Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Acts and apologetics

Midcourse correction at Westminster

Tremper Longman continues to inveigh on WTS. I'm going to comment on his latest post:

As you know a number of us are concerned about what we understand to be heavy-handed moves by the administration…
i) It's  possible that the WTS boad/administration has been "heavy-handed." It's also possible that some colleagues who were originally more supportive of the OT dept. reversed themselves when the sensed a change in the weather. 
Conversely, since Gaffin, for one, is safely retired, he's free to speak his mind. The fact that his public statements have defended the newer regime can't be chalked up to the fear of losing his job. 
In addition, I've heard horror stories about the heavy-handed liberal culture of Calvin College, &c. So it's a two-way street. 
ii) We also need to distinguish between optics and substance. Even if, for the sake of argument, the WTS administration was maladroit in dealing with the problem, that doesn't mean it wrongly identified the source of the problem.
…to shape the seminary in a different direction than the proud history of the school would lead. 
Well, historically, WTS was founded to carry the torch of the Old Princeton theology after Princeton Seminary went liberal. What we're witnessing is a replay of the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy, with Enns reprising the role of Briggs. The names change but the play remains the same. 
I certainly acknowledge the right of the school to define itself in any direction it should chose to go, but people should know that direction and judge for themselves if they want to support it. 
I like the direction in which WTS is  going. It's a long overdue midcourse correction. 
Also, they should be aware of the tactics used in accomplishing their purposes. Though he does not play a role in the Chris Fantuzzo’s account of his treatment at Westminster, we should remember Carl Trueman’s honest and public description of the means that the seminary used to accomplish that purpose that I posted earlier.
Actually, I don't recall having seen the offending statement by Trueman. I think that may have been from an earlier post before Longman changed the privacy settings to make his posts public.
In any event, if Trueman was an instrumental figure in the ouster of Enns (not that Trueman could do that single-handedly), then so much the better for Trueman. 
For those of you who are not familiar with the academic process, it is unbelievable that the president would make an appointment as in the case of Iain Duguid or let go a member like Chris Fantuzzo without departmental involvement from the very start. This is particularly the case for Westminster. It may be legal. It may be hidden away in the bylaws, but it is unprecedented…
i) To begin with, this complaint is silly. From what I can tell, the WTS board/administration thinks the OT dept. needs to be rebuilt from scratch. In that event, you wouldn't expect the board/administration to seek the advice and consent of the very people whom they deem to be the source of the problem. 
ii) And is this really unprecedented? When Jack Preus lowered the boom at Concordia Seminary, did he first consult the liberals? When SBC conservatives regained control of their seminaries, did they consult the liberal faculty first?  
I'll now switch to Fantuzzo, whose letter Longman posted:
Doug Green has received was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. 
And a gratifying pattern at that.
I was warned by a supervisor not to return to that world, and former teachers told me about the toxic culture at WTS…After the board meeting, Peter Lillback (twice) conveyed his belief that I would become “a superstar” (his term)—just finish the dissertation! Then Jeff informed him that President Lillback had decided to block the department’s decision to promote me. (Peter was not present.) I also indicated that Tipton and I had discussed the matter, adding that he had suggested in personal conversation that he might be more careful. My comment got back to Tipton (another recording?), and he phoned me. During the conversation, he denied telling me he might be more careful.Dick Gaffin [a former colleague of Longman and Dillard’s] was also familiar with my position and pledged to support me before the faculty and board, if/when I ever required it.)
An obvious problem with this account is that it's a he said/she said recap. So whose version of events are you supposed to believe? 
The only difficulty I faced during the interview process came in a phone interview with Greg Beale, which I thought inappropriate because he wasn’t a Westminster faculty member. He mainly voiced objections to Longman and Dillard’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, expressing disagreement with their views on Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, authorship of Isaiah, and the composition and date of Daniel. 
Good for him.
We disagreed about his reading of Longman/Dillard, but nothing more came of it.
Beale isn't the only one to reads their introduction that way. So does O. Palmer Robertson. 
In this phone conversation, Tipton also objected to my view of the controversy over Enns’s, Inspiration and Incarnation. I thought OTI students should read the book for themselves, that we (OT students) had an opportunity to go back to the drawing board. I told Tipton that I believed WTS was drawing lines too strongly, that it was rolling back the clock too far, that this was due to the model of Enns’s book as a cancer: WTS was in danger of cutting away healthy tissue. His response? I should “seriously start searching for another job,” for my view of the Enns controversy had disclosed that I “lacked sufficient militancy to be a Westminster professor.” 
I'd say that's a pretty good reason to ax Fantuzzo. And that's based on his one-sided, self-serving account. 
Later Lane Tipton objected to my teaching on the NT writers’ use of the OT. I discovered that a certain student was taking him recordings of my lectures, and I believe he was feeding this student questions to raise in class.
What's wrong with recording his lectures? Rather than secondhand summaries, anonymous tips, or unsourced attributions, you have the speaker in his own words. Isn't that a fairer way to judge his position? 
Recognize that no one had ever come to observe my classroom.
If his lectures were recorded and distributed, isn't in-person observation superfluous? 
Students were telling me (I believe as early as 2010) that in his AP and ST classes Scott Oliphint would openly object to my teaching the comparative approach in OTI. The mere inclusion of the subject meant I was “Enns all over again,” and “anyone who thinks understanding the ancient Near Eastern environment is important for biblical interpretation has an aberrant doctrine of Scripture.”
This seems to be hearsay rather than direct quotes from Oliphint. 
When Mike asked Jeff to explain this act, he was told that certain faculty were "strongly opposed" to my advancement.In this conversation, Tipton warned that opposition was mounting against me. I inquired further, and he said Beale (now a voting faculty member) objected to my teaching about multiple hands in the authorship of Isaiah.You can imagine my colleagues’ reaction. Neither the President nor the Dean had consulted Mike or Doug about this decision. As senior OT scholars, their professional counsel had not been sought; as faculty members, their academic and administrative roles had been disregarded; as leaders of the OT department, their choice of colleague had been rejected without discussion. No one had spoken with them about the matter before this meeting, and no open discussion about Peter’s decision was permitted afterwards. It was decided, having already been determined behind closed doors. In what was historically a faculty-run institution, Peter’s act was unprecedented: my colleagues and I had been snubbed; Iain had been promised the job by Presidential fiat! In my view, Peter, Jeff (and Iain?) had treated the OT department, the WTS faculty and board, and its staff and students (all typically involved in the hiring process) with utter contempt. For Doug Green (at least), this abuse of power was a sign of things to come.
Several problems with this complaint:
i) Once again, if the WTS board/administration regarded the OT dept. as hopelessly compromised, you wouldn't expect the administration and the board to seek their input. From what I can tell, the board/administration think the problems with the OT dept. require a root-n-branch remedy.  
ii) Fantuzzo is trying to reframe the issue as a conflict between the administration and the faculty. Yet by his own admission, some of the opposition to the OT dept. came from faculty. Indeed, we know from the divided vote to grant Enns tenure that the faculty was quite polarized on the issue. 
So what Fantuzzo is really insinuating is that each department should be autonomous, not merely in relation to the administration, but in relation every other department. The NT dept, or church history dept. or systematics dept. should have no vote on hiring or firing in the OT dept.  
iii) In addition, consultation with the OT dept. would give its faculty lead-time to mobilize opposition. Recruit students to the cause. Mount a public campaign. "Save our Seminary." Why invite opposition? 
iv) Are students typically involved in the hiring process? I guess I never got the memo. 
Mine is yet another chapter in the abuse of power by Westminster’s administration and board. And OT studies at the seminary is characterized by the doctrinaire control of OT interpretation by non-specialists…
The hermeneutical issues are interdisciplinary. How the OT is fulfilled in the NT is a question for OT and NT scholars alike. That can't be compartmentalized, for that, by definition, involves an understanding of the OT and NT alike.
Moreover, when Enns makes 1 Cor 10:4 a paradigm-case for his hermeneutic, or when he and McCartney make Mt 2:15 another paradigm-case, surely NT scholars have at least as much competence to address that issue as OT scholars.
…who aggressively seek to marginalize colleagues wanting to do justice to the OT’s distinctive ‘voice’ as witness to Christ.
But the very question at issue is whether the OT does, indeed, witness to Christ. Or do NT speakers and authors impute an OT witness to Christ in defiance of the sense, reference, intentions, implications, and context of the original? 
Tremper Longman there is no liberalism creeping in at Westminster... Doug Green and Chris Fantuzzo are not liberals by any stretch of the imagination.

The fact that Longman vouches for his erstwhile colleagues hardly inspires confidence. He's not exactly an impartial character witness. Heck, he even defends John Goldingay.  

The present Westminster would fire or "retire" both Ray and me and Al...

A promising development. 

Jonathan Bonomo What we see here is a world in which those in positions of power prevail over the humble in deals made behind closed doors. This is the way of the world, not the kingdom of Jesus. May the Lord have mercy upon his people.

Some readers may remember Bonomo as a member of the "Reformed Catholic" clique (a la Paul Owen). Gives you some idea of where he's coming from. 

Monster God

Normally I wouldn't bother commenting on this:

"Progressive Christians" like Brian Zahnd are a dime a dozen. However, SEA has been promoting Zahnd of late, so this tells you something about contemporary trends in Arminian theology.

By way of one preliminary observation, I'd note that this is a variation on an old debate. 60 years ago we had the same debate over propitiation. C. H. Dodd thought propitiation was a heathen concept, unworthy of God. It assumed a God of wrath (horrors!) who had to be placated by sacrifice (horrors!).

Roger Nicole and Leon Morris responded by first correcting Dodd's caricatures, then documenting from Scripture that, in fact, divine wrath is a Biblical concept, in response to which God commands or even provides (in the case of Jesus) propitiatory sacrifices. 

Back to Zahnd:

Particularly abhorrent are those theories that portray the Father of Jesus as a pagan deity who can only be placated by the barbarism of child sacrifice. The god who is mollified by throwing a virgin into a volcano or by nailing his son to a tree is not the Abba of Jesus!
i) When I see Arminians attack penal substitution as "child sacrifice," or "cosmic child abuse," or compare the vicarious atonement of Christ to human sacrifice in general, I have to wonder: what kind of being do they think Jesus is?
"Child" has connotations of a human being between infancy and puberty. A creature who's the offspring of a mother and father. A vulnerable human being. 
"Child abuse" has connotations of physical or emotional harm inflicted on an underage son or daughter by a parent with power over their child.
ii) For the moment, let's bracket the Incarnation and just consider the Son qua Son. 
As a divine being, the Son is invulnerable to physical or psychological harm. The Father couldn't harm the Son even if he wanted to. The Father doesn't have that kind of power over the Son. It's not as if the Father is more omnipotent than the Son. Likewise, the Son is not a contingent being.  God is a se. There's nothing to hurt. How do you hurt a timeless, spaceless being? There's no chink in the armor. 
Do Arminians like Zahnd think the Father can make the Son suffer by withholding affection? Injuring his self-esteem?
Ironically, it's Arminians like Zahnd who operate with a "pagan" paradigm, as if the Trinitarian Father/Son relationship is equivalent to Odin and Thor. 
iii) Now, there's no doubt that the Son qua Incarnate can suffer. The humanity of Christ is vulnerable to physical and psychological harm. Indeed, he can die. 
Keep in mind that God often requires his people to suffer. God's prophets are called upon to suffer for the cause. Take Jeremiah. 
But the Incarnation doesn't mean the deity of the Son becomes liable to harm. That's why radical theologians redefine the divine nature to provide for a suffering God. A God whose emotional equilibrium is contingent on human behavior. They know that the Incarnation by itself won't do the trick. 
Neither is the death of Jesus a kind of quid pro quo by which God gains the necessary capital to forgive sinners.
Sure about that?
25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:25-26). 
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13). 
that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:14-15,21). 
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet 2:24). 
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18).  
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;    he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,    and with his wounds we are healed.6 All we like sheep have gone astray;    we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;    he has put him to grief;when his soul makes an offering for guilt,    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,    make many to be accounted righteous,    and he shall bear their iniquities.12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death    and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,    and makes intercession for the transgressors.(Isa 53:5-6,10-12).

Back to Zahnd:
An “economic model” of the cross just won’t work. It’s not as if God is saying, “Look, I’d love to forgive you, but I’ve got to pay off Justice first, and, you know how she is, she’s a tough goddess, she requires due payment.” This understanding of the cross begs the question of who exactly is in charge — the Father of Jesus or some abstract ideal called “Justice”?But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.
Justice is a divine attribute.  Zahnd might as well say Arminian theism represents a penultimate god subordinate to love.
Are you squirming yet?
Can't say I am. Sorry to let you down. 
“This Jesus…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” –Acts 2:23 
“You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” –Acts 3:15 
“God raised up Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” –Acts 5:30 
“The Righteous One you have now betrayed and murdered.” –Acts 7:52 
The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. 
Except that Zahnd makes his case with half quotes. But according to Acts:
This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and prior choice of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23). 
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
Back to Zahnd:
When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” he was not asking God to act contrary to his nature.
i) To begin with, the textual authenticity of that verse is contested:
ii) Moreover, Zahnd is burning a straw man. Of course forgiveness isn't contrary to God's nature. But God is just. Divine forgiveness doesn't come at the expense of divine justice. 

Total war

Lately, SEA has been touting Brian Zahnd:

Notice the pattern we find among contemporary Arminians:

i) The God of Calvinism is morally monstrous

ii) The God of the OT is morally monstrous

iii) The God of penal substitution is morally monstrous

Increasingly, Arminians link these propositions–and others (e.g. the God of inerrancy is morally monstrous). They stand or fall together. 

Zahnd himself explicitly attacks penal substitution for the same reason he attacks Calvinism, just as Roger Olson explicitly attacks OT theism for the same reason he attacks Reformed theism:

Yet SEA touts both Olson and Zahnd. SEA might excuse this by laboring to compartmentalize the attack on Calvinism from the attack on Yahweh or the attack on penal substitution, yet Olson and Zahnd vigorously deny that compartmentalization. 

SEA's behavior is typical of Arminian apologetics. Total war. Attacking Calvinism is their overriding priority. If the cost of destroying Calvinism is to destroy inerrancy, OT theism, or penal substitution in the process, that's collateral damage. That's necessary to achieve the strategic objective. The mentality is like saying: We've tracked the FBI's Most Wanted to LA. We don't know where exactly, so let's nuke LA to make sure we get him. By killing everybody we ensure killing the primary target. Impugning Yahweh, impugning inerrancy, impugning penal substitution is the margin of error we need to nail Calvinism. 

Responding To Andrew Lincoln On The Virgin Birth

Last year, a New Testament scholar, Andrew Lincoln, published a book arguing against the virgin birth. Some New Testament scholars have responded to him since then, but every one of their responses to Lincoln's book that I've seen so far hasn't gone into much depth. For anybody who's interested in a lengthy review that argues for the historicity of the virgin birth, here's a response to Lincoln's book that I wrote last year.

Calvin’s Conception of the Knowledge of God

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tim McGrew on apologetics

Cruz and Arab Christians

When is Jesus coming?

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place…Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near (1:1,3).
i) Liberal preterists view this as a clear case of failed prophecy. John expected Jesus to return "soon," for the time is "near." What could be plainer? 2000 years later, that can't be true. 
Up to a point, conservative preterists (e.g. Gentry, Mathison) agree with liberal preterists, but they salvage the veracity of the prediction by redefining the terms of fulfillment. According to them, it refers, not to a personal return of Christ, but the fall of Jerusalem.
ii) However, even in the text, the timing is more ambiguous. Soon for whom? In relation to whom is the time near? According to the text, in relation to the reader (or lector). But that's not a fixed frame of reference. Which reader? Which lector? The text itself makes the timing relative to the timeframe of the lector. But different lectors read Scripture aloud at different times. They belong to different churches. The public reading of Scripture doesn't occur at just one time and place. Rather, whenever the church meets for corporate worship, Scripture is read aloud.
The time-marker is indexed to the reader. But that's a relative rather than absolute frame of reference. 
iii) In addition, there's a further complication. In Revelation, there's more than one kind of dominical coming. There are at least two, or maybe three, different ways or senses in which he comes. For instance:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (1:7).
i) That's a classic reference to the Second Coming. Notice the universal language. "Every eye." "All the tribes of the earth." 
ii) Morever, this has its background in Zech 12:10. Yet John adds totalizing language to stress the universality of the event. This is a global, one-time event, involving the physical return of Christ. 
iii) Notice, too, how difficult this is to square with conservative preterism:
a) To begin with, "every eye" didn't witness the fall of Jerusalem. "All tribes of the earth" didn't mourn over the fall of Jerusalem. Even most inhabitants of the Roman Empire didn't witness the fall of Jerusalem, much less inhabitants of India, China, Japan, Australia, Northern Europe, North and South America, &c. Only a tiny fraction of the human race was even alive in 70 AD. And of those, only a tiny fraction of humanity witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. Fractions of fractions of fractions. 
Perhaps a preterist would say John's language is hyperbolic. However, that's dubious, since John adds totalizing language to Zech 12:10 to accentuate the universality of the event. 
Moreover, even if the language is hyperbolic, it's one thing to exaggerate for rhetorical effect–quite another when the truth of the matter is nearly the opposite. The number of humans who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem is statistically insignificant in relation to the whole.
b) In addition to the spatial mismatch (i.e. failing to match the biogeographical scope of the claim), the preterist interpretation also succumbs to a temporal mismatch. If this refers to the fall of Jerusalem, then those who "pierced him" must be still be alive about 40 years after the fact to mourn that calamity. Minimally, those who "pieced him" must refer to the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem (i.e. Pilate, the Sanhedrin) who were party to the execution of Christ. It might also include the mob, which demanded his death.
But is there any reason to think that all, or even most, of those who were complicit in the death of Christ were still alive to witness the fall of Jerusalem? Surely many of them died in the intervening years. 
If, however, this refers to a future advent, which is roughly synchronized with the general resurrection, then they will be in a position to witness the return of Christ. 
iv) In addition to a universal, one-time coming of Christ, Revelation also refers to one or two different kinds of local, repeatable comings. Take, for instance, the Christophany in 1:9ff. Jesus makes a personal appearance to John. He comes to John on Patmos. That's clearly different from the Second Coming. It's unlikely that Jesus appeared to John in the flesh. It's a vision. The details are surreal. Yet it's a case of Jesus coming back. 
v) And we have similar examples in the letters to the seven churches:
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (2:5). 
Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth (2:16). 
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (3:3). 
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (3:20).
a) In context, these refer, not to the Second Coming, but to localized comings. For one thing, Christ's coming in these situations is contingent on whether or not the churches are penitent. But it's incongruous to suggest that the timing of the Second Coming is conditional on the behavior of a particular church in Asia Minor.
Since, moreover, these are different churches, the Second Coming can't be synchronized with their behavior inasmuch as the behavior of one local church isn't synchronized with the behavior of another local church. What if Ephesus repents, but Sardis does not? What if Philadelphia repents at a different time than Pergumum or Laodicea? 
In Rev 2-3, Jesus can't come back at one time or the same time (i.e. the Second Coming) if his return is contingent on events which happen at different times. So this must refer to local, repeatable comings of Christ. 
b) There's also the question of whether this involves a personal appearance/reappearance (e.g. 1:9ff.) or Jesus "coming" to them indirectly in the sense of visiting judgment on them or restoring fellowship with them. If so, that would be a different type of coming than 1:9ff.–both of which differ from 1:7. 
v) The larger point is that when Revelation says Jesus is coming "soon," or the time is "near," you can't just assume that that denotes the Second Coming, for in Revelation, Christ "comes" in different ways. When is Christ coming? In Revelation, that depends on what kind of coming is in view. 

Natural Theology: Toward Clarity, Apologetics, and the Proper Role of Philosophy

More from Richard Muller's "Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics"

Recent studies have shown, moreover, that the natural theology and metaphysics of the early orthodox were not dogmatically framed by constant warnings concerning the radical limitation of fallen human reason, but rather argued that, given the problem of the fall, the proper study of philosophy was an exercise intrinsic to the reparation of the image of God in human beings...

The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum

Excellent analysis here:

The idea of Scottish independence has moved from the implausible to the very possible. Whether or not it actually happens, the idea that the union of England and Scotland, which has existed for more than 300 years, could be dissolved has enormous implications in its own right, and significant implications for Europe and even for global stability...

No one can deny that Britain is an entity of singular importance. If that can melt away, what is certain? At a time when the European Union's economic crisis is intense, challenging European institutions and principles, the dissolution of the British union would legitimize national claims that have been buried for decades...

I think that however the vote goes, unless the nationalists are surprised by an overwhelming defeat, the genie is out of the bottle, and not merely in Britain. The referendum will re-legitimize questions that have caused much strife throughout the European continent for centuries, including the 31-year war of the 20th century that left 80 million dead.

Richard Carrier and the Arbitrariness Objection

Monday, September 15, 2014

A. A. Hodge's commentary on the Confession

The Licona/Fales Debate On The Resurrection

This past June, Mike Licona debated an atheist philosopher, Evan Fales, on Jesus' resurrection. Video of the event was recently posted at Mike Licona's web site. It's also been posted to YouTube.

Adam bibliography

Poythress on harmonization

Thor's hammer

I'm going to comment on some statements that Sean Gerety made on his blog. Sean is a Clarkian Scripturalist, as well as Thor's high priest. 
The attack on justification by belief alone continues by Lane Keister and his associates at his Greenbaggins blog. This time Ron DiGiacomo, the so-called “Reformed Apologist,” has taken up the challenge.
Men like Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, James Jordan, Steve Wilkins, Greg Lawrence, Joshua Moon, Jeff Meyers and the other Federal Visionist have made all these self-styled “Watchmen of Israel” look like impotent and incompetent chumps as they continue to attack the Reformed system exactly at its weakest point; the traditional threefold definition of saving faith.  
Lane Keister has devoted years of tedious, long-suffering study to meticulously documenting, dissecting, and debunking the Federal Vision. Sean is real piece work to malign Keister as "an impotent and incompetent chump." But if all you've got is Thor's hammer, then everything looks like a nail. 
Turretin had seven elements of saving faith. Per your Dutch buddy Bavinck Witsius had nine.
As for Manton, Owen and the rest. Yes, they often said contradictory things regarding the nature of faith and saving faith 
Sean alleges that Lane and Ron are "unreformed," yet his cast of villains includes Manton, Owen, Turretin, Bavinck, and Witsitus. So who's unreformed?  
or that high priest of paradox, James “Aquascum” Anderson? 
This is part of Sean's ingrown narrative. He tries to discredit the traditional Reformed definition of faith (notitia, assensus, fiducia) by belated association with Van Tilian paradox. But, of course, the traditional definition long antedates Van Til.
Oh, and by the way, there's another little problem with Sean's contention: James Anderson isn't Aquascum. Perhaps Sean inferred that Anderson is Aquascum because Anderson happens to host that thread at his website, but that's a fallacious inference. For someone who prides himself on logic, Sean should try harder to avoid logical fallacies. 
I understand that OPC elders like DiGiacomo are required to be versed in and even hold to Van Til’s theology of paradox.
i) To begin with, does Sean have any evidence that OPC elders are required to espouse Van Tilian paradox? Can he document that claim? 
ii) Likewise, what is Sean's evidence that Ron is a lockstep Van Tilian? It's my impression that Ron has a rather independent view of Clark and Van Til, finding useful things in both men. 
Which brings us to Ron DiGiacomo who, with the blessing of Lane Keister, has continued to undermine the very foundation on which the church stands or falls.
The claim that sola fide is "the very foundation on which the church stands or falls" is a Lutheran maxim. Why should a Calvinist accept that radically reductionist maxim? Although sola fide is a Reformed essential, the Reformed faith has more than one foundational doctrine. It's not as if sola fide is the singular foundation on which the church stands or falls. 
Does Sean imagine that if we denied the Incarnation, Resurrection, Second Coming of Christ, Final Judgment, divine omniscience, sola gratia, sola Scriptura, the Exodus, or the calling of Abraham (to name a few)–the Christian faith would remain standing? 
Dr. Alan Strange, a man who identifies himself as one of the “Watchmen of Israel,” fail miserably in his attempt to show that belief alone in the finished work of Christ alone doesn’t save.
...the profound confusion and darkness that has triumphed in the Presbyterian and Reformed world.  A world where men actually deny salvation by belief alone while thinking they are defending the biblical doctrine of salvation when nothing could be further from the truth.
Notice that Sean has fallen into fundamental doctrinal error. We are not saved by faith alone. Rather, we are justified by faith alone. Justification and salvation are not conterminous. There's more to salvation than justification. Salvation includes unconditional election, monergistic regeneration, sanctification, preservation, glorification, &c.
For Sean to collapse salvation into sola fide is typical of anti-Calvinistic antinomians like Zane Hodges, Charles Stanley, Charles Ryrie, Earl Radmacher, Robert Lightner, and R. T. Kendall. This is just one indication of how far Sean has departed from the Reformed faith.  
Like most bad arguments, this one fails right from the start.  First, DiGiacomo begs the question by asserting that “most things we assent to . . .are not volitional,” i.e., that most of our beliefs don’t involve choice.  How does he know this?
i) Does Sean think we choose to believe that a red rose is red. Do I will myself to believe that? Can I will myself to believe that a red rose is white? If I can, I'd be clinically insane.  
ii) More to the point, Sean's doxastic voluntarism is typically Arminian: I choose to believe in Christ, as if belief is an act of the will. 

So this is yet another example of Sean deviating from Reformed orthodoxy. 

For these men faith, as opposed to belief, provides the vehicle by which they can attach an intangible and undefinable something-they-know-not-what that must first be wrought in the sinner before they can be saved. It is not Christ’s work alone completely outside of us that saves…
At worst, it is an addition to simple belief in the truth of the Gospel that falls perilously close to Paul’s anathemas in his letter to the Galatians and it robs Christians of their confidence and assurance they have in Christ. It turns our focus from Christ and his finished work to something within us and that is, by definition, dangerous.
Again, this grave and very un-Reformed error asserts that there must be some intangible psychological change or feeling within us in order to be saved, and not simply the apprehension of Christ’s finished work alone completely outside of us and for us. This view of saving faith, which is all too common, turns the focus from the object believed toward the subjective state of mind and emotions of the believer. 
i) To begin with, Ron has defined what he means. For instance, he's said:
Again, we assent to many things apart from a disposition of commitment.
The Reformed position on saving faith is that one doesn’t just intellectually assent to the gospel but rather men also willfully entrust themselves to Christ.
ii) In addition, here's another instance where Sean's position coincides with the anti-Calvinistic antinomians. In Reformed theology, saving grace is both external and internal. Justification is an example of something God does "outside" of us to save us. The imputation of an alien righteousness.
However, God also does some things to us or in us to save us, viz, regeneration, sanctification, glorification. God doesn't simply change our objective status in relation to himself (e.g. justification, propitiation), but changes us (regeneration, sanctification, glorification).
iii) Sean is borrowing a page from Lutherans and antinomians, who vehemently deny that the assurance of salvation can have any subjective conditions. For they maintain that once you admit any subjective condition as an element of assurance, you introduce a degree of uncertainty into the assurance of salvation.
Yet in delineating the assurance of salvation, the Westminster Confession appeals to "the inward evidence of those graces" (WCF 18.2). Once again, Sean is repudiating Reformed theology. 
Now, before we continue, this is astonishing.  Here we have an OPC elder and a man who calls himself the “Reformed Apologist” who insists that “an unbeliever can assent to Jesus having died for his sins without having saving faith.” But, to assent to a propositions is to believe that it is true, for belief is assent or agreement to an understood proposition, in this case the proposition “Jesus died for my sins.”
Sean lacks a grasp of idiomatic usage. It's customary in theological jargon to distinguish between "unbelievers," "professing believers," and "true believers." In idiomatic usage, "unbelievers" aren't simply people who lack a certain belief. Rather, they lack a certain quality of belief. Same thing with merely professing believers. Sean may dispute that distinction, but for now I'm simply drawing attention to the nature of theological discourse.   
Who do you prefer, the so-called “Reformed Epistemologist” Michael “Hare Krishna” Sudduth
Unfortunately for Sean, that attempted counterexample backfires. Sudduth, the former Scripturalist. Winner of the Clark prize in apologetics.

That would be a paradigm case of someone who understood and assented to the very purest form of orthodoxy: Clarkian Christianity! 

Yet he subsequently renounced the faith. But if saving faith just is assent to certain doctrinal propositions/articles of the faith, then how is his apostasy consistent with perseverance? How does one differentiate Sudduth from an elect believer?

Same thing with Ryan Hendrich. Sean considers Ryan to be a heretical apostate. But didn't Ryan understand and assent to the right doctrinal propositions prior to his subsequent misgivings? 

If, as Sean would have it, Clarkian Christianity is the gold standard of orthodoxy, how can saving faith just be understanding/assent when some Clarkians subsequently defect from the faith? Did they lose their salvation? 

This is yet another example of Sean denying major planks of the Reformed faith.

I have defined trust as belief in the reliability of someone or something.
That's an inadequate definition. It transfers trust from a trusting or reliant subject to a trustworthy or reliable object. But that's clearly separable. 
For instance, I can believe that Secretariat is a good bet. I'm convinced that if I put money on Secretariat, that's a profitable investment. Secretariat is a proven winner. 
That, however, is entirely distinct from making an actual monetary commitment to Secretariat. The fact that I believe Secretariat is trustworthy doesn't mean I will actually entrust my life savings to Secretariat's performance. 
I may not bet on Secretariat because I don't approve of horse racing. I may not bet on Secretariat because it's inconvenient for me to make a trip to Louisville or Belmont Park to lay a bet. My belief that Secretariat is trustworthy is not the same as actually trusting in Secretariat. Belief in reliability is just an abstraction. 
Likewise, I may believe that a Land Rover is a more reliable mode of transportation than an Alfa Romeo. That, however, doesn't entail any commitment on my part. I may buy the Alfa Romeo instead because I like Italian sports cars better than Land Rovers. 
As I just explained, trust is *belief* of propositions in the future tense, such as “he will be good to me” or “this bank will keep my money safe.”
So by that definition, Sean doesn't trust OT history. After all, that's in the past rather than the future. 
If I believe that Jesus died for my sins how is this not trusting that Jesus died for my sins?
That's an ironic way of casting the question. Assuming that Sean subscribes to limited atonement, then believing that Christ died for my sins is a second-order belief. A self-reflexive belief. If I exercise saving faith, then, by implication, Christ died for me. That's an inference involving a relation between something about me and something outside of me. Yet Sean just attacked that distinction. But maybe Sean espouses Amyraldism. 
Straw man argument Ron. My axiom is Scripture. 
Actually, Sean's axiom is Clark. Sean's canon is not the 66 books of the Bible, but the collected writings of Gordon Clark. 
With that caveat aside, it should be clear that for DiGiacomo people can believe the gospel, believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believe that Jesus died for them and that He alone is their righteousness, yet still be lost. 
i) This is yet another example where Sean repudiates Reformed theology. Calvinism grants the existence of apostates who used to be orthodox professing Christians. They assented to the articles of faith. Their orthodoxy was unimpeachable. Not all apostates were orthodox prior to their defection, but some were. If saving faith is equivalent to mere assent, then Clarkians like Sean must reject the perseverance of the saints.

Put another way, what distinguishes the faith of an elect believer from the faith of a prospective apostate? It can't be assent, for both may give assent to the very same body of doctrine. At the level of assent, they are identical. So there must be something over and above mere assent which distinguishes an elect believer from an impending apostate. 

In one sense that would be regeneration. The faith of an elect believer is grounded differently than the faith of a prospective believer. His faith is the effect of regeneration. It has a different cause.  

But that, in turn, generates a different kind of faith. A different quality of faith. 

Apostasy isn't necessarily the result of defective doctrinal belief, for some apostates were theologically impeccable prior to their loss of faith. Sean may deny that, but in so doing he denies another Reformed essential. 

ii) Here's the ironic upshot: the Clarkian position parallels the Arminian position: there's nothing that distinguishes the faith of born-again Christian from the faith of one-time Christian. They both had the same faith. Believed the same theological propositions. 

But, then you have also asserted that someone can assent to or believe the Gospel and still be lost. As Steve correctly points out above the problem is you also say that the unbeliever can assent to or believe the Gospel, believe in the finished work of Christ on his behalf, yet still be lost. Consequently, the unbeliever does have assent or belief (which is a contradiction in terms), yet lacks trust.
In Calvinism, there's a distinction between regenerate and unregenerate believers. Some professing Christians lose their faith. Abandon the Christian faith. That's because they were unregenerate. They had a socially conditioned faith. A rootless faith. A default faith. But then something happened which precipitated a loss of faith: an intellectual crisis, a personal tragedy, a conflict between Christian ethics and sexual sin, &c. 
Sean can reject that, but in so doing he rejects Calvinism. Sean's theology is a witch's brew of Lutheranism, Arminianism, antinomianism, idealism, and residual Calvinism.  
Finally, I'd like to say something about Clarkian Scripturalism in general. Sean is very quick to brand his theological opponents as "heretics," but what about his own position? Sean has made a hobbyhorse of attacking the Federal Vision. That's a useful decoy because it deflects attention away from his own position. Keep in mind that even in that respect, there are far more competent critics of the Federal Vision than Sean. Take Guy Waters and Lane Keister. 
But in any case, showing how bad the Federal Vision is does nothing to make Sean's alternative orthodox. It's just a magician's flamboyant gesture to distract the audience. 
Let's briefly consider what consistent Clarkianism amounts to. Clark didn't merely have a propositional theory of knowledge, but a propositional theory of reality. Not just a propositional epistemology, but a propositional ontology. For Clark, like Hegel, the real is the rational and the rational is the real.
If, however, human beings simply are propositions, then bodies are illusory. We don't have bodies. We merely have ideas of bodies. 
Furthermore, how can Clark avoid pantheistic idealism? If humans are propositions, whose propositions are they? Are we reducible to ideas of ourselves
Perhaps a Clarkian would try to avert pantheistic idealism by distinguishing between God's idea of me and my idea of myself.
If so, the problem with that attempted distinction is that propositions are abstract objects. I can't be a proposition if I'm an instance of a divine proposition about me. For a proposition is an exemplar of property instances. A proposition is not, itself, an instance, but the source of exemplifications.
Admittedly, some philosophers try to give a nominalist or fictionalist account of propositions, but that's hardly consistent with Clark's Augustinian realism. 
If, then, reality is propositional through and through, and if, what is more, God is timeless (which Clark defended), then the entirety of Bible history is illusory, like a reel of motion picture footage. It has a static sequence. But time and space are illusory. No creation, no Fall, no Flood, no Abrahamic covenant, no Exodus, no Incarnation, no Crucifixion, no Resurrection, no Ascension, no Parousia. At best, that's an abstract representation of time and space. But nothing really happens. Nothing is physical. Nothing comes into being. Nothing dies. 
Consistent Clarkianism is every bit as heretical as unitarianism or gnosticism or Mormonism or Swedenborgianism. Compared to that, the Federal Vision is chump change. 

Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages (#4)

Responding To Horrible Arguments

All of us use bad arguments at times. Nobody will be right about everything all of the time. But some arguments are especially bad. You look at the argument again. And again. And again. It still doesn't make any sense. You keep trying to untangle it to get at the reasoning behind it. Is the argument really as awful as it seems? But why would somebody use such a bad argument? Surely he didn't mean that. But what's the alternative?

There's nothing new under the sun. Anybody who's been involved in apologetics for long should resonate with the experience Basil of Caesarea described more than 1500 years ago:

"The very obviousness of the absurdity makes it difficult for us to find arguments to confute their unreasonableness; so that really their folly looks like an advantage to them; just as soft and yielding bodies offer no resistance, and therefore cannot be struck a stout blow. It is impossible to bring a vigorous confutation to bear on a palpable absurdity. The only course open to us is to pass by their abominable impiety in silence. Yet our love for the brethren and the importunity of our opponents makes silence impossible." (On The Holy Spirit, 17:41)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ian Paisley

I'm not sure I know enough about Northern Irish history to offer an informed opinion about the late Ian Paisley. 
i) From what I can tell, he was an opportunistic hatemonger who used uncompromising rhetoric in his rise to power, only to backpedal after the fact. He probably succeeded in alienating all sides at one time or another. 
ii) That said, some of his rhetoric, which many people find so outrageous, overblown, and shocking, reflects traditional religious polemic, from Luther, Calvin, and the Westminster Divines. Moreover, it's not as if Catholicism was any more charitable. Take this papal specimen:
iii) I also suspect that to no small extent, his belligerent pose mirrored the defensive mentality of a politically threatened religious minority (i.e. Protestants). To my knowledge, Catholicism is the majority faith in Ireland at large, but the partition of Ireland made it the minority faith in N. Ireland. So there's that demographic tension. A kind of internal/external border war.  
Up to a point, Protestant insecurity is understandable. They have, or had, reason to fear. Ironically, the Irish Catholicism has been politically weakened, both from outside forces (secularism) and inside forces (the priestly abuse scandal). 

The Great Apostasy

I'm going to do a little comparative analysis of the amil and premil interpretations of 2 Thes 2. My immediate point is not to adjudicate which interpretation is correct. However, comparing and contrasting the two interpretations can be a preliminary exercise in assessing their respective strengths and weaknesses. 
i) According to traditional premillennialism, the advent of the Antichrist is coordinated with a "great apostasy" of the church. One potential complication is that apostasia in v3 isn't necessarily a technical term of apostasy (i.e. repudiating the true faith). It could have a more generic sense of "rebellion." By itself, the term, as well as the passage, doesn't specify large-scale Christian defection. It could simply denote a revolt against authority. 
For instance, when countries whose laws and social values used to embody Christian ethics or natural law assumptions secularize, or become pluralistic, they rebel against general revelation and special revelation alike. "National apostasy" is a more diluted concept than personal apostasy, for civil religion is more diluted to begin with. 
ii) Whether we think "apostasy" is correct depends on other factors. If we think 2 Thes 2 parallels the Olivet Discourse, then that lends some support to widespread apostasy.
iii) There's also the question of how these two events are interrelated. Does apostasy in Christendom pave the way for the Antichrist? Does that make it easier for him to succeed? Or does the Antichrist instigate apostasy through his official policies? Which is the cause, and which is the effect? In principle these might be causally independent events, which nevertheless contribute to a common condition of spiritual defection. 
iv) In the premil interpretation, the Antichrist commits sacrilege or blasphemy by desecrating the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. 
v) Why would the Antichrist care about the temple in Jerusalem? Jerusalem has come to assume great symbolic significance for three world religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. In that regard it is more significant today than it was in Paul's day. 
That's not to say that Jerusalem is intrinsically significant, but that many people attach great religious significance to Jerusalem. So, if the Antichrist wanted to "make a statement," then trading on traditional pious veneration by staging his actions in Jerusalem would be more emblematic than London, Paris, New York, New Delhi, Beijing, Brasília, &c. That would resonant with many people. 
vi) If the premil interpretation is true, then this raises the specter of a self-fulfilling prophecy. 1 Thes 2 is in the public domain. It wasn't sealed. Presumably, the Antichrist would be acquainted with this oracle. His actions are directed by Satan, and Satan knows his way around the Bible.
In that case, the Antichrist is consciously playing the role he was typecast to play in Scripture. He sees himself in that passage, and he plays the part assigned to him in Bible prophecy. He's pretty cooperative in that respect. 
vii) Let's turn to the amil interpretation. To some extent, how we identify the Antichrist is correlative with how we identify the temple. If we identify the temple with the church, then that furnishes some supporting evidence for understanding apostasia in the technical sense. But that's not available to the premil position. 
viii) If we identify the temple with the church, then that raises the question of whether the "man of sin" is a personal Antichrist, or more in the nature of a malign influence. 
If the temple is the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, then that's highly localized. But if the temple is the church, that denotes millions of Christian communities around the globe. And that raises the question of how a personal Antichrist can instigate apostasy over such a diffuse collective. If we treat it as a malign influence, then this might tie into the "powerful delusion" which God sends forth (v11). 
An alternative explanation is that the Antichrist is a world rule who instigates massive apostasy through massive persecution. The fair-weather churchgoers would renounce their faith in the face of persecution. Moreover, it might involve carrots as well as sticks. Positive incentives to switch sides. Political and socioeconomic rewards. Historical illustrations include the perks which come from membership in the Nazi party or Communist party. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Was Cruz right?

Luke's genealogy

Matthew's focus is on the royal throne succession (he follows the OT list of the kings of Judah down to the exile), whereas Luke traces Joseph's ancestry not through Solomon the king but through another son of David who did not become king. Is Luke's then more a biological genealogy, as against an official throne list presented by Matthew, the two lists coming together briefly in Shealtiel and Zerubbabel and then again with Joseph? R. T. France, Luke (Baker 2013), 57. 

Taking belated credit for someone else's sleuthing

Now while the Team Pyro folks have surely been consistent in their public critique of Driscoll, and they have gotten some credit for having said "We told you so" about Driscoll in the last decade, no, they didn't.  Let's put it this way, were they on Driscoll's case over the last ten years about how carefully he gave credit where credit was due?  Nope.  They didn't say jack about plagiarism or the consolidation of power in the executive wing behind the scenes because it wasn't about those things for that crew, it was about Mark cussing and about Mark being too charismatic.

Alien Antichrist

In this post I'm going to discuss the perennially popular topic of the Antichrist. I will be speculating, but everyone who opines on the identity of the Antichrist has to speculate, so that puts me in good (as well as bad!) company.
For purposes of this post, I will stipulate that there's a personal Antichrist (in contrast to the Antichrist as an influence, movement, principle, or institution). And I will stipulate that the Antichrist is a future figure. He hasn't come and gone. 
What's a realistic scenario for the Antichrist? By "realistic," I mean, taking modern times, into the foreseeable future, as the frame of reference. And including Christian supernaturalism. 
For instance, what is realistic for a modern Antichrist isn't realistic for a medieval Antichrist, or vice versa. We'd expect a medieval Antichrist to reflect and exploit medieval historical conditions.  
The Biblical concept of the Antichrist is a composite. The Antichrist has the following job description:
i) A world ruler
ii) A sorcerer 
iii) A false prophet or deceiver who misleads unbelievers and nominal Christians
iv) A persecutor of the faithful
v) A figure who demands and receives universal worship
(Rev 13 subdivides the composite into two distinct figures: the beast and the false prophet. Whether or not we take that literally would have some affect on the job description.)
Those are large shoes to fill. Thus far, no historical figure was up to the challenge.
Let's consider some features of our own culture which might predispose or socially condition most people to accept the Antichrist if he appeared in that typecast role:
i) Many unbelievers worship at the altar of science. They revere great scientists. They revere famous physicists (e.g. Hawking, Einstein) or biologists (e.g. Darwin, Dawkins). 
ii) By the same token, many unbelievers venerate genius. Since they deny the existence of an omniscient God, human genius is the next best thing. For unbelievers, genius is godlike. That's why, for instance, they automatically value the opinion of somebody like Stephen Hawking on religion, even though Hawking is quite ignorant of theology. But because he's reputed to be one of the smartest men alive, and a scientist to boot, they just assume that anything he has to say about anything must be deeply insightful.
iii) In some science fiction films (e.g. Stargate, Prometheus, 2001: A Space Odyssey), gods and angels are really ancient astronauts. Extraterrestrials who came to earth millennia ago and jumpstarted human civilization.  
iv) Another science fiction theme is aliens who save us from ourselves. Humans are on the verge of self-destruction until benevolent aliens intervene. Aliens with superior technology and superior intelligence. 
v) This isn't just science fiction. Carl Sagan's SETI program is an attempt to contact alien civilizations. And the film Contact reflects his yearning for an extraterrestrial Savior. Astrobiological messianism.  
Yes, that's still science fiction, but there are people–including some scientists–who think that's a realistic scientific enterprise. 
vi) On a related note, many unbelievers are ufologists. 
vii) Transhumanism seeks immortality and apotheosis through bioengineering. 
viii) Many unbelievers think religion (or "fundamentalism") poses a dire threat to the survival of the human race. 
ix) Many unbelievers are terrified by "climate change." 
Here's a suggestion: suppose the Antichrist will be a human sorcerer (empowered by Satan) who uses witchcraft to impersonate a benign alien. According to Arthur Clarke's third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." But that's reversible. Magic is indistinguishable from advanced technology.
Suppose the Antichrist uses magic to simulate alien technology. An optical illusion. He descends over Manhattan, Jerusalem, or the White House in the Mother Ship. His "spacecraft" is invulnerable to NORAD. Imagine the reception he'd get from the general populace.
This might even dovetail with astronomical signs of the endtimes, if we update or reinterpret the imagery in terms of space-age technology. Likewise, the Antichrist might perform celestial portents and prodigies to convince doubters (cf. Deut 13:1-2). 
Suppose he used his magic, disguised as alien technology, to heal incurable diseases. Or manipulated weather systems to stabilized "climate change." It's easy to imagine that he'd have the whole world groveling at his feet in no time. A quasi-religious cult would immediately coalesce around his person and image. One-world religion. Ecumenists would applaud the dissolution of acrimonious religious divisions. Churches would be emptied by a great apostasy as nominal Christians flocked to the Antichrist. 
Of course, devout Christians would be the holdouts. So he'd task the authorities to persecute Christians. 
Once he consolidated his power, he could drop the benevolent pose. And he himself is just a puppet or frontman for the devil.