Saturday, April 21, 2018

Quantifying miracles

i) The issue miracles is often framed in terms of mathematical odds. Like there's a presumption against having a license plate with that particular number, given tens of millions of license plates, but that presumption can be overcome by specific evidence to the contrary. By the same token, miracles are said to be very rare. Therefore, the mathematical odds against the occurrence of a miracle are high, though not insurmountable. 

I've never been impressed by that way of framing the issue. To take a comparison, consider a corridor with closed doors on both sides. Let's say there are 100 doors total. What are the odds that any particular door is locked?

I don't think the mathematical odds are relevant. That's the wrong way to broach the issue. There's no presumption that the closed doors are either locked or unlocked. That depends on other variables. 

If it's during business hours, many doors may be closed but unlocked. If it's after business hours, they are more likely to be locked. Yet even then you have workaholic employees who are still slaving away in their office. Or doors may be unlocked because the cleaning crew is servicing offices. 

Some doors lead to conference rooms. These remain unlocked day or night. There might be a door to a utility room that's normally locked.

The abstract odds have no bearing on the probability that any particular door is locked or unlocked. There's no presumption one way or the other. 

ii) Even if miracles are very rare, that's not a mathematical assumption. Rather, that's an empirical observation. In our experience, miracles are (allegedly) very rare. That's not a question of a priori mathematical odds, but a posteriori evidence.

Moreover, it's ambiguous to say miracles are rare. Rare overall? We'd expect miracles to be underreported since most Christians aren't famous. Miracles might be frequent, but most of them will never be a matter of public record. 

Something can be rare but still be common if the absolute number is large even if the relative number is small. It might be a fraction of total events, yet the percentages are considerable. Green eyes are rare, but if millions of people have green eyes, that's a lot of green eyes. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ontological arguments

For the philosophically inclined:

http://bridgeofreason.com/existence/Rasmussen_on_Plantinga_OntologicalArgument.pdf

A god apart

Have you ever noticed the enormous emphasis on social ethics in Islam and Rabbinical Judaism? Jewish philosophers are generally social commentators and existentialists. They don't focus on God the way Christian philosophers and theologians do. To the extent that they talk about God, it's God as the source of morality. Same thing with so much Islamic discourse. 

In that regard it's not coincidental that Islam and Rabbinical Judaism are militantly unitarian. Anti-incarnational. 

Because the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is not an essentially interpersonal being, because the idea of a divine Incarnation is inimical to their theology, the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is very abstract. Inscrutable. Ineffable. 

The result is to collapse the vertical dimension of religion to the horizontal dimension. We're reduced to immanence. Human relationships. That's because a unitarian Deity isn't very relatable. From above, he creates and sustains a moral and metaphysical framework. And that's about it. A unitarian Deity isn't very engaging, approachable, or sociable–unlike an Incarnational, Trinitarian Deity. A religion of rules that never rises above human social dynamics. A unitarian Deity can be a benefactor, but not a friend or father. 

So many Christians–so few lions!

A standard objection to Christianity is whether inclusivism is fair. Is it fair that so many never had a chance to hear the Gospel? This is an issue in freewill theism as well as Calvinism.

There are familiar strategies in fielding this objection. But I'd like to remark on a neglected consideration. It's striking how frequently unbelievers respond to the Gospel with seething antipathy. It's not as if they exclaim, "That's just what I was always waiting for! Where have you been all my life!" 

I'm not saying nobody responds that way. But notice how many people, when exposed to the Gospel, how many people, when given the opportunity, far from welcoming the message, greet the message with implacable enmity, to the point of persecuting or martyring Christians. Silencing them. Torturing them to death. "So many Christians–so few lions!"

It's not as if many people go to hell simply because they never had a chance to hear the Gospel. As though, had they only been given the opportunity, they'd be overjoyed and feel privileged. So often unbelievers react like drowning swimmers who fight the lifeguard: "How dare you save my life!"

I'm not saying this covers every case, but it's worth pondering. How frequently those who need it the most are the most antagonistic. Violently belligerent.  

Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

https://www.logos.com/product/148729/christianity-considered-a-guide-for-skeptics-and-seekers

Accident of birth

Stephen J. Graham
@sjggraham 
Suppose God sent to Hell everyone who was born in South America before 10am. The rest of us go to heaven. Is there any reason on Calvinism to think there is anything wrong with God holding people morally accountable for being born in South America before 10am?
Secular Outpost Retweeted

Stephen J. Graham
@sjggraham
Can South Americans born before 10am complain to their creator "Why did you make me thus?" Who are they that they should talk back to God? (cf Romans 9:20)

Stephen J. Graham
@sjggraham
I'm asking whether it makes any moral sense for God to hold someone accountable for something beyond their control. I don't think the issue is about divine command ethics.

I wouldn't normally comment on some random tweet by an atheist, by since this was retweeted by Jeff Lowder at the Secular Outpost, I'll bite:

i) God wouldn't be holding folks morally accountable for when and where they are born, but for their sin. For instance, if an arsonist trips a silent alarm, and the police arrest him before he had a chance to get away, he wasn't held accountable for his poor timing. That's an incidental circumstance. 

ii) Since many South Americans are Christians, it would be morally wrong for God to damn them. For one thing, God would be breaking his promise to save those who trust in Jesus.

ii) In addition, it would be wrong for God to damn those whom Christ redeemed. Since Christ atoned for the sins of Christians (i.e. the elect), there's no judicial basis for damning them. Admittedly, some professing Christians are nominal Christians, but I'm referring to the elect.

iii) Hence, Rom 9:20 doesn't apply.

iv) Sometimes we're responsible for things beyond our control and sometimes not. Depends on the example. If a mother leaves her newborn baby on my doorstep, I'm not responsible for the child in the sense that I'm not its father. And I didn't create that situation. But having been thrust into a situation not of my own choosing, I'm responsible to see to it that the newborn doesn't die on my doorstep from exposure or predation. 

Woke church

1. In addition to race-baiters like Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Bradley, RAAN, Reformed Margins et al., we have a social contagion that's spreading to race-baiter enablers like Danny Akin, Matt Chandler, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper, David Platt et al. And that in turn has a coercive impact on students and employees to tow the party line or else.  

And this isn't confined to "racial reconciliation". "The church" is to confess its historical mistreatment of LGBT people. 

2. One of the acute ironies of this movement is that if you wish to fan or reignite racial animus, then collective defamation is a predictable accelerant. In identity politics, straight white Christian males are at the bottom of the pecking order. "Evangelical" race-baiters and their enablers unwitting stoke the alt-right. If you keep scapegoating men, or white men, or straight white men, or straight white Christian men, that provokes an utterly predictable backlash. That's how Trump got elected. The Obama administration fueled racial animosity, with predictable results in the voting booth. The race-baiters and their enablers feed they very thing they fear. And that has a lot to do with Jordan Peterson's ascendancy. 

3. In addition, if you constantly cry wolf, people tune out, so that when there are bona fide cases of unjust discrimination, that's discounted as fake news. The race-baiters and their enablers make the point that the past has present-day reverberations. That's true, but we don't agree on how they interpret the racial dynamic in modern-day America.

There are actually some things that both sides could agree on, if there was a shift in emphasis. For instance, high rates of black incarceration are due in part to criminalizing victimless crimes (e.g. a drug habit). According to Ben Shapiro, that was originally pushed by black politicians. 

But presumably white libertarians don't think we should criminalized victimless crimes. So there's a potential meeting of minds on that issue. This is not to deny that a drug habit has collateral damage, but that's true of many self-destructive behaviors we don't criminalize.

4. The attitude of race-baiters and their enablers is a throwback to heathen funerary cults, where the dead were thought to exert a malign influence on the living. There were rituals to appease revenants and vengeful spirits. For the race-baiters and their enablers, it seems that nothing short of sacrificing a batch of chickens will atone for the guilt of one's nameless ancestors. We need to obtain execration spells from a voodoo queen. Let the ceremonies begin! 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Infinity mirror

Apostate Dale Tuggy labors to trip up Christians by generating contradictions in how the word "God" is used in verbal formulations of the Trinity. Two brief observations:

1. When I say the Trinity is "God", I'm using "God" in a categorical sense. When I say the Father is "God", the Son is "God", and the Spirit is "God", I'm using "God" in a qualitative sense. So there's no contradiction.

2. I can say the Trinity is "God" as well as each person of the Deity. To take a comparison, consider an infinity mirror: An infinity mirror is a pair of parallel mirrors that generate a series of smaller scale reflections that seem to recede into an infinite distance. The same image (or information) is contained in the whole series as well as each individual reflection. That's not paradoxical or contradictory. 

Is the Trinity tritheistic?

Is the Trinity tritheistic? Compared to what? What's the point of contrast in biblical monotheism? Pagan polytheism. Physical humanoid gods with superhuman, but finite abilities. Gods who come into being, usually through sexual intercourse between a god and goddess. Gods who can pass out of existence. Gods who are physically and psychologically separate from each other. Who come into existence at different times. Some are the offspring of gods. 

By contrast, Yahweh is immaterial. Yahweh has no beginning or ending. If there's internal differentiation in Yahweh, it's not tritheistic in the sense of pagan polytheism. Yet that's the biblical frame of reference by which something would be tritheistic.  

The Swedish Model

https://www.politico.eu/article/sweden-bombings-grenade-attacks-violent-reality-undoing-peaceful-self-image-law-and-order/

Is the Holy Spirit a personification?



The Spirit says

I'm going to comment on some related passages of Scripture, then consider their implications:

But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house (Ezk 3:24; cf. 2:1-3).

Syntactically, the speaker seems to be the Spirit of God. God's Spirit enters Ezekiel and then proceeds to speak to him. 

However, I suppose it's possible that the speaker is the glory of Yahweh, in the preceding verse. 

Strictly speaking, the "Spirit" in v24 (cf. 2:2) isn't identified as God's Spirit. However, it can't be Ezekiel's own spirit that enters him, since Ezekiel's own spirit is always present in Ezekiel. In context, it can't be an evil spirit. 

No indication of an angelic spirit. Moreover, angelic spirits are never said to enter people, although there's a sense in which an angel appearing to someone in a dream might qualify, but that's not the context.   

And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind (Ezk 11:5).

This is more explicit. The speaker is the Spirit of God. This is direct speech. The Spirit addressing Ezekiel, like an audible voice. And this verse might help to clarify the referent in Ezk 2:2 & 3:24. 

In principle, the Spirit could inspire a prophet at a subliminal level, so that what the prophet things and says is the result of inspiration, even though he doesn't hear a voice speaking words to him. But that's not what this verse says.

And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (Acts 8:29).

Another example of the Spirit speaking directly to someone.

And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you (Acts 10:19).

Yet another example of the Spirit speaking directly to someone.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

This might be direct speech, or it might be shorthand for Christian prophets who convey a revelation to Saul and Barnabas. 

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Tim 4:1).

Paul seems to be alluding to a message by Christian prophets. If so, that's indirect speech. The Spirit speaking through a second party. 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice (Heb 3:7; cf. 10:15-17).

In context, this is indirect speech. The Spirit as the source of Scripture. 

That involves a dialectical interplay. For a reader, the Spirit's message is mediated by Scripture. But for a prophet, Scripture is mediated by the Spirit. The Spirit's message becomes inscripturated. 

This is a common Biblical theme. The Spirit inspires prophets to speak the words of God. In addition, the Spirit inspires revelatory dreams and visions, which may include auditions. 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7).

Here we have two speakers: Jesus and the Spirit. The Spirit inspires John to convey what Jesus says.

Now let's take stock:

1. In some cases the Spirit speaks directly to somebody, in an audible voice. That's something only a personal, external agent can do. Moreover, that requires intelligence.

That's true even if the voice is telepathic. For the prophet hears a voice that's not a figment of his own imagination. It's not like interior monologue, where he wills himself to hear a mental voice. Rather, this is one mind interacting with another mind. Temporary possession. 

And it's not interior monologue as a rhetorical device (e.g. Ps 42). These are prosaic rather than poetic descriptions. Nothing like the genre of Ps 42. 

2. In other cases, the Spirit speaks indirectly by inspiring prophets to speak the words of God. Once again, that requires the Spirit to be a rational agent. To convey a message requires an intelligent messenger. Informing the prophet.

In addition, it requires a divine agent to inspire divine words. The product of the Spirit's agency is the very word of God. 

3. In these passages, is the Spirit just a synonym for God? Could you substitute "God" for "Spirit"? 

That depends on what you mean by "God". If by "God", you mean the Father or the Trinity, then the Spirit isn't God in that respect. But the Spirit is "God" in the sense of fully divine, just like the Father.

If the Spirit is just a synonym for God, why does Scripture so often attribute actions to the Spirit rather than God? That implies some sort of internal duality within the Deity.

4. Does Scripture represent the Spirit as a personal agent due to personification? But what would the Spirit personify? If the Spirit is a personification, then it personifies something impersonal. Yet the actions and properties in view are inherently rational. It's not like ascribing intelligence or intentionality to inanimate objects (e.g. "The moon methinks looks with a watery eye; And when she weeps, weeps every little flower"). 

If the Spirit personifies anything, that has to be the Deity. But it's nonsensical to personify a personal agent. That's not how personification works.

If you say the Spirit personifies the wisdom of God, that's a divine attribute. A personal attribute. That's inseparable from the Deity himself.  

It's not personification like Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly in Prov 8-9, where they function as fictional characters in parabolic allegories. It's not like Cupid, which is clearly imaginary.  

5. Moreover, to say rational ascriptions to the Spirit are just personifications is a double-edged sword. An atheist will take that one step further and say the voice of God is a personification of the prophet's psychotic imagination. A deified hallucination. A self-projection. 

Silly Putty Jesus

At a 2000 meeting of the SBL, Dan Wallace read a paper ("Ipsissima Vox and the Seven Words from the Cross: A Test Case for John’s Use of the Tradition"). Wallace's 2000 address may well be building on his 1999 address, so they go together. Hence, this is a sequel to my previous post:


Somebody might object that I'm quoting and commenting on unpublished presentations. However, the Christian faith is not supposed to operate like a secret society, where there's one message for the rank-and-file, and a different message for favored initiates. Christianity is a public religion. It's the same message for everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. There is no disciplina arcana. Christianity isn't supposed to have a dichotomy between what is said from the pulpit, for popular consumption, and what the preacher really believes–which he only shares with fellow elites. 

My hypothesis is that instead of seven discrete words from the cross, the gospels actually record four. This reduction comes through two avenues: one text-critical and one redactional. That is to say, I regard Luke’s first saying [Lk 23:34] as a later addition, and I take the last two words in John as this evangelist’s version of two of the utterances found in the synoptic tradition.

From what I've read, Lk 23:34 may well be  a scribal gloss or scribal interpolation. I don't have a problem with that part of Wallace's address. 

Narrative plot. John’s plot is the most highly developed of all the gospels. 

i) I suppose you could put it that way, but it's misleading. Too literary. Why not say John often has the most historical detail, including a fuller chronology? 

Since so much Scripture is narrative, it can be convenient to borrow terms that drama critics and literary use to analyze plays and novels. But we need to maintain the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. 

ii) This goes to a larger issue. Because the Bible is a text, Bible scholars have a textual orientation. That's legitimate and necessary up to a point. There are, however, different kinds of texts. John's Gospel and Pilgrim's Progress are both texts. In addition, they are both narratives. However, John's Gospel is referential in a way that Pilgrim's Progress is not. As a fictional story, Pilgrim's Progress is self-enclosed world.  

By contrast, a text like John's Gospel originates in real-world events. A witness to history. John's Gospel is a window, not a painting. The narrative isn't like the composition of a painting, which is self-referential. The narrative points outside itself. 

There has been much discussion, from the second century to the twentieth, as to how these seven words should be arranged.2 Those who are prone to see them all as authentic dominical sayings still have some difficulty in the proper chronological sequence, though the most common arrangement is 2, 3, 5, 1, 6, 7, 4. Our point here is that the assumption of authenticity is almost always the foundation on which seven sayings are in view.

The fourth word, the final word from the cross, can now be examined. Both Matthew and Mark record this final cry as simply an inarticulate “loud cry.” Luke says that Jesus proclaimed, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” and John has “it is finished” as the final utterance...Luke’s and John’s final sayings—“Into your hands I commit my spirit” and “it is finished”—are victorious words of the one who accomplished the task set before him. What Matthew and Mark record only as an inarticulate cry, Luke and John give form to. Luke’s “into your hands I commit my spirit” is probably closest to the tradition, while John’s “it is finished” transforms this into the language of accomplishment that is a subtheme of John’s gospel, as we saw earlier. 

We need to guard against treating Jesus' words from the cross as literature. For instance, does someone dying know when he's about to die? Someone who's dying may sense that the end is near. He may know that he could expire at any moment. He may feel himself slipping away, at which point he assumes that this is the moment of death, and he may say something that's appropriate to go out on. 

Yet there may be several moments like that, where he passes in and out of consciousness. The fact that he says something that sounds like he intended that to be the very last thing he says doesn't mean that's the very last thing he says, for depending on his condition, he may be intermittently lucid. The words on the cross aren't scripted. Jesus isn't a character in a play who has the perfect closing statement to round out that scene. Not unless you think the Gospels are inspirational hagiographies. 

My proposal is this: the Johannine Jesus’ “I thirst” (John 19:28) is a dynamic equivalent transformation of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Designations like the Johannine Jesus can be innocuous descriptors for the record of Jesus in the respective Gospels, but it becomes dangerous when that means each Gospel has a designer Jesus. 

A flat reading of the language here not only misses a Leitmotiv in John but also necessarily imports a meaning that is foreign to this evangelist..Thirst in John fundamentally involves a double entendre.19 To thirst in John means to be devoid of the Spirit, to stand in the place of the sinner, to be abandoned by God.

Although John's Gospel contains irony and double entendres, that's context-dependent. And the fact that John uses theological metaphors about thirst and water doesn't mean you turn every episode using that imagery into a parable. In John's Gospel, there's real water, like the body of water used by disciples of John the Baptist. There's real wine. Real bread. Sometimes Jesus is really hungry and thirsty. John's Gospel isn't an allegory like the Inferno or Pilgrim's Progress. It's not a fictional plot with a set of internal relations. 

But why would John feel the need to make such a substitution? As many authors note, the cross in John is seen as Christ’s moment of glory—even of his enthronement. “Jesus hangs on the cross not as a sufferer, but as the hidden ‘king’...” 27 But more on that later. Suffice it to say here that, as Brown notes, “the theme of Ps 22:[1] which has Jesus forsaken by God would be irreconcilable with Johannine christology.”28 Thus, instead of screaming out29 the question of his abandonment by God with a great voice, the Johannine Jesus makes a statement that is nevertheless pregnant with the same spiritual ramifications as Psalm 22:1.

On Wallace's interpretation, the four Gospels reflect divergent Christologies. John crosses out Ps 22:1 because the Johannine Jesus wouldn't say something like that–even if that's what Jesus actually said. Wallace is driving a wedge between the historical Jesus and the Johannine Jesus. Crafting a Christ of faith who doesn't match up with the Jesus of history. 

In Matthew-Mark, when Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, people think he’s calling for Elijah to come and save him (a common Jewish expectation). But Matthew-Mark do not make clear why, therefore, wine is then offered to Jesus. John not only does not mention Psalm 22:1, he also does not mention Elijah. His treatment of Elijah, in fact, is more subdued than that of the synoptic gospels (occurring only in the Jewish interrogation of John the Baptist in chapter one). Further, to introduce Elijah’s name here would be to diminish Jesus as being in control of his own circumstances. John consistently paints a portrait of Jesus in which he is seen at all times to be the master of his own fate, in complete control of his own destiny. Even a perception of a cry for Elijah might disrupt that picture.

This reduces the Johannine Jesus to a storybook character who only says what the narrator allows him to say. The narrator composes speeches which he puts in the mouth of Jesus. That's a classically and quintessentially liberal view of the Gospels. And at that juncture the canonical Gospels blend into the apocryphal Gospels. 

However, there is another thematic layer in John that would seem to prevent the evangelist from saying this kind of thing: the Spirit is given to the disciples in John, not to God. And the Spirit could not be given until Jesus was glorified (John 7:39). Thus, the glorification of Jesus, seen in his death and articulated by his last utterance of “it is finished,” is the very thing that permits the release of the Spirit.

Is the Holy Spirit trapped inside the body of Jesus? Can the Sprit only escape when the host dies? 

The last breath is simply an idiom for death, based on the practical association between breathing, expiration, and death. 

Second, John’s method opens up some other possibilities to ponder. Is, for example, John 15:1-17 (the story of the vine and the branches) a transformation of the parable of the soils— perhaps to make the organic connection between Jesus and his followers explicit (something that the original parable could not do)? There are many parallels between John 15 and the parable of the soils on a deep theological level, though the surface of course looks quite different.43 John 15 has come as close to a parable as anything in the Fourth Gospel; there is thus the possibility that it is a repackaged parable. 

Yes, there are some conceptual affinities between the parable of the sower and the parable of the true vine. There's no reason to think that means the Johannine narrator rewrote the Synoptic parable of the sower. Rather, it's much more natural to think Jesus used the same basal agricultural metaphor to compose two different parables. 

And what about John 14:1-3? If we start with John’s basic realized eschatology and his focus on believers as opposed to outsiders, what remains of the Olivet Discourse is present and heavenly comfort to believers.

Is Wallace suggesting that the author of John rewrote the Olivet Discourse, then put that speech on the lips of Jesus? Wallace is treating Jesus like a character in novel or play who says what the novelist or dramatist makes the character say. A Jesus who's the literary artifact of the narrator. A Jesus who only exists and acts in the self-contained universe of the fictional plot. 

Notice how Wallace says you can keep extending this principle to other dominical discourses in the Gospel of John. This is like the Jesus of the apocryphal Gospels. A Jesus who's the product of the author's theological imagination. A mouthpiece of the author's agenda. Instead of the Johannine narrator as a witness to an objective historical figure, the Johannine Jesus is a personification of the narrator. Yes, it may be based on a true story, but it undergoes legendary embellishment. Historical fiction, mixing fact and fancy.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Broad View Of Ipsissima Vox

I'm going to comment on two papers by Dan Wallace. In this post I will comment on a 1999 paper he read at the ETS ("An Apologia for a Broad View Of Ipsissima Vox"). In another post I'll comment on a 2000 paper read at the SBL:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2018/04/silly-putty-jesus.html

Wallace never published these two papers. Due to rumors about their content, I was curious, so I asked one of my informants at the NSA to send me copies. 

To some extent this may have its background in an internecine battle between classical Dispensational hermeneutics, represented by TMS, and progressive dispensational hermeneutics, represented by DTS. In one footnote, Wallace takes aim at John MacArthur, Robert Thomas, and David Farnell.

Two technical expressions need to be defined at the outset of this paper. Ipsissima verba means "the very words" and ipsissima vox means "the very voice." These expressions are used in New Testament scholarship to refer to the words of Jesus and the ideas that Jesus communicated, respectively…Thus, ipsissima vox means that the conceptsgo back to Jesus, but the words do not—at least, not exactly as recorded. The issue of this paper has to do with how broadly we should define ipsissima vox. Many evangelicals take a fairly narrow view of it; I wonder if our definitions adequately handle all of the data.

The meaning of ipsissima verba is self-explanatory. By contrast, ipsissima vox is an artificial expression, modeled on ipsissima verba, as a kind of antithetical parallel. Ipsissima vox is an opaque term that has no evident meaning. Indeed, it's nonsensical. A misnomer. So any definition is purely stipulative. 

At the root of this, for many, may be something of a subconscious "docetic bibliology"…Such a view is inadvertantly anti-incarnational, for it divorces the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.

That's a slipshod analogy which needs to be retired from theological discourse. The Incarnation is not a generic principle that you can stretch to cover other things, much less using that slapdash comparison as a benchmark to formulate inspiration.  

One of the greatest dichotomies that exists within evangelicalism today is that although we generally try to ground our exegesis in the biblical author's world, our theology is too often rooted in Greek philosophy, rationalism, the Enlightenment, and Scottish Common Sense Realism.

That's a jumbled overgeneralization. 

Commentators on Luke or Acts routinely note that Luke patterned his historiographical method after that of Thucydides…Yet Thucydides never pretended to produce the ipsissima verba in his reported speeches…Thus, the historian after whom the most historically sensitive writer in the New Testament patterned his own writings felt no compulsion_about getting the words exact—or even getting them close." He regarded faithfulness to be on the level of meaning, not vocabulary…Now if the genre of the gospels is in keeping historiographically with the best of ancient historians,1 should we not expect the gospel writers to employ at times a broad use of ipsissima vox?...And even if Luke consciously followed a Thucydidian model, the other evangelists, especially John, hardly seem to. On a continuum, Luke would be on one side and John on the other: If Luke is regarded as the most historically sensitive evangelist, John is often considered the most theologically sensitive. Hence, if Luke felt certain liberties in the speeches he recorded, John may well have done so much more.

i) The only evidence that Wallace offers for this claim is a citation from the 1951 edition of Bruce's commentary on the Greek text of Acts. Why doesn't Wallace at least reference the final, third, revised and expanded edition (1990) that Bruce issued shortly before his death?  Moreover, that has an important section on the speeches in Acts (§6).

ii) Why assume that Luke is patterned on Thucydides rather than OT historical narratives? 

iii) 1C Christians (indeed, Christians throughout church history) had far more interest in having the actual words of Jesus than readers of Thucydides had in knowing what some statesman or general said in reference to the Peloponnesian War, so the comparison is wildly inapt. 

iv) In some notable respects, John's Gospel is the most historically situated of all four Gospels.

Much if not most of Jesus' instruction was in Greek...Jesus usually spoke in Greek.

That's an interesting claim. Wallace cites an article by Stanley Porter:


However, Porter's thesis is far more modest. 

Cosmic waterfall

I'm going to briefly revisit an issue I often discuss. Did ancient people believe the world was flat? Did appearances indicate that the world was flat? Was prescientific observation inadequate to detect the falsity of a flat earth?

Consider a beach. The ocean extends from the shoreline to the horizon. Is the horizon the end of the world? If the world is flat, then the horizon is a waterfall, at the outer limits of the world. 

But if the horizon is a waterfall, wouldn't the ocean rapidly empty? It's not like a river with a continuous flow of water upstream. From an observer's standpoint, the ocean extends from the shoreline to the horizon. If the horizon is a waterfall, there's no source of water to resupply the ocean. 

An ocean isn't like a channel of water, narrow and long. where downstream water pouring over the waterfall is constantly replenished by more water upstream. Rather, there's a vastly wide expanse of water with nothing behind it except dry land. Yes, there may be the mouth of a river somewhere along the beach. But if the horizon is a waterfall, the pipeline is hardly equal to the waterfall. A river, however, wide and deep, is slender and shallow compared to the sea. If there's a waterfall from one end of the horizon to the other, a river won't maintain the water level. The flow rate is hopelessly inadequate to keep it from draining away. The seabed would be dry in a matter of hours, or less. 

I'm not saying every ancient observer thought this through. But it stands to reason that the ancient world had some very smart, attentive observers who noticed every detail of their natural surroundings and drew inferences from what they saw. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Do your own thing Catholicism

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/04/an-ambiguous-exhortation

The progressive Christian dilemma

I'll comment on a post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:


Egalitarianism is the view that all offices of church ministry and leadership should be open to both genders. By contrast, complementarianism insists that some offices of ministry and leadership should be restricted to males. I am an egalitarian and yesterday I posted this tweet expressing my concern that complementarianism is not just wrong, but potentially sexist as well:

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser
 Here's one way to put my concern that Christian complementarianism is sexist:

If the pre-1978 Mormon policy of excluding black people from the priesthood was racist, then why isn't the traditional Christian policy of excluding women from church leadership sexist?

Several issues:

i) Rauser believes "all offices of church ministry and leadership should be open to both genders". Notice how egalitarianism is based on gender binaries. Suppose we respond to Rauser on his own grounds:

Here's one way to put my concern that egalitarianism is transphobic:

If the pre-1978 Mormon policy of excluding black people from the priesthood was racist, then why isn't egalitarianism transphobic by failing accommodate gender nonconformity?

ii) Another problem with his tweet is that it begs the question. He simply posits that complementarianism is comparable to racism. But that's an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where's the supporting argument to demonstrate that complementarianism is comparable to racism? 

Rauser illicitly shifts the burden of proof onto the complementarianism, as if there's a standing presumption against complementarianism which the complementarian must overcome. But the onus probandi is not on the complementarian to refute a nonexistent argument. Rather, it's incumbent on Rauser to give some reason for thinking the two cases are parallel. 

To merely observe that both positions are exclusionary is hardly sufficient. Presumably, Rauser thinks there are disqualifications for church office. For instance, Muslims, atheists, and pedophiles are excluded from church office. 

iii) Blacks shouldn't seek ordination in the Mormon priesthood. That's because no one should seek ordination in the Mormon priesthood. That's because Mormonism is a cult. 

Not surprisingly, a couple people responded by pointing out that (in their estimation), the Bible teaches complementarianism. Arguably, the most explicit passage to this point is found in the letter of 1 Timothy chapter 2.

Since I accept plenary inspiration, I am committed to the view that all Scripture is inspired and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 

Rauser says that with fingers firmly crossed behind his back. 

But that doesn’t mean scripture is easy to interpret and apply, and this is an excellent example. 

That's a diversionary tactic: act as if the real issue is biblical interpretation rather than biblical authority. But it will become clear that Rauser is indulging in sleight-of-hand. 

Egalitarians have extensive discussions of this and other complementarian passages. And they also have a set of prima facie egalitarian texts that they would bring to bear as interpretive guides for the difficult complementarian passages like 1 Timothy 2.

Let me hasten to add that every Christian follows a similar procedure — whether they recognize it or not — of choosing one set of biblical texts as the interpretive control for another set of texts. If you’re a Calvinist, you have a set of texts that frame your interpretation of prima facie Arminian texts; if you’re pedobaptist, you have a set of texts that frame your interpretation of prima facie believer’s baptist texts; if you’re annihilationist, you have a set of texts that frame your interpretation of prima facie eternal conscious torment texts, and so on. This practice of interpretive controls involves an application of the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture.

But that needs to have a principled basis that respects the authority of Scripture, and not arbitrarily making some texts the control texts because they agree with you. 

Nor am I aiming to argue that we ought not to trust the Bible. 

That's exactly what he's aiming at. And if his aim is to undermine trust in Scripture, insincere disclaimers and denials are part of the strategy. 

The point of my tweeted response was to challenge my complementarian interlocutors’ tacit assumption that any time a biblical author makes a theological, moral, or prudential claim, that claim must be inerrant.  

After the softening up exercise, he reveals his true position. He rejects complementarianism, not because it isn't taught in Scripture, but because he rejects the authority of Scripture. 

Webb’s work on corporal punishment provides a precise analogue to the complementarian issue. And that results in what I call the complementarian dilemma.

In the book, Webb recalls that he tried for years to follow the biblical teaching on corporal punishment by physically hitting his child. But eventually, he concluded that this teaching was both morally wrong (it conflicted with his moral intuition) and ineffectual (it was not an effective means to enforce prosocial compliance). And so, Webb found that he simply disagreed with the consistent biblical teaching on child (and slave) discipline.

i) That's not a complementarian dilemma but a progressive Christian dilemma. If Biblical complementarianism is erroneous, the solution is not to admit both men and women to church office, but to disband the church as an obsolete institution founded on a false premise. 

ii) How does Rauser distinguish moral intuition from chic social conditioning? 

iii) Bundling corporal punishment of children or adult felons with slaves is a familiar wedge tactic. Like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Rauser cites examples that he hopes will make Christians balk. Rauser's a bully who tries to put Christian laymen on the spot. 

I, for one, have discussed the slavery example:


iv) Some OT commands and prohibitions were timebound. They were designed for the nation-state of ancient Israel. That doesn't make them morally or factually wrong. Socioeconomic conditions change. The economy of salvation has stages, phasing out earlier stages and replacing them with later stages. Even in that respect, many specific OT injections that are literally inapplicable to our modern situation exemplify general principles that remain applicable. They just need to be recontextualized. You adapt the general principle to new analogous situations. Human nature hasn't changed. 

Webb is in good company. The overwhelming consensus of child developmental psychologists is that corporal punishment is wrong and harmful. And legislation in developed nations recognizes that fact. Follow the biblical directives to beat children in many jurisdictions and you’ll soon end up in jail. 

That's a good example of how progressive Christians are Quislings who collaborate with secular enemies of the faith to persecute God's people. Rauser is not on our side. He's in league with the secular progressive SJWs.