Saturday, February 04, 2006

Oreo atheism: atheism on the outside, theism on the inside

“If I were a pantheist I could say that you are a sleeping god. Deep down you know you're god, you just won't acknowledge it. I could argue that you are not being intellectual honest with yourself if you didn't espouse pantheism.

Let's say I pointed this out to you. What would you make of it? Probably nothing. You know you're not a pantheist (presuming you aren't). That's all you can say.

So what difference does it make to argue the way I see Christians argue when they say there is no atheist? Nothing. It has no more force to atheists as my aforementioned pantheist argument has on you.

It's a waste of bytes. It doesn't solve anything. It's a silly claim. This is merely a theological discussion between theists and has no business being any apologetical tool with atheists like myself.

See my blog for more Scroll down to read the first few posts and comments.

# posted by John W. Loftus : 2/04/2006 11:00 AM”

Up to a point, I agree with Loftus. Psychoanalyzing the unbeliever is not necessarily the most efficient use of our time.

However, I also drew some distinctions which he has chosen to ignore. There is a difference between mass apologetics, in which we stay on the abstract plane of pure reason and evidence and the rules of evidence—a difference between that and personal evangelism.

There is more to the unbeliever than a dehydrated argument for atheism. An unbeliever is a real live person, with an emotional make up, individual experience, and a set of motivations.

If I happen to know this individual, if I know what makes him tick, then that ought to affect the way I reason with him.

As to his hyperlink, I assume that Loftus is alluding to his tongue-in-cheek letter, in which he has the correspondent say things like:

“You think you believe but you really don't. You see, your behavior itself tells on you. You don't live every waking hour of every day the way you would if you truly believed. I don't even have to know you, but if you're a man you probably peek at pornography on the web--say it isn't so? You don't give your money to Christian causes like you would if you truly believed. You don't pray enough. You don't read the Bible like you should, or evangelize as you should. You're not truly grateful for the purported sacrifice Jesus made for you that saved you from hell. Nor do you really care about the fate of unbelievers who are heading to hell. If you truly believed unbelievers will be eternally punished for their unbelief then your whole life would be radically different. So your behavior tells on you. You do not believe. Underneath all of the protestations to the contray you simply do not believe. You are in denial. You deny that you are an atheist.

You probably have someone in your life that rubs you wrong—a relative?—that you simply cannot forgive, and you may even dislike someone to the point where you may even hate them. Some Christians are even having extra-marital affairs right now, or they are pilfering from the church treasury, or beating their wives. Are you? You have guilt running through your veins for all of this and yet you claim that you stand forgiven in the eyes of God—is that not a contradiction?”

As well as Loftus’ follow-up comment.

“Paul, Paul, Paul. I never thought I could prove my case against there not being any Christians, precisely because Christians have ways of explaining why they don't always act consistent with their beliefs.”

But this is a very poor exercise in reverse reasoning. It confuses Christian theology with Christian ethics.

A Christian is a sinner. This is unethical. Immoral. Whenever he sins, his sin is inconsistent with his value system.

It is not, however, inconsistent with Christian theology. To the contrary, it is not only consistent with Christian theology, but predicted by Christian theology.

For, according to Christian theology, a Christian is still a sinner. What makes him a sinner is a relation between two propositions:

i) He has a standard of conduct (the law of God);
ii) He has fallen short (he is a law-breaker).

Loftus then attempts to preempt this objection by claiming that “Christians have ways of explaining why they don't always act consistent with their beliefs.”

But this move won’t work on a couple of grounds:

i) Inconsistent with what beliefs? Their conduct may be inconsistent with what they believe is right. But it is not inconsistent with what they believe is true concerning their fallen condition and desperate need of God’s daily grace in their lives.

Indeed, they couldn’t be Christian in the first place without this self-recognition and acute realization of the unbridgeable chasm between what they are and what they ought to be.

ii) There’s a difference between ad hoc explanations and systemic explanations. Appeal to original sin is not some ploy which the Christian apologist improvises on the spot to get out of a logical bind.

The Immaculate Conception


It should be noted that while Catholics like John Salza refer to the church fathers believing in and advocating Mary's sinlessness, other Catholics will acknowledge that the concept was absent and widely contradicted for centuries. Catholics will make mutually exclusive claims about the history of their doctrines, and anybody who responds to something like John Salza's view will be accused by other Catholics of misrepresenting Catholicism.

To make matters worse, those Catholics who acknowledge that their doctrines were absent or widely contradicted early on will claim that the doctrines are credible anyway, yet won't ever give a coherent and verifiable explanation of why we're supposed to believe that the doctrines are credible. We'll get vague references to doctrinal development, an allegorical method of scripture interpretation, etc., but we won't get any coherent, verifiable argument that leads us to the conclusion that the doctrine in question is true.

Regarding Mary, Catholics often quote church fathers referring to her as "undefiled", "spotless", etc. without realizing either that virginity is being addressed rather than sinlessness or that a temporary sinlessness is in view. (Remember, a term like "undefiled" can sometimes refer to virginity rather than sinlessness.) For example, Ephraim the Syrian and Augustine are often cited referring to Mary as sinless in some sense, but those same fathers refer to Mary as a sinner in other contexts. Some of these sources thought of Mary as sinless for part of her life (after her conception or around the time of her conceiving Jesus, for example), but viewed her as a sinner during another part of her life.

Nobody in the earliest centuries of church history refers to Mary as sinless from conception onward. Many sources either directly or indirectly refer to her as a sinner. Evan, in a previous thread, has referred to my comments on Luke 2:48-50. See my article on the subject at:

Other passages of scripture could be cited as well. The most natural reading of the Bible leads to the conclusion that Mary was a sinner.

Justin Martyr refers to Jesus as the only sinless human and denies that his Jewish opponent Trypho can cite any human who completely obeyed God so as to not need the salvation Christ offers (Dialogue With Trypho, 17, 88, 95). Clement of Alexandria is emphatic on the point that Jesus is the only sinless human (The Instructor, 1:2, 3:12). Tertullian accuses Mary of such sins as "keeping aloof" from Christ and "want of adherence" to Christ, and he refers to Mary's "unbelief" (On the Flesh Of Christ, 7). Origen denied that Mary was sinless both indirectly (Against Celsus, 3:62, 4:40) and directly. J.N.D. Kelly comments:

"Origen insisted that, like all human beings, she [Mary] needed redemption from her sins; in particular, he interpreted Simeon's prophecy (Luke 2, 35) that a sword would pierce her soul as confirming that she had been invaded with doubts when she saw her Son crucified." (Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 493)

Athanasius maintained that it was Jesus, not Mary, who introduced consistent righteousness into the world (Four Discourses Against The Arians, 1:51). Basil of Caesarea explains that the meaning of Luke 2:34-35 is clear: Mary sinned, and she needed to be restored after Jesus' resurrection, just as Peter was restored (Letter 260:6-9). John Chrysostom accuses Mary of lack of virtue and "superfluous vanity", for example, and comments that she didn't hold a high enough view of Christ (Homilies On Matthew, 44). Ambrose maintained that Jesus was the only immaculately conceived human (cited in Augustine, On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47). I could give many other examples, but I'll move on to a category that's particularly relevant when addressing Roman Catholicism.

The Protestant historian Philip Schaff counted seven different Roman bishops who denied the sinlessness of Mary (The Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998], Vol. I, p. 123). Even as late as the second millennium we see the sinlessness of Mary rejected by the Roman bishop Innocent III. The Roman Catholic scholar Michael O'Carroll cites the Pope saying that Mary was "begotten in guilt", that she needed "cleansing of the flesh from the root of sin" (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 185).

Again, the examples I'm giving here are just a portion of what could be cited. The concept of Mary as sinless throughout her life, from conception onward, is unmentioned in the earliest centuries and is a small minority view when it first arises in later centuries. The concept is explicitly and repeatedly denied by a wide range of church fathers and Roman bishops for hundreds of years. It's denied so much that Augustine could refer to Jesus as the only immaculately conceived human and think that his belief was consistent with the faith of the universal church (On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:47-48).

It's undeniable that Evan is on the correct side of this dispute. But, given the state of modern Roman Catholicism, John Salza can radically change his argument, yet remain within mainstream conservative Roman Catholicism. Salza could begin arguing that although the sinlessness of Mary was absent and widely contradicted for hundreds of years, including among Roman bishops, the doctrine is still credible and part of the apostolic tradition always held by the church. When asked for an explanation, he could make vague appeals to doctrinal development, allegorical scripture interpretation, etc. and suggest that people read Cardinal Newman. When people ask him for more details, and he can't provide them, he can then try to change the subject to baptismal regeneration, apostolic succession, or something else with more patristic support. When he's losing the debate on those other subjects, he can change the subject again. That's the flexibility of modern Catholicism. You keep going around and around, and you never get to a coherent, verifiable argument.

# posted by Jason Engwer : 2/03/2006 2:16 PM


Tu es Petrus


As Evan has explained, nobody denies that Peter is a rock upon whom the church is built. That's not in dispute. No Protestant denies Peter's foundational role in Ephesians 2:20. But the other apostles are included in that passage. Jesus is singled out as the cornerstone, but Peter isn't singled out. Thus, the issue with regard to Matthew 16 isn't whether Peter is a foundation stone of the church. He is. The issue in dispute is whether Matthew 16 logically leads us to the conclusion that Peter is a foundation stone in a unique way that makes him a Pope. And, if he was a Pope, do we have reason to conclude that he would have successors in that role and that the successors would exclusively be Roman bishops? Catholics are trying to place far more weight on Matthew 16 than it can carry.

It's reasonable to see Peter as the rock in that passage. Many Protestant and Eastern Orthodox scholars do. But Peter's being the rock in that passage doesn't logically lead to a jurisdictional primacy of Peter, much less a jurisdictional primacy of Roman bishops.

The keys don't lead to papal conclusions either. Other figures are referred to as having keys (Matthew 18:18, 23:13, Luke 11:52, Revelation 3:7, 9:1, etc.). Remember, binding and loosing and opening and shutting are functions of the keys. (That's why passages like Isaiah 22, Matthew 16, and Revelation 20 mention the opening and shutting or binding and loosing just after mentioning the keys.) To suggest that the apostles in Matthew 18:18 can bind and loose, but don't possess the keys, would be nonsensical. Similarly, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the angel in Revelation 20 didn't use a key to release Satan in verse 7, just because that verse doesn't mention a key. A key is mentioned in verse 1, and binding and loosing Satan would involve a key, even if the key isn't mentioned each time the binding and loosing are mentioned. When Matthew 18 refers to all of the apostles performing the function of the keys, it logically follows that they possess the keys. Possession of those keys isn't unique to Peter.

Why is Peter singled out in Matthew 16, then? Because he singles himself out. He's the one who answered Jesus' question. Similarly, John and James are singled out in Mark 10:35-40 because they were the ones who initiated the discussion with Jesus, not because they were being given some sort of primacy.

Catholics sometimes argue for a papacy by interpreting Matthew 16 in light of Isaiah 22:20-22. But whatever relevance Isaiah 22 would have to Matthew 16, it would have that same relevance for Matthew 23, Luke 11, and other passages that use such imagery. And any Catholic appeal to Isaiah 22 would have to be a partial appeal, not a complete parallel, since a complete parallel wouldn't favor the claims of Roman Catholicism. God is the one who gives the key in Isaiah 22, so an exact parallel would put Jesus in the place of God, not in the place of the king. So, if Jesus is God and Peter is the prime minister, then who is the king? Some church official with more authority than Peter? What about Isaiah 22:25? Should we assume that Popes can "break off and fall", and that the keys of Matthew 16 can eventually pass to God Himself (Revelation 3:7) rather than to a human successor? If Catholics only want to make a general appeal to Isaiah 22, without making an exact parallel, then how can they claim that papal authority is implied by the parallel? Why can't the Isaiah 22 background convey a general theme of authority without that authority being papal authority?

Why do Catholics have to resort to a passage like Matthew 16? What if we had to resort to such passages to argue for the existence of other church offices, such as the office of deacon? Instead, as we would expect, offices such as that of the deacon and the bishop are mentioned explicitly and often. Not only are the offices mentioned (Acts 20:17, Philippians 1:1), but we also see repeated references to their appointment (Acts 14:23, Ephesians 4:11, Titus 1:5), their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), their discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-20), their responsibilities (Ephesians 4:12-13, Titus 1:10-11, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-3), their reward (1 Timothy 5:17-18, 1 Peter 5:4), their rank (1 Corinthians 12:28), the submission due them (1 Timothy 2:11-12), etc. If there was an office that was to have jurisdictional primacy and infallibility throughout church history, an office that could be called the foundation of the church, wouldn't we expect it to be mentioned explicitly and often? But it isn't mentioned at all, even when the early sources are discussing Peter or the Roman church and its bishops.

Craig Keener, citing Jaroslav Pelikan, comments that "most scholars, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, concur that Peter died in Rome but doubt that Mt 16:18 intended the authority later claimed by the papacy (Pelikan 1980: 60)" (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 425). The Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz comments:

"There appears at the present time to be increasing consensus among Catholic and non-Catholic exegetes regarding the Petrine office in the New Testament….The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably 'no.'…If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter’s death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church’s rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer." (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], pp. 1-2)

# posted by Jason Engwer : 2/03/2006 2:48 PM


Fox-hunting for atheists

The dialogue with Victor Reppert continues apace:

“VR: The claim is that the atheist is engaged in self-deception. Care to distinguish between self-deception and lying to oneself? “

This is simplistic. The way VR originally framed the claim was: “Are Carr, Loftus and Lippard just lying to us? Or themselves?”

Lying to others (deception) and lying to themselves (self-deception) are not convertible propositions. The distinction is not between self-deception and lying to oneself, but between deception and self-deception.

Either VR forgot what he said, or he needs to choose his words more carefully. Which proposition does he have in view?

“VR: You are making a charge of intellectual dishonesty. Why not own up to the fact? “

VR seems to be conflating what I said is what others have said. I’m not a part of the Borg collective consciousness. He needs to confine himself to what I said.

I never leveled a blanket charge of intellectual dishonesty. To the contrary, I drew some elementary distinctions.

“VR: With respect to every disagreement about beliefs, do we need to explain the other side away in some way? If I think string theory is a good physics, and you think it is bad science, to we have to explain our difference in terms of some mechanism of self-deception? “

An overstatement. We were not discussing “every disagreement about beliefs,” but rather, religious or irreligious belief.

We have a personal investment in the truth or falsity of certain beliefs. That can lead to self-deception.

“To say, in the face of the fact that there exists some kind of self-deception, that a person doesn't really possess the relevant belief that that person seems to have seems to be a big mistake.”

False antithesis. It’s more a question of conflicting beliefs. If I believe I’m a sinner, and I also belief that God is the judge of sinner’s, that can induce a state of cognitive dissonance which is relieved, to some degree, by suppressing or repressing the offending belief, or redefining it.

“Every time I turn away from God and sin, I act as if God does not exist. Does that mean that I am self-deceived that I am a theist. I am afraid that the criteria you are using to try to get to the conclusion that there are no atheists will get you the conclusion that there are not theists. Which is the tack people like Babinski and Loftus seem to be taking.”

The problem with appeal to neutral criteria is that reality isn’t neutral. Either there is a God or there isn’t. To propose criteria which are indifferent to the answer is to propose criteria which are indifferent to reality. In that event, evidence cannot adjudicate the answer since truth and truth-conditions are detachable.

“I'd like to see the counterexamples. Maybe I spent to much time hanging out with Wittgensteinians when I was in gradaute school. If it walks like an atheist, and talks like an atheist, and quacks like an atheist, it's an atheist.”

VR seems to lack a capacity for critical sympathy or detachment: the ability to get inside the opposing position.

What he’s doing here is to use the word “atheist” the way he himself would use it, then impute that meaning to Bahnsen or Van Til, then say their position is silly.

But, of course, they are defining unbelief in a far more inflected fashion. It isn’t black and white, as though the atheist isn’t “really” an atheist in the sense that VR uses the term.

They are saying, rather, that the atheist is in state of denial. His atheism is a defense-mechanism. This is a common psychological phenomenon—hardly distinctive to religious psychology, per se.

“Looking at the overall evidence based on what I have seen and experienced, I would have to say that it does not look as if Christians (or Calvinists) have a monopoly on intellectual honesty. The noetic effects of sin are so pervasive and widespread that it important not to see them only in the minds of the other guys.”

The problem with this statement is that it assumes the truth of Christianity—the noetic effects of sin—only to turn it into a double-edged sword as if it cuts both ways with equal force.

If you’re going to admit the noetic effects of sin, you cannot very well treat belief and unbelief as if they were on an epistemic par since your operating premise is a theological to begin with.

Also, it would be nice if VR could refrain from hyperbole and caricature. This forces us to engage is a lot of needless ground-clearing. No one is saying that believers have a monopoly on intellectual honesty.

“I can see believing that all atheism results from the unrighteous suppression of the truth by faith on the basis of Scripture, but my best reasoning tells me the weight of the evidence is against it. That means I will much prefer an interpretation of the relevant passages that is more in line with my experience.”

Well, here we simply part company. I find the diagnosis of Scripture exactly anticipates the evidence.

“I'm not even trying to argue that there aren't ulterior motives behind the unbelief of atheists. But I'm too busy trying to get the log out of my own eye to remove the speck in my atheist neighbor's eye.”

What does this have to do with apologetics?

“The Bible is not authoritative for atheists. If there's no God, the Bible was written by humans, and gets it wrong on the most fundamental of issues. In order to get the atheist to acknowledge the authority of the Bible, the atheist needs to believe in God first. I was referring to evidence that an atheist ought reasonably to accept.”

I appreciate the clarification.

It’s true that you can’t directly invoke the authority of Scripture when dealing with an atheist.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t appeal to Scripture at all. You can draw attention to internal evidence for the veracity of Scripture, as well as corroborative evidence for the veracity of Scripture.

The atheist need not believe in God first to believe in Scripture. Many unbelievers have come to faith in God through the study of Scripture.

“Even if van Til et al. are right that nonbelievers are not intellectually honest…”

I don’t see how we can avoid saying that unbelievers are, at some level, intellectually dishonest. The Bible says that unbelief is sin. Unbelief is culpable. There is no such thing as innocent atheism. Idolatry is transference.

“…any method of belief-ascription that I know of has people like Carr, Loftus, Lippard, Parsons, and our other friends on coming out as atheists.”

I can’t comment on these particular individuals. But it’s hardly a state secret that in many cases there’s a pretty direct connection between infidelity and immorality. Read Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals. Read Michael Jones’ Degenerate Moderns.

For that matter, many men who have crossed over from infidelity to faith will admit that their public reasons for infidelity were not their real reasons: that their real reasons lay below the belt rather that above the neck.

Does this explain every atheist? No. You also have inverted father-fixation, documented by Paul Vitz.

“I personally don't care to get into the game of challenging the intellectual honesty of my intellectual opponents, even though I suspect it at various times. I think that these charges of intellectual dishonesty make it hard to follow Peter's prescription of "gentleness and respect" in the doing of apologetics. But that's just me.”

VR is acting as if Van Til’s charge is an accusation that he would level in a public debate with an atheist. That’s not how it functions.

VR needs to go back to my illustration of the homicide detective. If he’s adept, he won’t accuse the suspect of being the killer. Instead, he will him a number of trip-wire questions to tease the incriminating information out of him.

Dropping the metaphor, this can be useful in personal evangelism. You ask leading questions which draw the unbeliever out of his shell. There’s nothing accusatory about this technique. Quite the contrary.

The purpose is to make him see that what he denies with respect to God lies in conflict with many other things he affirms, and must affirm to be rational.

Remember, too, that this analysis isn’t by any means limited to atheism. It is equally applicable to alternative belief-systems, such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Mormonism.

And which side you come down on this has practical consequences. If you think that unbelief or alternative belief is merely due to insufficient evidence, then you’ll deal with, say, the threat of jihad very differently than if you think it’s in spite of, and in defiance of ,the available evidence.

If, on the one hand, you take the former position, then you’ll be much more optimistic regarding the prospects for successful diplomacy or interfaith dialogue. You’’ll be an ecumenist. You will give the suicide bomber the benefit of the doubt. Prejudice is the problem, education is the answer.

Your template will be Plato’s cavemen. Plato’s way is the way of the East—of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism.

If, on the other hand, you take the latter position, you’ll be much less trusting and, dare I say, gullible. You will keep your guard up and your powder dry. You will situate unbelief in the will rather than the intellect. Evil is due to idolatry, not ignorance—an ethical revolt, not a rational impediment.

You will see Islam as a Christian heresy—not merely unchristian, or subchristian, but antichristian. Marxism is a Christian heresy—secular Messianism. Marx, Freud, Lenin, and Durkheim were renegade Jews. Darwin was an apostate. Bultmann, Ingersoll, Wellhausen, Whitehead, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche were sons of the manse. Samuel Butler was the grandson of Bishop Butler, while Gilbert Ryle was the grandson of Bishop Ryle.

Your template will be Milton’s Lucifer. It’s no coincidence that Milton reflects a Christian conscience while Plato reflects a pre-Christian conscience, and the Romantics (e.g. Goethe, Butler, Byron, Blake, Shelly) a post-Christian conscience.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Wrap-up on James

I said:


i) If Antonio is saying that in OT usage, deliverance from Sheol only means deliverance from the grave, and never deliverance from hell, he's behind on the standard scholarship. Read: P. Johnston: Shades of Sheol (IVP 2002).

Evan's interpretation comports with the two standard Evangelical commentaries by Davids and Moo, neither of whom is a Calvinist. I believe that Moo is a Lutheran with a premil eschatology while Davids is Anabaptist.

And Antonio has yet to interact with the argumentation presented by Moo and Davids. Has he ever bothered to read the standard exegetical literature on the subject? Or does he get all his information spoon-fed to him from Zane Hodges & Co?

# posted by steve : 1/27/2006 7:03 AM


To which Antonio responded:



Do you suppose that striking a child with a rod will save him from hell? Has that now become another condition that the Traditionalist must put on the sinner for salvation? I’ll make sure I beat my children tonight rather than give them the gospel so that I can assure their entry into heaven and save them from hell!

Steve, don't put words into my mouth. We are discussing Proverbs 23:14. Are you going to put yourself in the position of saying that it means deliverance from hell here?


Actually, we’re discussing more than one thing. The main thing we’re discussing is James 2:14-26. Since, however, Antonio brings up Prov 23:14 in that general connection, this is what Bruce Waltke has to say about the concept of Sheol in Proverbs:


These vivid and powerful figures transform the grave from a six-foot pit to a metaphorical and transcendent realm distinct from life on top of the earth, inhabited by living mortals and from heaven inhabited by the immortal God and his court. Those who descend there will never again participate in salvation history or join the holy throng at the earthly temple (Ps 6:5[6]; Is 38:18). Like the Jordan River and Mount Zion, the grave symbolizes eternal realities that transcend their physical space.

The Book of Proverbs (Eerdmans 2004), 1:116.


So, yes, verses like Prov 23:14 do look beyond the grave to the prospect of a hellish afterlife, barring a deterrent to the contrary.

As such, discipline, including corporal punishment are, indeed, factors which will contribute to keeping a child from going spiritually astray to his eternal perdition.

It's a false dichotomy to set this in opposition to teaching them the gospel. Spiritual incentives and disincentives still figure in the walk of faith.

Moving along:


And that Evan comports to popularity, I don't believe makes his argument or interpretation correct.


# posted by Antonio : 1/27/2006 7:57 AM


Notice how Antonio substitutes “popularity” for “argumentation.” What I explicitly pointed out was his failure to "interact" with standard scholarship and the exegetical "arguments" marshaled therein.

Since then I’ve posted some lengthy excerpts from Robert Stein’s article:

Antonio has yet to address himself to Stein’s detailed exegesis.

Let’s supplement that article with additional argumentation, beginning with the standard evangelical commentary on the Greek text of James:


The concept off saving a soul from death [Jas 5:20] is clear enough, for death is plainly the final result of sin, usually thought of as eternal death or the last judgment (Dt. 30:19; Jb. 8:13; Pss. 1:6; 2:12; Pr. 2:18; 12:28; 14:12; Je. 23:12; Jude 23). That sin can result in physical death is clear (1 Cor 15:30), as well as many of the above OT examples) and this may be part of James’s meaning (as in 5:14-16), but the tone appears to go beyond physical death and recognizes death as an eschatological entity, at least where one dies in sin (cf. 1:15).

Parallel to saving the person from death is the idea of covering a multitude of sins. To cover sin is normally to procure forgiveness (Pss. 32:1; 85:2; Dn. 4:24; Rom 4:7)…One must conclude, then, that the image is one of forgiving sins, of making atonement for sins.

P. Davids, the Epistle of James (Eerdmans 1982), 199-200).


From here, let’s move on to the commentary by Moo, which is the most recent commentary of note by an Evangelical. Unlike Davids, Moo’s commentary was written after Hodges’ exposition was published, and interacts with him, among others.


Critical to understanding the argument of the section [2:14-26] and integrating it successfully into a broader biblical perspective is the recognition that James is not arguing that works must be added to faith. His point, rather, is that genuine biblical faith will inevitable be characterized by works. Trying to add works to a bogus faith is an exercise in futility, for only by “accepting the implanted word” (1:21) and experiencing the inner transformation that it brings can one produce works pleasing to God. James, in a sense, proposes for us in these verses a “test” by which we determine the genuineness of faith: deeds of obedience to the will of God.

This insistence that true faith produces deeds is related to its context in at least three ways. The most immediate connection is with vv12-13. James’s warning that believers will be judged according to the “law of liberty” naturally raises the question, at least in the minds of some Christians, “What judgment? —we thought we were saved by faith and that we did not have to worry about judgment.” And so James makes clear just what kind of faith it is that will provide security in the judgment. A second, more remote connection is with the argument of 2:1-13…the third, and broadest connection that 2:14-26 has [is] to the argument of the letter. For this paragraph is the capstone on James’s presentation of “true religion,” begun in 1:21. Obedience to the word, James has insisted, is a necessary mark of authentic Christianity. Taken by itself, however, such an emphasis could lead to an externalist interpretation of Christianity, as if all that mattered was outward conformity to the demands of Scripture. And so 2:14-26 adds a necessary corrective: “true religion” begins with faith—but a faith that works. In this sense the “true religion” of 1:26 is nothing more than the genuine faith of 2:14-26, and the faith vs. works antithesis of this paragraph corresponds almost exactly to the “hearing the word”/”doing the word” antithesis of 1:22.

[2:14] The opposite error is made by those who, with the best of intentions, want to guard against precisely the kind of theological error we have just been discussing. They avoid the potential difficulty by insisting that the word “save” does not refer here to eschatological deliverance, but to some kind of rescue from earthly danger or trial. [For example, Z. Hodges, The Gospel under Siege (Dallas 1981), 26-27.] They note that “save” (Gk. sozo) apparently has this meaning in 5:14. But the word does not seem to have this meaning elsewhere in James (1:21; 4:12; 5:20). Especially important is the occurrence in 1:21, since the present discussion is part of the argument begun in that verse; and 1:21 speaks definitively about the “salvation of souls.” Moreover, “save” is also used here in a context that is discussing rescue at the judgment (vv12-13) and justification (vv21-25). Clearly, we must give the verb the full theological force that it normally has in the NT epistles (of the 30 occurrences of “save” outside of James in the NT epistles, 29 clearly refer to eschatological deliverance, the possible exception being Heb 5:7).

[2:19] For James is writing to Jewish Christians for whom the Shema would have been among the most basic of beliefs (the confession is appropriated by early Christians; cf. 1 Cor 1:8:4-6; Gal 3:20; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:5). Proclaiming that “God is one” in that context would have been similar to churchgoers today loudly proclaiming their belief in the deity of Christ…the problem lies not with the confession itself, but from the implication that it does not go beyond the verbal to touch the heart and the life. As Mitton puts it, “It is a good thing to possess an accurate theology, but it is unsatisfactory unless that good theology also possesses us.”

The demons perfectly illustrate the poverty of verbal profession in and of itself. They are among the most “orthodox” of theologians, James suggests, agreeing wholeheartedly with the Shema. Yet what is their reaction? They shudder. This verb, used only here in the NT, refers to the reaction of fear provoked by contact with God or the supernatural. It occurs particularly frequently in the papyri to describe the effect that a sorcerer aims to produce in his hearers.

Most Christians take their understanding of the verb “justify” from the writings of Paul; and naturally enough, for he gives the term a theological prominence that is foundational for biblical theology, and for soteriology. Specifically, Pal uses “justify” (Grk. dikaioo) to denote God’s initial judicial verdict of “innocence” pronounced over the sinner who trusts Jesus Christ in faith. But we must not assume that James, writing before Paul, uses the word in the same way. [“We think that James was probably written in the middle 40s, perhaps just before the Apostolic Council,” 26.]

So “justify” in Paul refers to how a person gets into relationship with God, while in James it connotes what that relationship must ultimately look like to receive God’s final approval.

[2:22] James’s second assertion about Abraham’s faith in this verse stands in careful balance with the first: “faith cooperates with works”—“works complete faith.”…But in what sense can it be said that works “complete” faith?…the closest parallel to James’s usage (despite a slightly different construction) is 1 Jn 4:12: “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

[2:23] When Abraham “put faith in” the Lord, God gave him, then and there, the status of a right relationship with him: before he had done works, before he was circumcised. This is Paul’s point about Abraham (Rom 4:1-17). But the faith of Abraham and God’s verdict of acquittal were “filled up,” given their ultimate significance, when Abraham “perfected” his faith with works. It is after the greatest of those works, cited by James in v21, that the angel of the Lord reasserted God’s verdict: “Now I know that you fear God” (Gen 22:12).

Abraham’s works, especially his offering of Isaac, reveal the character of his faith, a faith that is crediting for righteousness…James is therefore not using Gen 15:6 in a way contradictory to that of Paul. They address different issues from different backgrounds and need to make different points about Abraham’s paradigmatic experience with the Lord. And so, without necessarily disagreeing about the basic sense of the verse, they set Gen 15:6 in different biblical-theological contexts and derive different conclusions from their contextual readings. Paul seizes on the chronological placement of Gen 15:6 and cites it as evidence of the initial declaration of righteousness that Abraham attained from God solely on the basis of faith. James views the same verse more as a “motto,” applicable to Abraham’s life as a whole.

[2:14] This verse is the center of James’s discussion of faith, works, and justification (vv21-25).

A more profitable approach is to compare the word “faith” in Paul with the phrase “faith alone” in James. The addition of “alone” shows clearly that James refers to the bogus faith that he has been attacking throughout this paragraph: the faith that a person “claims” to have (v14); a faith that is, in fact, “dead” (vv17 & 26). And “useless” (v20). This is not what Paul means by faith…He can therefore speak of the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5) and say that it is “faith working through love” that matters in Christ (Gal 5:6). This is exactly the concept of faith that James is propagating in this paragraph. Once we understand “faith alone,” then, as a neat summary of the bogus faith that James is criticizing, we can find no reason to expect that Paul would have any quarrel with the claim that “faith alone” does not justify.

As we suggested in our interpretation of v21, resolution of the tension can come only when we recognize that James and Paul use “justify” to refer to different things. Paul refers to the initial declaration of a sinner’s innocence before God; James to the ultimate verdict of innocence pronounced over a person at the last judgment. If a sinner can get into relationship with God only by faith (Paul), the ultimate validation of that relationship takes into account the works that true faith must inevitably produce (James).

D. Moo, The Letter of James (Eerdmans 2000), 120-41.


At the End of Their Rope

From James White’s comment concerning Bob Wilkin’s response to my last post on John 6:


I took note, with some humor, at the e-mail posting from Bob Wilkin. It seems fairly obvious to me he did not even read your article. You did not identify any part of speech as a “disjunction,” you stated the simple fact, fully supported by the text, that there is no disjunction (i.e., separation) in Jesus’ teaching regarding who comes, who is drawn, and who is raised up, etc. In fact, that is the very power of this text: anyone who will reign in their traditions long enough to listen to the Lord and allow Him to speak will see what He is saying.

This text, as you know, causes all of those who have embraced man-made traditions at the expense of Scripture to founder. Bob Wilkin, holding to a completely unorthodox view of the gospel, faith, assurance, repentance, etc., is surely in no position to approach it from any sound exegetical position, and his comments make this clear. Let’s look at it:

Evidently he thinks John 6:44 reads this way:

No one is able to come to come unless the Father who sent Me draws him—and the Father only draws a select group of people (the elect)–and I will raise him up on the last day.

Actually, your point was that John 6:44 does not exist in and of itself; it is a part of a context, a context that already clearly introduced the idea of the elect, chosen by the Father in eternity past, who will be saved perfectly by the Son, and as a result of their being given, they come to Christ (6:37-39). You are simply allowing that context to continue uninterrupted, and showing that it is an eisegetical notion to introduce a disjunction into v. 44 by positing a difference between the one drawn and the one raised up. Arminian/Roman Catholic/Cheap Grace/ Mormon/etc. interpreters need to realize they must *prove* their point here, not simply assert it. I have yet to see any make much of a case from the text itself in defense of their position.

Jesus doesn’t comment on whether the Father draws some or all. That isn’t His point here.

Actually, it is exactly His point here! Did Wilkin not read the context? Did he miss v. 36? “”But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” If Wilkin cannot see that Jesus is explaining how those who have seen Him, seen His miracles, heard His teaching, will still walk away at the end of the day in unbelief, then he has missed the entire text. Tradition is a cruel taskmaster, and the lenses of the glasses it affixes to you are very, very thick.

The fact that there is a verbal parallel with v 40 in no way says anything about what percentage of people are being drawn, or whether there are people who are drawn who will not believe.

Once again, this is what happens when you respond to e-mail summaries rather than reading the actual article itself, for you made no such statement anyway. You pointed out what is plain and obvious to any reader of the text: there is a consistent theme in Jesus’ teaching, and if you allow Him to define His own meanings and follow in logical order His own teaching you will see that. It amazes me that people will ignore these basic things only when the freedom of God in salvation is in view. Is it really that difficult to understand that you start with what Jesus says in, say, v. 37, before you get to 40, or 44? Isn’t it obvious that if you have to start at, say, v. 45, and read backwards, that you are missing something? I am truly amazed at this kind of thing.

Wilkin seems to show no familiarity at all with the issues surrounding John 12:32 and simplistically concludes it teaches a universal drawing that includes every single individual, and that in a context where Jesus hides himself from the Greeks who were seeking Him! That this drawing is of kinds of peoples (Jews/Gentiles, Rev. 5:9-10) does not even seem to suggest itself to Wilkin. He then writes

Compare that with John 16:7-11. While the verb elkuw is not used there, the idea of drawing is certainly there. We find that the Holy Spirit convicts the world, that is everyone (compare 3:16), of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Is Wilkin suggesting that conviction and drawing are identical? I guess this would make sense in his system, since he has no sovereign decree, has no salvific work of the Spirit, etc., and hence no saving faith versus the false faith that we see around us all the time today. Once again, his man-made tradition determines his interpretation. The Holy Spirit does not draw every person to Christ, for, as we see in 6:44, this would mean they are all raised up as well, and nothing in chapter 16 gives us a basis for making such an a-contextual leap. Further, we see the constant and common Arminian error in reading John 3:16 a-contextually as well, ignoring its inherent particularity (”all the believing ones”). Eisegesis at its height, which makes his accusation that you are the one using “dogmatic interpretation, not careful exegesis” all the more humorous.

Keep up the good work. When the Cheap Gracers leading lights falter in attempting to respond, you know they are at the end of their rope.

James White

Matthew 16: Romanism and the Slippery Rock

Mr. Salza has commented on my article, “Evidence, Anachronisms, and John Salza.” This article here will be quite lengthy. This is because Mr. Salza’s comment necessitates such a length.

Mr. May,

I once again discovered your blog which criticizes me for evidently not meeting your standards of logic in debate. This is a common ploy among those of your persuasion to avoid addressing the evidence that has been presented to you. You certainly aren’t fooling me.

For example, when Mr. Blackaby argued that Mary’s sinless nature was not believed by the early Church, I rebutted his argument by providing quotes from the early church fathers demonstrating their belief that Mary was in fact sinless (same thing with Blackaby’s views on original sin). Mr. Blackaby did not interact with these quotes.

Instead of addressing my evidence head-on, you too took the easy way out. You said: “We aren’t supposed to assume that Mary was sinless and then attempt to prove it wrong. Rather, it must first be established.” Are you serious, Mr. May? By providing these quotes from the fathers, I have made an assumption? I guess the only assumption I made is that you would demonstrate some intellectual integrity, read the quotes, and provide a response.

By providing these quotes, I have demonstrated that the early Fathers viewed Mary as sinless, which rebuts Mr. Blackaby’s position that the early Church did not view Mary as sinless. Your accusation of me making assumptions is incredulous. Please don’t continue to say I am making unsubstantiated assumptions, when I am the one producing evidence of what the early Church believed, and you are not. This is getting old. Quit sitting on the sidelines, Mr. May. If you really want to enter this debate, please come on in.

While I provide quotes from the Fathers, you just make broad and unsubstantiated statements like: “In fact all of them [the fathers] unanimously disagree with Rome’s interpretation of Matt. 16 and the parallel passage in Luke.” Such a statement is also incredible. It just shows you haven’t read the Fathers. I have scores of quotes from the Fathers which provide their interpretation of Peter as the rock, Peter’s keys, Peter’s singular authority to bind and loose, Peter’s authority in the book of Acts, Jesus’ prayer and commission for Peter, Paul’s visit with and examination of Peter, etc. etc., all supporting the Catholic view. I will be happy to provide you with this information.

Since I have supported my claims about Mary and original sin with quotes from the Fathers (and will do so regarding the papacy), why don’t you do the same, Mr. May? According to your own rules, please provide us with quotes from the Fathers which support your statement “all of them unanimously disagree with Rome’s interpretation of Matt. 16…” Since according to you, the Fathers had a unanimity in their rejection of the Catholic view, this should be easy for you. I look forward to the fruits of your research.

And while you are at it, please provide us with your exegesis of Matt. 16:18-19. I would like to evaluate it and then offer a rebuttal. Thank you for your consideration.

John Salza

If anyone is aware of the actual occurrences in the situation to which Mr. Salza alludes, one would note that in the above paragraphs, Mr. Salza not only miscites me, but he completely ignores my response to him. He acts as if there was no response, apart from giving us a (miscited) quote by me followed by assertions for his own position that have no relevance to our actual exchange, followed further by a challenge to debate me on the text of Matthew 16. I will accept Mr. Salza’s offer to dialogue with him concerning the text of Matthew 16, but I would like to first clarify a few things where his response has betrayed obvious confusion on his part:

I once again discovered your blog which criticizes me for evidently not meeting your standards of logic in debate. This is a common ploy among those of your persuasion to avoid addressing the evidence that has been presented to you. You certainly aren’t fooling me.

No matter how much Mr. Salza believes I am trying to “fool” him, I must assure the reader that I did not employ any “standards of logic” that are not affirmed in any honest debate. I simply requested that he would present evidence for his position apart from semantic anachronisms. And in his very denial of utilizing anachronisms, he utilizes anachronisms! In his first response to me, he stated, “For example, you say that I anachronistically read the Catholic Church back into history. Interesting. Tell me why the Church is referred to as ‘Catholic’ as early as 107 A.D. by Ignatius?” I responded, “What irony: As Mr. Salza claims that he has, in fact, not anachronistically read the Roman church back into history, he does exactly that!” Is it unfair to point out such a thing in honest debate? How am I failing to address the evidence if the evidence presented has no direct connection to Mr. Salza’s position?

For example, when Mr. Blackaby argued that Mary’s sinless nature was not believed by the early Church, I rebutted his argument by providing quotes from the early church fathers demonstrating their belief that Mary was in fact sinless (same thing with Blackaby’s views on original sin). Mr. Blackaby did not interact with these quotes.

Instead of addressing my evidence head-on, you too took the easy way out. You said: “We aren’t supposed to assume that Mary was sinless and then attempt to prove it wrong. Rather, it must first be established.” Are you serious, Mr. May? By providing these quotes from the fathers, I have made an assumption? I guess the only assumption I made is that you would demonstrate some intellectual integrity, read the quotes, and provide a response.

My statement which Mr. Salza references is perfectly clear when taken in context:

I personally did not interact with your citations in my blog articles because I was more concerned with your authority. The utilization of both backwards logic and the anachronism permeated your response. For instance, you said, “If Mr. Blackaby disagrees, then have him produce just one quote from the first five centuries of the Church that denied Mary was sinless.” But this is simply backwards. We aren’t supposed to assume that Mary was sinless and then attempt to prove it wrong. Rather, it must first be established.

When my statement is read in context, it becomes evident that Mr. Salza was the one making the assumptions in his challenge to Mr. Blackaby. Nevertheless, in regards to Mr. Salza’s challenge to Mr. Blackaby, there is sufficient New Testament evidence which demonstrates that Mary was sinner like the rest of humanity. Furthermore, men like Tertullian, Origen, and John Chrysostom even name the sins they think she committed (is Mr. Salza really unaware of this?). In any case, that is not the debate here. My original exchange with Mr. Salza was concerned with the authority on which he bases his claims, not the claims themselves–no matter how lacking they may be.

By providing these quotes, I have demonstrated that the early Fathers viewed Mary as sinless, which rebuts Mr. Blackaby’s position that the early Church did not view Mary as sinless. Your accusation of me making assumptions is incredulous. Please don’t continue to say I am making unsubstantiated assumptions, when I am the one producing evidence of what the early Church believed, and you are not. This is getting old. Quit sitting on the sidelines, Mr. May. If you really want to enter this debate, please come on in.

I fail to see how anything in the above paragraph is at all relevant to the exchange which took place between Mr. Salza and me. A fair and honest reader who is familiar with the situation would agree. I stated in my initial critique of the debate between Salza and Blackaby:

We should note that the premise for any type of apologetics done by Romanists is that of Sola Ecclesia, as we will see in this exchange. I do not intend to respond to this lengthy debate, nor do I really want to address the issue of the Marian Dogmas. However, I would like to point out the ultimate authority in both of these positions, and note that RC Apologetics will never get past the circular argument, “This doctrine is true because the Church [and they mean, the Roman church] says it is true.” The Church is true because the Church says that the Church is true.

The title of the article was “Why RC Apologists Will Never be Exegetes,” and I clearly stated that I was not interesting in discussing the Marian dogmas but wished to point out the assumed authority on which Mr. Salza bases his doctrine and practice. It is my hope that Mr. Salza will read this article with more intent than he did the last three.

While I provide quotes from the Fathers, you just make broad and unsubstantiated statements like: “In fact all of them [the fathers] unanimously disagree with Rome’s interpretation of Matt. 16 and the parallel passage in Luke.” Such a statement is also incredible. It just shows you haven’t read the Fathers. I have scores of quotes from the Fathers which provide their interpretation of Peter as the rock, Peter’s keys, Peter’s singular authority to bind and loose, Peter’s authority in the book of Acts, Jesus’ prayer and commission for Peter, Paul’s visit with and examination of Peter, etc. etc., all supporting the Catholic view. I will be happy to provide you with this information.

The quote of mine that he cites is applied so out of context that this constitutes a miscitation. It also shows that he is reading my articles with the mentality of auto-responding, not with the desire to understand what I am saying. Once again, we are required to remind Mr. Salza of the original statement:

On the side of the negative, Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian all related Mt. 16 to Peter. They all disagree with Rome. Tertullian said Peter is the rock through his preaching. Origen said Peter is the rock because he allegorically represents all Christians, and all who follow Jesus are “rocks.” Cyprian said Peter is the rock, because he represents the entire episcopate, and, because of this, no single bishop has authority to interfere in the episcopate of another. Cyprian’s view is closest to Rome, but Rome, contrary to Cyprian, infers that the Bishop of Rome rules over all other bishops and all the sees are dependent on Rome. Cyprian says that all the bishops are independent of one another and Rome. In fact all of them unanimously disagree with Rome’s interpretation of Matt. 16 and the parallel passage in Luke. So is your lineage unbroken?

The phrase “all of them” was obviously not referring to “all of the fathers” as Salza applies it, but “all of them” as in “Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian.” But while we’re at it, let’s point out another mistake and semantic anachronism on the part of Mr. Salza in the above paragraph. He makes the mistake of equating a recognition of Peter as rock with a recognition of Peter as infallible pope. This is what Romanist apologists must do. They don’t see the modern papacy in the writings of the early fathers, so they must read the papacy into them.

Since I have supported my claims about Mary and original sin with quotes from the Fathers (and will do so regarding the papacy), why don’t you do the same, Mr. May? According to your own rules, please provide us with quotes from the Fathers which support your statement “all of them unanimously disagree with Rome’s interpretation of Matt. 16…” Since according to you, the Fathers had a unanimity in their rejection of the Catholic view, this should be easy for you. I look forward to the fruits of your research.

Mr. Salza continues to respond to the same miscitation. Failing to interact with what I actually stated (my first article contained evidence of the early church’s affirmation of Sola Scriptura–evidence that has been completely ignored by Mr. Salza), he must attack what I have not said. Suffice to say, I have no obligation to provide evidence for what I have not said, even if Mr. Salza continues to claim that I have. However, I will provide evidence for the fact that the majority of the early church fathers rejected the Romanist interpretation of Matthew 16.

And while you are at it, please provide us with your exegesis of Matt. 16:18-19. I would like to evaluate it and then offer a rebuttal. Thank you for your consideration.

I must say, Mr. Salza is quite demanding for someone who fails to address the original issues, continues to misrepresent me, and continues to engage in the same errors that were pointed out to him from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will do as he asks.

Matthew 16: Biblical Exegesis

Matthew 16 is among the list of famous isolated prooftexts that Roman Catholic scholarship has continually presented to the field of apologetics. It has been refuted for centuries, and yet Romanists cite it as quickly today as they ever have. The amount of assumptions, however, that the Romanist must force into this passage is innumerable. Equally innumerable are the assumptions and anachronistic readings that are forcibly read into the early fathers that comment on this text. Romanism simply cannot be defended exegetically. For this reason, the defender of the gospel of Rome starts with the assumption that the modern Roman church, with its doctrine and practices of today, is indeed the one true church. This is not something that is ever demonstrated. The mistake of this assumption is shown when the modern papacy is read back into the New Testament text, where such a concept never existed in the first place. The error is undeniable.

Matthew 16 13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

From the beginning the focus is on the person of Christ. Jesus asks the question, “Who do men say that I am? The Son of man?” He asks his disciples if men own him as the Messiah. They give differing, false opinions from the people. These opinions were good and honorable, but they were not true. They are high opinions, but not high enough. These opinions might honor Christ as prophet, but they do not rightly honor him as Messiah and Savior.

15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus then questions the opinions of the disciples. Surely the disciples, who were taught better than all others and shared more intimacy with Christ should render a correct answer. Before the disciples can be sent out for the work of ministry, they must display that they grasp the most important thing. If to them Christ was merely John the Baptist or Elijah, their mission for the church would surely fail. The success of the mission is based upon what truth it is built, and Jesus makes sure that the disciples are grasping the very essence of his ministry. Therefore, Jesus begins the examination. He questions to explore whether or not his closest followers have their mission built upon the firm foundation of who he is.

Peter speaks for the other disciples and answers the question. Peter did indeed have the boldness to be forward on such matters, as we see in other New Testament texts. But this does not communicate any primacy or superiority of Peter above the rest of the Apostles, for we see others speaking as the mouth for the rest elsewhere (Mark 9:38; John 14:5, 8, 22). Peter answers the question correctly; the disciples knew Christ to be the Son of the living God. While others thought him to be the ghost of Elijah or Jeremiah, they knew Christ to be the Son of the living God. But it is not as if anything within the disciple set them apart to know this correct answer. The fact that Peter answered correctly does not set Peter apart from the rest of the disciples, or even from those who answered incorrectly. This is because Peter’s knowledge depended upon divine revelation. It was God who was to receive the glory, not flesh and bone. Peter received an undeserving blessing from above so that he was enabled to know the very truth on which all others were to be built–the very foundation on which the mission of the Apostles was to be fulfilled. Christ’s declaration of blessing upon Peter removed the opportunity for Peter to claim any glory for himself–something very habitual of the disciples. The grace of God mortifies pride, and Christ’s declaration of the grace of God upon the life of Peter in revealing truth to him removed any possibility for God’s glory to be robbed by a creature. Christ also reminds Peter of his roots: he was Bar-Jonah. Peter was not born to this dignity, but it was granted to him by divine grace–grace that does not allow the glory of God to stolen by the creature of God.

18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus, using the emphatic pronoun (alluding back to Peter’s confession), states, “But I, the Messiah, for my part, tell you.” Peter had just received a revelation of truth from the father. Now he is about to receive truth from the Son. It is Christ who makes this statement. He is the church’s head. He is the ultimate authority. Jesus singles out Peter, once again alluding back to the statement, “You, you who just made that statement.” Just as Peter singled out Jesus and revealed his identity, Jesus is about to single out Peter and reveal his identity. He states, “You are πετρος (Petros),” and follows that up with, “and on this πετρα (petra) I will build my church.” To what petra refers has been debated among exegetes. It can basically be broken down into three categories:

1. Christological (Christ is the Rock) -Augustine
2. Petrine (Peter is the Rock) -Tertullian, Cyprian, and Basil the Great
3. Faith (the confession is the Rock) -Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem

From a theological perspective, any of the three could be accepted. Christ is the Rock on which the church is built (Isaiah 28:16). The stone is laid by Christ (”I will build it”), and the stone is Christ. Christ is the only solid foundation. He is the firm rock that will not sink under the weight of the building. But we also see an emphasis from the text on the confession of who Christ is. From the beginning, Jesus examined his disciples, asking “But who do you say that I am.” He made certain that they passed the examination of affirming that which is most important. This confession was given to the disciples by divine revelation. But there is also a possibility of the Rock, while primarily and most importantly representing Christ himself, being allegorical of the apostles (represented by Peter) who were to be the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). For Romanists, this verse not only affirms the preeminence of Peter as the Prince of the apostles, but it also lays the groundwork for the establishment of a permanent Roman see with full Petrine authority. But this is simply not something that is presented in this passage. Is the man who lays the first stone to be the sole foundation? Does Peter’s being called “Rock” necessitate an infallible pontiff of the entire church, from whom there is an apostolic succession? I think we can fairly answer “Absolutely not.”

Christ promises to preserve his church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is because it is built upon the firm foundation of Christ himself, upon the very confession that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, upon Christ’s laying of the foundation of the Apostles (represented by Peter the Rock). It is all about Christ!

19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Christ the king will (future tense) give the keys of the kingdom to his Apostles. They will unlock the door to the Gentiles, an act that specifically Peter performs (Acts 10:28). As Christ ascended on high, he gave gifts to the Church (Eph 4:11). From Christ, the ministers (not just Peter but the rest as well [John 20:21]) receive the authority and power. With the keys of doctrine and discipline, the Apostles will bind and loose, unlock and lock, doing so with the authority of heaven. Matthew Henry states, “It shall be bound in heaven, and loosed in heaven: not that Christ hath hereby obliged himself to confirm all church-censures, right or wrong; but such as are duly passed according to the word, clave non errante - the key turning the right way, such are sealed in heaven; that is, the word of the gospel, in the mouth of faithful ministers, is to be locked upon, not as the word of man, but as the word of God, and to be received accordingly (1 Thess. 2:13, John 12:20).”

This is what the text states. It is neither less nor more than what the text states. It is as far as the text allows, and exactly that far. This is consistent Biblical exegesis that does not attempt to impose theological agendas upon unsuspecting passages. Yet there are other questions we must ask. Do Romanists really believe that Peter understood these words in the sense that they interpret them? Did Peter view this as Jesus giving him ultimate and infallible authority over the church? Did the rest of the disciples view it in this manner (the disciples who later argued over who was the greatest)? Peter himself gives us an answer:

1 Peter 2 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

The precious stone and cornerstone, the rock upon which the Church will be built, according to Peter, is not himself, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he does not view himself as being vested with authority over the other apostles:

1 Peter 5 1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Peter refers to himself merely as a fellow elder with the other elders of the Church. All of these elders are under the ultimate authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter does not think of himself as the vicar of Christ or the visible head of the Church. Rather, he views himself as an apostle among other apostles, as a fellow elder with other elders. The only head and ruler of the Church is Jesus Christ.

Matthew 16: Examining Vatican I

Before examining Matthew 16 from a historical perspective, we must be reminded of the qualifications which Vatican I has set for us. What is the interpretation that Vatican I demands? The First Vatican Council (1869-70) convened by Pope Pius IX, affirmed that it could validate its claims and its interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19 by the practice of the Church throughout the ages, as well as through the “unanimous consent” of the Fathers. We must remember this as we look from the historical perspective. Vatican I necessitates that its interpretation of Matthew 16 be the unanimous consent of the early fathers. Vatican I necessitates that we see Peter as the undisputed head and ruler of the Church, acknowledged as such by the apostles and the Church in general. It necessitates that the early church recognize the bishop of Rome as the infallible successor of Peter, with all authority concerning doctrine and practice.

From the council of Trent:

Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, itt decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published.–The Council of Trent, 4th Session, the Canonical Scriptures, Rockford:Tan (1978), pp. 18-19

Later affirmed by Vatican I:

And as the things which the holy Synod of Trent decreed for the good of souls concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture, in order to curb rebellious spirits, have been wrongly explained by some, we, renewing the said decree, declare this to be their sense, that, in matters of faith and morals, appertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of Holy Scripture which our holy Mother Church hath held and holds, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scripture; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret the Sacred Scripture contrary to this sense, nor, likewise, contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.–Philip Schaff, Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, as found in The Creeds of Christendom, Vol II, New York:Harper (1877), p. 242

From these quotes we learn two things:

1. Only the Roman Catholic church has the authority to accurately interpret Scripture.
2. No one, not even the RCC herself, is to hold an interpretation contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

Matthew 16: Historical Perspectives

How did the early Fathers view Matthew 16? Did they view it as an establishment of Peter as infallible pope, with authority over all of the church, with a line of successors coming from him?


But whom say ye that I am? Peter answered, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ One for many gave the answer, Unity in many. Then said the Lord to him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.’ Then He added, ‘and I say unto thee.’ As if He had said, ‘Because thou hast said unto Me, ‘Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God,” I also say unto thee, ‘Thou art Peter.” For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. ‘Therefore,’ he saith, ‘Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock’ which thou hast confessed, upon this rock which thou hast acknowledged, saying, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;’ that is upon Myself, the Son of the Living God, ‘will I build My Church.’ I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon Thee.

Augustine considered Christ to be the petra in this passage, and Peter, being the Petros, represented all Christians who are built upon the firm foundation of Christ himself.


Certainly the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship both of honour and power; but a commencement is made from unity, that the Church may be set before us as one; which one Church, in the Song of Songs, doth the Holy Spirit design and name in the Person of our Lord.

Cyprian, though recognizing the rock as Peter, recognized the true Rock to be Christ, and Peter representing all of the church in unity. Roman Catholic historian Michael Winter acknowledges that Cyprian refers to Peter in a non-Roman sense:

Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connections of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a pro-papal sense which was alien to his thought. . . Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority. . . Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter. Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Westport: Greenwood, 1960), pp. 47-48.

John Chrysostom:

Chrysostom viewed the rock to be Peter’s confession of faith:

The Lord favours Peter, giving him a great reward, because he built the church upon him. For since Peter had confessed Jesus son of God, Jesus said that this confession which Peter uttered would be the foundation of future believers, just as every man should be about to raise up the house of faith and should be about to lay this foundation. For even if we put together innumerable virtues, we, however, may not have the foundation — a proper confession, and we build in vain. Moreover since Jesus said my church, he showed himself to be the lord of creation: for all realities serve God. . . .Therefore if we shall have been confirmed in the confession of Christ, the gates of hell, that is, sins, will not prevail against us. –Cited by John Bigane, Faith, Christ or Peter: Matthew 16:18 in Sixteenth-Century Roman Catholic Exegesis (Washington D.C.: University Press, 1981), pp. 31-32.

Furthermore, while Chrysostom refers to Peter as the first of the apostles, the leader of the apostles, etc, he also refers to other apostles having primacy in other passages:

“James was invested with the chief rule [in Acts 15], and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. ‘And after that they had held their peace, James answered,’ etc. (v. 13.) Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part.” (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 33)

In regards to apostolic succession, Chrysostom refers to Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch, as the successor of Peter:

“At all events the master of the whole world, Peter, to whose hands He committed the keys of heaven, whom He commanded to do and to bear all, He bade tarry here [Antioch] for a long period. Thus in His sight our city was equivalent to the whole world. But since I have mentioned Peter, I have perceived a fifth crown woven from him, and this is that this man [Ignatius of Antioch] succeeded to the office after him. For just as any one taking a great stone from a foundation hastens by all means to introduce an equivalent to it, lest he should shake the whole building, and make it more unsound, so, accordingly, when Peter was about to depart from here, the grace of the Spirit introduced another teacher equivalent to Peter, so that the building already completed should not be made more unsound by the insignificance of the successor.” (Homily on St. Ignatius, 4)

Does this mean that Chrysostom considered James to be Pope? Does this mean that Chrysostom considered Ignatius to be Pope? No, and neither was Chrysostom referring to Peter as Pope when he referred to him as Rock. Rather, it is the message of the gospel that leads to true apostolic succession.

Basil the Great:

And the house of God, located on the peaks of the mountains, is the Chruch according to the opinion of the Apostle. For he says that one must know “how to behave in the household of God.” Now the foundation of this Church are the holy mountains, since it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. One of these mountains was indeed Peter, upon which rock the Lord promised to build his Church. Truly indeed and by highest right are sublime and elevated souls, souls which raise themselves above earthly things, called “mountains.” The soul of the blessed Peter was called a lofty rock because he had a strong mooring in the faith and bore constantly and bravely the blows inflicted by temptations. All, therefore, who have acquired an understanding of the Godhead–on account of the breadth of mind and of those actions which proceed from it–are the peaks of the mountains, and upon the house of God is built. (Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Cap. II.66, PG 30:233)

In this passage, Basil states that Peter is one part of the foundation, that the mountains are the apostles and prophets, and Peter is but one of them. He is a rock, not because he is the foundation of the church, but “because he had a strong mooring in the faith and bore constantly and bravely the blows inflicted by temptations.”

Cyril of Alexandria:

Cyril viewed the rock to be the confession of faith:

But what why do we say that they are foundations of the earth? For Christ is the foundation and unshakeable base of all things–But the next foundations, these nearer to us, can be understood to be the apostles and the evangelists, those eyewitnesses and ministers of the word who have arisen for the strengthening of the faith. For when we recognize that their own traditions must be followed, we serve a faith which is true and does not deviate from Christ. For when he wisely and blamelessly confessed his faith to Jesus saying, ‘You are the Christ, Son of the living God,” Jesus said to divine Peter: ‘You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Now, by the work ‘rock’ Jesus indicated, I think, the immoveable faith of the disciple…And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Chruch, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ The surname, I believe, calls nothing other than the unshakeable and very firm faith of the disciple ‘a rock’ upon which the Church was founded and made firm and remains continually impregnable even with respect to the very gates of Hell. (Commentary on Isaiah IV.2 PG 760:940; Dialogue on the Trinity IV, PG 75:866)

Gregory of Nyssa:

Gregory as well viewed the rock to be the confession of faith:

The warmth of our praises does not extend to Simon insofar as he was a catcher of fish: rather it extends to his firm faith, which is at the same time the foundation of the whole Church (Panegyric on St. Stephen, PG 46:733)


For Jerome, the Rock was Christ:

The one foundation which the apostolic architect laid is our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this stable and firm foundation, which has itself bee laid on solid ground, the Church of Christ is built…For the Church was founded upon the rock, Christ, the Catholic Church, is the one dove; she stands the perfect one, and near to His right hand, and has nothing sinister in her…The rock is Christ, Who gave to His apostels, that they also should be called rocks, “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church (Commentary on Mt 7.25 M.P.L., Vol. 26, Col. 51; Epistle 65:15, Ad Principiam, Cited by J. Waterworth S J., A Commentary)

Paul of Emesa:

Paul of Emesa affirms that the rock was the confession of faith:

Upon this faith the Church of God has been founded. With this expectation, upon this rock the Lord God placed the foundations of the Church. When then the Lord Christ was going to Jerusalem, He asked the disciples, saying, “Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?” The apostles say, “Some Elias, other Jeremias, or one of the prophets,” And he says, but you that is, My elect, you who have followed Me for three years, and have seen My power, and miracles, and beheld Me walking on the sea, who have shared My table. “Whom do you say that I am” Instantly, the Coryphaeus of the apostles, the mouth of the disciples, Peter, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Homily of the Nativity)


Tertullian was the first to recognize the rock as Peter, but he does not identify him as being the rock in the sense that the Church was built upon him, but in the sense that the church is built through him as he preaches the gospel.

The list could go on and on. Eusebius viewed the rock as Christ. Ambrose viewed the rock as the confession of faith. Bede viewed the rock as Christ. Pallaudius of Helenopolis viewed the rock as the confession of faith. Here is the point: we hardly have the “unanimous consent” that is demanded by Trent and Vatican I. Why does Rome demand an outrageous interpretation of the passage, with no exegetical warrant, that scores of church fathers simply missed? The answer is Sola Ecclesia.

Evan May.

Porcine jihad

Making a pig's ear of defending democracy
By Mark Steyn
(Filed: 04/10/2005)

A year and a half ago, I mentioned in this space the Florentine Boar, a famous piece of porcine statuary in Derby that the council had decided not to have repaired on the grounds that it would offend Muslims. Having just seen Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in which Porky Pig mentions en passant that Warner Bros has advised him to lose the stammer, I wondered if for the British release it might be easier just to lose the pig.

Alas, the United Kingdom's descent into dhimmitude is beyond parody. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (Tory-controlled) has now announced that, following a complaint by a Muslim employee, all work pictures and knick-knacks of novelty pigs and "pig-related items" will be banned. Among the verboten items is one employee's box of tissues, because it features a representation of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. And, as we know, Muslims regard pigs as "unclean", even an anthropomorphised cartoon pig wearing a scarf and a bright, colourful singlet.

Cllr Mahbubur Rahman is in favour of the blanket pig crackdown. "It is a good thing, it is a tolerance and acceptance of their beliefs and understanding," he said. That's all, folks, as Porky Pig used to stammer at the end of Looney Tunes. Just a little helpful proscription in the interests of tolerance and acceptance.

And where's the harm in that? As Pastor Niemöller said, first they came for Piglet and I did not speak out because I was not a Disney character and, if I was, I'm more of an Eeyore.

And aren't we all? When the Queen knights a Muslim "community leader" whose line on the Rushdie fatwa was that "death is perhaps too easy", and when the Prime Minister has a Muslim "adviser" who is a Holocaust-denier and thinks the Iraq war was cooked up by a conspiracy of Freemasons and Jews, and when the Prime Minister's wife leads the legal battle for a Talibanesque dress code in British schools, you don't need a pig to know which side's bringing home the bacon.

A couple of years ago, when an anxious-to-please head teacher in Batley was banning offensive "pig-centred books", Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain commented that "there is absolutely no scriptural authority for this view. It is a misunderstanding of the Koranic instruction that Muslims may not eat pork." Mr Bunglawala is a typical "moderate" Muslim - he thinks the British media are "Zionist-controlled", etc - but on the pig thing he's surely right. It seems unlikely that even the exhaustive strictures of the Koran would have a line on Piglet.

So these little news items that pop up every week now are significant mostly as a gauge of the progressive liberal's urge to self-abase and Western Muslims' ever greater boldness in flexing their political muscle.

After all, how daffy does a Muslim's willingness to take offence have to be to get rejected out of court? Only the other day, Burger King withdrew its ice-cream cones from its British restaurants because Mr Rashad Akhtar of High Wycombe, after a trip to the Park Royal branch, complained that the creamy swirl on the lid resembled the word "Allah" in Arabic script.

It doesn't, not really, not except that in the sense any twirly motif looks vaguely Arabic. After all, Burger King isn't suicidal enough to launch Allah Ice-Cream. But, after Mr Akhtar urged Muslims to boycott the chain and claimed that "this is my jihad", Burger King yanked the ice-cream and announced that, design-wise, it was going back to the old drawing-board.

Offence is, by definition, in the eye of the beholder. I once toured the Freud Museum with the celebrated sex therapist Dr Ruth, who claimed to be able to see a penis in every artwork and piece of furniture in the joint. Yet, when I suggested one sculpture looked vaguely like the female genitalia, she scoffed mercilessly.

Likewise, Piglet is deeply offensive and so's your chocolate ice-cream, but if a West End play opens with a gay Jesus, Christians just need to stop being so doctrinaire and uptight. The Church of England bishops would probably agree with that if, in their own misguided attempt at Islamic outreach, they weren't so busy apologising for toppling Saddam.

When every act that a culture makes communicates weakness and loss of self-belief, eventually you'll be taken at your word. In the long term, these trivial concessions are more significant victories than blowing up infidels on the Tube or in Bali beach restaurants. An act of murder demands at least the pretence of moral seriousness, even from the dopiest appeasers. But small acts of cultural vandalism corrode the fabric of freedom all but unseen.

Is it really a victory for "tolerance" to say that a council worker cannot have a Piglet coffee mug on her desk? And isn't an ability to turn a blind eye to animated piglets the very least the West is entitled to expect from its Muslim citizens? If Islam cannot "co-exist" even with Pooh or the abstract swirl on a Burger King ice-cream, how likely is it that it can co-exist with the more basic principles of a pluralist society? As A A Milne almost said: "They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace/ Her Majesty's Law is replaced by Allah's."

By the way, isn't it grossly offensive to British Wahhabis to have a head of state who is female and uncovered?

I doubt whether the Post Office will be in any rush to issue another set of Pooh commemorative stamps, or the BBC to revive Pinky and Perky. Forty years ago, Britain's Islamic minority didn't have the numbers to ban Piglet and change the Burger King menu. Now they do. What will be deemed "unacceptable" in the interests of "tolerance" in 20 or even five years' time?

It has been clear since July 7 that the state has no real idea what to do to reconcile the more disaffected elements of its fastest-growing demographic. But at some point Britons have to ask themselves - while they're still permitted to discuss the question more or less freely - how much of their country they're willing to lose. The Hundred-Acre Wood is not the terrain on which one would choose to make one's stand, but from here on in it is only going to become more difficult.

Satanic cartoons

The Danish cartoons of Muhammad have set off the usual round of riots, hostage-taking, and apocalyptic death-threats.

Is there ever a time when the Muslim world is not in a rage over something or another?

Speaking for myself, I actually think that we shouldn’t go out of our way to offend people and be needlessly provocative.

I also don’t think that the legal right to do something automatically make it right.

Those disclaimers aside, how should we respond to the latest fit of hysterical indignation from the Muslim world?

At the risk of stating the obvious, political cartoons are a form of satire. The genre is inherently unfair and over-the-top. It scores its points by hyperbole. At its best, satire takes a principle to its logical extreme.

It would actually be difficult to satirize Islam. For millions of Muslims are only too eager to embody the worst possible stereotype. They’re right out of central casting for Villains R Us.

In Islam, it’s blasphemous to depict “the Prophet” at all, much less depict him in ever-so slightly less than hagiographic terms.

Should the Western world allow the Muslim world to rule our lives from afar? To dictate what we say and do?

Should we live in perpetual fear of a blood-curdling temper tantrum every time an “infidel” says or does something that rubs the hypersensitive ego of the Muslim world the wrong way?

The Muslim world resembles a collective, overgrown brat. Indulgent parents have allowed it to become a schoolyard bully, like little Damien in The Omen.

The best remedy is to give the screaming brat a sound thrashing with a cruise missile or two. Then send junior to bed without his supper. Let his throbbing red welts do the reasoning.

How Not to Do Apologetics

I'm simply going to link you here on this one:

Founders Blog

Tom Ascol does a marvelous job with this gentleman. Apparently, this is Rev. McDuffie's favorite axe to grind. Folks, this a classic bad argument v. Calvinism. I may respond myself. Perhaps Steve or Evan will beat me to it.

The lesson here is not about Calvinism however. This is a post about apologetic method. For the record, when folks argue in this manner for whatever their cause: Calvinism, Catholicism, Baptistry, Lutheranism, even atheism, but they do work like Rev. McDuffie, they are only doing their opposition a favor. I'd like to thank by far the majority of the contributors to the metas at Triablogue for keeping the majority of the discussion above this level so we can have real conversations.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Are there any atheists either in or out of the foxholes?

Paul Manata, a Van Tilian, and Victor Reppert, a disciple of C. S. Lewis, have gotten into a public dispute over there are any bona fide atheists or not. This is what Reppert has to say:


Are there any atheists? Are Carr, Loftus and Lippard just lying to us? Or themselves?

It's silly to me not because I am prepared to deny the claim that there is some innate knowledge of God. It is silly because I think you have to assess what someone really believes based on what they say and how they act. It could be that they have an awareness of God that they are suppressing. But when I look beyond Scripture to what I can give any real evidence for, I find that I don't have any argument that proves the existence of God with such certainty that anyone who rejects it has to be fooling himself or herself in some way. And that includes all the versions of the argument from reason that I defend in my book, and every other argument that Lewis, Craig, Plantinga, Swinburne, and the rest defend. So if someone says that God does not exist, and they sleep in on Sunday and save ten percent, I figure they're atheists. But if any atheists want to tell me that they aren't really atheists, but have been fooling themselves all this time, I'll take their word for it.


Before delving into the details, I’ll make a couple general comments:

1.Manata’s material is worth reading in its own right—both his original piece and his reply to Reppert—so don’t stop with what I have to say on the subject.

2.Reppert has posted a lot of fine material on ID and the mind/body problem, so whatever you think of his position on the immediate issue at hand, he’s still worth reading on other subjects—well, maybe not on politics, but that’s another story.

Moving on to Reppert’s comment:

3.It is needlessly provocative to introduce the issue by insisting that the atheist lying to us or to himself. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but it’s prejudicial to cast the question in such sweeping and exclusive terms.

4.It also carries the smarmy insinuation that a Christian apologist or theologian who takes this position is slandering the atheist by automatically imputing to him the worst possible motives. The debate needn’t be that emotionally charged.

I’m not saying that 3-4 couldn’t be true. But to frame the issue at the outset in such invidious and unqualified terms anticipates a possible conclusion in advance of the supporting argument.

5.To some extent, the idea that unbelievers are repressed believers, or believers are repressed unbelievers, depending on which side you take, is inevitable on either score.

Atheism tries to harmonize two propositions:

i) There is not God

ii) Many men believe in God

These two propositions are stand in apparent tension to each other. If (i) is true, how is (ii) true as well?

If there is no God, then theistic belief must be accounted for by some naturalistic mechanism.

Atheism harmonizes the two propositions by assigning the source of faith in God to a naturalistic factor, commonly supplied by psychology (e.g. Feuerbach, Freud), or sociology (e.g. Marx, Durkheim).

You have a parallel situation in Christianity:

Christian theology tries to harmonize two propositions:

i) There is a God

ii) Many men disbelieve in God.

For its own part, Christian theology harmonizes the apparent tension by a parallel, but opposing move. In Calvinism, infidelity is attributed to the noetic effects of original sin.

There’s nothing inherently offensive about ascribing belief or unbelief to an ulterior motive since the opposing positions are, in fact, logically committed to some indirect explanation.

If there is no God, then you could explain unbelief on the simple grounds that there’s no God to believe in.

Yet if many men believe in God, although there is no object answering to their faith, then an atheist must account for theistic belief by seeking the source of origin outside of God. And Christian theology makes the same move in reverse.

Hence, there’s no reason to take this analysis so personally. Both sides do it because both sides must account for an apparent disconnect between what there is, and what people believe there is.

On one view (atheism), there is often a belief without a corresponding extramental object; on another view (theism), there is an extramental object, but often absent a corresponding belief.

6.From a Christian standpoint, does this make an atheist a liar? There are a couple of problems with framing the issue that broadly:

a) Maybe there is no general answer to that question. Maybe some are liars and some are not. Must we characterize every unbeliever the same way to characterize any unbeliever in a certain way?

b) At the risk of stating the obvious, deception and self-deception range along a continuum with many levels and degrees.

We all hold inconsistent beliefs. We all compartmentalize our beliefs in some measure.

7.Reppert says: “you have to assess what someone really believes based on what they say and how they act.”

Why do we have to do that? Is this a proposition that Reppert would care to universalize? I hardly think so. Counterexamples leap to mind from every direction.

8.Suppose you are a Bible-believing Christian. Suppose the Bible says there’s no such thing as innocent unbelief. If the Bible says an unbeliever is a fool, then isn’t the unbeliever fooling himself?

Should that information not figure in whether you take the unbeliever’s claim at face value or not?

9.As to judging an unbeliever by what he says and does, many unbelievers look like fugitives from divine justice.

10.In addition, the diagnosis of an unbeliever as a repressed believer is not limited to an outsider’s perspective. Believers and unbelievers are not static categories. Many of us have made the transition from infidelity to faith. So we know both states from mind from the inside out.

We know a rebel when we see one, because we were once on the run ourselves. Our own face was up on God’s ten most wanted.

11.What are we to make of Reppert’s stark disjunction between the Bible and “real” evidence?

12.To discuss or dismiss the awareness of God in terms of “innate” knowledge is too narrow. That suggests a particular theory of knowledge.

It would be better to speak of the natural knowledge of God. Whether we account for this knowledge according to rationalism, empiricism, or some synthesis thereof, is a separate issue.

13.In addition, to discount an appeal to the natural knowledge of God on the grounds that no theistic argument rises to the level of apodictic proof is a category mistake.

The natural knowledge of God need not be the result of a formal theistic proof.

And even if it were the result of a formal theistic proof, the theistic proof need to be absolutely certain for the unbeliever to be fooling himself if he denies the existence of God.

Again, would Reppert really want to universalize this rule of evidence or burden of proof?

14.Perhaps the larger point which Reppert is laboring to make, however inchoately, is that appeal to what the unbeliever “really” believes is strategically futile. For the unbeliever would deny the charge if it were false, and he’d deny the charge if it were true.

15.But even if this appeal is devoid of apologetic value, it might still be worth making simply because it is true.

If a psychiatrist diagnoses a patient as paranoid, that diagnosis won’t cure the patient. He’ll deny the diagnosis. Indeed, he’ll take the diagnosis as evidence that the psychiatrist is also out to get him. Does it follow that the psychiatrist should never make that diagnosis?

16.Also, it isn’t clear to me that this appeal is useless. Think of a homicide detective interrogating a suspect. Surely it’s quite germane to his line of questioning whether he believes the subject is innocent or guilty.

If he thinks the subject is innocent, he will ask straightforward questions, and take the answers at face value.

But if he thinks the subject is guilty, then he’ll ask questions which are designed to trip him up.

The suspect has every incentive to evade and mislead, while the detective will avoid questions that put him on the defensive. Instead, the detective will attempt to lull the suspect into a false sense of security so that he lowers his guard and lets slip telltale details of the crime that only the perpetrator would be privy to.

It’s really rather odd that a man of Reppert’s experience could get so much so wrong.