Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reformed historicism or Reformed cessationism?

I’m going to briefly discuss the relationship between Reformed historicism and Reformed cessationism. I’m not going to assess the truth or falsity of these positions. Rather, I’m simply interested in their mutual consistency, or lack thereof.

Right now I’m using “cessationist” in the narrow sense of Calvinists who deny the occurrence of postapostolic miracles. Not all cessationists are that extreme. But I’m confining myself to the extreme version.

(I don’t use “extreme” as a pejorative adjective. Sometimes the true position represents a logical extreme.)

Reformed historicism applies various NT prophecies to various events and institutions throughout the course of church history.

I don’t use the adjective “Reformed” to suggest that cessationism or historicism are Reformed distinctives. Rather, I’m referring to a subset of cessationists or historicists who happen to be Reformed.

Calvinists who take this position tend to pride themselves on their strict subscription to the Reformed confessions, catechisms, and creeds, &c.

Let’s begin with a summary of the evidence by Francis Nigel Lee, who is, in his own right, a very traditional, confessional Calvinist:

14. Calvin indicated that though the AD 600 Gregory the Great was the first bishop at Rome to be called sole pope, Gregory himself had regarded that new title as a mark of antichrist! Yet Calvin saw especially the AD 1415 papal burning of Huss as a clear evidence of the antichristian nature of the papacy. On Daniel 12:4ff, Calvin commented in 1561: "At the present time, in the papacy . . . impiety prevails."

15. Calvin especially insisted that both II Thessalonians 2:3ff and I John 2:18 & 4:4ff clearly brand the pope as antichrist. Romanists, said Calvin, were wrong to regard antichrist as a yet-future tyrant who would harass the church for but three and a half years. Even a ten-year-old, stated Calvin, can see that the centuries-long papacy is itself indeed antichrist! Yet the papal "antichrist will be annihilated by the Word of the Lord . . . Paul does not think the Christ will accomplish this in a moment . . . Christ will scatter the darkness . . . before His coming" by "the preaching of this doctrine." For "we fight by Christ’s power, and are armed with God’s weapons . . . We are victorious . . . We can no more be conquered, than can God Himself . . . Victory is certain!"

16. Calvin’s views were expounded in Britain especially by his student John Knox together with the rest of the "six John’s" in the 1560 First Scots Confession. There, the Protestants’ "True Kirk is distinguished from the filthy synagogues" of Romanism. Especially against the latter, the Confession sounds the trumpet blast: "Arise, O Lord, and let Thy enemies be confounded . . . Give Thy servants strength to speak Thy Word in boldness, and let all nations cleave to Thy true knowledge!"

17. The Calvinistic Second Scots Confession of AD 1580 also known as the Scottish National Covenant denounces "all kinds of papistry in general. We detest and refuse the usurped authority of that Roman antichrist. Many are stirred up by Satan and that Roman antichrist to subvert secretly God’s true religion . . . We therefore . . . protest!" Indeed, this Protestant ‘protest’ was effective. For the Preamble to the 1618ff international Calvinistic Decrees of Dordt declared that also in Holland "the Church was delivered by the mighty hand of God from the tyranny of the Romish antichrist and the terrible idolatry of the papacy." Christians were leaving Romanism, Revelation 18:2-4!

18. The 1646 Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith denounces "popish monastical vows." It denies "the pope any power or jurisdiction" over magistrates, citing here not only II Thessalonians 2:4 but also the ‘666’ passage of Revelation 13:15-17. It calls "papists . . . idolaters." It describes "the popish sacrifice of the ‘mass’ . . . [as] most abominably injurious to Christ’s one sacrifice." Indeed, it terms "transubstantiation . . . repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason" and indeed "the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries."

19. More specifically, the Westminster Confession further insists about deformed churches, that "some have so degenerated as to become synagogues of Satan. Revelation 18:2; Romans 11:18-22 . . . The pope of Rome . . . is that antichrist . . . that exalteth himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. Matthew 23:8-10; II Thessalonians 2:3-4, 8-9; Revelation 13:6."

20. Finally, the Calvinistic Westminster Larger Catechism insists that, in the Lord’s Prayer, the petition ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ is a plea for the destruction also of the ecclesiastical antichrist and indeed precisely through the good works of the Spirit-empowered Church as Christ’s own spiritual weapon! "We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in, [and] the Church furnished with all gospel-officers and . . . purged from corruption." Further, "we pray that God would so over-rule the world and all in it that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected [and] Satan trodden under our feet. Romans 16:20!"

http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/lee1.html

Before proceeding any further, we should also spell out what some of the NT texts on the Antichrist have to say:

“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thes 2:9-11).

“It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (Rev 13:13).

These passages, and other suchlike, are clearly describing the same general phenomenon. It’s a Scriptural motif.

Several consequences follow from this hermeneutical position:

i) If, a la historicism, we apply these prophecies to the church age, then historicism entails a belief in postapostolic miracles. These are not divine miracles, to be sure. They are demonic or diabolical miracles. But they are still miraculous.

They differ in their source of origin. And the devil, as a finite agent, can’t do whatever God does. But he does enjoy superhuman powers. And he can transfer those powers to demoniacs.

ii) Not only is that true in general, but if we identify the papacy in particular with the Antichrist, then–ironically enough–a Reformed historicist is committed to the occurrence of Catholic miracles. For the pope and his minions would have the same preternatural powers as the Bible ascribes to the Antichrist and his functionaries.

On this view, Catholic miracles would be demonic or diabolical. But they’d be miraculous all the same.

iii) This, in turn generates a dilemma for the confessional Calvinist. You can relieve the contradiction by either ditching confessional historicism, or by ditching confessional cessationism, but I don’t see how you can logically maintain both positions at once.

Reppert on God's Father

It is interesting to note that Reppert has claimed that:

1. The Calvinist God might very well be a devil.

and

2. He has also claimed that God could be a liar.

However, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

On the quest for Shell Beach

James Grath has done a little post which, I assume, represents an oblique parting shot:

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2009/04/self-critical-faith.html

It’s a little pep talk for his fellow inmates on death row–in the hortatory tradition of Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship,” but without the Miltonian prose. If you really must be an infidel, then at least do it with a sense of style.

“The unexamined faith is not worth having.”

That depends on what we mean. Biblical piety has always fostered spiritual self-examination.

However, a Christian doesn’t need to be a philosopher to have good reasons for what he believes. God has blessed us with an abundance of evidence on all sides. It isn’t even necessary to consciously register the evidence. We have many well-founded beliefs based on information which we process every day at a subliminal level.

“Religion has had many critics from without, and still does. But one characteristic feature of the Biblical tradition is that it is full of critics from within, those who examine their own tradition and challenge themselves first, and then their contemporaries, to rethink it and to live it differently.”

Except for apostates, people in the Bible never challenge divine revelation.

“There are those who would like to avoid such critical introspection and self-examination, perhaps at all costs. ‘Leave us alone’, they might say, ‘we're happy as we are.’ But just as one might believe oneself happy living in ignorance of one's wife's affair, for example, it can also be argued that the ‘happiness’ in such cases is illusory. One's alleged happiness is maintained at the cost of a failing marriage and a decaying relationship infested with deceit. And presumably, were the wife happy and the relationship healthy, the affair would not be occuring. And so in such cases one is in fact valuing one's own deluded happiness over the happiness and well-being of others.”

One of the problems with this statement is the unwitting way in which it reveals his incorrigible bigotry. Notice how he stereotypes the Christian, as if unbelievers had a monopoly on reason while believers live in blissful ignorance of the awful truth.

McGrath knows enough to know that this is a palpable lie. But he’s playing to a sympathetic audience.

What’s ironic about his whole post is that, in the name of “self-critical introspection,” he indulges in self-flattery. This is not an exercise in self-critical introspection. To the contrary, this is an exercise in back-patting. Starring at his own reflection, he stands there praising the image of the deep, thoughtful, caring and candid person he sees in the mirror. Like a boy who can’t land a date, the bathroom mirror becomes his girlfriend.

I never told him to leave me alone. What I said, rather, is that if you bother me, I’ll return the favor.

“Be that as it may, if someone else wishes to live in uncritical self-deception (or at least the risk thereof) they are free to do so. I'd prefer to have a healthy marriage, an honest faith, and a critical approach to life. And so, if you'd prefer not to be aware of potential difficulties with Biblical inerrancy, amd historical uncertainties about the stories contained therein, and other things that often get noticed when one examines the Bible critically, then this blog is not for you. You are under no obligation to ask the questions I am asking about my faith, any more than you are obliged to accept my answers. But don't begrudge those of us who do ask them, or who answer them differently than you might.”

Here he dresses up in his blue uniform to play the role of a courageous soldier for truth who’s prepared to brave any danger to fulfill his duty. It’s so noble and heroic that one tears up at the sheer altruism of it all.

But how does that actually match-up with the secular outlook on life? On his view, don’t the liberals and the fundies share the same fate? Does the cemetery distinguish between the self-critical and the self-deceived? Are the maggots that finicky?

On his view, when he dies, everything he believes and values will die with him. What difference does it make if he gave the right answers to the questionnaire? Why do the questions even matter?

He’s like a game show contestant in a TV studio that’s on fire. While he’s busy giving all the right answers, the ceiling and the walls are engulfed in flames.

If his answers are the right answers, then the right answers are no better than the wrong answers. The “right” answers render the questions irrelevant.

But even while he’s still alive, what does his bubble-gummy idealism amount to? Where does that come from, anyway?

If naturalistic evolution is true, then his dutiful feelings were programmed into him by a blind, amoral process. It’s just a way of tricking him into reproducing his species. Nurturing his own kind. And once the incubation chamber has done it’s job, it can be discarded.

He’s been brainwashed by natural selection into valuing the happiness others. He’s like the abductees in Dark City who’ve been implanted with false memories. Wistful recollections of a childhood they never had.

McGrath is on a personal quest for Shell Beach. But no road leads out of the secular city. There’s no reality beyond the billboard.

Jesus In The Tomb

"The old sabbath [Saturday, when Jesus was in the tomb] was like a candle lit in the night before the rising and appearing of the sun." (Athanasius, in Thomas Oden and Christopher Hall, edd., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament II: Mark [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 240)

"I, who am the Chief corner-stone, the elect, the precious, lie for a little time within a stone— I who am a stone of stumbling to the Jews, and of salvation to them who believe. The Tree of life, therefore, was planted in the earth, that the earth which had been cursed might enjoy the blessing, and that the dead might be released." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13:35)

"Everywhere deceit recoils upon itself, and against its will supports the truth. And observe. It was necessary for it to be believed that He died, and that He rose again, and that He was buried, and all these things are brought to pass by His enemies. See, at any rate, these words [in Matthew 27:63-64] bearing witness to every one of these facts. 'We remember,' these are the words, 'that that deceiver said, when He was yet alive,' (He was therefore now dead), 'After three days I rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be sealed,' (He was therefore buried), 'lest His disciples come and steal Him away.' So that if the sepulchre be sealed, there will be no unfair dealing. For there could not be. So then the proof of His resurrection has become incontrovertible by what ye have put forward. For because it was sealed, there was no unfair dealing. But if there was no unfair dealing, and the sepulchre was found empty, it is manifest that He is risen, plainly and incontrovertibly. Seest thou, how even against their will they contend for the proof of the truth?...Seest thou how they labor for the truth against their will? For they themselves came to Pilate, themselves asked, themselves sealed, setting the watch, so as to be accusers, and refuters one of another." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Matthew, 89:1)

"The Savior is placed in the sepulcher of another, because he died for the salvation of others." (Augustine, in Thomas Oden and Christopher Hall, edd., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament II: Mark [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 238)

"But the height of His glorification had to be preceded by the depth of His passion. Accordingly, He went on to add, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.' But He spake of Himself. He Himself was the grain that had to die, and be multiplied; to suffer death through the unbelief of the Jews, and to be multiplied in the faith of many nations." (Augustine, Tractates On John, 51:9)

"Fear not O bride, nor despair. Do not think yourself hopeless if your bridegroom withdraws his face for a while. All things work together for the good, so that both from his absence and his presence you gain something better....Being absent he will become more desired, and being more desired he will be more earnestly sought, and being long sought more acceptably found." (anonymous, in Thomas Oden and Christopher Hall, edd., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament II: Mark [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 200)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Some notes in response to Victor

First, my primary argument against Calvinism is semantic rather than moral. I think that there are biblical passages that say that God loves all persons, that God wants all persons to be saved, that God is grieved by sin, etc. etc., that Calvinists in the main don't simply use "reference class" arguments to criticize these positions, but rather accept them and reconcile them with Calvinism. Yes, God loves everyone, but no, that doesn't mean God is out to save everyone. An analysis of the ordinary usage of these terms (and if you accept a verbal special revelation you are bound by ordinary usage) suggests that to say this is to distort the use of those terms beyond all recognition. This argument, you will notice, requires no appeal to moral intuitions.


1. Victor, your primary argument cannot be semantic. If God is liar, then you have a defeater. Maybe God wanted people to believe the gospel and evangelize so he lied about loving all men and dying for all men. How you adjudicate between these kinds of things is beyond me. For one to claim that inerrancy might be denied and then appeal to biblical authority as his number one argument strikes me as incoherent, to say the least.

2. Furthermore, when you were given Scriptures that we took as supporting our position, you replied: "I can just say, "whatever the Bible means, it can't mean that; otherwise God would be a devil." This implies that the moral argument *is* your primary argument.

3. You stretch the "God is love" passages to the ultimate, maximizing it as far as you can. However, when Jesus says that he is "the truth" you don't afford that description that same maximizing courtesy. You appear to argue at cross-purposes.

4. The majority of Calvinists do not say that God loves everyone *in the same sense*.

5. I do not understand your "ordinary usage" point, at all. Ordinary for whom? Your modernized, Arminian, American zeitgeist?

6. You claim that 'this argument makes no appeal to moral intuitions.' The problem is that you have not given *an argument*. And, you have been given defeaters that you flippantly dismiss. That's my opinion. The one you're trying to convince. If you're not, why *argue*? Arguments are meant to *persuade*. You offer zero exegesis and think vague appeal to passages understood Arminianistically suffices for *an argument*.

To defend this objection, I would have to answer the standard "two wills" argument that comes down from Dabney through Piper. But for various reasons, I don't think that argument washes.


But Victor, you work at cross purposes with yourself again. In the post you refer us to as how you would defend your claims, you write:

Now, in order for an appeal to special revelation, such as this one, to work, we have to insist on what I call the principle of semantic integrity. First, we must believe that Scripture is not only true, but interpretable and translatable.


But the argument I'm responding to is one where you offer possible reasons for untruth. For God lying. So, on your own terms, perhaps God was lying. "Possibly," he had a good reason.

Anyway, the post you send people to is rife with errors. You never bother to prove even one of your many contentious premises. Until you do so, there's no *argument* there to refer people to.

The "divine noble lie" case I had in mind was the fact that, at least on some readings of Scripture, Christ places a short time limit on his return. He leads the church to believe, perhaps by saying so directly, that He will return within the generation. These sorts of considerations have led exapologist to abandon Christianity. Exapologist mentions one Christian biblical scholar (Allison) who takes this position and says "so what?" and I was trying to see if Allison's position could be defended.


I'm sorry, this just seems ridiculous. Of course, Ex-apologist was sliced and diced--to say it nicely--when he tried this argument over here. The problem I see with you, Victor, is that you seem to not have a problem dropping one traditionally orthodox view after another to make Christianity more palatable to unbelievers. A massive chasm separates my theology and approach to apologetics from yours. I am not confident that it will ever be broached. There are too many presuppositional issues that would need to be discussed for a productive discussion to take place and I see no indication that you have the time or desire to broach those issues.

The scenario I sketched was one in which God wants people to spread the gospel, giving them the belief in an immanent parousia is the way to do that, as a result the gospel is spread and salvation maximized, even though the claim of an immanent parousia is false.


This is ridiculous. First, the first time Jesus said it there was no NT church and no gospel spreading. Second, a resurrection and miracles is sufficient motivation to spread the gospel. Indeed, the gospel itself is sufficient motivation to spread the gospel. Third, what of the trade off? Now there are people, like ex-apologist, who disbelieve. Gospel spreading is now retarded. Indeed, was this "lie" worth it? Consider that to take the objection seriously we need to note that there was a time frame indicated--"this generation." Are you seriously implying that God put all his eggs in this basket? He was willing to risk *every other generation* for the very first one??? Even more, why didn't many people drop their belief after they found out it was based on a lie? And, why don't we read that ANYONE accepted the gospel on the basis that they were afraid that Jesus was coming back. And to pile it on some more, what the heck does this lie do to save gentiles???? At best, it would only serve to scare some Jews into the kingdom. Fourth, how are people saved *because* they only believed in Jesus because he was coming back quickly? Why bother killing a man on a cross if you're going to let people into heaven who just want to save their own necks. Who only believe because they think Jesus is coming back soon?

So, Victor, I do not see how this justification works, AT ALL. I am "as blind as a bat." And so are you. You are in the same position you are with reasons for reprobation. Therefore, consistency demands that you drop this liar argument, or your PoE against Calvinism. Of course, if you bite the bullet and claim that the above is enough to show you a POSSIBLE reason, then you have to do so with reprobation. If you can throw your "strong intuition" out of the window for reasons as weak as the above, then you can certainly do so when it comes to reprobation. Otherwise, it looks like you are inconsistent.

The Blind (Bat) Leading the Blind - Response to Reppert

Victor Reppert responded to my post yet seemed to fail to understand the purpose of my post. Perhaps I was too subtle.

Things to remember:

* Reppert argued against Calvinism by appeal to moral intuitions.

* Reppert claimed he could ignore our philosophical arguments because his moral intuitions to the contrary were so strong.

* Reppert claimed he could deny any exegetical argument, even if he didn't have a better interpretation, because his moral intuitions were so strong that "the text couldn't mean that."

Now, Reppert claimed he had strong moral intuitions against God being a liar. However, he found that a three-step argument was good enough to undermine said strong intuitions. But if we're gonna toss moral intuitions out of windows this easily, what happens to Reppert's appeal to immovable intuitions when it comes to reprobation?

I just pointed out that Reppert seemed inconsistent in his tactics, that's all.

This argument was powerful enough to undermine his intuitions:

1. God always does what is morally right, and never does what is morally wrong. (The doctrine of divine moral perfection).
2. Possibly, lying is morally obligatory, and truthfulness is morally reprehensible.
(I will call this position anti-Kantianism about lying.)
3. Therefore, possibly God lies.


However, if this is enough to overturn Reppert's "strong intuitions" then why isn't this:

1. God always does what is morally right, and never does what is morally wrong. (The doctrine of divine moral perfection).
2. Possibly, reprobation for some is morally obligatory, and universalism is morally reprehensible.
(I will call this position anti-reppertism about election and reprobation.)
3. Therefore, possibly God reprobates.


Apparently, it is because Reppert can "think of beneficial reasons for God lying" but he is "as blind as a bat" when it comes to reprobating.

But how does this cash out? I have yet to see a "beneficial reason" offered by Reppert that makes sense. Reppert claims that:

The kinds of lies that I have in mind have fairly transparent beneficent purposes behind them, and the overall effect is of course has to be for the eternal benefit of human beings.


But there's (at least) two problems here:

1. Give the specifics. This should be easy since it's "transparent" that you're correct.

2. Dealing with his specific point about inerrancy, give a transparent reason why God lying in his revelation to his people would have "eternal benefit of human beings" as its target.

If Reppert can't answer either of these questions (and especially 2 when it comes to proving his claims about inerrancy), then he is indeed "blind as a bat" when it comes to reasons for God to lie. His one example, lying to Nazi's looking for Jews, was rather ridiculous, so that one is off the table.

Indeed, we gave Reppert many reasons. But to every single one of them he just says, without showing, that they "just don't wash at all."

But then he says, "But I wish people would at least take a shot at the argument I provided."

Okay, none of your reasons "wash at all."

Furthermore, the Bible certainly gives the impression that God doesn't lie in his revelations. Think of the tests for prophets. Think of the passages where it says God can't lie. Think of passages where it says "your word is truth." And Jesus is described as "the truth." It is the height of irony that thinkers like Reppert will run as far as he can, maximizing to the nth degree, passages like "God is love," but then he has no problem minimizing the "truth" passages. At the very least, then, Reppert defeats a powerful reason for his views against reprobation and unlimited atonement based on God's "love." Indeed, one might argue:

1. God always does what is morally right, and never does what is morally wrong. (The doctrine of divine moral perfection).
2. Possibly, hating is morally obligatory, and loving is morally reprehensible.
(I will call this position anti-Kantianism about lying.)
3. Therefore, possibly God hates.


So, Reppert doesn't do himself any favors.

Reppert says:

There are the wide range of difficulties, however, in God's getting his message across to prescientific peoples, so that it isn't always perfectly obvious to figure out what would constitute an errantist interpretation and what would not.


Apparently, Reppert thinks the Bible is a science text book. If not, what is the problem getting "his message" across to "pre-scientific people?" Furthermore, James Anderson has recently summed up some of the basics of the inerrantist position--which Reppert seems slightly confused about.

Anyway, the point here is that Reppert gives no reasons to suppose that he hasn't undercut his number one argument against Calvinism. I just want to see how he is consistent.

Reformed cessationism

Some Calvinists take the position that all miracles came to an end with the death of the apostles. They stake out this position on the grounds that the only function of miracles is to attest the authors of the canon.

I’m going to confine myself to three or four brief points:

1.Even Warfield, who is the leading spokesmen for Reformed cessationism, draws a distinction between a wonder-working church and a wonder-working God. Cf. Counterfeit Miracles (Banner of Truth 1983), 58.

2.Within the history and theology of Calvinism, there are numerous references to both the possibility and actuality, of postbiblical miracles of one sort or another.

Vern Poythress documents some examples in the final section of an article he once wrote:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1996Modern.htm

Here’s another example:

http://www.reformedpresbytery.org/books/prophecy/prophecy.htm

My point for now is not to evaluate the truth or falsity of these claims. Rather, my immediate point is that belief in postbiblical miracles is well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy.

We can debate the pros and cons of all these claims, but this is a point of liberty within Reformed theology.

I’d also add, in passing, that you can’t reject something just because it conflicts with Calvinism. Calvinism is not immune to scrutiny. Calvinism is not some unquestionable axiom. A Calvinist must be prepared to argue for his position.

3.Finally, there’s a problem with summarily dismissing all testimonial evidence to postbiblical miracles. The Bible itself appeals to testimonial evidence. And that includes fallible eyewitnesses. For example, when Paul appeals to 500 eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6), that is not an appeal to 500 apostles or prophets.

To peremptorily discount all testimonial evidence to postbiblical miracles implies a deeply skeptical view of testimonial evidence. It treats testimonial evidence as something fundamentally untrustworthy. And, in so doing, it takes a position directly at variance with Biblical rules of evidence.

Testimonial evidence is not uniformly reliable or unreliable. But to dismiss out of hand all testimonial evidence to postbiblical miracles could only be justified on the assumption that testimonial evidence is generally and radically unreliable. Indeed, that not a single report of a postbiblical miracle is accurate.

That degree of skepticism is both biblically and philosophically untenable. Indeed, it's ultimately self-refuting–since the skeptic must inevitability rely on testimonial evidence for most of what he himself believes.

The reason that some Calvinists back themselves into this corner is due to their reductionistic view of miracles. Believing that the only function of miracles is evidentiary, they must then disallow all postbiblical or extrabiblical miracles for fear that once you concede their occurrence, they will be invoked to attest the claims of a rival religion.

But that conclusion follows from their false premise–as I’ve discussed on more than one occasion.

Reppert's paradox

One of the arguments in the inerrancy debate is the assertion that God cannot lie. I want to suggest that although this claim is initially intuitive, (I mean who wants a liar for a God?), there is what seems to me a forceful argument against the claim.

1. God always does what is morally right, and never does what is morally wrong. (The doctrine of divine moral perfection).
2. Possibly, lying is morally obligatory, and truthfulness is morally reprehensible.
(I will call this position anti-Kantianism about lying.)
3. Therefore, possibly God lies.

Now of course you can avoid this conclusion by accepting the Kantian position that if you were hiding Nicole Brown Simpson, and OJ were to come to your door with a knife and ask you where she was, you couldn't tell her that she went to LAX and that if you hurry up in that White Ford Bronco, you might be able to catch her before she leaves for New York. But most of us suppose are on the side of Benjamin Constant on this issue, and accept 2.

But how can you accept 1 and 2 but deny 3? I don't think I've committed some horrid modal fallacy, have I?


http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/04/god-lies-and-inerrancy.html

I was trying to pose a problem for the claim that God cannot lie, indicating that there was an argument against it. I was asking whether there was some way to believe in divine moral perfection, believe that lying is sometimes morally justified for benevolent purposes, and at the same time hold that God cannot lie. The kinds of lies that I have in mind have fairly transparent beneficent purposes behind them, and the overall effect is of course has to be for the eternal benefit of human beings. The title of Kant's reply to Constant is "On the Supposed right to Lie for Beneficent Purposes."

So far I haven't seen any attempt to resolve the paradox. It may turn out that the claim that God cannot lie can be defended. But I wish people would at least take a shot at the argument I provided.


http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/04/i-was-trying-to-pose-problem-for-claim.html

I don’t see a genuine paradox.

1.The minor premise (#2) is too strong. All he would need to make the argument go through is that lying is sometimes morally permissible, not that lying is sometimes morally obligatory.

That, of itself, doesn’t ruin his argument, but I point that out for purposes of precision.

2.In the modified sense that I just stated, I don’t object to the minor premise, per se.

However, the premise suffers from a hidden equivocation. When Reppert uses the example of hiding someone from a murderer, what makes the lie justifiable is that, under those circumstances, you can’t do the right thing by telling the truth.

That, however, involves a disanalogy between divine and agents. The human agent is justified in lying in that situation because he has no control over key elements of the situation–in the sense that he didn’t create that situation in the first place. He’s having to adapt to preexisting circumstances beyond his control.

By contrast, God is responsible for the circumstances. He created the situation.

Therefore, God would never be in a position where he must lie to save an innocent life. Nothing and no one can put him in that situation.

3.Now, one might still argue that, regardless of the situation, some people are not entitled to the truth because they misuse the truth. But that would be a separate argument. And that would complicate the relationship between the premises and the conclusion.

4.Finally, I don’t think the impossibility of divine lying is a logical precondition of inerrancy. In principle, all that inerrancy requires is something like the proposition that God would never lie to his people.

The primary audience for Scripture is the chosen people. The people of God. Therefore, God would never speak falsely in and through the Scriptures.

I’m not stating for a fact that God ever lies. I’m merely addressing the logic of Reppert’s paradox on its own terms. And it seems to me that the impossibility of divine lying is a stronger thesis than inerrancy requires, for syllogistic purposes.

Home is where the heart is

Some people live in the same place all their lives. That was more common in the past.

In our mobile, transient society, people often follow jobs–going wherever the best jobs are. Or, in some cases, going wherever any jobs are.

For some people, moving away, moving out of state, is a relief. They’re chaffing at the bit. They never look back.

Maybe they had a horrible childhood. Maybe that hated their neighborhood.

But other people always have a soft spot for their hometown or homestate. And they pay a return visit every so often.

Going back home can leave you with conflicted feelings. On the one hand, it’s great to be back. To be physically there. Have it all around you. Not like remembering it or seeing it in pictures.

All the old feelings come flooding back. The fond memories. Being there triggers a host of associations. From childhood. Youth. Coming of age.

But, at the same time, it’s a bittersweet experience because you know you have to leave again. You have to put it behind you once again.

You’re there just long enough to feel right at home, only to up and leave. To turn your back once more on that fond and familiar world.

While you’re there, you can’t help reminding yourself that this is temporary.

It’s a very odd feeling to be somewhere that used to be home, still feels like home, but no longer is home–while your real home, your new home, the place you now call home, never quite feels like home.

It’s an odd feeling to go back to a place where you used to belong, what you used to call home, but feel like you’re now an outsider. That you no longer belong. There’s this tension between the past and the future. Recollection and reality.

And the walk of faith is like that, too. The Christian is a pilgrim. A nomad. He has a foot in two worlds.

For him, the point of tension lies not between the past and the present, but between the present and the future. He lives in one place, but yearns for another. And the longer the journey, the deeper the longing. The passage of time intensifies the alienation with this world, and intensifies the anticipation for the world to come.

There’s a sense in which every day is Holy Saturday for Christians. Good Friday is behind us, but we await the Easter morn. In this life we hold a vigil for the life to come.

We wait for an angel to move the stone, for sunlight to flood our sepulcher, as we awaken to the light, and walk right out of the tomb–to greet the everlasting dawn.

The Last Puritan

In the most recent episode of LOST, as in other earlier ones, we saw the "smoke monster" make someone confront their past, with the aim of bringing about repentance and a change in them.

In my recent visits to Triablogue, it has been somewhat like encountering the smoke monster. I was met over there by views and attitudes that once would have been mine. As I try to extract myself from the attempt at interaction, unsubscribing from the comment updates and so on, I realize that in my late teens and probably into my early twenties, I would have loved to have had a blog like that (blogs didn't exist yet), I would have treated visitors who disagreed with me in much the same way I was treated on Triablogue, and when the visiting scholar or whoever else it was left exasperated, I would have celebrated another "victory".

I don't just wonder how many of the bloggers over there will, a few decades from now, find themselves in my shoes, interacting with younger people who are much like their own former selves. I also wonder what views that I interact with now I may myself hold a few decades from now.

At any rate, I am grateful to the folks at Triablogue for giving me an experience akin to being grabbed by my past and told I had better listen to John Locke [the character in Lost].


http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2009/04/judged-by-smoke-monster.html

Since I’m pushing 50, and since I’ve been in failing health for years, I don’t expect to be around a few decades from now. I expect to be in heaven–the heaven McGrath no longer believes in.

If I were to lose my faith, then Triablogue would testify against me–as a witness for the prosecution. My own arguments would indict me. Younger Christians could quote my arguments against me. And that’s a good thing.

But what about McGrath? He’s a standard-issue apostate, straight out of central casting. He’s objections are utterly predictable, utterly unoriginal, utterly refutable. Just a new actor reciting his lines from the same dog-eared script.

One thing he shares in common with so many other typecast apostates is a secularized Christian idealism. It’s the sort of thing that George Santayana pilloried in The Last Puritan. Santayana satirized the descents of New England Puritans, the men and women he knew at Harvard, who retained the remnants of Puritan duty without the Puritan faith which undergirded their sense of duty.

Mr. McGrath is apparently one of those apostates who embraces something resembling or approaching the secular theology of Kaufman, Bultmann, Cupitt, Robinson, Spong, and Phillips.

They deny the existence of an “external” deity. A God objective to ourselves. A God who ever does anything.

Yet they continue going to church. Attend the costume party.

And they retain a soft-headed idealism. They just replace one thing with another. Instead of prayer or evangelism, it’s recycling or global warming.

In their childish idealism they don’t think that losing faith in God entails any fundamental loss of values. For them, life goes on much the same. They may even pride themselves into thinking that this is a truly liberating experience. They’ve been emancipated from all the hang-ups of Biblical piety.

And, at one level, they’re welcome to their illusion. I don’t feel the need to disabuse everyone of their illusions. Some illusions are harmless.

A window thinks her late husband was utterly devoted to her. She was the love of his life. She takes great comfort in that belief.

Suppose I happen to know that her husband had a mistress. Should I tell her? No. That would be cruel. It would serve no purpose.

If apostates left us alone, we’d be happy to leave them alone. The loss of faith is a tragedy. But, as long as they mind their own business, it’s not of my business. A private tragedy.

Yet McGrath is a proselytizer. McGrath is like a man who used to enjoy a walk in the park. He enjoyed the birds and flowers and trees and fountains. The fireflies and butterflies. The children at play.

But at some point, for some reason, he took a dislike to the park. And because he no longer enjoys it, no one else should enjoy it either.

When he takes a chainsaw to the trees, dumps a wheelbarrow full of concrete into the pond, sows the path with poison birdseed, and so on, then I take exception.

Apostates and other atheists are dangerous because they are social engineers. Their ideas aren’t harmless ideas.

Rather, they want to coerce everyone into sharing their collective illusion. Consider the social vision of Peter Singer. And consider the fact that is well underway.

Atheism robs us of everything we care about. If there is no afterlife, then the grave robs us of everyone we care about. Parents. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Roommates. Childhood friends. The spouse who predeceases us. The daughter who died of cancer. And then, when death takes you, it robs you of everyone else you ever cared about.

It’s a terrible thing when you have nothing left to look forward to in life. A life without hope. When you can only look back. Look back at the past through the dim lens of memory. Remember what you cannot see or hear or touch. Just of photo album of yellowing pictures. Life fading into sepia.

Personal identity is bound up with memory. And memory is bound up with a sense of place. Remembering who we were by remembering where we were. Who we were with. Space is a dam against the erosion of time. But sooner or later, time and mortality wash it all away.

Atheism robs us of all the beauty. For, if atheism is true, then beauty is just a projection. Not something in the world, but something we project onto the world. The way we feel about it, and not the way it is.

The external world is merely functional. It ceases to be a divine emblem. Instead, it’s just a thing–like a carburetor.

And atheism robs us of our mental life. What is love? Love is just a chemical reaction which natural selection has programmed into us to make us procreate and tend our litter. It’s the incidental byproduct of a blind, unreasoning, and indifferent process.

Mr. McGrath is a fool. A shallow, callow fool. As long as he keeps his folly to himself, he is free to live and die inside illusion he’s created for himself. He is welcome to his superficiality.

But when he becomes a proselytizer, then I’ll disabuse him of his pretty illusions. Christians play for keeps.

Apostasy is Good Friday without the prospect of Easter. McGrath denies the empty tomb. And by denying the empty tomb, he entombs us all. Buried alive.

Bart Interrupted: A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part Two

Ben Witherington has posted part two of his review on Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted.

Reppert Working at Cross Purposes With Himself

Repert: While one can bring up problems for Calvinism that are connected to the question of assurance, I am not at all persuaded that these issues are really separate from the theodicy-related difficulties that many of us have with that theology. I mean if you swallow the idea that God might be justified in reprobating people for his own glory before the foundation of the world, I'm not sure it's any worse for God to also give some of them the idea that they have truly received the saving grace of God and then find out later that that was only appearance. If you swallow the camel, a little gnat sauce won't be a problem.

Reppert: One of the arguments in the inerrancy debate is the assertion that God cannot lie. I want to suggest that although this claim is initially intuitive, (I mean who wants a liar for a God?), there is what seems to me a forceful argument against the claim.

Here, in one fell swoop, Reppert knocks out of the ballpark (I hope he at least appreciates my use of a baseball analogy :-) his claim that it would be immoral for God to lie to people about the state of their assurance as well as his claim that moral intuitions trump arguments to the contrary with such force that you don't need to answer the argument to the contrary, no matter how good, because all you need say is, "I just don't have that intuitions, indeed, I have strong intuitions to the contrary."

So, if you have a liar God, then what's wrong with a reprobater? Put differently, if you swallow the camel, a little gnat sauce won't be a problem.

(Another post might be that Repert just pulled the rug out from all his proof texts for Arminianism. God might have lied. His belief that the God of the Bible is actually good--he might have lied about himself. His belief that Jesus came to die for everyone, he could have lied about that too. But we won't go there this time).

Jesus On The Cross

"He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!" (Mathetes, The Epistle To Diognetus, 9)

"as by means of a tree we were made debtors to God, so also by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt...For as we lost it by means of a tree, by means of a tree again was it made manifest to all, showing the height, the length, the breadth, the depth in itself; and, as a certain man among our predecessors observed, 'Through the extension of the hands of a divine person, gathering together the two peoples to one God.' For these were two hands, because there were two peoples scattered to the ends of the earth; but there was one head in the middle, as there is but one God" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:17:3-4)

"And what is the boast of the Cross? That Christ for my sake took on Him the form of a slave, and bore His sufferings for me the slave, the enemy, the unfeeling one; yea He so loved me as to give Himself up to a curse for me. What can be comparable to this! If servants who only receive praise from their masters, to whom they are akin by nature, are elated thereby, how must we not boast when the Master who is very God is not ashamed of the Cross which was endured for us. Let us then not be ashamed of His unspeakable tenderness; He was not ashamed of being crucified for thy sake, and wilt thou be ashamed to confess His infinite solicitude? It is as if a prisoner who had not been ashamed of his King, should, after that King had come to the prison and himself loosed the chains, become ashamed of him on that account. Yet this would be the height of madness, for this very fact would be an especial ground for boasting." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Galatians, 6, v. 14)

"An idea has long possessed the public mind, that a religious man can scarcely be a wise man. It has been the custom to talk of infidels, atheists, and deists, as men of deep thought and comprehensive intellect; and to tremble for the Christian controversialist, as if he must surely fall by the hand of his enemy. But this is purely a mistake; for the gospel is the sum of wisdom; an epitome of knowledge; a treasure-house of truth; and a revelation of mysterious secrets. In it we see how justice and mercy may be married; here we behold inexorable law entirely satisfied, and sovereign love bearing away the sinner in triumph. Our meditation upon it enlarges the mind; and as it opens to our soul in successive flashes of glory, we stand astonished at the profound wisdom manifest in it. Ah, dear friends! if ye seek wisdom, ye shall see it displayed in all its greatness; not in the balancing of the clouds, nor the firmness of earth's foundations; not in the measured march of the armies of the sky, nor in the perpetual motions of the waves of the sea; not in vegetation with all its fairy forms of beauty; nor in the animal with its marvellous tissue of nerve, and vein, and sinew: nor even in man, that last and loftiest work of the Creator. But turn aside and see this great sight!—an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of Heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner. Here is essential wisdom; enthroned, crowned, glorified. Admire, ye men of earth, if ye be not blind; and ye who glory in your learning bend your heads in reverence, and own that all your skill could not have devised a gospel at once so just to God, so safe to man." (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], The Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, pp. 113-114)

"Christ is the glory of God. His blood-soaked cross is the blazing center of that glory. By it he bought for us every blessing - temporal and eternal. And we don't deserve any. He bought them all. Because of Christ's cross, God's elect are destined to be sons of God. Because of his cross, the wrath of God is taken away. Because of his cross all guilt is removed, and sins are forgiven, and perfect righteousness is imputed to us, and the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Spirit, and we are being conformed to the image of Christ. Therefore every enjoyment in this life and the next that is not idolatry is a tribute to the infinite value of the cross of Christ - the burning center of the glory of God. And thus a cross-centered, cross-exalting, cross-saturated life is a God-glorifying life - the only God-glorifying life. All others are wasted." (John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003], p. 59)

The Fulfillment Of Prophecy In The Events Surrounding Jesus' Death

Some of the most significant prophecy fulfillment in Jesus' life occurred in events surrounding His death. You can find many of our posts on the subject of prophecy in our archive of prophecy posts here. You can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to search for specific topics within the archive.

Easter Ignorance

See here:

The Messiah was supposed to be a politician and engineer. Jesus wasn't even close to being an engineer, if he was he could have showed them how to make the world a better place by speeding up the invention of quite a few things, likewise if he were God....

The principle that all of us have done things so egregious to warrant the death penalty is itself egregious. Name one thing that you have done that you should be put to death for....

The principle that a Sacrifice can appease a God has been shown to be flawed because all the other Gods that required a sacrifice have been shown to be folklore....

It is possible to be compelled to unacceptable behavior by biological factors, and unacceptable behavior, is in the eye of the beholder, even if we all agree that killing children is bad. God ordered children to be ripped from their mothers wombs and William Lane Craig defended it in one of his forums if you can believe that....

The Gospels depend on one of the most unreliable forms of evidence, Eye Witness Testimony....

The Koran says he didn't die, and the fact that there is no body, and the fact that many people survived crucifixion, especially for such a short period of time supports that theory

As you read through his list, assuming the post will remain up and won't be edited, notice how many of his claims depend on eyewitness testimony in some manner (scientific reports, the claims of archeologists, etc.).

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The auto-da-fe

To: Heresy hunters
From: The Management
Re: Bringing executions up to code

Under the Obama administration, the EPA has issued new guidelines on the environmentally sensitive execution of heretics. The EPA is now assessing a surtax on the burning of heretics since that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. carbon monoxide), which, in turn, accelerates global warming.

There is also a surtax on stoning since you still have to dispose of the body, which is another pesky source of greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. cremation).

Fortunately, certain states are blessed with biofriendly alternatives to cope with the problem. For example, bears and alligators furnish a sort of one-stop shopping: execution and disposal of the remains, all in one neat package.

Distribution centers are being set up in Alaska and Florida.

Of course, that requires an extradition treaty. The Attorney General has drafted language authorizing rendition when necessary.

EPA guidelines also include a provision whereby heretics can commute the auto-da-fe through the purchase of carbon offsets–accompanied by a donation to the Green Party.

War Pigs

The below is brief, and many things that could have or should have been said were left out; nevertheless, what follows represents some of my findings on the causes of war. The below is useful, I hope, in a few ways. One way in-line with the purpose of this blog is for apologetic use against the rantings of the new atheists. Another is the empirical confirmation of sin. Another is that I offer a sampling of my growing bibliography on war studies in case anyone is interested in further research.
_______________________________

Truly, the history of humanity is a history of violence. As one writer puts it, man is “the most dangerous animal” (Smith). One needs look no further than war. In this post, the term “war” will be used broadly, including not only paradigm cases of war, but also genocide, suicide terrorism, and ethnic cleansing. Though the phenomenon of war is undeniable, especially to those not currently in comas, the cause(s) might not be as clear. To find clarity, we will first look at two popular causes of war people like to bandy about—religion and irreligion—and declare a pox on both houses. Next, we will speculate that the causes of war are multiple. Finally, we will note that war is basic to human nature, and thus as complex as any human phenomenon. It is also not the purpose of this post to argue that all of the possible causes offered below are all right, but they probably have kernels have truth. One up-shot of this post is that the cries of the new atheists grow shriller and shriller by the minute. Extremism, whether religious or irreligious, is becoming more and more irrelevant as ways forward are sought that are congenial to a life in Babylon.

John Lennon did not find war groovy. Even though all Lennon was saying was give peace a chance, he was imagining much more. He asked us to imagine a world with no countries and no religion. It is supposed to be easy if you try. Once you imagine his world, you will see that there is nothing to kill or die for and everyone lives in peace. The sober-minded rightly said Lennon was dreaming. He quickly pointed out that he was not the only one. Apparently, Lennon did not understand that the force of the premise he dreamt up does not increase by adding more dreamers. That would be like trying to increase a product by multiplying by more zeros.

Lennon is not the only one who speculated that religion causes war. Take the remarks Bill Maher made in his recent movie, Religulous. Maher claimed that, “religion must die in order for mankind to live” while pictures of religious fanatics gearing up for war flashed in the background. The implication was not subtle, nor did Maher intend it to be. Similarly, Richard Dawkins, though more educated than Maher, nevertheless confidently asserted that, “To fill the world with religion or religions of the Abrahamic kind is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used” (Dawkins). These two authors are representative of how modern village atheists wage culture wars against religion. For as one of their rhetorical pugilists has contended: “Religion poisons everything” (Hitchens 14).

On the other hand, one historian educated at Oxford tells us that, “the secularist establishment’s accusations against religion as the primary cause of war are simplistic and ill-motivated; they have some important superficial validity but are far from the whole truth” (Pearse 15). So perhaps religion is not the only, or even the main cause of war. Can we find answers on the irreligious side of the coin?

After a blistering survey of “the bloodiest century of all,” Meic Pearse could claim that irreligion “has proved more lethal than religion ever was” (41). Now, if religion is one’s bête noire, then even communism’s reign of terror will be seen as the expression of “little more than a political religion” (Harris 79). But, given this level of wordsmithing, the idea that “religion” is to blame for the majority of violence becomes an uninteresting, and unfalsifiable dogma. Words, however, do not belong on a Procrustean bed.

Though finger pointing and culture warring seem to be all the rage today, it would be simplistic and naive to think that war follows necessarily from either religion or irreligion.

Since we see both religion and irreligion having a hand in causing war, it would seem that there might be some deeper causes. In fact, most “social phenomena are sufficiently complex—with data on many variables being either unavailable or inherently unquantifiable” (Sowell 37). That is why even after a massive study on genocide and mass killing; James Waller could not confidently assert that he fully understands the causes (297). Gathering scientific data on the causes of war is labyrinthine because the scientific study of war is a recent phenomenon. A survey of leading sociological journals between 1986 and 2000 reveal that “fewer than 1% deal with war, and none of them considered the causes of war” (Smith 35). Thankfully, especially for bloggers speculating about the causes of war, there has been tremendous effort to fill this void.

A survey of recent literature shows the causes of war to be bounteous. David Livingstone Smith points out that we can look at the causes of war from multiple angles, such as from the “standpoint of economics, politics, history, ideology, ethics, and various other disciplines” (xiii). To complicate matters even more, Smith finds that greedy multinational corporations eager to acquire resources often cook up genocides (219). Pearse also agrees with the greed factor, but “where that is too harsh a judgment,” wars arise from “the need for security” (118).

Other causes on offer make Tocqueville appear prescient for lauding “the great experiment.” For example, after studying government-sponsored killings for sixty years, University of Hawaii political scientist, R.J. Rummel, locates the cause for “democide” (i.e., government-sponsored killings) in various forms of government, e.g., totalitarian, monarchic, oligarchic, and democratic; with democratic being the least violent (Rummel). Rummel's position is of course more sophisticated than how it is laid out above, but this brief survey is not the time for detailed inspections of these various possible causes on offer. In line with the political, Thomas Farr finds that it is the degree to which a country allows religious freedom to flourish that plays a major role in expressions of civility antithetical to warmongering (Farr; so also Guinness).

Many would consider suicide terrorism a paradigmatic case of religiously motivated warfare. However, the world’s leading expert on suicide terrorism, Robert Pape, has drawn different conclusions. He amassed the first database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until 2005, noting that: “there is little connection between suicide terrorism” and “any one of the world’s religions.” Rather, it is the “strategic logic” of terrorists “to compel modern democracies” to withdraw their forces from what the terrorists “consider to be their homeland” (Pape 4). Pape points out that his data “casts strong doubt” on the claim that suicide attacks are the brainchild of misogynistic “religious fanatics.” The “demographic characteristics” show that most were “well beyond adolescence, most were secular, and many—the overwhelming majority in some groups—were women.” The “uncomfortable fact” is that “suicide terrorists are far more normal than any of us would like to believe” (Pape 241).

The last point—the normalcy of the killers—is the one that finds the most agreement in the current literature (cf. Guinness; Overy; Pearse; Rummel; Smith; Waller). Says Smith: “Purveyors of violence, terrorists, and merchants of genocidal destruction are, more often than not, people who fit the profile that Primo Levi painted of his Nazi jailers at Auschwitz: ‘average human beings, averagely intelligent, averagely wicked … they had our faces’” (4). That puts a damper on the currently fashionable Pollyanna view of humankind in a hurry. It might be, then, that although the above disparate causes are important, “there is one dimension that underpins them all: the bedrock of human nature. To understand war, we must understand ourselves” (Smith xiii).

Unfortunately, we must end our speculating here. Psychologizing about man’s charcoaled nature is beyond the purview of this blog post (Christians already have the answers from the back of the book). We are here to speculate about the causes of war (and later I will post some thoughts on a way forward). We have seen that war has many causes; unfortunately, our list may not be exhaustive. The closest we came to finding an underlying cause was in human nature. Peering into the mirror, then, may reveal ugliness no cosmetic can cover. “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

____________________

Dawkins, Richard. “Religion’s Misguided Missiles.” The Guardian 15 September 2001
guardian.co.uk .

Farr, Thomas. World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty Is Vital To American National Security. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Guinness, Os. The Case For Civility And Why Our Future Depends on It. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: Norton, 2005.

Hitchens, Christopher. God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve Hatchet Book Group, 2007.

Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher, Tal Bachman, and Larry Charles. 2008. DVD. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2009.

Overy, Richard. The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia. New York: Norton, 2006.

Pape, Richard. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2006.

Pearse, Meic. The Gods of War: Is Religion the Primary Cause of Violent Conflict? Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2007.

Rummel, R.J. Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2008.

Smith, David Livingstone. The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007.

Sowell, Thomas. The Vision of the Annointed: Self-congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.New York: Basic Books, 1995.

Waller, James. Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

The sinful Savior?

“As for the temptation, the traditional locus for that is also in Maximus in his discussion of 2nd Cor 5:21 where he indicates that Christ takes up our corrupted human nature in the incarnation, experiencing our passions and temptations even though he personally performs no sinful acts. Christ is impeccable even though he truely experiences our temptations.”

http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2009/04/incarn-compat.html#comment-104802

Perry’s brief comment raises a number of potential implications. I wonder in which directions he’d develop his statement.

1.If the Logos assumes our corrupted human nature, then doesn’t this mean that Jesus experienced corrupt passions?

In other words, does Jesus, on Perry’s view, experience sinful feelings, but refuses to act on those feelings? And if that is not what Perry means, then how can he avoid that consequence given his presuppositions?

A feeling can be a sinful feeling, even if you decline to act on it.

2.Don’t we need to draw a basic distinction between licit and illicit temptations?

For example, the temptation to overeat is not sinful. Food is a natural good. The desire for food is a natural good.

On the other hand, the temptation to molest a child is sinful. Likewise, what about the temptation to murder somebody? Even if I resist the temptation, it was a sinful impulse, was it not? An inclination to do evil. An inclination to do wrong.

Certain temptations are only tempting to a sinner. To someone already infected (as it were).

3.Likewise, temptations may be person-variable. If I’m a recovering junkie, then I’m tempted by drugs in the way that someone who was never hooked on drugs is not. Certain temptations involve an acquired taste.

So I’m curious about the range of passions and temptations which Perry’s Christology ascribes to Jesus.

Jesus Before His Accusers

"When false witnesses testified against our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, He remained silent; and when unfounded charges were brought against Him, He returned no answer, believing that His whole life and conduct among the Jews were a better refutation than any answer to the false testimony, or than any formal defence against the accusations....Jesus, however, is at all times assailed by false witnesses, and, while wickedness remains in the world, is ever exposed to accusation. And yet even now He continues silent before these things, and makes no audible answer, but places His defence in the lives of His genuine disciples, which are a pre-eminent testimony, and one that rises superior to all false witness, and refutes and overthrows all unfounded accusations and charges." (Origen, Against Celsus, Preface, 1-2)

"Others gain victory through making defenses, but our Lord gained victory through his silence, because the recompense of his death through divine silence was the victory of true teaching....The words of his calumniators, like a crown on his head, were a source of redemption. He kept silent so that his silence would make them shout even louder, and so that his crown would be made more beautiful through all this clamor." (Ephrem the Syrian, in Thomas Oden and Christopher Hall, edd., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture: New Testament II: Mark [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 223)

"When, therefore, He was passing through the process of judgment, wherever He opened not His mouth it was in the character of a lamb that He did so; that is, not as one with an evil conscience who was convicted of his sins, but as one who in His meekness was sacrificed for the sins of others." (Augustine, Tractates On John, 116:4)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bart Interrupted: A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part One

Ben Witherington reviews Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted.

History is written by the winners

“The victors invariably write the history to their own advantage.”

–Jean-Luc Picard

Variations on this slogan are fashionable among leftwing college profs. It has also been applied to the Bible by conspiracy theorists like Dan Brown and Bart Erhman.

What are we to make of this slogan?

Well, for one thing, the Bible is a poor candidate to apply this slogan to. In OT times, the winners were the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Egyptians, not the Israelites. In what sense are Jewish slaves and exiles the winners rather than the losers?

Likewise, the winners in NT times were the Romans, not the Christians.

So, if we did apply this slogan to the Bible, then conspiracy theorists like Ehrman and Brown ought to regard the Bible as a reliable source of history–since it was written by the losers, not the winners.

But let’s also consider the slogan on its own terms. Is it true? Why don’t we test this slogan against a contemporary example which we’re all familiar with: how have the winners covered the war on terror?

To begin with, who are the winners and losers in the war on terror? Well, the winners would be the Americans, Brits, and Aussies. And the losers would be the jihadis and counterinsurgents. The underdogs.

So how have the winners covered the war effort? Have the New York Times, BBC, and CNN covered the war effort in a way that portrayed the military and intelligence agencies of the US and the UK in the best possible light?

Or consider the spate of movies and TV shows which came out in the aftermath of 9/11–movies and TV shows which either directly or allegorically depicted the war effort, viz. Rendition, Redacted, Syriana, Jarhead, Traveler, Battlestar Galactica, Stop-Loss, The Kingdom, Fahrenheit 9/11, Lions for Lambs, Home of the Brave, In the Valley of Elah, &c.

The directors, producers, and screenwriters represent the winners, not the losers–right? Jihadis and counterinsurgents didn’t make these movies and TV shows, did they?

Are these Hollywood productions distinguished by their chauvinistic, jingoistic support for the foreign policies of the US and the UK?

Flutter

Hilarious send-up of Twitter (and other assorted geekery):

Finding the will of God

Tim Challies has written a positive review on a recently published book called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung.

While we're on the topic, 9Marks has several reviews on similarly themed books as well.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Miracles and methodological naturalism

If a “historian” or “scholar” chooses to apply methodological naturalism to the Bible, he will have to pay for that move in two respects:

1.Remember that methodological naturalism allows for the possibility of miracles. What it disallows is making allowance for miracles in the interpretation of a natural or historical event.

It cannot rule out the occurrence of the miraculous because it’s a purely methodological principle. To declare miracles impossible would amount to a metaphysical claim.

But this, in turn, generates the following dilemma. Since methodological naturalism must make room for the possibility of miracles while, at the same time, ruling out a miraculous interpretation of a natural or historical event, then methodological naturalism must take the position that a naturalistic explanation is always preferable even if a naturalistic explanation is false.

That is to say, by making allowance for the possibility of miracles, it must also allow for the possibility that a miraculous explanation might sometimes be the true explanation. And yet it cannot permit a miraculous explanation for any event. Hence, it cannot permit a miraculous explanation even if the miraculous explanation happens to be the best explanation of the event. Happens, indeed, to be the correct explanation.

Why would any responsible historian or scholar commit himself to a methodology that automatically precludes or excludes the true interpretation of a natural or historical event? What’s the value of a methodology that forbids you from ever considering an interpretation which may, in fact, be the correct interpretation?

Isn’t the value of a historical or scientific method to arrive at a true explanation?

2.But methodological naturalism generates yet another conundrum. If a “historian” or “scholar” adopts methodological naturalism, then he thereby forfeits the right to classify miracles as improbable. For probability is a metaphysical concept. It involves a claim about the nature of the world. Yet what supposedly distinguishes methodological naturalism from metaphysical naturalism is the ontological neutral of methodological naturalism.

In that event, methodological naturalism is debarred from treating supernatural events as any less probable than natural events. There can be no antecedent presumption one way or the other.

But in that case, a “historian” or “scholar” who applies methodological naturalism to the Bible can’t very well claim that any other explanation, however unlikely, is still more likely than a supernatural explanation. To do so would smuggle in metaphysical naturalism under the guise of methodological naturalism.

Yet if methodological naturalism can’t properly treat a supernaturalistic interpretation of events as any less likely than a naturalistic interpretation of events, then what conceivable warrant does it have to invariably favor a naturalistic interpretation to over a supernaturalistic interpretation? Logically speaking, it should be equally open to both possibilities.

An announcement does not an argument make

Manata just cannot get it into his mind, it just seems impossible to him, that there is a great and meaningful difference between claiming that: (1) God allows or permits certain things to occur (the majority view among Christians concerning evil and suffering), versus (2)God actively predetermining and desiring for those things to occur (the view of necessatarians/calvinists). Since he intentionally will not make this distinction, or grant this distinction, he thinks we are in “the same boat.”


i) Of course I've debated this very distinction ad nauseum. Plenty of times with Reppert, most recently in my review of Olsen's book. Robert wouldn't look dishonest if he made sure to point out that I have seen this distinction and argued against its viability as somehow being a better position than the Calvinist's. If Robert was unaware of this, then I'll assume he'll take the necessary steps to correct his libel.

ii) Of course, (2) is much more robust than Robert lets on. Therefore his comments have the irony of being a case where a person blames others for his own failings. It is Robert who intentionally will not get his opponents right. The Calvinist position is that God willingly permits. The reason (2) is problematic coming from Robert is that he means (2) to be read as something like God pulling the strings of puppets.

iii) Why is a charitable reading of (2) problematic? Where is the argument? Here is one: "Well, if a human did that, then the human would be naughty." Likewise, though, if a human "merely allowed or permitted" 9/11 to happen, while he had the power to stop it, then that human would be naughty.

iv) In response to the rejoinder in(iii) the reply is, "Well, when God does so, his hands are clean. He has a good reason for allowing the evil he does." At this point the Arminian should see his problem. The Calvinist can say the same thing: When God willingly permits an evil, negatively governing it, even decreeing it, this is different than when a mere human does so. God's hands are clean. He has a good reason for what he does."

v) So, yes, there is a difference. Yet announcing it, however loud, does no earthly good because the purpose it is meant to accomplish, once analyzed, forces the Arminian to drop his PoE against God. But, when one runs out of arguments, all that is left are loud announcements.

The "New Calvinism"

I’ve been asked to comment on an article by John Armstrong:

http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/2009/03/the-new-calvinism.html

“The article quotes Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, an older leader among the younger neo-Calvinists: ‘The moment someone begins to define God's [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.’ (Really? If this were so why then do so many with a genuinely classical and high view of God, such as Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, not embrace what we call Calvinism?)”

Because they reject sola scriptura.

“Take a much-maligned modern biblical scholar like N. T. Wright and consider my point. Wright is not a neo-Calvinist by anyone's account. Yet his exegetical and biblical work is as indebted to John Calvin (in a broad and positive sense) as any major academic New Testament scholar today. My friend Scot McKnight, who is not a Calvinist, writes of N.T. Wright's new book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (SPCK): ‘Tom Wright has out-Reformed America's newest religious zealots---the neo-Reformed---by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to Tradition than to the Sacred Text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study.’ You ask, ‘What is Wright saying and doing in this new book that Scot McKnight, a non-Calvinist, would praise so warmly?’ Answer: He is correcting the neo-Reformed movement regarding its reading of a major biblical doctrine. He is particularly correcting John Piper's treatment of justification, which is one of weaker efforts to prop up ideas that are not a part of Paul's first-century context or the full biblical narrative…Piper's book, widely praised by a who's who list of the very neo-Calvinists that Van Biema's research mentions (and assumes), is so severely flawed that it staggers me to think credible people are actually excited about it.”
This is nothing short of slandering each and every critic of the New Perspective on Paul–who range along a theological continuum.

“Because this movement is driven by neo-Puritanism it has all the marks of previous Puritan movements without a great deal of the maturity and the historical context of the times in which these movements evolved spiritually.”

“All the marks of previous Puritan movements?” Oh please! Hyperbole could scarcely be more hyperbolic. Is Albert Mohler the reincarnation of William Prynne?

If you want to read some modern-day Puritans, try Turretin Fan or William Young.

"’Classic Protestant backbiting’ is precisely what neo-Calvinism is creating. Look at the divisions in the Southern Baptist Convention and you will see my point. (I have watched this movement for neo-Calvinism from its infancy. I personally attended the first meeting (and several more the years following) of the group that started this effort back in the 1980s. I personally knew the founder who dreamed up the idea of recovering Calvinism in the SBC and then spread the ‘doctrines of grace’ very widely. He is now with the Lord.) Look at the quarrels between these neo-Calvinists and the various strands of emergent (and emerging) Christianity.”

This is comically one-sided. If there’s disagreement between Calvinists and fundamentalists (in the SBC), lay all the blame at the doorstep of the Calvinists. If there’s disagreement between Calvinists and Emergents, lay all the blame at the doorstep of the Calvinists.

To take just one example, you only have to follow the exchange between James White, Tom Ascol, and Ergun Caner to correct Armstrong’s absurdly prejudicial depiction.

To judge by autobiographical anecdotes which Armstrong himself as furnished, I think it’s obvious that Armstrong’s judgment has been warped by personal experience.

Toxic plants

“Steve Hays, over at Triablogue, responded to my last post in the comments section of THIS THREAD, via a NEW THREAD which he posted yesterday. The comments section of this new thread is proceeding down an a different (though related) tangent, due to the first comment penned by BJ Buracker, a Presbyterian who seems to take the visible church much more seriously than the ecclesiastical anarchists who have attempted to address his questions.”

http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2009/04/ecclesiastical-anarchy.html

Since David Waltz has to regard Presbyterianism as a schismatic development, it’s disingenuous of him to tout a Presbyterian.

“Steve’s comments are based on some very tenuous presuppostions: first, Steve assumes that the pattern portrayed in Scripture concerning the “NT churches overseen by apostles” is ‘descriptive’ and not ‘prescriptive’, as such, the post-apostolic church should not seek to duplicate the apostolic church; second, apostolic authority cannot/was not passed on by the apostles to successors.”

David’s comments are based on some very tenuous presuppostions: first, David assumes that the pattern portrayed in Scripture concerning the “NT churches overseen by apostles” is ‘prescriptive’ and not ‘descriptive’, as such, the post-apostolic church should seek to duplicate the apostolic church; second, apostolic authority can/was passed on by the apostles to successors.

“Early Church history presents a record for us that is quite contrary to what Steve would have us to believe.”

i) An assertion in lieu of an argument.

ii) Takes for granted that early church history should be our yardstick.

iii) Early church history is descriptive, not prescriptive.

iv) It’s not as if modern Catholicism moves in lockstep with early church history.

“Once again, the early Church tells a different story; organic continuity via espiscpal succession was an important ‘mark’ in determining the Catholic churches from the schismatic and heretical ones. That organic continuity has continued down to our day in both branches of the Catholic Church (Western and Eastern).”

Once again,

i) An assertion in lieu of an argument.

ii) Takes for granted that early church history should be our yardstick.

iii) Early church history is descriptive, not prescriptive.

iv) It’s not as if modern Catholicism moves in lockstep with early church history.

“A brief stroll down through history reveals the sects which have embraced Steve’s dictum—examples include: Gnostics, Medalists, Melitians, Donatists, Arians (after 381), Pelagians, Monophysites, Monothelites, et al. (Augustine in his, The Heresies, lists no less than 88 sects which ended up rejecting the organic Catholic unity.)”

i) Of course, this annuls any appeal to church history as normative. Since church history is a record of rival factions, church history cannot adjudicate between rival factions.

ii) Moreover, I don’t accept the claim that the Donatists were wholly wrong while the Catholics were wholly right.

“If Steve is correct on this, then one must conclude that we have no ‘true’ Christian churches from the middle of the second century until the 16th century.”

A trademark case of David’s chronic reading incomprehension. Go back and see what I said about the remnant in the original post.

“I did not drive the ‘wedge’, it is merely a historical fact. And as for Dr. Lane’s essay, to date, I have not read anyone who has cogently addressed the issues he has raised.”

A historic fact is not a norm. If every historic fact were normative, then the various “sects” which David mentions would all be equally valid expressions of historic Christianity. David unwittingly plays into the hands of Bart Ehrman.”

“And the resulting ‘fruit’ of Steve’s dictum: ecclesiastical anarchy.”

Fruit inspection is a two-way street. If David wants to judge a church by its fruits, then how should we grade the produce department of a church which brought us the Borgia popes or the priestly abuse scandal–to name just two examples?

More on methodological naturalism

JAMES F. MCGRATH SAID:

Thanks for taking the time to interact with my post on Beale's book. I will let you read about my own conversion experience on my blog if you are interested; the authors that have come to be among my favorites did not achieve that status without a fight against them on my part. And I think this too tells against the "conspiracy theory" and "peer pressure" hypotheses.

i) The “conspiracy theory” is not Beale’s theory. Rather, that’s a polemical caricature of Beale’s position–which you impute to him.

ii) Peer pressure was not the only explanation I gave. But it’s undoubtedly a factor in some situations.

iii) There are liberal seminaries, liberal colleges, liberal divinity schools where the veracity of Scripture comes under direct attack. For the ill-prepared student, that can take a toll.

I attended Evangelical Bible colleges, and it was already in those contexts that I found the Bible itself raising the questions, and at times leading to the answers, that I resisted from "liberals". And you are surely aware that both Robinson and Bultmann can only be generalized as "liberal" if one defines that term to mean "anyone who doesn't adhere consistently to conservative Evangelical conclusions".

To the contrary, it ranges along a continuum. For example, Bruce Metzger was to the left of Gregory Beale, but to the right of Rudolf Bultmann. I’m quite capable of distinguishing between conservatives, moderates, and liberals–with many intervening shades.

Bultmann challenged classic Liberalism's assumption that one can merely remove the cultural shell of the first century and take a timeless core of Christianity out from within it.

Which simply means that Bultmann was to the left of classic Liberalism. He was a more thoroughgoing liberal.

And his existentialist emphasis on personal decision became a key element of modern Evangelicalism.

The existentialist emphasis antedates Bultmann. For example, the Puritans place an enormous emphasis on spiritual introspection and experimental religion.

Robinson's conclusions on the date of New Testament writings are more conservative than those of many conservatives.

You didn’t reference his book on redating the NT. Rather, you cited his book on Honest to God. That title was riding the crest of 1960s countercultural. A radical chic expression of secular theology. There were a slew of books in that vein, attempting to cash in on the theological fad du jour, viz. Cox, Altizer, van Buren.

This is one reason why terms like "liberal" and "conservative" are unhelpful: they suggest that there are two opposing views rather than a wide range of partially-overlapping possible positions, as well as the possibility of being more or less conservative on some issues and different on others.

If you dislike the “liberal” label to characterize Bultmann or Robinson, I’d be happy to substitute a more exacting designation: how about atheist or secularist?

I don’t know what sort of God, if any, they still believed in. Certainly not the God of the Bible. They didn’t believe in a God who actively involves himself in mundane affairs–be it creation, providence, or miracle.

But if God never does anything, then there’s precious little evidence that God even exists. Such a God is virtually indistinguishable from a nonexistent God. At best, the “theology” of Bultmann and Robinson is functionally equivalent to atheism.

If that’s their position, then why try to keep up appearances? Why continue to intone Biblical or liturgical language when there’s no extratextual referent?

On methodological naturalism, I don't see how historical study can adopt any other approach, any more than criminology can. It will always be theoretically possible that a crime victim died simply because God wanted him dead, but the appropriate response of detectives is to leave the case open. In the same way, it will always be possible that a virgin conceived, but it will never be more likely than that the stories claiming this developed, like comparable stories about other ancient figures, as a way of highlighting the individual's significance. And since historical study deals with probabilities and evidence, to claim that a miracle is "historically likely" misunderstands the method in question.

I am a New Testament scholar rather than purely a historian, but it is my understanding (which historians I know have confirmed) that historical study works on the basis of probability, evaluating available evidence and drawing conclusions much as a jury might in a court of law. And I don't see how anyone could conclude “beyond reasonable doubt" that it is more probable that a miracle occurred than that a story about a miracle came into existence for some other reason. That doesn't mean that miracles did not occur. It just means that historical study can't "prove" that they did.

I think a distinction must be made. I cannot affirm a miracle as having happened in the distant past based on accounts in texts that have come down to us, because that's the way historical study works. When it comes to modern miracles, that's a question that relates to not only philosophical worldviews but also theology, experience and perhaps much else.


Several problems with your historiography:

i) History is supposed to be a descriptive discipline. A description of past events. It involves an element of discovery. The historian doesn’t know, in advance of his investigations, what has happened. He must learn about the past. Learn about the past on the basis of testimonial evidence or archeological evidence. (An exception would be a historian who is recording autobiographical anecdotes.)

ii) By contrast, methodological naturalism is a prescriptive principle. Applied to history, it prejudges what the historian is allowed to regard as possible or actual. It superimposes a filter on the historical evidence, screening out any evidence which is at variance with methodological naturalism.

Methodological naturalism dictates a foregone conclusion. Before the historian ever looks out the window, methodological naturalism tells the historian what he’s permitted to see. Methodological naturalism prescribes, in advance of the evidence, what can or cannot count as evidence.

That isn’t a way of doing history. That isn’t a way of learning about the past. Rather, that’s a way of insulating yourself from any sort of evidence which would challenge your precommitment to naturalism. It systematically begs all the factual questions.

iii) Moreover, methodological naturalism doesn’t distinguish between past miracles and present miracles, first-hand evidence and second-hand evidence. If you stake out the a priori position that any explanation is more likely than a miraculous explanation, then you could be an eyewitness to a modern miracle, or a series of modern miracles, yet you would be forced, in every single case, to seek an alternative explanation.

iv) You have adopted a principle which immunizes our position from all possible falsification. If you insist that every historical interpretation must be naturalistic, then your historical interpretations are unfalsifiable. How did you ever maneuver yourself into the position that historical study commits you to unfalsifiable interpretations of the past?

v) When you insist that every historical interpretation must be naturalistic, then the historical evidence ceases to control the historical interpretation. Instead, your naturalistic filter is controlling the historical interpretation.

vi) You talk about historical probabilities, but the assessment of what is probable depends on a background knowledge of what is actual or possible. However, methodological naturalism isn’t based on historical probabilities. How could you know, apart from observation, what is actual or possible?

You can’t automatically discount testimony evidence to the occurrence of miracles based on what is likely, for your knowledge of what is likely is, itself, contingent on testimonial evidence.

vii) Methodological naturalism would only be the default position in historiography (or science) if a naturalistic methodology were underwritten by the stronger thesis of metaphysical naturalism. Absent metaphysical naturalism, there is no antecedent presumption in favor of methodological naturalism.

viii) You fail to explain what would make a miracle unlikely. Let’s take the paradigm-case of the Resurrection. Considered on its own terms, what makes the Resurrection likely or unlikely is whether it’s likely or unlikely that God willed to resurrect Jesus. Did God have a reason to resurrect Jesus? Did it serve his purpose?

At a metaphysical level, it comes down to a teleological question, involving personal agency. In this case, divine agency, divine intent.

ix) I’d add that, at an epistemic level, the answer to this question doesn’t depend on prior belief in God. Unless metaphysical naturalism is true, it is not antecedently improbable that God willed the resurrection of Jesus. And, in that event, evidence for the Resurrection would also be evidence for the existence of God as well as the will of God.

My time as a Pentecostal has not persuaded me that regrowing limbs or anything utterly inexplicable of that sort happens today, and so I'm not sure why I should believe it did in the past.

But if you subscribe to methodological naturalism, then even if you did witness the regeneration of limbs in answer to prayer, you would have to discount the miraculous explanation as the least likely explanation.

So are you now admitting that methodological naturalism is an unsound principle? Are you admitting that first-hand evidence for a miracle would be sufficient to attest the occurrence of a miracle? If so, can you drive a wedge between first-hand evidence and second-hand evidence?

That's nothing to do with Hume, it's just a belief in divine consistency, i.e. that God did not do miracles in the past and then stop at some point.

i) I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. Consistent in relation to what? Consistent in relation to a divine promise? Did God promise to heal amputees? If not, then what is the basis of your expectation?

ii) Why do you think divine consistency entails that if God performed miracles in the past, he’d perform miracles in the present? Do you think miracles should be a regular phenomenon–like Old Faithful? Something we set our clocks to?

Do you think God should perform the random miracle now and then? What is your theology of miracles?

ii) How can you demand evidence for modern miracles given your axiomatic commitment to methodological naturalism? Your naturalistic methodology would preempt any evidence for modern miracles.

iii) There is, in fact, an extensive literature on miracles throughout church history, up to and including the present day.

Let me not make this comment any longer, but I will say that when inerrancy is nuanced and qualified as in the Chicago Statement, it is not clear what is in fact being affirmed.

I don’t know why that’s unclear to you. The Chicago Statement spells out in some detail what its view of inerrancy affirms and disaffirms.

The Bible can be approximate and imprecise, and contains different genres - that is certainly true. But why then prejudge which texts represent which genres, and why continue to use "inerrancy" when that gives an impression to laypeople that is different from what adherents to the Chicago Statement mean by it?

i) Where does the Chicago Statement prejudge the literary classification of various texts?

ii) What makes you think the impression of a layman should be identical with the impression of scholars? Theology has a number of technical terms. Technical terms have specialized meanings.

iii) Having said that, I don’t know why you think the Chicago Statement defines inerrancy in a way a layman would not. Take round numbers. The average layman doesn’t talk like Lt. Commander Data. The average layman doesn’t give measurements down to the very last decimal point. The use of round number is a convention of ordinary language. Why would a layman think that Scripture cannot or ought to employ the conventions of ordinary language?

I think it is to create a sibboleth (sorry, I have trouble pronouncing that word) that will allow seminaries and theological schools to continue to be funded by conservative congregations and individuals, rather than educating them, since education inevitably involves having our assumptions challenged.

Now you yourself are peddling a conspiracy theory. You act as if all pastors or professors are closet liberals, but keep it to themselves for reasons of job security. Now, some pastors are leading a double life. But many conservative seminaries expose their students to the liberal view of Scripture. They discuss liberal objections to the Bible. Faculty members write whole books on the subject. Many seminarians have read both sides of the argument, and come down on the conservative side of the argument. They have nothing to hide from their congregations. This isn’t a trade secret.