Saturday, October 11, 2008

Time Present & Time Past

Ephraim was a bounty hunter—a bounty hunter from the future. Not that he was a full-time bounty hunter, by any means. By profession, he was a government clerk. In the 23rd Century, everyone worked for the government, in one capacity or another.

The greatest threat to the 23rd Century was the past. That might seem odd. Wasn’t the past over and done with?

No, because time travel technology made the past as open as the future. Time travel was illegal in the 23rd Century. A capital offense.

On rare occasion the government would authorize a trip to the past. The 23rd Century had exhausted certain natural resources, and so the government sometimes needed something from the past. These incursions were rare, but necessary, and strictly monitored.

The greatest threat came from rogue time-travelers. Some of these were simply curiosity seekers. But some were fugitives from justice. In the 23rd Century, it was impossible to escape the long reach of the law. Official surveillance was too pervasive. The only way to evade capture was to take refuge in the past.

The technology was unstable, due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. On occasion, a time machine would accidentally transport someone or something from the past into the future.

That’s how Ephraim got there. He was a senior in high school, in 1978, when he was accidentally transported to the late 22nd Century.

And he wasn’t the only one. Once that happened, you could never be sent back. That would be too dangerous.

Some temporal transplants—or T-plants, as they were called—couldn’t cope with their new surroundings. The abrupt separation from their own place in history, along with future shock, was too much to take. Some committed suicide. Others became addicted to virtual reality.

On the other hand, for some T-plants, the 23rd Century was a great improvement over their original situation. After they made the adjustment, they thrived in the future.

Ephraim’s leap into the future was both exciting and depressing. As a high school senior, he had a plan for his future, but this wasn’t the future he had in mind. And least initially, it was far more exciting than anything he had planned for, but the sense of isolation was also hard to take—especially in the beginning.

Unlike people who traveled back into the past, people accidentally catapulted into the future posed no threat to the 23rd Century. As long as they could assimilate, they were integrated into society. Indeed, 23rd Century historians coveted the opportunity to take oral histories from T-plants.

It’s because Ephraim was from the mid-20th Century that he was recruited—indeed, conscripted—to be a bounty hunter. On special assignment.

A fugitive had traveled back to 1968, in Seattle, or thereabouts. So Ephraim was assigned to go back, find him, and assassinate him as discreetly as possible. The authorities figured that Ephraim would be able to blend in more easily since he was originally from that period. Indeed, was a native of the Greater Seattle area.

Ordinarily, a 23rd Century bounty hunter received extensive historical training to equip him for his assignment. But there were many things you could only pick up by osmosis. However hard they tried, bounty hunters from the future had a way of sticking out and slipping up.

Moreover, knowledge of 20th Century Seattle was quite spotty in the 23rd Century because Seattle had been destroyed in 2163 by a massive subduction quake, which also triggered an eruption by Mt. Rainer. Since most of the information about Seattle was located in Seattle, the catastrophe led to many historical lacunae. That’s probably why the fugitive chose Seattle in the first place.

Ephraim was nearly ideal for the job, which is how he got the job. Of course, he had to take certain precautions. He was under strict orders to avoid contact with anyone he knew from childhood. And he was under strict orders to return to the 23rd Century as soon as he completed his mission. A subdermal tracking device would monitor his whereabouts. And he had to log daily progress reports.

But, as it turned out, he was, in many ways, quite unprepared for his reentry into the past. For one thing, his command of 20th Century American English was quite rusty. In the 23rd Century, English was the lingua franca, but it was a patois, with many Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi load words. The syntax was different. Different pronunciation. With its own colloquialisms.

After 20 years in the future, he became very fluent. But jumping back to the 1960s, it took a while to remember the idioms. Nothing dates you quicker than out-of-date slang.

But that was the least of it. Even living in the 23rd Century, he still dreamt in the 20th Century. Yet, because Seattle was long gone, there was nothing to reinforce his memories.

He had no idea how much he missed the past until returned to his own time. With the visual reinforcement, all the old associations flooded his mind.

He enjoyed the detective work. He was closing in on the fugitive, but the fun part was going to places he hadn’t seen for 30 years. Going to places that went out of existence over a 100 years ago.

At first he tried to be dutiful and just do his job. But the seduction of rediscovery was overtaking him. He would go to places just to see them again. Places having nothing to do with his investigation.

When he had lunch, he’d eat at a place he used to go to as a kid. Sometimes it was the Jewish deli in Lake City. Sometimes it was a hamburger joint in Lake Forrest Park.

The fare at the hamburger joint was undistinguished. But that wasn’t the point. This is where his dad sometimes took him to lunch. When you’re that age, you’re easy to please. When you’re that age, your dad is a godlike figure. Nostalgia made the nondescript cheeseburger and milkshake taste like gourmet food.

And it was more than mere nostalgia. One time, when he was having lunch there, he saw himself come inside. His younger self, with his parents.

To them, he was a perfect stranger. After all, this was ten years before he was inducted into the future. And he had aged 20 years in the future. It was uncanny experience to see them. Uncanny to see himself.

In his progress reports, he would exaggerate the difficulty of pursuing leads to buy himself more time. To remain in the past as long as possible. To reacquaint himself with everything he lost as a T-plant.

He finally caught up with the fugitive. There was a tense moment. Would he carry out his mission? But he couldn’t bring himself to kill the guy. What had that man ever done to him? Ephraim didn’t ask to be a hit-man. It wasn’t in him.

He didn’t care about the mission any more. He understood the threat to the future, but it wasn’t his future. Not really. That was accidental.

For him, the mission was just a pretext to renew his life in the past. To string it out as long as possible.

He crudely extracted the subdermal tracking device and destroyed it. In so doing, he might now make himself a target. Would another bounty hunter be dispatched from the 23rd Century to track down a rogue bounty hunter? Perhaps. But that was an added risk. Every time they sent someone back in time, that was more likely to trigger the very change they were attempting to avert.

The bounty hunter was now the fugitive. But he made the most of his opportunities. Sometimes it was just a case of seeing everything for one more time before it was bulldozed. Before that fateful day in high school when he left it all behind him.

With the benefit of retroactive hindsight, he made some very lucrative investments in the stock market. His intention was not to buy the Breakers or the Getty Villa. His intentions were more domestic and wistful than that.

When he was a kid his grandmother lived in town. He loved his grandmother. But, like kids that age, he tended to take people for granted. They would always be there. And, of course, he could only see her when his parents happened to pay her a visit.

Now, however, he was in a position to deepen his acquaintance. He bought the house next door and befriended her. She was a sociable woman who liked to garden and tell stories. He’d take her to the nursery to buy flowers. Listen to her stories. Ask her all the questions he thought about asking her after she died, and it was too late to question her.

Then there was his own home, where he grew up. Once again, he bought the house next door. He divided his time between both homes.

No one knew who he really was. Well, almost no one. His dog knew him. The moment she saw him, it was instant recognition.

He loved his dog when he was a kid. But she grew aged and suffered a stroke. He took her to the vet. The vet said there was nothing they could do. They’d have to put her to sleep. It was a snap decision. He walked out of the veterinary office alone and grief-stricken.

He’d always regretted the fact that he had her put down on the spot. If only he had known, he would have taken her home for a few days to prepare himself for losing her. Cradle her. Stroke her. Make her feel loved. Ease the pain of parting with her.

Now he had a chance to rectify the past. Of course, as far as his family was concerned, he was just the next-door-neighbor. But he made himself a very good neighbor. He went out of his way to befriend his younger self. As the years wore on and his dog became enfeebled with old age, he talked to his younger self about what his younger self might like to do if his dog suffered a stroke.

It was a funny feeling to talk to his parents over the fence. He knew who they were, but they never suspected who he was.

And it was a funnier feeling to talk to his younger self. He was tempted to reveal his true identity to his younger self. But knowing the future can spoil the future. Better to give him a bit of guidance now and then.

Ephraim took a job as a public school teacher. He didn’t need the money. But it was nostalgic to teach at the same junior high and high school he had attended. Even more nostalgic because he was now a teacher at the very time he used to be a student there. There he was, teaching his younger self, as well as all of his old classmates.

He taught math and science. Not that math and science was ever his strong suit. But a man from the 23rd Century didn’t have to be a genius to teach 20th Century math and science. That gave new meaning to dumbing down the curriculum. It was difficult to remember what you were not supposed to remember.

As the fateful day of his senior year approached, he was in a quandary. Should he try to prevent his younger self from being inducted into the future?

How could he prevent that? If he prevented his younger self from attending school that day, would that avert the event from happening?

But what would happen to him if he could successfully prevent that incident? If his younger self wasn’t transported to the future, then his older self couldn’t return to the past. So his older self wouldn’t…because he couldn’t…continue to coexist with his younger self after the day his younger self was transported into the future if that event was preempted.

And if his younger self was—once again—transported into the future, then—presumably—his younger and older selves would merge. Indeed, for all he knew, he had repeated this cycle hundreds or thousands of times before.

But would he want to prevent it, even if he could? Living in the 23rd Century, he always regretted what he left behind. But he only felt that way because he left it all behind. It’s one thing to leave and come back, quite another never to leave in the first place. He valued it more because he missed it. But if, this time around, it didn’t occur, then his younger self would never appreciate what his older self had learned to appreciate by losing it—only to regain it.

So was he better off letting it occur—assuming it was within his power to stop it? For all he knew, he’d had this same conversation with himself many times the same time over—if you know what I mean.

And he remembered the exact time when he was inducted into the future. He was eating lunch outside on the bleachers, when he glanced at his watch, then, all of a sudden, he found himself in the late 22nd Century.

Ephraim decided to prevent his younger self from going to school that day. It was easy to arrange. A simple diversion would suffice.

Ephraim looked at his watch. When the second hand reached the same moment in time...

Confederate wannabes

I see that BJ, the Confederate wannabe, is fibbing about my position:

“Recently, I have been talking to Christians who think it is UnChrsitian to identify yourself as anything other than In Christ.”

Did I ever say that? No. Can he quote me to that effect? No.

What I did do was to discuss how we should rate racial identity in relation to other forms of individual and social identity. It’s low on the priority list.

“If you consider yourself to be white you are UnChristian. Note: Appearently you can be a Black Christian and dodge the UnChrsitian label. Ironically this link comes via the same men who claim Identity is only to be found In Christ, not race.”

No “irony,” since BJ is burning a straw man.

“Also, notice this post and the authors use of the term Black Pastor. Why distinguish between ‘colors’ of Christain pastors?”

One thing you can say for BJ: when he’s wrong, he’s consistently wrong.

“I guess these men think that only ‘White’ people can’t identify with any category other than Christ.”

Same smoldering straw man.

“I happend to think strong Black identity is important, and that every race has this right to racial Identity.”

The right to be white? In what sense are racial characteristics a “right”?

Reading BJ is like reading about a Star Trek convention where the fans wear Andorian make up or speak in conversational Klingon. If you have to try that hard, then you’re play-acting.

“Most races in the world already think this way except for white guys with white guilt!”

How, exactly, does BJ define “white”? Must you be an Aryan/Nordic racial type? Is Sophia Loren white? Is Maureen O'Hara white?

If we’re going to make a big deal about racial identity, then I’d define “white” is such a way as to exclude BJ since BJ is a very poor representative of the white race.

“This list focuses on the concept of Identity, and categories we all use everday to distinguish one from another. To say a person cannot be a Christian and Identify with some of these examples is absurd.”

Maybe attacking a straw man makes BJ feel good inside, like a warm glass of milk. Unfortunately, BJ doesn’t come across as a very intelligent spokesman for the white race, so I think we’ll have to lock him in the attic since folks like him simply harm the reputation of the Master Race.

The truth is out there

Is it just me, or does Barack Obama look and sound a lot like a Romulan? The same elocutionary delivery. The same facial characteristics.

Perhaps he is a Romulan. He got his ears bobbed to blend in. Perhaps he’s the spearhead of an alien invasion force to take over the world.

Up above, the mother ship is tinkering with the Down Jones computer system to trigger an economic crisis which will propel Obama to the White House.

He is using dovish rhetoric to lure us into a false sense of security, so that when the strike force beams down, it will catch us off guard. That would also account for his support for the DC gun ban.

And it would also explain his radical “pro-choice” policy. The better to exterminate the human race and thereby make room for the Romulan occupation.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama is the answer!


You're completely distorting everything that Forest Whitaker said…Here's a partial transcript:

Okay, Seth, let’s analyze what Whitaker said, and relate that to the Obama campaign:

“When you say to yourself ‘okay, I have to make a choice right now because unemployment is rampant’.”

Vote for Obama because, if elected, Obama will put an end to unemployment.

How’s he going to do that? Intern everyone who’s out of work and put them on a Federal work farm?

“We’re at war,”

How will Obama put an end to war? Hasn’t he and Biden said that we should redeploy to Afghanistan, then invade Pakistan to finish the job with al-Qaida?

So even if he ends US involvement in Iraq (which isn’t the same thing as ending the war), he wants to escalate the war in Afghanistan and open up a new front in Pakistan.

And what if we suffer another attack on the homeland while he’s president?

“The economy is falling”

How is Obama going to raise a falling economy? By increasing the Federal deficit and hiking the tax rate for employers?

“And you take it away from this whole concept of bailouts and these large amounts of money that it’s difficult for us to really get our minds around.”

Uh…Didn’t Obama support the bailouts?

“And you think about it like this; I got a call yesterday from – I can’t say he’s a friend, I’d worked with him before; he was a manager in my business – he called me because he had lost his home.”

Vote for Obama and he’ll restore that man’s house to him.

“He lost his home and he had lost his car.”

Vote for Obama and he’ll restore that man’s car to him.

“He already went through a bad divorce, so he was talking to me about his children.”

Vote for Obama and he’ll restore that man’s wife to him.

“I mean, I’m here in Michigan because, honestly, of the states in this nation – it has some of the largest problems. The unemployment here is a little less than it is in Detroit – it’s 22 percent of people living under poverty. Ten percent, one in ten people not having a job – being unemployed. In Detroit it’s 35 percent poverty.”

Vote for Obama and he’ll restore full employment to Michigan. How’s he going to do that? Oh, yes, the Federal work farm.

“50 percent of kids are living in poverty.”

And what’s the cause? Doesn’t that have a lot to do with out-of-wedlock birth and single motherhood?

“That’s something we can’t allow. We can’t allow it.”

How is Obama going to disallow that? Is he going to force promiscuous men to wear rubbers? Will he institute the Prophylactic Police to issue and enforce the rigorous use of compulsory condoms?

“I read a paper when I was coming over here that said there are 10,000 homeless people in Detroit alone. That’s not counting the state itself, or where we are. How can we feel that we are living in a civilized society when we can watch like, sit on the streets not begin able to survive or take care of themselves? How is it that we consider ourselves civilized if we allow these things to happen?”

Isn’t homelessness often due to drug addiction? How is Obama going to prevent junkies from pursuing a habit that hinders them from holding down a job? Or will he mandate free housing for all junkies?

Why is it that Democrats make ludicrous claims for Obama that Republicans don’t make for McCain?

“It’s going to make it possible for my grandkids and your children, and all of us to have a decent life.”

And if Obama is elected, palm trees will sprout in Antarctica, sugarplums will blossom from streetlights, and the limbs of amputees will spontaneously regenerate.

Why "Religulous" is ridiculous

A review by Craig J. Hazen.

If I make my bed in hell


"Is God glorified equally if he just created one soul for damnation/salvation as opposed to a billion?”

It’s shocking to realize that, in the 21C, there are still some Neanderthals out there who can entertain the merciless idea that a loving God would send just one person to hell!

How barbaric! How medieval!

Why, that would amount to everlasting solitary confinement. Think how lonely that isolated soul would be.

As a five-point, supralapsarian Calvinist, I’m far too soft-hearted to entertain such a sadistic spectacle.

No, a kinder and gentler God would obviously have to damn more than one person to hell. A few old friends or family members—perhaps the pet dog, for good measure—to keep him company.

ESV Study Bible

All eight available editions of the new ESV Study Bible can now be purchased from WTS Books.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Unholy Messaging"

From Steve Hays:
In light of some "Christian" bloggers like Lee Irons and Victor Reppert who are trying to excuse their patronage of Obama by minimizing his support for abortion, here's the other side of the argument.

Make History With Obama!

Actor Forrest Whitaker spoke at Grand Rapids Community College today, urging people to vote for Barak Obama. One main argument he used, a common one from liberals in this race, is that we will make history by voting in Obama. Whitaker really pulled on the egocentric strings of contemporary American youth when he claimed that, in fact, it would be they who made history, while Obama was relegated to merely making history "along side them."

Not only is this argument a non-starter as a reason to vote Obama/Biden over and against McCain/Palin, since voting in a woman veep "makes history" too, it really demonstrates the surface-level thinking many voters operate at. Since thinking is a chore in our fast-food nation, let's by-pass the thinking and go with slogans that sound good. Rather than engage in thought-out conversations with others to convey our views, now we can tell others what we believe by placing a bumper sticker on our car.

There's no concern with the details. Forty years ago the kids at the colleges were told to make love not war. Yet if you sleep with someone else's wife, you just made love and war. Yeah, "make history." Who cares what history you make, though. I mean, Hitler "made history" too.

Justification & sanctification

What’s the relationship between justification and sanctification in Scripture? I think we need to go back a few steps. Before we can state what’s the answer to the problem, we need to state the problem.

Even if man were not a sinner, I don’t think a sinless man could ever merit God’s approval. How could he? Even if he were a good person who did good works, he wouldn’t be responsible for his own virtue. Rather, that would be because God created him with a virtuous character.

But, of course, the present situation is a good deal grimmer. Man is fallen. Man is evil.

Yet the natural and proper reaction of a holy being is to hate evil and punish evil. So how can sinners ever be acceptable to God?

Now, even sinners can do good deeds, in a qualified sense. But it’s still someone evil who’s doing the good deed. And he does so with mixed motives.

Moreover, we all know the saying that every man has his price. It takes very little to make him do the wrong thing. A suitable temptation. The absence of outward restraint.

Left to our own resources, the situation would be hopeless. As a result, justification is contingent on penal substitution.

However, the fact that a man is justified apart from actual virtue doesn’t mean that God is unconcerned with actual virtue. It’s not as if God is indifferent to whether someone is actually good or actually evil. He’s not going to populate heaven with merely justified versions of Josef Mengele.

Strictly speaking, good works are not the inevitable fruit of justification. Justification is not the cause of good works.

Rather, the God who justifies the elect is the same God who regenerates and sanctifies the elect.

Good works are directly related to regeneration rather than justification. What’s at issue is not so much good works, but the anterior condition which results in good works, or the absence thereof.

God isn’t going to justify someone, but leave him in an unregenerate state.

Both justification and sanctification are related to regeneration, but in different ways. Regeneration is a necessary precondition of sanctification. You can’t have the fruit of a good heart without the root of a good heart.

But regeneration is also necessary to justification inasmuch as saving faith is the result of regeneration, and justification is contingent on faith. The unregenerate cannot exercise saving faith.

Causally speaking, regeneration is directly related to sanctification, and indirectly related to justification.

Put another way, when we talk about the necessity of good works, this has reference to the necessity of regeneration and sanctification. Justification doesn’t render that nugatory. Justification involves an objective condition whereas sanctification involves a subjective condition.

Sometimes, hovering in the background of this discussion, is the current controversy over the covenant of works. Was the implicit covenant with Adam a covenant of works, and does this imply meritorious works?

I affirm the former, but deny the latter.

ii) If God promises x for doing y, it doesn’t follow that z merits x. Rather, it only means that God keeps his promises. God is true to his word.

iii) I can pay one worker $50 an hour and another worker $100 an hour for doing the very same work. Did both workers earn their wages? In a sense.

Did the worker who got twice as much for doing the same job deserve twice as much for doing the same job? No.

Merit often involves the idea of desert. But you can earn something without deserving something. The reward might be out of all proportion to your labor.

Are the two workers equally deserving of what they got? No, since one got twice as much for the same job. But, in that event, strict merit does not apply. There is, in this example, no one-to-one correspondence between the effort and the reward.

Approaching this from another angle, there are disanalogies as well as analogies between the work of Adam and the work of Christ. In the case of Jesus, I’d say that it’s both a covenant of works and a covenant of meritorious works.

A divine Incarnation, for redemptive purposes, is intrinsically meritorious or supererogatory since God doesn’t owe anything to sinners. God has no duty to save sinners (although God can assume such an obligation, and the assumption of such an obligation is meritorious or supererogatory.) And, of course, God has nothing to gain—unlike Adam.

The work of Christ can be meritorious in a way that the work of Adam cannot.

It’s possible for human beings to perform supererogatory deeds in relation to each other, but not in relation to God.

Accountability in the blogosphere

For better or worse, and it’s some of both, the blogosphere is a free-for-all. Where the Christian blogosphere is concerned, some Christians think that Christian blogs ought to come under the supervision of the church. Speaking for myself:

1. Just as the (Christian) blogosphere is a just a bunch of people, the church is just a bunch of people. As we know, churches and denominations can be every bit as irresponsible as blogs and bloggers. Some of the worst offenders are mainline denominations. As well as some independent megachurches. So I think idea of ecclesiastical oversight or supervision only pushes the problem back a step.

Rather, I think the most we can hope for is a system of mutually accountability. That includes churches, but it's a two-way street.

We all need people to help keep us in check. But they need us to help keep them in check as well. The challenge cuts both ways.

The problem with hierarchical accountability systems is that supervisors or overseers are not incorruptible, and once the hierarchy is corrupted, the system is irreformable. Indeed, hierarchical accountability systems tend to hasten their own decadence since accountability in a hierarchical command structure is fairly unilateral: top down. The laity answers to the hierarchy, not vice versa. This has been the ruin of the high church tradition, viz. Anglicanism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy.

Mind you, I don't object to pastors having ruling authority or disciplinary authority. But pastors are answerable to their parishioners, and vice versa. As well as to other pastors.

Likewise, I don't object to a church looking over the shoulder of a Christian blogger. I just think that everyone should be looking over his shoulder. The more eyes the better.

2. I don’t think we can ever get around the bedrock principle that if someone (say, a church officer) says, “Follow me,” he needs to be going in the right direction. If he’s going in the wrong direction, he has no right to say, “Follow me!”

3. There’s a practical tension on the issue of authority. I think some authority structures (e.g. male headship, parental authority) would exist even apart from the Fall. And, absent the Fall, there would be no practical tension.

4. But due to the Fall, there’s more need to police human behavior. And yet this generates a practical tension since authority-figures are also fallen. And sometimes it’s necessary to police the authority-figures.

I don’t think there’s a logical solution to this conundrum. I think what makes it workable is that, in the providence of God, common grace keeps it from degenerating into complete moral gridlock.

5. We can see this tension in the Bible. OT prophets challenge the corrupt authority-structure in the OT. They are speaking as outsiders.

6. In the NT, the necessity of authority structures is acknowledged, but the abuse of authority and necessity of resisting illegitimate authority is also acknowledged.

7. At the scriptural level, the tension is practical rather than logical. And God leaves us with a way of doing the right thing.

8. In the high church tradition, the tension is both logical and practical. There is no principled solution to the moral gridlock which the high church tradition precipitates.

9. You do have a concept of church office in the NT. It isn’t purely egalitarian.

10. At the same time, the NT is full of warnings against false teachers. So the laity must also exercise some initiative. It isn’t purely hierarchical.

11. I also think we need to make some allowance for the difference between the epistemic situation of the ancient church and the epistemic situation of the modern church.

In modern times, the laity has far more access to information than in times past. And it has access to the same information as the clergy.

The situation of a modern pastor is someone different than a 1C disciple of an Apostle. Nowadays, clergy and laity are both limited to the same source and standard of information: the Bible.

12. A lot of ruling elders are by no means expert in theology, exegesis. or ethics. They may have a two-year seminary degree. Beyond that they’re family men, holding down a full-time job, either as private businessmen or someone’s employee.

One can’t appeal to church office as a trump card. There’s no substitute for getting it right.

The Protestant Reformers had to break with the established church. Catholicism was irreformable.

13. There is also a kind of sanctified wisdom which isn’t captured by book learning. Some elders have it, and some don’t. Some laymen have it, and some don’t.

For example, letters soliciting advice on ethical questions or questions of practical piety had a habit of landing on John Murray’s desk. Even if the letter wasn’t addressed to him, it had a way of ending up on his desk. He wasn’t the only church officer at Westminster. And some of his colleagues were more erudite than he was.

But he had a knack for that sort of thing. Pastoral tact and judgment. One could say the same thing about Ed Clowney.

14. So, to me, it’s not a choice between egalitarianism and authoritarianism. Rather, it’s more of a meritocracy.

An accountability system is no better than the accountants. And some accountants are better than others. We can’t eliminate the human element, and the need for personal discernment.

In the high church tradition, the authority-structure takes precedence. But I don’t think we can abstract the authority-structure from the character or competence of the concrete authority-figures who fill the slots.

Institutions are necessary. I’m fine with the institutional church. But institutions are often no better, and frequently worse, than the individuals or organizations they supervise.

So it still boils down to case-by-case evaluation. In the providence of God, there’s a dialectical tension between the individual and the institution. Sometimes the individual corrects the institution; at other times the institution corrects the individual. We see this in Bible history and church history alike.

God exercises sufficient restraint on the extent of evil such that we don’t get to the point where totally corrupt institutions trump the individual, or totally corrupt individuals trump the institution. We can always fine a way to do the right thing, but we can’t predict, in advance, the direction that will take—be it individual or institutional.

So I don’t view an accountability system in unilinear or unilateral terms.

15. Finally, it’s possible to disagree with your pastor (to take one example) without being insubordinate. One doesn’t have to be confrontational. Or make a public scene.

To take a trivial case, if I disagree with something he says in his sermon, I might send him a private email in which I politely express my dissent. Or I might keep my opinion to myself. I’m not tearing him down in public or subverting his administrative or disciplinary authority.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Victor Reppert's Debate Flow Chart

Victor Reppert has done a post on “Sarah Palin's Debate Flow Chart”:

But the laugh is on Reppert. Reppert is, himself, the parody of Sarah Palin. It would be easy to do a flow chart on Reppert, diagramming his intellectual charlantry. Indeed, his treatment of the presidential campaign is as fine an illustration as any. We just need the male counterpart to Tina Fey to play Victor Reppert. Is Dana Carvey available?

Does Palin know as much about domestic policy as Newt Gingrich? No. Does Palin know as much about foreign policy as John Bolton? No.

But for someone who’s only been on the national stage for 5 weeks (at the time of her debate), she proved herself to be a quick study.

More instructive, for those of us who, unlike Reppert, care about the facts, was Biden’s performance after 36 years on the national stage. Biden does a wonderful impersonation of someone who knows what he’s talking about. It reminds me of Peter Ustinov doing an impersonation of a Russian. Ustinov could fake Russian. It was total gibberish, but it sounded like the real thing.

Now, Reppert pretends to care about honesty in politics. He feigns indignation at the alleged dishonesty of Palin about the Bridge to Nowhere.

But, as usual, Reppert is just a poseur. If he really cared about honesty in politics, he would make some effort to double check Biden’s gaffe-riddled performance. In the age of the Internet, information is just a mouse-click away. Let’s take a few examples:

If you hooked up Biden to a polygraph, it would burst into flames.

Beyond Biden is the question of who’s primarily to blame for the current financial crisis:

Then there’s the candidate that Reppert voted for. Given his profession of concern about honesty in politics, why doesn’t it bother him that Obama is stonewalling about his academic performance?

What are Obama’s credentials to be president, anyway?

He has an Ivy League education, yet he refuses to release his college transcripts.

Even the New York Times admits, in a roundabout way, that he only became editor of the Harvard Law Review through racial tokenism rather than academic merit:

He then became a “community activist,” which is a euphemism for ambulance chaser.

In order make it up the political ladder, he formed cynical, but expedient alliances with the most corrupt elements of the Chicago machine.

His time in the Illinois state legislature was distinguished by two things: voting present and opposing the Born Alive Act.

He’s a first-term senator whose Congressional experience has been distinguished by two things: running for president and having the most far left voting record of any senator.

No wonder Reppert is plugging the Obama/Biden ticket: one lightweight likes another.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: John M. Frame

Blogging in the name of the Lord
An interview with John Frame.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Question on Fesko's Book and Early Church History

I received this question from an email correspondent on my Fesko review:


> Hi Paul,
> Thanks for the review of the Fesko book.
> I have some questions about it, if
> you have time to answer.
> Does he go into much depth about belief in sola fide
> between the apostolic era and the Reformation?

Depends on what you mean by "in depth," he has about 13 pages on that era, starting from 100 AD. Given what you've studied on this issue, I'm inclined to say that it's not that "in depth" *for you*.

> How would you summarize his
> position on that issue?

On the early Church Fathers (100-600): He agrees with Berkof that the early church fathers are indefinite, incomplete, and sometimes self-contradictory and erroneous wrt their understanding of justification. But he notes that one can find a number of significant statements that show they had a basic understanding of justification by faith. He finds a clear affirmation of the centrality of faith. And he sees a major strand of justification where the meaning is forensic, non-imputation of sin, and imputation of righteousness. He also comments that to criticize them for not using Reformation language is problematic as a critique.

He then spends a few pages on Augustine and Pelagius, discusses that debate briefly, but notes that however helpful Augustine was dealing with Pelagianism, he had his own problems and jumbled justification and sanctification together, mainly due to his realism.

After 600: He then finds this problem, the mixing of justification and sanctification, in many of the statements on justification after Augustine due to nominalism and 5 other features. He discusses Aquinas and Scotus (finding early hints of a use covenantal categories in the later, though still problematic as to the *nature* of justification) specifically in the section after semi-Pelagianism and Later Augustinianism. He finds the beginnings of a more forensic and Reformational understanding in those like Bradwardine and Rimini. That takes him into the section on the Reformation.

> Does he cite many primary documents or scholarship in
> support of his conclusions about sola fide in that timeframe?

Yes he does. He obviously pulls from the usual secondary sources, as well as some lesser known ones, but he cites directly (or refers directly to) primary sources from: Chrysostom, Clkement, Gregory of Nazanzus, Justin, Tertullian, Pelagius, Augustine, Aquinas, Bradwardine and Rimini. He cites the Epistle of Barnabas and the Synod of Orange too.

> My impression is that most books on justification through faith alone
> either
> ignore that issue or don't say enough about it. The chapter titles you
> listed seem promising, since they mention church history, Catholicism, and
> Orthodoxy. But I'm wondering what level of detail he goes into.

Since I think it's somewhat person relative how much "detail" one thinks one has gone into,. I hope the above has been somewhat helpful.

Since you didn't ask me about RCC and EO, I won't spend much time there, but he goes into much more detail in those chapters than he did from 100 - 1500 AD. His chapter on the RCC is over 40 pages I believe. Btw, I found him to be extremely charitable with all of his opponents. He was not given to rhetoric and polemics...well, maybe in one or two places he snuck in a jab, but that's not bad out of 400 pages!

> Just give me your general
> impressions, if you have time to do that.

As I am not nearly as well-read in matters of historical (or early historical to be more precise) theology as you are, I thought the information helpful for the purposes he needed.

Of course, I got the book for more reasons than early church history (!), and to that end my impressions are impressed. :-) I thought his dealings with the NPP particularly helpful and illumination, as well as his use of the to-age construct; but, that goes beyond your questions.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The 'New Perspective on Paul' and Its Problems

Mark Seifrid on the NPP (PDF).

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine

Below is my all-too-brief review of J.V. Fesko's latest book on justification. I posted it on my goodreads site and they have a character limit.


Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine

by J.V. Fesko

Paperback: 461 pages

Publisher: P & R Publishing (August 15, 2008)

Reviewed by Paul Manata

Here’s a book that deserves to be read, re-read, and referred back to often. Unlike his previous book (What Is Justification by Faith Alone?) that came out earlier this year, J.V. Fesko’s Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, is massive in comparison, weighing in at 461 pages. The main body is made up of and introduction, 15 chapters, and a conclusion. Each chapter title (except for one) begins with the word “Justification” and is followed various predicates. The issues Fesko touches on are wide-ranging. The breakdown looks like this:


1. … in Church History
2. … and Prolegomena
3. The Structure of Redemptive History
4. … and the Covenant of Works
5. … and the Work of Christ
6. … in Its Historical Context
7. … by Faith Alone
8. … and the New Perspective on Paul
9. … and Imputation
10. … and Union with Christ
11. … and Sanctification
12. … and Final Judgment
13. … and the Church
14. … and the Roman Catholic Church
15. … and the Eastern orthodox Church


Does that whet your theological appetite?

This isn’t some milky introductory work either, there’s real meat Fesko serves up. Fesko pulls from all sorts of corners, profiting from all aspects of theological loci - biblical, systematic, exegetical, historical etc., in explaining and defending the classical, Reformed (Pauline!) doctrine of justification by faith alone. The issues discussed in the chapters are so wide-ranging, the arguments so weighty, and his interlocutors so many, a detailed, even semi-detailed, review doesn’t seem feasible on goodreads character limits. So below I’ll offer the basic resources he pulls from to argue for and defend the doctrine of justification, and then I’ll briefly discuss his interlocutors.

Fesko makes much of the two-age eschatological construct, as seen especially in the writings of Paul. This stems from his insistence that one not divorce the ordo salutis from the historia salutis. That is, we need to look not only at the application of justification to the individual and how it relates to the other elements of redemption, but we need to look at what time it is in redemptive history too.

Eschatology isn’t just dealing with the final few days of history and the time after Jesus' return. We live in “the last days” now, says Paul. So Jesus, the last Adam, has inaugurated the eschaton. In his death and resurrection, the verdict of the final judgment has been brought foreword in history, declared in the present. Thus those who are united to Christ have already been judged and found innocent. They have been given his righteousness. The have been raised “according to the inner man” and now only wait the raising of the “outer man” by means of the bodily resurrection which is simply the visible manifestation of what is true of those who have placed their faith in Christ. (Fesko makes use of and profits from the view that the general resurrection, the Parousia, and the final judgment are not separate events but one single event.) By faith alone we are propelled into the indefectible state of the last Adam. We are not returned to “protology;” to the state Adam was in while in the Garden-temple (see book for an excellent discussion on Adam, the Garden-temple (relying ob Beale's excellent work here), and the covenant of works).

So we who place our faith in Christ are part of the eschatological Adamic humanity. We are the bride of Christ, the eschatological Eve. This is had by faith alone. But this does not lead to antinomianism, especially if one takes note of “what time it is,” i.e., the historia salutis. In “the last days” God, by His Spirit, causes his people to walk in his ways. He writes his law on their heart. Thus antinomianism forgets our place in redemptive history. Works are thus necessary for salvation in the sense that they are the inevitable fruit of our faith, justification cannot be divorced from the work of last Adam, and hence the inauguration of the eschaton whereby God’s justified people will have his law writ large on their heart. But nomianism is avoided too since the ground of justification is extra nos, the active and passive obedience of Christ out side us, and the sole instrument of justification is faith alone. Faith trusts and rests in Christ. It is by faith alone that we are saved, but that faith is never alone in that it is accompanied by the works promised to be a part of the eschatological age brought about by the last Adam.

Emphasizing the historia with the ordo doesn’t mean we ignore the ordo. This helps us in specifying the ground and nature of justification and all other aspects of our redemption. The ordo is needed to distinguish works from our justification. It helps us reflect the logical priorities in our redemption as set forth in Scripture. Paul doesn’t bring union with Christ to Galatia to confront the Judaizers with, he brings justification. Good works must logically come after justification. Without the ordo, the gospel is lost.

These are some of the categories and arguments Fesko invokes to explain and defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He invokes imputation, law/Gospel hermeneutic, Covenant of Works, Redemptive history, and biblical, systematic, and exegetical theology with great profit and defends them against myriad attacks. He looks at contemporary literature on Second-Temple Judaism. He even discusses, though somewhat briefly, the Greek philosophical presuppositions of Roman Catholic understandings of salvation and anthropology, benefiting from some trenchant critiques of RCC/Thomistic views of our knowledge of God, faith and reason, and anthropology by Cornelius Van Til.

When he turns to criticisms and critics of the classical Reformed doctrine of justification, Fesko deals with almost every challenge, and almost every challenger to the Reformed doctrine of justification. As you should expect, he spends the majority of his efforts dealing with those of the New Perspective on Paul, NPP. He ably explains the position of many of the top advocates of the NPP, and then subjects them all to blistering critiques, spending most of his time on N.T. Wright. He really shows that, for all their erudition, advocates of NPP are rather ignorant of the Reformers they attack, the divide between Protestantism and Rome, exegesis of relevant texts, and important systematic doctrines.

He interacts with ecumenicalist attempts at a feigned, forced, and alethically disrespectful “resolution” between Reformed and RCC explications of the doctrine of justification. In Jeremiahic style, Fesko shows that the eccuenicalists “dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace” (6:14). Basically, if you make things sloppy enough, anything looks like it could belong there.

Fesko interacts with both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, showing that: (a) there is no unity to be had between their views and classical protestant ones on the issue of justification without such major concessions that the RC and EO churches would be unrecognizable, and (b) their views on the matter are such that “they preach another gospel” (yet Fesko allows that there is a church among the apostate institution of the RCC and EOC). He notes that all of these contra-protestant positions end up just not offering good news.

I’ll close this all-too-brief review with Fesko’s concluding remarks: “In the end, the doctrine of justification by faith alone turns on the question of whether sinful man will take shelter in the righteousness of Christ. It is the glorious exchange where man’s sin and guilt are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s active obedience is imputed to his people. Sola fide is indeed the main hinge on which all religion turns, the only foundation for our salvation. It is the article on which the church stands or falls” (413).


Two reviews of Religulous: here and here.

Plato, Paul, & Philo

In his essay on “The Spiritual Body of Christ,” Richard Carrier tries to argue that Paul shared a Philonic view of the afterlife. On his construction, Paul viewed the afterlife as an essentially ethereal state, thereby rejecting a corporeal resurrection. But there are several problems with this claim:

i) The Bible distinguishes between the intermediate state, which is incorporeal, and the final state, which is corporeal. So we need to be clear on which stage of the afterlife a Bible writer is talking about.

ii) Paul was not a Philonic Platonist. Paul studied in Jerusalem, not Alexandria. Even the author of Hebrews, whose letter has an Alexandrian cast to it, has a very different eschatology than Philo does.

iii) Carrier tries to bolster his case by making a similar claim for Josephus. But, as many scholars have recognized, Josephus, in writing for a Roman audience, uses Greco-Roman philosophical categories to express himself.

iv) Finally, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Paul was influenced by Philo, that doesn’t mean that Paul adopted his view of the afterlife without further modification. Philosophy isn’t a static discipline. It undergoes internal development. For example, Philo already represents a major modification of Plato:

“Here we have a summary of an important argument developed logically through a series of questions. It begins with the premise that the body is the house of the immortal soul. Philo argues that, if this is so, the house must not fall into a state of disrepair. The body was not to be despised but cared for. This represents a first-century adjustment to Plato’s view that the body was the ‘prison house of the soul.’ Second, the senses are declared to be ‘body-guards and courtiers’ (δορυφοροι και φιλοι) of the immortal soul and therefore are our ‘allies and friends,’ not enemies from whom one must escape, or against whom one must fight. Third, Nature, thought to determine custom in the first century, is here said to have given us our senses for ‘pleasures and enjoyments and the delights’ of life,” B. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Eerdmans 2001), 78.

So even a Jewish Platonist like Philo held a very high view of the body. He valued corporeal existence. He valued the senses. He valued physical enjoyment.

In that case, it’s easy to range Paul along the other end of a trajectory. At one end is Plato. He has a low view of the body (although he made an exception for pederasty!). He affirmed the immortality of the soul.

Philo occupies an intermediate position. He, too, affirms the immorality in the soul—in contrast to the resurrection of the body. But, unlike Plato, he has a high view of the body.

The logical outcome of this internal trend would be to affirm both the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.

Carrier is giving us a very one-sided view of Philo’s full-fledged position. That, in turn, skews his interpretation of Paul.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"The Pope said so"

Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, written in 1992, states:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion… This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms.”

That's more than sufficient to show you or anyone else what the Church teaches. The pope said so. This is how our authority structure works.

Let’s apply the same authority structure to another papal proclamation:

The Ad Extirpanda of Pope Innocent IV (1252)

We decree that the head of state, whatever his rank or title, in each dominion, whether he is so situated at present,or to be so in the future, in Lombardy, Riviera di Romagnola, or Marchia Tervisina must unequivocally and unhesitatingly swear that he will inviolably preserve, and during his entire term of office see to it that everybody, both in his diocese or administrative domain and the lands subject to his power, shall observe, both what is written herein, and other regulations and laws both ecclesiastical and civil,that are published against heretical wickedness. And the oaths concerning these precisely-observed regulations and laws are to be accepted by whoever succeeds to the monarchical or gubernatorial dignity. Whoever defaults in this regard shall lose the character of head of state or governor. Heads of state and rulers so acting will lose absolutely all guarantees of non-aggression from other governments. No one is obliged to offer fealty to such persons, or ought to do so, even if, afterwards, they submit by swearing the oath. If any head of state or ruler refuses to obey, each and all, these statutes, or neglects them, besides the stigma of forswearing, and the disaster of eternal infamy, he shall undergo the penalty of seeing his country lose its borders,{4} which penalty shall be imposed on him irrecoverably; the country will be converted to common use,{5}because, specifically, a man forsworn and infamous, and, in effect, a protector of heretics, his faith compromised, has usurped the dignity and honor of governmental power; nor shall another head of state or ruler from anywhere replace him, or in any way, by any means, take to himself the vacated dignity or public office.

At the commencement of his term of office,at the assembly of citizens convoked as is the custom, by the authority of the city or feudal domain, the head of state or ruler of the city or feudal domain shall accuse of criminal conduct all heretics of both sexes, no matter by what name they appear on the rolls of citizens. And he will confirm his right to the office inherited from his predecessor in this manner. And furthermore, that no heretical man or woman may dwell, sojourn, or maintain a bare subsistence in the country,or any kind of jurisdiction or district belonging to it,whoever shall find the heretical man or woman shall boldly seize, with impunity, all his or their goods, and freely carry them off, to belong to the remover with full right, unless this kind of removing is restricted to persons designated by law.

Those who are thus appointed may and should seize the heretical men and women and carry off their possessions and cause these to be carried off by others,and take the heretics,or cause them to be taken, into the custody of the Diocesan bishop or his surrogates, and see to it that these things are fully accomplished as well in the diocese as in its entire jurisdiction and district.

The head of state, or whatever ruler stands foremost in the public esteem,must cause the heretics who have been arrested in this manner to be taken to whatever jurisdiction the Diocesan, or his surrogate,is in, or whatever district, or city,or place the Diocesan bishop wishes to take them to.

When the Diocesan, or his surrogate, or the inquisitors commissioned by the Apostolic See, arrive on their missions, the head of state and his vassals and other assistants will lend aid and will faithfully perform their duty with them. Anyone, moreover, whether he is present in the country or sent for to obtain his assistance there, whether in the state or in its jurisdiction, or any district of any kind, will be bound to give the aforesaid officials and their assistants counsel and help when they are trying to arrest a male or female heretic, or seize such a person's belongings, or gather evidence; or enter a house, or a manor, or a hideaway to arrest heretics, on pain of paying 25 pounds in Imperials as a penalty or fine on their former loyalty changing, in whatever manner,to dereliction; the government of a city shall pay a hundred pounds, a manorial domain fifty imperials in coin.

Whoever shall have the audacity to arrange the escape from custody of a male or female heretic,or shall try to prevent the arrest of such a person: or shall prevent the entry of an official into any house, or tower, or any place to hinder arrest, or prevent the gathering of evidence concerning such persons, shall have all his goods,according to the law at Padua when Frederick was emperor there,{6} consigned to the state in perpetuity,and the house that was barred against the official shall be levelled with the ground and its rebuilding prohibited, and the belongings found therein shall be awarded to the officials making the arrest; and if the heretics are found as a result of this prohibition or special preventive measure, the borough shall forfeit to the state two hundred pounds; localities both of the boroughs and the state fifty Imperials, unless within three days the would-be liberator or liberators of the heretics are brought before the head of state for a personal interview.

Those convicted of heresy by the aforesaid Diocesan Bishop,surrogate or inquisitors, shall be taken in shackles to the head of state or ruler or his special representative, instantly,or at least within five days, and the latter shall apply the regulations promulgated against such persons.{7}

If at any time a non-heretical man or woman state that heretics in custody, who have already confessed, are no heretics; or if perhaps the non-heretics demand that the aforesaid fraudulent persons should be released from life imprisonment,though they are nevertheless convicted heretics and must be acknowledged such; the persons who create this snare, accordingly to the aforesaid law shall resign all their property to the state in perpetuity.

The head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody,{8} provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs,as actual robbers and murderers of souls and thieves of the sacraments of God and Christian faith, to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know, and specify their motives, {9} and those whom they have seduced, and those who have lodged them and defended them,as thieves and robbers of material goods are made to accuse their accomplices and confess the crimes they have committed.

The head of state or ruler must send one of his aides, chosen by the Diocesan if there is one,with the aforesaid inquisitors obtained from the Apostolic See, as often as they shall wish, into the jurisdiction of the state and the district. This aide,as the aforesaid inquisitors shall have determined, will compel three men or more, reliable witnesses,or, if it seem good to them, the whole neighborhood, to testify to the aforesaid inquisitors if they have detected any heretics, or want to expose their motives,{9} whether the heretics celebrate rites in secret gatherings, or scoff at the common life of the faithful, and their customs; or if the witnesses want to expose those the heretics have seduced, or their defenders, or those who lodge them, or those who give the heretics help. The head of state shall proceed against the accused according to the laws of the Emperor Frederick when he governed Padua.

None of these sentences or punishments imposed on account of heresy, shall,either by the motion of any public gathering, the advice of counselors, or any kind of popular outcry,or the innate humanity {10}of those in authority,be in any way waived or pardoned.

Notes to the Translation

{7} I.e., he shall burn them alive. See Introduction.

_{8} Omnes haereticos quos captos habuerit. All the male heretics the state has in custody must be tortured to make them confess their crimes and reveal their accomplices. The masculine inflection appears generic, cf. omnes haereticos utriusque sexus in Law 2; ad haereticos extirpandos in Law 33. So women too were tortured.

Infidelity for dilettantes

Last Spring, Richard Carrier was banging his tip cup to drum up donations for a book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ:

Let’s review some of the highlights:

The book I propose would take the approach of arguing first and foremost for a logical historical method that all reasonable people could agree on, which would allow any objective investigator to ascertain whether Jesus probably did or didn't exist, simply by plugging in the facts known to them.

“Objective investigation”? “A logical historical method that all reasonable people could agree on”?

But if you mouse over to his “official website,” you run across statements like the following:

Dr. Carrier's book Sense and Goodness without God defends a complete philosophy of life called Naturalism, the view that nature is all there is, with no supernatural powers or beings.

Since the NT presents Jesus as a supernatural being with supernatural powers, how can Carrier “objectively investigate” the historicity of Jesus Christ if he automatically denies the existence of supernatural powers or beings?

And what “logical historical method” can all “reasonable” people agree on if your historiography automatically excludes the supernatural as a factor in historical causation? Carrier’s philosophy of history is directly and deliberately at odds with the historical outlook of the Bible.

Continuing with his fundraiser:

The reason I can complete this project in four months (working on it full time) is that I already have a lot of the research done, and copious notes on every element, and I don't intend the book to be a comprehensive end-all-be-all on the subject: I will only focus on what I believe to be the essential issues and most relevant facts. Hence I won't be attempting "to overthrow everything ever done in NT scholarship," but only proposing that such an overthrow is or is not likely (and how, methodologically, either result would be determined) unless some surprising new facts or analysis arrives on the scene.

Contrary to your misreading of the situation (or deliberate misportrayal?), the funding I am asking is not for something I haven't already researched. It's for fact-checking to conclusion what I have already researched, and then organizing and presenting it as a book, in a fashion that will have scholarly merit and be of considerable use to both sides of the debate.

We’ll see about this. For now, I quote him to draw attention to his overweening self-confidence.

All of them want to see where the evidence leads, and want someone qualified and unbiased who can find out for them, no matter how it turns out, and lay the case out objectively. I have explicitly offered nothing else.

“Unbiased”? “Where the evidence leads”? But doesn’t he approach the evidence for Jesus with the presupposition that there are no supernatural powers or beings?

Otherwise, if the religious want to avoid facing the evidence and argument by dismissing it all as atheist-funded propaganda, that only betrays their irrationality, not the value of my work.

Why would “the religious” want to avoid facing the “evidence and argument” unless Carrier has already arrived at an irreligious conclusion? Looks like Carrier is tacitly conceding that the results of his “unbiased” investigation are a foregone conclusion. And, indeed, didn’t he just admit that “It's for fact-checking to conclusion what I have already researched”? In that event, why go through the motions?

If he’s going to follow the evidence wherever it leads, without prior bias, then why assume the “evidence and argument” would upset “the religious” rather than “the irreligious”? Surely he’s not conducting his “unbiased” investigation with his mind made up in advance of the fact. Why, that might raise questions about his “objectivity.”

I don't think a foreword from Dawkins would be appropriate for a book on the historicity of Jesus. Someone actually in that field would suit (Ehrmann, for example, since he needn't be a mythicist himself to say that the book nevertheless deserves to be read and pondered over).

Why would Ehrman write a foreword for Carrier’s book if Carrier doesn’t know where the evidence will lead? How can Carrier predict that Ehrman would like his book? If Carrier ended up writing a book like The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Blomberg or Dethroning Jesus by Bock and Wallace, do you really suppose that Ehrman would write a favorable foreword? His protestations of neutrality notwithstanding, it seems as if Carrier keeps tipping his hand.

I know Christian authors get well financed this way. Even J.P. Holding, I once heard, gets tens of thousands of dollars in donations every year. Can atheists support an author they like, at least as well? It would be a shame if not.

That’s odd. Why is Carrier soliciting donations from avowed atheists if he’s an unbiased investigator who will follow the evidence wherever it leads? Are they donating funds on the assumption that he might just as well produce the sort of work that Darrel Bock or Craig Blomberg would produce? I don’t think so.

Carrier also posted a progress report:

A few more highlights:

The two most annoying examples of this (though not the only ones) are in dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history. There is no consensus on either, even though standard references (like Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and The New Interpreter's Bible) tend to give the impression there is.

That’s his idea of research? The first two titles are single volume, read-reference works. They’re useful for quick information, but this hardly represents in-depth research. It’s the sort of thing a high school student might use for a class paper.

As for The New Interpreter’s Bible, this is an intermediate level series which ranges all along the theological spectrum, depending on which commentator is writing for which book of the Bible. It’s not as scholarly as some series, and it’s not where you’d go for both sides of the debate on any particular book of the Bible. It’s a lottery.

In other words, not only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each are elaborate and vast. It was only after over a month of wasting countless hours attempting to pursue these matters to some sort of condensable conclusion that I realized this was a fool's errand. I have changed strategy and will attempt some sort of broader, simpler approach to the issues occupying my chapter on this, though exactly what that will be I am still working out.

So he devoted a month to the literature on dating and authorship before he decided it was too much effort. That’s his idea of scholarship?

But in New Testament studies, the fact that the evidence only establishes termini for Matthew between A.D. 70 and 130 isn't something you will hear about in the references. Indeed, I say 130 only because the possibility that the earliest demonstrable terminus ante quem for Matthew may be as late as 170 involves a dozen more digressions even lengthier than this entire post. Because all the relevant issues of who actually said what and when remains a nightmare of debate so frustrating that I actually gave up on it mid-research, seeing it would take months to continue to any sort of conclusion, and not even a clear conclusion at that. Mind-numbing, truly.

i) First off, AD 70 is not the lower threshold for the composition of Matthew. So this is an example of Carrier’s lopsided investigation.

ii) And, once again, he gave up because it would take months to arrive at any sort of conclusion. Well, Richard, there’s a word for that: scholarship. Real scholars do spend months on issues like this. It’s tedious, but if you’re serious about historical reconstructions, then you’re committed to trudging through the evidence.

Now, let's suppose there is some brilliant response to this observation that explains everything and makes historical sense of these letters again. To find it and evaluate it--not just all the evidence and merit opposing this perplexing observation but supporting it as well, to give each side of the debate a fair shake--is a time-consuming task of no small order. And that's just one of literally dozens of objections to the authenticity of the Ignatian letters. But if they aren't even authentic, their date is no longer secure (even if it ever had been).

Yes, historical investigation is a “time-consuming task of no small order.” Carrier thought he could be an instant patrologist or instant NT scholar. When he overestimated himself, he gave up. Pretty impressive, Richard!

We could still argue for a terminus ante quem for these letters if they are all forgeries (since it wouldn't matter if they were, as a forged quotation of Matthew is still a quotation of Matthew) by observing that Polycarp, at some unspecified time in his life, wrote his own letter as a preface to the entire collection of Ignatian letters, and Polycarp was martyred sometime between 155 and 168. Or so we think. In actual fact the evidence is problematic and some scholars argue his martyrdom could even have been as late as 180. Again, resolving that issue would require mountains of research (which, I must keep adding, might not in fact resolve the issue at all but merely demonstrate conclusively that it cannot be resolved on present evidence). And all that just to establish a terminus ante quem for the letters of Ignatius, just to establish a terminus ante quem for the Gospel of Matthew. (Oh, and remember, that's just one Gospel. Multiply all this by Mark, Luke and John and you will only begin to touch the depths of my vexation in all this).

If you presume to write a scholarly work on the historicity of Jesus, then, yes, you have to investigate the date and authorship of each Gospel, not to mention other NT documents. Of course, many scholars have already done the spadework. But it’s too much for Carrier to even consult the secondary literature.

Now sure, everything above can be debated endlessly. But an endless debate on one detail, multiplied by a dozen details, multiplied by a dozen problems, multiplied by a dozen documents (since the Gospels aren't the only vexations among early Christian documents, not by a longshot), you end up with nearly two thousand endless debates. Even supposing you can fit an eternity into a day and thus nail a conclusion on any one point in under ten hours, ahem, two thousand days still works out to more than seven years (as you'll surely be taking weekends off at least--to drink yourself into a stupor, if nothing else). And at the end of it, you have perhaps only a few pages to show for it all, since that's all that will be needed to summarize your conclusions regarding the basic facts of your evidence before moving on to the actual topic of your book. A handful of pages. Which took seven years of soul-crushing tedium to compose. No thanks.

Here’s a guy who fancied that he could dash off a book on the historical Jesus in four months because that’s all the time he’d need “for fact-checking to conclusion what I have already researched.”

Carrier is an intellectual toddler who thought he could splash around in the wading pool with his rubber ducky. But as soon as he dove in, he found himself way over his head, and couldn’t keep his silly little head above water.

BTW, is Carrier going to refund the $20,000 he solicited from his gullible contributors under false pretenses? Carrier is a secular faith-healer who knows how to work the crowd of credulous unbelievers.


“When I was a lad of thirteen, I had a sudden insight that solved for me the puzzle of religious belief. The answer I had found to my question was: fear of death. People accept religious teachings because it assuages their fear of dying…Because we human beings re able to think about our future, have long memories, and form deep bonds of affection without comrades and family members, facing the fact of death is more difficult than for any other animal species. Nearly all of us fear death. But because our culture is permeated by a religiously grounded belief in an afterlife, loss of faith in God raises the question of death in a different and more anxious way than would be the case if religion had never offered the hope of eternal survival,” E. Fales, “Despair, Optimism, and Rebellion,” R. Stewart, ed. The Future of Atheism (Fortress Press 2008), 97-98.

Since necrophobia is often postulated by unbelievers as a reason why Christians are Christian, this is worth commenting on.

I, too, remember when I was a lad of 13. And that was the age when I, too, began to contemplate my own mortality. I was in junior high at the time.

At one level, it might seem odd for a 13 year old to contemplate his own morality. Barring premature death, that’s a long ways away.

But, I suppose this was a natural coming-of-age experience. On the cusp of manhood, it was natural for me to think ahead and consider how I’d live my adult life from start to finish.

And as I thought about it, the prospect of my own mortality cast a backward shadow on my life. Yes, I knew that was a distant prospect, but it was still waiting for me. I was living under a death sentence. How you end is more important than how you begin.

But the fear of death didn’t make me a Christian. Had I been a Christian in junior high, I wouldn’t have felt this way in the first place.

It wasn’t until high school that I became a Christian. And necrophobia was not a factor in my conversion.

As I’ve grown older, I feel differently about death than I did when I was 13. As an adolescent, I was afraid of my mortality. My extinction. As a Christian, I lost my fear of death.

But as middle-aged man, what I find bothersome about the prospect of death is not my demise, but the demise of others who make life worthwhile. That’s not a perspective which the average adolescent can enjoy. That perspective is inherently retrospective rather than prospective. It takes a certain amount of life-experience to look in the rearview mirror.

Or, to vary the metaphor, it’s like being on a passenger boat. Some passengers came aboard before you do, and disembark before you do.

When I was 13, I hadn’t lost anyone or anything I deeply cared about. But by the time you arrive at a certain age, the losses have a cumulative impact.

This is a theme in the vampiric genre, where immortality can be a curse. You outlive everyone and everything you ever cared about. The isolation is unbearable.

If I were an unbeliever, this would pose a dilemma. I’d retain my fear of death. But life would also become unbearable. There’s a point beyond which it ceases be fulfilling. Death is bad, but life is bad.

Indeed, many people die because they lose their will to live. There’s insufficient reason to carry one. Too many inconsolable losses. To few compensations. When a loved one dies, a part of them dies. Like a tree with heart rot, they look healthy on the outside, but they are dying from the inside out.

It’s hard to enjoy life if you can’t share a pleasant experience with someone else. To be sure, there’s a sense in which a spouse and kids take the place of parents and grandparents. But certain people are irreplaceable. And kids grow up, move away. And one spouse predeceases another. And childhood friends pass away.

Seeing others die can be more painful than lying on your own deathbed. You’re left with memories—bittersweet memories which remind you of the loss. The gaping hole where a person used to be.

You mourn your loss, but in some cases you mourn their loss as well—in case they died in unbelief. You grieve for your own loss, but more so for theirs.

Beyond a certain point, believers are waiting to die because most of their life is both behind them and ahead of them. Waiting for them on the other side. But many unbelievers are waiting to die because their life is behind them. They have nothing left to live for. A past without a future. Nothing ahead, only behind. (Actually, they do have a future, but a very grim future.)

At the same time, I haven’t revised my theology to accommodate my revised outlook. I’m not a universalist. I don’t assume that everyone and everything I cared about will be restored to me. So the atheistic explanation doesn’t explain my outlook at any stage of life. And that’s true of Christians generally.