Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pure religion

In a recent interview, Tullian Tchividjian said:
"The core message of the Christian faith has been lost in the public sector because what we are primarily known for is our political ideology or opinion," Tchividjian told The Christian Post. 
"Specifically the reason why Evangelicals in America are unliked by non-Evangelicals is because we've branded ourselves as a political movement. It's not like Christians don't have opinions about what's going in our world and what's happening in our culture; I think that we do, I do, we all do, but when the primary message that the world hears from us is, "We need to fix the world…We need to stamp out all of the bad stuff," they don't hear the message that Jesus has entrusted in us," continued Tchividjian. 
"If people are going to stumble over what we say, it's going to be because we're called to speak the Gospel which Paul says is a stumbling block. But I can't go out there and be a jerk and align myself with a political party or a candidate and get crucified on either the right or the left and just say "I'm just a martyr for the truth." No, you're not even speaking the truth that God has called you to speak first and foremost."
So is Tully's position that Christians should stop acting in the best interests of their children? Christians should stop protecting their children from becoming wards of the state? Christians should stop protecting babies, the elderly, and the developmentally disabled from abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia? Christians should stop defending the right of children to be raised by a real mother and father? Christians should stop warning people about the consequences of self-destructive lifestyles? Christians should stop defending their Constitutional right to preach the Gospel? Should we live to be "liked." 
When James says "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (Jas 1:27), has he lost sight of "the core message of the Christian faith"? Is that an unnecessary stumbling block? As one commentator explains:
This verse is not meant as an exhaustive list of what pleases God; rather, it describes by practical example the behavior patterns exhibited by a person whose character is being shaped by "true religion," that is, genuine faith. Both personal holiness and social responsibility are manifestations of the character transformation that genuine faith effects. It is noteworthy that James includes both here, because it is difficult to be involved in the ills of the world without getting entangled in its idolatries, and it is difficult to cultivate holiness without cutting oneself off from the exigencies of the world. Ultimately, however, to be truly effective in dealing with the ills of the world requires personal holiness (cf. 3:17), and genuine personal holiness entails involvement in dealing with the world's ills. D. McCartney, James (Baker 2009),130. 

How Roman Catholics misuse and manipulate Scripture

God’s Living Word

God speaks, and in doing so, his very word creates and accomplishes its purposes. Roman Catholicism pays lip service to the Scriptures, but by its very dogmas, it takes away the meaning of the Scriptures.

Double trouble

Angelic warfare

The Bible contains scattered references to angelic warfare. I use that to designate two different, but related things: angels waging war on each other (or God), and angels waging war for or against humans. 

As Christians, we must take this seriously. However, the analysis often boils down to two inadequate alternatives: "Spiritual warfare" is simply a synonym for sanctification, or else spiritual warfare is depicted in Miltonian terms: humanoid angels with superpowers, like Greek gods smiting each other. Let's briefly try to improve on those alternatives. 

i) The diabolical war against God is indirect. God is invulnerable, so Satan and the demons can't attack him directly. instead, it's a kind of angelic Cold War. To take a comparison, Russia and America couldn't safely nuke each other. And because they occupy different continents, they couldn't invade each other. So they fought proxy wars through allies and satellites. 

ii) How do angels (i.e. heavenly v. fallen) fight each other? As discarnate spirits, presumably this is psychological warfare. Mind games. Telepathic espionage and counterespionage. Disinformation. 

iii) Angels are shape-shifters. According to Scripture, they can assume human form. That's an extension of psychokinesis.

Heavenly angels can use their powers to protect God's people by warding off physical adversaries (Gen 19:11; Exod 14:19-20; 2 Kgs 19:35). Conversely, demons can take possession of humans or animals. Although angels can make themselves visible or audible to humans, presumably they can shadow us as unseen guardians or adversaries. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Egotistical apostates

Recently I had occasion to comment on two apostates. The first was in response to an email correspondent. Here's my terse reply:

I skimmed it, as well as taking a quick general look at his blog. 
There's really nothing new here. It's more about rearranging stereotypical objections to the Bible. Rearranging old furniture. The only thing that's new is the arrangement, not the content. 
I'm struck by how self-important apostates are. It's not enough for them to lose their faith. They think it's terribly important to tell their story. As if everyone should be as interested as they are in themselves. 

The second was in response to an apostate on Win Corduan's Facebook page: 

Steve Hays Scott, what Bible scholars, church historians, and Christian scientists have you read?

Steve Hays I ask because you raise canned objections which conservative Bible scholars, church historians, and Christian scientists have repeatedly addressed. It's not enough for you to raise objections. You need to acknowledge the responses and detail why you think the responses are deficient.

Steve Hays Take some books defending the inerrancy and/or historicity of the Bible. For instance:

Daniel Block, Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? (B&H 2008)

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007)

Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (B&H 2013)

James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012)

Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)

Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely (Baker 2012)

Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Crossway 2012)

I. Provan, V. P. Long & T. Longman, eds. A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003)

Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker 1997)

How many of them have you read? If you've read some of them, why do you find their evidence/arguments unpersuasive?

Take some books on science. For instance:

W. Dembski & J. Wells, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems

S. Meyer, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

A. Gauger, D. Axe, C. Luskin, Science and Human Origins

Have you read them? If so, what in particular is wrong with their arguments?

Steve Hays Just to wrap things up, let's put some additional evidence on the table:

Here are some good books on the historical Jesus:

Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ

_____, Gospel Truth: Answering New Atheist Attacks on the Gospels

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel

P. Eddy & G. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition

Craig. A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence

Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels

And here are some good books on Messianic prophecy:

T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: The Bible's portrait of the Messiah

Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ

O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is theHebrew Bible Really Messianic?

And here's a standard reference work on theistic proofs:

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

That's just skimming the surface. There are so many lines of evidence.

Steve Hays BTW, your self-description reflects a standard apostate trope. The "discovery" that you were hoodwinked all those years. The sense of betrayal. As if this was all part of sneaky plot to keep the faithful in the dark.

Steve Hays You commit a common fallacy of imagining that you aren't making a claim, therefore you shoulder no burden of proof. But you've been asserting many things to be the case. Those are truth-claims on your part. So you're the one who's guilty of shifting the onus onto your opponent.

Steve Hays A claim needn't be a positive claim to be a truth-claim. A negative claim is just as much a truth-claim as a positive claim. The burden of proof is the same.

Steve Hays It's not my job to remind you of what you said. You need to keep track of your own statements. Take your confused notion that "negative claims have no burden of proof. By that logic, if I say "Chain-smoking ups the risk of lung cancer," I shoulder a burden of proof, but if I deny that chain-smoking ups the risk of cancer, I have no burden of proof. If I say there are Redwoods in CA, I shoulder a burden of proof, but if I deny there are Redwoods in CA, I have no burden of proof. Really?

Steve Hays The fact that you rely on Wikipedia is quite revealing.

Steve Hays The very article you reference even states that negative claims have their own burden of proof. You don't understand what you read.

Steve Hays Another common problem is that apostates typically fail to appreciate how much they leave behind by leaving Christian theism behind. They don't grasp the self-defeating implications of a consistently secular outlook. For instance:

Steve Hays I'm not going to go down a series of rabbit trails with you. I'm not responsible for what you do with your life. If you're serious about raising intellectual objections to Christianity, then it's your responsibility, not mine, to inform yourself of what the opposing position has written in reply to the kinds of stock objections you mention.

Steve Hays To begin with, you're not a truth-seeker. You're not asking questions for information. You're not genuinely curious about the answers. If you really wanted to know the answers, you would have done so before you abandoned ship. People who first jump ship (apostates), then ask questions, have already made up their minds. 

And when I call your bluff by directing you to excellent resources, you make it abundantly clear that you're not really interested in finding the answers. 

I'd add that it's futile to debate with someone who doesn't know his own limitations. You don't even recognize when you're making truth-claims, and you fail to grasp that even "negative claims" carry a burden of proof. Under the circumstances, you disqualify yourself from criticizing Christianity. 

i) Internet apostates are typically bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about their newfound infidelity. It's like a high school crush. They are quick to share their liberating discovery with everyone else. They retain a residual idealism, which is carryover from the Christian faith they left behind. They labor under the superficial illusion that they can jettison God, but leave everything important intact, after making some adjustments to their political views. 

This instantly reveals the fact that they fail to understand the far-reaching implications of atheism. That's in part because apostates usually read hortatory popularizers. There are some secular philosophers like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, the Churchlands, David Benatar, and Alex Rosenberg (among others) who are fairly candid about the moral and/or intellectual costs of atheism. Some of them are consistent to the point of self-referential incoherence. 

ii) Internet apostates fail to appreciate the radical asymmetry between atheism and Christianity. If atheism is true, Christians and atheists alike have nothing to gain and everything to lose. If Christianity is true, Christians have everything to gain and atheists have everything to lose. So atheism isn't even worth discussing. Why waste time debating the merits of nihilism? 

iii) It's not enough for internet atheists to lose their faith. They feel the emotional need to announce their apostasy, then say: "Prove me wrong!" Why do they imagine it's incumbent on Christians to refute their infidelity? It's the apostate who will pay the price.

Imagine if I'm walking along the river, and I see a guy about to dive in. I warn him that it's dangerous to swim there because there's a large crocodile that frequents that river. 

He responds by challenging me to prove there's a crocodile in the river, even though I was doing him a favor by warning him. Why is it incumbent on me to prove myself to him when I was doing him a favor in the first place?

But suppose I show him some photos I took of the crocodile. Suppose he asks me how I know that's a real crocodile and not an inflatable toy. Why should I try to accommodate him at that point? 

Suppose he dives in. The crocodile surfaces and heads straight for him. He yells at me, telling me to jump in and rescue him.

Sorry, but it's not my duty to risk my hide to save his hide because he chose to disregard my repeated warnings. He has no right to put me in danger. 

There are 7 billion people in the world, most of whom never had the advantages of the apostate.

"Some Presuppositionalism Tossed Your Way..."

Peter Pike debates an atheist.

Gathercole reviews Wright

Mennonite Takeover?

Earthy amillennialism

i) At the risk of oversimplification, premils interpret Revelation more literally, but think the bulk of the action takes place at the tailend of church history while amils interpret Revelation more symbolically, but think the bulk of the action takes place throughout the church age.

To some extent these are irreconcilable positions. As such, the amil/premil debate will remain at an impasse. But to some extent I think it poses a false dichotomy. 

ii) I think many amils are repelled by the "materialism" or "carnality" of the premil reading. Repelled by cartoonish depictions of Armageddon in pop dispensationalism. Repelled by the suggestion that Revelation is describing real physical warfare in the future. Real bloodshed. Flesh-and-blood combatants attacking each other. 

Amils react by etherializing, privatizing, and even secularizing the text. That it's basically about the history of world missions, and sanctification (i.e. the battle between good and evil within the human heart).

That, however, generates an internal tension in amil hermeneutics. For if Revelation is, in fact, describing church history in general, then church history includes real warfare. For instance, during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Catholic authorities tried to exterminate the Protestant movement. That led to civil wars and armed resistance. So if, as amils, we think the descriptions in Revelation apply to church history, then some of the martial imagery could and should be taken more literally. For church history is often gritty, grisly, and gory. That's unfortunate, but that's a fact.

iii) This also goes to the nature of the symbolism. For instance, the OT contains some mythopoetic descriptions of the Exodus (e.g. Ps 74:13-15; Isa 51:9-10). Yet these correspond to an actual event. Likewise, we have a couple of back-to-back accounts of OT battles, where the first version is prosaic while the second version is poetic (Exod 14-15; Judg 4-5). 

A symbolic account doesn't imply that what the account stands for is a different kind of event. To the contrary, it can be the same kind of event. 

I don't think an angel opens a hatch in the firmament and empties a bucket of brimstone onto the earth below. And I doubt John thought that either. But the OT depicts real natural disasters, real celestial portents and prodigies. As such, there's no reason to preempt an interpretation of the Apocalypse in terms real natural disasters, astronomical phenomena, angelic apparitions, &c. There's ample precedent for that in OT history and literature. 

When, therefore, Revelation contains battle scenes, the fact that these are couched in symbolic imagery doesn't necessarily mean they stand for something other than actual battles. Although that's possible, the mere fact that the descriptors are metaphorical doesn't entail that conclusion.

iv) Revelation naturally depicts warfare in archaic terms. Yet in theory, even that could be fairly realistic. If the power grid was destroyed by cyberterrorists or EMP devices, our hitech society would revert to more primitive technology. 

I happen to think that's a clunky way to interpret futuristic prophecy. But I make that observation for the sake of argument, as a limiting case. 

v) In addition, the OT records numerous conflicts that include supernatural elements: angels, miracles, natural disasters (e.g. Gen 19:11,24; Exod 10:21-23; 14:19-20; Josh 5:13-15; 10:11-14; Jdgs 5:20-23; 2 Kgs 6:17; 19:35; 20:8-11; Isa 38:7-8; Dan 3:25,28; 6:22). Once again, there's ample precedent for the possibility that the descriptions in Revelation are more realistic than amil exegesis typically allows for. 

vi) In church history, miracles are reported in connection with Christian persecution (e.g. the Covenanters, the Camisards). If Revelation depicts recurring kinds of events in the course of church history, then the supernatural elements in the Revelation narrative may well have church historical counterparts. 

vii) In my opinion, the imagery in Revelation is flexible. Although it sometimes denotes specific events (e.g. the life of Christ, the final judgment), it more often denotes particular kinds of events rather than particular events. Kinds are repeatable. That dovetails with the cyclical action we find in Revelation. 

It's possible that if the conflict escalates towards the end of the church age, church history will more closely resemble OT history in terms of open supernaturalism. To that extent, one can agree with amils on the scope of Revelation, but agree with premils on the physicality or supernaturalism of the referents. Amils view the plot of Revelation as a spiral, combining repetition with progression. And a spiral and pick up the pace towards the end–as it narrows. 

Ironically, many premils are cessationists, which generates a degree of tension between their cessationism and their supernaturalistic reading of Revelation. Apparently, cessationism is suspended towards the end. 

My point is not to take a firm position on how to correlate Revelation with future events. My point, rather, is to expand our interpretive repertoire. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Premillennialism and Las Vegas

I appreciate Steve's recent, thoughtful millennial posts of late, reasoned analysis and insight for the millennial debate.

I am a premillennialist for several good reasons. In a few weeks in Las Vegas I will be giving a lecture on one of these reasons which I believe is airtight:

How to Give a Premillennial Airtight Argument Against Amillennialism
Did the binding of Satan mentioned in Revelation 20:1-3 occur at the first coming of Christ or will it occur at the second coming of Christ? This is the watershed question in the millennial debate. Kurschner will equip you with what he considers the best biblical argument against Amillennialism, explaining that the binding of Satan cannot happen before the second coming of Christ. You can use this argument with the best that Amillennial teachers have to offer.

For a preview of my argument, see this brief article:

Also, here is a related article that is helpful:

Maybe I can convince Steve to join me in Vegas.

I can't finish this post without a shameless plug for my new book!

Jim Crow Democrats

Why the millennium?

1) I'm an unrepentant amil. I'm admittedly hostile to classical dispensational hermeneutics. For instance, I think the commentary on Revelation by Robert Thomas is a reductio ad absurdum of that approach.

But to be fair, I think the weaknesses of classical dispensational hermeneutics represents an overreaction to the weaknesses of Augustinian amil hermeneutics. Augustine was a rampant allegorist, so that's a bad model of how to do exegesis. A mid-course correction was long overdue. 

In addition, some amils seem to be repelled by the physicality of the premil/dispensational millennium. But Scripture is very down-to-earth. And discomfort with physicality often elides into liberal theology. 

2) I think John's millennium refers to the intermediate state. But suppose, for the sake of argument, I was a premil. How would I argue for the millennium? 

Although premils aren't committed to a literal 1000-year period, let's take that literally for the sake of argument. Why a 1000-year period? 

Here's one suggestion: Is it coincidental that even though some prediluvians lived into their 900s, none of them broke the 1000 mark? The millennium is a transitional phase or compromise. Not as good as the eternal state, but better than life in a fallen world before the Parousia. 

In a way, it parallels the balmy physical conditions of the prediluvian period. That wasn't as good as life before the Fall. The expulsion from the Garden, thereby barring access to the tree of life, made immortality a lost opportunity. Yet the millennium seems to be a throwback to the silver age physical conditions of the prediluvian period. Not the golden age of Eden. Yet there's a steady decline in longevity after the flood. The patriarchs are long-lived, but nothing like the prediluvians. 

3) The stock amil objection to the millennial temple is that it's retrograde. And in a basic, indisputable sense, that's true. However:

i) One way of demonstrating that something is obsolete is to keep an example around. That way, people can directly compare and contrast old and new, before and after.

The millennial temple could be like a museum, to commemorate an important phase in redemptive history.

ii) There's nothing inherently wrong with taking an interest in the past. If we could jump in the time machine, surely many of us would like to visit Solomon's temple, as well as see many OT events for ourselves. That's not the same thing as nostalgia. That doesn't mean we think the past is necessarily better. It's just natural curiosity. Pious curiosity. 

4) Is a millennial temple redundant? 

i) In Ezk 8-11, the prophet has a vision of the Shekinah forsaking the temple. 

ii) One question is what the visions represent. Are visions like remote cameras which enable the prophet to see things offsite, at a different place (and time)? Did the Shekinah actually forsake the temple? Or is this a symbolic vision? 

iii) A related question is whether the Shekinah took up permanent residence within the inner sanctum, or did the Shekinah only enter and occupy the temple temporarily as God's way of dedicating the (Solomonic) temple? (Ditto: the tabernacle). 

iv) It's striking that even though the temple was rebuilt, at the instigation of Haggai and Zechariah, there's no record of the Shekinah returning to the Second Temple, even to dedicate it, much less take up permanent residence. In that respect, the Second Temple was a hollow shell–unlike Solomon's temple.

v) Amils argue that Jesus is the new temple. And that identification is supported by John's Gospel. John also uses Shekinah imagery for Jesus (Jn 1:14). For a full discussion, cf. G. Beale, The Temple and the Church's MIssion, 192-200. So it may well be the case that from hereon out, a physical temple is superfluous. 

vi) However, that raises the question of which person of the Trinity corresponds to the Shekinah. In the NT (e.g. Pauline pneumatology), the Shekinah is more often associated with the Spirit rather than the Son. Christians are temples in miniature. The indwelling Spirit is the NT counterpart to the Shekinah filling the sanctuary. 

As such, the first and second advents of Christ don't necessarily exhaust God's self-revelation. Although there's a soteriological sense in which Jesus takes the place of the temple, he doesn't take the place of the Holy Spirit or the Shekinah. 

So even if, during the Millennium, Ezekiel's temple (Ezk 40-48) was rebuilt, and the Holy Spirit once again manifested himself as the Shekinah within the inner sanctum, that wouldn't necessarily be redundant–for that would manifest a different person of the Godhead. Just as a Christophany is a manifestation of the Son, the presence of God in Christ doesn't preclude the descent of the Spirit as a dove at the Baptism of Christ. We can experience God in the person of the Spirit as well as the person of the Son. 

vii) Finally, it's striking that the Son and Spirit sometimes take visible manifestations whereas the Father sometimes takes audible manifestations (Mt 3:17; 17:5; Jn 12:28-29). The Father is sometimes heard, but never seen. So there are different ways in which members of the Trinity manifest themselves to human observers. These are not interchangeable. 

Although Christ is fully God, it's incorrect to say God is fully revealed in the person of Son, for the Son is not reducible to the Spirit, or vice versa. 

The seven gambit

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prophetic gaps

In Jewish and Christian tradition, Gabriel's promise has been applied rather to later events: the birth of the Messiah, Jesus' death and resurrection, the fall of Jerusalem, various subsequent historical events, and the still-future manifesting of the messiah. Exegetically such views are mistaken. The detail of vv24-27 fits the second-century BC crisis and agrees with allusions to this crisis elsewhere in Daniel. The verses do not indicate that they are looking centuries or millennia beyond the period to which chaps. 8 and 10–12 refer…The passage refers to the Antiochene crisis. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word 1989), 267.

i) I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a general angle. Goldingay is making a specific claim about Daniel, but the same issue crops up regarding various OT and NT prophecies. Are conservatives inserting ad hoc gaps or intervals in prophecy as a face-saving device?

ii) Liberals like Goldingay take this position because they don't believe in predictive prophecy. They think these are failed prophecies or prophecies ex eventu.

However, even if one takes that secular position, a scholar ought to ask himself how, for the sake of argument, the prophecy would be expressed any differently, if at all, if it were, in fact, a long-range prophecy. Notice Goldingay assumes that if the verses were looking far ahead, there'd be some indication to that effect. But is that the case?

iii) Let's assume God knows the future. Let's assume he sometimes reveals the future to a prophet. These sometimes refer to the near future, sometimes to the distant future. Or there might be a series of oracles that span a long stretch of time.

As a rule, would the prophet know how soon these will be fulfilled? Unless the prophecy is worded in terms that clearly refer to events within the lifetime of the prophet or his immediate audience, I don't see why. Moreover, even long-range prophecy might be worded in contemporary terms for the sake of intelligibility.

iv) To approach this from the opposite direction–as indeed we must–knowing the interval between prediction and fulfillment is usually a retrospective rather than prospective assessment. After it happens, or after a significant time has elapsed since the oracle was issued, we can say how long it took or how long it is taking. 

But that's not something a prophet can generally surmise looking forward. Rather, that's something we discern looking back. Since a prophet rarely knows in advance how long it will take, we wouldn't expect him to posit a gap or lengthy interval, even if, as it turns out, this is a long-range prophecy. From his standpoint, he can't tell if this is a short-term or long-term prophecy. He may state one thing after another, not because one thing happens right after another, but simply to indicate the relative sequence. One thing happens before or after another, without implying how much earlier or later. 

Conservative Christians aren't inserting gaps or intervals. Rather, with the passage of time, the duration becomes clearer. We know something the prophet didn't, because God didn't reveal the timing to the prophet. Our hindsight complements his foresight. And that's in the nature of long-range prophecy. Often the prophetic referent, whether short-term or long-term, only emerges with the passage of time. Only time will tell. 

Deceiving the nations

The "binding" of Satan in a way that keeps him from "deceiving the nations" (Rev 20:2-3) serves well as a description of the present age, in which the gospel is being spread to all the peoples of the world. In previous ages, the message of redemption was essentially confined to the borders of a single nation of the world. But now all nations are the privileged possessors of God's saving grace…Jesus himself referred to the binding of Satan in connection with the overthrow of his evil kingdom during his own earthly ministry (Mt 12:28-29). His disciples rejoiced in the fact that even the demons were subject to them (Lk 10:17-18). When Greeks came to him, Jesus declared that "now" the prince of this world would be cast out, and that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men to himself (Jn 12:31-32). Clearly the power to deceive the nations has been broken. O. P. Robertson, The Israel of God, 161-62. 
Satan is bound, meaning that his power to influence the nations is suppressed. Premillennialists and some postmillennialists associate this event with the advent of an extraordinary future era of peace and prosperity, contrasting with the present (1 Thess. 2:18; 1 Pet. 5:8). But amillennial interpretation, the binding of Satan has already taken place through Christ’s death and resurrection (John 12:31; cf. Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:9; Matt. 12:29). The present spread of the gospel to the nations, as initiated in Acts, is the result of a restriction on Satan’s power to deceive. Possibly this restriction on Satan’s power is closely associated with the present temporary demise of the Beast (17:8). The deceiving of the nations takes place largely through the activity of the Beast (13:14; 16:14; 19:20). As the Beast can suffer repeated defeats (17:8, 10), so Satan can suffer repeated defeats in his power over the nations. The loosing of Satan in 20:7-10 represents his final attempt, leading to his final defeat.

i) Premills remain unconvinced. For one thing, they point out that the binding and loosing of Satan involves a three-stage sequence:

Satan unbound>Satan bound>Satan unbound

In other words, the binding of Satan presumes that he was unbound prior to his binding. And that, in turn, is followed by his release. 

By contrast, the amil interpretation is gradualistic, with the progressive spread of the Gospel. That fails to do justice to the alternating pattern. 

We could raise some additional objections:

ii) Rather than interpreting this passage of Revelation in relation to Revelation itself, the amil interpretation relies on passages outside of Revelation. 

iii) Moreover, Robertson's projection is too schematic and idealistic. The history of Christian mission doesn't reflect the stately progress of the Gospel, where Satan's dominions fall one after another like dominos to the inexorable advance of the Gospel. What we actually witness is ground won and ground lost. Reversals. Countries or people-groups which had been pagan are evangelized. Yet after a few centuries, they may revert. It's not as if we win a nation or ethnic group to the Gospel, lock in our gains, then proceed to the next frontier. Formerly Christian countries or ethnicities may commit national apostasy or be conquered by militant followers of a new false prophet. 

iv) In fairness to the amil interpretation, it's not as if the premil interpretation is without internal difficulties. After the enemies are decimated in Rev 19, followed by a spiritual renaissance in 20:4-6, the enemies in vv7-10 seem to spring up out of nowhere. 

I still think an amil interpretation is defensible, but it needs to be retooled. 

i) It's precarious to press the sequence in Revelation. For one thing, this book is an anthology of visions. John saw one thing, then another, then another. His visions are collected in the book. But what this or that discrete vision refers to may be independent of the sequence in which the visions are collected and ordered. Think of other prophetic anthologies in Scripture. Eventually, a prophet's disparate oracles are combined in one book. But the editorial arrangement isn't the same thing as the historical sequence in which they were received, delivered, or denote. 

ii) In addition, John incorporates material from several sources. The reason scenes are arranged in a particular order in Rev 19-22 is because, to some degree, he is imitating Ezk 37-48. Moreover, he intercalates material from Isaiah, Zechariah, &c. So the sequence is arguably a bit arbitrary, inasmuch as he must find some place or another to wedge this material. 

iii) I think it's better to understand the binding and loosing of Satan as a discrete vision (among others), "interrupted" by vv4-6, which presents a repeatable principle in church history. In this struggle, both sides score temporary victories and setbacks. The boundaries of Satan's kingdom expand and contract throughout the course of church history. He is pushed back for a time. In retreat. Then he rallies and rebounds. There's no consistent pattern. No permanent borders. 

Thankfully, this won't go on indefinitely. 

Daniel and Jerusalem

The climax to which chap. 8 looks lies in the crisis in the second century BC…The Antiochene crisis is heralded by the death of one high priest and the wickedness of another (26)…its real focus lies on the events of the 160s. 
In Jewish and Christian tradition, Gabriel's promise has been applied rather to later events: the birth of the Messiah, Jesus' death and resurrection, the fall of Jerusalem, various subsequent historical events, and the still-future manifesting of the messiah. Exegetically such views are mistaken. The detail of vv24-27 fits the second-century BC crisis and agrees with allusions to this crisis elsewhere in Daniel. The verses do not indicate that they are looking centuries or millennia beyond the period to which chaps. 8 and 10–12 refer…The passage refers to the Antiochene crisis. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word 1989), 266-67.

That's the standard liberal interpretation. Ironically, it backfires even on its own terms, posing a dilemma for the liberal interpretation. In particular:

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. (Dan 9:26). 
This predicts the destruction of the Second Temple as well as the destruction of Jerusalem. Problem is, neither event took place during the Antiochean crisis. And this isn't some incidental detail, given the central importance of both in Judaism. 
If, according to the liberal reconstruction, the anonymous author of Daniel was writing "prophecy" after the fact, if he was writing history in the guise of prophecy, how could he be so inaccurate about something so important and so well-known–both to himself and his immediate audience? 
Since, moreover, as Goldingay rightly points out, we need to interpret these verses as a literary unit, if 9:26 doesn't fit the 2C BC situation, then that reorients the other passages. In retrospect, Dan 9:26 is a prediction which was actually fulfilled in the Fall of Jerusalem (70 AD) and Bar Kokhba revolt (132-36 AD).

Through heaven’s doorway

Randy Alcorn writes about death for the believer.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Garner Files

A few observations about the late James Garner. 

He's a throwback to the kind of male actor you rarely see anymore. As I've often remarked, for some time now Hollywood has been picking actors and actresses who look like perpetual high school students. By contrast, Gardner was unmistakably a grown man.

A 6' 3" former high school football player, his hardscrabble childhood, working-class Southern background, experience as a manual laborer, and decorated Korean war vet, gave him a natural down-to-earth charm and manliness that's almost extinct in today's TV dramas and Hollywood movies. 

And that, in turn, accounts for his longevity. Nowadays, most male movie stars lack staying power. They are very successful in their 20s and 30s, but their career bottoms out after they hit 40 (give or take). They cast about for some new vehicle to recharge their stalled career. But, of course, you can only retain the boyish looks for so long. If that's what you made your career on, you will wash out half way through the lifecycle.  They grow old without growing up. They just look like over-the-hill teenagers. 

He's also a man who remained married to his first wife for over 50 years. No small achievement in Tinseltown. 

There's a somewhat random quality to his career. He's not the kind of guy who planned his life out. To a great extent he just let life happen to him. To be sure, he had a wily eye for opportunities. He made the most of lucky breaks. But had the timing been a bit different here and there, he would have ended the way he began: a drifter, never amounting to anything. 

He was enormously successful in TV and film, and perennially popular, yet there's something sad about his life and death, because it's ultimately so aimless and ephemeral. The lack of Christian purpose. Christian vision. 

From what I've read, he was a nominal Methodist. Unbelievers treat life like a lump sum payment. You only get so much. It's up to you how you spend it. Up to you how fast you spend it. Once it's gone it's gone. Don't look ahead. Live for the moment. He led a life that's simultaneously full and empty. 

Random mercy

Findo It seems an odd sort of justice which makes it monstrous to give what is deserved. 

Roger Olson So what you would think of a judge who, faced with a group of men deserving condemnation and liable to execution, randomly chose some to pardon, leaving the others to their deserved fate? Not monstrous?

Olson is posing a rhetorical question. Obviously, he thinks it would be "monstrous" to randomly pardon some while leaving the others to their deserved fate. 

i) Since he considers that scenario to be "monstrous," what's his non-monstrous alternative? The way he frames the issue stands in implicit contrast to whatever he deems to be the acceptable alternative. 

ii) On the face of it, the key consideration seems to be the randomness" of the selection process. Presumably, he doesn't think it's inherently monstrous to pardon some people but punish others. Rather, that's only monstrous in cases where you do so at random

"Random" stands in contrast to what? Well, his hypothetical is an allegory for unconditional election, which he considers "arbitrary." The alternative is conditional election, where God chooses whom to save or damn based on what he sees (or foresees) in them. 

So, by parity of argument, the non-monstrous alternative to randomly pardoning some but punishing others is to pardon or punish based on what the judge sees in them. So how does that apply to his hypothetical? Since his hypothetical stipulates that the men in question "deserve condemnation," are "liable to execution," which is their "deserved fate," then, presumably, it would be "monstrous" to pardon any of them. 

iii) That raises an interesting question. Since his hypothetical is an allegory for unconditional election, doesn't his position commit him to the belief that conditional election is just as monstrous as unconditional election? After all, if everyone is a sinner who deserves condemnation, yet God pardons some while leaving others to their equally deserved fate, isn't that "monstrous" on Olson's own grounds? If God sees (or foresees) the same thing in everyone, because everyone deserves condemnation, then by Olson's logic, God is monstrous unless he damns everyone

iv) Perhaps Olson will say God foresaw that some would accept the Gospel while others reject the Gospel. So that's the difference.

But that's not a difference in terms of who is deserving of condemnation. Acceptance doesn't make them innocent. So how does that difference salvage Olson's argument (assuming that's his argument)? 

v) Keep in mind, too, that Arminianism is not committed to penal substitution. Penal substitution is not an Arminian essential. So Olson can't say conditional election is not monstrous because Christ paid the penalty for the sins of future believers. For that would make the moral licitness of Arminian election contingent on a theory of the atonement which many Arminians past and present (e.g. Grotius, Miley, Grider, Green, Rauser) reject.

vi) Olson evidently takes the position that it would be better to punish ten guilty men than show mercy to nine out of ten, or show mercy to one out of ten. 

But in that event, isn't the very concept of mercy "monstrous"? If mercy pardons someone in spite of their guilt, how is that different from an unconditional pardon? 

If pardon and punishment ought to be conditioned on what the judge sees in the accused, and if the defendant is worthy of condemnation, then by Olson's logic, isn't mercy intrinsically monstrous? By definition, mercy treats people better than they deserve. Does Olson think the Biblical concept of mercy is "monstrous"? 

vii) Why does Olson think that if a judge, faced with a group of men deserving condemnation and liable to execution, randomly chose some to pardon, leaving the others to their deserved fate, that would be monstrous? 

Does he think randomness per se is unjust or unfair because it treats people unequally? Inequitable treatment is unjust or unfair if the parties in question are alike (i.e. worthy of condemnation)? 

If that's his intuition, I'd simply note that randomness often has the polar opposite function. In human affairs, we use randomizing devices, not because randomness is unfair, but because randomizing the outcome makes the situation fairer. 

There are situations where the order in which something happens will confer a competitive advantage on one side or the other. Who goes first, who goes second, who goes last, can be advantageous or disadvantageous. Who gets the first pick. Who gets the last pick. Which debater makes the final closing statement. Who plays defense, who plays offense. 

Neither side as a right to go first, second, or last. One team isn't more deserving than another. Yet someone has to go first, second, or last, and order in which that happens will confer an unfair advantage or disadvantage on the respective teams. 

One traditional way of resolving the unfairness is a coin toss. Flipping a coin is a randomizing device which equalizes the chance of going first, second, or last. That's a way of making an unfair situation more fair. A blind, unbiased procedure.  Although the outcome will confer a subsequent advantage on one side, neither side has an antecedent advantage on how the coin will land (heads or tails).

Likewise, a stacked deck is unfair precisely because it isn't random. That's why the deck should be shuffled and reshuffled. The sequence of the cards is supposed to be "arbitrary." That's why you should replace an old deck with a new deck (since old, creased, or dog-eared cards are equivalent to marked cards). Same thing with loaded dice.

It's the randomness in games of chance that makes them fair. Everyone has the same odds of winning or losing. 

Another example is the waiting list for organs. There are not enough donated organs to go around. So it has to be rationed. There are, of course, criteria. Some candidates are more suitable than others. Some candidates are more urgent than others. That can bumped you up the list. 

But you're bound have situations with equally qualified patients. Yet one gets lucky, and the other gets unlucky. Even in life and death situations, an element of randomness is sometimes the fairest solution.   

Olson acts as if randomness is the antithesis of fairness, yet in many situations, we use randomizing devices to make it fair. 

I'm not saying unconditional election is random. But even if (ex hypothesi) it were random, that, of itself, isn't "monstrous" or unfair. For randomness, of itself, isn't "monstrous" or unfair. At best, Olson would need to explain how randomness is "monstrous" under those particular circumstances.

viii) Apropos (vii), "random" is often treated as synonym for "aimless," "purposeless," "fortuitous," "unplanned," "undirected," "unpremeditated," "indiscriminate," "hit-and-miss,"&c. 

Clearly, though, unconditional election isn't indiscriminate or hit-and-miss. To the contrary, Arminians complain that unconditional election is too discriminatory!

Likewise, unconditional election isn't unplanned, undirected, &c. To the contrary, this is God's antemundane plan for the some humans–in contrast to his equally premeditated design for the reprobate. 

ix) In addition, the popular connotations of randomness fail to distinguish between a process and the function of a process. Let's go back to randomizing devices like flipping a coin or shuffling a deck. That's both a purposeful process and a random process. And that's not a contradiction in terms. Although the process itself is random, the process serves a purpose. There's a purpose behind the process. A coin toss is random, but it's not pointless. It's a means to an end. A method of conflict resolution. 

Because the method is random, that makes it unbiased. Fair. 

x) In principle, one could show mercy "at random" to underscore the fact that no one deserves it. If nobody has a claim on your mercy, then picking recipients at random makes that very point. It could just as well have been someone else. Grace is truly gratuitous. 

I'm not saying unconditional election is random. Rather, I'm saying that even if (ex hypothesi) unconditional election were random, that wouldn't be pointless or unjust.