creation as well (Romans 1:20).

The only way the Reformers can make all goodness outside of man is to make the Bible a salvation hermeneutic. It is the only way they could integrate the Bible with their Platonist philosophy.

paul

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