Wednesday, April 24, 2019


1. This raises a potential challenge to biblical creation:

As we discover more fossils, there may be further challenges in kind. One issue this raises is whether Christians should just admit that human evolution is true. Is the time past due to throw in the towel? Sure, we can contrive ingenuous explanations to reconcile this with biblical creation, but isn't that special pleading? It's only because Genesis is part of the sacred canon of Christianity rather than The Argonautica that we make an effort to defend the historicity of Genesis when we'd never make a comparable effort to defend the historicity of The Argonautica. So goes the argument. 

It would, indeed be special pleading to defend the historicity of The Argonautica, but the comparison is inapt. If there's abundant evidence that Christianity is true, then it's not special pleading to treat the Bible differently than we treat The Argonautica

2. Another issue is how we tell that something has humanoid intelligence. For instance, there are animals that use things designed by humans. It would be invalid to infer that animals invent what they use. For that matter, lots of humans are smart enough to use a cellphone who aren't smart enough to design a cellphone. So there's a distinction between inventing tools and using tools. Suppose you had jungle inhabited by humans and apes. Apes might steal human tools and toy with them. Discovering apes with tools wouldn't ipso facto prove the apes had humanoid intelligence. 

3. There's also the question of how we identify humanoid intelligence. This goes to the larger issue of what makes humans human or unique compared to animals. A common criterion is a certain level of intelligence. A capacity for abstract thought. Imagination. Deliberation. Thinking about the past and future. Is it possible for a creature to have humanoid intelligence, yet be inhuman?

In Christian theology, angels have humanoid intelligence, yet angels are unrelated to humans. To take another example, there's a sense in which psychopaths are both human and inhuman. On the one hand they have human intelligence. Indeed, above-average intelligence. Yet a psychopath lacks normal human psychology. Psychos are expert at mimicking human emotions, but they lack human emotions. In particular, they lack empathy. They have no conscience. 

A psychopath is like a vampire. A vampire retains human intelligence and memories. But its psychological makeup is inhuman. When it looks at a human being, it views the human as food. By the same token, psychos are predators who hunt human prey. So there's something fundamentally inhuman about psychopaths (and sociopaths). 

Or take someone like Bobby Fischer who's a genius, but devoid of social intelligence. He can relate to the game of chess, but he can't relate to human beings. 

Or, to consider this from the other end of the telescope, consider people with Down syndrome who, in a sense, have subhuman intelligence, yet they have a human emotional makeup. In a sense, someone with Down syndrome has greater humanity than Bobby Fischer. 

Another example, albeit fictional, is rational aliens. Suppose you had a conversation with an E.T. Initially, you might find that you have a lot in common with the E.T. But as the conversation progresses, you come to the terrifying realization that there's something fundamentally foreign about its outlook. Suppose what humans find beautiful, our hypothetical aliens don't find beautiful. What we find emotionally compelling, they don't. They don't respond to music. They don't gaze in awe at sunsets. They have no instinct to comfort a crying child. 

4. Apropos (3), imagine if God created some animals with humanoid intelligence that are, nevertheless, unrelated to humans. Imagine if you had a conversation with one of them. At first you seem to share a lot in common. But as the conversation deepens, it becomes increasingly apparent that they operate on a different wavelength. Humanoid intelligence is, at best, a necessary but insufficient condition to make one human. And even that may be overstated (e.g. Down syndrome). 

5. Scripture doesn't detail the animals God created. It classifies them by ecological zone. Land animals, aquatic animals, and volant animals. Even if God created (now extinct) animals with humanoid intelligence, there's no presumption that Scripture would mention that fact. Just as there's no expectation that the Genesis narrator would list the Tasmanian devil. For one thing, the original audience would have no idea what the narrator was referring to. Indeed, the narrator wouldn't have the vocabulary. And even if the Bible did use the word "Tasmanian devil", that term would be co-opted by Bible readers to refer to something other than the marsupial. By the time the Tasmania devil was discovered, it would be called something else.

6. Inspiration doesn't make a Bible writer omniscient. The Genesis narrator was ignorant about the existence of most species. But ignorance is not the same thing as error. And even if he knew about Australian/Tasmanian fauna, there'd be no occasion to mention that in the creation account. By the same token, even if God created (now extinct) animals with humanoid intelligence, there'd be no reason for Genesis to mention that. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Debating cessationism

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning

Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism

Mutiny at SBTS?

An OT prof. at SBTS has signed the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel:

That's significant because it's been reported that Al Mohler privately threatened to fire faculty who signed the statement (a report Mohler denies). So this will be a test. 

The Statement on Social Justice is a poorly-formulated manifesto, although it says mostly good things. Is there a duty to sign it?

Insofar as the evangelical ruling class has drawn a line in the sand over this document, there's something to be said for signing it, even though it's a flawed document, as a statement of protest and defiance. The hostile reaction to the document lends it a significance above and beyond the document itself. It has become a symbol. 

An analogy would be saying and doing things that Muslims find provocative or offensive just to prove that you still have the freedom to do so (e.g. satirical cartoons of Muhammad). Occasionally, if someone dares you not to do something, that's a reason to do it. Sometimes you need to put it to the test. If you're afraid to exercise your rights, for fear of reprisal, then you already lost your rights. Likewise, the only way to keep your rights or reclaim your rights is to stand up to bullies.

I've been told that Mohler can fire faculty without due cause because SBTS uses at-will employment. At-will employment should be abolished at SBC seminaries. It subverts doctrinal standards. Termination of employment should be based on violating the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message and/or ethical misconduct. In effect, at-will employment replaces the statement of faith with the seminary prez. The seminary prez. becomes the operating creed. It reminds me of something Roger Olson said about ORU. ORU had no formal creed because Oral Roberts was the creed. Whatever he taught from one day to the next was the de facto statement of faith.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Mueller Report recap

A few observations on the Mueller report:

It's amusing to see critics instantly pivot from collusion to obstruction. Moreover, Mueller didn't charge Trump with obstruction. He punted to DOJ. 

David French used the occasion to burnish his indelible NeverTrump credentials:

I find French painfully naive on this point: naturally subordinates will lie about their conduct if they think a prosecutor is going to indict them for what he deems to be criminal conduct. Does French really think they'd volunteer self-incriminating information? Why would any rational person cooperate with an investigation if they rightly fear that they will be targeted, that their cooperation will be used against them? What universe is French living in? 

Ironically, a CNN journalist, of all people, pointed out that this reflects the failure of the Obama administration to protect the USA from hackers:

For his part, Andy McCarthy highlighted the way Mueller upended the burden of proof: 

On Twitter, Michael Medved noted that by crying wolf for 2 years on "collusion," Democrats have unwittingly inoculated Trump from other scandals. 

What's left? Stormy Daniels? That scandal certainly shows Trump at his worst. But it's not impeachable. Moreover, it hinges on the technicalities of campaign finance law. 

There is a problem when subordinates defy Trump's orders. It's striking, though, that Trump didn't follow up when they failed to carry out his orders. Is this just Trump's way of blowing off steam? The classic "take Trump seriously but not literally"? 

I've read about a potential conflict of interest regarding Trump's business interests abroad. However, the fanatical obsession with "collusion" deflected attention away from what might be a legitimate issue. 

Why Cosmic Skeptic is WRONG about the Bible and Slavery

Preaching Christ from history

1. A perennial issue in Christian theology is how to preach Christ from the OT. There's no consensus among evangelical scholars in that regard, viz.

One of the dangers, or perceived dangers, is that we're shoehorning OT passages into a preconceived grid that can't be justified by the passages themselves. This is germane to Jewish evangelism and apologetics, because many Jews don't recognize our interpretations as authentic reflections of original intent. And there's the attendant danger that a Christian pastor or scholar might lose his faith if he begins to suspect that Christian exegesis of the OT is a projection or artificial overlay. Are we fooling ourselves? 

2. I'd hasten to add that the objection cuts both ways. For one thing, the NT is just as Jewish as the OT. The NT is a continuation (and culmination) of the OT. You can't amputate the NT from the OT without killing the OT patient. 

Likewise, the OT, considered in isolation, loses plausibility. That's why many Jews have given up belief in a personal messiah. They lost hope. How long must you wait before it's impossible to distinguish a prophecy that's unfulfilled because it still lies in the future from one that will never be fulfilled? Don't many Jews suffer from nagging doubts in that regard?

Put another way, loss of faith in a personal messiah is a backdoor admission that the OT does prophesy a personal messiah, but because Jews don't think Jesus was the right candidate, and there's no other plausible candidate in sight, they are forced to either abandon Judaism altogether (secular Jews) or reinterpret the OT messianic expectation (e.g. Reform Judaism). 

So this isn't a challenge unique to Christianity. Ironically, Christians are picking up where many Jews gave up. 

It's important to work through these issues and come out the other end before undergoing a crisis of faith. It may prevent a crisis of faith or enable one to get through it with your faith intact and emerge stronger on the other side.

3. It might be objected that Christians are in the same boat regarding the Second Coming. How much time must pass before that becomes implausible? But there's a crucial difference. If the first advent is partial fulfillment, then it's evidence that we are on the right track. 

Moreover, God makes himself manifest in the lives of some Christians. So it's not just about ancient writings. 

4. In Christian theology, the traditional way of preaching Christ from the OT is to seize on certain messianic prooftexts. And that remains a legitimate approach.  There are passages very suited to that exegesis. However, a limitation to that approach is that it's very atomistic. On that approach, most of the OT isn't specifically messianic. 

5. A more recent way, inaugurated by Vos, is to trace out messianic motifs through a series of OT books. (I'm not saying Vos did that. I'm referring generally to the redemptive-historical hermeneutic.) That's a legitimate approach. An important supplement to the traditional approach. In some respects an improvement over the traditional approach. However, it's still rather limited. 

6. By contrast, it's easy to preach Christ from the NT, right? Yet there's a sense in which the OT has a counterpart in the inter-adventual age. Both the OT and NT contain as-yet outstanding prophecies about the future. The church age and the return of Christ. In reference to the second advent, Christians are in a position analogous to the position of OT/Intertestamental Jews in reference to the first advent. 

7. The first two approaches are text-based approaches. That's legitimate and necessary. But is there another way of broaching the issue? What about an event-based approach? 

Suppose you are God. In your master plan for human history, Jesus will be the messiah–with all that represents. It would make sense to arrange history to include emblematic events that signal the need for a messiah. Likewise, events that signal the nature of the messiah. That approach doesn't sidestep the Bible, but uses the sacred text as a window into events behind the text that point to the nature and necessity of messiah. Not only does God send prophets who predict messiah, but in addition, there's a world behind the text, a world which, by design, symbolizes the human plight and kind of messiah required to save us. That has affinities with typology, but is broader. Consider Bible history and church history:


If Messiah isn't merely an agent sent by God but God coming to his people in person, then the creation account is, among other things, a setup to identify messiah. 


The inaugural human pair are banished from the garden. Their exile forecloses immorality via the tree of life to their posterity. Is the prospect of (biological) immortality forever lost? Or will messiah restore that?


Evil is so pervasive by this point that God adopts a scorched-earth policy. God wipes out all evildoers as well as the younger generation. He makes a fresh start using Noah's nuclear family. Yet despite that, moral evil comes roaring back. What kind of messiah can save us from that?

That illustrates the depth as well as breadth of evil. Like eradicating tumors from a cancer patient. The cancer appears to be gone, but tumors resurface a few months later. Turns out the treatment didn't reach the cancer itself, but only effects of the cancer. It keeps coming back. The underlying cause is vigorous and virulent. 


Unlike the scorched-earth policy, this time around God adopts a containment policy. Quarantine a subset of humanity from humanity in general. Put them in a separate country with purity codes. Yet Israel repeatedly commits national apostasy. Israel repeatedly reverts to paganism. Once again, that illustrates the depth of evil. What kind of messiah can save us from that?

Egyptian bondage/Exodus/Wilderness 

God delivers Israel from Egyptian bondage. Yet the act of removing external oppression exposes the inner moral failure of the Israelites. Outwardly liberated, they suffer from inner bondage. Their fickle character was there all along, but easy to shift blame for their plight on oppression. The source of the problem is more fundamental. 

We might say these divine policies are calculated failures. Their purpose is not to solve the problem of human sin, but to show the radical nature of human sin. That, in turn, indicates the kind of messiah that will be required to save us. 

The Cultus

The tabernacle, priesthood, and offerings are enacted parables to graphically illustrate divine holiness and human guilt. Sin has a forensic dimension (culpability, blameworthiness) as well as a psychological dimension (propensity to evil). A relation between God and man as well as something wrong with man. What kind of messiah is needed?

The Monarchy

i) There's no political salvation. Even the best Jewish kings have moral blind spots.

ii) At the same time, this lays the groundwork for Messiah as king over all. Heir of David as well as God's coregent. The heavenly crown prince. 

Assyrian deportation/Babylonian Exile

Despite their spiritual advantages, the Jews repeatedly and defiantly break the covenant. What more must be done to save wayward humans from themselves?


Not only does Jesus face human opposition, but opposition from the Devil and demons. That peels back the curtain to reveal another layer of evil behind human evil. That was already touched on in Dan 11. In addition to human evil there's angelic evil, which animates idolatry and polytheism. 

Jewish opposition to Jesus

Ironically, many Jews, steeped in the OT scriptures resisted the prophesied messiah when he comes. Once more, that demonstrates the need to address sin root and branch. 

Church age

The church age is characterized by external persecution, ecclesiastical corruption, and manmade substitutes for the Gospel. On the other hand, it's also characterized by the tenacity of faith and the overcoming power of grace. 

The upshot is that we can preach Christ (or Trinitarian salvation) from history. OT history, NT history, and church history. That complements a text-based approach. The Bible provides a roadmap for preaching Christ from history. And I think this is a neglected approach. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Birth strikers

From antinatalism, through feminism and "white privilege"  to transgenderism, it's morbidly fascinating to see atheists adopt a suicidal, self-hating ideology:

Fallen angels

It's striking how little the Bible explicitly has to say about the fall of angels. Just a few scattered, sometimes ambiguous passages. 

Liberals say the theology of fallen angels is a Second Temple development (e.g. 1 Enoch). And because it's a later development, this is legendary embellishment or pious fiction. Tacked on at a later date. But there are basic problems with that characterization: 

i) Even in the NT, reference to the fall of angels is scant. Even in the Gospels, Satan isn't classified as a fallen angel. Yet the theological narrative of fallen angels was already in place by then.

ii) Even if we grant liberal dating for the sake of argument, they also tend to date the Pentateuch to the Exilic period, so on their own dating scheme, the fall of angels isn't an especially late development in relation to the OT narrative.

iii) Although Scripture doesn't say much about the fallen of angels, the OT has a lot to say about angels generally, as well as moral evil generally. This goes all the way back to the Pentateuch, including Genesis in particular. So angels and moral evil already figure in the earliest stages of the OT plot. 

It is, however, a short step from the existence of angels in general to evil angels in particular. Likewise, the origin of moral evil is a natural question to ask. Is that confined to the human realm? Or does it have a parallel in the angelic realm? And given the interaction between men and angels in Scripture, it's a short step to the idea that evil angels as well as good angels intersect with human history. So there's no overriding reason to assume this is a late theological development.

Things Into Which Angels Long To Look

Earlier in this Easter season, I posted an article about Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's first three Servant Songs. Elsewhere, I've posted a collection of articles on other Easter prophecies, and you can go here to find a collection of posts we've written on prophecy fulfillment more broadly. As we think about the resurrection, the gospel, and the fulfillment of these prophecies, we should consider how much God has given us that previous generations longed for.

"As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Extreme altruism

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).
There can be a gray area between suicide and altruism. Suppose a father has a teenager son with liver disease. The son needs a liver transplant. Suppose the father contracts a type of cancer that's almost uniformly fatal. However, the cancer hasn't spread to the liver, and the father is a compatible donor. Would it be morally permissible, before metastasis kicks in, for the father to donate his liver to his ailing son? This will shorten the father's life. He has terminal cancer, but without a liver he will die in a few days.  

What really caused Notre Dame fire?

Jesus in Christianity and Islam

"Why I became Muslim"

I don't know if this is worth responding to:

So First Things, basically a Catholic outfit, is hosting a conversion story about an atheist who became a Muslim. A revealing example of the identity crisis that besets post-Vatican II Catholicism. 

I chose a different course and embarked on a search for God. Where could a lost soul go? Nowhere in college or country offered an answer. What the campus Conservative Party outlined was absurd: We can pick up the fragments of our culture by putting on three-piece suits, getting riotously drunk, and reviving the divine right of kings. I had plenty of opportunities to engage with orthodox Christians, and I sincerely wanted Christianity to be true. It was clear to me that what the authorities in my world celebrated—the collapse of family life, the slaughter of the unborn, the deterioration of high culture—were, in truth, social evils that followed from the decline of the Church. Christianity seemed the natural alternative to secularity. But when I entered the chapels and listened to the ministers, the regeneration I sought didn’t happen. Christian voices sounded all too agreeable and compromising. I wanted something stronger, something that didn’t ­bargain with secularism. I found it in Islam.

That's naive. There are traditional Christians as well as modernist Christians, traditional Muslims as well as modernist Muslims. 

The first part of the Islamic ­shahada, or testimony of faith, is la ilaha il’Allah, “there is no god but God”—an uncompromising statement of pure mono­theism. Islam puts the One God front and center, a simple and commanding being. Philosophy had persuaded me that God was an intellectual and moral necessity. I did not know whether his existence could strictly be proven, but I recognized the dishonesty and intellectual contortions atheism required. Without an absolute, transcendent Lord, I could see no way to objective morality and to a purpose and order in the cosmos that could overcome the transience of this world. I doubted that we could justify even belief in causal regularities without a constantly acting Creator to guarantee them. If I were to embrace God, then God would need to be an ­unmediated, undifferentiated, and decisive Omnipotence, whom I might ­willingly obey.

i) It's unclear what that means. If Allah is unmediated, does that mean Jacob Williams subscribes to occasionalism or theistic idealism? Does he deny the existence of the external world? 

What about the Koran. That's in Arabic. So Allah's communication is mediated through human language. Likewise, an angel supposedly appeared to Muhammad. Once again, that's mediated communication. 

ii) Why is an "undifferentiated" God (whatever that means) required to ground morality and rationality? 

My problem with Christianity arose from the contrast between the abstract Divinity who answers such questions and the all-too-human majesty of Jesus (peace be upon him). Surely God, if he was God, had to be a perfectly simple being, absolutely distinct from his creation. If his separation was questioned, then he wasn’t really the infinite Creator I sought. How could this transcendent being be identical with the fleshy Messiah portrayed in church, complete with his bloody stigmata? The mystery of the Trinity seemed to me a dark glass that made God’s majesty dimmer, not brighter. Rather than puzzling indefinitely, I sided with simplicity and affirmed the Islamic doctrine of tawhid: God’s absolute oneness.

i) What's the relationship between "a perfectly simple being" and "absolutely distinct from his creation"? Is he claiming that in order for God to be absolutely distinct from his creation, he must be a perfectly simple being? If so, how does that follow? How can the source of complexity be absolutely simple or undifferentiated? 

ii) There's a sense in which the Creator must be distinct or separate from the world. He must preexist or exist apart from the world in order to make it. He must have a mode of subsistence independent of the world he made. 

iii) On the other hand, if God is the source of the world, then in some respect the world must mirror God. The world must be conceptually contained in God's imagination. The world begins as a divine idea. God objectifies his idea in space and time. Analogous to a musical composition that originates in the composer's mind. In that respect, the world must correspond to something in God. 

iv) It's not clear that Williams understands the Incarnation. Identity can operate at more than one level. It's not that God becomes identical with a human soul and body. Rather, the Incarnation involves a relation–a contingent relation–between the divine Son and a human body and soul. To take a comparison, a living human individual is a composite being: an embodied soul. We might say that's what he is, but that allows for distinctions. The pairing of a particular body with a particular soul. These remain distinct and even separable. 

v) There's an a priori character to how Williams evaluates the options. But how does he know what God is like apart from divine self-revelation? He operates with preemptive criteria, as though he knows in advance what God must be like. What's the justification for that procedure? How can the Trinity be discounted merely because it's mysterious? What if reality is mysterious? Indeed, shouldn't we expect God to be mysterious in some degree, given God's surpassing greatness and our intellectual limitations? Can we simply intuit what God is like, or is that an act of discovery? 

So goes the first shahada. The second declares Muhammadun rasool’Allah: “Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This is a matter of Scripture. In the Qur’an’s claims to be the direct speech of God, Islam again seemed a simpler and more compelling story. One God, one final Message.

Once again, he has this odd prejudice about simplicity. But how is one man's uncorroborated, self-serving report better than multiple-attestation? 

C. S. Lewis argued that a man claiming to be God must be either a lunatic, a liar, or truly the Lord. Likewise, a man claiming to be a Messenger of God must be either insane, dishonest, or just what he says he is. I judged, based on my reading of history, that Muhammad (peace be upon him) could not have been either of the former two. The facts of his life and ministry reveal an honest man in full possession of his rational faculties. 

The Koran reveals Muhammed to be someone who changes his message because he makes shortsighted claims that fail to anticipate unforeseen eventualities. Hence the face-saving theory of abrogation. 

By contrast, it wasn’t hard for me to avoid Lewis’s trilemma, because Muslims simply do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) ever claimed to be God. Rather, we hold him to have been another prophet like Moses, Abraham, and Isaac (peace be upon them all). 

Yes, the Koranic Jesus is a different Jesus than the NT Jesus. But what makes the Koranic Jesus the standard of comparison? Muhammad didn't know Jesus or know anyone who knew Jesus. What makes his belated account–written centuries after the fact–more accurate than 1C witnesses? 

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place upon my learning of the long process of redaction and recomposition that produced the canon that became the Bible. 

i) That's hard to respond to because it's so vague. Is Williams alluding to the formation of the canon? Or is he alleging that the books of the Bible were repeatedly edited? If so, what's his evidence? Or is he making a claim about the textual transmission of the Bible? Or is he making a claim about fluid oral tradition before the Gospels were committed to writing? What's his source of information? Is he channeling Bart Ehrman?

ii) What about the murky editorial history of the Koran? 

This was consistent with the Islamic narrative of an earlier revelation that, though true, was imperfectly preserved. The Qur’an was the unification and confirmation of what the Bible merely tried to assemble.

To the contrary, Muhammad treats the Bible in his own time and place as accurate. He challenges those who doubt his message to compare his message to the Bible. He makes copies of the Bible, in the possession of 7C Jews and Christians in Arabia, the litmus test for the veracity of his own purported revelations. 

Easter Oratorio

Papal mixed signals